Miracles
by Judith Freudenthal

Inside her lab in the Coroner's Office, Natalie Lambert mixed the contents of the test tube in her hand with the one on the counter and watched for any reaction. When nothing seemed to happen she withdrew a small portion of the contents and smeared it onto a slide which she stuck under the microscope. A smile crossed her face as she saw the results of her latest experiment.

Have I done it? The hopeful thought crossed her mind as she again looked at the result before her. A part of her wondered if she should redo the test as a way of double checking her work. A quick look at the clock showed she had just enough time to repeat it.

She anxiously awaited the results of the second test and when it was time she again mixed the contents of the test tube in her hand with the one on the counter. Again there seemed to be no reaction. She once again smeared a small portion of the contents onto a slide and examined it under her microscope.

"Oh my God," she mumbled to herself as the results were identical to the other test. A part of her couldn't believe it while another part was nearly exploding with the excitement of the discovery.

Nick entered, encountering a markedly happy Natalie. He was about to ask just what had her so happy when he noticed the intense look of concentration on her face. He knew better than to disturb her until she was finished.

He took a seat on the empty autopsy table, waiting patiently until she had finished.

She looked up about a minute later and was a little startled to see him sitting on the autopsy table. "Nick! How long have you been here? Why didn't you say anything?"

"A minute or two. I could see how hard you were concentrating and know better than to disturb you then."

"I want you to take a look at something. I think I may have finally found the key."

Nick peered at the slide, adjusting the microscope's focus. What he saw was almost none of the vampire virus. Only a tiny number remained. A smile spread across Nick's face.

"Do you think this is the cure?" He asked hopefully.

"I don't know," she answered uncertainly. "I do want to give you a small dose just to see if your body will tolerate it. If you have no problem with it I will give you a full dose tomorrow. I don't know if this will be a permanent cure or just a temporary one. Would you take it if you knew it might only be temporary?"

"Yes," he answered without hesitation. "I would take it even if I could only watch one sunrise with you." She gave him a warm smile, which he returned before becoming more serious. He asked, "Will it have any side effects?"

"I don't think so. If it does they should not be anywhere near as bad as the Litovuterine B ones were. It also should not be addictive like the other was. When do you want to start?"

"Now, if you have no problem with it," he said, excited about the drug's potential.

"No. Roll up your sleeve."

Natalie prepared the syringe while Nick took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeve. Natalie cleaned the area before injecting him.

"I want you to let me know if you have any side effects, no matter how slight."

"I will," he promised.

Natalie injected Nick. Both were relieved when there were no signs of the burning pain or intense nausea that the Litovuterine B had caused. Natalie studied Nick with her critical doctor's eye and saw no indications that Nick was keeping anything from her. Out of curiosity, she tentatively took his pulse.

There was no change from the usual six beats an hour.

"I want you to stay here a few more minutes and to let me know the minute you feel anything strange."

"I will."

Natalie took a blood sample and examined it under the microscope, discovering that a small percentage of the virus cells were dead, causing her to smile and call Nick over to see for himself. He looked into the microscope and a huge grin spread across his face.

They talked for a few minutes before she let him go back to work.

Later, Natalie stopped by the precinct to see how Nick was doing and drop off a few files. After confirming that he was doing fine, she headed back to the morgue to note his progress, barely able to keep her excitement at bay. She'd noticed his excitement and the hope in his eyes that this would be the one that worked, that cured him. She hoped so to, but knew to be a bit more cautiously optimistic.

Natalie stopped by Nick's loft after her shift, grocery bag in hand, which she put away before examining him and taking a blood sample to be analyzed first thing when she arrived at work. Her critical doctor's eye showed that nothing need concern her.

"If this is working and you're becoming mortal, you're going to have to re-learn 'mortal' habits. Like eating solid foods. And, you're going to have to know how to prepare it. Consider tonight your first Ôlesson." She grinned at him, gathering up ingredients.

Nick watched as Natalie prepared their dinner. He set the table and fixed the drinks.

"Once you become mortal there are a few things you MUST remember. One, bullets WILL kill you. Two, knives and all weapons WILL hurt or kill you. So will explosives. I don't want to make you mortal and lose you right away."

"I know all that. I promise to be careful. I have no wish to die." He smiled at her.

"What about 800 years of not having to worry about any of this?" she questioned, worry etched across her features.

"I will overcome it. I believe that once I lose those senses that more cautious actions will become natural. A new self-preservation instinct will kick in, a mortal one."

"I do hope so. For both our sakes," she said with hopeful resolution.

Natalie served dinner onto plates and carried the plates to the table.

Nick tried a little of everything, finding it a bit tastier than usual. He appreciated her making pasta with tomato sauce to ease the transition.

She was pleasantly surprised when he managed to eat a third of his plate, much more than his usual few bites.

He saw her smile and felt great. "I'm not as nauseous as I usually am when I eat solid food or drink those shakes," he remarked, making a disgusted face at the memory of oh so many failed protein shake experiments.

Natalie grinned, "Well, that's progress."

The next evening the first thing Natalie did upon arriving at work was to examine Nick's blood sample under the microscope. She noticed that the dead virus cells remained dead.

After she had jotted down her most recent finding she knew she had to focus her attention on the folders piled on her desk.

At the end of Nick's shift he arrived for his next treatment. Natalie saw him and motioned for him to take a seat on the steel table.

Nick took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeve and had a seat while Natalie prepared the injection. She wiped the spot with an alcohol pad and injected him.

"I gave you a full dose and need to know if you have ANY side effects, no matter how mild."

Nick nodded grateful that he was not feeling the intense nausea or stomach cramps that the Litovuterine B had given him.

A few minutes later Natalie's curiosity got the better of her and she felt for a pulse, shock registering on her face. Nick noticed, giving her a questioning look.

"Your pulse is speeding up. Let me take your blood pressure and temperature."

She stuck a thermometer into his mouth and wrapped a blood pressure cuff around his arm. She pumped up the cuff and listened with her stethoscope, astounded to see that he did have a low blood pressure. Once done with his blood pressure she removed the thermometer and saw it reading 96 degrees, much higher than his usual body temperature.

"Nick, I want to draw some blood. Your temperature is slowly reaching human normal, as is your heart rate and blood pressure."

Natalie withdrew a sample of blood and noticed that Nick winced when she stuck the needle into him. That fact did not escape him either.

"That hurt," he said, more to himself than her.

"Sorry," she apologized, unable to hide the excitement in her voice.

She quickly smeared a sample of his blood onto a slide and stuck it under the microscope. She examined the slide and found that the vampire virus was quickly dying off.

"How do you feel?" She asked concerned and intrigued.

"I feel good. I don't feel the vampiric part of me."

"Come look at this."

Nick peered at his blood sample pleased to see the virus dying off.

"It seems to stay dead once they die. I will need to closely monitor you until we're sure what will happen. Let's keep this between the two of us until we're sure it works."

"Good idea. I wouldn't want to spontaneously combust in the middle of a day shift. How about I take you out for something to eat?" he asked, suddenly feeling the urge to celebrate.

"Sure. Remember you need to eat as well."

"I will. At least I have more appetizing choices to choose from. Food was not horrendously appealing back then. There also was not much to choose from."

"Shall we go?"

Nick and Natalie entered the nicest all night restaurant they could find as they wanted this to be a special occasion. They were quickly seated and handed menus. They looked over the menu debating whether to have dinner or breakfast.

"Any suggestions?" Nick asked.

"I wouldn't eat anything too heavy like a steak or a western omelet just yet. I'd also stay away from anything too spicy. Other than that pick something that appeals to you. I've found that to be the best way to go."

"What are you having?"

"Chocolate chip pancakes, bacon, orange juice and coffee."

"That sounds good."

The waitress came and took their order.

"I can't wait to watch my first sunrise with you." He saw her concerned expression and continued, "I will wait until you say it's okay."

"You will need to be very careful in the sun. Your skin will be very sensitive. You should start out with a sunblock and after a week or two you will need a strong sunscreen. You wouldn't want to get a painful sunburn right away, would you?"

"No," he said, having been burned more times than he cared to remember.

Their food arrived. Nick downed his pancakes with a speed startling both of them. Natalie found herself both giggling at the spectacle he created and concerned that he was going to choke to death on his first full mortal meal.

"In the future I would suggest eating a bit slower, not only will it lessen the chance of your choking to death, but it is better for the digestion," she said, stifling her laughter. "I would stay away from steak and any cow products for at least a month. I don't want any unforeseen complications arising and thwarting our research."

"No problem. I don't really want to encounter that taste yet anyway." He grimaced, then added. "It never was particularly tasty, but it kept me alive."

A week had passed with no changes in Nick's condition. Natalie met him at his loft right before sunrise. They climbed onto the roof of his building through a ladder and hatch in his bedroom. They sat on the flat roof with her leaning back against his chest, his arms wrapped around her. Her hands were resting on his.

The sun rose slowly in the sky. Nick had a tiny fear that it would burn him and was greatly relieved when he felt none of the sensations he previously felt whenever he was exposed to sunlight.

After the sun had finished its rise they turned to face each other and noticed that a clear tear had run down both their cheeks. Natalie had seen many a sunrise, but none like this. Somehow being with Nick made it all the more special.

"Will you watch the sunset with me later?" Nick asked.

"Yes. Where?"

"Right here."

"Okay."

"What shall we do today? Neither of us has to work tonight."

"I thought we could take a walk, I don't care where. Don't forget your sunscreen."

"I won't. That sounds great."

A month later Nick was still mortal and loving every minute of it. Natalie noticed that there was a new happiness in his eyes. Nick noticed the same thing about Natalie and was pleased. They both noticed that the other seemed more alive than they'd ever seen them before. Nick enjoyed looking at her through is now mortal eyes, not missing his enhanced vision that much. Both of them had noticed certain feelings growing between them. Ones they'd been too afraid to openly admit to, or even believe they had a chance to become more than a dream. Now it seemed as if anything was possible.

He wanted to change to the day shift and she had given him her approval to under the condition that he inform Cohen that he was taking an experimental drug for his sunlight allergy and may have to switch back to nights suddenly, if the drug's effects wore off. Nick agreed to it, eager to make the change to day shifts.

Natalie talked to her supervisor about changing to the day shift and had little trouble making the switch, even though she would miss Grace. She considered asking Grace to make the switch, but knew she could not.

Nick had little trouble convincing Cohen to switch him from nights to days, especially with the paperwork provided by Natalie as backup. Schanke was thrilled to be able to work normal hours again. He couldn't resist teasing his partner about the switch.

"I'm glad you tired of living the vampire lifestyle," Schanke teased.

Nick worked to keep the surprise off his face, knowing that it was just a joke.

A few days later, Nick and Natalie found themselves faced with 24 hours off, and ended up at her apartment cooking dinner. Natalie was teaching him how to prepare simple, yet tasty dishes because she was not about to become his personal chef.

After dinner they headed for the couch and flipped on the television set. As they sat next to each other, her leaning against his chest and his arm around her shoulders, they felt themselves drawn to each other and allowed their lips to meet, having nothing to fear. Their lips met tentatively at first, both unsure of what to expect.

Then, passion and years of pent up longing and desire took hold as they relaxed and let nature guide them.

"Nat, I love you. I have loved you for so long now," Nick said between kisses.

"I love you too. I have for a long time as well."

"I was always afraid to tell you. Afraid that you would leave me." He cupped her face in his hands.

"I'm not going anywhere. I too was afraid you'd leave me."

"I'm not going anywhere," Nick said as he swept her up in his arms.

They continued to kiss as he carried her to her bedroom where he gently set her down on the bed. Their tongues gently, yet hungrily explored the others' mouth while hands undid buttons and slid shirts off of shoulders.

They caressed the others' skin as their hands worked on removing the rest of their partner's clothing.

They were both a little shy, nervous and embarrassed as they stood there bare before each other. They had both dreamed of this moment and now it was before them.

They took it slow and did what felt natural. A caress here, a kiss there. They explored each other with hands caressing the exposed skin and lips feeling the softness of the skin. When they found a particularly sensitive area they lavished extra attention on it. Soft moans could be heard when such a spot was found and fully explored.

As their passion rose she felt him gently teasing her, bringing about soft moans of pleasure, before finally entering her. She felt him releasing his seed into her as they both reached a new level of pleasure. A level neither dreamed they'd ever reach.

The morning found them asleep in each other's arms. Her back was pressed against his chest with his arm draped across her body snuggling her close to him.

Hours later, the alarm clock woke them. Nick hit it and they stumbled from the bed into the shower.

Nick playfully stole the soap and refused to give it to her, instead insisting on washing her back for her. She loved his very skillful touch.

"Hey!" she said as she felt him going lower than her back. "My turn."

He handed her the soap as she gently washed his back for him. Once finished with his back her hand also wandered a bit lower. Two can play at this game she thought, with a wicked grin.

"Hey!" was his response.

After one of the most enjoyable showering sessions either of them had ever experienced, they got out and dried each other off.

Later at the precinct, Schanke looked up as his partner arrived. Upon seeing the grin on Nick's face and the light in his eyes Schanke could not resist a jab.

"Looks like someone got lucky last night"

"It's none of your business," Nick said playfully.

"Aw, come on. Fess up."

"Okay, if it'll get you off my back. Yes, I got lucky last night."

"I do hope someone we both know was the lucky lady," Schanke said with a large grin.

Nick said nothing, he didn't have to. His smile said it all.

"It's about time! I was beginning to wonder about you two."

"Why?"

"It was so *obvious*, at least to *me*, that you two were in love, but weren't smart enough to admit it." Schanke grinned proudly, then smirked. "So... how was she?"

"Schanke!"

"Well?"

Nick refused to say anything. But Schanke could see how wonderful the evening had been by the sparkle in Nick's eyes. He had never seen them so alive and happy before.

Natalie entered the Coroner's building with the same smile on her face as Nick's and the same light in the eyes. Grace was on her way out when she spotted Natalie.

"Someone had a good night! Tell me it was Nick."

"Yes, I had a great night! And yes, it was Nick," Natalie said, knowing Grace would not stop until she knew all the details one gives out in such matters.

"It's about time you two stopped dancing around your feelings and admitted you loved each other. Was he good?"

Nat knew there was no way she could deny it. "He was fantastic."

Grace smiled at the expression of pure joy that radiated from Natalie as she spoke. She was glad they finally got together, as it was *well* overdue.

Just over a week later Natalie awoke and removed Nick's arm from around her. She quickly dashed into her bathroom where she promptly lost everything in her stomach. A few dry heaves later she rinsed her mouth and crawled back into bed.

"Nat, are you okay?" Nick awoke when she shot out of bed, deeply concerned.

"I don't know. There is that stomach virus going around work."

"I don't want you going in to work this morning. Call in sick. I'll try to stop by later."

Nick felt her forehead and noticed she felt warm. He headed into the shower leaving the bathroom door unlocked in case she should need to use it.

Reluctantly, Natalie called her office.

"Coroner's office. Grace speaking."

"Grace, its Natalie. I'm not coming in today. I think I've caught the stomach virus. Excuse me."

Nick had just shut off the water when he heard Natalie rush in and empty her stomach yet again. He held her hair back for her and helped her up when she finished. She rinsed out her mouth and crawled back into bed, when she remembered she'd left Grace mid conversation.

"Grace?" she croaked.

"I'm still here. Stay in bed, drink plenty of fluids and try to eat something. Feel better, honey. Put Nick on."

Natalie handed the phone up to Nick, who took it, a confused look on his face.

"Grace?"

"You better take good care of her or you'll have to answer to me."

He couldn't help but grin. "I will. I promise. Bye, Grace."

As soon as Nick hung up Natalie asked, "What was that all about?"

"She warned me that if I didn't take good care of you, I'd have to answer to her."

Natalie grinned. Grace always had been protective of her.

"Can I get you anything before I leave? I want you to stay in bed and rest. Call me if you have ANY problems, no matter how small."

"How about some Coke and some crackers. Coke contains stuff that is supposed to settle the stomach. I don't want them now, but I might later. It would be better for the Coke to be flat before I drink it anyway."

Nick brought her a handful of crackers and a plastic glass full of Coke. He set them down on the nightstand before fetching her the latest magazines from the family room and the TV remote. He kissed her forehead before leaving.

Three days later, Nick was relieved to see Natalie feeling much better. Her fever was gone, and by day four she was back at work, her stomach once again back to normal. However, being sick took it's toll on her, as she still felt tired.

A week later she entered her office yawning. Grace noticed.

"Natalie, a bed can also be used for sleeping," Grace said only partially teasing.

"Thanks for the bulletin. I do know that. I got a full 8 hours last night and a full 8 hours the night before," Nat said lightly.

Grace handed Natalie a few folders and left to take care of a few other things.

Nat, wake up! She thought to herself. Coffee had failed to do the trick the last few mornings and she did not know what to try next.

Natalie retrieved a chocolate bar and a chocolate and peanut butter candy from the vending machine. She ate the chocolate bar and soon felt the sugar rush kick in. She dropped the other candy on her desk for when the effects wore off.

Over the next few days Nick noticed that Natalie wasn't quite herself. That something was bothering her. That night when they got home he put his arms around her.

"Nat, what's wrong?"

"I don't know. I've been kinda down lately. Maybe its just work getting to me."

"I know. Why don't we go away for the weekend. Neither of us are scheduled to work."

Natalie sighed, "My schedule was changed today. Two of the other coroners came down with severe cases of the same stomach virus I had. They'll be out for at least a week. I'm sorry."

"That's okay. We'll just enjoy ourselves right here at home."

Nat's continual fatigue began to get on her nerves, leaving her rather cranky from at times. Usually first thing in the morning and near the end of her shift, not to mention the few hours from when she booked off to when she fell asleep. The crankiness was noticed by Nick, Grace, Schanke and her coworkers. Nat found herself repeatedly apologizing to people for snapping at them, often without provocation.

Nick's concern grew as Natalie often fell asleep right after eating, sometimes even while he was fixing dinner.

She also had to battle the blues. She hated feeling down and began to wonder if it was more than just work getting to her. But what could it be? She and Nick were doing fine so she figured it had to be work related. The day shift was more hectic than the night shift she was used to.

Nick still could not believe that he was still mortal. He and Natalie celebrated it every day off they got with a picnic in the park.

Nick arrived at the precinct and flopped down into his chair, frustration on his face. Schanke noticed.

"Nick, what's wrong?"

"Do you understand women? I thought I understood Nat, but now I'm not so sure. I forgot to put the seat down this morning and she let into me like I was a suspected murderer in the interrogation room." Nick couldn't believe he was turning to Schanke for advice.

"Nick, you just have to roll with it. After all these years of marriage sometimes I don't think I understand Myra at all, either. It's just the way it happens. Whenever a couple starts living together there are always adjustments to be made."

"How did you know..."

"If I couldn't figure it out, I wouldn't be much of a detective, now would I?" Schanke said cutting off Nick's earlier question.

Nick grinned and asked, "How long do the adjustments take?"

"They never really end. After the first few months you get used to each other's quirks and accept them. Then whatever adjustments have to be made don't seem like such a big deal. The most important thing to learn is when to give in and admit you were wrong and when to stand your ground."

"Thanks, Schank," Nick said a bit surprised that he was actually listening to Schanke's advice. It sounded like good advice too.

A couple of weeks later Natalie found herself rather nauseous as soon as she awoke. Within moments she found herself dashing to the bathroom and promptly emptying her stomach of its contents. When she finished she rinsed out her mouth and crawled back into bed where she called in sick to work.

Nick felt her forehead and it did not seem warm so he headed for the shower. Just as he was turning off the water he heard Natalie reenter the bathroom and throw up again, even though there was nothing left inside. Nick quickly dried himself off while she finished and wrapped a towel around himself. He helped her back to bed and tucked her in. He was torn between calling in and requesting the day off to care for her and going in so that she could sleep without him there to accidentally disturb her.

He left her crackers and Coke on her nightstand. He left the TV remote on the bed along with several new magazines for her to look at. He kissed her forehead and left.

She was sound asleep before he hit the front door. She slept all morning long and was just waking when Nick reentered to check up on her.

When a week passed and she was still throwing up first thing every morning, she decided to make a trip to the drugstore after her stomach settled down. While she waited for the nausea to pass she thought back to how she'd been feeling lately. She'd been tired, nauseous, throwing up, having to go to the bathroom more often, and moody.

It was late morning by the time she could confidently leave the apartment. She headed for the nearest drug store bought the one item she needed and headed back home. She resisted the temptation to stop off for a cup of coffee even though she really wanted one. She wasn't sure her stomach could or would tolerate it.

Once she was back in the privacy of her own apartment quickly read the instructions on the back of the box as well as those enclosed inside.

"This looks simple enough," she said to herself as she headed for the bathroom.

She performed the test and resigned herself to waiting for the results. She found herself unable to concentrate on anything except her watch. Time seemed to crawl by as she anxiously counted each movement of the second hand on her watch.

After what seemed like an eternity, she saw that it was time to check the results. She picked up the little white stick, and saw the plus sign very clearly displayed. After the initial shock, she wasn't sure what to think. Am I ready for this? Is Nick? Will everything be okay? Those were among the million questions that flashed through her mind, becoming almost too much to deal with at once. She took a deep breath and forced most of the thoughts out of her mind, knowing she could only deal with a few at a time if she wanted to keep her sanity, and didn't want a killer headache.

She headed out to the couch and plopped down on it, lost in thought. She knew that there was a slight chance it was an error so she made a doctor's appointment, wanting to know for sure one way or another. A large part of her hoped the test was right.

Nick had wanted her to go see the doctor for the last 2 days, but she had put it off by insisting it was a stomach virus. She scheduled it for the afternoon because she often felt a bit better by then.

How could this happen? She then chided herself for not taking proper precautions. How were we to know it was possible?

Nick entered and saw her seated on the couch, lost in thought.

"Nat?"

When she didn't respond he became concerned and headed over to her. She didn't notice him until he laid his hand on her shoulder.

"Natalie, is everything okay?"

She looked up at him, momentarily startled. "Everything's fine." She headed for the kitchen with him right behind her.

"You sure?" He asked as he wrapped his arms around her from behind. He could tell there was something on her mind.

"Yes." Natalie moved one of his hands to the spot where their baby was growing inside her as she looked up into his eyes, her emotions clearly showing on her face.

"Are you?" He asked, his eyes growing wide as he realized what she was telling him.

"I think so. I took one of the home tests earlier and it came back positive. I made an appointment with my doctor to have it confirmed. Just in case."

"That's terrific!" Nick spun her around in his arms so she was facing him. "How?"

"Nick, you should know that by nowÉ" she teased.

"Very funny. I mean how is it possible? I didn't know I could."

She couldn't help but grin. "Apparently you can."

"I can't believe it!" Nick said quite happy. "Is this why you've been nauseous, tired and moody lately?"

"Yes."

The next afternoon, Nick kept an eye on her as she dressed and headed for the car. He was concerned about her.

Nick had to wait outside in the waiting area while the doctor examined Natalie.

Inside the examination room Natalie had just changed into the thin paper gown and was freezing.

Her doctor entered looking down at her chart. "You're here for a pregnancy test, correct?"

"Yes."

"I need you to lay down."

She laid down on the table as instructed. The doctor performed a complete physical on her asking questions as she went. She spent a few extra minutes examining Natalie's abdomen. When the doctor was finished she left so Natalie could dress.

The doctor reentered after hearing Nat say "come in" when she knocked on the door.

"I should have the results in about 20 minutes."

About 20 minutes later Natalie and Nick were escorted into the doctor's office.

Once everyone was seated the doctor began. "Natalie, Nick, I have some good news for you. The test came back positive. You're pregnant. From the calculations, you're about seven weeks along. The nausea has a good chance of clearing up in the next few weeks. You need to schedule your first prenatal visit with an obstetrician."

"Thanks for the confirmation. I will make the appointment within the next few days."

"You need to give up coffee because the caffeine is bad for the fetus. Avoid raspberry ice tea as it can cause premature labor. You can still have sex. If you have any problems, no matter how mild, I want to know about it immediately."

"Is there a danger of sex causing something to go wrong," Nick asked, a little concerned.

"Not usually. But there is always a chance it might trigger pre-term labor." She saw Nick was still concerned. "As long as you don't hang from the chandeliers or have three hour long sexathons, everything should be fine." She noticed that helped ease Nick's concern. "As I was saying. Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Avoid hanging around smokers. Eat a balanced diet, and take one of these prenatal vitamins a day." She handed Natalie a prescription for the vitamins. "Make sure to get plenty of folic acid to prevent neural tube deficits."

"Spinal defects," Natalie said, seeing Nick's confusion. "I am."

"Don't forget to exercise, but do it safely. Don't worry about putting on weight. As long as you don't gain more than thirty pounds you're okay. Other than the few restrictions I mentioned, eat whatever you feel like eating."

Nat grimaced. "Right now, food is not the most appealing thing. I do make sure I eat."

"Eating is important. How bad is the morning sickness?"

"If I have a couple crackers and some Coke before I get up I don't get sick. At least not first thing. I know, I'll try another soda without caffeine. Overall it isn't too bad." Natalie was grateful it wasn't as bad as her friend, Wendy, had had it. She couldn't even keep down Jello, and it lasted all nine months.

"If you MUST take x-rays be certain you wear a full lead shield. Wear rubber gloves WHENEVER you come in contact with Formaldehyde."

Natalie noticed Nick's confusion. "It's a fetal toxin." She noticed his shocked look. "Don't worry, I always do."

Later when they returned home, a huge smile erupted across his face matching hers and he picked her up in his arms and swung her around, stopping only when he heard.

"Nick! I'm going to be sick."

"Sorry about that. I can't believe it."

"Let's not tell anyone just yet. Do you mind?" She knew first pregnancies had the highest risk of miscarriage in the first few months. She didn't want to deal with everyone's sympathies and questions if anything went wrong.

"No. How long do you want to wait?"

"A month or two. We'll tell them about the time that my waistline begins to expand. At least we know why I've been tired, sick, and moody, and when it will all finally stop." Natalie realized she had overlooked something important. "I will need to tell my boss so she can start looking for a temp. She'll keep it a secret if I ask her to. Which I intend to do."

"I need to tell Cohen too. She won't tell if I ask her not to," Nick said. "I don't want you overexerting yourself. I want you taking good care of our little miracle," he said, as his hand drifted down to her abdomen

"I will take very good care of her. I won't stop working though."

"I know. When are you going back?"

"I'm going to try to tomorrow. At least now that I know why I was nauseous I can do something about it."

"How?"

"I'll just have my Coke and crackers before I get up instead of after I throw up. Maybe I can prevent that part."

"What about our love life?"

"There is no reason it has to change." She said with a wicked grin.

"Is it safe?"

"Yes."

Nick gently kissed Natalie, but deepened the kiss when she responded.

When the kiss ended, only due to their need to breathe, Nick disappeared for a moment.

He returned and approached her, leading her to the couch. Once she was seated he kneeled down before her as he fished a small black box out of his pocket.

"Natalie, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?" He asked as he opened the box, exposing the beautiful, flawless, two carat diamond.

Natalie was stunned. "Yes. I'd be honored to become Mrs. Knight." Tears ran down her cheeks.

Nick was thrilled, happier than he'd ever been, outside of finding out they were having a baby. He removed the ring from the box and slipped it onto her finger.

"It's beautiful."

"You're beautiful," he whispered, before softly kissing her. "What sort of wedding do you want to have?"

"I want something simple. Just our closest friends. Yes, you can invite Janette and Lacroix as they are your family."

"Thank you. I wasn't sure if you'd want them there. I wasn't even sure if I wanted them there. But I think I do," Nick said. "When do you want the wedding?"

"Soon. I don't want to wait until after the baby is born, and I refuse to wear a maternity wedding dress."

Nick noticed the question in Natalie's eyes. "No, I'm not marrying you just because of the baby. It just pushed up the timetable a bit."

"You know, people will most likely figure out I was pregnant at the time we married."

"I know. I don't care."

"Neither do I."

They planned the wedding until Natalie fell asleep in Nick's arms. He carried her up to bed.

The next morning Nick woke before Natalie and carefully got out of bed so that he would not wake her. He brought her caffeine free Coke and crackers, leaving them on her nightstand before going in to take his shower.

She heard the shower and awoke. A smile crossed her face when she found her snack on the nightstand. She nibbled a few crackers and drank most of her glass of Coke before she got out of bed. Her stomach did seem more settled and she was pleased that she did not feel the urge to throw up. Her sore side and abdominal muscles were grateful for the reprieve.

She heard the shower turn off and knew that it was her turn.

Nick saw the bathroom door open and her enter.

"How are you feeling?"

"Better. Thanks."

It had finally sank in and neither could believe that she was carrying his child. It was if all their dreams were coming true.

In Natalie's office Nick kissed Natalie goodbye, at which point Grace entered and waited for them to finish. Clearing her throat when it seemed like Nick and Natalie had discovered a very strong glue on their lips. They parted and Nick tried to slip by Grace, but was not fast enough.

"Hi, Grace," Nick said.

"Nick, Natalie, I know you two are very much in love but you have to get some sleep. Natalie, honey, you look like hell," she playfully scolded.

"We do get some sleep. The doctor said I'd be tired for a while before I felt better. I can't stand to be home for another minute. Besides I have work to do."

"Don't work too hard. Remember there's the cot in the main locker room in case you need to lie down." Grace knew that if Natalie was determined to work she had no chance at changing her mind. She was glad Natalie had seen a doctor. "Are you okay?" Grace asked concerned.

"I'm fine, Grace," Natalie cheerfully said.

Natalie looked through the pile of file folders on her desk, curious to see if Grace would notice her ring.

"Natalie, is that what I think it is?" Grace asked when the diamond caught the light just the right way and caught her attention. She took hold of her friend's hand to get a better look at the ring. "It is, isn't it?" She asked, wide eyed.

"Yes. He proposed to me last night."

"I want all the details."

Natalie chuckled. "I'll tell you over lunch. Okay?"

"Fair enough. When's the wedding?"

"Saturday." Natalie loved Grace's shocked expression. "We both wanted something simple." Natalie handed Grace one of the handwritten invitations Nick had written out while Natalie had slept.

"I have to throw you a shower. Have you decided who will be your bridesmaid?"

"I was hoping you'd do it."

"I'd love to," Grace exuberantly said as she hugged her friend.

Grace's pager beeped, breaking up their girl talk. Grace sighed and went to see what they needed.

Natalie started on the first client, making sure she took extra precautions, not wanting to accidentally expose herself or their child to anything dangerous. In addition to her regular gown and vinyl gloves she added goggles and a mask to complete the protection.

At the precinct Nick approached his desk and saw Schanke look up from his paperwork.

"How's Natalie?"

"She's feeling better. She went back to work this morning."

"That's good."

Schanke had a hunch what was wrong with Natalie but could not tell Nick because he needed more than just his hunch. He remembered when Myra was acting the same way.

Nick handed Schanke the invitation and let his partner read it.

"It's about time. Wow, that's not much notice."

"We wanted a simple wedding and didn't want to put it off."

Schanke was pleased to see Nick doing the right thing, especially if his hunch was correct and wondered how long it would've taken them to take that step, otherwise. He was tempted to tease Nick but decided to be nice.

Natalie was careful not to let her stomach become empty, knowing it would trigger the nausea and vomiting. She was pleased she managed to get through the day without throwing up once. It was a relatively light day so she was not overtaxed energy wise.

She was pleased that she had time to check Nick's latest blood sample. The virus was still inactive, mostly dead.

Have I actually done it? She wondered.

Later in the shift, Grace entered with a box of chocolate and offered Natalie a piece.

Natalie was startled to find the smell of it, and just it's presence was nauseating her.

"No thanks."

"Okay, where is the real Natalie?"

"I'm the real me. I guess my stomach hasn't totally recovered." She motioned to the box. "Can you please cover it?"

"Sure," Grace said.

Natalie couldn't believe how much her favorite food now nauseated her and hoped that once the baby arrived she could once again eat it.

That evening Natalie fell asleep in Nick's arms while watching a movie. He was surprised at how early it was, but had seen how tired she was. He gently eased himself from under her and headed for the bedroom where he turned down the bed. He returned to the living room, scooped her up being careful not to wake her and gently laid her on the bed, tucking the covers around her. He kissed her forehead and saw her roll over onto her side without stirring.

Grace threw Natalie and Nick a wedding shower at the loft, scolding Natalie giving her such short notice. Lacroix, Janette, the Schanke family, the Captain and Natalie's boss were all in attendance. Some of the guests were quite curious as they were getting their first look inside Nick's loft. They'd heard about it, but had never been inside. Grace and Myra had put up some decorations, wanting to give the place a more festive feeling.

Everyone put their present on the table by the stairs after they'd entered and offered their congratulations to the couple. Along with some teasing about how long it took them to get together, then having the wedding almost immediately. There were jokes about Nick getting her in trouble, which they just ignored, making a joke out of it.

Everyone talked, enjoying the chance without working getting in the way. The food was quickly devoured, and then the cake was cut. Before long it was time to open the gifts.

Grace gave the happy couple sexy lingerie to wear on their honeymoon, causing both to blush. Janette gave them a copy of the Kama Sutra, loving to see them blush again. Janette was busy thinking of a couple of one liners about how they'd tried out many of the positions in the book, but decided not to embarrass Nick, at least not yet. The Schanke's gave Nick and Natalie a beautiful crystal vase. Lacroix's gift was a pair of antique candlesticks. Nick knew they had to be at least 500 years old and would tell Natalie later, when they were alone. Cohen gave them a silver picture frame. Natalie's boss, Terri gave them another silver picture frame. Nick and Natalie thanked each person for their nice gifts, and told their bosses that one can never have too many picture frames.

After a pleasant evening of talking, laughter and fun, Nick and Nat thanked their guests as they left the happy couple.

At work that day Natalie had more to do than she could possibly get done. She was in and out all morning between the field and her office. It was a little before lunchtime when Grace entered to ask Natalie something.

"Excuse me, Grace," Natalie said rather urgently as she rushed out of the room.

Natalie barely made it to the ladies room before she found herself throwing up again. Damn! I thought I had solved that problem, she thought, then remembering that she had allowed her stomach to become empty. She had been too busy to grab something to eat since breakfast. Once she finished she rinsed out her mouth and headed back for her office. She was grateful no one had been in the ladies room as she did not need to contend with the various rumors that her throwing up would've started.

"Natalie, honey, is everything okay?" Grace asked concerned, seeing how Nat looked a little pale and tired.

"Yes. I had to make sure a series of tests would be done in the order I specified. Sorry if I made you worry."

"I came in to see if you wanted to have lunch together."

"That would be nice. When?"

"In about an hour."

"Sounds good."

As soon as Grace had left Natalie headed for the snack machine, knowing that she had to get something into her stomach soon or she would be throwing up again. She chose potato chips and lemonade. She remembered somewhere hearing or reading that it was a cure for nausea.

The machine took her money, which caused her to kick it until it surrendered the potato chip bag.

Natalie reentered her office and poured the lemonade into her mug, sticking the leftover into the fridge for later, not wanting anyone to question her odd food choices. She opened the chip bag and ate them while washing them down with the lemonade, surprised to discover it was a cure for nausea.

Grace and Natalie walked to a nearby cafe for lunch. Natalie allowed her body to chose lunch as long as it was nothing too outrageous.

Grace noticed that Natalie was still quite tired but she didn't seem quite as cranky as she had been.

"Natalie honey, are you sure you're okay?"

"I'm fine," Natalie snapped and instantly regretted it. "I'm sorry."

The waitress came and took their order. Grace noticed that Natalie had avoided anything too spicy.

"Natalie, I'm concerned about you."

"I'm fine, really. Living with someone takes a little more effort than I thought. He's been great while I was sick. The day shift is much more hectic and sometimes it gets to me."

Grace gave up knowing that she would not get anything more out of her friend, at least on that subject. She understood about how the shift change could make one a bit cranky, especially as busy as dayshift had been lately.

The food came and Natalie had a grilled cheese sandwich with potato chips and lemonade while Grace had chicken salad with fruit and ice tea.

On her way in to work the next evening she stopped off at a nearby convenience store and picked up a bunch of snack foods to stash in her desk. She knew it was the only way she'd make sure her stomach was never left empty. She checked the labels to make sure they wouldn't hurt the new life growing inside her. She was surprised when there was not a single chocolate item in the entire bag of snacks.

Saturday afternoon came and when Natalie arrived at the loft to change into her wedding dress she was shocked to see the transformation it had undergone. The furniture and art supplies had been pushed against the far wall. There was an aisle with wildflowers of every conceivable color, shape and size lining the path to where they'd stand and say their vows. She put her dress upstairs in the bedroom and headed back downstairs. She walked over the fridge and grabbed a quick snack as she was not about to let her stomach get empty and the morning sickness interfere with her wedding.

A few minutes later Grace buzzed and was let up. Natalie was surprised when Myra, Grace and Jenny got out of the elevator. They were all dressed in different style dresses, all Royal blue.

"We arrived just as she was getting into the elevator and she let us in."

"You guys look great. Jenny, you look really pretty," Natalie said to the eight year old.

"Don told me that the bachelor party went well last night. That it was kept tasteful. The did find the Raven an odd place to hold it until he explained about the short notice making it impossible to get anywhere else. And he mentioned that he knew the owner. All the men's tongues were dragging on the bar when they saw her."

"I'm not surprised. She is beautiful," Natalie said. There was not a hint of jealousy in her voice.

The door buzzed again. Natalie saw it was Janette and let her up. She wore an elegant burgundy gown.

"Shouldn't you head upstairs? Nick will be here soon," Grace said.

"You're right." Natalie grabbed couple of Twinkies before heading up the stairs.

Grace was right behind her. While Grace helped Natalie into her dress, Myra dimmed the lights. Jenny was seated on the couch, keeping herself entertained with her Gameboy Advanced. Janette offered her help.

The buzzer sounded one more time. Janette let up Natalie's boss, Terri and Captain Cohen.

Inside Nick's bedroom, Natalie slipped out of her clothes and into her dress. Grace zipped up the back. Natalie examined herself in the mirror. The gown was a simple, traditional, yet quite elegant, white wedding dress.

"You look beautiful," Grace said with a large smile.

"Thanks, Grace." Natalie couldn't believe how nervous she was. She unwrapped a Twinkie and bit into it.

"Natalie! You don't want to get that all over your dress."

"Sorry. I'm nervous. I'm hungry. If I don't feed the butterflies, I'm afraid they'll make me sick."

Grace wondered if there wasn't *something* else that would make her friend sick, or more properly put *someone* else, someone not yet seen.

Natalie heard the lift door open. Myra came up the stairs and knocked on the closed door.

"Natalie, Nick, Don, Lacroix and the Justice of the Peace are downstairs, ready whenever you are. Nick looks great!"

"Thanks. I'll be down in just a minute."

Myra walked down the stairs, and over to Nick.

"She'll be down in a minute," She said to Nick. She could see how nervous he was and laid her arm on his in a comforting gesture.

Nick started the soft Celtic music CD they'd chosen for the ceremony and took his place. Schanke went up to wait for Natalie as he was giving the bride away. Everyone picked a place to stand along the edges of the aisle. Myra had the video camera out and set it on it's tripod so it would capture the whole thing. She double checked the angle through the small attached monitor and once satisfied moved beside it, but still where she could peek at it from time to time.

Up in the bedroom, Natalie checked her hair and makeup one last time. There was a knock on the door. Grace opened it, blocking the view into the room until she saw it was Janette and ushered her in.

"Natalie, I thought you'd like to have something old for good luck." Janette walked over to Natalie and handed her a beautiful silver bracelet.

Natalie took it from Janette with a smile on her face. She noticed the intricate pattern covering the bracelet's surface. "It's beautiful. Thank you." Natalie held the bracelet out to Janette and asked, "would you please help me put it on."

"I'd be honored." She fastened the bracelet around Natalie's wrist, noticing the curiosity in Natalie's eyes about the age of the bracelet. "It's been in the family for over 750 years now." She saw the surprise in Natalie's eyes, and noticed how Natalie quickly covered it up so no one else saw it.

"You have something old, something borrowed, something new, all you need is something blue," Grace said as she handed Natalie a small shiny blue box. "No, that's not it, open it," she said in response to Natalie's questioning, confused look.

Natalie took the box and opened it, inside was a new, blue garter. Natalie quickly slipped it over her foot and up to her mid thigh. She took a deep breath and stood. Grace and Janette knew that was their clue to head downstairs. The bedroom door opened and the two ladies slipped past Schanke. When they had reached the bottom of the stairs, Natalie appeared on the landing.

Every single black tuxedo clad man, vampire or mortal, in the room was captivated by her beauty, her radiance as she and Schanke walked down the stairs. She loved seeing that look on all their faces. Even Lacroix seemed to show his admiration of her beauty in a totally non-threatening manner, surprising her a little.

"You look stunning," Schanke told her as they walked down the stairs.

"So do you," Natalie said, a bouquet of colorful wildflowers in one hand.

Once they reached the ground floor, Natalie wrapped her hand around Schanke's upper arm as he escorted her over to Nick, then walked over beside Nick where he took his place as best man.

Natalie and Nick joined hands and faced each other.

"Natalie, I knew you were something special from the very first moment we met. It took me a while to get up the courage to tell you how I felt about you, and a while longer to act on those feelings. I was afraid I was the only one who felt that way and was thrilled beyond belief to learn the feelings were mutual. I look forward to spending the rest of my life by your side, no matter what happens. I promise to be the best husband I can be." His eyes added the unspoken thought to be the best father I can be.

"Nick, I too knew you were something special from the very first moment we met. And like you, it took me a while to get up the courage to tell you how I felt about you, afraid I was the only one who had those feelings. I too was afraid to act on them. I was nearly speechless with delight when I learned that you felt the same way I did. I would like nothing better than spending the rest of my life by your side, no matter what happens. I promise to the best wife I can be." Her unspoken thought told him that she'd be the best mother she could be.

"Nicholas Knight, do you take Natalie Lambert to be your lawfully wedded wife?" The Justice of the Peace asked.

"I do," he said, love pouring out of every pore of his body.

The ladies in the audience getting all teary eyed. Janette wasn't quite as affected, but was affected by it, as was Lacroix. Even Schanke was getting a bit teary eyed

"Natalie Lambert, do you take Nicholas Knight to be your lawfully wedded husband?

"I do," she said, love pouring out of every pore of her body.

"Slip the rings onto each other's fingers and repeat, *this ring is a symbol of my never ending love for you*."

Nick slipped the simple gold band onto Natalie's finger and repeated the words, his voice filled with love for his bride. Natalie slipped the simple gold band onto Nick's finger and repeated the words, her love for him clearly evident in her voice. Their eyes radiated their love like a bright shining light.

"I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may now kiss."

Natalie and Nick kissed. It was a long, loving kiss, their arms around each other. When they finally broke off the kiss, they turned to face their friends.

Their friends approached and hugged them, offering their congratulations. Nick and Natalie walked over to the kitchen table and prepared to cut the cake. Myra was now holding the camera as she caught it all on videotape. Nick had his hand over Natalie's on the silver knife as they made the first slice into the small, yet elegantly decorated wedding cake. After that, Natalie let Nick slice the cake, not wanting to remind everyone what she cut into for a living.

After Nick had the first piece on the plate, Myra told the newlyweds that they had to finish off the piece to have good luck. Nick took a forkful, making sure that he had plenty of frosting and started to feed Natalie, her look warning him that it had better NOT wind up on her face. She ate the large bite in one almost overwhelming mouthful. Then it was her turn to feed him a large portion of the piece. She saw the same warning in his eyes as she fed him.

Once that had been done the cake was split up for the guests to share. While the guests ate, Natalie changed out of her wedding dress into an elegant blue dress. Everyone headed down to the street to pile into the waiting limos for the trip to the finest restaurant in town for the reception. There was to be food, drink and dancing.

Everyone had a great time eating, drinking and dancing. Natalie was careful to consume only things that were good for her and the baby. She was able to drink non-alcoholic champagne along with Jenny without too much commentary.

"Jenny, I thought you'd like to have champagne with the rest of us. And found a special one with no alcohol just for us," Natalie said.

"Cool. Thanks. Why are you drinking it?"

"Because I like it too. And I didn't want you to feel bad being the only one drinking it," Natalie said, knowing that another major reason was the baby.

"Thanks."

After a few hours the party broke up as they could see Natalie was about to fall asleep.

"I'm sorry guys."

"It's been a long week, and a long day. Go home and get some sleep. Have a great weekend," Schanke said.

Their friends nodded their agreement with the statement. Everyone but Jenny had a devious, playful grin and matching twinkle in their eyes.

Natalie and Nick said their goodbyes, hugging everyone as they left.

Natalie fell asleep in the limo on the way home. Nick scooped her up in his arms and carried her inside, and straight up to the bed. He set her down and covered her with a blanket. He laid down beside her, his arm draped across her chest.

Two nights later, Natalie and Nick went to their first appointment with the certified Nurse Midwife they had picked. They had heard nothing but good things about her. Natalie did not want to do the usual obstetrician and hospital delivery because she knew too much about what went on in hospitals, and hated the lack of privacy, the frequent sleep interruptions, the uncomfortable bed, among other things. She would have a back up obstetrician in case there was a problem but would not use her otherwise. Natalie picked a certified Nurse Midwife to serve as her main caretaker during her pregnancy.

Natalie was examined by the Midwife before the she would even consider taking her on.

The midwife showed Natalie and Nick the hospital's Mother and Baby unit. They were surprised by the way it looked. It was comfortable looking, pastel walls, real sheets and comforter on the bed, a comfortable chair. It looked more like a hotel room than a hospital room. There was no medical equipment in sight. It was all tucked away in it's closet. There were speakers mounted on the walls, painted to match the surroundings.

"Nat, this isn't so bad."

"No, it's not. And it would be saferÉ" Natalie asked, "will I have more privacy than I would in the rest of the hospital? Will I be woken up as often? Is the bed more comfortable? Will I be able to pick the music I listen to?"

"You will have more privacy. There will be checks on you and the baby, but not as often, at least not until you're ready to deliver. The bed is more comfortable. You'll be encouraged to do whatever makes you comfortable, sitting, standing, walkingÉ provided it is a normal, healthy pregnancy. You'll also be able to deliver in whatever position is most comfortable for you. You will be able to watch movies or listen to whatever music you wish to hear. We try to make the experience as comfortable and relaxed as we can. We know that the more at ease you are, the easier the delivery will be."

Nick and Natalie looked at each other, trying to read the other's feelings in their eyes.

"It would be best for all of us," Natalie said. She had been reluctant to agree, but her medical side knew this was safer for both her and her child. This unit was more like what she wanted when she gave birth.

Natalie entered the precinct later to drop off some files. Afterwards she stopped by Nick and Schanke's desk.

"Hi guys."

"Natalie, how are you feeling?" Schanke asked concerned. He saw that she still looked quite tired.

"I'm fine, Schank."

Unseen by anyone Schanke slipped an envelope into the top folder he gave to Natalie. Natalie took the folder and left.

Back at the morgue she opened the folder and saw a card. Curious she opened it. It said congratulations on the front. Inside it was blank outside of Schanke's scribbling which read - Congratulations on finally getting together and the baby. Don. Natalie was stunned. Is he the only one who knows? How did he figure it out? She wondered. Natalie quickly tucked the card away into her purse so that no one else would see it.

Later that shift she found a reason to return to the precinct and was glad to see that Nick was busy on the other side of the room.

"Schank, come with me," Natalie said.

Schanke followed her wondering what she had in mind. They entered an briefing room and she shut the door.

"How did you know?" Natalie asked. "Please don't tell anyone."

"I remember what Myra was like when she was pregnant with Jenny. It took me a while to figure it out. I won't tell anyone. Nick does know?"

"Yes. How long have you known? We just found out a few days ago."

"About a week. When you were sick, on top of the other symptoms you were displaying pretty much told me. No one else suspects," he assured her.

"Thanks for the card. That was sweet."

The next night Natalie entered her supervisor's office not totally ready to announce her pregnancy but she knew it would take time to find a temporary replacement and make sure all the proper paperwork was completed in time.

"Terri, there's something I need to tell you," Natalie said somewhat nervously and a little hesitantly. "In about seven months I will need maternity leave."

Terri was caught off guard, but quite pleased. "Congratulations! I don't see that being a problem. Will you be wanting the full leave?"

"Thanks. Yes, as I'll want to spend as much time as I can with her."

"Her?"

"I have a feeling it will be a girl."

"Do you need to make any changes in your schedule? Is there anything you don't think you should be doing?"

"No. Everything's going smoothly and I don't anticipate any problems. I will let you know if anything changes."

"Okay. Thanks for not waiting until you were further along to tell me."

"Please don't tell anyone until I start to show."

"No problem."

Meanwhile at the precinct Nick knocked on Cohen's door and saw her motion for him to enter.

"Knight, what can I do for you?"

Nick wasn't quite sure how to tell her what he had to and nervously said, "Captain, I would like to take advantage of the policy allowing fathers to spend time with their new baby."

Cohen was pleased as well as surprised.

"Congratulations. How soon will you need leave? How long will you be out?"

"I will be needing it in about seven months. I would like the full leave."

"I don't see a problem."

"Thanks, Captain. Don't tell any one until she begins to show."

"I won't," Cohen said. As a mother, she knew they probably were keeping quiet until the risk of miscarriage passed. She had done the same thing during her pregnancy.

On her way back from a crime scene, Nat stopped off at a nearby convenience store and picked up another bunch of snack foods to replenish the stash in her desk.

Around the beginning of Natalie's third month she had another appointment with the midwife. Nick accompanied her, wanting to share as much of the pregnancy as he could.

The midwife examined Natalie. She used a special sound-wave stethoscope that allowed everyone in the room to hear the baby's heartbeat. A smile crossed Nick and Natalie's face as they heard the sound of their child.

A couple weeks later Natalie was relieved when she awoke one morning to find that the nausea was gone. She heard the shower running and joined him. They washed each other's backs, then turned to do the front.

"How are you this morning?" Nick asked.

"Much better. The nausea seems to be gone."

"I'm glad," Nick said.

"Me too."

Nick's hand stopped on her belly where their child was. She smiled, seeing so happy. He'd been overjoyed since she'd told him they were having a baby. Everything was perfect, which scared her.

After getting out of the shower, Natalie noticed that she looked a little pudgy, nothing that anyone who wasn't familiar with her body would detect. Nick had noticed but did not say anything.

She noticed that her skirt was a little too tight, it had been somewhat tight fitting beforehand and decided to put something else on. She slipped into a pair of pants, blouse and blazer. She put on her flats, not feeling like wearing her low heels.

Nick noticed that her skin, hair and nails were more radiant than he'd ever seen them, and made sure he complimented her.

About a week later, Nick arrived at his loft to find that Natalie had beaten him home. She did not seem as tired she usually was after her shift. They way she was eyeing him made him nervous. He saw this predatory look in her eyes and it made him a little nervous and a little turned on by it.

She started towards him causing him to go the other way, confused by her actions. He felt like prey. And Natalie was every bit the predator.

It was then that he noticed she looked very hot in the sleek, sexy, black dress she had on.

She watched his actions and intercepted him near the couch. She wrapped her arms around him before he could escape and kissed him *very* passionately. It was a long, deep kiss leaving both breathless when their lips parted.

She pushed his jacket off his shoulders, dropping it to the floor behind him. She carefully removed his holster, laying it on the coffee table before turning her attention to his shirt buttons. She made quick work of the buttons, trailing a path of kisses down his chest as she went.

Nick was quite surprised because Natalie was more passion filled than he had ever seen her. More so than their first night.

Ten days later Nick was exhausted and Natalie seemed just as tired but she still seemed to be a source of unyielding hunger and passion.

"Do you mind if I tell Schanke?" Nick asked over dinner one evening.

"No. I want to tell Grace. I still don't want everyone to know yet." Natalie was unsure if she should tell Nick that Schanke already knew. She decided that she would let him have the pleasure of telling Schanke and hoped Schanke had the sense to let him do it.

"Okay."

Nick and Schanke had a call to respond to first thing that morning. While heading to the address Nick decided to let his partner in on the good news.

"Schank, I've got some great news. You have to promise not to tell anyone."

"Okay."

"Nat's pregnant. I'm going to be a father," Nick said beaming with happiness and pride.

"Congratulations," Schanke said quite cheerfully, as he slapped his partner on the back.

"Was Myra...." Nick said trying to find a polite and tactful way of putting it.

"Horny as can be?" Schanke asked sensing Nick's dilemma. Nick nodded. "You bet. She was very horny during the second trimester. Which I would guess Natalie has recently entered, judging by your exhaustion and her lack of morning sickness and the fact that she's been less moody."

"How long have you known?"

"I figured it out a few days before Natalie found out. You'll be able to spot pregnant women too, sometimes before they even know it themselves. By the way you'll get to catch up on your sleep during the last trimester, because she'll be quite tired and sleeping most of the time."

"Thanks."

"Enjoy it while you can, because once the baby comes she won't feel up to it for a while."

Natalie entered her office and saw Grace there. Grace had noticed the subtle changes in her friend, and a certain radiance about her. She had a hunch she knew what was up with Nat, but hadn't said anything because she wasn't certain yet.

"Grace, what I'm about to tell you has to remain a secret."

"Okay."

"I'm pregnant."

"Congratulations," Grace said excitedly. She hugged Natalie. "How far along are you?"

"Four months. Poor Nick. First it was the morning sickness and the moodiness now.... all I can think of when we get home is getting my hands on his body. It just started a few days ago, right after the morning sickness stopped."

Grace had a large smile plastered across her face. "So you've turned horny. Nice side effect."

"I think I'm wearing him out," Natalie said with a wicked grin.

Natalie was dressing when she felt a slight movement inside her. It felt similar your tongue brushing against your cheek.

"Hi there. Are you going to be an active little girl?" Natalie's hand settled on her slightly expanded belly.

Nick entered the room and saw the smile on her face.

"Did I miss something?"

"I just felt our baby move."

"Can I ...." Nick asked curious and a little apprehensive.

"You can try, but I don't think you'll be able to feel it for a few more weeks." She placed his hand on the spot.

Nick was a little disappointed when he could not feel anything.

That night Natalie arrived home to find Nick reading a book about pregnancy. Her eyes then spotted the stack of books on the coffee table.

"Doing a little light reading?" she teased.

"I want to know all about it. It's amazing. How something so tiny can turn into a living creature."

"I know. It's even more amazing when you feel it happening inside you. To know what is happening is one thing, but to experience it is something totally different."

She sat down next to him and looked through the stack of books until she found one that caught her attention. She curled up next to him and started reading.

Two weeks later when Natalie opened the drapes to let the light in Nick yelped in pain and jumped back into the bathroom. Natalie entered the bathroom and saw the rapidly healing burn on his hand. The disappointment they both felt s they stared at it nearly overwhelmed them.

Natalie closed the bedroom curtains tight and only then did Nick reenter the room.

"How are you feeling?" Natalie asked already switched over to her *doctor mode*.

"I did not notice anything different..." then he hesitated a moment before continuing. "...actually I could hear your heartbeat as you were putting on your shoes. I could hear what you were doing. It was almost as if someone turned off a light switch. Now I can hear both heartbeats."

"I want to take another sample right away. You should call in sick today. Do you want me to drop you off at your loft on my way in?"

"I'll call in when we get to my loft. I'll need you to bring me some supplies."

They knew things had been too perfect, too good to be true. And now one part of their perfect dream was over, at least for now.

Natalie took a blood sample from Nick before they left. He had to squish himself into her trunk before they left the parking garage. She drove to his loft and parked inside the garage. She had him wait in the elevator while she closed the blinds in his loft.

"So what do we do now?" Nick asked.

"I don't know. We'll figure something out. The first thing I'm going to do is test the sample I just took. Later when I come over we'll discuss our options. Remember, we knew this was a possibility." She struggled to keep the disappointment from her voice.

"I know. I'll see you later," Nick said as he walked her to the elevator and kissed her passionately on the lips, pleased when she responded with an equal if not more intense passion.

As soon as Natalie left, Nick searched for any remaining bottle.

Just then, his door buzzer sounded. "Delivery from the Raven."

"Come on up," Nick said as he released the elevator.

A youngish vampire set down a crate of blood and left. No sooner had he taken the elevator down, then Nick grabbed a bottle and drained it, surprised that it was human.

Nick stashed the green bottles in his fridge, then headed for the couch.

He plopped down onto it and gave into the millions of thoughts running around his brain. What will happen now? Is it safe for me to be around them? What about when our child is born? Should I stick with human or go back to cow? Nick knew the more well nourished he was the better he'd be able to handle stress. He didn't know if he could readjust to the vampire lifestyle after having had a taste of mortality.

As soon as Natalie entered her office she smeared a slide with Nick's latest blood sample and stuck it under the microscope. Her heart sank as she saw that somehow the once-dormant vampire virus had somehow been reactivated. She also noticed some changes to the other cells in his body. She examined them closer, taking note of some important developments. Curiosity and desperation fueled her as she began analyzing the blood samples. She ran the blood sample through a battery of tests and learned that the drug was having a toxic effect on Nick's normal cells while having no further effects on his vampirism.

At lunchtime she returned to the loft to break the bad news to Nick. She found him seated on the couch dining his features laced with worry, his muscles obviously tensed, and a goblet full of rich, crimson liquid clasped in his hand. He looked up at her as she approached him.

"Nat, did you test the sample?"

"Yes. The vampire virus somehow reactivated itself. The drug seems to have a toxic effect on your other cells, which was not noticeable until today."

"So what do we do now?" Nick asked not wanting to lose his dream. He didn't want to give up.

"What do you want to do?"

She sighed in defeat.

"I want to continue on as much like before as we can. I want to be there for both you and our baby."

"That's what I want." She felt the baby move. "That's what we want," she said correcting herself.

Nick hesitantly placed his hand on her slightly expanded belly and did not feel anything, to his disappointment.

Nat reassured him, "You should be able to feels something soon. How about doing some shopping tonight? My clothes are getting too tight."

"Okay. Have you thought about where our baby will be raised?"

"Not really. We do need to think about that. Neither of our places are really suitable."

"Especially mine," Nick said. "Why don't we start looking around tomorrow night?"

"Sounds good."

They stood up and were about to head for the door when he wrapped his arms around her from behind. One hand found its way down onto the slight expansion of her abdomen, nothing her friends or coworkers would notice yet, but there all the same. Maybe in another couple of weeks they would.

Natalie knew she would have to start wearing maternity clothes in another month or two but was not ready to start looking at them yet. She tried on a few different non maternity outfits suitable for work. She was looking for something comfortable and that would not emphasize her waistline like most of her clothes did.

Nick gave his opinions when asked for them. He liked most of the stuff she modeled for him. He did let her know when he thought something wasn't flattering to her. After almost two hours she had found around half a dozen outfits she really liked and a couple more she liked but could do without.

Natalie took the outfits she really liked up to the counter and dug out her credit card. Nick handed his to the clerk before she could. She tried to push his hand out of the way but failed.

"Nat, let me do this for you."

She could see how much he wanted to do it and nodded.

"Why don't you go get the others you liked."

Natalie quickly returned with the other outfits she had wanted to buy and handed them to the sales lady.

The next afternoon Natalie dropped her new outfits off at the cleaners during her lunch hour, as it was the first of several errands she had to do.

When Natalie arrived back at the coroner's office she headed for her supervisor's office and knocked on the door, knowing she couldn't put it off, and she'd missed the night shift.

"Come in."

"Hi Terri, I wonder if I could switch back to nightshifts?"

"Okay. We are a bit shorthanded there."

That night Nick entered the precinct and headed straight for the Captain's office, making a pitstop at Schanke's desk. Nick was glad he caught his partner before he had left for the night. Schanke noticed that something was wrong and grew concerned.

"Nick, is everything okay?"

"No."

"Is Nat okay? Are things okay between the two of you?"

"Nat's fine. We're fine." Nick was not totally convinced that the last part was true, but he kept hope alive. He hoped his *re-vamping* would not change their lives for the worse. "You might want to hear what I have to tell Cohen. It affects you too."

Nick knocked on Cohen's door and entered when she motioned for him to. Schanke was right behind him.

"Knight, Schanke what did you want to see me about?"

"Remember when I told you about the experimental drug I was taking?" When Nick saw them both nod he continued. "The drug no longer works. My allergy is back, once again restricting me to nights. Sorry, Schanke."

"Oh well. That's life," Schanke said, a little disappointed.

"When do you want to switch?" Cohen asked.

"Tomorrow night. I have a few things I have to take care of tonight."

"I'll see you both tomorrow night."

As soon as Nick and Schanke had left the Captain's office Schanke pulled Nick into a briefing room.

"Is everything really okay?" Schanke asked concerned.

"Yes. Nat's fine, the baby's fine and I'm doing okay. Really."

Schanke breathed a sigh of relief. "I'm glad to hear it."

"Thanks for the concern."

Natalie was waiting for Nick at the loft. As soon as Nick arrived they headed out. Nick stopped whereever Natalie told him to, wanting her to have whatever she wanted for dinner. Nick found Natalie's choice of lemonade, spicy chicken wings, and sweet and sour pork to be quite amusing. He was surprised at that particular combination, but remembered reading about pregnancy cravings. He wondered what other ones she'd have before her due date.

Natalie and Nick had three houses to look at that evening. They both knew not to get their hopes up as very few people found their new home that easily.

The realtor met them at her office not sure if she believed their explanation for the night appointment. After the introductions they climbed into the realtor's car and headed out.

The first house was in a nice quite suburban neighborhood. The houses were well cared for. The house was empty and the realtor unlocked the door and flipped on a few of the overhead lights. She pointed out a few of the highlights before leaving them to explore on their own.

"Take your time. I'll be glad to answer any questions you may have. Is this your first house?"

"Yes," Natalie said.

Nick and Natalie looked around the house trying to imagine how their furnishings would fit in.

"What do you think?" She asked, unsure about a few things in the house and wanted Nick's opinion.

"I think the rooms are a little small."

"Me too. I don't know how well we would fit in here."

"Do you mind if I ask what you do for a living?"

"No. I'm a forensic pathologist," Natalie said, seeing the blank look on the realtor's face, "A coroner." Nat grinned upon seeing the surprised look on the realtor's face.

"I'm a homicide detective."

"Sounds like you met at work."

"Yes," Natalie said stifling the grin that wanted to come out. She saw Nick more successfully repressing his.

"Are you sure this is in your price range?"

"Yes. I received a small inheritance," Nick said reassuring the woman that they could afford the home. If she only knew he could afford to outright buy most of the mansions in existence she would probably have a massive coronary.

They moved onto the next house, also a vacant one. Again she pointed out the highlights before allowing her clients to wander through the house on their own.

"Nat, are you sure you don't want something bigger?"

"I want a nice, simple house. Something cozy, but with room to grow."

Again they found the rooms to be smaller than they wanted. So they moved onto the next house.

At the third house the realtor pointed out the highpoints and let them wander. Nick and Natalie wandered through the place seeing that the rooms were a little bigger, but still not big enough.

"Maybe, we should look at something a little larger," Natalie said. She wanted their child to have plenty of room to play without leaving their room. She wanted enough room for her and Nick to have some space of their own.

"What price range are we now talking?"

"Under a million," Nick said startling the realtor, and Natalie to some extent.

"That's a good sized jump. I'll let you know when I've found something."

"Okay."

On their way home, Natalie was hungry again. Nick, again, stopped wherever Natalie wanted. This time it was the grocery store. Natalie picked out barbecued potato chips, pistachio ice cream, caramel sauce, bread, peanut butter, already cooked bacon, and marshmallow fluff. That last item inspired a few more items, regular marshmallows, rice crispies and butter.

"Please tell me you're not going to eat all of that at once."

"No. Appetizer, main course and dessert."

"What's the appetizer?"

"The pistachio ice cream and caramel sauce, maybe a little fluff on top." Natalie paused a moment. "That reminds me, I almost forgot the whipped cream."

Natalie picked some whipping cream, knowing fresh was much better than canned.

"Is that everything?" Nick asked teasingly.

"I think so."

They checked out and Nick paid for the groceries.

When they got home, Nick unpacked the groceries, sticking the ice cream in the freezer.

Natalie made herself a peanut butter, fluff and bacon sandwich, after heating the bacon to make it nice and crispy. She loved Nick's grossed out expression, especially when she took her first bite.

"Too bad chocolate isn't appealing, as this would be perfect with semi-sweet chocolate."

"You forgot the appetizer," Nick teased.

"I changed my mind. I'll have it while my snack is cooling down. And you get to help me fix it."

"What do I have to do?" Nick hesitantly asked.

"Just follow the directions on the box. I'll be right back."

Natalie headed to the bathroom. She noticed that she had to go more often and the baby wasn't yet fully pressing on her bladder. She didn't even want to think about what it would be like near the end.

By the time she returned Nick had the marshmallows melting. Natalie measured out the rice crispies and debated buttering the flat pan or letting Nick do it. She decided to go ahead and do it herself.

At the proper time she had him pour the crispies into the melted marshmallows and let him stir it.

"You don't want to crush the rice crispies."

She watched Nick stir the mixture. She hated that part of the job as it was really tough. He was surprised by how hard it was to stir.

She considered letting him spread it out in the flat pan but since her hands were all greasy already, she decided to do it.

He scooped it out of the pan, surprised by how difficult it is to move the extremely sticky and solid, yet fluffy matter.

Natalie spread it out being careful not to burn herself. She then covered it and set it into the fridge.

Natalie had Nick whip the cream for her while she removed the ice cream from the freezer and scooped it, grumbling as she did so. She hated solidly frozen ice cream because it was so hard to scoop. She put a good sized portion of caramel sauce on top of the ice cream and then added two very generous, heaping spoonfuls of whipped cream on top.

While she snacked she and Nick watched a movie. In between movies Natalie checked on the rice crispie bars and saw they were ready. She cut them up and grabbed a couple. She grabbed a few, a couple for herself and one for Nick to try.

She handed it to him and chuckled when he looked at it like it was going to attack him.

He bit into it noticing the light, fluffy texture and the stickiness of it.

"Well?" Natalie asked. She saw Nick swallow the bite he was working on.

"It's sweet. Interesting," he said as he set down the bar on the napkin. He wasn't up to eating any more as food once again made him nauseous.

Natalie quickly wolfed down both of her bars, washing them down with a glass of water.

She still missed her coffee, but knew she'd given it up for a good reason.

That morning while Natalie slept, visions of her daughter with fangs and glowing eyes terrified her. It grew even more terrifying when the baby bit her and began to drain her.

Natalie started calling out in her nightmare "No, no! Stop! Why?" She woke up startled, tears running down her face.

Nick had awoken from her restlessness and quickly turned on the light.

"Did you have a nightmare?" He asked quite concerned.

"Yes. No, I don't want to talk about it." She said, glad he was there for her. How can I talk about it?

Nick took her in his arms, feeling her shaking.

"That must've been some nightmare. It's over. You're safe." Nick soothed.

"It was. I know," She said, trying to calm down. Is it really over?

The next morning Nick and Natalie returned from their shifts. Nick noticed that predatory look in her eyes again and at the same time he noticed hesitation and confusion.

"Nat, it's okay. We'll just have to be creative. I will not hurt you or our baby. At least now I'll have the stamina to keep up with your desires."

She noticed the wicked grin on his face and started to approach. She was within arms reach and felt his arms reach out pulling her closer. Before she knew it she was swept up into his arms and carried into the bedroom.

He gently deposited her on the bed and lowered himself onto the mattress beside her.

He began to caress her face ever so gently with his hands as she followed suit with him. They both were unsure if they would be able to kiss without bringing out the bloodlust. They knew that the neck was off limit for both of them.

His hands helped her out of the long, baggy t-shirt she was dressed in. His hands gently caressed their way across her shoulders down onto her breasts. He continued working his way down, avoiding the spot where she was ticklish, at least for now. He felt her relax and nearly melt beneath his cool touch.

She unbuttoned his shirt caressing his chest as she exposed it.

He lavished attention on her abdomen where their child was growing.

"She likes that," Natalie said with a smile as she felt her daughter moving inside her.

Nick couldn't help but grin at that. "You're still convinced it's a girl."

"Yes. Is that a problem?"

"No. All I care about is that it is ours," he said. And that she not be affected by my vampirism.

He had his hand on her abdomen and felt the slightest movement beneath his hand. He knew that had he been mortal he would never have felt it.

"I think I just felt the baby move," Nick said with a large smile across his face.

"She did. I'm surprised you felt it."

"It was faint but I felt it. I think she's telling me to continue."

Nick continued to gently caress Natalie's body paying extra attention to that one spot. He could see how the simple act was soothing both mother and child, easing the passionate feelings while satisfying the three of them.

That night Natalie had an appointment for an ultrasound. She was looking forward to seeing the picture, but was a little concerned that they might find something wrong. She knew that everything had been fine so far and chalked it up to maternal apprehension. Nick was excited that he would be able to see their child.

"Nick, before the test, there is something we need to discuss."

"What?"

"Do we want to know the sex?"

"I kinda like the mystery." He grinned.

"So do I." She smiled, glad that he agreed with her.

They arrived at her OB/GYN's office, for the ultrasound. The nurse midwife, Anna, was there along with the obstetrician.

Natalie changed into a thin cotton gown before the examination began. Natalie was weighed, examined and then ushered into another room for the ultrasound. Natalie felt every one of the fifteen pounds she'd gained.

Natalie laid on the table, her belly exposed. The doctor spread a gel across her abdomen before slowly running the ultrasound probe across her belly until the fetus was located. Natalie and Nick greatly enjoyed seeing their child. Nick couldn't believe that he was seeing the new life growing inside the woman he loved, even if he couldn't really make out a human form in the hazy picture. A new life that he was half responsible for.

"Everything looks fine." The doctor assured them.

Natalie was relieved that everything was fine, as was Nick. Neither realized that they had the same worries about the vampire virus possibly harming their child.

"Natalie, have you and Nick decided if you want to know the baby's sex?" The doctor asked.

"We want to keep it a surprise."

"Everything looks fine. Would you like a picture?"

Nick's face lit up.

"I'll take that as a yes." The doctor said with a grin. She printed out a picture for each of them to have.

On the way home they signed up for their childbirth education class, even if they wouldn't be going until sometime in the seventh month. They were both surprised to see how quickly the best classes filled up

After that they stopped at the grocery store where Natalie picked up a jar of dill pickles and a six pack of caffeine free rootbeer.

Nick watched as she consumed the root beer with the pickle. He noticed she didn't mix them, but ate them like one eats chips and a soda.

A week later Natalie's expanding waistline was just beginning to become visible to others. She received congratulations from her coworkers as did Nick.

Nick cheerfully entered the morgue, "hi, Nat."

He saw a strange look cross Natalie's face as her hand went down to her belly.

"Nick, come over here."

Nick walked over to her a little concerned, "is something wrong?"

"No. Give me your hand."

Nick held out his hand and she placed it on her belly. Within moments he felt something kick his hand. A smile spread across his face, matching the one on hers.

"That's some kick. Are you still sure its a girl?"

"Yes. I felt it for the first time when you walked in. I think she recognized your voice."

The next night was their night off. They spent it looking at several more houses. Each one had enough problems such as room size or location to keep them from seriously considering it. They were growing discouraged when they entered the last house.

They liked the neighborhood, and the exterior of the house was nice. And the fact that it was close enough to work that the commute would not be a problem was a definite plus.

They decided to take a little more time looking around the house. They carefully examined the rooms and the layout.

"Nick, what do you think?"

"I like it. What about you?"

"Me too. The master bedroom is large enough. The room right next door can be the nursery. When she gets older she can have the other bedroom."

Nick had accepted her calling their baby a "she", figuring she probably knew better than he would.

"Sounds good. The family room looks nice and cozy, yet has enough room for play." Nick turned to the realtor, "we'll take it."

The realtor was pleased, not only was she going to help a couple purchase their first home, but she'd be making a huge commission on top of it.

The realtor was shocked when Nick and Natalie had arranged for the closing to be at her office rather than the bank. Nick and Natalie entered to sign the final papers and take possession of the house, which had passed all the inspections with flying colors. Nick completely stunned the realtor when he paid for the house in cash, as she didn't think two government employees would have that sort of cash. Nick put title under both their names, making Natalie the main owner of the house with him the co-owner. This way there would be one less bill to worry about. And if something happened to him she'd have no problems keeping the house. With that chore down now all they had to do was decide what to move into the new house and when to move.

All of Natalie's friends, Nick included, enjoyed teasing her about her food cravings. She took it in the playful spirit it was given. Sometimes when they suggested a strange combination she'd say, "That sounds good", enjoying the shock on their faces. Sometimes it really did sound good and other times she was just getting a little playful revenge.

Nick saw that Natalie was tired and stressed from a busy day at work and knew the perfect way to soothe her.

"Go upstairs, get undressed and comfortable. I'll be right up."

She saw the mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

"Don't be too long."

He quickly headed upstairs. She did what he said and soon felt his soothing touch massaging away all the tension from her neck and back.

"That smells wonderful."

"I thought you might like it," he said, as he spread the scented lotion across her back as he massaged it.

He worked his way down her back easing all the tension from her long day and the extra weight she was carrying. He massaged her arms and legs, hearing her sigh contentedly.

The baby kicked causing her to wake from her massage induced drowsiness.

"She wants some of that attention."

Nick turned his attention to her expanding waistline. Gently rubbing some of the lotion over the area. He felt the baby kick again and smiled. He still could not believe that she was carrying their child. His resolve to do everything he could to make things easier for her strengthened.

He continued to massage her. He did not forget to massage her feet, knowing that the extra weight she was carrying around was bound to make them hurt. He heard her sighs of relief and smiled.

She was asleep before he finished his massage, which did not bother him. At least she would have a nice restful night. Also he did not have to subdue her passions tonight, which he was grateful for. He had been ruled by his hormones a good portion of the time both while mortal and after his conversion; but he could not remember such long intense stretches of it, outside his relationship with Janette, if even then.

The next morning Natalie awoke, feeling better than she had the last several days. She was less tired and sore. She found herself wondering if she could convince him to give her another one of those massages after her shift.

She let him sleep while she showered. Before she knew it she saw him slip into the shower behind her.

"Soon there won't be room for the 3 of us in here."

"Then we'll have to find a bigger shower," he teased making her smile.

"When do we move?"

"Soon. How about our next days off?"

"There's too much packing to be done."

"Leave that to me."

"Okay." She knew that he must be an expert on packing and moving by now.

He took the washcloth from her hand and washed her back in a way that was almost as soothing as the massage had been.

"How did you sleep?" He asked her.

"Great. I think that was the best nights sleep I've had this week." She knew she had to reward all his efforts but did not know how. She knew she could find some way to make the protein shakes taste more palatable to him, but wanted to do something more. "How did you sleep?"

"Like the dead," he said, that playful twinkle in his eye. That pun got him slapped across the arm playfully as she rolled her eyes at the bad pun.

The way he gently caressed her growing belly made her feel attractive, even on those days where she was feeling fat and ugly. She loved the way he was so tender and responsive. She too could not believe that she was carrying their child.

She grabbed the washcloth from him and proceeded to run it across his exposed skin with the same gentle touch he had used on her. She saw him relax and enjoy the sensation. It was the least she could do for him after last night.

Before long he turned off the water and grabbed a towel. He was drying her off before she could even reach for a towel. Normally she would've hated all the pampering, but his touch was so soothing.

She caught her reflection in the mirror and knew that any day now she would have to start wearing maternity clothes, hating that fact. She wasn't sure what she hated about it, maybe it was the style or the fact that they seem to emphasize her growing belly. However, she loved the fact that she had their miracle child growing inside her.

She tried to find something that she could comfortably fit into that was professional enough to wear to work.

"How about we go shopping during lunch?" Nick asked. He would have suggested having someone from the store bring the clothes to her, but he knew that she would never go for it.

"Okay. Unless I get swamped."

They arrived at the morgue, running into Grace.

"Good morning. How's everyone?" Grace asked.

"We're fine," Natalie said, meaning her and her daughter. The baby chose then to kick.

"That's a strong kick," Grace said.

"Go ahead," Natalie said, seeing the curiosity in Grace's eyes.

Grace gently laid her hand on Natalie's abdomen and was rewarded with a powerful kick.

"How do you sleep with such activity?"

"Sometimes I don't. If she gets attention right before bedtime it helps."

"Nick, how are you doing?"

"Fine."

Grace left to finish a few things and to give them a moment alone.

Natalie kissed Nick quickly before shoving him out the door.

"I have to get to work, otherwise I won't have time to shop."

"I'll see you later," Nick said before quickly kissing her.

Once he was gone she looked over the files to see where to start. She saw that she had several autopsies to do and slipped into her blue scrubs and gown, grateful for rotund men. She had to keep requesting larger scrubs. She was grateful that the smocks seemed to be big enough as it was. She put on her goggles, mask and vinyl gloves, careful to protect the precious gift inside her. She found herself wondering if she would be able to reach the autopsy table in another month or two. She had a hunch that she might have to give up that part of her job temporarily, but would worry about that when it happened.

She started on the first autopsy, a shooting victim.

Later when Nick entered he saw her seated at her desk rubbing her back.

"Let me do that."

He walked up behind her and gently massaged her neck, shoulders and back.

"You ready?" He asked upon finishing his massage.

"Yes. I need to eat something while we're out. You should try something too."

"I will."

They arrived at Eaton Centre where he followed her lead. She wanted to look good and headed for the specialty stores where she knew she would have a better chance of finding what she was looking for.

Nat was quite picky as she browsed through the clothes. She was glad to see that the clothes were reasonably stylish and professional looking. She had never been overly concerned with style, but had always wanted to look professional. Now was no different. Comfort had always been important to her, even in her work wardrobe.

She found a few outfits and tried them on, asking Nick for his opinions. Being asked for his opinions still scared him more than the burning rays of the sun, because he did not want to say the wrong thing and hurt her. He liked most of the outfits she chose, only disagreeing when he thought they were unflattering. She stuck to classic styles, pretty much like she had done with her non-maternity wardrobe.

"Nick, it seems a shame to spend so much on clothes you can only wear for such a short time," she said as he paid for the clothes. This time she did not object, knowing it was important to him. She knew it was his way of helping and trying to be a part of her pregnancy.

In the loft, Natalie entered the bedroom, curious by the zoned out look on Nick's face.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing. I'm just wondering what it's like to be pregnant."

"It's the best thing I've ever done. We've ever done. The idea that our daughter is growing inside me is...." Natalie couldn't find the words to continue.

"I wish I could share more of the pregnancy with you."

"I know." Natalie pondered something a moment before continuing, slightly hesitantly. "There is a way. If you're interested, I'll arrange it."

"I'm very interested." He hoped he wouldn't regret saying that.

The next afternoon Natalie went out to run a few errands. Nick heard the car pull in and met her inside the garage. He waited inside the loft door until the garage door shut.

"Let me give you a hand with the bags," Nick said.

"Sure. No peeking."

"I won't peek." Nick lifted up two of the bags, noticing they were heavy. "Nat, you shouldn't be lifting this much weight."

"Nick, I'm carrying that much around right now," she said as her hands caressed her growing midsection. "Don't worry, I only carried one at a time."

Natalie carried the lightweight grocery bag into the loft.

"What's in the heavy bags?" Nick asked, barely able to restrain from looking in them.

"First, I need the answer to a question."

"Okay."

"I know you're stronger than mortals, so, how much weight would it take to equal twenty five pounds for a mortal?"

"About a hundred."

"Thanks. I'll be right back." Natalie said lightly as she left again.

Once in her car, her mind wandered as she fastened her seat belt. She knew the belt was more important than ever as it was protecting two lives now, instead of just one.

Will it support that much weight? Can I enhance it so it will? I should be able to, Natalie thought.

Before long she returned and once again, Nick helped her carry the heavy bags into the loft, placing them with the others.

"What's this all about?" Nick asked, dying of curiosity.

Natalie saw the look on his face and knew she couldn't keep it a secret much longer. "I have one more thing to do then I'll explain it to you."

Natalie took one of the lightweight bags upstairs and about an hour later came back downstairs, a wicked grin on her face. She loved how Nick squirmed uneasily at that.

"Remember when you said you wanted to share more of my pregnancy?"

"Yes," Nick said, slightly uneasily, hesitantly.

"Well, you can. I had to modify the mortal version of this, but it should work just fine." Natalie pulled a cloth bag with straps from another bag. "I need you to fill this with those weights. Be sure to distribute them evenly."

"Then?" Nick said, his uneasiness growing. He quickly filled the bag and zipped it shut.

"Now I want you to strap it around your midsection," Natalie said, loving Nick's stunned and slightly panicky expression. She pulled an oversized t-shirt from another bag. "You might want to slip this on over it."

Nick did as she asked and immediately began to feel the weight. It wasn't too bad, but he knew it was there.

Natalie examined the balance of the weights, shifting one here and there to make it a more accurate representation of what was happening within her.

"What do they call this thing?" Nick asked as he slipped on the t-shirt. "How long do I need to wear this?"

"It's called the Empathy Belly. How long you wear it is up to you."

"Does it really feel like this?"

"Weightwise, yes. Add the movement you've felt, and you have a good start at what if feels like."

Nick walked over to the couch, feeling rather odd. He found it wasn't easy to sit down. Natalie sat next to him, a big grin on her face.

About five minutes later the door buzzer sounded. Nick forced himself out of the chair, realizing it was harder than sitting had been. Nick saw it was Grace and Schanke.

"What are they doing here?" Nick wondered.

"I forgot, I told Grace we'd go out to dinner. You can take that off if you want. I don't know what Schanke's doing here."

Nick buzzed them up. He knew they'd tease him, but he wasn't going to take off the contraption. He wanted to do this and wasn't going to let his friend's arrival disrupt things.

The elevator door opened. Schanke and Grace started laughing when they saw Nick.

"Nat, I think you've just made medical history," Schanke grinned.

Natalie explained things to their friends.

"I'm impressed. Most men aren't willing to go that far to understand what their loved one is going through," Grace said.

Nick wore the Empathy Belly until it was time for his shift, which was a little over twenty four hours. His back hurt before thirty minutes had passed. His feet hurt about an hour later. Sleeping in it had been very difficult. He couldn't find a comfortable position in which to sleep. Dressing was no easy matter as well. He couldn't see his feet. He couldn't bend over.

Natalie saw his relief as he unstrapped the device from himself.

"Just remember that you can take it off."

"I won't forget. If I do, remind me." From her expression he knew she would. "I have a whole new respect for what you're going through." He said with a kiss.

Before long it was moving night. It had cost him extra to get the movers to work at night. His explanation of a sun allergy helped some. Nick had the movers pack up both his and Natalie's places before taking their belongings to the new house.

Natalie was surprised when she entered, flicked on the lights and saw that the walls had been repainted and the carpeting was new. The linoleum had been replaced with tile. The house looked brand new.

"It looks great."

"I couldn't have us start our new life without giving the house a good sprucing up." He knew the house didn't need it, but it would within a year or two. He had known the colors she wanted from comments made during their search, and when she mentioned what she'd like to do with the house someday. That was how he knew to put tile in the kitchen.

Before long the movers arrived and Nick let Natalie direct the placement of the furniture. He knew that if he tried to place it she would have him moving it later. That and the fact that it was light outside meant he had to stay clear of the front door.

He noticed the occasional odd glance at the heavy duty shutters on the windows and doors.

It was late morning before the movers left.

"Nat, why don't you take it easy for a few minutes while I order dinner."

She was tired and stretched out on the couch as her back was killing her. When she sat down she realized that her feet hurt too.

Nick entered the room with a snack for her and saw that she was sound asleep. He wanted to cover her but didn't know which box to look in. He read a book while awaiting the delivery.

He was glad for the overcast day and the front porch as it gave him enough shelter that he was able to open the door and take the food without the doorbell ringing.

No sooner had he shut the door than he heard her beginning to stir.

"Dinner smells great," Natalie said a little groggy. "I guess I was more tired than I thought. How long was I out?"

"About an hour. Feel better?"

"Yeah."

They ate and searched for something to watch, as they hadn't unpacked the videotapes yet.

"No, I won't watch Quincy. Don't you get enough of that at work?" Nick teased.

"I could say the same for the cop show you like," She teased back.

They settled on the show about the immortal. Nick liked the history aspects. Nat liked the show, but the star had certain qualities she couldn't help but appreciate.

"Does depression, angst and guilt come with immortality?" She teased.

"Very funny. You try living for hundreds of years without it creeping in," he returned the tease.

The baby kicked so hard it nearly knocked her plate out of her hands.

"What's the matter, honey? Are you feeling neglected?" Nat said.

Nick placed his hand on her belly and felt another equally strong kick, as if in answer.

"Wow."

After Natalie finished eating and the show ended she wanted to do a little unpacking before crawling into bed. She wanted to be able to find a few of her things. Nick helped her.

After unpacking several boxes Nick saw how tired she was.

"Go lay down." He saw the protest in her eyes. "You're tired and need rest."

"Nick, I need to get this mess in order."

"Nat, the two of you need rest. How about one of my special massages?"

"Sounds great." The baby kicked again. "She likes the idea too."

Nick still had trouble believing they were having a daughter, especially one that kicked like that.

Nick found Natalie had changed into her oversized t-shirt, and was stretched out on the bed waiting for his magic touch. He massaged her entire body, lavishing extra attention on the baby, so that she would be able to get a good night's sleep. He did not forget to massage her feet as they carried the extra weight.

Natalie's sleep grew restless as a nightmare took hold. The baby sprouted fangs and not only tried to drain her this time, but rip it's way out of her body as well, starting with her uterus. Natalie curled up into the fetal position, her hands on her abdomen and cried out in pain.

"Stop it! NO! Why are you doing this to me?" She cried out between gasps of pain.

Nick woke, panic starting to well in him as he saw the pain she was in.

"Natalie, wake up," Nick said to her as he gently shook her. "Natalie, wake up."

Natalie groggily woke, and the pain quickly fled. As her eyes focused she saw the extreme concern on Nick's face.

"Nat, throw on some clothes. I'm taking you to the ER."

"Why? I'm fine?" She asked, curious and concerned, as well as protesting.

"You were curled up, holding your abdomen and crying out in pain. You were also crying out for it to stop and similar things."

"It was a nightmare Nick. I'm in no pain now."

"I'm still taking you in to be checked out."

"I don't need to go."

"Natalie!" Nick very sternly said. "Either you go with me or I'll call an ambulance."

Natalie sighed and gave in, realizing it would do no good to argue with him. "I'll go with you." She did NOT want him calling an ambulance.

"Care to share your nightmare?"

"Not right now." Natalie knew she couldn't tell Nick about it. At least not right now.

Natalie and Nick both threw on clothes and headed for the emergency room. The OB/GYN Nat had as a backup was called, as was their certified nurse midwife. Nick could tell Natalie wanted to go home and was afraid she'd bolt or somehow get the doctor to release her without a complete exam. Both of the medical women arrived at the hospital shortly after Natalie and Nick did.

Nick was relieved when they allowed him into the examination room.

"Natalie, are you okay?" the doctor asked.

"I'm fine. I had a really bad nightmare and Nick insisted I get checked out."

"Natalie," Nick sternly said. "You looked like you were in great pain. And were crying out for it to stop, as well as crying out in pain."

"What was the nightmare about?" The OB/GYN asked, trying to determine if there was indeed a medical problem.

Natalie didn't want to talk about it, but knew she had no choice. She'd tell the parts she could without revealing Nick's secret. She sighed and started the story.

"I dreamt that the baby was trying to kill me... trying to... rip its way out. That's what scared me so much. Why I called out in pain, and for it to stop. It hurt in the dream, but not once Nick woke me up."

Nick was stunned. He had a hunch there was more to it. The two medical ladies were surprised. They knew pregnant women had nightmares but it had been a long time since they'd heard this one.

"Nick, Natalie, you probably won't believe this, but we've heard that story before. Not for quite a while though." The nurse midwife saw both relax slightly.

"Natalie, we'd like to run a few tests and keep you for observation for the next twelve hours," said the OB/GYN.

"I don't want to stay. I'll let you run the tests."

"Natalie!" Nick scolded. "You have to think of what's best for our baby."

"I am. There are many dangerous bacteria and virus' in a hospital." She hated the fact that the bed would be uncomfortable and she'd get very little privacy and very little sleep with all the interruptions to check on how she and the baby were doing. Those were the main reasons she did not want to stay.

"Natalie, please stay. If you won't do it for me or our child, then do it for me. Humor me? Please."

Natalie saw the pleading in his eyes and never could resist him when he was like that.

"Okay, twelve hours only. Unless you find something serious."

"Thanks, Nat." Nick said, relieved.

The OB/GYN admitted Natalie and had her sent up to the High Risk Unit. She ran an ultrasound on Natalie, and much to everyone's relief no problem was found. Both baby and mother's heartbeats were perfectly normal. She printed a copy for Nick and Natalie, as well as one for the file.

Natalie was moved to a room and hooked up to a fetal monitor. She hated that is it meant she had to stay put except for going to the bathroom. That made being hospitalized for the next twelve hours even more miserable.

Nick could see how unhappy she was to be stuck there, and worse yet, stuck in bed. He was going to try and help her make the best of it.

Natalie was still tired. "Tell me a story," she said.

"Sure. Anything in particular?"

"No, you choose."

Nick started a story he'd told her before about his past, knowing that she'd be asleep within minutes. And she was.

About twenty minutes later the doctor came in and checked the monitor's printout. She saw nothing amiss, and was relieved. She didn't think there was anything to be worried about but was of the "better safe than sorry" school.

Nick fell asleep about twenty minutes later as the sun had risen. He had shut the blinds and disabled them so they could not be opened before dark, at least without waking him and probably Natalie as well.

Nick woke first, and watched Natalie sleep for a few minutes. He also studied the printout from the fetal monitor, pleased to see no changes.

A few minutes later Natalie awoke.

"How's she doing?" Nat asked.

Nick held out the strip so Natalie could see for herself.

"I told you there was no reason to worry."

"Natalie, there was more to the nightmare wasn't there?"

She nodded. "I didn't want you to worry."

"I worry more when you keep things like this from me."

She sighed. "I dreamed that the baby sprouted fangs and tried to drain me. And it tried to rip its way out of my body."

Nick took her in his arms, seeing how much it still scared her.

"I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault. Pregnant women often have nightmares. As you heard, I'm not the first one to have dreams of their baby trying to kill them. I AM probably the first one to have a baby with fangs," she said with a bit of a grin.

Nick knew she was right about the nightmares part. He'd read it in his books. And hearing it from the nurse practitioner had been somewhat reassuring.

"You had me terrified. I thought there really was something wrong. When you denied it, I wasn't sure if you were okay or if it was your stubbornness and hatred of hospitals that was behind it."

"I'm sorry I scared you," she said as she caressed his cheek. "If I had been in your place, I probably would've made me come too."

Natalie's lunch was brought in. The doctor had left orders for her patient to be skipped in breakfast service and allowed to awaken on her own.

Natalie hated hospital food, and was pleased to see an edible looking lunch set before her, on the tray table.

"I'll be right back," Nick said. He knew this was his best chance to leave and the least likely time for her to get out of bed.

"Okay," she wondered where he could go as it was daylight outside.

Nick ran down to the gift shop and tried to find something to keep them busy until she was released. They still had several hours to go and knew from experience that a cooped up Nat quickly became a very cranky one. He found a deck of cards, a few magazines, a crossword puzzle book and a word search book. He also bought a puzzle and a board game. He knew it was overkill, but wanted to make sure he had enough to keep her occupied. He didn't have to worry about the stuff being overpriced.

Nick returned just as she finished her lunch.

"What do you have there?" she asked. "You know I'm not going to be here THAT long, right?"

"Yeah, I know. I'd rather have too much than not enough."

"What's in the bag?"

He dumped it out onto the foot of the bed.

"Wow. Nice selection though. How about starting with the puzzle?"

"That's fine with me."

Nick moved her lunch tray, balancing it on the far corner of the nightstand/dresser piece.

The doctor entered a few minutes later and examined Natalie. She checked both her and the baby's heartbeats. She listened to Natalie's lungs, took her pulse, and checked the fetal monitor.

"Both mother and baby's heartbeats are strong and healthy."

"I have to go to the bathroom," Natalie said.

"Since I don't see any problems I'll unhook you for a few minutes. But as soon as you're done I'm going to hook you back up. I want to monitor you for several more hours."

"Any problems?" Natalie asked a little concerned.

"No. I just want to make sure we're not missing anything in it's early stage. Or something intermittent. Did you have a nice sleep?"

"Surprisingly I did. No nightmares."

"I think her talking about it helped dispel it."

"I have to agree there. Talking about them often keeps them from returning or being as severe if they do return." The doctor said as she unhooked Natalie from the monitor.

Natalie stood and headed straight to the bathroom. Once she'd relieved herself she washed her hands and splashed some water on her face. It felt good to stretch a bit. She knew that if she stayed in there too long they'd become concerned, so she opened the door and returned to bed, where she was promptly reattached to the monitor. The doctor watched the readouts for a couple minutes before being satisfied that all was well, and left.

Nick and Natalie worked on the puzzle, finishing it about an hour later as it only had 250 pieces, and wasn't an extremely challenging one. They admired it for a couple minutes before taking it apart and returning it to the box.

Next they moved onto the deck of cards.

Several hours later the doctor entered and once again examined Natalie. She saw her patient climbing the walls and knew there was no medical reason to hold her longer than the twelve hours she'd already been there. She unstrapped the monitor from Natalie, which elicited a large smile from her.

"Does this mean I'm being sprung?"

"Yes. Everything appears fine." The doctor smiled.

Natalie checked her watch. "Can I go to work tonight?"

"Natalie!" Nick said quite surprised. Yet a part of him wasn't all that surprised.

"Yes. I wouldn't overexert myself tonight, but other than that I see no reason to place any restrictions on your activities," the doctor said. "Nick, I understand your apprehension, but she's fine. All the tests came back normal. The fetal monitor showed no problems at all."

"Thank you," both Nick and Natalie said.

"You're welcome. By the way, Natalie, he was right to bring you here. It's easier to stop a problem the earlier it's caught."

"I know. I just hate hospitals."

"I can understand that."

The doctor left.

"SeeÉ I told you there was absolutely nothing wrong with me," Natalie said as she dressed.

Natalie and Nick returned home where they both showered and changed. Nick fed. Natalie didn't have time to eat but Nick insisted on stopping off at a drive through, knowing it was better than nothing.

Grace saw Natalie enter and approached. "Are you okay? I tried and tried to call you."

"I'm fine." She saw Grace didn't believe her. "I had a bad nightmare and Nick overreacted."

"What happened? And don't tell me nothing."

"The nightmare had the baby trying to rip its way out. Nick thought there was something wrong with me or the baby and insisted I get checked out at the ER. I was monitored for the last twelve hours and was given a clean bill of health."

"Did they do an ultrasound?"

"Yes. It was fine."

"I'm glad to hear it. That was some nightmare. I can see why Nick overreacted."

"So can I. But I wish people would listen when I say I'm fine."

"Natalie, too many times you've insisted you were fine when it was obvious you were anything but that," Grace said. "How hard did he have to fight with you before you gave in?"

"It almost became a fight, but I reluctantly gave in, when he threatened to call an ambulance. I wasn't in the mood for a fight. Then at the ER he gave me THAT look when I didn't want to stay. I couldn't resist, I never can," Natalie said. "Yes, I know he was only doing what he thought was best for all of us."

"Should you be here?" Grace asked, concerned for her friend.

"The doctor said it was fine."

Grace knew that Nick would not have allowed her to come in if the doctor had not approved it.

Meanwhile at the precinct Nick approached his desk and saw Schanke watching him.

"Is everything okay?"

"Yes. Everything's fine."

"Then why do you look a little concerned?"

"Nat pushes herself too hard."

"She's always been that way. I guess she figures she still has to prove herself, especially now," Schanke said. "Did I miss something important? Is everyone okay?"

"She and the baby are fine. I'm fine."

"Why do I sense there is more to the story?"

"Natalie had a really horrible nightmare where the baby was trying to rip itself from inside her. I heard her calling out both in pain and trying to stop it from happening. I thought she was in trouble. She refused to go to the ER claiming she was fine. I was terrified something was really wrong. It took a bit of convincing, and me getting a little angry with her, and threatening to call an ambulance, before she reluctantly agreed to be checked out. I had to plead with her to get her to stay."

"What happened? How long did they keep her?" Schanke asked, obviously concerned.

"They did an ultrasound and hooked her up to a fetal monitor for twelve hours. The ultrasound was fine, and the monitor was a precaution. It showed nothing wrong."

"Let me guess, as soon as they released her she came in to work?"

"Yes. I wish she'd taken the night off. Even if the doctor said it was okay to return to work."

"Nick, buddy, partner, you should know by now that Nat loves her work and very little can keep her from it."

"I know. Sometimes I just wish she'd take it a little easier. Especially now."

That night shortly after Nick and Natalie arrived home, there was a knock on the front door. Nick answered it and saw Lacroix there with gift wrapped box in his hands. Lacroix waited patiently for Nick to invite him in. Nick didn't want to be the instigator this time so he motioned for Lacroix to enter.

"This is much better than the loft. I brought a housewarming gift to help celebrate the new home."

To his surprise, Nick didn't hear anything but sincerity in Lacroix's voice.

"I suppose you want to know what I'm up to?" Lacroix asked as he handed Nick the gift. Nick took the gift and nodded. "I came here to offer you and Natalie a deal. One I think you will both be very interested in."

Just then, Natalie entered the room and was surprised to see Lacroix.

"Good evening, Natalie. I just finished telling Nicholas that I came with a housewarming gift and an offer I think you'll be most interested in."

"Have a seat," Natalie said slightly stunned, but quickly regained her composure. "Can I offer you a drink?"

"I don't suppose you have my brand?" Lacroix asks, curiously.

"I do. Nick's gone back to drinking it, but only if it's been freely donated." Natalie noticed Lacroix's surprised look before it was quickly replaced by his usual stoic facade.

"Might I also offer you congratulations on the new life you'll soon bring into the world."

"Thank you," Natalie said.

She left the room and returned with three glasses, two with blood and one with milk. The two men took their glass.

"Thank you, Natalie," Lacroix said as he took a seat next to the couch.

"Would you like a little girl or a little boy," Lacroix asked.

"I'd like a little girl, and I think that's what the baby will be."

"I'm not sure. Maybe a little boy. A little girl would be fine too."

"Isn't it dangerous to be around all those dead bodies in your condition?"

"I'm being careful. As long as I am, the risks are manageable."

Natalie opened the gift and found a beautiful silver tray. It had some rather elaborate engraving on it.

"It's beautiful. Thank you."

Nick inspected the gift, a little surprised by it. "That's just like one my mother had," Nick said. "Thank you."

"Actually, it is your mother's. When I heard she died, I retrieved it, knowing that someday you might want it. I was saving it for a special occasion. And this is the most special one I can think of." He loved the stunned looks on both their faces.

"Thank you for returning a piece of my childhood."

Lacroix could see they were waiting to hear about the deal he had. "I also came to propose a deal. I would very much like to see my grandchild when she or he is born. If you will allow me that small favor, I will give Nicholas the freedom he's been searching for. I will stay out of both of your lives unless you invite me in. I will still keep an eye on you, but will not interfere unless there is a dire emergency." Lacroix saw the uncertainty written on their faces. "Nicholas, if you need proof," he said as he held out his wrist.

Natalie had a confused look on her face.

"The blood cannot lie," Nick said before he sank his fangs into Lacroix's wrist, took a sip and then pulled his fangs out. "He's sincere."

Nick and Natalie exchanged glances, then Natalie said, "We will accept your deal. For right now, don't expect to see us more than once, maybe twice a year. You may see our daughter when she's born. No, it won't count as one of your visits."

"Thank you. I shall do my best to be a gentleman every time we meet." Lacroix stood, kissed the back of her hand, nodded at Nick. Nick nodded back at him. "I shall show myself out."

As the weeks passed she found that she tired more quickly, and that it was no longer so easy to get up out of her chair. Luckily, the arms of the chair gave her something to push against. Nick gave her a hand when he was around. But the hardest part was squatting at the crime scenes and then getting up from there, someone almost always gave her a hand up.

Nick started making sure she ate earlier than she was used to because within minutes of sitting down on the couch she was asleep, especially after their busier nights.

He was surprised the first night he was awoken by a small, yet strong kick in the back. He rolled over and saw that Natalie was awake as well.

"I think you have a budding sports star there," He said lightly and was pleased to see her grin.

"At least you don't have to feel it all the time," she said equally lightly.

"I'm glad too. Would you like something to eat, drink, or maybe a massage?"

"A massage would be great. I'm sorry she woke you."

"That's okay. Which lotion?"

"The coconut pineapple one."

A moment later Nick returned with the lotion and found her awaiting him. She was beautiful.

He gave her a very thorough massage, giving the baby a little extra attention in the hope that she would settle down and allow Nat to get some sleep. He didn't mind when Natalie fell asleep halfway through his massage.

The next morning Natalie caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and started feeling fat and unattractive. She knew she had no reason to feel that way as she had only gained about twenty pounds. She noticed it in her face, thighs and upper body, as well as the growing belly she was sporting. She did not deny herself anything she desired. She was careful to make sure she took in a little more than she needed nutrition wise. And that she ate a varied diet.

"You look beautiful." He wrapped his arms around her from behind and was rewarded with a kick from their child.

"I look and feel fat."

"You're not fat."

"I know. I guess it's just the fact that I can't do stuff as easily as I used to."

"When do you want to start decorating the nursery?" He said as he felt the baby kick, again.

"In a couple of weeks. I don't want to get it done too early. Besides, I haven't decided what I want it to look like."

"Okay. I don't know what it should look like, either. Have you thought about what you'd like to name her?"

"I have a few ideas. Have you thought about it?"

"Yes."

Nick and Natalie were in their family room watching "Lassie, Come Home". Natalie was seated on the couch with a couple of pillows behind her, making her comfortable, and a large bowl of popcorn balanced on her expanded belly and a popsicle stick laying on it's wrapper on a magazine on the end table. Nick was watching from the overstuffed armchair next to the couch.

As the ending credits rolled, Natalie sniffled. "That was so sweet." She blew her nose.

"It's a dog movie, Nat... why are you crying?"

"Oh you!" Natalie tossed a pillow at his head, immediately realizing this was a mistake because now she was uncomfortable. "You just have no idea...do you!"

"Well...I..."

Natalie cut him off, "And don't you DARE bare your fangs at me like last time..." She saw his expression change to one of a pout.

"I...umm..." Nick stammered.

"I have a stake, buddy, and I know how to use it!" Nat said as she held up the cherry red stained Popsicle stick from the end table.

Nick watched Nat struggle to get up out of the deep couch and went to help her up. "Some vampire hunter you'd be!" he teased.

"Take that, evil creature of the night!!" Nat teased, playfully poking him with the sticky wooden "peril".

"Ouch. Ow. Oooh," Nick playfully feigned, grabbing each wound as she poked him.

After a few taps they were laughing so hard they collapsed into each other's arms. Natalie was laughing so hard their daughter started kicking up a storm, startling them both. A couple moments later, Natalie felt the strangest thing she'd ever felt.

"You okay?" Nick asked, a little concerned by her expression.

"Yeah," she grinned. "I think she has the hiccups."

Time seemed to fly by. Natalie was in the middle of her seventh month when decided that it was time to decorate the nursery. She wanted to do it before it became any harder for her to get through the night.

Her back hurt much of the time, especially after a busy night, as did her feet. She was uncomfortable much of the time as her weight gain was now at twenty-five pounds. She had a couple of Braxton-Hicks contractions, surprised by their intensity.

During the first one she called the doctor, glad Nick wasn't home yet or he'd have her back in the hospital. She was reassured when she learned that as long as they did not last more than two minutes and weren't accompanied by any of the labor symptoms it was part of the natural progression of things.

She and Nick spent their nights off looking at store after store looking for furniture that captured their attention. Finally, they found it and were pleased to be able to stock their nursery from that one source.

They kept the decorations simple and calming as this would be where their child would spend a lot of time. They didn't want the room to be overwhelming with colors or patterns. The furniture was elegant yet simple. It was a sturdy light colored wood. They bought a crib that would convert into a toddler bed, a dresser that came with a removable changing table top and a storage unit. That way the room could grow and change as their child did.

Natalie and Nick started their childbirth education classes, grateful they were held at night. Both were a little nervous as they entered the room for their first class.

The next evening they started interviewing pediatricians. Natalie was torn between preventing Nick from whammying them to learn if they had any malpractice type secrets in their past or allowing him to do so to protect their child. In the end she wound up allowing him to whammy the final candidates, but only as a way of protecting their child.

Grace threw Natalie a baby shower at the start of her eighth month. She made it a coed party so Nick and Schanke could come. Myra was invited as well. Grace invited all of Natalie's friends.

It was held at Nick and Natalie's house, during their night off. Grace and Nick had decorated while Natalie had gone out to take care of a few errands.

Natalie returned as they were finishing up. She saw the paper storks, the pink and blue streamers and balloons all over the family room. There were a few Mylar balloons with pictures of baby bottles mixed in with the other ones.

"It looks good." Natalie said with a smile.

Nick walked over to her and wrapped his arms around her from behind, not minding that they no longer went all the way around.

"How are you feeling?" He asked.

"I feel fine."

He could tell that her back was beginning to hurt. "Why don't you go stretch out on the couch and I'll give you a backrub?"

"Sounds good."

Grace knew that they would make great parents as they had the most important thing on their side - love for each other. She watched as Nick gently massaged Natalie's back. She could see the relief and relaxation spread across her friend's face. Nick removed Natalie's shoes and massaged her feet, one at a time.

Before long the doorbell rang. Grace answered it, letting in the first guests.

"Hi, Myra, Don," Natalie said, seeing Schanke looking a tiny bit nervous. "Don, relax." She grinned.

"Is there anything we can do?" Myra asked.

"Just grab some refreshments and make yourself at home," Grace said.

"Myra, did you ever have the feeling you weren't ready for parenthood?" Natalie asked.

"Many times. You're never ready for it. You just do the best you can. I'm here anytime you need advice. I'll even try to sit for the little one when I can. If you'd like me to."

"Thank you. I'd really like that."

"Nick, Myra's right. You just do the best you can. Don't expect to get much sleep the first couple months. Not until the little one sleeps through the night." Schanke noticed their scared looks, Nick especially. "It won't seem as bad because you'll be so in love with the little tyke that you won't totally mind it."

Before long the other guests arrived.

Everyone talked for a while before Natalie was given the first gift to open. It was from Don and Myra.

Inside the box were survival supplies - pacifiers, diapers, a certificate for a weekend's worth of babysitting and several other items.

"Trust me, you'll appreciate it when the little one finally makes its appearance."

"Thanks."

Natalie opened all the gifts, thanking each friend for their thoughtfulness. By the time she was finished she had a car seat, blankets, a snugli, outfits and infant toys. Nick disappeared a moment, only to return with a stroller. Natalie rewarded him with a kiss on the cheek and a hug.

Natalie was approaching the second week of her eighth month. She felt fat, uncoordinated and couldn't wait until her due date. Yet, on the other hand she was enjoying the experience. Her back hurt almost constantly, she had heartburn, not to mention shortness of breath and more Braxton-Hicks contractions. She was exhausted because she spent at least half the night, if not most of it going to the bathroom.

Nick had noticed her catch her breath as one hit and forced her to tell him what was wrong. He wasn't sure if he should believe her at first, but remembered what the books had said, and when the contractions stopped after a minute or two he was relieved.

Nick woke every time Natalie did and helped her up so she could go relieve herself. He saw her try to do it the first night and did his best to help her every time after that.

Natalie and Nick headed to work one night as it started to lightly snow. Neither was ready for a heavy snowfall.

Natalie was in the field for the third time that shift when her back began to ache, but this time it was different. She wondered if this was the beginning of labor or just a false alarm.

Back at work it continued. She couldn't believe she was in labor, as she was just under three weeks prior to her due date. She knew that babies didn't always work according to your schedule, but followed their own instead.

Natalie focused on her work, trying to relax as she went about her duties. She knew she might be in the very early stages of labor and had quite a few hours before she needed to be concerned.

Grace entered. Once she saw Nat she became slightly concerned. "Natalie, is everything okay?"

"Yeah. I'm just tired."

"I can understand that."

About an hour later the contractions stopped. Natalie went on with her night as usual, wondering how long before she would be in labor.

Two nights later was another busy night. The snow was again falling. Natalie was out at her first crime scene of the night when she felt the beginnings of labor pains again. She wondered if this would be another case of Braxton-Hicks or if it would turn into the real thing.

She continued on as she had done the last time, waiting to see which it was. After it had gone on for about two hours and slightly increased in intensity she decided this might be the real thing.

Grace entered and knew that something was going on. Especially with her friend's due date a little over two weeks away.

"Natalie, honey, you okay?"

"Yeah. I just have a backache."

"Are you sure everything's okay? The weather's getting worse."

Nat could tell that Grace didn't totally believe her. "Let me know if it gets any worse."

"I will."

About an hour later Natalie knew for sure she was in the very early stages of labor and couldn't do anything about it for a few hours yet.

Grace entered a few minutes later. "Natalie, they're predicting a blizzard. Why don't you knock off early." Grace noticed that Nat seemed a bit distracted. "Is it time?"

"I think so."

"You don't want to get stuck here. I don't think you want your daughter born here, do you?"

"No. I don't think so. I think I'll go on home, after letting Terry know."

"What about Nick?"

"He only has an hour left on his shift. Nothing should happen by then. I can use the time to get some sleep."

"You know he'll be upset with me."

"Tell him I told you not to say anything. Make sure he leaves on time. I don't want him winding up stranded at the precinct."

"Don't worry, he'll be there for you."

"Thanks, Grace."

Natalie grabbed her jacket and headed out.

"Drive carefully," Grace said.

"I will."

Natalie went straight home, grabbed a quick bite, changed, called Anna and her OB/GYN to let them know labor had started, and then crawled under the covers. She knew she'd need her sleep and it would be easier to get it now rather than waiting for the more intense labor pains to start.

Nick quietly entered the house about 90 minutes later, not wanting to disturb her if she was asleep, which she was. He grabbed some dinner and read a magazine.

Before long he heard her moving about. He checked on them and heard two strong healthy heartbeats.

Natalie came out and joined Nick on the couch.

"It seems as if she's anxious to join the world," Natalie said.

"Are youÉ" Nick asked, startled.

"Yes. It started while I was out for the Branson case. I wasn't sure until about two and a half hours ago. I took Grace's suggestion and came home."

"Why didn't you tell me?" Nick asked, shocked that she'd withheld this important information from him.

"There wasn't anything you could do," Natalie said. "Are you ready for this?"

"I think so. Should we call Anna?" Nick wondered if it was time to bring in their certified Nurse Midwife.

"I've already called her and my OB/GYN. It will most likely be several hours before she's needed."

"Is everything okay? She's early."

"Everything's fine. First babies often come early. I'd rather have her a little early than late."

"So, what do we do until then?"

"Whatever we want to." Natalie stood and headed for the window. "It's really coming down out there. I'm glad I left early. I wouldn't want to be stuck in that."

"I'm glad you left early too."

"Nick, I won't get mad if you feel the need to 'tank up' as things progress. I need you there with me, then more than ever."

"I can't wait to see our daughter," Nick said, the excitement and a little concern in his voice. "Did we ever decide on a name?"

"Not really. Catherine Ann, or Caitlin? Or we could wait and see what name fits her."

They spent the next few hours watching movies. Nick gave Natalie another one of his special massages in between the first and second movie. She fell asleep to his soothing touch.

After the second movie had ended, she had once again dozed off. Stronger contractions woke her, about three hours later. She felt the need to walk around the house and did just that.

"Do we head for the hospital yet?"

"I think we should. How's the weather?" Natalie looked outside the window and saw that there was indeed a blizzard out there. There had to be at least a foot of snow on the ground. Then she heard a news bulletin declaring a level 5 snow emergency. "Or maybe not..."

Nick called EMS.

"I need an ambulance at 1013 Magnolia Drive. My wife is in labor."

"I'm sorry but with the blizzard it's not safe to send a crew out. We will get one out to you as soon as the streets are cleared. It might be several hours."

"Thank you." Nick said as he hung up, panic spreading through him. He dialed the precinct. "Is there anyway you can get a squad car over here?"

"Not until the snow lets up and they do some clearing. Why?"

"Natalie's in labor."

"Geez. I wish I could help, but it's just too dangerous for ANYONE to be on the streets right now."

"I know. We'll stay put for now. Thanks anyway," Nick said as he hung up.

Out of desperation an idea hit.

"I should be able to fly us both to the hospital."

"Go out in that blizzard? Are you nuts! We'dÉ at least me and our daughter would freeze before we got anywhere near the hospital. I'm sure you're not totally impervious to the effect of a blizzard. You are still flesh and blood. How could you make sure you were headed the right direction? Visibility is down to zero. Not to mention the winds."

"Okay, okay, we'll stay here," Nick said in surrender.

Nick called Anna. "I just wanted to let you know that we won't be making it to the hospital any time soon."

"I was afraid this might happen. Don't worry, Nick. Women have been having babies for thousands of centuries"

"Do you mean we're on our own?" Nick said slightly panicking. He knew it wouldn't do either of them any good if he panicked, but he couldn't help it.

"It looks that way. Just relax. Listen to Natalie. Remember the training you had. You have my phone and pager numbers. Call me if you have any questions, or if there are any problems." She heard the silence. "Don't worry. I don't expect any. She had a healthy pregnancy and should deliver just fine. Put Natalie on a moment."

Nick handed Natalie the phone.

"Is everything okay?"

"I think so." Just then the strongest pain so far hit her. Nick was right behind her offering his support. "If we tried to go anywhere we would most likely get stuck somewhere and I'm not having her in the car."

"I don't think that would be good for either of you," said Anna. "Just let nature take its course. You'll be okay. Nick is there for you. How far apart are the contractions? Has your water broken yet?"

"About five minutes. No, not yet."

"You know what to when it does Nick. If you have any concerns, questions or problems, call me."

"Thank you," Natalie said.

"I'll talk to you later, and hopefully see you and your newborn before too long."

"You'll see her as soon as they clear the roads enough to get a rescue vehicle through," Natalie said before she hung up.

Nick had been trained in childbirth but it's different when it's your own child your delivering. Natalie had done a rotation in obstetrics but having a child was completely different from helping deliver one.

During the day the contractions grew stronger and closer together. Nick did whatever he could to make it easier for her. He read to her, held her, rubbed her back, whatever she needed. He walked with her when she couldn't stand to sit or lay down any longer.

The pain grew more intense with the passing time. It was very intense at this point, leaving Natalie wondering how much worse it was going to get. She now understood why many women insisted on drugs. She was grateful that she didn't have to go through this alone, and that she had the comfort of home as she did. She was extremely grateful she'd listened to Grace and left when she did as being stranded in the morgue would've been hell.

"Nat, I can ease the pain, without affecting anything else. All I need is for you to bend your will to me."

Natalie nodded, knowing she would have to be able to tell him what to do in case of a complication, something she wouldn't be able to do if she let the intense pain continue.

"Natalie, look into my eyes." She did so and he continued. "You will barely feel the pain. Nothing else will be affected. This will not affect our daughter." He was relieved when he saw the pain draining from her eyes.

"Thanks, Nick. How about grabbing me something light to eat? And a glass of water, while you're at it."

"Sure."

She knew she needed to keep up her strength for the work ahead. She was grateful he had eased the pain.

"Nat, are either of us fully prepared for this?"

"Women have been having babies for centuries. Yes, I'm probably as nervous as you, if not more." She faced him. "I need you to keep an ear on both our heartbeats throughout and let me know if there are any big changes."

"I will. As of now both are strong and steady."

"One other thing. I might get quite cranky. I don't want you taking any of it personally. Okay?" She warned him.

"Okay."

A few hours later Natalie was quite uncomfortable and knew how much intense pain she'd be in if Nick had not helped. Nick saw how uncomfortable Nat was, and was glad he was able to help keep her from being in even more pain. He continued to comfort her, finding that it was soothing to him as well. She found his attention soothing, and noticed she wasn't the only one it helped. Both were incredibly nervous as they had not planned on doing it solo or at home.

"Nick, Its getting closer. Where are the blankets? How's she doing?" She knew her contractions were now about three minutes apart.

"They're by the bed. I put the pad on the bed." Nick said as he drained a bottle, not wanting anything to mar this special once in a lifetime moment. "You both are doing great."

Nick put on some soothing music, an artist that Natalie enjoyed to help them both relax.

Natalie's water broke, startling them both, her especially. They knew that very soon their little one would be making her entrance.

Natalie laid down on the bed, having trouble finding a comfortable position. Once she was settled, Nick sat beside her and rubbed her back, soothing her.

As time passed Natalie grew crankier. Nick knew she didn't mean any of the things she was saying, surprised at some of the words she knew.

About an hour later Natalie knew it was time. She wished they didn't have to do this alone, yet loved the special bond this would provide their family.

Nick sensed that it was time and made sure Natalie had enough pillows piled behind her to support her before he positioned himself to help their child make its grand entrance.

"Nick, this is all your fault!"

Natalie felt the overwhelming urge to push and did so. At the same time she swore at him. "You are never touching me again!"

"Nat! I see the top of the head!" Nick said all excited, mixed with an incredible sense of awe.

She pushed when the urge hit. It was harder without him behind her supporting her. She pushed when her body demanded it. Grunting as she strained to push the eight or so pound infant through a hole barely big enough for it to pass through.

"Nat, the head's out. Both heartbeats are strong and steady. Don't push."

Natalie's body told her to push and it was NOT easy to ignore nature's urging. "Hurry up and get it out!"

Nick carefully cleaned out the baby's airway, not wanting to accidentally injure their child.

Natalie was growing more upset with each passing minute, her urge to push growing stronger and harder to resist.

"Okay, you can push again," Nick said. He saw her relief as she resumed pushing.

She felt pressure as the shoulders made their way to the opening. Another push and the shoulders appeared. With each push their daughter came a little further out into Nick's hands.

She continued to push as the contractions hit.

"Come on, Nat, push!" Nick said encouraging Nat.

Natalie glared at him. Through gritted teeth she growled "I AM pushing! If you don't like the way I'm doing this, you're more than welcome to come and do it for me!"

Nick couldn't believe that he was helping to deliver his daughter, their daughter.

Natalie was exhausted. Nick could see this and hoped the baby arrived within the next couple pushes, not knowing how much longer Natalie could push.

"We're almost there. Come on, Nat, push!"

Natalie again glared at him, this time it could've terrified even Lacroix. Through gritted teeth she once again growled "I AM pushing!" She was too tired to say much more in between pushes.

"Breathe, Nat. Don't forget to breathe."

"I am breathing," she growled.

If Nick hadn't known it was just the stress of labor he might've been scared. He was seeing another side to her, one that he'd only seen the barest glimpses of for a split second here and there.

The shoulders emerged. Nick was relieved.

Natalie pushed with the last of her strength and the baby slid out in to Nick's hands. He was unprepared for how slippery the baby would be. His vampire reflexes prevented any harm from coming to their child.

The baby's cry was the most beautiful sound they had ever heard. "You were right Nat, it's a beautiful baby girl."

Both mother and father had tears of joy running down their cheeks. An exhausted, yet exhilarated Natalie reached for her infant and Nick laid her down on Nat's bare abdomen. He moved some of the pillows so Natalie could lay back, and hopefully be more comfortable. Natalie gently stroked her daughter. Nick covered the two of them with a blanket.

"Nat, she has ten perfect little fingers and ten perfect toes. She's amazing. You're amazing." He smiled, unable to fully believe that he had held their daughter in his hands.

"You're not so bad yourself," Natalie said with a weak grin.

They watched as their daughter slowly inched her way to her mother's breasts and soon was suckling. Both knew she was getting all sorts of important nutrients as well as disease prevention factors from the super concentrated food.

"How about Hope?" Nick said as he kissed Nat gently on the cheek, while stroking her hair. "Congratulations, mom."

"Congratulations, dad. I like Amanda. How about Amanda Hope? "

"Welcome to the world Amanda Hope," Nick said as he gently rubbed her back. "Why Amanda?"

"It means love. She was conceived out of love, so I thought..."

Nick sensed the last stage of delivery beginning, the contractions of the uterus which expel the placenta. The baby's suckling helped trigger it, as well as closing off the blood vessels which reduced bleeding.

"Nick at the hospital, try to get a small sample of the placenta and umbilical cord. It might be helpful in our research."

Nick chuckled. Even exhausted from birth, she still thought about him and his cure. "I'll do my best."

"Stick them in the fridge when you get them," she said.

The doorbell rang. Nick answered it seeing it was their transportation to the hospital.

"How's the mother and infant?" The paramedic asked as he pulled the stretcher into the house, then into the bedroom.

"Both are doing wonderful," Nick said, very much the proud new daddy.

Natalie wanted to hand Amanda to Nick, but decided against it due to the fact she still had her umbilical cord attached and it would be far too messy and unwieldy.

Nick watched as Natalie was helped onto the stretcher their daughter still settled on her chest. Natalie loved the way Nick looked at them both. She could see the love radiating from him.

The back of the stretcher was set upright. Once Natalie was settled into the ambulance, Nick climbed in.

The paramedic watched the thrilled new parents, loving this part of the job. It helped make up for the more tragic aspects of the work.

Nick filled out the paperwork while Natalie was admitted and examined. The baby had an ID bracelet attached before she was removed from Natalie's arms. The bracelet matched the one Natalie wore. Amanda Hope Knight was weighed, measured, and a variety of tests were done, to evaluate Amanda Hope's heart rate, breathing, muscle tone, reflexes and color. Medication was applied to her eyes to prevent any serious infections she might've picked up during delivery. She was given a vitamin K injection to help with clotting and prevent a severe complication.

Nick arrived at Natalie's room before she did. The baby was brought in, giving Nick a moment alone with her before Natalie arrived.

An orderly pushed Natalie in. She loved the sight before her, her husband bonding with his daughter. Once inside the room she refused to stay in the wheelchair any longer. Nick tore his attention from his daughter long enough to help Natalie into bed.

Shortly a nurse entered and led Natalie step by step through how to diaper Amanda. Natalie didn't find it all that complicated due to using disposable diapers. She was shown how to fold down the front so that it didn't rub against the healing umbilical cord stub, what will later become the belly button.

After that both mom and daughter fell asleep. Nick snuck out to get Natalie the requested samples. It was not easy but he managed, only having to whammy one person. Since it was dark, he flew home and stashed them in the fridge where no one else would stumble upon them, and then returned to the Mother and Baby unit.

About an hour later Amanda woke. Nick picked her up and gently rocked her. When she started crying Natalie woke. Nick handed the baby to her. Natalie positioned Amanda properly and then her little one started taking her nourishment. She looked down at her newborn, gently stroking her arm with a finger as she ate. When Amanda was full, Natalie handed her to Nick to burp, knowing he wanted to be as active a parent as possible.

The nurse entered to show Natalie and Nick how to bathe their daughter. Natalie let Nick try his hand at it. He was nervous undressing the baby, being careful not to hurt the fragile little bundle before him. Once he had the gown off he laid her on the towel, covering her up so she would not be cold and squirted a little baby shampoo onto his fingers and very gently lathered Hope's hair. She noticed how uneasy he was washing her hair, but relaxed after he'd rinsed it. Then he started washing the top half of her body, keeping the bottom half covered while he worked so she wouldn't get cold. He was a little less nervous as he dressed her, being careful as he slid the gown over her head and helped tiny little limbs into the sleeves. He then slipped the little cotton cap back on her head.

Nick brushed Natalie's hair for her before handing her their child. The happy parents posed for their first picture as a family. The nurse left and returned a few minutes later with several high quality prints from the digital camera.

"You know Grace and Schanke are going to want to see these."

"I know. I wonder who won the pools?" Natalie asked.

"We'll find out soon."

Nick was surprised when every two hours Amanda Hope wanted to be fed. Natalie often was the first to wake, but Nick quickly woke and was up before Natalie could get out of bed. He didn't want her getting up for as long as possible, knowing how much her body had been through and how much rest she needed. He gently lifted their daughter from the bassinet and brought her to Natalie. Natalie positioned her daughter in the most comfortable position for them both and then Amanda grabbed on and started sucking.

Nick was a little jealous. She had a connection to their daughter that he would never have.

"I can't believe I thought she'd have fangs," Nat said chuckling. "How about singing something while she feeds?"

"Anything in particular?"

"No."

Nick softly sang as his daughter ate. When she was finished, Natalie allowed him to take her. Nick had the burping pad over his shoulder. He leaned Amanda against his shoulder and gently patted her back, singing a lullaby to her. Once she'd burped he gently wiped her mouth and carried her over to the bassinet where he laid her down on her back. They'd been told that allowing her to sleep on her back would greatly reduce the chance of SIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. They had also been told to avoid soft fluffy padding, blankets or comforters in the crib, along with making it too hot in the nursery. They both thought that sounded pretty much like common sense.

The next afternoon Amanda underwent a metabolic screening as she was now twenty-four hours old. Blood was drawn for the testing, part of it was to determine if she was affected by two life threatening conditions, PKU and Hypothyroidism. The screening could not be done until Amanda had taken in some protein, which she had now done through the breastfeeding.

The parents had chosen to wait on the Hepatitis B vaccine until Amanda was a month old.

Natalie gave Amanda her bath, a little uneasy at first. She knew it was because it was the first time. Yet at the same time, she enjoyed the time alone with her and her daughter.

Once the test results were back and both had a clean bill of health, Natalie and Amanda were released. Grace brought both mom and daughter something to wear home. Natalie dressed first then slipped the gown onto Amanda and then put her into her snowsuit as it was the middle of winter. The three of them walked down to the car. Natalie carefully set, then buckled Amanda Hope Knight into her car seat in the backseat of Natalie's car. When she was sure everything was secure, she shut the door and got into the front passenger seat. She buckled up and Grace did so in the driver's seat. Grace drove them home due to the daylight release time, and figuring Natalie would be too tired and weak to safely drive home.

Nick was at home eagerly awaiting the arrival of his family. Welcoming them with hugs as soon as they walked in the door.

"Thanks, Grace." Nick said.

"I'm glad I could help. Nick, I think she has your nose and Natalie's eyes. She's beautiful," Grace said.

Natalie noticed Amanda licking her lips and drooling a little, signaling that she was hungry. She headed for the nursery to feed Amanda Hope. She was going to let Amanda feed whenever she was hungry for as long as she wanted to nurse. She was going to enjoy motherhood and not let anything get in the way. She settled into the rocking chair and unbuttoned her shirt, settled Amanda into place as she exposed her breast and Amanda latched onto it and started sucking. When Amanda indicated she was finished, Natalie put the burp towel over her shoulder and laid her daughter against it and gently patted her back until she burped. Natalie wiped Amanda's face with a clean corner of the towel. She tucked herself back into her shirt and buttoned it up all one handed.

While Natalie was feeding Amanda Hope, the doorbell rang. Don, Myra and Jenny Schanke entered the loft. They'd come to see the new baby.

Natalie reentered the room, Amanda curled up in her arms, cooing at her as she saw the guests. She saw that Nick wanted to hold their daughter so she let him, seeing the smile on his face and the joy in his eyes as his daughter seemed content in his arms. He seemed such a natural with their child.

Nick had been surprised that something in the parental part of him kept the vampire at bay whenever he was around his daughter. It was as if it recognized this little being as part of him, part of his family and not to become a snack. It had taken away much of the uneasiness and fear he'd had.

Nick took her into his arms and headed for the door to show off the new arrival, and almost immediately Amanda threw up. Nick was quite surprised, especially when Natalie and Grace starting laughing, partially due to his expression.

Grace was the first to regain her composure and approached Nick. Her expression asked if she could hold Amanda while Nick cleaned himself up and Natalie caught her breath.

Nick nodded and let Grace take Amanda into her arms. Both parents watched as Grace seemed a natural with Amanda. Nick pressed the door release before heading off to change his shirt.

Natalie gently wiped off Amanda's face while Grace held her. Then she reclaimed her daughter, spiriting her off to the nursery to change her. She cooed at and talked to her daughter the entire time as she laid her on the changing table and changed her clothes, checking her diaper while she was there. When she was all done she picked Amanda up and headed out the door.

Natalie returned to the family room and sat on the couch so that everyone could get a good look at the new arrival.

Jenny was curious as she had seen very few new babies. She had a small wrapped package in her hand.

"Natalie, I brought this for Amanda."

"That was very sweet of you. How would you like to sit down next to me and open it?" She saw the smile on Jenny's face as the eight-year-old sat on the couch.

Jenny ripped the wrapping paper off the package, revealing a soft baby toy that was part rattle and part chew toy.

"I didn't know what to get her. Also I wanted to buy it with my own money."

"She'll love it. Thank you."

Everyone saw that Natalie was still tired from childbirth and didn't want to overtire her even further.

"We'll leave and let you get some sleep. If you need anything let us know. Promise?"

"Promise," Natalie said. "Thanks."

"One last thing. Who won the pools?" Natalie asked.

"I won the precinct one," Schanke said. I was the closest. Off by about forty-eight hours."

"I won the morgue one. Same here, about three days off."

"I'm glad the timing worked out," Natalie said with a grin. "I can't think of two people I'd like to win more. I hope they didn't suspect you two of fixing it."

"They did at first, but quickly realized that Nature does what it wants, especially when it comes to childbirth."

"Natalie, let Nick pamper you. Get all that attention while you can. Nick, she's been through a very rough time and needs all the TLC you can muster," Myra said.

"Don't worry. I'll take very good care of both of them."

No one had any doubts that they would take very good care of each other and their daughter.

A short time after Grace and the Schanke's left, Lacroix appeared, startling Natalie. An ornately-wrapped package in his hand.

"I really wish you wouldn't do that," Natalie said a little cranky from being startled.

"I will try to remember to use the door next time. May I see the little one?" Lacroix asked.

Natalie seemed a little hesitant to hand over her newborn to a man she considered a monster.

Sensing her hesitation, Lacroix turned to Nick. "I mean neither Natalie nor the little one any harm, but you may see for yourself if you wish." With that he offered his wrist yet again.

Nick believed him, but for Nat's benefit sank his fangs into Lacroix's wrist. A mouthful later, he saw no indication of ill-will in Lacroix's blood.

"Nat, it's okay." Nick assured her, "Thank you, Lacroix."

"Nat, it's okay," Nick said. "Thank you, Lacroix."

"Do you know how to hold a baby?" Natalie asked.

Lacroix handed Nick the present.

"I had a daughter once," Lacroix said, knowing Natalie meant no offense by the question.

Natalie put her little girl into the ancient vampire's arms and could've sworn she saw a tiny hint of a smile.

"She's beautiful. Amanda Hope fits her." A moment later there's a subtle change in Lacroix's expression. "I think you'd better take her back. She needs to be changed."

Natalie took her daughter back as she said with a small chuckle, "Like father like son."

Lacroix's eyebrow raised wondering what she meant by that.

"She threw up on Nick earlier," Natalie said, seeing the curiosity in Lacroix's expression.

Natalie left the room to change Amanda's diaper. She was still a little nervous but was getting used to it. She knew babies were sturdier than they looked, but was still careful. She talked to her daughter as she changed the diaper. Once that was done she reentered the room.

The two males saw the two ladies reenter. Nick knew his father was waiting for him to open the gift so he did so. He pulled a beautiful ornate polished wooden box.

"It's beautiful," Nick and Natalie said at almost the same time. "Thank you."

"I thought you might like to keep special things in it until she's old enough to do so."

"It's perfect for that. I'll put it on her dresser," Natalie says, genuinely touched by the gift and it clearly comes through in her voice.

"I just wanted to come by and see the new arrival. Now that I have, I will leave."

Nick and Natalie exchange glances. Lacroix kept his promise. He was a perfect gentleman. He seemed to be genuinely touched by Amanda.

"For as long as you honor the terms of our deal, you can visit every other month," Natalie says.

"Thank you, Natalie, for that very gracious offer. I will not let you down. You and Amanda are part of my family now and I willdo my best to be a good grandfather to her. And to behave better around the two of you."

"That's all we can ask," Natalie says. "And I shall do the same."

"As will I," Nick added.

Lacroix nodded to his son and kissed the back of Natalie's hand before he was about to take off to the sky, but at the last second remembered his promise to try and use the door. He walked over to the lift and entered, taking it down to the floor.

"I was impressed. He can be a gentleman when he tries," Natalie says. "Do you think this will improve things between the two of you?"

"I hope so. They weren't always bad, just most of the time," Nick said, remembering one of the few good times.

Later that afternoon, Natalie was tired. She knew she had a lot of things yet to do, the next was feeding Amanda. She sat down on the couch and got her little girl into position for her next feeding. She loved watching her happily taking her nourishment from her mother. She had never felt so happy and at peace before, outside intimate times spent with Nick, the night he proposed, and their wedding. She gently stroked Amanda's back as she fed. Thoughts about what she was going to do when her maternity leave was up tried to take over her thoughts but she pushed them aside, enjoying the present moment too much.

Nick walked into the room and saw them, a peaceful smile spread across his face. It was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. She sensed him and looked over, her expression a reflection of his.

Before long Amanda was finished feeding.

"Would you care to burp her?" Natalie asked, knowing how much he wanted to be involved in Amanda's care.

Nick put the burping towel over his shoulder, took her from Natalie's arms and sat down beside her. He held Amanda against his shoulder and gently patted her back until she burped. He looked over at Natalie and could see how tired she was. He knew how hard the labor and delivery had been and knew it would take her a while to recover.

Natalie stood and headed for the laundry room. Nick stood and walked in front of her.

"Go take a nap. I'll watch her for a while," Nick said as he nudged her towards the master bedroom.

Natalie kissed him and then walked into their bedroom and crawled into bed. She was asleep almost as soon as she hit the pillow.

Nick tried to put Amanda into her cradle but she started to cry. He picked her up and rocked her. She immediately settled down. He grabbed the snuggly and put her in it, pleased when she seemed to like it.

Once that problem was taken care of he shut their bedroom door and set about doing the laundry. He couldn't believe how much he'd learned during the last ten months. The laundry room was at the other end of the house and had been insulated just enough so that it wouldn't disturb anyone sleeping, but the buzzer could be set and heard around the house if the door was open. Nick turned off the buzzer so he wouldn't forget later. He stuck in the first load.

Before long he realized it was time to change his little girl and did so. He was still a little nervous about it and was glad Natalie had made him do it a few times. He was afraid he'd accidentally hurt his daughter. She was so tiny and looked so fragile, so helpless. Before long she had a clean diaper on and was happy once again.

Nick tidied up the house, being careful not to accidentally wake Natalie. He wanted her to sleep for as long as she needed to, or at least until Amanda's next feeding. A part of him wished he could feed her, but knew he didn't have the right equipment for the job.

After he'd finished what housework he could, he sat down on the floor with Amanda and spread a blanket down. He removed her from the snuggly and laid her on the floor, and laid down on his side next to her. He let her grab onto his fingers if she wanted to. He was completely enthralled by this tiny little miracle that he and Natalie had created.

Nick picked her up and set her into her cradle, which he moved into his studio. He started painting, inspired by his new family. He worked for the next two hours, until Amanda started fussing, then picked her up and carried her back to her blanket on the floor.

Natalie woke up from her nap about an hour later and walked out of her room to a beautiful sight. She saw Nick on the floor watching and playing with their daughter. She observed them for a few minutes before she joined them.

He looked up at her, seeing she looked much better, and asked, "Did you have a nice nap?"

"Yes. Thank you."

"Have any interesting dreams?"

Natalie knew what he wanted to know. "I haven't had any more nightmares since that one night. I did however have a nice dream about the three of us."

"Oh?" Nick asked playfully.

She caressed his cheek as she said, "We were out walking with her and she said her very first word, chocolate."

Nick rolled his eyes and groaned. "Is that a hint that mommy wants some?"

"That would be nice. Actually, in the dream were all playing in the park and she took her first steps."

"That's a beautiful dream. I can't wait until we witness that."

Their lips met in a kiss. A couple of moments later their tender kiss was broken by a small cry.

"Looks like someone's hungry," Nick teased.

"She shouldn't be hungry just yet," Natalie said as she picked up her daughter. Instantly Amanda stopped crying. "I think she just wanted mommy's attention. Didn't you," she cooed at Amanda.

Nick watched the interaction between mother and daughter, still totally in awe of their accomplishment. Totally in awe of the woman who was his wife, who had made the miracle possible.

Natalie looked over at her husband and gave him a warm smile. "Thank you. I had never really thought much about being a wife and mother until I met you. I knew I would probably never be a mother, but also knew that if I could solve the puzzle I could be. When I saw how much you wanted children it gave me all the more reason to find the solution."

"You're the one who deserves the thanks. You brought such joy into my life. You loved me for who I am, vampire and man, not just one part. You gave me not only time in the sun but a beautiful daughter. Something I never thought I could have."

"I was NOT happy about having to work late on my birthday all those years ago. It's a good thing I did. Maybe we were meant to meet and meant to share our lives. I'm not much of a believer in fate, but sometimes it seems too hard to ignore the possibility that it exists."

"Maybe so. Maybe it did bring us together for a reason. All I know is that I will do my best to be the best husband and father I can be."

And Natalie replies, "I know you will..." then she leans over and kisses him tenderly...

They look down and see Amanda happily cooing and smiling at them. Natalie loved the feeling of the little bundle sleeping in her arms.

The end

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