The Cure
A Forever Knight Story
by Judith Freudenthal

Natalie Labert is hard at work in the city morgue. She is putting her medical skills to work. She is looking at some slides of blood under a microscope. When she finishes looking at one she swaps it for another. Once she is done she makes a few notes in her journal. A look at the current pages shows a lot of medical jargon as well as some plain english.

Natalie writes - I have seen some interesting changes in the blood of the test subject over the past three years. All quite subtle but definitely positive. He can tolerate small amounts of protein if not taken too close together. This in itself is a major improvement. I will have to try my latest concoction on him and see if he tolerates it better. Natalie sketches in the chemical composition of her latest creation.

"Being the M.E. does have its advantages. Especially during the night shift." Natalie mumbles out loud to herself as she puts the journal away.

Nick wanders in. Natalie doesn't notice him so he decides to sneak up on her. He is by her side in a flash. She jumps startled and playfully smacks him in the shoulder.

"I hate it when you do that." Natalie says.

Nick just grins.

"I'm glad you're here. I want you to try something."

Nick's grin disappears. He knows what's coming.

Natalie throws a few things into the blender and whips it up. She pours the "milkshake" into an eight ounce glass and hands it to Nick.

"Drink."

Nick knows he has no way out. He reluctantly takes the glass, sniffs it and takes a small sip. He nearly gags.

"Drink. I added some chocolate powder to help with the taste."

Nick takes another sip or two before he hands it back to Natalie.

"It was a little better."

Natalie hands it back to him.

"Drink. How do you expect to come back across if you can't handle this much protein? You'll need to eat much more than this to survive once you do."

"I know." Nick says as he semi-reluctantly takes the glass and chokes down a few more swallows of the stuff.

"If I drink anymore I'll get sick." Nick says as he hands the glass back to Natalie. He is already feeling a little sick from it.

"You drank about half the glass. That's an improvement. I want to have you finishing the glass by the end of the month."

"That's only two weeks away." Nick says with a bit of surprize coming through in his voice.

"Don't worry. We'll work up to it slowly." Natalie says trying to reassure Nick. "Can you take one more swallow?"

Schanke comes in. He overheard Natalie's last comment. Nick sees Schanke and reluctantly takes the glass and takes one more swallow. This one smaller than the others. Nick feels sick but doesn't want either of them to know.

"What is that?" Schanke asks curious.

"It's a milkshake. I added extra vitamins to try to boost his immune system." Natalie says.

"What's so hard about drinking a milkshake?"

"I don't tolerate milk very well. Natalie's trying to boost my tolerance level."

"Lactose intolerant?" Schanke asks.

"Yea." Natalie quickly answers. "I mixed in something to help him digest it."

"Jenny could use something like that. The poor thing can't tolerate milk unless its cooked. Sometimes not even then. Thank God for lactose free milk. You should try it, Nick. Maybe it will help."

"Maybe I will." Nick says casually trying to change the subject. "What brought you here?"

"The Wilkinson case."

"I haven't finished the autopsy report yet. I'll bring it by later." Natalie says.

"Can I try the shake?" Schanke asks.

Nick and Natalie exchange a quick glance of surprize before Natalie hands the glass to Schanke. Schanke takes a swallow.

"Needs more chocolate. It leaves a little bit of an aftertaste. Not too bad." Schanke hands the glass back to Natalie.

They start to leave when Natalie calls out to Nick.

"Nick, I want to talk to you a moment."

"Schanke, I'll see you outside in a few minutes."

"Okay." Schanke says. He's pleased that things are back to normal again. He was concerned when things seemed off between the two of them after Valentine's Day. He noticed it more in Nick, especially when Natalie was there. After about a week things seemed better, more normal. He just chalked it up to the stress of Valentine's Day on a batchelor.

Schanke leaves. Natalie waits a moment before she heads for the supply cabinet and picks up a needle and a couple of vials.

"I want to take a blood sample to see how your body is dealing with the new shake."

Nick takes off his jacket and rolls up his shirt sleeve. Natalie removes two vials of blood.

"How's your consumption?"

"Half a glass a day." Nick says trying hard not to think about how hungry he is. About how he's been starving since she cut his ration in half a month ago. He hopes she finds the cure or a good protein formula soon. He doesn't know how much longer he can go hungry. He knows if he says anything she'll make him drink more of that shake. If so he'd rather be hungry than naseaus. "I'd better be going before Schanke comes looking for me. I'll see you later."

"How about some movies tomorrow?" Natalie asks.

"Sounds good." Nick says before he leaves.

As soon as Nick leaves Natalie pulls out the journal and makes a couple more notes. She keeps the journal burried in the bottom of her middle drawer. There is nothing to identify who she's treating or that it is vampirism she's treating. All they will learn is that her patient has a sun allergy and a problem with digesting protein. She notes how much her subject drank and how he appeared to tolerate it.

Natalie puts a drop of Nick's blood sample onto a slide. She looks at it under the microscope. She notices a minute change. She notes it in her journal.

Nick and Schanke are driving to a diner. The last place Nick wants to be now. Nick is feeling a little sick from the shake.

"So that's why you're on that macrobiotic diet. Why didn't you ever tell me."

"I didn't think it was important. You've never told me what foods bother you."

"True. Is your food and sun allergy related?" Schanke innocently asks.

Nick's startled and not sure how to answer. "Natalie's not sure. She thinks there might be a link."

Nick is in a grocery store. He sees all the foods and is somewhat overwhelmed. He knows what he wants to make. He sees others pushing a shopping cart and gets one for himself. He wanders up and down the aisles looking for the items on his list. He can't believe all the choices. All the different products available, a far cry from the food situation 800 years ago.

One by one Nick finds most of the items on his shopping list. He sees a stockperson.

"Excuse me. Where do you keep the Italian spices?"

"Aisle 5. On the left at the very end. It should be with the rest of the spices."

Nick finds the spice and heads for the checkout. He has dinner and desert. He can't believe how many things it takes to make a meal. He sees the people around him putting their stuff up on the conveyor belt so he does the same.

"Paper or plastic?" The bagger asks.

"Whatever." Nick says a bit unsure what the question is.

Nick is quite surprized to see the total. He pulls out his wallet and pays the cashier.

Nick goes home and puts his groceries away. He gets out his necessary cooking stuff and starts to prepare dinner for him and Natalie.

It is about 30 minutes later. He has the table set. He's putting the plates on the table when he hears the elevator motor start. He puts the bread on the table. He opens the wine and sets it on the table along with two wine glasses. He finishes right before the door opens. He stands so that he's blocking her view of the table.

"Hi, Nick. What's up?" Natalie says as she approaches Nick. She has a plastic bag containing three videotapes.

Nick steps aside and she sees the table. She's surprized.

"It looks and smells terrific. Where'd it come from?"

"I made it." Nick says with a smile. His pride from this accomplishment shows.

Natalie is surprized. "You can cook?"

"I've watched a gourmet chef or two over time."

Nick holds her chair out for her. Natalie takes her seat. Nick takes his.

"Is that decoration or are you going to join me?"

"I will try to join you."

Dinner is the same pasta dish that he tried during his recent brief stint as a mortal. The bottle of wine is the same as he tried then.

Natalie takes a bite. "This is delicious. I should let you cook more often." She continues to eat.

"I'd never done it before. I kinda like it." Nick says with a small grin.

Nick pours both of them some wine from the same bottle.

Nick takes a deep breath and tries the pasta. He gets his first bite down with some effort.

Natalie grins at his effort. "I'm proud of you. Keep this up and you won't have to drink those shakes."

"It is good." Nick says a bit surprized. He tries a second bite. It takes a little more effort. Nick tries a third bite. It takes a little more effort. He washes it down with a sip of wine.

Anyone watching them would think they were a normal couple having dinner.

"This wine is good, Nick. How'd you choose it?"

"The same way I picked the dinner. It is good." Nick says as he has another sip. It bothers him less than the food. Nick tries anther bite.

"I want to take a blood sample in an hour or two to see how your body is processing the food, if it is." Natalie says. "I'm very proud of you."

Nick feels pretty good about himself. Except for the hunger he had almost forgotten about. The earlier shake and dinner now has helped a tiny bit. It gives Nick some further hope that it is possible to go back. "What movies did you bring?"

"I brought Man Without a Face, Sneakers and Interview with a Vampire."

Nick grins. "You couldn't resist could you."

Natalie grins "come on, how often does one get to watch a vampire movie with a vampire. You liked the book."

"I thought it was okay. It captured us better than we wanted."

Nick serves the chocolate cheesecake he bought for desert. "Sorry but I didn't make this. I wasn't sure how my cooking would turn out and wanted to have something edible here."

"So what did you think of your first forray into a grocery store?" Natalie says as she digs into her cheesecake.

"It was amazing. I've never seen so many different kinds of food before. I never realized how expensive it is. Are all grocery stores like this?"

"No. Some are bigger or smaller. Some have a different selection. Some are just overpriced. Most carry the same major brands."

"How do you choose?"

"Experience. Usually moms teach the kids how to shop as they grow up. Usually the teaching comes from talks about food, watching mom shop and other similar stuff. Not all that stuff is good for you. Take this for instance." Natalie uses her fork to point to the few remaining bites of her cheesecake. "It is better than some foods but too much will make you look like Schanke." Natalie says. "Aren't you going to have any?"

"Ah, I see." Nick says. "No. It looks too rich for me."

Natalie finishes her chocolate cheesecake. They head for the couch. Nick inserts the first tape - Interview With a Vampire. He didn't want to watch Man Without a Face first and she didn't want to watch Sneakers first so Interview was left.

This movie gets to Natalie just a tiny bit. It is more graphic than most of the other vampire movies with the exception of Lost Boys. Some of the others were so bad the violence made her giggle and Nick amazed at its stupidity. Especially the one where the female vampire gets her whole face covered in her dinner's blood. Nick couldn't believe how bad it was and a bit annoyed stated that no real vampire would be so sloppy because of detection and mostly because of the waste of blood.

Nick notices that Natalie seems to be more affected by this movie than all the others. He decides not to question her about it yet.

After the movie ends Natalie asks, "Nick, what did you think of the movie?"

"It's better than all the others. I actually liked this one. It was a bit dramatic though. It is more accurate than the others. Almost too accurate."

Natalie is a little surprized. The last time she heard that was when they were working on a case about a writer who wrote too accurate vampire novels.

"What do others think?"

"They aren't happy but figure as long as they don't draw too much attention to it won't raise too many suspicions."

Next they watch Man Without a Face. Natalie likes it. Nick finds himself connecting with the disfigured ex-teacher more than he thought he would. Natalie senses this but doesn't question Nick about it because she can understand it.

"I didn't think I'd like that one but I did. I know exactly how he feels. You're the first one I've let get this close in a very long time. I don't know what I'd do if I were accused of hurting you and forced to stay away."

"I don't know what I'd do either."

"Would you like something before we start the third movie?" Nick asks.

"Some popcorn. I'll make it while you get the next tape ready."

They sit there and watch Sneakers. Natalie snacks on her popcorn. Nick even gets brave enough to try it. He finds it tasteless.

"How can you eat that? It's tasteless."

"It's subtle. I like the butter even though it is fattening and gets your fingers greasy."

Two hours later the movie ends. Natalie is curled up against Nick's chest. Nick has his hand around her shoulder. She yawns.

"What did you think?"

"I liked it. I find all that covert stuff interesting." Nick says.

"I thought you might. I thought it was quite interesting." Natalie says as she yawns again.

"Why don't you take a nap. The sheets are clean. I'll take the couch. I don't mind."

"Don't you ever slide out of bed? Between the satin sheets and the satin pj's its a wonder you get any sleep."

It is a few nights later. Natalie is working with a chemical concoction of hers. She looks at it. Squirts a few drops into a test tube, fills it with a fresh sample of Nick's blood and seals the tube. She shakes it up and puts it into the holder.

A few minutes later she unseals it and puts a drop onto a slide. She examines the slide under her microscope. She's amazed by her discovery. She doesn't see any signs of the "vampire virus". She's thrilled when the rest of the sample appears normal.

Natalie runs several tests on the blood sample. Her last test takes her and the sample outside into the sun. Nothing happens. She's overjoyed and rushes back to her office. She carefully jots everything down in her journal.

Once that's done she doublechecks her results. When they come out the same she can't believe it. She checks her watch and sees that there is only half an hour til sunset. She calls Nick.

Nick's painting and hears the elevator start. Shortly the elevator arrives and the doors open. Natalie's excitement can be seen on her face, through her whole body and heard in her voice.

"Nick, I think I've done it!

"Are you sure?" Nick says daring to get his hopes up.

"I ran two complete sets of tests. Both came out identical." Natalie says excited. "There's only one thing left to do."

"Try it on me." Nick says. Natalie nods in response.

"You do know that there are some risks. I don't know what this may do to you. It made the blood sample free of the 'virus'. It also prevented the sample from self-destructing in the sunlight."

"I'm willing to take the risks."

Natalie has Nick sit on the couch and roll up his sleeve. He does so. She fills up the syringe and starts to inject him. Nick stops her. He motions for her to have a seat next to him. She does.

"There's something I have to do first." Nick says. "Nat, look into my eyes. Bend your will to me." Natalie resists. "Please Nat, I have to do this for our future. I promise you won't regret this. It has to do with your mental block about Valentine's Day. I'll explain further afterwards." Nicks says nearly begging.

Natalie trusts him and nods her agreement. She looks him directly in the eyes.

"Nat, look into my eyes. Bend your will to me. That's right." Nick is pleased to see her cooperating with him. Once he has access to her mind he looks for the block LaCroix put there. "Natalie, you will remember what happend from February 10 to February 15th. Especially those memories that seemed to have been blocked out." Nick releases his control of her will once he sees that she remembers.

"I remember. Did you block my memory?"

"No. It was LaCroix. He was trying to get even for what happened when he fell for my sister." Nick fills Natalie in on the romance between Fleur and LaCroix.

Natalie is surprized to learn about LaCroix having a heart. Now she understands why he was so brokenhearted around Valentine's day.

"I remember him being charming yet threatening. I stood my ground with him. He seemed intrigued by it. You arrived." Natalie says.

Nick inwardly cringes as he remembers what came next.

"You said somewhat convincingly that you didn't love me. That you were just using me to find a cure." Natalie is a little hurt by his statements.

"I love you. I was trying to save your life. LaCroix had threatened my first true love. I accepted to keep him from hurting Fleur. I didn't expect to ever fall in love this deeply. That lie in the restaurant was almost as hard as living these 10 months without you remembering." Nick is totally sincere. Natalie's touched.

Next she remembers the fight. Then she remembers what Nick almost did to her.

"You were going to bring me across to keep me out of his hands. I could feel your hands on me. Your cool lips kissing me. Your breath on my neck. Your fangs on the surface of my neck rather gently. Then you were stopped. LaCroix left in disgust. I wasn't worth it to him." Natalie realizes what a risk Nick took in lying to LaCroix. "You lied to him to save me. Thank you. I remember your relief and you hugging me. It was like a drowing man holding onto a lifeline." Natalie asks curious, "would you have brought me across if he had not believed your bluff?"

"I don't know. I know one thing. I wasn't about to let him get his hands on you. I'm not sure he did believe my lie."

"Are you sure you don't know what you would've done?"

Nick hates to think about it and knows what most likely he would've done. "I most likely would've killed you rather than let him have you or force you into this hellishness."

Natalie says "I love you. I also never expected to feel love so deeply."

"If he had killed you I probably would've killed him and then walked into the sun, if he hadn't killed me."

"I'm glad you're here. Are you sure you still want to take the risk?" Natalie asks a little concerned. She doesn't want to loose him now that she remembers her feelings for him.

"Yes. It's too hard to feel every part of me wanting to make love to you and not being able to without killing you."

"I know how you feel."

Natalie checks the syringe again for any air bubbles. She cleans the spot with an alcohol pad and injects him.

"How are you feeling?" Natalie asks concerned.

"Fine." Nick says. Suddenly he begins to feel bad. He goes into convulsions. He falls off the couch and hits his head on the edge of the coffee table. Natalie sees the gash formed from that contact and is concerned when she doesn't see it mend itself.

Natalie has trouble keeping her panic under control as she moves anything nearby that he could hurt himself on. The hardest thing is to push the couch out of the way. She does. She grabs hold of Nick and moves him over a little so he won't further injure himself. She unbuttons the top two buttons on his shirt.

She starts to get up to call for help but realizes that she can't. Nick's hand reaches out for her. She takes hold of it. Natalie doesn't mean to let on when he squeezes too tight and breaks a bone.

The hardest, most frustrating and scariest part is waiting for the convulsions to run their course. Her only reassurance is Nick's steady grip on her hand, painful as it is.

This goes on for ten minutes. Natalie panics when Nick's convulsions stop and he does't move. His grip on her hand is not as strong. Natalie uses her free hand to check for a pulse. She is pleased when there is a steady regular human one but is concerned because Nick seems to be unconscious. She gently shakes his shoulder.

Nick gasps once and opens his eyes. It takes a moment for his vision to clear. He sees the joy and pain in Natalie's eyes.

"How are you?" Natalie asks concerned.

"What happened? I feel good. My head hurts." Nick says sounding hopeful.

"You went into convulsions and fell off the couch. You hit your head on the edge of the coffee table. Your convulsion stopped and you didn't move. I was afraid I had lost you."

"You won't get rid of me so easily." Nick says with a weak smile. He reaches up to his forehead and is pleasantly surprized to see red blood on his fingers.

"Yes, the gash did not heal itself. Congratulations, you now have a regular human pulse." Natalie says happily but in pain.

Nick sees her hand in his. He immediately releases her hand. Guilt comes over him.

"You reached out to me. I took your hand. It's not your fault. Besides I'll be fine."

"I'm sorry."

"It's okay. I will need your help drawing a blood sample though."

They get up and sit on the couch. Nick is a little weak. Nick helps Natalie get the blood sample. He puts it in the fridge for her and makes an icepack for her injured hand. She gratefully accepts the icepack.

Nick can't sense whether or not the sun is up. He looks at his watch and sees that it the sun should be rising. He opens the blinds on a window and stands off to the side. The sun comes up. Nick carefully sticks his hand into the sun while Natalie anxiously looks on.

No burning, no smoking, no pain. Nick steps into the sunlight. Nothing happens.

"I'm cured!" Nick joyfully shouts. He looks over at Natalie and sees the smile on her face temepered only by the pain from her injury.

"Nick, I need to look at that gash."

Nick sits down and she cleans it up with some help from Nick. Nick grimaces every time she touches it.

"Sorry. It looks like you most likely will need some stitches. It can wait a few minutes. Let's get to my office. I need to examine your blood sample first." Natalie says. She digs around in her black bag and pulls out a gauze pad. "Open this and press the pad against the wound for a few minutes.

"Okay. What about your hand?" Nick asks concerned.

"I need something to immobilize it. I'll get it checked out after I check out your blood sample."

Nick looks around for anything he can use as a temporary splint. When he locates something he stops holding the gauze pad in place. He finds a hand towel and a pair of thin flat wooden pieces about the right width. Nick looks through Natalie's black bag and finds a roll of gauze bandage and some adhesive tape. Natalie holds the splint in place while Nick wraps the gauze around it and tapes the end securely in place.

Natalie has Nick help as she prepares another gauze pad to cover the wound until they are ready to go for proper medical treatment.

They arrive at Natalie's office and are in luck. No one's around. She prepares a slide with the blood sample she took back at his place. She examines it under the microscope.

"Well?"

"Perfectly normal human blood. I'll need to run some more sophisticated tests to be sure."

Nick gives her a look that could melt lead.

"But that can wait."

The local emergency room. Natalie and Nick are about to enter. Nick freezes.

"What do we tell them?" Nick asks concerned.

"That the car ran off the road due to the rain. You hit the steering wheel and I got my hand caught between me and the dashboard. Answer no to headache, naseaus, blurry vision, etc. or they will keep you for observation thinking you might have a concussion. Also we were both wearing our seatbelts."

Nick nods his understanding and acceptance of their story.

They enter. Natalie guides Nick through the paperwork part.

Schanke finds the fact that they both called in sick a bit suspicious but doesn't say anything because he hopes it is a romantic reason.

Natalie has to conduct a welcome back to mortality briefing for Nick. They're at her place. She's changing clothes.

"Nick, there are a few changes you'll have to accept. You have to eat, sleep, shower, shave. You'll have to learn how to do laundry. You will have more expenses so you can't keep buying new clothes when the old ones get dirty. You'll have to keep real food in your apartment and learn to check expiration dates."

"I know this stuff."

"You're not as strong or fast as you were. Bullets, knives, explosions WILL KILL YOU. You're not immortal anymore."

"I know."

"Just thought I'd remind you. I do NOT want to go to your funeral because you forgot."

"How about we take a picnic lunch down to the park?"

"Sounds terrific." Natalie says.

"We no longer have to confine our work to nights. I know Schanke will be pleased."

Nick spreads out the picnic blanket and they sit down. Nick empties the contents on the spread being careful not to spill anything. They eat and enjoy the bright sunny day, the clear blue sky and the gentle breeze.

"I can't remember the last time I felt so good. Other than Valentine's Day." Nick says happy at last. He's pleased to see Natalie happy.

"Same here."

Nick gently traces the side of her face with his fingers. They're drawn into a kiss. What starts off as uncertainty turns into passion. The jaws of life will be needed to separate this couple. Looking at them no one would be able to guess what terrible secret Nick had left behind him. Both are thrilled that he no longer has to worry about curbing his vampire tendencies when they kiss.

The next night Nick and Natalie report to work together. Nick drove his caddy. Natalie's is being kept under wraps in her garage until enough repair time has gone by. Natalie wants Nick to stay out of the sunlight without her until she can run some further tests.

Schanke is the first to see them enter the precinct. He's surprized to see their injuries.

"What happened to the two of you?" Schanke asks concerned.

"Our car went off the road during the rain the other day. The car wasn't badly damaged." Nick says.

"I don't care about cars. How are you?" Schanke says.

"I broke my a bone in my hand when it got caught between the dashboard and me. I'll be fine in six weeks."

"I hit the steering wheel."

"How many stitches?" Schanke asks.

"Five."

Captain Cohen hears their voices and comes over to investigate. "How are you two feeling?"

"Better." Nick says.

"What happened?" Cohen asks concerned.

Nick and Natalie tell Cohen the same story the told Schanke.

"Knight, are you up to working?" Cohen asks.

"Yes. I have the paperwork here." Nick gives her the medical clearance form.

She looks it over. For once it isn't signed by Natalie. "What are you waiting for. There are crimes to be solved."

"Yes, Capt." Schanke says.

Cohen leaves.

"So how are things between the two of you?"

"Hoping we were playing romantic hookey?"

"Well." Schanke asks.

"Good."

Natalie is forced to catch up on any missing paperwork. But it turns out there is very little. Once she's done that she updates the journal.

Nick shows up about halfway through the shift.

"Hi." Natalie says.

"Hi." Nick says.

Since no one's around they sneak a kiss.

"You still like being back in the mortal world?"

"Yes."

Natalie has Nick sit on the metal exam table. She draws blood. She examines a drop of it under the microscope.

"No change. I had a friend give me some time under his tunneling microscope. I found no evidence of the 'virus'. After a few more days I will have no choice but to pronounce you cured."

"I forgot how tiring being mortal can be."

A few days later Nick gets home before Natalie. He fixes a gourmet dinner. Has the lights low, candles burning, romantic music playing. Red, white and yellow roses are in vases all around the house. Natalie enters his loft and is pleasantly surprized by the atmosphere. "It's wonderful."

"First the clensing ceremony." Nick says as he walks to his fridge.

Natalie waits for him by the sink. Nick brings over his bottles of blood. He pours them out one by one. He gives Natalie the honor of pouring out the last one.

Nick's gash has healed leaving a very thin almost unnoticible scar. Natalies hand is healing fine though it still is a bit tender. She still has to wear the cast for a couple more weeks.

Natalie walks over to the couch to sit down for a few minutes before dinner. Nick approaches. He gets down on one knee in front of her.

"Natalie, will you marry me?" Nick asks hopefully.

"Yes." Natalie says without hesitation. Overjoyed that they can finally be together.

Nick opens the little black velved box he pulls from his pocket. He takes out the antique diamond engagement ring and puts it on her.

"I found this ring in a shop I forget how many years ago. I held onto it in the hopes of giving it to the woman I fell deeply in love with someday. I had hoped it would be a mortal woman and that I had regained my mortality."

"It's beautiful. Thank you." Natalie says extremely touched by the ring.

Nick escorts her to the dining room table. Nick holds out her chair for her. Once she's seated he brings dinner over. He sets a plate down in front of each of their places. He brings over the champaigne bottle and uncorks it without using his teeth, now that he doesn't have fangs to help.

They eat Fettichini Alfredo.

"I wanted to make sure you could eat it without trouble."

Nick pours them each a glass of champagne. He raises his in a toast.

"To my love."

"To my love." Natalie says returning the toast.

They sip their champagne.

Dinner is finished and they're feeling romantic. They walk over to the couch. Nick runs his fingers down the side of Natalie's face gently tracing its outline. Nick kisses Natalie. Passion and instinct cause him to kiss his way down her neck. Both tense slightly. He's waiting for his fangs to drop and she's wondering if his fangs will break the surface of her soft flesh and how it will feel. No fangs show to the relief of both.

They know Nick has been 'defanged' but habits die hard.

Their passion ignites. He hungrily kisses her and she passionately responds. Enjoying every second. Waiting to wake up and find out it was only a dream.

Nick sweeps Natalie in his arms and carries her upstairs. Their lips not parting.

A trail of clothes can be seen from the landing to the bed. Nick and Natalie fulfill the desire that has been growing for the last three years. Unspoken til Valentine's Day. Nick tenderly caresses Natalie's face as he hungrily kisses her. She runs a hand across his strong shoulders while feeding both their hunger. It is a night of passionate lovemaking that neither will ever forget.

Nick wakes the next morning with his arm draped across her body as her back is against his chest. He lies there quietly absorbing her scent, the wonderful way she feels against him, being careful not to disturb her. She looks so at peace.

Nick falls back asleep. Natalie wakes and loves the feeling of waking up in his arms. Feeling his strength and warmth around her. She lies there quietly not wanting to disturb him. He looks so peaceful, so innocent.

Nick arrives at work for a day shift. His happiness and peacefulness radiating through him. Schanke looks up and notices.

"Someone had a good night. Did you get any sleep?" Schanke teases.

"Yes to both." Nick says with a large smile that lights up his eyes. "How about I buy you breakfast."

"Sure." Schanke says surprized. Nick's never had breakfast with him before. "Other than you and Natalie finally getting together there is something different about you."

Nick and Schanke enter Schanke's favorite breakfast spot (other than home). They're shown to a table. They look at the menus. Nick has trouble deciding what to eat. There are so many choices. Nick promised Natalie that he would stay away from beef for six months to make sure that there was no complications due to the fact that he previously lived on cow blood.

The waitress comes over and takes their order. Schanke is surprized at how much Nick orders. Nick is still trying to sample everything.

"Did you cut your hair?"

Nick shakes his head.

"Did you get a new suit?"

Again Nick shakes his head.

"What is it?"

"I'm cured. As far as Natalie and I know the sun is no more of a danger to me as it is to her or you."

"That's great. Congratulations." Schanke says happy for his partner. "I hated working all those nights. It's not natural."

"Think about spending almost all of your life having to stay indoors until the sun went down. Only being allowed out after dark and having to be home before sunrise. It feels terrific to be able to feel the warmth of the sun again."

"Again?"

Nick quickly covers "I haven't felt it since I was very young. That's what made it hard for me. I knew what it felt like."

"I never noticed."

The food arrives. Schanke has a greek omlette, toast and coffee. Nick has eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes and tomato juice.

"Interesting combination. Keep that up and your heart will explode. Haven't you ever heard of cholesterol?"

"Yes. I'm hungry."

Later in the day Natalie drops off some reports to Nick and Schanke. Nick and Natalie are restrained. The most romantic they get is to give each other's hands a squeeze. Schanke notices Natalie's engagement ring when she hands him the files.

"Congratulations. When's the wedding?"

"We haven't set a date yet." Nick says.

Schanke takes a closer look at the ring. "That's a beautiful ring. Nick, why didn't you tell me?"

"I wanted to tell you my own way. You'll just have to find someone else for Myra's blind dates."

Nick grins even though he tries not to.

Cohen hears them and comes out. "What's going on here?"

"I'm getting married." Nick says bursting with joy.

"Congratulations Nick, Natalie." Cohen says. "When's the date?"

"I don't know. We haven't set one yet." Natalie says as she shows Cohen the ring.

Cohen likes the simple elegance of it. "Beautiful ring. It looks like an heirloom."

"It is. It was my mother's and before her my grandmother's." Nick lies.

"Congratulations on beating your allergy." Cohen says.

"Thanks." Nick says.

Nick knows that he has to face Janette sooner or later. He decides that he might as well get it over with. Besides Natalie has to work late and he doesn't want to be alone.

Nick enters the Raven shortly after sunset. The club is filling up. The patrons are dancing, drinking and talking. Mortals and immortals mixing like its nothing out of the ordinary.

Janette sees that Nick's whole body is alive with happiness.

"She did it didn't she." Janette states a little sadly.

Nick nods.

"I thought so when I couldn't feel you anymore. You know LaCroix won't stand for this. I am happy for you, Nicola." Janette says. "How's Natalie?"

"Good. I know. I need your help. Please talk to him for me."

"Keep a close eye on her. I'll try, Nicola."

"Thanks, Janette. I mean it." Nick says sincerely. "How are you doing?"

"Okay. I miss you." Janette says a bit sadly. "I miss you coming to me for help or comfort."

"If you like I can still come to you for help."

"If you wish. It won't be the same."

Nick enters his house and finds a surprize waiting for him.

"I am very disappointed with you, Nicholas."

"LaCroix. What are you doing here?" Nick says acidly.

"I'm here to see for myself. Foolish boy. What's to prevent me from just bringing you across again?" LaCroix notices Nick's scar. In the blink of an eye LaCroix is in front of Nick. He runs his finger across the small scar on Nick's forehead. "Is this why you wanted to be mortal again? So you can get hurt and die. How will you protect dear sweet Natalie if you're injured or dead?"

"It happened during my cross back to mortality." Nick says. The thought of LaCroix hurting Natalie brings out all his old anger. "Don't you touch her!"

"Or you'll do what. Foolish boy you can't do a thing to me. I could kill you right now without expending any energy. Of course if you should decide to rejoin us all will be forgiven."

"NEVER!" Nick says very angrily and adamently.

"Don't think about running. I will find and punish you severely. Maybe I'd take it out on Natalie."

Natalie enters. She's surprized to see LaCroix.

"Natalie get out of here!" Nick screams.

"No! I'm staying." Natalie says in her most stubborn voice.

"Brave woman. I admire strength. Maybe I should've chosen you over this." LaCroix says pointing at Nick.

"You have no business with Nick. He's no longer one of you."

"He will always be one of us. Some of us won't take this well. They will give you two choices, Nicholas, if they find out." LaCroix says at his most threatening. "I give you until tomorrow night to decide. I pray you make the right decision." With that LaCroix leaves.

"Is that true, Nick. Are you in danger?" Natalie demands. "I couldn't live with myself if I knew I was the reason for your death. I know that if you go back you'll die by sunlight and if you don't they'll kill you, right."

Nick hesistates. That's all Natalie needs for an answer.

LaCroix storms into the Raven. Janette knows the look of trouble when she sees it. She sees that LaCroix is mad enough to punch out a mountain. It sends shivers through her body.

"Janette!"

Janette knows to follow him when he gets in such a mood. She grabs a bottle of her house wine and two glasses. She enters her office right behind him.

"How dare he throw my gift back in my face. I should kill him or make him watch me slowly kill his precious Natalie." LaCroix says extremely annoyed and angered.

"If you do anything to Natalie you will drive him away forever. Is that what you want?" Janette says angrily. "If you bring him back across I believe he will walk into the sun. I would rather have him alive as a mortal than as a pile of ashes."

LaCroix grabs the bottle and the glass. He fills up the glass and downs it in two gulps. LaCroix pours himself another glass and downs it in two gulps.

"You've known for a long time that he wanted to be mortal again. This should not be such a surprize. You've lost him. Leave them be." Janette says.

LaCroix pours himself another glass and downs it in one gulp. "Is that what you think, Janette?" He gives her a look that could melt lead. He leaps up and smacks her across the face. Janette's eyes show the hurt in them. No one has hit her like that since LaCroix brought her across.

La Croix empties the bottle into his glass. Janette takes the bottle and leaves. She knows enough to leave him alone when he's in this bad a mood.

Nick hears something downstairs and quietly gets out of bed. He heads downstairs. He turns on the light and sees Janette sitting on the couch. He sees the bruise on her cheek and the hurt in her eyes. He walks over and sits down next to her.

Unknown to them Natalie is watching from doorway. She's purposely keeping herself out of sight.

"He did this to you?" Nick says angry at LaCroix.

Janette nods. She looks like a scared lost little girl. Nick puts his arms around her. She puts her arms around him. She cries.

"He's out of control. He's very upset with you, Nichola. He's very hurt that you threw his gift back in his face. I understand why you did it but he doesn't."

"He did this because of me?" Nick says feeling guilty.

"I tried to explain things to him but he didn't want to listen. The next thing I knew he smacked me across the face. NO ONE has done that since he brought me across."

"Does he know where you are?"

"No. I just left. It's best to leave him alone when he's in that bad a mood. Can I stay here for a while?"

"Sure. I'm sorry I can't offer you anything. I poured it all out."

"That's okay. I hate cow anyways."

Natalie comes into view. "Nick, you down there?"

"Yes. Janette's here. She needs somewhere to stay for a while." Nick says.

"That's okay." Natalie says. Nick and Janette are a little surprized.

"How much did you hear?" Nick asks wondering if she heard it all and that's why she agreed so easily.

"Some. I rolled over and you weren't there. I heard voices." Natalie is halfway down the stairs. She heads over to them.

When Natalie gets close she sees the bruise which is beginning to heal. Natalie doesn't remember ever seeing Janette anything but perfect, even after being shot."

"Nicola, it looks like love and mortality agrees with you. I haven't seen you this happy and at peace for centuries. Natalie, I thank you for making him happy. Keep it up. His depressive angst was getting on my nerves. Believe it or not he was once a happy vampire. As was I."

Natalie and Nick are surprized by Janette's praise.

"LaCroix destroys everything he touches. He enjoys the destruction." Nick says bitterly.

The next night Miklos calls Janette. She is still staying with Nick and Natalie. The answering machine picks up the call.

"Janette if you're there pick up."

Janette recognizes Miklos' voice and picks up. "What's wrong?"

"You don't want to know. I hope you weren't too fond of your office."

Janette is furious. "I never should've left him in my office."

"You had no choice. He's gone. He left as soon as the sun set. I don't know where he went. But he was not happy."

"Thanks, Miklos. I'll be back later. Try to hold things together."

Janette takes off to the Coroner's Office first. She enters.

"Hello. I'm looking for Natalie Lambert."

"You just missed her." An orderly says.

"Do you know where she was going?"

"No. Probably to meet her fiancee."

Janette hurries out the door at vampire speed. She lands behind the precinct out of sight. She enters and heads for the squad room. She spots Schanke and heads for him.

"Detective Schanke have you seen Nick or Natalie?"

"They just left. Is anything wrong?"

"No. Did they say where they were going?"

"No."

"Thanks."

Janette prays that they're home and alone. She arrives to find them there.

"Sorry to drop in. LaCroix is still mad. He destroyed my office last night."

"I'm sorry." Nick says.

"So am I." Natalie says.

LaCroix enters. Janette has decided to protect the mortals from him. She keeps herself between the two groups.

"I can't allow you to hurt them LaCroix." Janette says, her eyes turning yellow and her fangs dropping.

"Relax my daughter. I haven't come for war. I want to make a deal."

"I'm listening LaCroix." Nick says with a hint of bitterness.

"If you swear not to tell anyone about your cure then I will leave you alone. Besides Janette seems to want you alive even if mortal rather than dead. I should kill you for your betrayal but I won't. Janette has convinced me that anything I would do to you or Natalie would only drive you further away."

"I swear. No one will learn of it from me." Nick says sincerely.

"I swear. No one will learn of it from me." Natalie says sincerely.

"Janette it is time for us to leave them."

Janette refuses to leave.

"I will never hit you again. I swear."

Janette and LaCroix leave.

Once alone Nick and Natalie embrace.

"Can you believe it. We're free." Nick says with a smile on his face which lights up his eyes. "LaCroix apologized to Janette. He's never done that to anyone before."

"Shall we set a date?" Natalie asks.

"Sure. Pick one."

"Any day I want?" Natalie asks.

"Any day." Nick says.

"How about June 12. Can we be ready in a month?"

"I can. What do we need to do. How about you?" Nick asks. He has no idea what he's getting himself into.

"We have to make a list of everything we have to do."

Nick gets a pad and pen. He writes down the things Natalie lists off.

"I never knew weddings were so complicated."

"Be glad this is a small simple wedding. I can ask my brother-in-law to give me away. My sister will be my maid of honor." Natalie says.

"I'll ask Schanke to be my best man. We have time to pick out rings and get the blood tests."

"During lunch we need to find the invitations. They have to go out by this weekend at the latest. We have to hire a caterer"

Nick kisses her to quiet her. She responds.

The next morning Nick approaches Schanke.

"Schank, I would like you to be my best man. The wedding is set for June 12." Nick asks a little nervously.

"I'd be honored. I've got to get a batchelor party together. Natalie picked the date?"

"How'd you know? Nothing too wild Schanke."

"Women love June weddings. Myra would kill me if I did anything too wild."

"Myra and Jenny are invited."

Cohen comes out to give Nick and Schanke some news.

"Captain, you're invited to Natalie and my wedding June 12th."

"Thank you. I'd be honored. Before I forget I'm getting pressure to either drop or conclude the Martinson case. It had better be solid either way."

"We'll do our best." Schanke says.

Both Nick and Natalie are nervous wrecks because the wedding is less than 12 hours away. Natalie spent the night at her place. Pre-wedding jitters had her jumpy and restlessly sleeping. She's pleased that the cast was removed several days ago. Nick spent the night at his loft. His stomach was doing flip-flops a good portion of the night.

Nick and Natalie arrive at the park separately.

In one room Myra and Grace help Natalie get dressed. Natalie looks stunning in her white classic elegance wedding gown. It has a beaded bodice with lace applique on the sleeves and skirt. It has a medium length trane. Grace fixes the veil.

"I always knew the two of you would be here some day." Grace says with pleasure.

"Do you have something new, something old, something borrowed and something blue?" Myra asks.

"My engagement ring is old. The dress is new. The garter is blue. Grace can I borrow your ring?"

"Sure." Grace takes of her gold ring and hands it to Natalie. Natalie puts it on.

In the next room Schanke is helping Nick with his bowtie. Nick has had centuries of experience but is a nervous wreck.

"Relax. It's normal. I was so nervous before my wedding that I almost tossed my breakfast." Schanke says.

"I almost bolted. Luckily the father of the groom understood and helped me through it." Says Natalie's brother-in-law.

Nick takes a deep breath and tries to relax. He fiddles with his tie. Makes sure his hair looks good. Buttons his tuxedo jacket and checks to make sure his fly is zipped. Nick looks very handsome and elegant in his white tuxedo.

There is a knock on the door and Nick freezes. He takes a deep breath and opens the door.

Nick and Schanke take their places. Natalie's brother-in-law goes to retrieve the bride.

Natalie has giant butterflies in her stomach but knows it is normal.

The music starts and Natalie walks down the aisle on the arm of her brother-in-law. Nick gets his first look at her. He can't believe how beautiful she looks. Natalie notices how handsome Nick looks in his tux.

The audience is full of Natalie's family and their friends.

Natalie gets to her place. They join hands.

"The Bride and Groom have chosen to write their own vows."

"Nick, you were both a surprize and a challenge from the day we met. Something about you intrigued me. You made me feel things I had never felt before. You opened my eyes to a whole new world out there. I don't remember when I first fell in love with you. I've been in love with you for most of the last three years. I know I was miserable without you. Now we will be together til death. I love you more than I imagined was possible." Natalie says with her voice full of joy and hope for the future.

"Natalie, you believed in me when I didn't believe in myself. You kept me from giving up when things got rough. You gave me a kick in the butt when I needed it. You were there to share my triumphs and failures. It is because of you that I am able to be here today. I fell in love with your warmth, intelligence and beauty. I was in love with you for most of the last three years. I love you more than I ever believed was possible. I look forward to a future with you right there by my side." Nick says with his voice full of joy and hope for the future. Hope that he didn't have until two months ago.

"I pronounce you man and wife. You may now kiss the bride."

Nick and Natalie follow the minister's instructions.

Natalie tosses her boquet and Grace catches it. They leave for their honeymoon.

"They'll love Hawaii." Schanke says.

Natalie and Nick's honeymoon is full of fun, romance and sun. The islands heat the passion between the newlyweds. They do some sightseeing and sunning on the beach. Most of their activities are of a more private sort.

Happiness and serenity reflects from every pore. They get rather playful.

Back at work Natalie and Nick are talking about his place. They are at the coroner's office.

"Nick, we have to do something about your loft. Or as someone put it 'your high tech dungeon of doom. It needs to lighten up."

"Okay. What do you suggest?"

"First get rid of the blinds. You don't need such heavy duty ones now. You're no longer a vampire."

Schanke enters and overhears. "Excuse me. Am I interrupting anything?"

Nick and Natalie are stunned.

"How long have you been there?" Nick asks.

"I just entered in time to hear a rather interesting statement. A few things make more sense now. That was what you wanted cured." Schanke says surprized. He suspected something but wasn't sure exactly what it was.

"Yes. You must promise not to tell anyone. Natalie was the only one who knew my secret."

"I'm hurt that you didn't confide in me. That you confided in her. Partners are supposed to tell all to each other."

"How would you have reacted if you had learned what I was? You would've been scared. You would've been nervous about becoming a meal, right. Even though I would try to reassure you that I hadn't killed in over 100 years."

"Natalie, you do like them older. Nick, exactly how old are you?" Schanke asks curious.

"I'm over 800 years old."

"Natalie, how did you find out?"

"He came across my table. I turned around and when I turned back he was sitting up looking at me."

"Weren't you afraid?"

"No. I saw the good in him from the beginning. He wound up on my table trying to save lives. He needed to be convinced of his own goodness."

"I promise to keep your secret. Besides no one would believe me. And I don't want to wind up in the rubber room. What about Janette and that guy you listen to on the radio?"

"I can't talk about them. I don't listen to him anymore."

"I understand. I agree with Natalie. Your place could use some lightening and brightening. I'll leave you two alone to talk."

"Where were we?" Nick asks.

"Next I'd burn the black satin/silk sheets, the matching pj's and robe. Find some light colored paintings to brighten the walls. Then I'd buy you some lighter colors."

"If it will make you happy. How about I paint the pictures. That way you get exactly what you want."

"Deal."

Several weeks later Natalie isn't feeling well when she wakes. She gets up and dashes to the bathroom. After a few minutes praying to the porcelin god she returns and flops down on the bed.

"What's wrong?"

"I don't know. There is a flu going around. Did we check your immune system?"

"Yes. It's fine. Maybe you caught it. Why don't you call in sick?"

"No. I need to go. I have reports to finish."

"Try to eat and drink something."

"I will."

The next morning Natalie is once again praying to the porcelin god upon waking. Nick's concerned.

This goes on for the better part of a week. Once again Natalie wakes and bolts to the porcelin god to pray.

"Natalie. I want you to see a doctor. I'm worried about you."

"Thanks. I have an appointment later this morning."

Nick is a little distracted at work. He's worried about Natalie. Schanke detects that something's bothering Nick.

"What's wrong?"

"It's nothing. Natalie's got the flu."

Natalie and Nick arrive at the same time. They ride up in the elevator together.

"How was your doctor's appointment?"

Natalie is a little distracted. Nick notices. He waves his hand in front of her face. She snaps out of it.

"Huh."

"Is everything all right?" Nick says growing concerned.

The elevator arrives and opens. They step out into the loft.

"How would you feel about moving to somewhere with more rooms?" Natalie says.

"If that's what you want."

"Have a seat."

Nick sits on the couch his concern growing. Natalie sits down next to him and faces him.

"How do you feel about kids?"

"I like them. I would like to have two or three."

Natalie can't believe that what she is trying to tell him is going way over his head.

"Nick, I found out why I've been sick. I'm pregnant."

"That's terrific." The other clues hit Nick like a ton of bricks. "I can be a bit dense can't I."

Natalie nods with a grin on her face.

"I don't want to tell anyone just yet."

Natalie and Nick move into a three bedroom house in a nice but not rich neighborhood. They enjoy all the ups and downs of Natalie's pregnancy. Natalie is thrilled when the morning sickness stops.

Natalie tells them at work before she begins to show. She is removed from corpse duty and assigned to teaching.

Natalie and Nick find it fascinating to listen to the baby's heartbeat. One evening Natalie feels the baby kick for the first time. She calls Nick over. She takes his hand and puts it on her belly. Nick smiles when he feels the baby kick. He can't believe he just felt his child kick.

Natalie has an uneventful pregnancy. She doesn't suffer from too serious of mood swings. They find her pregnancy fascinating. Especially Nick.

Nick's there when Natalie goes into labor. He stays with her until their daughter is born. Nick thinks that the birth is the most amazing thing he has ever seen.

Nick turns out to be a pro with the diaper changing and the bottle feeding surprising them both. They take turns at night. Natalie watches Nick with his daughter. Nick does likewise. Each is impressed with the other's love for their child. They both take a maternity leave so they get to spend the first six weeks of their daughter's life together.

End

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