This story starts after the end of The Phoenix and runs parallel through the first several parts of The Changeling. There are some spoilers for "Let No Man Tear Asunder". I want to thank my beta reader Nancy.

Knee Deep in Trouble
by Judith Freudenthal

Natalie awoke feeling pretty good. As soon as she put weight on her right knee she winced slightly. She walked to her bathroom and took a couple of her Motrin before showering.

At least the limp is gone, She thought, knowing that her recent desert adventure had severely aggravated an old injury to her knee. She had spent the last few days with a slight limp from her fall into a pit in an ancient lava flow. Why do I stay involved with them? All they do is complicate my life, she sighed, "because you love one of them."

She stripped off her night clothes and stepped into the shower, letting the warm water soothe her entire body. After she was done she let the water from the hand sprayer massage her sore knee.

As she dried herself off her mind went back to her recent adventure, where she had found herself out in the desert searching for Nick. The fall into the pit had made her knee hurt as bad as it did ten years ago when the original injury had occurred in a car accident. Once she had found Nick her problems only grew, as now she had four vampires to deal with, two healthy ones and two sick ones. LaCroix had been surprisingly helpful and hospitable as she worked to cure both Vachon and Nick of their Divia induced illnesses. Vachon and the Inka were determined to kill each other while on the other hand Amaru watched over his sick brother when necessary.

Natalie cursed herself again, as she did every morning for forgetting to take her lightweight cloth knee brace with her and for not sticking the Motrin into her backpack. Maybe if I had done so, it wouldn't be hurting now.'

She stood in front of her closet trying to figure out what to wear. She wanted to wear a skirt, but knew her knee would probably need the extra support of her lightweight cloth knee brace so she picked out a pair of pants, blouse and blazer. The low heels would do nothing to help, but she had to wear them.

She knew Nick suspected that her knee still bothered her, and that he felt a little guilty about it. She didn't wear the brace with the skirt because she didn't want to make him feel worse about being the reason she had reinjured her knee.

 

During the drive to work she realized that her job was only going to make her knee worse, unless she had it fixed. She was terrified to consider that as the last time she nearly lost her life to her rare blood type and her surgeon needing a new heart for her daughter. She remembered how after her return from the desert neither Grace nor Nick believed her when she had told them her knee would be fine in a few days, that it was nothing more than the reaggravation of an old injury. She liked their concern for her. She was glad Nick worried about her because during his illness she thought he'd never be able to do that again.

 

No sooner had Natalie entered her office than her phone rang. She didn't bother taking off her coat as she answered it, knowing it was a summons to the field. She hoped that the night wasn't as hectic as the last few had been.

Before long Natalie was at the crime scene.

Great, Nat thought, not at all pleased to learn the victim was at the very bottom of a rather steep incline. She saw the loose dirt and rocks, and knew that if she didn't fall going down her knee would seek revenge later. Natalie carefully headed down the incline, slipping once on some loose dirt, but remained on her feet.

Natalie gave the body and immediate area a cursory examination before squatting down to more carefully examine the body, jotting down notes on her clipboard as she went. She was concerned upon seeing two telltale marks in the neck of the victim and turned the victim's head to hide them. It was not the first body she'd seen like this since her return and hoped it was the last, knowing it probably wouldn't be. The uneasiness she had felt with the first victim returned, this time a bit stronger. She wondered why the Enforcers hadn't caught this renegade vampire.

Natalie looked at the incline with distaste, wondering which way was harder. She managed to climb back up without anyone noticing her biting her lower lip during the climb.

Natalie approached detectives Leland and Newman. Leland was mid 40's, his dark brown hairline receding. He was in halfway decent shape. Newman was late 30's, fiery red hair and about 5' 6". She looked quite athletic.

"TOD approximately 2 hours ago. He died from massive blood loss from a knife wound to the neck," Natalie said, technically not lying as he did die from blood loss.

 

As soon as Natalie got back to her lab she stuck her knee brace into the freezer, wishing she could take a couple more Motrin, but knew she still had two hours to go. When she figured the cloth brace had cooled down she removed it from the freezer and pulled it back into place. The cold temporarily making her knee feel much better.

Her mind again wandered back to her recent adventure, a smile crossing her face.

She had earned LaCroix's respect and gratitude by saving his son, but knew he'd never admit it. A short 'thank you' was all he had said to her. She had learned quite a bit more about vampiric physiology as she defeated Divia for good this time. An achievement she felt great about. She had learned more about Divia and LaCroix than she ever wanted to know. The small doses of poison he had fed his daughter when she was an infant came back to haunt him, nearly destroying both Nick and Vachon. It was only her knowledge of medicine and her research with Nick that had allowed her to save them. She couldn't believe that LaCroix would feed his daughter the poison so when she grew up he could let her seduce the enemy and poison them through her body. A small ironic chuckle escaped Natalie's lips as she realized he was just as cold and devious as a mortal.

One of the better things to come out of the whole ordeal was that she and Nick had a better relationship. This time it was built on love, friendship and most importantly acceptance. Both of them now accepted the fact that he was a vampire, allowing Nick to overcome some of the self hatred, angst and guilt.

A male orderly wheeled the corpse into Natalie's lab, startling her.

Natalie helped the orderly position the body on the steel autopsy table. He left pushing the now empty gurney. Nat knew that Leland and Newman would want the report as soon as possible and headed into the locker room to change into her scrubs.

Nick entered her office as she was finishing up the autopsy and approached her. She pulled off her latex gloves and turned to face him.

"Hi Nat. What did you want to see me about?"

"I found something you might be interested in." Natalie uncovered the victim's head and tilted it so Nick could see the fang marks. She noticed his frown as he saw the two perfectly round little holes in the victim's jugular. "From the distance between the marks I believe the biter to be male," she said, having observed that male vampires had a wider fang to fang distance than females did.

"I haven't heard of any rogues or trouble in the community. I'll look into it again. Nat, is something wrong?" He asked, sensing that something was bothering her. He saw the barest flicker of pain in her eyes and wondered if her knee had fully recovered. He felt bad that he had once again been the cause of her pain, both physical and emotional.

"No." Natalie saw the disbelieving look on his face. "Okay. I must've slept wrong last night and woke up with a few sore muscles." She was relieved when Nick believed her answer.

 

After her shift she arrived home very glad not to have any errands to run. The first thing she did was kick off her shoes as her knee hurt more than it had since her return. The slight limp was back. She was glad she it hadn't recurred at work as it would only make her friends insist she get it looked at, and taken care of as soon as possible. She knew that having it repaired would have to happen sometime and dreaded it.

She dropped the take out bag on her counter, changed into an oversized shirt and leggings, and grabbed a disposable ice pack from the freezer. She took the two cartons out of the bag. She dumped the pint one onto her plate and spread the rice out. She scooped out half of the quart sized container of beef and broccoli, placing it upon the rice. She poured herself a mug of green tea before heading to the couch, dishes in hand, with the icepack tucked between her fingers. She settled down on the couch, set the mug down on the end table and stretched out her tired body. She placed the ice pack on her sore knee, positioning it for maximum effect.

She clicked on the television, finding some sitcom to watch while she ate. The comedy made her laugh, something she really needed to do.

A while later she put her empty plate on the coffee table in front of her and further stretched out on the couch, plopping the now warm ice pack onto her plate. She closed her eyes for a few minutes and found herself awoken by the phone about an hour later.

"Hello?" She said, a bit sleepily.

"Nat? Would you like to come over later and watch a movie?" "I'd love to, but I have a few errands I have to do before work," Natalie lied, hoping he would not detect that fact.

"Okay. See you later. I'm sorry if I woke you."

Natalie hung up and didn't have the energy to move so she fell asleep right there on the couch. It was a deep and restful sleep her body needed.

 

The next evening she arrived at work grateful the slight limp had disappeared with the good night's sleep she'd had. She wished for a light shift and was pleased when there was not one new dead body all evening. She gladly stayed in her office polishing off report after report, noting that she usually hated paperwork and would do just about anything to avoid it.

After finishing off several reports her mind drifted back to the conversations she and Nick had. He had asked her for time to think about if he truly wanted to continue with his cure. He thought he did, but wanted to make sure. He didn't want her wasting her time in case he had changed his mind.

She had willingly given him the time, knowing that he had a lot to sort out, as did she.

Around the middle of her shift Nick stopped by to see her.

"Hi Nat. Did you get your errands finished?"

"Most of them." She mentally kicked herself for nearly forgetting her excuse.

"I came by to let you know I've made my decision. I want to try again. I will work harder this time."

"Okay. I don't think you should cut down, at least not yet. You still have to drink the protein shakes. I'll try to make them taste better. You aren't doing this for me, are you?"

"No. I'm doing this because I want it."

"Good. Because that is the only way it will work."

"How about I buy you breakfast this morning?" Nick asked.

"Only if you'll eat something."

"I'll try."

 

Nick entered Natalie's office at the end of their shift. She noticed that resting for most of her shift had made her knee feel better and was grateful. She hoped the slight limp wouldn't return, or if it did, not until she was home.

"What has you in such a good mood?" Nick asked lightly.

"I was able to spend the entire shift polishing off a good sized pile of paperwork. Before you say anything, yes, I still hate it. But it had to be done," she said cheerfully.

 

After they were seated in the restaurant, Nick held true to his word and ordered a poached egg. After staring at the egg like it would attack him, he managed to eat the entire egg before he felt quite nauseous. Natalie's warm smile made it worth the effort.

"Very good. We'll have you up to a full meal in no time," she said, a bit playfully. "The more real food you eat the less of my shakes you have to drink."

She polished off her steak, baked potato and broccoli without much effort.

"How about coming back to my place?"

"Okay," Natalie agreed.

 

They watched a movie at his loft, feeling the attraction between them growing. They tentatively kissed, and when all seemed to go okay they deepened the kiss. He tenderly rubbed his nose against hers in between kisses.

Before she knew it she found herself being pushed back onto the couch. His hands caressing her face ever so gently while hers ran through his silky blonde hair. His hands worked their way down the curves of her body as their lips remained locked together. Her hands caressed his back with a gentleness he had never known.

He sat up and put a little distance between them, not ready to go any further yet and had sensed the same in her.

"That was definitely a major improvement," she said with a wicked grin. She liked the matching grin she saw on his face.

 

The next evening Nick entered the hallway near Natalie's office, surprised to see Grace helping Natalie off the floor. Apparently she had been knocked on her butt by the young man seen heading off at a quick speed.

"Nat, you okay?" Nick asked, concerned when he saw the pain in her eyes.

"I'm okay. The new orderly plowed into me. He needs to look where he's going," Natalie said, trying hard to ignore the growing pain in her right knee. She grimaced as she put weight on it, glad that Grace still had a hold on her arm.

"Nick take her into her office while I get an ice pack. She must've whacked it good," Grace said, forgetting that it was Nat's problematic knee.

Nick quickly took over and wrapped his arm around Natalie's waist supporting her. He wanted to scoop her up, but her glare quickly pushed that thought out of his mind. He helped her into her office, noticing that she kept as much weight off her knee as she could. He made her sit down in her chair, which she did without argument.

"Nat, you really should get it taken care of. It will only get worse," Nick said, concerned. He looked for something for her to prop her leg up on and didn't find anything of the right height. "You know, you could be further damaging it."

"I know. I know the longer I put it off the greater the chance of doing serious damage to it. Damage that will require major surgery to repair." She hesitated before continuing, "I don't want a repeat of last time."

Nick remembered arriving at the clinic just as the doctor was about to cut into Natalie's chest in order to harvest her heart. He had been terrified he was too late, and was tremendously relieved when she sedated, but otherwise unhurt. He knew that was why she was so hesitant to have her knee taken care of and couldn't blame her.

Grace entered carrying a short stool and the ice pack. She placed the stool in front of Natalie, who gladly rested her leg on it. Grace activated the ice pack and laid it on top of her knee, concerned by her friend's wince at that action. Natalie repositioned the ice pack slightly.

"I don't want you to even consider moving for the next half hour," Grace said, sternly.

Natalie had no intention of moving but knew she had to put up a fight or they would know it was more serious than they thought.

"I'll be fine. I just banged my knee. I have work to do," She protested. The look Nick gave her could've frozen hell.

"I'll make sure she stays put," Nick said sternly.

Grace left the room, knowing that Natalie was in good hands.

"Nat..."

"I'll think about it," Natalie said, cutting him off. "Maybe after you catch the serial killer. Do you really want someone else doing the autopsies on those bodies? I thought the Enforcers handled this sort of thing."

"They do."

Natalie had been feeding him the information she received from homicide. Information that she had to coax out of the detectives without them realizing how much they'd given her, otherwise they'd want to know why she was so curious about the killer.

Nick realized that she did have a point. Someone might want to investigate the two round holes in the jugular and the lack of blood in the victims.

"I want you to consider going in after we catch him."

"Okay," she reluctantly agreed. She wanted to get her knee repaired, but not enough to risk her life. "Could you hand me the top file? And my clipboard?"

Nick reluctantly did as asked, knowing that she would get it herself if he didn't. "Where are the files on the rogue?"

"If they're not in my out basket, try that stack there." She pointed to a stack next to her in/out baskets.

Nick went through the files, which were in the out basket, trying to see if he could pick out anything new on the rogue.

 

Half an hour later Natalie removed the ice pack, which had lost its cold.

"How's the knee doing?" Grace asked as she entered.

"It'll be fine."

"Let's see you stand on it," Grace said, challenging Natalie. She knew Natalie tended to ignore such problems for as long as she could, not wanting to have to deal with them.

Nat stood, her knee hurting as she put weight on it. She wished she had worn the cloth brace as it might've helped. Nick and Grace saw the pain in her eyes.

"Satisfied?" Natalie asked, challenging them.

"Can you bend it? Walk on it?" Grace asked before Nick could.

Natalie bent her knee without as much pain as putting weight on it caused. She limped slightly as she took a few steps, pleased that she had managed not to let how badly it hurt show.

"I think you should see a doctor," Grace said.

Nick was staying out of it. He had told her his opinion already and knew that hearing it from Grace would only support his opinion.

"Grace, it will be fine. Besides, I'd spend all night waiting for someone to examine it. They'd probably just tell me to take two aspirins, apply ice, and stay off it for the night. They'd wrap it in an elastic bandage so I felt like I'd been treated. I just banged it. I am a doctor. I would know if it was something serious."

Grace didn't believe her but knew how stubborn she could be. She remembered Natalie had trouble with that knee as it was. Suddenly the memory of how Natalie had almost died not too long ago hit. She understood the coroner's reluctance to go to a doctor or back under the knife.

"Nick, talk to her," Grace pleaded.

"Nat, you should see a doctor."

"If it doesn't feel better by this time tomorrow I'll make an appointment. Okay?" She queried.

Grace and Nick reluctantly nodded, knowing they couldn't change her mind. Natalie sat back down and turned her chair to face her desk.

"If you'll excuse me, I have work to do," Natalie said as she started on the latest paperwork on her desk.

"At least stay off it as much as you can tonight, okay?" Grace asked. "You should probably put another ice pack on it later."

"Okay," Natalie agreed.

"Would you like to wrap it with an elastic bandage? It might help?"

"Okay." She knew Grace was only trying to help.

Grace quickly returned with the bandage, which she gave to Natalie. Nat pulled up the pants leg of her scrubs and did a cursory examination of her knee.

"Thanks, Grace. Not much bruising or swelling. Nothing seems torn." Natalie wrapped the bandage around her knee, grateful for the extra support it would provide.

As soon as Grace and Nick left, Natalie popped a couple of Motrin, hoping they'd work quickly.

Later that shift Natalie had an autopsy to complete and tried to keep as much weight off her knee as she could. The Motrin had given her some relief as had the bandage. It actually provided slightly more support than the brace had. She had decided to put another ice pack on it after she finished, besides making her knee feel better it would please Grace.

Grace entered, noticed the ice pack and was pleased Nat had taken her advice.

 

Nick gave her a ride after her shift not wanting her to drive. He did not say one word about her knee. She refused to go home with him or to let him escort her to her door, not wanting him to know how much it still hurt.

 

As soon as Natalie entered she took off her shoes and limped into the bedroom where she changed into sweats. It was the easiest thing to get over the bandage around her knee. The next thing was to defrost a frozen dinner and grab the ice pack. She didn't want to take the bandage off for as long as possible because it helped. She had wanted to go straight to bed but was quite hungry.

She knew she would most likely have to go under the knife soon and it terrified her. She wasn't crazy about the procedure but that wasn't what scared her the most. What if the damage is bad enough that they have to put me under?

Nick called her shortly.

"Lambert."

"Nat, are you staying off your knee?" Nick asked.

"Yes. I have ice on it as well. Anything else?"

"No. I just wanted to check and see how you were doing." He hated when she was sick or her knee acted up because she became quite cranky. He wished she would've come back to the loft so he could look after her.

They hung up and she finished her dinner. She enjoyed the fact that he was concerned about her, especially since during his recent illness she didn't know if he'd ever be able to care about her again. That scared her more than she had admitted.

Their relationship still was not perfect, but they had worked out some of their problems. It had not been easy. They realized how important their relationship was and had spent hours talking about it, being honest like never before.

Natalie removed the ice pack after it lost it's cool. Once again she didn't feel like moving to her bed so she pulled the afghan over her and fell asleep on the couch.

 

The next evening her knee still hurt, but not as much as it had. She kept as much weight off it as she could while she showered. She wrapped the elastic bandage around her knee before she dressed. Again she wore pants and a blazer.

She made a pit stop at a pharmacy on the way to work. She handed the pharmacist the prescription for a more potent painkiller than Motrin. That morning she had checked her PDR to make sure it wouldn't interfere with her ability to work.

"I'll need to see your identification," the pharmacist said as he looked her over.

Natalie pulled out her card stating she was indeed an M.D. The pharmacist looked it over carefully and jotted down some of the information before returning it to her.

"Is there a problem?" Natalie asked.

"No. Just had to make sure it was legit. You do know it isn't too good to be writing prescriptions for yourself?"

"I know, but I'm in between doctors at the moment. I don't usually do this." Natalie explained.

"How'd you hurt your knee?" The pharmacist asked. He had seen her limping as she approached.

"Someone slammed into me at work, knocking me down and aggravating an old injury." She told him.

She received her medication, paid for it and a bottle of water before she left. She considered picking up a more substantial brace, but discounted that thought knowing it would only lead to the insistence that she get the problem properly taken care of and soon.

Out in the parking lot she sat in her car and took her first dose, washing it down with the water.

 

Natalie had to go out into the field as soon as she got in. Something she didn't mind only because she avoided having to answer Grace's questions. Grace saw Natalie as the coroner left and it looked like she was feeling better, but Grace wasn't totally convinced of that fact. Natalie knew the only reason she wasn't limping was the painkiller.

Leland saw her approach the crime scene. Natalie squatted down to examine the body, keeping all traces of pain from her face. She was grateful for the painkiller running through her body.

Leland gave her time to examine the body and went over when he saw she was nearly done. He offered her a hand up which she accepted. He had come to like the forensic pathologist over the last few months and had learned of her knee trouble.

"What about the victim?"

"Same as the last few. I'll know more when I get him on the table. Any leads on who's doing this?" Natalie asked.

"No leads yet," He was a little curious as to why she was so interested in this case, but didn't see the harm in keeping her up to date.

 

Nick stopped by to see Natalie, needing a break from his work. He saw her moving around her lab and scrutinized her movements. She seemed to be doing better, but he couldn't be sure. He knew that as a doctor she had access to all sorts of medication, and would likely use them rather than face surgery.

"Hi, Nat."

"Hi. Any leads?"

"No one in the Community seems to know anything about it," he said, frustrated that no one knew anything thing about the vampire threatening them all. "How's the knee? What's under your pants leg?"

"Better. If I gave you a list of doctors to check out, would you?" Some fear and a lot of hesitation came through in her voice as she spoke.

"Yes, especially if they were orthopedic surgeons." He knew why she was so hesitant and did not blame her for being scared. Almost losing her like that had scared him more than he wanted to admit. He noticed she avoided the second question. "Are you still using the bandage?"

"Yes. I didn't want to risk moving the wrong way accidentally."

He let it pass, not wanting to fight with her over it.

She handed him the list of names she had from last time. He noticed the first name on the list had been scratched off due to her being in prison for attempted murder.

 

Back at the precinct Nick ran the list of doctors through the computer and found all the names to be clean. He would later pay a visit to the folks who tracked the donor waiting list to make sure that none of the other doctors had relatives on the waiting list.

"Nick, what are you working on?" The captain asked.

"I was running down a few possible leads," he lied.

Nick didn't mind working Vice. He was grateful that he didn't have to come in contact with as many brutal murders. He was also grateful that he work wasn't quite as serious all the time. He didn't know if he could spend years here, but it was a nice break. He knew he was helping those he came into contact with. It was something that made him feel good.

He knew Natalie had noticed the positive changes and approved of them.

 

Back at the morgue Natalie started the autopsy, wanting to finish before the painkiller's effect began wearing off.

Grace noticed Natalie was back and entered the coroner's lab. She waited for Natalie to finish dictating her note before speaking. Grace gave Natalie a quick once over, but there was not a whole lot to be gained from seeing only her upper body.

"Natalie, how's the knee today?"

"Better. It just needed a day's rest."

Grace noticed that Natalie did not seem to be favoring her knee. She still wasn't too convinced as Natalie's knee seemed to be hurting quite a bit yesterday.

Natalie was grateful that Grace had not pressed further, but knew that she probably would later.

A while later Natalie finished her autopsy and sat down at her desk to finish her notes, grateful to be able to take the weight off her knee. She spent as much time as she could behind her desk, especially once she felt the painkiller losing it's effectiveness. She took the next dose as soon as possible, needing to keep the pain away as long as possible.

Near the end of her shift Nick entered, seeing her seated behind her desk and perched himself on the corner of her desk. She looked up and smiled.

"Nat, I checked out the names on your list and they all checked out clean. I even checked to make sure none of their relatives were on the organ waiting list. Now will you consider it?"

"I will schedule an appointment with a few of them. Okay?"

Nick nodded.

"How long has your knee been hurting?" Nick asked, concerned.

"It was only slightly hurting most of the week. The body in the ravine earlier this week aggravated it some. Yesterday really aggravated it." She didn't want to make him go through the major guilt trip again by reminding him how hunt for him in the desert, and the fall had really aggravated her knee.

"How is it *really* doing today?" He remembered seeing her limping when they were in LaCroix's bomb shelter and felt bad that he was responsible for her coming out there. He also remembered how the limp had remained for a few days after their return home.

"It still hurts some, but nowhere near as bad as it did yesterday," She said, knowing he could detect when she was lying. A fact which annoyed her. She had an idea, but didn't know if she could get either Nick or her doctor to go along with it. "If I asked you to go with me to the surgery would you?" She asked hesitantly.

"I'd gladly give you a lift and wait for you."

"No, I mean would you be there in the room if they had to put me under? If the damage is worse than the last time."

"Yes, if it would mean the difference between you having it done or not. I can handle the blood." He saw her relief as he spoke.

"Thanks. It would be one less thing I'd have to worry about. I still have to wait until we wrap up this case." She saw him start to protest and cut him off before he could start, "but I'll look into getting the time off."

 

Natalie arranged to see several doctors on her next day off. It was not how she had planned to spend the day, but knew it was necessary. Each doctor took x-rays and examined her knee. The damage was worse.

She was a bit distracted as she picked up the dry-cleaning and a few groceries on her way home. The doctors diagnoses bothered her, especially the one that wanted to turn it into major surgery. She had crossed him off the list. She was not going to let him or her knee sideline her for the next year, year and a half.

 

Nick stopped by Natalie's office the next evening and saw her typing a report into the computer.

"How'd it go?" Nick asked.

"Not too good. There has been further damage. All but one agreed that it could be done with Arthroscopic surgery. So, I guess I won't need you in the room, but I'd like you to stay right outside it."

"Sure. I'll be there. He could tell how nervous she was about all of it and couldn't blame her for it.

"Thanks."

 

Nick was on his way in to the precinct a few nights later when his sensitive hearing picked up a woman's scream and he felt the presence of another vampire. He pulled over and ran towards the trouble.

Nick saw the back of a black leather jacket, long black, rather unkempt hair and jeans. He remembered how Vachon had been acting strange lately and had been spending the nights at Tracy's grave.

The dark haired vampire had the lady in his spell and was about to bite down on the blonde woman's neck. She had her back to her attacker. Her shoulder length hair had been swept back by the vampire, for easy access.

"Freeze, Metro Police," Nick said as he approached the lady. "Hurt her and you die," Nick's voice was very low and deep, nearly a snarl.

The stunned vampire looked up. He had not expected anyone to disturb him, especially not one of his own kind. It was not Vachon, to Nick's great relief.

Nick moved over to the young woman's side and pulled her free of the assailant's grip.

"You will forget everything that happened here. You will not remember being grabbed. In the future you will be more careful where you go and with whom you go," Nick said, whammying the victim.

Once she was safely around the corner Nick turned his attention back to the renegade vampire.

"Your carelessness has put us all in danger. Either stop now or you will die." Nick snarled.

"I will not stop. It is what I am. Besides, I enjoy it too much."

Nick knew he couldn't wait for the Enforcers. He had to solve the problem now, before another mortal could be killed. He saw a wooden crate over to the side and before the other vampire could blink Nick was standing in front of him with a makeshift stake. The vampire had no chance to say anything before he felt the stake shoved through his heart and held there until it was too late, pinning him to the pavement.

Nick took the renegade's body up to the roof, and left it where the sun would be sure to hit it as soon as it rose.

 

Later in Nick's shift he stopped by the morgue, where saw Natalie working on an autopsy and waited for her to finish her notes. While waiting he found himself checking to see if she was favoring her bad knee, which she was not doing thanks to the painkiller.

"Nat, I caught the killer. He won't be bothering anyone again."

"Was he one of you?"

"Yes. Have you finished up all the autopsies and paperwork on the case?"

"I'm doing the last autopsy now. The paperwork should be finished in a day or two. I will see when the operation's scheduled. In a way I'll be glad to get this over with. I'll let you know when everything's all set."

"Okay. I'll arrange to take a some time off. After what happened last time I don't think Cromwell will object."

 

Three days later, Natalie had finalized the arrangements, received the requested time off from work and had told Nick. Nick talked with Captain Cromwell who completely understood Natalie's nervousness and knew Nick would be preoccupied if he wasn't granted the time off.

 

The big day came. Natalie was extremely nervous all day. Her knee was killing her because she was not allowed to have any painkillers for the last 12 hours. As soon as the sun began to set she headed for the lobby, knowing Nick would be along very soon.

Shortly Nick pulled up and saw the pain in her eyes as she limped towards the car, trying to put as little weight on her knee as she could.

Once at the hospital she accepted Nick's offer of support. He put his arm around her waist to help support some of her weight. Once inside the outpatient area she had to fill out the proper paperwork before being shown to the treatment room.

Natalie changed into a gown and sat in the treatment room waiting for the doctor's arrival. Her legs swung back and forth, betraying her nervousness.

Nick waited out in the hallway as promised.

Before long Dr. Barnes entered.

"Hi, Natalie. Are you all set?" Dr. Barnes said with a smile.

She nodded and couldn't help but smile back. "This will be done with a local?" She asked, trying to keep her uneasiness from showing.

"Yes. You'll be fully alert and able to watch everything I do. I'll let you know what I'm doing each step of the way if it will make you feel better." He completely understood her nervousness and was trying to ease it. He remembered reading about the organ ring scam and how his patient had nearly been their next victim.

"I was nervous the first time. I guess I'm a bit more nervous this time. You don't need to do a play by play." Natalie knew that Nick would be monitoring them and would rescue her if any trouble arose.

He quickly examined her knee. She winced when he touched a place or two.

"I'm going to go ahead and numb the area. Let me know if you feel any pain anytime during the procedure." He said as he prepared the Lidocaine.

"Don't worry, I will."

"Remember, it's not a good idea to kick the doctor," he said, teasingly. She couldn't help but smile.

Natalie was glad he understood her feelings and didn't hold them against her or make her feel stupid for feeling that way.

He sterilized her knee and injected several sites with the Lidocaine. Several minutes later he tested her knee.

"Do you feel anything?" He asked as he poked several places with the point of a pin.

"No."

He had her swing her legs up onto the table and had her lean back against the backrest. He immobilized her knee and began the procedure. She watched out of curiosity and because there wasn't much else to look at in the room.

He asked her questions about her work and her life to get her mind off what he was doing. He knew that it helped the patient to relax, which helped the operation go better. He still found it a little surprising that she was a M.E.

About an hour and a half later the procedure was finished. Dr. Barnes taped a gauze pad over the few stitches from where he had inserted the probes and tools he had used. He immobilized her knee in a blue splint that ran from her mid thigh to mid calf, with a hole where her knee cap was, preventing any movement. Velcro straps wrapped around the splint, securing it in place.

Natalie was moved to an observation room where she would be watched for the next couple of hours. If there were no complications she would be released.

Nick kept her company during that time. He knew she would feel safer that way.

A few hours later, the doctor entered to check on Natalie. He was pleased she'd shown no sign of complications.

"When can I go home?"

"Shortly. I'll give you a prescription for some painkillers. They will likely make you sleepy. I do NOT want you putting ANY weight WHAT-SO-EVER on your knee for the next seven to fourteen days. If you do, you stand a good change of undoing all my work and causing serious damage. Do you understand?"

"I understand. I will do as ordered."

"I want to see you back here in a week to make sure that it is healing properly. There should be no problem as long as you follow my orders. I want you to change the bandage every other day. When doing that keep movement to a minimum. No movement is best."

"Okay." She hated the fact that Nick was hearing every word because she would not be able to get away with anything near the end of the week.

"As soon as you're dressed I'll be sending you down to physical therapy. Once they fit you with crutches you'll be released."

Nick left so she could dress. A nurse entered and offered to help Natalie.

"I can dress myself."

Natalie had trouble getting the sweatpants on over the splint. She already had the sweater on. That part had been easy.

"Nick, could you come in here for a minute."

She was frustrated by fact that due to the rigid splint she could not get one of her shoes on. Nick entered, quickly figuring out what she needed and very gently put her shoe on, though he was tempted not to.

She knew she had to ride down to the therapy room. Nick helped her stand and seat herself in the wheelchair. Her splinted leg rested in the raised footrest.

Nick pushed Natalie's chair down to the therapy room despite her protests. She was still uneasy about being alone in the hospital.

A dark haired therapist approached with a pair of crutches for her to use. He guessed at their height and the height of the handgrips.

"Dr. Lambert, You're to use these EVERY time you're on your feet, no matter how short a time span or how short the distance. Understand?" When he saw her nod he continued. "You're not to put ANY weight on your knee for the next seven to fourteen days. Understand?"

"Yes."

Nick helped her up while the therapist checked to make sure he had guessed correctly for the crutch height, which he had.

"You do know how to use these, correct?"

"Correct."

"You can leave as soon as you walk as far as those bars and back."

Natalie walked halfway across the room and back as instructed being careful to keep the weight off her knee. She had no problem with the crutches.

"I want you to report back here if you have any problems."

"I will."

Natalie reluctantly sat back in the wheelchair, knowing it was standard policy to ride out. Nick held onto her crutches. Once outside he went to get the car while the nurse held onto the crutches. Natalie carefully stood and Nick lifted her into the back seat of the Caddie so that she could stretch out. He laid the crutches on the floor.

 

Once at her apartment he lifted her out of the car and made sure she kept her weight off her knee during the short trip to her apartment. Once inside he looked around making sure there was nothing she would trip over.

"I want you in bed. It is the best place for your knee."

"Yes, mom." She headed for the bedroom and sat down on the bed leaning her crutches against the night stand. She stretched out on the bed knowing it would feel better than the couch would.

She was surprised to see a brand new vcr in her bedroom. It sat on top of her tv. Nick handed her the remotes.

"Where? How?"

"I had Grace bring it by earlier. I picked it out the other day and wanted it to be a surprise."

"Thank you."

Next he made sure she had enough pillows behind her to make her comfortable. He also made sure there were pillows elevating her splinted knee. He took her shoes off and considered hiding them, but knew she didn't need them inside and she had several more pairs, mostly heels, in the closet.

"You don't have to stay here." She said.

"Yes, I do. I know you too well. You will do everything the doctor said or face my anger."

"I don't think I want you angry at me," She said, slightly teasing.

"You got that right," he said, also slightly teasing. "Consider me your personal servant. Your every wish will be fulfilled, as long as it does not...."

"I might just like this," she said with a wicked gleam in her eye. She had cut him off knowing where he was headed.

"How about getting my prescription filled. I promise to stay right here."

Nick gave her a stern look before leaving to do as asked. He knew she'd stay there because she did want her knee to heal. He didn't know if she would be so agreeable or trustworthy later in the week. And it was even more questionable for the week after that.

 

Nick made a pit stop at the precinct.

"Nick, I thought you were taking the night off," Cromwell said.

"I am. I need to have the next week off. Natalie's not allowed to put any weight on her knee and will need someone to help her out."

Cromwell knew that if he didn't grant Nick's request, Nick would find a way to stop by frequently. "Okay. Especially since you rarely take any vacation time. Things are a bit slow around here. I want you to finish the reports you were working on. I can send someone by later to pick them up." Cromwell knew he was preventing Nick from driving both him and his partner nuts over the next week.

"I'll be staying at Natalie's apartment," Nick said as he gave the captain a slip of paper with the address and phone number on it.

His partner, Tamara Milford, passed Nick and the Captain on her way in. She was a 23 year veteran of the force, making her in her mid 40's.

"How's Natalie?" Tamara asked.

"She's fine. The procedure went smoothly. She'll be out a couple of weeks. I've gotta run."

"Tell her to get well quickly."

"I will."

 

Nick arrived back at Natalie's apartment with her prescription and a bottle of his nourishment. He saw Grace approaching Nat's door.

"Hi, Grace. Come to check up on her?"

"Yeah. How is she?"

"Fine. Unless she's out of bed."

Nick unlocked the door and motioned for Grace to enter first. Grace headed for the bedroom where she found Natalie flipping though the channels trying to find something to watch.

"Hi, Natalie. You feel like some company?"

"Sure. I'm not sick. I'm just stuck here," Natalie said. "Everything went perfectly. He understood my fears and worked to reassure me." She turned off the tv so they wouldn't have to talk over it's sound. "I have to stay completely off it for seven to fourteen days. I go back to see him in a week."

"That's good. You be sure to follow the doctor's orders," Grace said, trying not to sound like a mother hen.

"I will. Can you stick around for a while?" Natalie asked, extremely bored.

"Sure. Is there anything I can bring you next time?" Grace asked, knowing doctors made horrible patients.

"Not at the moment." Natalie remembered a movie she wanted to watch again. "On second thought. how about that movie with Mel in a kilt," Natalie said with a grin. "Thanks to you and Nick I can watch movies in here whenever I want to."

"Sure. I'll watch that again." Grace's grin matched Natalie's. "I'm glad you like it."

Nick entered the room, "what's so funny?"

"Nothing. Just asking Grace to bring a movie next time. Does the hungry patient and her friend get any food?" Nat teased.

"What would you two like?"

"Chinese okay with you Grace?" Nat asked. Grace nodded.

"Beef Lo Mein for me," Natalie said. "Also a Pu Pu platter."

"I'll have the shrimp with cashews. What are you having, Nick?"

Natalie was pleased that she didn't have to ask.

Nick thought back to what else it was that Natalie liked.

"I'll have the lemon chicken. I'll order the food and pick it up, if you'll keep an eye on her."

"Hey, I'm not invisible. I don't need watching like a two year old," Natalie said, pretending to be deeply hurt. At least I won't until the end of the week,' she thought.

Grace asked her friend a few questions about the arthoscopic surgery while they waited for Nick's return. She was curious and listened to Natalie's explanation.

 

Nick returned about half an hour later with the food and a small suitcase. He had made a pit stop at his place to pick up some clothes and more food. He dropped his suitcase by the door and set the food on the table. He headed into Natalie's bedroom.

"I'm back."

"Nick, I don't want to eat that in here. It's too messy," Natalie said.

"Is that why you picked it? So you could get out of bed?" Nick asked, a little suspicious.

"No. I really had a craving for it. I didn't think about the messiness until just a few minutes ago," Natalie said, innocently.

Nick saw Natalie swinging her legs over the side of the bed as they talked.

"Hold it right there. You're not walking in there," Nick said as he wrapped one arm around her back and the other one under her legs. Natalie wanted to protest but could tell that he would accept no arguments what-so-ever and wrapped her arms around his neck for balance.

Grace went on ahead and arranged two kitchen chairs so that when Nick set Natalie down on one the other one supported her splinted knee. Nat was glad for the change of scenery.

Natalie enjoyed watching Nick reluctantly swallow a few bites of the lemon chicken. Grace insisted that he try her dish, so he had to swallow a bite of that as well. Natalie couldn't miss out on the opportunity to have him try some of her beef lo mein and pu pu platter. Natalie knew that Grace liked the pu pu platter so they shared it.

"Nick, you didn't eat very much," Grace said when they were finished.

"I wasn't very hungry. I'll put the leftovers into the fridge for later," Nick said. "Nat, would you be more comfortable on the couch?"

"Yes."

 

Nick scooped Natalie up like before and gently set her down on the couch. He propped a few pillows behind her as well as under her splinted knee. Grace looked on with a smile.

"Looks like he's spoiling you rotten," Grace teased.

"He hasn't let me use my crutches since I got home earlier. This is the first time I've been out of bed since then."

"She was told to keep all weight off her knee. I'm just making sure she follows her doctor's orders."

"You can't tell me you don't like the attention. That you don't like having every need filled," Grace inquired with a wicked grin.

"It is kinda nice. It's been a long time since anyone took care of me," Natalie said with a matching grin.

 

A few minutes later the doorbell rang. Nick answered it, motioning for Vachon to enter.

"Hi guys. I just stopped by to see how Natalie's doing."

"I'm doing fine. The operation went well. I just have to let it heal. Would you like to stay for a while?"

"Natalie, I need to be running along. I'll see you tomorrow," Grace said. She still wasn't sure what to make of the relationship between Natalie and Vachon. She was glad to see that Nick didn't have a problem with it, or at least not that she could see.

"Thanks for stopping by Grace. I'll see you. Drive carefully," Natalie said.

"I will."

"I can only stay a few minutes," Vachon said. "I thought you might need some reading material." He handed Natalie two of the latest bestsellers.

"Thanks. I could use it," Natalie said. "How are you doing?"

"I'm fine, thanks to you."

"I'm afraid I can't take all of the credit. I am glad that you're fine now. Have you and Amaru worked things out?" Natalie wondered if Vachon and the Inka had solved any of their problems, or even realized how much alike they truly were.

"Some. We no longer want to kill each other. We'll see what happens next."

"I'm glad you're getting along better," Natalie said.

"I've gotta run. I just wanted to make sure that everything went well."

"Thanks for stopping by, Vachon," Natalie said. She wondered if there was something more he wanted to say, but didn't because they weren't alone.

 

The next evening Nick's partner, Tamara Milford, stopped by. Nick let Tamara in while Natalie headed for the couch, using her crutches. She saw that Nick wasn't too pleased with her.

"How are you doing?" Natalie asked as she made herself comfortable, or as comfortable as she was going to get. Nick helped her prop her leg up on a couple of pillows.

"Pretty good. Things are kinda slow at work right now. Nick, did you get a chance to finish the reports yet?"

"No. I will get to them tomorrow."

"Tamara, blame me for them not being done."

"No problem. I know what it's like when a friend's hurt." Tamara said. "How's the knee doing?"

"It's healing. Hopefully in a couple of months I'll never know I had a bad knee. For now, I have to take it easy and let it heal."

"That's good to hear. Make sure you don't rush things. It will only come back to haunt you later," Tamara said. "Nick, I have to get back to the precinct. I'll stop by again tomorrow for the reports."

"I know. I will take the necessary time," Nat said. "I'll make sure he gets the reports done."

Tamara smiled as she headed for the door. She thought they made a good couple.

As soon as Tamara left, Nick carried Natalie back to the bedroom against her protests and gave her the latest dose of painkiller.

"You should try to get some sleep," Nick said.

"I will, if you'll finish the reports."

"Okay."

Natalie was tired and tried to get comfortable. She was not used to sleeping on her back. Having her splinted knee propped up didn't help matters any. Nick tucked her in and was tempted to take the crutches, but knew that she would get to the bathroom with or without them and preferred her to use them so she wouldn't mess up the doctor's work, or hurt herself trying to hop that far and possibly falling.

"Call me if you need *anything* or if you have *any* problems."

"I will," Natalie said. Upon his look she added, "I promise."

He gently stroked her hair and kissed her on the lips before leaving.

Using her computer he managed to finish off all the reports in under three hours. He made sure the blinds and curtains were shut before he laid down to rest. He had a feeling he would be needing his sleep.

Natalie got a good eight hours sleep before her knee began to hurt. She didn't want to wake him, but knew the longer she waited the longer it would take before the painkiller began to work.

Nick sensed she was awake and entered with her next dose. He turned on the light and saw her smile.

"You okay?" She asked.

"That's supposed to be my question. I'm fine. How are you doing?"

"I'm okay. I'm not used to sleeping on my back. My knee was starting to hurt. That's what woke me. What woke you?"

"I'm not sure." Nick handed her the painkiller and a glass of water.

She took the pill and washed it down with most of the water. "Did you mean that I could have anything I wanted?"

"Yes."

"I'm hungry. I'm not sure what I want. I don't want anything heavy." She thought for a moment. "Excuse me, I have to go to the bathroom."

Natalie swung her legs off the bed and was about to reach for her crutches when they crashed to the floor. Nick picked them up and handed them to her one at a time. She used the crutches to help her stand. She knew that if she even gave the appearance of putting any weight on her knee he wouldn't let her walk that far by herself.

As soon as she finished she headed back for bed. "I did figure out what I wanted. Popcorn."

"I think I can make that." He'd seen her do it enough times.

 

Five minutes later he brought in the large bowl of popcorn and a glass of water. He piled the pillows behind her so she would be comfortable.

"How about watching a movie with me?" She asked.

"Sure. Which one?"

"I don't know. Something funny. Did you finish the reports?"

"Yes. I finished them while you slept. It didn't take very long." He knew that three hours would be a long time to her, but to him it was the blink of an eye.

He looked through her collection and found one he had not seen. He noticed that it was still in its wrapper, as were several.

"I bought these the day before, knowing that I might need them. I haven't seen most of them."

He stuck the tape in and turned on the tv. He sat down on the bed careful not to jar her knee and leaned against the headboard. She leaned against his chest, his arm draped across her shoulders.

She munched on the popcorn as they watched the movie. About halfway through she grew thirsty and he fetched her a soda.

Natalie realized that being stuck in bed for the week wasn't such a bad thing after all. All she had to do was request something and it was hers. She enjoyed the fact that she wouldn't have to cook or wash a single dish all week.

 

Later, one of Natalie's friends from work stopped by to see her. Nick let Nancy in before heading into Nat's bedroom. Nick carried Natalie out to the couch and made sure she was comfortable.

"How's it going?" Nancy asked.

"Pretty good. How about you?" Nat inquired.

"Okay. Nothing exciting's happening at work." Nancy said. "How's the knee doing?"

"It's doing okay. I just have to let it heal. It should be as good as new after a few months." Natalie said. "I should be able to return to work in another week or two." Nat saw Nick's surprised look.

"That's great. Don't rush back. It will still be there whenever you get there."

" I know. I won't. I want it to heal properly." Natalie saw Nick's relief, as well as Nancy's.

"Looks like you're well taken care of," Nancy said with a grin.

"Yeah." Nat returned the grin. "I thought I'd hate being cooped up, but it's not so bad, most of the time."

"Nick, is she a handful?" Nancy teased.

"Not yet. I suspect that she'll become quite a handful later in the week," Nick said returning the tease, glad he was out of Nat's reach.

"I bet she will be," Nancy joked.

"You know what they say about doctors being the worst patients," Nick grinned. He knew he'd probably pay for it later.

They both knew that when Nat was sick or injured her sense of humor was often the first thing to go.

Nancy caught a glimpse of the time. "I'd love to stay longer, but the morgue calls."

"Thanks for stopping by. Say hi to everyone for me."

"Sure."

Nick let Nancy out before approaching Nat.

"Don't worry, you're safe," Nat said, a devious twinkle in her eyes. "For now."

She loved the "uh oh" expression which briefly crossed his face before being replaced by his usual expression.

"I'm hungry. How about some seafood tonight?"

"Whatever you desire."

"I'm in the mood for some fried calamari for an appetizer, some pasta with shrimp for the main course and a baked potato with lots of butter and sour cream. You can tell them to hold the garlic and make it just a butter sauce. The number's in my address book under The Happy Clam."

"What about desert?"

"It has to be something really sinfully chocolate as that's what I'm in the mood for. Try Benchman's."

"Okay."

The doorbell rang and Nick answered it, letting Grace in. He noticed the medium sized present tucked under her arm, and the card attached to it.

"Hi, Grace," Nick said. "I was just about to order dinner for Nat, would you like something?"

"Thanks. I'll have whatever she's having." Grace knew Nat would pick something good, especially for desert.

Grace had a seat in the chair by the couch. Natalie eyed the gift box.

"I see you're doing just fine," Grace joked, seeing her friend very comfortably settled on the couch. Pillows propping up her knee.

"Yeah. I'm enjoying it. I'm trying not to overdo it, even though he seems so eager to please."

"If he's willing, go for it. It'll all be over before you know it."

"I know." Nat sighed.

Grace knew Nat wasn't the type to drag things out for an extra day or two, more likely Nick would have to sit on her to keep her in bed the last couple of days.

Grace handed the present to her friend.

"These are from everyone."

Nat opened the card first. It was a funny "Get Well Quick" card. Seeing all the signatures and the short messages made her smile. Next she turned her attention to the box, ripping the paper off. She never was one to carefully undo wrapping paper. She lifted the lid and found a bunch of shaped chocolates. Her smile grew as she realized that they were medical items. There was a oversized bandaid, a thermometer, an aspirin, a reflex hammer and a miniature stethoscope.

"Thank every one for me. This is great. I've never seen anything like it."

"I will. We thought you'd get a kick out of it."

Shortly Nick returned with the ladies dinner. He unpacked it and set the table before scooping Nat up and carrying her to the awaiting chairs. He set her down, allowing the second chair to support her splinted knee.

The three friends talked over dinner.

 

Nat's friends visited every day. Grace stopped by before and after her shift, knowing that Natalie would need the company and Nick would need the chance to run any errands.

Grace noticed that the only times Nick allowed Natalie out of bed was when she had company other than herself or when they ate something messy. Grace noticed that when Nick carried Natalie to the couch it seemed as if she hardly weighed anything, which surprised her because he didn't look all that strong. She noticed how Nick always made sure Natalie had the pillows properly tucked behind her so that she was always comfortable, or as comfortable as one could be given the circumstances.

Nick didn't like it when Natalie used her crutches, believing she should be in bed resting. Natalie was glad that the facts were on her side and gave Nick several good medical reasons why she needed to move around, including the fact that if blood clots formed they could cause serious trouble, and possibly even kill her. Nick agreed to let her use her crutches unless she was really tired. He didn't want her to have an accident and further hurt herself.

 

That night, after she was back in bed, Nick surprised her with a gift, a very nice bed tray. He had her close her eyes as he set it in place and loved the look on her face as she was allowed to open her eyes.

"Where did you find it?" Natalie asked genuinely curious. "I've looked for one so many times I gave up." She examined the white wooden piece.

The bed tray had a large flat surface area with a pretty floral design painted on it. The design matched her color scheme perfectly. There was a high enough rim around the tray area to prevent dishes from sliding off during transport or eating, yet the rim wasn't high enough to interfere with dining. The legs sported a pocket on each side, suitable for holding several magazines.

"I found it at a little out of the way store. I painted the floral design myself." He loved the smile that spread across her face.

"It perfectly matches."

"I'm glad you like it."

"Is this a hint?" She teased.

"You might call it that," He said playfully. "I thought you could use it for reading, doing puzzles, playing cards. If we put a book on the tray we could balance a board game on it.

"How about giving it it's first real test?"

"Sure. What will it be this time?" He said lightly.

"I'm not sure. How about some Japanese food? I've been wanting to try that." Natalie paused as she tried to remember what dishes her friends had recommended. "How about a Boston Roll and a California Roll. Also an order of Teriyaki beef."

"Are you going to eat all of that?" He teased.

"Maybe. What I don't eat..." she paused, that wicked gleam was back in her eyes, bringing terror to his face. "Relax, I'll just save it for later." She grinned, watching him relax.

 

Natalie was totally enjoying the spoiling. She was careful not to take too much advantage of Nick. They talked, played games, watched movies, and he read to her. She liked hearing the sound of his voice as he read some of his favorite stories to her. His voice was so soothing. Often if he read to her when she was tired she'd fall asleep as he told the story.

With the bed tray she spent more time in bed and less time at the kitchen table, which she didn't really mind because the bed was more comfortable. Nick was glad that she didn't fight it, that she willingly stayed put. The more she willingly stayed put the less he minded her trips to the bathroom or to the kitchen or living room so that she could get her blood circulating and hopefully prevent any problematic blood clots.

 

By the fifth day of her confinement she was climbing the walls forcing Nick to keep a closer eye on her. An ear if he was out of the room. He knew she would want to be getting up before she was supposed to.

He also knew that she needed a change of scenery so he let her spend several hours a day in the living room on the couch on the condition that she stay put. He still carried her to the couch about half the time, wanting her to use her crutches as little as possible. He knew the more she was up and moving around on her own, the more chances for an accident there were.

He insisted she use the bed tray for meals rather than eating at the table. He kept her company on the couch as they watched movies, played games or just talked.

Natalie was getting even crankier from being cooped up. At night he opened the curtains so she could see the stars. On the warmer nights he opened the windows as soon as the sun had set so she could feel the breeze.

Out of near desperation he told her a story from his past and noticed how it totally captivated her. When he was finished she asked for another one and he complied. He was quite surprised to see the calming influence they had over her. He knew he had another powerful weapon in the war against her rising cabin fever.

 

Whenever he saw her growing extremely restless and cranky he would tell her a story or two from his past. He was still surprised how the stories fully captured her attention, unlike the movies and books they shared. She would listen for hours as he told her story after story.

 

The next night after dinner he lifted her up and carried her over to the windows so she could look out. She was not very heavy and he had no trouble holding her. He could see that even his stories wouldn't work that evening.

"Thank you. It's such a beautiful night," she said appreciating the thoughtful gesture. Seeing the stars and the lights below made her feel less cooped up.

Nick noticed the soothing effect the simple gesture had on her and was glad he had gone ahead with the idea.

When she dozed off during their movie, Nick carried her back to her bed and gently laid her down. He tucked the covers around her and gently kissed her forehead.

He headed back out to the living room where he checked the shades before lying down to sleep.

 

Grace entered and didn't notice Nick asleep on the couch. She opened one of the shades. The sunlight hit Nick and he woke fangs down and eyes glowing yellow.

"Shut the blinds," Nick snarled.

Grace turned around startled, which turned to complete shock when she saw Nick. She immediately shut the blinds.

Nick quickly changed his features to normal. He heard Natalie getting out of bed.

"Nat, stay in bed," Nick said sternly.

Natalie was just about to stand and swung her legs back onto the bed. She knew that tone meant that either something was wrong or that he knew what she was up to and she had better listen to him.

"Grace, look at me," Nick said in his usual calm tone.

Grace hesitantly looked at him and was surprised to see the boyish face with the blue eyes and charming smile.

"Grace, you will forget what you saw," Nick said, having matched his heartbeat to hers.

He saw the nervousness reflected throughout her body as well as the slight increase in her heart rate.

"No," Grace said as she shook her head. "Nick...."

"Go talk to Natalie," Nick said, softly. He knew Grace would feel more comfortable talking to her friend than to him.

 

Grace entered the bedroom and shut the door. Natalie saw some fear and uneasiness in both Grace's facial expression and body language and suspected the cause of it.

"I can't believe I'm asking this." Grace said doubting herself a bit. "Is he a vampire?"

"Before I answer I have to have your word that anything we tell you will not leave this apartment. This is for your safety."

"I promise, not a word to anyone. It will not leave the apartment." Grace wondered what Natalie had meant about it being for her safety and decided not to question her about it, at least not for the moment.

Natalie motioned for Grace to sit down on the bed. Grace carefully sat on the end of the bed, not wanting to jar her friend's knee any more than absolutely necessary.

"Yes. Nick is a vampire."

"Isn't it dangerous? I mean they're...." Grace said before she was cut off.

"He's different. He doesn't want to be one anymore. He hasn't ...." Natalie looked for the right words but couldn't find them, "killed anyone for their blood in over a hundred years. He drinks cow blood. He's been drinking less and less of it over the past few years. He's trying to make up for his past."

"How long have you known about it?" Grace asked quite curious. Suddenly various parts of Nick and Nat's relationship made more sense.

"Since we met. Remember my 28th birthday?" She saw Grace nod. "Shortly after my party a body had been brought in, the victim of a pipe bomb. I had unzipped the bag and found his injuries no where near as bad as I had been told. I turned my back to make a call and when I turned back around I saw him sitting up on the table. He could have easily killed me but didn't. He drank one of the bags we keep for emergencies instead. He wound up on my table trying to save lives."

"Are you one?" Grace asked a little unsure. This was almost too much to take in at once.

"No. I'm perfectly mortal like you. Give me your hand."

Grace hesitantly gave her hand to Natalie, and watched as Nat placed it on her chest.

"See, a normal human heartbeat. I feel warm, right. You've seen me eat."

Grace nodded as she withdrew her hand. She wasn't sure what to make of the situation.

"Do you think I faked everything with my knee recently? You saw the pain in my eyes after John knocked me down."

"I don't think you can fake that kind of pain. I don't think you would be here if you didn't have to be." Grace still wasn't sure. "Why did you let me feel your heartbeat? What does that have to do with anything?"

"Nick's heart beats slower than ours does, six beats an hour to be exact. He feels cool to the touch. Physical wounds heal very quickly and they barely feel physical pain."

"I've noticed that his hands were cool. I thought it was just bad circulation. He ate with us."

"But, he didn't eat much, did he? Vampires can not tolerate solid food. Nick and I have been working on that problem."

"You two aren't intimately involved are you?" Grace saw the sudden sadness cloud her friend's face. "I'm sorry if I upset you."

"It's okay. That's the only thing we can't do. I would rather have the kind of extremely strong, close friendship we have than a love affair that doesn't last. We do love each other."

"What would happen if you two tried?"

"He would either kill me or make me what he is."

"Would you consider..." Grace started to say, before being cut off.

"I would consider letting him bring me across, if the circumstances were right."

"Would Nick be willing to, what did you call it?"

"He doesn't want to bring me across. He sees it as a curse. Maybe he would do it under the right circumstances."

"Have you ever been afraid he would hurt you?"

"No. I know he won't. He's scared me once or twice but he's never hurt me. But those time weren't his fault. Those stories are too long and complicated to go into now. He's one of the sweetest guys I know."

Grace suddenly remembered something Natalie had told her. "When you had those bite marks in your shoulder, you told me that a vampire bit you. Who bit you?"

"Vachon bit me during love making. He didn't kill me or bring me across because he was too weak." When she saw Grace's confused expression. "I had him bite my shoulder because there were no big blood vessels near the surface. Yes, they have to bite as part of sex. They do prefer the neck."

Grace started to ask why but Natalie's 'think about it' stare caused her to blush as she figured it out.

"Why were you with Vachon?"

"We had both lost people we loved. We were comforting each other and it just happened." Natalie wondered if Nick was listening to their conversation.

"When you were in the hospital due to the blood loss, what really happened? Was it Nick?"

"Yes. Part of it was an accident. We were both feeling self destructive due to serious losses in our lives and I asked him to make love to me. Well, he did, but not mortal style. We both became lost in it and before he knew it he had taken too much, yet he couldn't honor my request to make me what he is. His father dragged him off."

"Very interesting, and a little strange." Grace noticed Natalie had said Nick's father. "I didn't think Nick had any family."

"Well, father sounded better than master. It is the person who made him what he is."

"What was it like?" Grace asked hesitantly, yet curious.

"It was a bit strange, but I've never felt anything quite as exhilarating before. It was quite erotic."

"What's between you and Vachon and you and Nick?" Grace asked, a little hesitantly.

"Vachon and I are just friends. Nick and I are in love and working on our relationship. We're taking it slow, but we are making progress."

"Why didn't Nick come to see you in the hospital?"

"He was too sick. Something I didn't find out until my trip."

Nick opened the door and stuck his head in. "Can I come in?"

"Okay," Grace said. If she had not seen the evidence she would never have believed that Nick was a vampire. He was nothing like what a vampire was supposed to be.

Both Nick and Natalie noticed Grace's slight nervousness around him. He walked up to the head of the bed and sat next to Natalie.

"Nick, why didn't you make her forget?" Grace asked, slightly confused.

"I tried to but she can't by hypnotized."

"So that's what you were trying to do to me."

"Is everyone a resistor?" Nick asked, confused. He remembered when nearly everyone could be whammied.

Natalie saw the glazed eyes and smacked his arm.

"What?"

"You were off somewhere else," Nat said.

"Nick, how old are you? You look about 35."

"Take a guess," Natalie said with a wicked grin.

"200?" Grace asked, and saw both of the others shake their heads. "300?"

"Keep going," Natalie said.

"500?" Again Grace saw them shaking their heads. "700?"

"800. I have been a vampire for 767 years."

Grace was stunned. "It must be incredible to have been there throughout history."

"It was interesting," Nick said with a smile.

"Grace, are you okay with all this?" Natalie asked, concerned.

"I will be. It was a major surprise," Grace said seriously. "Nick, you don't look or act anything like a vampire is supposed to. I would never have suspected," Grace said, lightly.

Nick smiled at her. It was the best compliment he had received.

"I told you that you were making progress," Nat said, lightly.

"I need you to treat me like you always did. Don't treat Nat or I any differently."

"Okay. Nat, if you ever need anything during the day let me know." Grace said.

"I will."

Grace hesitated before asking, "Nick, would you mind if sometime I asked you a few questions about history?"

"No. Anytime we're alone, I'd be glad to answer them." Nick grinned.

"Who was the most famous person you knew?" Grace asked.

Nick noticed that both woman were quite curious about the answer.

"I'm not sure. There's Joan of Arc, Hitler when he was still a corporal, Rasputin, Beethoven," Nick said like it happened to everyone. He enjoyed the stunned look on Grace's face, and seeing her eyebrows arching higher as she heard each name. He noticed that Hitler and Rasputin had taken Natalie by surprise.

"What... were they like?" Grace stammered.

Nick spent the better part of the day talking with Grace and Natalie about the famous people he had met. Some of the stories Nat had heard, but she enjoyed hearing them again. She loved watching Grace, as her friend was totally engrossed in the stories, very much like a child being read to.

Natalie loved the look on his face as he told each story. He came alive as he told the stories, totally opposite from the angsty way he usually told them to Natalie.

While Grace was in the bathroom Nick and Natalie quietly discussed Grace knowing and decided it was best if she was made to forget. Nick had reluctantly called upon his master for help.

Natalie and Grace went out to the living room when the doorbell rang. Nick had subtly nodded to Nat before he left the room. Nat once again stretched out on the couch making herself as comfortable as possible while Grace took the overstuffed chair next to the couch.

LaCroix entered and was shown to Grace.

"Dr. Lambert, it's good to see you again. I hope you're healing well," LaCroix said politely.

"Thank you. I'm healing just fine," Natalie said equally polite.

"LaCroix, I'd like you to meet Grace Balthazar. Grace this is LaCroix."

"It is a pleasure my dear," LaCroix said full of false charm.

Grace wondered if LaCroix was somehow related to Nick, sensing there was some connection. She also sensed that the two men weren't the best of friends and that there was some hidden hostility between Nat and LaCroix.

"It's a pleasure to meet you LaCroix."

LaCroix captured Grace's attention, matching his heartbeat to hers. "You will forget that Nick is a vampire and that Natalie knows his secret. You will not remember meeting me. You will forget that Vachon is one as well. You will not remember anything here relating to vampires. You, Natalie and Nick spent the last four hours rewatching Braveheart." LaCroix looked over at Nick and Nat silently asking if there was anything else they wanted to add to the post hypnotic suggestion. When they both shook their heads LaCroix brought Grace out of her trance. He was gone in the blink of an eye.

"Natalie, I could watch Mel anytime."

"Same here." Natalie was glad to see the whammy had worked.

 

Late the next afternoon Nat dressed for her doctor's appointment. She threw on a blouse, sweater and loose flowing skirt which came down to just below her knee. It was the easiest thing for her to get over the splint. She put on her left sneaker and then called Nick. Nick entered and helped Natalie get her other sneaker on.

"Nick, please let me walk to Grace's car." Natalie hoped her good behavior all week would encourage him to say yes.

"Okay." He knew that it would embarrass her if he carried her, and didn't want to do that to her. "As long as you keep..."

"I will," she cut him off, knowing what he was going to say.

He handed her her purse and she headed out. When she reached Grace's car, Grace got out and moved the passenger seat as far back as it would go, hoping Natalie could sit there as it would be very difficult for her to get into the back seat of the two door car.

Natalie sat on the seat, handing her crutches to Grace. She just fit and couldn't wait to get the splint off. Grace tucked the crutches onto the floor behind the front seats before climbing back into the driver's seat.

 

Grace and Natalie entered her doctor's office and was told the doctor was running a few minutes behind. Nat chose to stand, knowing that as soon as she sat down she would just have to get back up again. It was one hassle she didn't need. Grace kept an eye on her making sure she didn't put any weight on her splinted knee.

"Natalie, he'll see you now," the nurse said, sticking her head out the door to the back area. She held the door open as Natalie passed through.

Natalie headed for the examination room and sat on the table so her legs were stretched out in front of her. She hoped her knee had healed enough so she could start putting some weight on it.

The doctor entered and noticed Natalie had worn a loose flowing skirt. He pushed back the skirt and unfastened the splint. He examined her knee and saw that it looked good.

"Did you follow orders?"

"Yes, to the letter," She said.

"I will be removing the stitches. I want you to try putting a little weight on it afterwards."

Natalie was pleased.

He removed the few stitches from where the probe and tools had been inserted and refastened the splint.

"I want you to stand without putting any weight on your knee. Then I want you to gently touch your toes to the floor. I need to know if there is *ANY* pain. Understand?"

"Yes." Natalie stood as directed and then somewhat nervously and a bit anxiously put a little weight on her toes. "There is barely any pain."

"Good." He handed her the crutches. "Using these for support I want you to put a little more weight on your knee, but *NOT* your full weight. Stop if the pain gets worse."

Once she had them in place she slowly increased the weight on her knee, knowing that this was an important step in her recovery and she was not about to blow it. It hurt a little more and she stopped.

"Very good. That was a little more than I thought you would be able to bear. You did rest." He walked over to the phone and had Grace sent back so that he would only have to give his instructions once. "Natalie, I think that's enough for now."

Grace entered and was surprised to see Natalie on her feet. He noticed that she was keeping the weight off her knee.

"She's doing quite well. A little better than I had expected. I take it she stayed off her knee the whole week."

"She did. Nick made sure of it."

"Natalie, I want you to continue to keep your weight off it for another week. I will reevaluate your progress then and probably start you on physical therapy. I don't want you returning to work for another week, after that we'll see."

 

After the appointment they grabbed some Japanese take out on the way home. Grace had reluctantly allowed Natalie into the restaurant, having parked in a disabled spot so they'd be close to the door. They'd lucked out and found one right in front of the door.

 

When Grace and Natalie arrived back at Nat's apartment Nick was waiting. He wasn't pleased to see they stopped to pick up dinner.

"Nick, she did fine. I kept a close eye on her. She needed the exercise."

"Okay. Nat, what did the doctor say?"

"He said I was doing very good and could bear more weight than he thought I'd be able to." She filled him in on what else the doctor had told her.

"Grace?"

"She told you everything the doctor told me."

 

Nick managed to get another week off, but it had not been easy. He continued to pamper Natalie, soothing her when cabin fever struck. The longer she was kept off her knee the more soothing he had to do. He was glad he had almost 800 years worth of stories to tell, as he figured he'd need them.

The fact that her crutches kept falling to the floor didn't help matters any. She couldn't pick it up if she was already standing and using one for support. They were also hard to pick up when they fell and she was still seated on the bed. She often had to call Nick in to help, something she hated doing as it made her feel both helpless and frustrated. She hated feeling helpless.

Natalie enjoyed having the time to catch up on her reading. She had finished the dozen or so books she'd put aside to read whenever she had the time. She'd also seen most of the movies she'd wanted to watch sometime. She enjoyed her time off, especially the pampering. She couldn't remember being this well taken care of since she was a small child.

Later that evening Nick gave Nat a box. Inside was a thick stack of comic books, a good number of them being Jenny Jinx ones. He loved Nat's childish delight as she discovered the comics.

She continued to make sure she stood up every couple of hours, knowing she needed to move around to prevent blood clots from forming. When Nick complained out her being on her feet she reminded him of the medical reasons why it was necessary for her to be up and moving around. She was careful to keep the weight off her knee.

Natalie was glad that her knee was finally going to stop hurting, at least it would once the healing and therapy was finished.

Ugh, therapy, Nat thought. She was not looking forward to that because she knew it would hurt. They would be getting her knee used to bending and supporting her full weight again. Not to mention doing weight work to strengthen the muscles.

 

As the week wore on Natalie's cabin fever grew. She didn't want to stay inside but knew she had to. She was tired of being in bed and her behind hurt from all the sitting she'd done. She grew crankier as the days passed. Nick's stories began to be less and less soothing. They still were his most effective weapon, outside of holding her by the window so she could feel the breeze and see the stars and the city lights below.

He briefly considered taking her for a flight, but knew she'd be mad at him for using his vampiric powers unnecessarily.

He was forced to allow her to spend most of each night on the couch because she wouldn't stay in bed any longer. This led to quite a few disagreements.

 

Towards the end of the week Nick was grateful that Natalie's doctor's appointment was the next evening. He didn't know how much more either of them could take. Nothing seemed to soothe her extreme cabin fever. She was getting crankier every day and it was getting to him.

 

The next afternoon, Nick surprised Natalie with a gift. As she opened the box she found a pair of black slip on sneakers inside. A smile spread across her face.

"Thanks."

"This way you should be able to slip your foot into your shoes, as soon as you can put some weight on your knee."

She kissed his cheek, her crankiness momentarily forgotten by the thoughtful gift.

 

Shortly after sunset the next evening, Natalie was dressed and ready for her doctor's appointment. Nick was suspicious when he saw her dressed in another loose flowing skirt, a blouse and a blazer. She looked more professional. He again had to help her into her sneaker. He was pleased that she had put on sensible shoes rather than trying to get into the low pumps she tended to wear. She was glad that she didn't have to wear her heels.

 

A short time later, Natalie entered the doctor's office and was told to go on back to the exam room.

Natalie was seated on the exam table awaiting the doctor's arrival. Dr. Barnes soon arrived and noticed her outfit. He knew the outcome she was hoping for.

"Hi, how's the knee?" Dr. Barnes asked.

"No problems."

He examined her knee, pleased when everything seemed okay.

"I want to see if you can put more weight on your knee. Stop immediately if there is any pain." Dr. Barnes said as he refastened the splint.

Her crutches fell to the floor annoying her. The doctor bent over and picked them up for her.

Natalie stood, taking the crutches from Dr. Barnes one at a time and slowly increased the amount of weight on her knee until she had her full weight on it. A smile crossed her face.

"That's enough for now. I think I will start you on the therapy tomorrow. It will be painful at first. You can go back to work as long as you follow a few rules. One, you must continue to use your crutches at *ALL* times. Two, no field work for at least two weeks. The therapist will tell you when she thinks you're ready for that. Three, your knee is not to bear weight for more than an hour at a time. I want at least ninety minutes in between weight bearing sessions. Four, I still don't want you driving for at least another week. Other than that you're free to move about as you need to. I don't want you working more than 8 hours. I would like for you to spend at least two hours seated. It doesn't have to be all at once. Remember not to overdo it or you'll be back where we started, with no weight on it."

Natalie smiled, having been freed from captivity. She didn't think she could've handled another day there without losing her mind.

"I promise not to overdo it. Would you tell all this to Nick?" Natalie said, knowing that Nick would not totally believe her. She knew he had seen her extreme restlessness and knew how badly she wanted out of the apartment.

Dr. Barnes did as Natalie asked. Nick accepted it. He was pleased that she was going back to work. It would give him one less thing to worry about, besides it would be easier to keep an eye on her there.

Nick and Natalie headed back out to the waiting area. She used the short distance to test how well she could put weight onto her knee. It was a little uncomfortable, but didn't hurt. Nick noticed that she seemed a little hesitant to put too much weight on her knee and was glad to see she was taking her time, doing only as much as she felt comfortable with.

"Can you drop me off at work on your way back to the precinct?" Natalie asked, still testing her knee.

"You didn't have them schedule you for today did you?" He wasn't too surprised but pretended he was.

"I had a hunch that I would be allowed to go back. I can't spend another hour stuck in the apartment." She knew his protest was for her benefit and said nothing.

She found herself wondering how long before she would be walking with just a brace for support. And how long before she could go back into the field.

Nick called Natalie's office to inform then that she'd be in to work shortly.

 

At the Coroner's Office Grace and a few of the other night crew taped a banner across the blackboard. Grace had bought it the other day knowing Nat would be back to work within a few days. Grace sent one of the crew down to their favorite bakery to pick up the cake.

 

Nick followed Natalie into her office where they saw the colorful 'Welcome Back Natalie' banner taped to the blackboard. Grace, Nancy, and several other coworkers were there.

"It's good to have you back, Natalie," Grace said. She would be keeping an eye on her friend to make sure she didn't overdo it. Grace sensed that it was okay for Natalie to be back since Nick didn't seem to mind it.

"It's good to be back. I was climbing the walls," Natalie said as she sat her self down at her desk, balancing her crutches in the corner where the desk and the wall met. She figured that was the most stable spot to stick them. She liked the thoughtfulness of Grace and her other friends because they had left her a short stool by her desk, which she used to prop her leg up on while she talked with her friends.

Natalie saw the chocolate frosted cake sitting on her desk, large frosting roses around the edge of the cake. Across the top was written 'Welcome back Natalie'. As soon as Grace saw Natalie was settled in, she cut the cake, handing the slices to the attendees. Nat received the first piece, which happened to be the largest one with the most roses, as it was her party.

Natalie's friends welcomed her back and questioned her about her knee. Natalie answered their questions, greatly enjoying her freedom.

Natalie enjoyed the mini party and settled down to work after it was all over. She saw Nick and Grace leave the office together and knew what was going on, but she didn't mind. She was back at work and there was nothing they could do about it.

Natalie sifted through the files on her desk to see what was awaiting her attention. She picked a file, leaned back, and started reading.

 

Later in her shift she had an autopsy to perform. She changed into her scrubs and perched herself on the slightly padded stool Grace had left there for her, figuring it would help. Natalie leaned her crutches against the table and began the autopsy. A few minutes later they crashed to the floor. Grace entered and was pleased to see her taking advantage of the stool. Grace picked up the fallen crutches and leaned them against the table.

"Thanks. That's the most annoying part."

"How's the knee really doing?" Grace asked, curiously.

"It's fine. I'm allowed to do anything but go into the field or drive. I start therapy tomorrow. I can't wait to get this thing off and rid of those. But I suppose Nick told you most of it."

"He did tell me to make sure you didn't overdo it. He told me what the doctor told him. I won't have to watch you too closely, will I?" Grace challenged.

"No. I'll be careful. But, I know you will anyway," Natalie said, the last part a bit teasingly. She was glad that her friends cared that much about her. "Thanks for the stools."

"I'm glad they help."

 

Later that evening Nick escorted Natalie into her apartment.

"How are you doing? You look tired." He said.

"This part is harder than I remembered. My arms and shoulders hurt. My wrists do somewhat as well."

Natalie stretched out on the couch, getting as comfortable as possible. Nick sat on the armrest and began to massage her shoulders.

"That feels wonderful." She felt all the tension and most of the soreness drain away under his most skilled touch. She let her body melt into his cool hands.

 

The next afternoon, before work, Grace picked Natalie up. Natalie scooted the front passenger seat as far back as it would go before she swung her legs into the car. It made just enough room for her immobilized knee to fit.

Before long, Natalie thanked Grace for the lift and told her about how long her therapy session should take. She was grateful that Grace had offered provide transportation to therapy and then a lift to work.

Natalie entered the rehab center to start work on her knee. She knew it would be painful, but was necessary. She had come dressed in another skirt with shorts underneath. She had on a sweater with a t-shirt underneath, and her slip on sneakers.

Natalie's therapist approached. She was a woman about Natalie's height and age with fiery red hair. She looked very trim and fit.

"I'm Beverly."

"I'm Natalie."

"We will be working here two days a week for an hour to start with. It will be painful, especially at first. I'm glad you came properly dressed." She lead Natalie over to a set of waist height parallel bars. "I want to see how well you can bear weight on your knee without your crutches."

Natalie handed her crutches to Beverly, taking the weightlifters belt and fastening it around her waist, as directed by her therapist. It would allow Beverly to grab hold of Nat and break her fall should there be any problem.

"If you have ANY problems or feel any pain, I want you to grab hold of the bar and stop immediately.

"I will."

Natalie was a little nervous as she slowly put her full weight on her knee as this was the first time she'd done it without using her crutches. When the therapist saw that there was no pain she handed Natalie back her crutches, motioning for her client to head for the exam table and take a seat. Beverly unbuckled the belt and removed it from Nat's waist.

"Did you wear shorts underneath?"

"Yes."

"I would like you to take off the skirt." Beverly said, not wanting the skirt to interfere with their work.

Natalie easily slipped off the skirt before reseating herself on the exam table, her splinted knee resting on the table in front of her.

"Unfasten the splint," Beverly said. She liked her clients to be as involved in their therapy as possible. The more involved they were the more effort they were willing to put in.

After Natalie had undone the splint, Beverly examined Natalie's knee.

"Can you bend your knee?" Beverly asked, moving the splint out of her client's way while lowering the end of the table.

Natalie slowly bent her knee. The muscles and ligaments were stiff from not being used and hurt as they were forced to work, causing her to bite her lower lip.

"Very good. I'm going to be moving your knee and need to know if it hurts more than it does now." Beverly said as she put Natalie's knee through several motions designed to test her range of movement. This would determine where they would go from there.

Natalie's face showed the strong discomfort as the tight muscles and ligaments in her knee were manipulated. She bit her lip as the movements were quite uncomfortable, bordering on being painful.

"Very good. Your knee seems to be doing excellent." Her therapist cheerfully said. "I will offer you an option that I don't usually give at this point. I want you to start weight bearing full time. You can either keep that splint and lose the crutches or I can give you a smaller brace that will provide you with a nearly full range of movement, but then you'd have to use crutches for another couple of weeks."

Natalie really did want to get rid of the crutches, they were annoying and made her arms and shoulders hurt, but she wanted to be able to get under her desk and to sit down more easily. Once she got rid of the crutches she would miss Nick's great massages.

"I'll take the smaller brace," Natalie said, deciding that after two weeks she could tolerate the crutches for another week or two.

"That's the choice I thought you might make, judging from your record. I'll be right back."

 

The therapist left the room and returned shortly with the brace and a different kind of crutches called arm canes.

"I think these will be more helpful in your occupation," Beverly said. She had trouble believing that anyone as pretty as Natalie would be a medical examiner. "I want you using them at *ALL* times. Your knee is still quite vulnerable. It is very weak from healing and not being used. I would hate to see your excellent progress thwarted at this stage."

"I will do as instructed. I have no intention of messing up my recovery."

"I will show you how this one works," The therapist said as she put the new brace on Natalie. It covered Nat's knee and leg for several inches on each side. There were metal bars with joints on each side. It looked like a serious heavy duty piece of hardware. "You can fasten this to the outside of your clothes if you wish. You are not to put *ANY* weight on your knee without the brace. Your knee not yet strong enough to do so. I want you to undo and redo the brace."

Natalie did as requested, having paid attention when Beverly fasted the brace the first time.

"Good." Beverly said as she handed Natalie the new crutches. The were metal, had a plastic half circle that went around her forearm and a handgrip about a foot below the arm cuff.

Natalie stood and got the crutches into place before Beverly told her how to use them. Nat noticed that the new crutches were a little strange, at first, but she quickly mastered their use. She knew they would be a little easier to use because they wouldn't be falling to the floor whenever she lifted her arm to take a file. She also knew that the slightest vibration wouldn't cause them to fall to the floor like the other ones had.

 

Beverly had Natalie sit back on the table and remove the brace. Beverly worked with Natalie's knee for another half hour before having Natalie redo the brace.

"I want to see you cross the room and back. After that we're done for the day. I want to see you back here the day after tomorrow, same time."

Natalie did as instructed without a single problem and was pleased to be leaving. Being able to walk almost normally with the crutches and brace was a welcome change. Her knee was still a little sore from all the manipulation, something she knew would ease over the next hour or two.

 

Grace arrived at the rehab center to pick her friend up and saw Natalie outside waiting for her. Grace was pleased to see the change in Natalie's brace. She knew it meant Nat was doing just fine.

"How'd it go?" Grace said as Nat approached the car.

"A bit painfully, but I can put weight on it full time. These should be easier to use." She filled Grace in on what Beverly had told her.

"That's great news. Where do you want to change?" Grace asked, before she reached for Nat's hanging bag.

"Here, if you don't mind carrying in my bag." Natalie hoped she wasn't bothering her friend too much.

"It's no problem, at all.

The two of them entered the rehab center. Grace carried the hanging bag containing Natalie's suit.

 

Natalie entered her office and found Nick waiting there for her. He was surprised by the changes. Her slightly shorter suit skirt showed off the new brace.

"Good news I presume?" He asked, cheerfully. He noticed that she was putting her full weight onto her knee and was a little surprised.

She told him the latest update and saw him smile.

"Thank you both for being such taskmasters. It did pay off. Now that I can comfortably sit in the front seat, I'm allowed to drive again. I still have to avoid fieldwork for awhile longer."

Nick could tell her shoulder muscles were sore from all the extra work they had to do. He waited for her to take a seat at her desk before approaching. As soon as she was settled, and had propped the crutches in their usual spot, he stopped behind her and began to massage her shoulders.

"That feels great."

He could see her relaxing and feel the tension easing. She melted into his touch.

 

As her shift wore on she discovered that this new arrangement gave her the ability to hold onto either small or flat things and the handgrip as well. She could transport files from one part of her office to another, which saved Grace from having to do it.

 

The next evening Natalie stopped by the precinct to drop off a few files at homicide. She talked with the officers for a minute or two before continuing on, and letting them return to their work. Natalie stopped by vice on her way out. Nick was pleased to see her getting around better and noticed she was in a great mood.

 

That evening Nick and Natalie had one of their movie nights scheduled. She stretched out on the couch, leaning against his chest as they watched the movies.

During the romantic movie they found themselves drawn into a long passionate kiss.

 

Over the next week Natalie found most aspects of life, including work to be much easier. She liked not having to worry about her crutch falling to the floor as often, forcing her to bend over and pick it up. She liked having almost full movement in her knee so she could comfortably sit at her desk, or on any chair. She liked how she could transport a couple of files, a bag or small object while still holding onto the handgrip. She liked finding a hot cup of coffee waiting on her desk for her arrival, thanks to Grace.

Throughout the week Natalie noticed how much easier everything was to do because her knee once again bent almost normally. She could get her shoes on without a hassle. She started wearing regular dress flats rather than her low heeled pumps, knowing that no one was going to say anything about it to her. Secretly she was glad that she didn't have to wear the higher heeled shoes as they had always made her feet hurt by the end of her shift.

 

Natalie had to testify in court. One of the murder cases she had done an autopsy on had come to trial. She had to testify to what she had seen at the scene and her autopsy results.

She hoped that the fact that she was on crutches would not make her testimony less credible. She knew the knee brace would help balance out the fact that she was on crutches. Sometimes it was bad enough that she was a female M.E., even in this day there were a few who believed that it was not a job for a lady.

She found herself spending most of the morning waiting. Finally, she was called upon to testify. She entered the courtroom and took the stand, where she spent the afternoon answering questions from both the prosecution and defense counselors.

 

Two afternoons later, Natalie reported back to the rehab center for her next therapy session. She changed into shorts and a t-shirt in the locker room before heading for the therapy room. She once again was grateful that the new brace allowed her to dress normally. She'd hated the struggle she'd had trying to get anything over the splint as well as trying to get that shoe on.

Once in the therapy room, Beverly examined Natalie's knee, pleased when there were no problems.

"Today we start strengthening your knee. You still have to keep using both the brace and crutches full time."

Natalie followed her therapist over to the weight machine, not really looking forward to this because she knew it would hurt, but also knew it was necessary. Natalie sat down on the bench and laid her crutches on the floor next to the machine.

Beverly explained the exercises to Natalie, one at a time, before allowing her client to begin.

Natalie bent and unbent her knee using a very light weight. She grimaced, biting her lower lip because it hurt, but not enough to be of worry to Beverly. Natalie noticed how the muscles and ligaments in her knee were stiff at first but loosened up as she worked them.

Natalie did exercise after exercise without complaint. She liked how Beverly explained the reasons for each exercise as well as which muscles they worked.

Beverly and Natalie discovered they shared a love for chocolate and spent most of that session discussing the various chocolates out there. It helped the exercises be that much less dull. Beverly was careful to keep a close eye on what Natalie was doing and how she was doing it, making sure that everything was being done properly.

 

After therapy, Natalie drove to work wondering when she'd be allowed back in the field. She preferred to follow a case from the field to the final report, that way there would be less chance of a problem creeping in.

 

At the Coroner's Office, Natalie was working at her desk when Vachon entered. She was curious as to what he was doing there. When she got up to get a file she needed, he noticed the crutches and knee brace. The brace caught his curiosity.

She saw him staring at her knee and rested it on her chair so he could get a better look at the brace. She noticed something seemed to be bothering him, but knew he wouldn't talk about it until he was ready to so she didn't bother to ask.

"It lets my knee move almost normally while preventing me from reinjuring it. I'm working on strengthening my knee so I will not need any sort of a brace. It no longer hurts."

"I'm glad. That is an interesting contraption."

 

Over the next few days, a flu bug kept Natalie extra busy at work. Natalie found herself pulling a few extra shifts, including one double shift due to most of the other coroner's being out sick. Grace had caught the flu bug as well. Natalie figured her recent absenteeism was what had protected her from catching it, and hoped the bug didn't find her. She knew that was the last thing she needed at the moment.

Nick was not at all pleased that she was working those extra hours, especially the double shift, but knew she had no choice so he couldn't really be mad at her. He too had to pull a few extra shifts because the same flu bug had hit his precinct as well.

 

Natalie paid Grace a visit, hoping she could be of some help to her friend. After all Grace had done for her, she knew she had to repay her somehow.

Natalie had chicken noodle soup and a movie. Both were in plastic bags so she could hang onto them and the handgrips. She knocked on Grace's door and a few moments later Grace opened the door and motioned for Natalie to enter.

"Hi Natalie," Grace said, sounding nearly as bad as she looked. She looked like Nick on a bad day.

"I guess it's my turn to help you out. Not that I can do too much physically." Natalie handed her the soup and movie. "I thought you might like some chicken noodle soup and something to watch. How are you doing?"

"Okay, I guess. I feel like hell. Are you sure you want to be here?"

"Yes. Fair is fair. Is there anything I can get for you or do for you?" Natalie asked.

"Please stay awhile. Forgive me if I'm not a great host."

"Sure. As long as you don't lose your lunch on me I won't complain," Nat teased. Grace smiled.

They watched the movie together, talking during the pure action scenes. Natalie knew she hated to read when she felt that bad, and figured Grace probably did too.

 

Natalie still enjoyed Nick's massages whenever he stopped by and every morning when she stopped by his place for breakfast. She melted under his touch every single time. It was the best cure for stress and frustration she had found, outside of sex or chocolate.

 

A few days later Beverly worked on further strengthening Natalie's knee. She was impressed with the forensic pathologist's progress. Beverly thought that Natalie had too good a sense of humor and personality to be in such a gross profession.

"Natalie, you're doing excellent. I wish all my patients were as good as you are. I want to see if you can walk to the next bench using just one crutch."

Natalie had no trouble doing as instructed. She smiled knowing it was another major step forward.

"Very good. You can start using only one. Keep up this progress and you'll be finished sooner than we thought."

Natalie smiled. She couldn't wait.

"When can I go back into the field?"

"I don't want you going into ravine's, on hills or such without using both crutches. Otherwise I see no problem with it, as long as you're careful. I don't want you putting too much weight or stress on your knee by squatting."

Natalie was pleased that she would be able to her full job again.

 

Natalie was crossing her office using only one crutch when Grace entered. She was surprised and a little suspicious.

"Natalie, should you be doing that?"

"It's okay. If you don't believe me call Beverly."

"I believe you. I guess it won't be long now before you'll be rid of those."

"I hope so. They are an improvement, but I'm tired of it all. How are you feeling?"

"Better. I think I have almost all of the bug out of my system. Thanks for visiting and bringing the soup."

"Sorry I couldn't do more, food wise."

"No problem. It was the company that did more for me than the food."

"Thanks for the coffee this morning."

Grace knew how much Natalie liked arriving and finding a cup of hot, fresh coffee on her desk. Grace didn't mind doing this for Natalie, and would keep doing it until Nat could do it for herself once again.

The phone on Natalie's desk rang. She answered it as Grace left the room.

"Lambert," Natalie said as she reached for a pen and paper. She jotted down the information. As soon as she hung up she left.

 

Grace reentered the morgue a few minutes later and was a little surprised to see it empty. She had seen how much her friend wanted to go back out to the field and hoped she wasn't pushing herself too hard. Grace wasn't too worried because Nat had been more patient that she'd expected, and she knew Natalie wouldn't do anything unnecessarily risky at this point in her recovery.

 

Natalie was glad that she could get things back to almost normal. At least now she could get her own coffee and transport files. She had certainly built up the muscles in her arms and shoulders and found that part a nice bonus.

Out in the field she was quite careful not to overstress her knee. She would examine the area as best she could without squatting down. If she had any questions on anything she'd call over one of the forensic techs. They'd been quite helpful since her surgery. She always made a point of thanking them for their help, wanting to be sure they knew she appreciated their extra effort.

She would do her more thorough examination of the body once it had been bagged and placed on the gurney. Once she was done there, the victim was taken to the coroner's office where she would autopsy it.

 

The next afternoon she stopped by Nick's place. They had the night off and had an evening of videos planned. Nick heard the elevator stop and headed for the door. He took the bag from Natalie, noticing that she was only using one crutch.

"Nat?"

"It's okay. Beverly said I could do this. It makes life a whole lot easier." It was then she realized she'd been so busy she hadn't stopped by Vice for a couple of days.

Nick trusted her because she had followed orders better than he thought she would have. She had put up a mild fuss, which surprised him. He expected her to have given him more arguments than she had.

"Why don't I get the first movie set up while you fix yourself a snack. Do you have a movie preference?"

"No. You pick." Natalie draped her coat over a chair before heading for the microwave.

She popped herself a package of popcorn, melted the butter, and found the bowl.

She sat down on the couch and he gave her a shoulder massage which felt absolutely heavenly. All the day's tension melted away under his very skilled touch.

He enjoyed being able to help her so much, with so little effort on his part. He had to admit he enjoyed being that close to her, feeling her warm skin through her thin blouse, smelling her scent and the complimentary scent of her shampoo.

 

As the movie finished they began to feel the stirring of passion. He kissed her, deepening the kiss when she responded. Before long she felt herself being pushed back on the couch, his hand behind her back guiding her down.

She gently caressed his cheek while his hands roamed down the front of her blouse, dragging it up and over her head.

"Is this okay? Your knee," He said, between kisses.

"It's fine." She responded, knowing that the brace would protect her unless they tried any unusual acrobats.

She unbuttoned his shirt, pushing it off his shoulders. Her lips never leaving his. She loved how his nose brushed against hers between kisses.

His hands slowly worked their way down her front, his cool touch feeding the growing fire within. He could feel the heat of her hands as they caressed the cool pale skin of his back.

 

During the next couple of days she discovered that the crutch was quickly becoming annoying at crime scenes. She couldn't wait to lose it. Sometimes when she was in a rush she couldn't get the plastic cuff to go around her forearm, slowing her down, frustrating her as well.

She was glad she was down to one, rather than having to use both of them. She kept that thought in mind when ever she grew frustrated. She would also remind herself that she would be rid of them soon.

 

The next week at therapy, Natalie worked on strengthening her knee, noticing that the exercises did not hurt as much. She could feel that her knee was stronger.

An hour later Natalie was finished with one set of exercises.

"Natalie, I want to try something new."

"Okay."

"Follow me," Beverly said.

Natalie stood up, crutch in place and followed Beverly over to a low set of parallel bars. Natalie was quite curious and hoped her hunch was correct.

"I want you to try to walk from one end of the bars to the other without holding on. If your knee gives you any trouble or any pain use the bars." Beverly said as she fastened a weightlifter type belt around her client. This way she could grab hold of Nat if she started to fall, which she didn't expect to happen.

Natalie was quite pleased, knowing that if she succeeded she might be able to walk at least some of the time without her crutch. Beverly held Natalie's crutch for her as she took her first step. Natalie was a bit nervous but somewhat excited as well. The first step went well so Natalie continued down the length of the bars.

"Very good. Any problems?"

"No. No pain, or difficulty," Natalie said with a smile.

"Turn around and walk back this way."

Natalie did as instructed, being more sure of herself this time. She hoped her success would mean she could walk without the crutch.

"Natalie, I have more good news for you. The only time you need to use one of your crutches is when you're in the field or when you're going to be on your feet for several hours at a time. Keep up the good work and you'll be rid of them sooner than expected. By the way how did the field work go?"

"Good. Someone usually gives me a hand if I need one. These make life a lot simpler," Nat said.

 

Later at the morgue both Grace and Nick entered and saw Natalie walking around her office with only the brace for support. The crutch was leaned in a corner, out of the way. Grace had been tied up and had not seen Natalie's arrival. Natalie enjoyed the surprised looks on her friend's faces when they entered her office.

"You finally got rid of them, eh," Grace said with a smile.

"Yeah. As long as I stay away from hills and ravines, where I still need the extra support. I should be able to totally lose them in a few days, a week tops."

"Congratulations. How long will you need a brace?"

"Probably this one for another week or two. Then a lightweight one whenever I feel the need for extra support."

They could see how much Natalie was enjoying her new freedom.

 

At Nick's loft that morning Natalie enjoyed being able to carry her dishes to the table in one trip. It made life so much easier. No crutch to slow her down, or get in her way.

She wondered if he would stop fixing her breakfast and giving her the shoulder massages. She hoped not. She had sensed he enjoyed both events as much as she did.

"Nat, now that you don't really need my help... would you still like to continue having breakfast here? Do you still want the massages?"

She wanted to scream 'yes, never stop' but restrained herself "I'd really enjoy it if we could continue doing those together." She saw him smile, his eyes twinkling. She knew he mirrored her expression.

"I'm glad. I really enjoy spending that time with you."

"Me too."

 

Nat again had to testify in court. She was pleased when she did not have to wait long before she was called up to the stand. She spent a few hours being questioned about a murder case she had worked on.

She didn't mind the brace because she was quite used to it. She was glad she didn't have to deal with what to do with the crutch while on the stand.

 

Nick surprised Natalie with two tickets to a hot play as well as dinner in the finest restaurant in town. Nick had noticed how beautiful she was in her stunning black dress. Both truly enjoyed themselves that evening. Nick even tried a bite of several different dishes without being prompted.

He had sensed she needed something to take her mind off of everything for a while, a change of pace.

After the play they went back to his loft where things quickly heated up.

 

Later in the shift Natalie entered the precinct and approached Nick and his partner. They looked up, saw her approaching. Nick's partner was a little surprised to see the brace as her only support. Natalie handed Nick a few files.

"Aren't you glad you got it fixed?" Nick asked.

"Yeah. It feels nice not to have it hurting."

The three of them talked for a few minutes as she answered some of the same questions Grace had asked the other day.

Nick's phone rang. He picked up the receiver on the second ring.

"Detective Knight."

Natalie's beeper went off and she saw that the number was her office.

"Paul, can I borrow your phone?"

"Sure."

Natalie dialed her office and scribbled down an address.

 

Leland and his partner arrived moments before Natalie due to traffic. Natalie quickly caught up with the two detectives. She saw the body and squatted down to look at it, being careful not to overstress her recovering knee. She did a cursory examination of the body, jotting down her findings on her clipboard.

"It is a male approximately 30-35 years of age. Cause of death was multiple stab wounds," Natalie said, accepting Leland's hand for support as she stood. It was a small gesture but it helped quite a bit. "I'll know more when I get him back to the lab."

She was glad she no longer needed the crutch. It made fieldwork so much simpler.

 

That evening Natalie and Nick celebrated in their own special way. Candles lighting the loft, soft music playing in the background and a catered dinner to make the setting perfect.

After dinner he swept her up into his arms, kissed her passionately as he carried her up to the bedroom. He saw the smile in her eyes and knew that they were both ready to take that next step.

They quickly divested the other of all clothing, the brace being the only item remaining. Nick did not want to risk injuring her knee accidentally. He swept her up in his arms once again and gently deposited her in the middle of the bed. She shivered slightly as the cool black satin sheets came in contact with her warmer bare skin.

Hands explored the uncovered territory, much of it uncovered for the very first time.

Nick kissed his way down her cheek, down the front of her chest, being careful to avoid her neck. She too began her exploration, avoiding his neck as well.

The last few months had strengthened his control. There was no sign of the vampire.

They seemed to instinctively know exactly where and how to touch the other to bring about the utmost pleasure.

 

The next evening Natalie was working on a file when Grace entered. She detected something different about Natalie, a deep happiness she had never seen there before. A certain peace as well.

"Looks like someone had a good night," Grace teased.

Natalie just smiled.

the end

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