This story is set between second and third seasons.

Nightmare
by Judith Freudenthal
(c)1995

Natalie approached her door as she did everyday, when she suddenly felt a presence behind her. Before she could turn around two powerful arms had encased her. Fear rose up inside her as her arms were pinned to her sides and her mouth was covered. She could feel his hot breath on her ear as a man's voice was loud enough for her alone to hear.

"I want us to go into your apartment very quietly. I will not hesitate to break your neck if you give me any trouble," he whispered into her ear, the threat coming through clearly.

Natalie nodded, pushing down her fear. She had no intention of letting him know he frightened her, refusing to give him that satisfaction. Her medical training and common sense told her that with the hold he had on her, he could easily break her neck. She had no intention of allowing that to happen. She unlocked her door and entered, still in his overwhelming grip.

Once inside he quickly locked and chained her door one-handedly. She felt trapped, doomed, but refused to give in to those feelings or her steadily increasing fear. If she did she probably would not survive whatever was in store for her.

"If you scream, you die. Understand?"

He felt her nod and released her, stepping back to take a look at his prize.

She turned around and observed that he was about six inches taller than she was, dark-haired, and was dressed in a t-shirt and jeans. He smelled of cigarette smoke and had a haunted dead look in his eyes.

He circled her, taking a full measuring look at her, and smiled, pleased with himself for choosing so well. Her apparent lack of fear amused him.

"You are beautiful. Intelligent too, I'll bet. Let me guess, lawyer."

Natalie knew that her best chance for survival with minimal injures was to treat him as she treated vampires. She would show him no fear or weakness. She said nothing.

"Come on. Talk to me," the man said, with false politeness.

"I'm not a lawyer," Natalie said, noticing the dangerous look in his eyes. Her fear continued to grow, but she refused to let it show. Thoughts of all the things he could do to her ran through her mind, chilling her to the bone, and were quickly brushed aside as she focused on the threat before her.

"A pretty voice, too. Professor? Nope, not the type. Um. Why don't you tell me?"

"I'm a Medical Examiner," Natalie said, her mind working on a way out.

Natalie felt his hands grab hold of her arms. He pulled her close while tugging her suit jacket off. She felt it slide off her shoulders and down her arms. A new wave of fear crashed though her as she fully realized what was in store for her. Any hope of a robbery or her just being beaten up was dashed by his next move.

Revulsion washed over her as he crudely ran his hands down her body, checking out her curves. She was careful to keep her face neutral as she did not want to anger him.

She felt him grab a large handful of her curly brown hair and use it to hold her head in position. He pressed his lips roughly against hers in a desperately hungry but passionless kiss.

She attempted to pull away, but could not. She felt his free hand roving across her breasts.

She felt as if she were going to throw up as he ripped her shirt open and ran his hand across her breast, caressing the lace bra and the exposed flesh.

Her mind was torn between the desire to fight, even if she got hurt badly, and her reason which told her not to struggle so she would not get hurt.

She slugged him in the stomach as hard as she could, thus solving the mental dilemma. She was a fighter and could do nothing else when faced with trouble. He was startled enough to release her. She wasted no time in rushing towards the door. She had the lock opened and was reaching for the chain when she felt his arm close around her, spinning her around and slamming her into the door. The lock was relocked.

"So you want to play rough, huh. I like it that way."

"No," she said, refusing to cower before him.

"Then behave yourself," he said as he slapped her hard across the face.

Tears welled up in her eyes as she felt the sting from his hand, but she pushed them back. She would not allow him to see her pain. To show any emotions would only egg him on. She tried to shut down all her emotions, to detach herself from the situation.

"Stop it," she protested firmly, knowing it would be ignored.

She felt his hand caress the side of her face before she felt herself pushed to the floor. Before she could move she felt a heavy weight upon her abdomen and thighs. The way he straddled her pinned her legs to the floor.

She saw him lowering his head for another kiss and struggled againstit. She felt the sting of his hand as he slapped her again and roughly grabbed a handful of her hair. He held her head still until he planted his lips firmly on hers for another deep, hungry, desperate, passionless kiss.

She wanted to get him off guard so she gently bit his lip and saw him relax a little. He had liked it. She bit his lip really hard at the same time she drew her nails across his cheek leaving a serious set of scratches behind.

"You bitch!" He yelled as he punched her in the ribs, fully employing the power in his solidly muscled arms. He followed that up with another slap across her face which snapped her head sideways to impact solidly against the floor.

Natalie felt the first wave of nausea and intense pain as his fist slammed into her ribs. A single tear ran down her cheek. Her cheek stung from the most recent impact and was red. She felt blood dripping from her nose onto her upper lip.

She felt him rip open her bra, exposing her breasts. She fought back the revulsion as he roughly fondled her breasts with his hands. She felt sick as he explored her breasts with his mouth. A shudder went through her body as his tongue examined the surface of each breast. She had to fight back the next wave of nausea and revulsion as he licked his way down her body from the valley between her breasts down onto her abdomen and toward her pubic region.

He unzipped his pants before pulling down her underwear.

She felt him painfully enter her and struggled not to throw up on him, knowing it would only lead to a severe beating and most likely a fatalone. She tried to disconnect her mind from her body, but could not. She could no longer hold back the flood of tears. They freely flowed down her cheeks. Where was Nick when she needed him, flashed through her mind.

After what seemed like an eternity Natalie felt the rapist pull himself from inside her and was terrified of what would happen next.

The rapist looked at her face and saw the tears. "Stop it!"

Natalie tried but the tears would not cease. She saw the anger in his eyes and felt a stronger pain in her ribs as his boot made contact very close to where he had punched her. She refused to cry out even though her side felt as if it was on fire. She could not ever remember hurting this much.

"Get up!" He demanded.

Natalie tried to but her body would not respond. She felt the pain as he grabbed her hard by both the hair and the arm and roughly jerked her to her feet. She felt as if she were about to pass out as a wave of dizziness swept over her along with an intense wave of nausea. He threw her across the room where she landed just right to hit her head on the corner of the coffee table. The pain of that impact was the last thing she saw as the world went black.

He was about to kick her again when the door opened with a crash. Before the stunned attacker could turn towards the door he found himself lifted off the floor and tossed across the room like a rag doll. He landed in a stunned heap, but quickly scrambled to his feet.

Natalie lying unconscious on the floor caught Nick's attention and caused him to stagger as if someone had just driven a spike into his heart. He was stunned and felt the panic begin to rise within him. She looked so fragile, so helpless. His sensitive hearing picked up the sound of her steady heartbeat, reassuring him slightly. His fangs bared, his eyes an unnatural red, as he looked at the stunned attacker who scrambled from the apartment as if he was on fire.

Nick sensed it was dangerously near sunrise, but knew he had to help Natalie. He had been staying away to protect her from LaCroix.

Natalie was a bit disoriented and her vision was blurred as she came around. She whimpered when Nick tried to touch her. Terrified, she pulled back from his touch. Nick saw fear in Natalie's eyes like none he had ever seen in a mortal's eyes before. He also saw a profound sadness that broke his heart. Guilt overcame him.

"Natalie, it's Nick. He's gone. You're safe," he said in his most soothing and reassuring tone.

Nick's quick visual assessment of Natalie's condition was that she was a real mess. She had a gash above her left eye, the blood from it had run down the side of her face making it look far worse than it was, the black eye developing quite nicely, a nasty looking bruise running the length of her cheek, a bloody nose and some blood which had trickled down from the corner of her mouth. She had more injuries that Nick could not see. From all the evidence he knew exactly what had happened. His cold heart ached with the pain he wished he could have suffered in her place.

Nick smelled her blood and had to push back the beast. This was his Natalie, he could never hurt her.

Slowly Natalie's mind and vision cleared. She saw Nick looking down at her, concern and fear radiating from him.

"Nick... Nick, Thank God you're here..... I...I, don't want you to see me like this, to see what he's done to me," Natalie cried humiliated.

Nick shushed her, "Shhh, Nat, it's okay."

Nick tried to help Natalie sit up. This was a decision she immediately regretted. As soon as she tried to move her injured ribs felt as if they were being repeatedly stabbed while on fire, causing her to cry out in agony.

Nick saw the intense pain reflected in her large blue eyes and scooped her up into his arms as gently as he could. She cried out every time she was touched or moved, breaking Nick's heart. She knew he had to do this, but it hurt so badly.

Nick flew her to the hospital, with the sky just beginning tolighten. He landed in a secluded spot behind the emergency room. The sun was just coming over the horizon as Nick carried her into the emergency room.

"I need a doctor *NOW*," Nick said, before turning his attention back to Natalie.

"Miss, can you tell me your name?" The nurse asked upon seeing how battered the patient was. Taking in the ripped clothes and the injuries, not to mention the emotional status of the victim she quickly determined this was a rape victim.

"Natalie Lambert," Nat cried weakly. Talking, breathing, being held by Nick, it all hurt enormously. Please just make the pain go away, she thought.

Nick's expression was almost as miserable as Natalie's. Concern radiated from his entire being. Nick quickly hid his sadness, replacing it with a reassuring smile, knowing how much she loved his smile.

A doctor in his early thirties talked with the nurse and was informed about his new patient before approaching Nick. Nick immediately marked him a hotshot by his attire, posture, and the way he moved.

"I'm Dr. Benton. He said as he led them to an empty examination room where Nick gently laid Natalie down on the examination table. Natalie grimaced in intense pain as she felt herself being supported by the table rather than Nick's arms. She wished that they would either stop moving her or give her a painkiller, but as a doctor she knew that neither would happen soon.

"She was raped."

"Yes, I know. I need to make out a report for the police."

"I am a cop. You can make out the report as you examine her." Nick flashed Dr. Benton his badge.

"What is your name?" Asked Dr. Benton.

"Dr. Natalie Lambert."

"Let's see what the big bad man did to you," the young hotshot doctor said, rather callously.

Tears streamed down Natalie's cheeks, making her ribs hurt evenmore. Nick angrily grabbed Dr. Benton by the front of his white lab coat and shoved him out into the hallway where he slammed the doctor into the wall, pinning him there in fear by placing one of his hands on the wall on either side of the doctor. Nick barely restrained the growl forming in his throat.

"You need to show some respect. She has been violated by a complete stranger. She does not need the same treatment from you," Nick angrily said.

"How dare you talk to me like that," Dr. Benton arrogantly said.

Nick wanted to kill the doctor but restrained himself. Instead he caught the man's eyes and used a little persuasion. "You will treat her with respect. This means no crude jokes, comments or anything that makes her cry. She has just experienced the worst thing one human being can do to another. Her life has been shattered. She does not need you to make her feel worse. Do you understand?"

"Yes."

"You will apologize to her."

Nick broke the connection. Dr. Benton shook his head to clear it before reentering the room.

Nick called the Captain and explained the situation. Cohen assured him that a forensic team would be dispatched immediately and only the detectives in charge would have access to the files. Also she would send a female detective, familiar with rape cases, to the hospital.

"Dr. Lambert, I apologize for my behavior. Let me take look at you," the doctor said sincerely.

Dr. Benton performed a quick but thorough examination to ensure that Natalie had no life threatening injuries. Upon completion of the preliminary examination, the female detective entered.

"Natalie, this is Officer Melanie Harris. She has to ask you a few questions," Nick said.

Officer Harris was an attractive slender woman in her mid thirties.

"Hi," Natalie said.

"Hi," Harris responded in a pleasant tone.

"Detective Knight, I need you to wait outside while the examination is conducted."

More fear flickered in Natalie's eyes. She did not want to let Nick out of her sight, but the doctor part of her knew it had to be this way. She had worked with the police for long enough to know the drill.

"Nat, I'll be right outside. I'll be back as soon as I can," he said soothingly, reassuringly. He saw her nod and stepped outside the room.

As soon as the door closed behind him Nick allowed the smile to fade from his face. He looked every one of his 800 years.

Back inside the examination room Natalie carefully took off her clothes, trying to ignore the intense waves of nausea, dizziness and shooting pains that every movement brought. Officer Harris packaged the clothes in evidence bags, while the doctor took scrapings from under Natalie's fingernails and sealed them in another evidence bag.

Dr. Benton collected a few samples of semen and any other evidence the rapist had left behind.

Officer Harris grabbed her camera from the bag she carried and snapped off shot after shot of Natalie's injuries as documentation for the official report. The brightness of the flash forced Natalie to recoil from the light, an action that caused her ribs to hurt even more.

Once Harris was finished with the photos the doctor helped Natalie into a hospital gown and robe, trying to make it so that she had to move as little as possible. She did not care about much of anything except stopping the intense pain, and the nausea and dizziness it brought with it. Every movement or breath was an intense agony and she had enough to deal with without the additional aggravation.

"Can you describe your attacker?" Asked Officer Harris, compassion and strength flowing through her voice.

"He was about six inches taller than me, dark-haired, very strong, solid arms. Dark empty eyes. They reminded me of death. He smelled like cigarette smoke. He had on blue jeans and a white T-shirt," Natalie said as she grimaced.

"Did he have any tattoos, moles, scars, anything identifying?"

"I didn't notice any."

"When did Detective Knight arrive?"

"I don't know. I think I passed out for a minute or two. I remember a sharp pain like my head coming in contact with something and then the next thing I knew Nick was there and the rapist was gone. I didn't recognize Nick at first."

"Probably disorientation from the impact." The doctor added.

"Are you sure Nick was the first face you saw after you regained consciousness?"

"Yes. He saved my life. I'm sure the rapist would have killed me had Nick not shown up when he did."

"Are you sure you can identify the rapist?"

"Yes," Natalie said with barely concealed anger.

Meanwhile outside in the waiting area Nick was a bit distracted by his concern for Nat, his desire to be there for her, and his barely suppressed rage at the rapist, whom he devoutly wanted to kill. The officer questioning him noticed his emotional state and had trouble getting his attention long enough to ask him a few questions. She hoped her partner was having better luck with Dr. Lambert.

"Detective Knight, how did you know Dr. Lambert was in trouble?"

"I didn't. I was just stopping by to see if she wanted to watch some movies. I heard the struggle and entered. She was a real mess. He was about to kick her in the ribs again. He would've killed her."

"How do we know you did not rape her?"

Nick was stunned. His best friend had just been brutalized and now he was suspect. The cop part of him told him it was just standard procedure to question everyone and consider them a suspect until they were either cleared or arrested.

"Ask her. The rapist had dark hair, was six inches taller than her and smelled of tobacco. He wore blue jeans and a white t-shirt. She's my friend. I would never hurt her," Nick said growing frustrated by the questions.

"Maybe. Could you have wanted more than she was willing to give?" The officer asked, having heard the rumors that Nick and Natalie were more than just friends.

"I did not rape her," Nick said with a little vampiric persuasion. He did not have the time nor the patience to convince the officer otherwise. He could not believe he would be suspected of doing something so horrific. Most of those he worked with had seen the friendship between him and Natalie.

Nick was allowed back into the examination room after the evidence was collected. It hurt to see Natalie like that, but he knew that he had to be strong for her. He saw the wave of relief wash over Natalie as he entered the room.

Dr. Benton examined the various bruises on Natalie's face, causing her to grimace every time he touched one, which in turn made her ribs protest. He turned his attention to the rather nasty looking gash above her left eye, cleaning it up as he examined it.

"It looks like you will need a couple of stitches to close this. Other than your ribs where else do you hurt?" Dr. Benton asked as he closed the gash with five steri strips.

"The back of my head," Natalie's hand went to the offending spot on the back of her head because pointing hurt less than talking did.

Dr. Benton examined the back of Natalie's head and did not see any other evidence of bleeding. He turned his attention to her ribs. Earlier he had noticed the purple and brown bruising covering nearly all the ribs on her left side. He gently prodded them with his fingers. Natalie nearly jumped off the table when he touched the sore ones. A strong wave of nausea stormed over her as well as the feeling of being stabbed wherever she was touched along the bruised ribs. The pain radiated throughout her face as she cried out. "Sorry. I want to order some x-rays and keep you overnight for observation. You may have a few fractured ribs. How did you get the gash and these bruises on your ribs?"

"I hit the corner of the coffee table with my head. I was punched and kicked in the ribs."

The doctor had Natalie follow his finger with just her eyes. He checked her eyes with his trusty flashlight.

"You might have a slight concussion. As soon as I check on the x-rays, I'll give you something for the pain."

Natalie was wheeled down to x-ray. The absolute terror in her eyes when they tried to separate her from Nick convinced the orderly to let Nick accompany them. Nick stayed at her side until they reached the x-ray room. There he had to wait outside.

The technician saw Natalie's intense physical pain and took care to properly position her as gently as possible for each x-ray, not wanting to cause her more pain than he had to. The technician stepped into the shielded area while x-rays of Nat's skull and ribs were taken. When that procedure was finished she was wheeled out of the room where Nick was waiting for her. Nick saw the relief in her eyes and stayed by her side all way back to the treatment room.

Dr. Benton gave her cold packs to put on the bruises to help keep the swelling down.

Shortly the x-rays came back showing no skull fracture. They did show 3 fractured ribs. Both Nick and Natalie let out a small of relief that her injuries were not more severe. She knew her healing would be harder having to deal with broken bones on top of a broken heart and spirit. Natalie was less than thrilled to see the needle coming at her, but knew it contained a heavy duty painkiller, which would also make her drowsy.

"Nick, I don't want to stay here," Natalie said, quite fearfully.

"Nat, you need to," Nick said, reassuringly.

"No. I won't stay here alone."

"You won't be alone. How about this. You stay till nighttime."

Natalie reluctantly agreed knowing Nick could be just as stubborn as she could be. Also knowing that Nick was stuck there until the sun went down. She tried to convince herself that it would be okay as long as he was with her. That she'd be safe, but she found that last part impossible to believe. She wondered if she'd ever feel safe again.

The doctor approached her with a large needle and several test tube like containers with stoppers.

"What are those for?" Natalie asked, feeling the painkiller helping. She hated being stuck with needles.

"I need to draw some blood. We have to run some tests."

"What kind of tests?" She asked.

"We have to check for any diseases he may have transmitted to you."

"Including HIV?" Nat asked fearfully.

"Yes."

Nick carefully helped Natalie into the wheelchair for the transfer to the private room he had requested. Movement still hurt but not nearly as intensely as it had earlier. The sun had risen giving Nick problems in a place or two between the ER and Natalie's room.

The blinds were open in Natalie's room, bathing most of the room in sunlight. Nick stayed in the hallway. He had no choice.

"Could you please shut the blinds tight?" Natalie asked as the nurse helped her into bed. The nurse tried to get Nat out of the robe but she refused and the nurse did not press it. Having that tiny bit of control helped Natalie feel less like a helpless patient. She did not want her backside exposed. She had had too much of her exposed already.

"It's such a beautiful day," the nurse said cheerfully.

"I want to try to get some sleep."

"Okay," the nurse said, as she closed the blinds tightly.

"Thanks."

Nick entered as soon as he saw the blinds close.

"Sir, I'm afraid you'll have to leave. She needs her rest."

The nurse saw Natalie tense up and a look of complete and utter terror cross her bruised features. She nodded that he could stay and watched as Natalie visibly relaxed.

Natalie cringed as Nick came towards her. Nick tried to keep the hurt out of his eyes. He knew it was not him she was afraid of. His heart went out to her. He felt helpless, not knowing what to do to comfort her.

"I'm sorry I'm so skittish, Nick," Natalie said.

"You have nothing to apologize for. You did nothing wrong. You're bound to be jumpy for a while," he said, as he pulled the chair up next to the bed.

Natalie held out her hand and he took it. He sat in the chair and held her hand. He could see the painkiller making her drowsy and her fighting that effect.

"Why don't you try to get some sleep. I'm not going anywhere," he said soothingly, reassuringly.

"Will you be okay?" She asked concerned.

"I'll be fine. Don't worry about me," Nick said, as he gently stroked the unbruised side of her face.

A tear ran down Nat's cheek as the memory of her rapist doing that crashed through her mind. "Don't."

Nick immediately stopped and pulled back.

"He did that."

"Shhh. Try to get some sleep," Nick said, soothingly.

Natalie closed her eyes. She was exhausted and quickly fell asleep. Her sleep was anything but restful.

"No!" Natalie cried as she bolted upright covered in sweat and breathing hard, her entire body trembling. Her ribs sent a reminder wave of nausea and dizziness along with the somewhat dulled stabbing pain.

Nick eased her back against her pillow, concern showing in his eyes.

"Hold me, please," Natalie said, her pain evident in her eyes and in her voice.

"Sure," Nick said, as he gently sat on the edge of the bed.

Natalie subconsciously pulled back as Nick approached. He hesitated, not wanting to further hurt her. The pain in her eyes made him continue. He gently but firmly wrapped his arms around her being careful not to aggravate her bruises. He could see that she was torn between letting him comfort her and not wanting any man to touch her or be near her.

She could not contain her emotions any longer and let loose a flood of tears, soaking his shirt. He just held her. After a while the tears slowed then stopped. Shortly, she fell asleep. He too fell asleep.

Night fell, waking Nick, who was careful not to move because she had just fallen back to sleep after yet another nightmare. Seeing Natalie in so much pain broke Nick's heart and filled him with guilt for not being there to protect her.

Shortly Natalie woke from another nightmare. The painkiller had worn off and her ribs refused to allow her to move.

"Shhh. It's okay. You're safe," Nick said, calmly.

"I want to get out of here," Nat said wanting the comfort and security of Nick's loft where the surroundings would not be a constant reminder that she did not have control.

"How are you feeling tonight?" asked the doctor as he entered her room.

"Better. I want out of here."

"The paperwork's underway. Do you have someone you can stay with?" Dr. Benton asked.

"Yes," Nick said.

"Would you like another dose of painkiller?" The doctor said as he saw the pain in her eyes.

"Please."

"Don't get up till I return."

"Don't worry. I won't," Natalie said, her bruised ribs throbbing. She did not want Nick to leave but knew he had to. He looked a little paler than usual. He was probably just hungry and tired she thought.

Nick flew to her apartment and picked out several casual outfits which he packed into a suitcase. He picked out one more which he did not pack.

He stopped by his place for some nourishment. He sat on the couch and all that had happened sunk in. Blood tears ran down his cheeks. He wanted to find and kill the rapist, but with great effort pushed that desire aside. That would be too nice a death for the rapist. He wiped his eyes and changed his shirt before he drove back to the hospital. He knew he had to be strong for her, that she would need him more than she ever had before.

Nick gave Natalie a pair of sweat pants and a oversized shirt that buttoned up the front to put on. He waited in the hallway while she dressed. Dressing was no piece of cake as she had to fight off a wave of dizziness as she stood, not to mention the dulled protests from her ribs every time she moved. She was grateful when she had finished dressing and sat back down on the bed. She had never been so thankful for industrial strength painkillers before in her life.

A nurse entered Natalie's room with a wheelchair and a prescription form.

"The doctor told me to give you this," the nurse said, as she handed Natalie the prescription.

"Thanks." Nick helped Natalie into the chair, pushed her out of the hospital, and helped her into the car. Nick could tell she had been given another dose of painkiller.

"Are you hungry?"

"Yes. I'd like some Chinese."

A short time later they arrived at his place with several cartons of Chinese food. Nick carried the food, filled prescription, and Nat's suitcase while keeping an eye on her.

Nick grabbed his spare pillows from the downstairs closet and piled them on the couch behind her back, trying to make her more comfortable. He brought her dinner over and placed it on the coffee table in front of Natalie who had stretched out on the couch

Nick's door buzzed.

"I'll get rid of whoever it is."

"Nick, let me up," Schanke said. "I have some news for you."

Nick looked at Nat who gave a tiny shrug. She was too tired and sore to care.

A few moments later the elevator door opened and Schanke walked into the loft, his jaw dropping when he got a good look at Natalie. Her shiner as well as the bruise across her cheek had turned yellow and purple with a little green. She had a gauze pad taped above her left eye.

"How are you doing?" Schanke asked, concerned. He saw the pain and great sadness in her eyes.

"I'll survive," Natalie said, trying to sound cheerful and failing miserably.

"What's your news?" Nick asked, trying to uphold his promise.

"They were able to lift a few good prints off Natalie's apartmentdoor. They should be pretty easy to match. Did you get her statement yet?"

"No. I was about to do it. What did the Captain tell you?"

"No details, just that Natalie had been attacked in her apartment and you were taking some time off. Nat, they did a real job on you," Schanke said, as he approached Natalie.

Natalie flinched and cursed herself for doing so, knowing she had revealed more than she wanted to. Her sore ribs kicked in causing her to grimace.

"Injured ribs can be a real pain, can't they," Schanke said, as he kept his distance. He knew what had happened and felt sorry for Natalie. She was such a good friend it tore him apart that some scum hurt her like that.

"Yes. Especially when 3 are fractured," Natalie tried to reach for her plate, big mistake. Her ribs sent a nauseating wave of pain shooting through her.

Nick rushed over and handed her the plate. Natalie shied away when Nick was real close to her. Again she cursed her body for its actions, and for what it said about her attack. She was sure that Schanke knew. His eyes told her so.

"Nick, do you want me to come back later for the statement?" Schanke asked, unsure what to do.

"It won't be necessary. You've figured it out, haven't you Schank," Nat said, torn between not wanting people to know and not giving a damn what others thought. She was not going to play the helpless victim.

"Yes. I'm so sorry. If there's anything you need, let me know. We will catch the scum. You have my word on that."

"Kill him," Natalie said, anger heavy in her voice.

Both men were stunned. They exchanged a quick look.

"Schanke, go ahead and ask me whatever you need to," Natalie said, knowing she'd have to answer the questions eventually. She'd rather get it over with so she would not have to remember it all again later on.

"How did he get into your apartment?" Schanke asked in his professional tone, but there were undercurrents of sympathy as well.

"He was apparently waiting just around the corner. He grabbed me and threatened to break my neck if I didn't let him in. Or if I screamed."

"Did you know him?"

"No. I've never seen him before."

Schanke hated asking her these questions because they brought back the painful memories of the attack. He had no desire to hurt her, but knew that he had to do his job if they were to have any chance to catch the creep.

"I tried to get away, but all it got me was a hard slap across theface. I did leave a nasty set of scratches across his cheek, which is partially how my ribs were injured," Natalie forced herself not to cry. She tried to give the report in a professional manner.

Nick gave his description of the attacker.

"Nick saved my life. I'm sure he would've killed me if Nick had not shown up then."

"Nick, how did you know she was in trouble?"

"I didn't. I was going to see if she wanted to watch some videos. We both were lucky." Nick knew if he had been much later she would've been killed or very severely injured and the rapist would be dead. Nick saw that Schanke was having a hard time with this and asked Natalie the hardest question, to describe the attack. He held her hand as she relived it and tried unsuccessfully not to break down. Nick felt worse hearing all the details. The stake the rapist had driven into his heart with Natalie's assault seemed to twist in his guts. Hearing it all in Natalie's words made even Schanke squirm a bit even although he tried not to. He could not help it, Natalie was a good friend and he wished he could do more to help her.

"Nat, is there anything to eat here? I know what his cupboards look like," Schanke said trying to lighten the mood a bit.

"No. Would you mind picking a few things up?" Nick asked.

"Anything in particular?"

"Chocolate," Natalie said, wiping the last of the tears from her face and blowing her nose.

"Sure. I'll bring it by later."

"Thanks," Nick said. "I need to talk to him a minute. I'll be right back."

Once outside, Schanke's face fell. His heart went out to Natalie. He did not know exactly what to say. It was so much harder when it was a friend. He could not believe that Natalie had been brutalized like that.

"I know how you feel," Nick said, his expression conveying his concern and a touch of anger. He knew he could not afford to let the rage show.

"How is she really doing?"

"Not too well. I'm worried about her."

"Me, too. Keep me posted, will you?" Schanke asked, unable to remember ever seeing Natalie looking so emotionally shaky. She had not been this upset at the death of her brother, which had surprised him.

Nick nodded. "Let me know what you find out."

Schanke nodded before heading for his car.

When Nick reentered the loft he saw Natalie asleep on the couch. For the first time in the last 24 hours she actually looked somewhat at peace. He was a little surprised and knew it would only last a few minutes at most.

Schanke returned later with two stuffed bags of groceries, saw her sleeping and handed the bags to Nick. Natalie awoke from another nightmare as Schanke was leaving. Nick rushed over to Natalie's side as Schanke let himself out.

"It's okay. You're safe." Nick reassured her.

Natalie's fist swung out and nailed Nick right in the face, surprising him.

"You have a mean left hook," Nick said, teasingly. The strength behind the punch did not go unnoticed.

"I'm sorry."

"It's okay. Sorry I startled you."

Nick sat down next to Natalie causing her to subconsciously pull away from him.

"Every time you touch me I see his hands on me. I want you to hold me but it brings back the memories. Please, bear with me." She hoped he would understand.

"It was not your fault. You did nothing wrong."

Two days later, the nightmares still plagued Natalie, showing no signs of easing either in intensity or frequency. Nick did not know how to comfort her. Being a victim of nightmares himself, he understood more than she knew. He was grateful that his nightmares were never anywhere near as frequent. He remembered a few that were as intense as those she was having and felt nothing but compassion for her, along with the love he could never admit to her.

She awoke screaming, soaked in sweat and shaking. Nick could hear her racing pulse and rapid breathing. Nick knew better than to get too close too soon. He did not want to scare her again. It took her a moment to reorient herself. Nick saw her lean towards him and wrapped his arms around her, careful not to aggravate her ribs, and held her tightly.

"I don't know how much more of this I can take," she said, the exhaustion coming through in her voice.

"Nat, I know someone who might be able to help you. She's been through the same thing."

"I won't talk to a shrink."

"You know her. You've even treated her."

It took Natalie a minute to comprehend.

"Janette?"

"Yes. I'll go talk to her, if you wish."

Natalie nodded. It would be nice to have someone who would understand.

"I'll be back shortly."

She did not want him to leave, but her need to talk to someone who could truly understand won out and she nodded again.

Nick could see the toll the nightmares were taking on her. She looked exhausted. Her eyes had a haunted look that somehow looked very wrong on her. He hoped that Janette could somehow help her.

Upon entering the Raven Nick noticed Janette at her usual spot at the bar and approached. He hoped she would agree to help him, to help Natalie.

Janette had sensed him enter and looked up. He was only a few feet away, yet she could see that he was paler than usual and that something was deeply troubling him. She motioned for the bartender to bring her a glass of Nick's nourishment.

"What's wrong, Nicola?" Janette asked as he stopped less than a foot in front of her.

"I need your help. Actually, Natalie needs your help. She needs someone to talk to." Nick saw the wine glass set on the bar before him, picked it up and sniffed it. Upon assuring that it was bovine he hungrily drank it down in one gulp.

"Why me?" Janette asked, curious, not knowing what she and Natalie shared, outside of their affection for Nick. She was also curious as to why he was so hungry.

"Because you two share a common experience."

Janette's eyebrow rose out of curiosity. "How so?"

"She was raped three days ago. I thought -"

"You thought I'd talk with her. Maybe help her feel better."

"Yes."

"You know I don't like to remember my mortal past," Janette said soft enough so only he would hear her. Her voice then returned to a normal volume. "But because I like her and hate to see anyone suffer like that I will help."

"Thanks," Nick said, as he gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. "One last thing. Don't offer her 'a way out'. It won't help.

"I know," Janette said, a tinge of bitterness and sadness in her voice. "Have you been eating properly?"

"No. I've been preoccupied recently," Nick's exhaustion began to show. He did not even see Janette motion for Nick's glass to be refilled. He again sniffed it and gulped it down upon confirming the contents to be bovine. "Thanks, Janette."

Back at the loft, Natalie looked into the mirror in Nick's bathroom. Schank, you weren't kidding,' she thought, not totally surprised by her appearance as she removed the bandage above her eye. "At least I look as bad as I feel," Natalie said out loud to herself as she replaced the bandage.

She made herself a cup of coffee while she was up. She moved wrong getting the mug and felt the shooting pain from her ribs, causing her to almost double over. Relief showed in her face and throughout her body as the pain receded, making her vow to be more careful how she moved. She checked her watch and saw that she still had a few hours before her next painkiller could be taken.

Natalie heard the elevator start and hoped it was Nick. The elevator stopped, the door opened, and Nick entered with Janette right behind him. Natalie saw them and suddenly was not sure this was such a good idea. She knew it was probably just nerves.

"Nicola, why don't you leave us alone for a while," Janette said, sensing Natalie's feelings as well as knowing that it would be easier on the doctor if it was the two of them.

"Sure," Nick said as he left.

"Natalie, I'm sorry. Men can be such brutal pigs when they want to be."

"How? When?" was all Natalie could get out. She could not imagine anyone doing that to Janette and surviving.

"It happened 200 years before I met Nicola. I was mortal, married and unable to bear a child so I was sold to a brothel," Janette said, the pain of the ancient memories returned as she spoke. She had worked hard those first few years to bury them so deep that she would never have to feel them again.

"It must've been awful," Natalie said compassionately, suddenly realizing how this must've affected Janette throughout the centuries.

"It was. I was given to any man to do with as he pleased if he met the boss's price. Some of the men were brutal, while a few were almost tolerable. I was out for a walk one night when some man started pawing me. I called out for help, but the bastard told the passerby that I was a whore. No one would help me because of what I was. I ran. LaCroix found me and offered me a way out. He said that I could choose who could touch me and who would die for daring to touch me. He did not bother to tell me the rest. I took his offer. It felt so good when I ..." Janette broke off, knowing Natalie's feelings about human blood.

"Please continue," Natalie said sympathetically.

"I drained my abuser of his life. He was about to hurt me again but never had the chance to. No one has touched me that way without my permission since and lived."

Natalie told Janette her story. She was glad to have someone who understood what she was going through, who understood when she could not keep up the strong front she always used when dealing with Janette. Natalie was a little surprised to find Janette's cool hand on her warmer one, offering silent comfort. By the expression on Janette's face Natalie knew that she understood everything she was feeling.

"I feel so powerless. I can't sleep without seeing it over and over again. I want Nick to hold me but I pull back every time he gets near me or touches me. All I see is my attacker."

"Nicola will never hurt you. He loves you."

"I know. I hate feeling like this."

"It will get easier. You have to put it behind you and get on with your life. Say to yourself, it happened but it will not control me. I will control it. It won't be easy."

"I know. Thanks."

"I hope I was able to help."

"You did."

Janette studied Natalie's face for a moment and decided that she was telling the truth. Also she could see the tiny changes in Natalie because she had helped. It made her feel good, and very few things had that effect on her these days.

The elevator opened, Nick walked into the loft, and approached the ladies.

"How did it go?"

"Very well. I have to run," Janette said, as she entered the elevator. "Nick can I talk to you alone?"

"Thanks for coming by, Janette," Natalie said, glad she had not let her second thoughts get in the way.

"Sure." Nick followed Janette onto the elevator and shut the door. They talked in hushed tones.

"What can I do to help her? She pulls back every time I approach. I know it is because of the attack, but it still hurts. Sometimes I wonder if she really wants me to hold her or if she would prefer a female friend to comfort her."

"She does want you to hold her. She loves you. Her trust in her judgment and her trust in people has been shattered along with her self-confidence. She needs to know that you don't think less of her because of the attack."

"Thanks, Janette."

Nick opened the door and reentered the loft.

"Did your talk help?" he asked.

"Yes. I learned some interesting things. So, you're the baby of the family," Natalie said, in a sad teasing tone. "And that LaCroix does not give those he brings across all they need to know beforehand."

"Yes. He only told us what we wanted to hear. He used our vulnerability against us." Nick looked at his watch and saw that it was time for her next painkiller. "What do you want to take your pill with?"

"Water."

"How are your ribs?"

"A bit better. It still hurts when I move."

"Can I get you anything else?"

"No."

After dinner and her latest painkiller Natalie fell asleep on the couch having once again refused Nick's offer of his bed. She could not sleep there, she was not quite sure why. Before long she cried out as she awoke shaking, breathing hard and covered in sweat. Damn him! flashed angrily through Natalie's mind as she awoke from another reliving of the rape.

Nick was by her side in a flash. He started to take her in his arms, but when she tensed up, he pulled back. He could hear her racing pulse calling to him. He ignored it, knowing he could not hurt her.

"Don't. I want you to hold me. I hate feeling so helpless, so powerless," Natalie said frustrated by the way the bastard had shattered her life. This was the second time someone had abused her. It had taken her years to overcome some of the lingering effects from her grandmother's abuse and now this had happened.

Nick wrapped his arms around her and held her tight, feeling her relax in his embrace. As soon as he felt the slightest resistance he immediately released her, leaving the decision of whether to remain snuggled up to his chest completely up to her.

"I hate the fact that he made me afraid to go home, unable to sleep, afraid to be alone, unable to let my best friend come near me or touch me without my flinching. He had no right to do that to me," she said, anger and frustration filling her voice. "He made me feel more dirty and vulnerable than I have ever felt before." Natalie did not look at Nick during her last sentence. She could not face him.

Nick took his fingers and gently placed them under her chin as he tilted her face up to his. The emotional turmoil he saw in her eyes made his heart break all over again. It was the sadness and the pain that hurt him the most.

"You have nothing to be ashamed of. You did nothing wrong."

"Nick, what if the HIV test comes back positive?" Natalie asked terrified, tears welling in her eyes.

"Then we'll deal with it."

"I don't want to die like that. Would you..."

"I don't know. I know I don't want to lose you."

"How can you stand to look at me knowing what he did to me?"

"I don't love you any less. It wasn't your fault," Nick said, reassuringly. It did bother him a bit, probably because of his 13th century upbringing, but he did love her enough to try and overcome it. "How can you stand to look at me knowing what I am?" Nick said, in response. Trying to get his point home that everyone has something about themselves that they despise.

"It doesn't matter," Natalie said, before she realized he tricked her. Then another realization hit. He had actually said he loved her and not his usual 'I care for you more than you'll ever know'. He had actually said the words she had been waiting so long to hear.

Nick saw a tiny flicker of happiness cross her very sad big blueeyes. He went over what he had said to her and figured out why the happiness was there.

The next evening Nick came down the stairs and saw Natalie's reflection in the window and wondered how long she'd been standing there staring out into space. He wished he could take away her pain. He wanted his Natalie back, the one who laughed with him, teased him, and was not afraid of anything. For a moment he wondered if her resistance was low enough to try hypnotizing her into forgetting the pain, but quickly realized that it was almost as bad as what the rapist had done to her. Besides if he did and then she remembered, it would shatter their relationship forever and possibly push her over the edge for good. He would not risk her life or her sanity on a quick fix. As much as he hated it he knew she had to grieve for what had been done to her and then figure out how to get on with her life.

"How are you?" He asked concerned.

Natalie shrugged her shoulders and feeling the ache in her ribs. They still hurt but thanks to the painkillers and time the pain was not nearly as intense as it had been at the hospital or during the 24 hours that had followed.

"Are you hungry?"

Again she shrugged her shoulders.

"Do you want to talk?" Nick asked, trying to get some response from her. Her withdrawal scared him. At least when she cried or talked to him he knew she was dealing with what had happened. He was afraid that she was pushing it away so she would not have to face the pain anymore, knowing that it would only come back to haunt her stronger, later.

"Not really," Natalie said, tired of dealing with everything.

"How about some fresh air?" "I don't want to go outside. Maybe in a few days," Natalie said depressed. She did not want anyone to see her until the bruises healed.

The intercom sounded. "Nick, Natalie, I have some good news for you."

Nick pushed the elevator release button and heard the motor start. A minute or two later Schanke entered the loft. He saw Natalie still staring out the window and grew more concerned.

"Hi Natalie. I brought some more food. I thought you could use it."

"Hi Schanke, thanks," Natalie said depressed, without turning from the window.

"How long has she been staring out the window?" Schanke whispered to Nick.

"She was like that when I woke," Nick whispered back.

"We've identified the man who...." Schanke said, trying not to further upset Natalie. "His name is Sam Collins."

Natalie seemed to brighten a little, but still she did not turn from the window.

"I've gotta run," Schanke said, a little nervously. He also missed Natalie's cheer. He wondered what this would do to Nick and Natalie's relationship, whatever it was. That was the one thing he could never figure out. He had never thought Nick could be so sensitive and caring and Nat could be so devastated. It seemed as if nothing ever bothered the two of them.

"I'll walk you to your car," Nick said.

Nick and Schanke entered the elevator and shut the door. Once it had started moving they talked in subdued voices.

"How's she doing? She seems worse," Schanke said, his extreme concern filling his voice and his expression.

"I don't know what to do," Nick said, his deep concern coming through in his voice. Worry was etched throughout his features. "I think she's worse. Maybe she has to get worse before she can get better."

"I'm worried about her," Schanke said. "She's strong and has you there with her. She knows her friends care."

"It does help. I hate to see her like this. I miss her smile."

"Me too. Take care of her. I'll stop by when I have some new information for you."

"Thanks," Nick said, as he took out some money and handed it to Schanke.

"What's this?"

"For the food."

"I can't."

"Take it. I insist. Use it for something for Myra or Jenny."

"Thanks, Nick," Schanke said as he took the money. "Do you think she would see a counselor?"

"She won't. She's already told me that."

"I saw the pictures and read the file. Man, oh man. No wonder she was in so much pain the first night. I still can not understand how someone can do that to someone else," Schanke said, grateful it was beyond his comprehension.

"Neither can I, Schank. Neither can I," Nick said, still disturbed by the atrocities some people did. Even after eight centuries it still got to him. "Nat would say that when we can, we're in major trouble."

"I can't argue with her there. Sometimes I wonder what's to prevent it from happening to Myra or Jenny."

"Nat lives in a nice building in a good neighborhood and that didn't prevent it."

Natalie was still staring out the window when Nick reentered theloft. She had not moved since he first saw her there. He wondered what she saw out there, if she was even looking out the window.

A few hours later Nick's doorbell buzzed. Nick activated the intercom, saw it was Grace and went down to meet her, hoping she could get through to Natalie.

"Hi Grace."

"Nick, tell me the gossip is wrong, that Nat wasn't raped," Grace asked concerned. She knew that it was not wrong by the worry she saw in Nick's eyes. Her heart sank. "How is she?" Grace was visiting her sister in Montreal when the rape occurred and had just arrived back a few hours ago.

"She's not doing too good. I think she's getting worse."

"Maybe I can help."

Nick opened the elevator door and escorted her upstairs. Grace realized that she had never seen Nick's loft before and was curious.

Natalie was still staring out the window when Grace entered. Grace's concern jumped a notch or two upon seeing how despondent her friend looked.

"Hi, Natalie."

"Hi, Grace."

"How are you doing?" Grace asked as she walked up behind Natalie, wrapping her arms around her. Natalie jumped. A few tears rolled down Nat's cheek.

Nick was pleased that she was finally responding to someone.

"Nat, I have to leave for a few minutes. I need to talk to Schanke. Grace will stay with you, if you like."

Natalie nodded, not having moved from her position.

Grace mouthed a silent "thank you" to Nick, who nodded.

Nick left, grateful for the chance to get a few minutes alone. He needed the time to let his emotions out so that he could be there for her. As soon as the elevator doors had shut and it had started moving, blood tears ran down his cheeks. He wiped away his tears and flew off. He found a secluded place to land and let out a few growls of anger, frustration and pain.

Back at the loft Grace released Natalie and walked around so she could see Nat's face. She was taken back by Natalie's injuries but concealed it well. From the haunted look in her friend's eyes, she knew her friend would need much emotional support. She had seen that look in her sister's eyes after she had been raped.

"Natalie, honey, I'm here if you want to talk about it."

"How...."

"My sister was raped."

"I don't want to think about it."

"Okay. I can just keep you company until Nick returns," Grace said, knowing she would talk about it when she was ready to.

A few minutes later Natalie said, "Grace, it was just awful." Tears ran down her cheeks.

Grace wrapped Natalie in a comforting embrace and just held her as Nat sobbed on her friend's shoulder. "I know, honey, I know." She gently rubbed Natalie's back, soothing her. "It won't hurt like this forever."

Natalie let herself relax and feel safe in her friend's arms. The back rub was so soothing. She wanted so much to feel safe and relaxed again, to not be so depressed, sad, angry, frustrated, or powerless.

The next evening Natalie woke from another nightmare extremelynauseous. She dashed into the bathroom barely making it in time as her stomach emptied its contents and continued with the dry heaves afterwards. With all the stress she had been under she was a little surprised that this had not happened sooner.

Nick heard her but gave her time to herself. Only after he heard the rustling of her clothes against the leather of the couch did he get out of bed. Being staked and left in the sun would hurt him less than the pain of seeing her suffer day after day. He stood in the shower and let the water wash away the blood tears that spilled from his eyes. After his shower Nick headed for the kitchen.

"You hungry?" Nick asked.

"No."

"How are you?"

"I don't know."

Nick hated how defeated Natalie sounded. She sounded almost as bad as he did in his worst moods. It was as if she had given up, as if her spirit had been broken. He could not imagine her without her feisty spirit.

Natalie looked out the window, terror flooding through her as she saw Collins outside.

"Nick!" She called out in fear.

Nick was by her side in an instant. He saw her point out the window and looked. No one was there.

"I saw him. He was there," Natalie said, questioning her eyes. I know I saw him there. Where did he go? Will he try to finish what he started? she thought terrified, not wanting to spend the rest of her life looking over her shoulder in fear. She would not do it. He would not chase her from her life here.

"I believe you. You're safe here. No one will get past me," Nick said reassuringly. He could tell what she was thinking by the fear in he saw in her eyes.

Three days had passed with no change in the intensity or frequency of her nightmares. She still awoke nauseous and bolted for the bathroom where she promptly relieved her stomach of its contents, and there were often a few dry heaves as well. A new fear gripped her, one that she had not thought about, at least not consciously.

"Are you okay? I'm worried about you," Nick said, his face and voice filled with his growing concern for her.

"I probably have the flu. Stress can impair the immune system making it easier for colds and flues to take hold," she said, knowing that if she could barely convince herself, then he was even less likely to believe it.

Nick had a feeling it was something more, and this scared him. He could see the first tendrils of a new fear creeping into her eyes.

Nick heard the phone's ring and picked up the receiver after the second ring.

"Natalie, it's your test results."

Natalie reluctantly took the phone, not wanting to talk to anyone, but she did want to know the results. A sudden wave of panic hit her - what if it was bad news?

"This is Dr. Lambert."

Natalie listened to the report, her depression lifting somewhat.

She hung up and turned to Nick. "Good news. All the tests came back negative. Including the HIV one." A very small grin escaped her lips.

"That's terrific," Nick said, both pleased with the report and especially with Natalie's grin. He could see the relief in her eyes and throughout her entire body.

Natalie suddenly sobered. "I have to be retested for HIV in sixmonths. It takes time for the body to build up antibodies against the infection. If the second is negative I should be in the clear. I will probably take a third one around the one year point to make sure I'm clear."

The intercom buzzed. Natalie answered it and let Cohen up. A moment later the elevator door opened admitting the Captain to the loft. Curiosity got the best of her as she glanced around Nick's loft, finding it rather interesting.

"Natalie, I wanted to see how you were doing," Cohen said compassionately as she gently placed her hand on Nat's arm as a show of support.

"I'll survive," Natalie said rather flatly.

"We're doing everything we can to catch him."

"Thank you for everything."

Two days later Natalie awoke from another nightmare, once again dashing to the bathroom to throw up.

Nick wondered if the two were related. He was worried because she had not eaten much in the last week. Every time she had eaten she wound up throwing it right back up. She could not even hold down jello or plain chicken broth. He had the feeling she was holding something back.

Natalie was terrified that it was more than the flu. The thought of being pregnant scared the hell out of her. How could she tell Nick, flashed through her mind. If I don't feel better in a few days I'll go to the doctor. She thought to herself.

"Natalie, I'm worried about you. You can't sleep. You're not eating, you keep throwing up."

"I'll be okay."

"I want you to think about seeing a doctor."

"I have thought about it. If I don't feel better in a few days, I will."

"Good."

Natalie walked over to Nick. "Hold me, please."

Nick wrapped his strong arms lovingly around her, still bothered by her jumpiness as he touched her. He tried to keep it from showing. She detected it, but knew that they both had to work their feelings out, for the most part, on their own.

Natalie felt safe in his strong arms. After a while she pulled back and Nick released her.

"How are you doing with all this?" She asked knowing that it could not be easy for him.

"I'm okay."

"Nick, I don't want you sparing my feelings. I can see the pain in your eyes. If you can't talk to me, please talk to Schanke or even Janette."

"I feel helpless because there's nothing I can do to help. It hurts to see you in such pain."

"You are helping. You're being here is allowing me to feel safe enough to grieve and to begin the healing process. I don't have to jump every time the floor squeaks or a pipe rattles. I can try to sleep without worrying about anyone sneaking in. When you said that you did not love me any less it meant so much to me, probably more than you'll ever know. The way you're sacrificing your sleep for me, being there every time he makes me wake up screaming, is helping me more than anything or anyone else would be ableto. It makes me love you even more than I already do." She said with a small smile.

He could not help but return her smile. "I'm glad I can help. How about a walk tonight?"

The bruises on Natalie's face had almost completely healed. The gash above her eye was nearly healed as well. Her ribs were still a little sore but felt much better, no more shooting pains when she moved. Only a dull ache now. She had not taken any painkillers since she had awakened that evening. She did not want to become addicted to them.

"I don't feel like it. Maybe tomorrow night."

"How about we watch a movie? I'll make you some popcorn."

"I don't know."

"It might make you feel better. It would get your mind off things for a while."

"I could use a break," she agreed, knowing he was trying to help. She was grateful for all his support since that dreadful night.

"What would you like to see?" Nick asked as he skimmed his rather large collection.

"Nothing scary. Nothing romantic."

Nick turned around his eyes yellow, growling, with giant buck teeth in his mouth.

Natalie jumped, then started laughing despite herself. She nearly doubled over laughing, ignoring the twinge of pain her ribs sent her as a reminder. Tears streamed down her face.

Nick smiled as he removed the buck teeth. His eyes had returned to their natural blue color. It worked. He saw a glimpse of his Natalie and realized he had missed her even more than he thought he had.

"Thank you," she said wiping the last of the tears from her face as she forced her laughing under control. She walked over to his impressive movie collection to hunt down a good choice. "Where did you get those?"

"I think someone gave them to me at a Halloween party. I had stuck them in my pocket and they've been following me around since then. I don't know why I kept them, but I'm glad I did."

"I didn't think I wanted to see a comedy, but that may just be what I need," Natalie said.

"Just what the doctor ordered?" Nick teased, causing Natalie to roll her eyes at him.

Her expression clouded over as she searched his collection. "I never realized how many movies have love scenes. And how many have violence in them."

Natalie eventually found the right comedy. It had been hidden behind some other tapes.

Nick grimaced when he saw the cassette box.

"What's wrong with this one?" She teased.

"Who ever heard of a tan vampire," Nick said, pleased to see more of his Natalie showing through.

Nick slipped the video into the player while Natalie fixed herself some popcorn. She was not in the mood to deal with a fire, which would likely happen if he tried to make it himself.

She did not cuddle up close as she had done before the attack, but instead she sat near him on the couch and munched on her popcorn He missed that closeness.

She had one eye on the movie and one eye on him, knowing how he reacted to bad vampire movies. His reactions were a major part of the reason they were so much fun to watch with him.

He grimaced every time one of those extremely cliched lines came on and she giggled. He also grimaced at the bad acting and Dracula sleeping in his coffin in that ridiculous looking tux.

He stole a look at her now and then pleased to see her enjoying the movie, even if it was one of the worst movies he'd ever seen. He had let her put it in knowing how much she needed something to take her mind off her own emotional turmoil. He had missed her laughter, her smiles, and her teasing him. He knew she enjoyed his reactions to those movies and was not going to restrain himself, tonight especially.

"Come on, Nick. It's not that bad," she teased after an extremely corny and cliched scene.

By the end of the movie he found himself unable to keep from giggling now and then, despite himself.

"I will admit that at least this one is funny," Nick said quite reluctantly.

Nick had insisted on her taking the bed, every morning since she started throwing up but she kept refusing. Last night he had given her no choice. He had stretched out on the couch and had pretended to be asleep, refusing to awaken or even be budged when she had pushed and poked him. She knew how soundly he usually slept and realized that she would have to take his bed, something she realized she would not really mind. The bathroom was a lot closer to the bedroom so she would not have as far to cover.

Natalie again awoke nauseous and found herself worshipping the porcelain god. This routine was doing nothing to help her ribs and made her stomach muscles hurt , as well as her throat. As soon as she finished with the annoying dry heaves she brushed her teeth to remove that disgusting taste from her mouth and blew her nose to remove any remaining traces from those passages.

After she had dressed and headed downstairs Nick approached her. She walked right past him, not noticing him and dropped onto the couch.

Nick immediately grew concerned that something was seriously wrong when he saw the terror in her eyes, not to mention stamped across her features. He also knew that the depressed and withdrawn Natalie was back, making him miss his Natalie all the more.

"Natalie, what's wrong?" He asked concerned.

Natalie did not know if he could handle it but she could not keep it to herself any longer, especially if she wanted to keep what was left of her sanity intact.

"I'm scared I might be pregnant," Natalie said, as the tears started to flow.

Nick was not sure how to react. He was shocked, a little hurt, and even a little jealous.

Natalie noticed and headed for the window. She was a little mad at him for his reaction then realized that he loved her and had feelings of hisown. That seeing her being pregnant with some other man's child would hurt. Nick walked up beside her, keeping some distance between them, not wanting to spook her.

"The way I've been sick lately is one of the warning signs," Natalie said. "I don't want his kid. Every time I saw the kid I would remember...."

"I thought the doctor gave you something to prevent it."

"He did. It's not 100 percent effective."

Natalie made the doctor's appointment after she had calmed down and collected herself.

Nick took Natalie back to the hospital the next evening so Dr. Benton could perform the test. The doctor took a blood sample and said he'd call her later when they had the results back. She was scared because it was the first time she had been outside since her release from the hospital.

At the loft Natalie was a nervous wreck the rest of the night. Nick tried to get her mind off it by offering a movie, food, or taking a walk. None of it helped. He finally wound up letting her pace back and forth as he read a book he had just bought. He could not watch her pace. Hearing it was driving him nuts. After about half an hour of it she sat down on the couch and turned on the TV, flipping channels in search of something to watch. She found one of her favorite old shows. Nick put down his book, curious to see what she was watching. Before long she was sound asleep. He gently removed the remote from her hand and carefully rearranged her position so she was stretched out on the couch and covered her with a comforter. She was not to stay asleep for long as the nightmares started again, as intense as ever.

The next evening Natalie awoke from a nightmare once again quite nauseous, and was relieved when she did not have to bolt for the bathroom to throw up. It made her ribs hurt more as well as making her abdominal muscles hurt. Not to mention making her throat hurt from having all that acidic material being forced from an opening it was never meant to come into contact with.

The phone rang. Natalie answered it as soon as the first ring had finished. It was only a junk mail call. Once again her nerves were on edge and would remain that way until she heard from Dr. Benton.

His call did not come until just before sunrise. Nick answered the phone and handed it to her. She was terrified.

"This is Dr. Lambert."

Nick saw Natalie's relief as she heard the test results.

"Thank you," Natalie said, before she hung up. "I'm not pregnant."

"That's great. Maybe now you can relax? You said you'd go out for a walk tonight."

"As long as you're there with me."

"I wouldn't be anywhere else."

Natalie grabbed her jacket, casting a glance into the mirror as they passed. Her quick look reassured her that the visible bruises had healed and the gash needed a day or two more before she could remove the steri-strips. Pleased that none of her injuries were too noticeable she entered the elevator with Nick right behind her.

Nick noticed her glance into the mirror, but did not say anything. If that was what it took to reassure her that she looked fine, then how could he say anything?

They walked down the main path in the park looking at all the bright colorful flowers lit by the streetlights stationed every few feet along the walk. They saw other couples out enjoying the beautiful night.

A few minutes into their walk Natalie felt her heartbeat quicken and her lungs suddenly having trouble getting the air in and out. She felt as if someone was watching her and searched for who it could be. Nick noticed her panic and looked for the reason. The only people around them were two dark-haired men, one wearing a white t-shirt and both sporting blue jeans. The closer they came the more her pulse raced. The two men passed by innocently not even glancing over her way.

"Nick, I want to go back to the loft now," Natalie said, trying to keep the panic out of her voice.

"No problem," Nick said.

Once back in Nick's loft he heard her heartbeat slowly return tonormal. She was relieved to be back in familiar, safe surroundings.

Shortly after their return the intercom buzzed. Natalie walked over to the panel to flip on the intercom.

"It's Grace. Can I come up?"

Grace heard the click of the door release and entered the building. She entered the elevator, pushing the button for Nick's floor. A minute or so later the elevator stopped and Grace entered the loft. No sooner than she entered did Nick leave.

"Hi, Natalie. You look much better. How are you doing?" Grace asked, relieved to see that the physical wounds had healed. She saw that the psychological ones were beginning to heal. She hugged Natalie and felt Natalie return the embrace, another definite improvement.

"Better. How are you doing? Is the work piling up without me?"

"I'm okay. We've got things somewhat under control. I miss you."

"Thanks. I miss you too. I'm not ready to return yet."

"Take your time."

They sat on the couch, Grace's big warm hands engulfed Nat's, a contrast to Nick's calming but cold touch.

A week later Nick and Natalie were out for their nightly walk. Natalie was a little nervous but unless you were a vampire you could not tell. Nick was right next to her bolstering her confidence. He had noticed that each night her confidence had grown and her fear had lessened. She still had a long way to go, but at least she would leave the loft for their walk. She even enjoyed it once they were in the park.

"You're doing good. How do you feel?"

"Better. I may return to work later this week."

Nick was surprised and pleased. He knew it was the best thing for her, to return to her life and start forging a new future. His only concern was that she might rush back before she was truly ready and only make things worse for herself. He trusted her judgment and knew that if he expressed his concerns it might very well accidentally undermine all the progress she had made. She was once again starting to retake control of her life and decisions related to it, which was her biggest improvement yet.

A dark-haired man smoking a cigarette passed by, causing her to once again panic. He looked a little like Sam Collins. Nick noticed the sudden jump in Natalie's heart rate about the time he saw the man. He also heard her gasp as she spotted him.

"I hate feeling like this. Every time I think I have it under control....."

"It will take time."

Natalie let out a small grin, "You know what? I didn't run this time."

"You're getting there," Nick said with a grin. Another step in the right direction, he thought.

Later back at the loft Natalie had fallen into a restless sleep on the couch. Nick watched her sleep, knowing what it was like having frequent bad dreams. Again he was grateful that his were not nearly as frequent as hers. He was also grateful for the relief she was finally getting, now that her nightmares were slightly less intense which allowed her to get a few hours sleep between episodes.

Natalie woke up startled from her nightmare, a little disoriented for a moment or two.

"Nick!" Natalie called out.

"I'm right here. You just had another bad dream," Nick said as he sat down next to her. Her subconscious did not shy away from him this time. Another big step in the right direction, he thought, pleased to see her slowly healing.

Natalie leaned against Nick's chest and allowed him to wrap his arms around her. She felt safe as long as his arms were around her protecting her. He looked down at her and saw her fast asleep. He closed his eyes and tried to fall asleep, which was no problem as he was exhausted as well.

Upon sunset Nick woke first and was hesitant to move, not wanting to accidentally wake her from her first good night's sleep since the attack. He sat there and let her sleep. He spent a few minutes staring at her face, so beautiful and finally peaceful once again. He found himself drifting into the past and did not fight it once he saw that they were memories of her.

A couple of hours later her felt her begin to stir and looked down at her, smiling.

"Good evening sleepyhead. How do you feel?" "Better. I don't think I had a single nightmare."

"You didn't."

"I hope I didn't bother you too much."

"You didn't. You hungry?"

"Yes. How long did I sleep?"

"Fourteen hours."

"How long have you been awake?" Natalie asked, feeling guilty for keeping him pinned to the couch.

"An hour or two. I didn't have the heart to wake you," Nick said, trying to ease her guilt. "How do you feel about going out for breakfast? We're out of food."

"What about you?"

"We'll stop by the Raven on the way."

Nick entered the Raven right behind Natalie. He could sense her apprehension. She was not afraid of Janette, just the males there, both mortal and vampiric.

Nick and Natalie approached the bar where Janette was seated sipping on her wine mixture.

"Natalie, Nicola. What brings you here?"

"I need some more supplies."

"Natalie, how are you?" Janette asked.

"Better. The nightmares are a bit less intense. I don't flinch every time he touches me. But instead I have a form of panic attacks."

"The nightmares and panic attacks will fade with time as well. Those are tough." Janette noticed the surprise on Natalie's face and continued. "Yes, our kind gets them also. Usually it is when we're caught too far from shelter around sunrise."

Nick and Natalie entered a family restaurant and were shown to their table. Nick sensed Natalie's unease and reassured her by placing his hand on top of hers.

"Are you going to try something?" Natalie asked curiously.

"I might," Nick said with a mischievous grin and was rewarded with a surprised grin from Natalie. He looked over the menu.

"How are you with hamburger?" Natalie asked.

"Not too good. I'm not too bad with fries."

"I remember. You need protein. If you don't get it from food you'll have to get it from one of my shakes."

"I'll find something," Nick said, shuddering at the thought of another protein shake. He was pleased to see her complaining about his diet. Natalie ordered pancakes and coffee while Nick ordered French fries.

"I'm sorry. I couldn't find anything else that looked good."

"It's okay. At least you ordered something."

The food arrived. Natalie hungrily devoured hers while she watched Nick heavily douse his fries with ketchup. He tried to eat without it seeming like a big deal, which was not easy. Natalie had to grin at his effort. Seeing her grin made the somewhat nauseating effort worthwhile.

After they finished Natalie wanted to go back to his loft. One outing was enough for her nerves.

Later that evening Schanke entered the loft with a grocery bag in hand and saw Natalie seated on the couch, looking a hell of a lot better than the last time he was here. The only remaining physical evidence of the attack was the small, thin, barely noticeable scar on her forehead. He saw Nick stop the videotape.

"Natalie, how are you doing? You look good," Schanke said.

"Thanks. I'm doing okay. It may take a while but I'll be fine."

"I know you will. I brought some more supplies by."

"Thanks. Any luck catching him?" Natalie asked.

"Not yet. We have an APB out on him. All the bus and train stations as well as the airports have his picture. We will get him."

Nick and Schanke walked towards the elevator. Natalie knew what was going on, what had gone on every time they left together.

"Don't bother. I'll save you the trouble of asking Nick," Natalie said. "My nightmares are less intense and I'm not so depressed. I may be coming back to work soon."

Schanke looked a little embarrassed and looked at Nick for confirmation.

"She's doing much better," Nick said. "Really."

"Sorry, Natalie."

"It's okay, Schanke," Natalie said, in a tone that showed she understood.

Schanke left. Natalie yawned.

"Would you hold me until I fall asleep?"

"Sure."

Both Nick and Natalie got comfortable on the couch. She cuddled up against his chest like yesterday while he rested his head on the back of the couch and stretched his legs out onto the coffee table. His strong arms held her, making her feel safe.

They slept the entire day without disturbance. Natalie did not have a single nightmare. Nick woke at sunset, a few minutes before she did.

"Good morning," Nick said as she woke.

"Good morning. I should've thought of this sooner."

"What would you like to do tonight?"

"I need to go to the grocery store. I need a few additional items that weren't in Schanke's delivery. Besides, it is time you learned how to shop. Remind me to properly thank him for all his help."

Nick did not argue with her because she was beginning to retake control of her life. Another positive step, he thought knowing that before long she would no longer need his arms around her in order to sleep peacefully through the day and he would miss that closeness.

Nick had a full glass of cow blood while Natalie showered. He was hungry because he had not eaten as regularly lately. He had a second, then a third glass, hoping that she would not check his blood today.

Nick followed Natalie around the grocery store amazed at all the different choices. He had been in such stores before, but usually as a result of a crime. He had never poked around to see what they sold.

Nick sensed Natalie's nervousness and calmed her by placing his hand over hers on the cart's handle.

Natalie picked up a few necessary things that were not in Schanke's care package and a treat for herself. She convinced Nick to pick something he would eat that was not French fries. She also looked for something which would make the protein shakes taste better. He deserved it after all his help recently.

She still panicked whenever a man with dark hair approached her, with the exception of Schanke.

When they arrived back at the loft Natalie started dinner. While it was cooking, she whipped up a new protein shake for Nick to try. She had added some powdered chocolate in an attempt to make it taste more palatable. Once it was blended she poured it into a wine glass and handed it to him. He hesitantly took the glass, sniffed it and took a sip, finding it no worse than usual. He took another sip, this one larger at her urging and found it to be a little tastier.

"Well?" She asked.

"It's a slight improvement."

"You have a choice. You can either finish that glass or eat what I'm cooking."

He checked out what she was cooking before answering. "I think I'll take the solid food."

"Good choice."

Natalie was glad that Nick had picked up one of her jacket and pants outfits during one of the few times he had left the loft, as she was not quite ready to face her apartment. They both dressed for work. Nick could hear Natalie's elevated heartbeat. He knew how nervous she was about going back to work.

"Are you sure you're ready?"

"I have to go back sometime. The longer I wait the harder it will be. Besides I need to. I need to get my mind onto something else," Natalie said, trying to sound more sure of herself than she felt. She had elephant-sized butterflies in her stomach.

Nick placed his hand on her shoulder for reassurance.

"Will you stay with me for a few minutes?"

"Sure."

The Caddie was parked in the lot outside the Coroner's Building. Natalie hesitated.

"I can't," Natalie said, panic overtaking her. She took a slow deep breath.

"We can go home."

"No. I have to go in there. I have to get on with my life," Natalie said, and took another slow deep breath. She unbuckled her seat belt and got out of the car.

Nick followed her into her office. He sensed her fear and heard her pounding heartbeat.

Natalie saw a pile of folders on her desk, the new arrivals, and was afraid to look through them in case there was a rape/murder victim. She knew she would not be able to handle that tonight.

"Nick, would you look through the pile and make sure that there are no..."

Nick cut her off, knowing where she was headed. He grabbed the pile and saw a note from Grace.

"Nat, I made sure that there were no similar cases. Grace." Nick read the note out loud.

"Remind me to thank her," Natalie said as she slipped into the changing room to don her blue surgical scrubs. Once back in the morgue she slipped into her white surgical smock and tied back her unruly mass of hair. She felt a slight ache in her injured ribs, but ignored it.

"Do you mind if I observe? I've never seen one."

"Sure," Natalie said, a little surprised.

Natalie hesitated a moment before starting the autopsy on a male victim about 35 years of age. Nick watched fascinated. As soon as Natalie started, her mind became focused on the body before her, all her other problems momentarily forgotten. Nick noticed her heartbeat slow back to normal as she relaxed slightly. He was tempted by the sight of all that blood but controlled himself, wanting to see the whole procedure.

Two hours later Natalie had finished the autopsy and looked over to see Nick still standing there. She found his expression a little hard to decipher.

"So, what did you think?"

"It was fascinating," Nick said, a little surprised.

"And all that blood didn't bother you?"

"Not too badly. I had never seen the inside of a human before."

Schanke entered and was quite surprised to see Natalie there.

"Natalie, welcome back. How are you?"

"Still a little shaky, but much better. I thought it was time to get on with my life."

"Nick, how can you watch that? I remember when the sight of blood made you sick."

"I guess I've gotten over that. It was actually quite fascinating."

"You up to doing a little police work, partner?"

"Natalie?" Nick asked in a tone that said, he'd stay if she needed him.

"I think I'll be okay. Keep your phone on, just in case."

Nick put his hand on her arm to reassure her. She put her hand on top of his.

Shortly after Nick left, Grace entered.

"Welcome back. How are you holding up?" Grace asked Natalie as she gave her friend the once over.

"Pretty good. Thanks for checking the files. I don't think I could've faced one of those tonight."

"No problem. I didn't think you needed to be faced with them so soon."

"I don't. I will have to face them sometime. How are you doing?"

"Good. Especially since you're back," Grace said with a smile as she left the room. She could see that Natalie was doing just fine. That she was where she needed to be. She had really missed Natalie.

Nick and Schanke were on patrol in the Caddie. Schanke saw less worry on his partner's face and was reassured.

"What did she mean by just in case?"

"She's suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Sometimes she panics if someone even slightly resembles Collins or for an unrelated reason. She doesn't want anyone to know."

"I won't mention it. She has a lot of courage. I would've been a basket case for a lot longer. Of course it does help to have the support of good friends. What about the attacks?"

"She's usually able to handle the attacks pretty well. Sometimes I don't even know when she's having one. Thanks for bringing the food by."

"I was glad I could help. How is she really doing?" Schanke asked, concerned.

"She's doing much better. Her physical wounds have healed. The psychological ones are slowly healing. I think coming back to work was the best thing for her."

Natalie sat at her computer typing in the information from the autopsy she had completed earlier. A shadow caught her attention causing her pulse to quicken as she turned to face the shadow. She was startled to see Sam Collins standing not more than 10 feet from her. Fighting back a wave of extreme terror as the adrenaline began pumping, she prepared herself for whatever happened next, determined to control the situation this time.

"Hello, again," Collins said.

"What do you want?" she asked, her voice carefully neutral. She was not about to let him sense her fear.

"I've never done it in a morgue before. This could be very interesting."

Natalie forced herself to think clearly, quickly, and rationally. She knew she had to look for any avenue of escape she could find. "How did you know I'd be here?" she asked, not wanting to admit to him that she knew he'd been stalking her.

"I didn't."

Natalie slowly moved towards the steel examination table where she had left a few tools on a tray. She wanted to get her hands on a scalpel before he did. She felt the adrenaline flowing through her system, preparing her.

"That's a good girl. Let's see if we can do this nice and quiet. You wouldn't want to get hurt again, would you?"

"No," she said struggling to keep her voice neutral, to keep the sudden rage out of it.

Natalie saw Collins head for the tools, forcing her to go the other direction or wind up within his reach, determined to keep as much distance between them as possible.

"Don't be like that," he said growing angrier as she resisted him. "I don't want to have to hurt you, or your boyfriend."

Why did you send Nick away, flashed through her mind.

Natalie made a quick dash for the tray when she saw Collins quickly closing the gap between them, grabbing a scalpel right before his hand clamped around her wrist, sending a new wave of terror and nausea crashing through her system. She forced it back, knowing she could not afford to be distracted. She felt his very strong grip on her wrist. In fact it was so strong it hurt, leaving her wondering how long before he snapped one of the bones. She concentrated on not releasing the scalpel.

"Drop it or I'll break your wrist," he ordered as he increased the pressure on her wrist. Natalie was tempted to say 'go ahead', but the thought of six weeks of paperwork duty changed her mind and she dropped the scalpel onto the tray. Also she would not be able to defend herself as well if she were to become injured.

He grabbed a scalpel before shoving the tray out of the way. He pulled Natalie close against himself. She let him have it as hard as she could manage with her knee right in the crotch, causing him to release her and double over in pain. While he was distracted she grabbed the scalpel from him, being careful not to cut her hand.

Natalie drew back her fist, using her shoulder for extra power she firmly connected with Sam's cheek, hurting her hand and startling herself. She felt a small twinge in her ribs and pushed the thought aside.

She saw a murderous, if not psychotic, rage on Collin's face which scared the hell out of her. She knew she had to subdue him somehow, until she could get help. If not, she *would* die here, tonight, and not without a *lot* of pain.

Natalie took a chance and dialed Nick's cell phone while keeping an eye on Collins. She put it on speaker so that she would not be tied to the receiver.

"Nick, get here!" Natalie said, trying to control her fear andpanic. "Collins is here."

Nick heard the background sounds and wanted to fly there but how could he ditch Schanke? Schanke thought that Nick might bolt from car right then. The look on Nick's face scared him. He had never seen fear like that in his partner.

Nick floored the Caddie and flipped on the flashing red police light.

"I'm on my way."

"What's wrong?" Schanke asked, greatly concerned.

"Nat's in serious trouble. Collins is there."

"No!" Schanke said, unable to believe Natalie was about to be devastated again.

New waves of terror and panic stormed through Natalie's body as she saw the murderous look in Collin's eyes. The rage on his face, not to mention a good deal of pain as well. Collins walked towards Natalie, his gait a little off, still feeling the pain from her knee.

"You bitch! You will regret this with your dying breath," Collins said, enraged by her actions.

When he was within range, Natalie picked up the phone and smacked him in the face with the body of it, using it like a club. The rapist staggered but still came at her, angrier than before. A bruise was forming on his cheek, blood ran down the side of his face from a gash on his forehead from the phone. Natalie felt the ache in her ribs grow, but still ignored it. She had bigger problems to deal with.

"You will *not* hurt *me* ever again, you *bastard*!" Natalie said, angrily as she kicked in his kneecap, wishing she had on her heels so she could have really done a job on him.

Nick and Schanke entered just in time to see her foot connect with his knee and were a bit surprised by her ferocity, until they remembered that this was the man who had beaten and raped her.

Collins' knee buckled. Natalie picked up the scalpel and moved towards his throat. She was nearly in a blind rage and did not notice her observers. She wanted was to make him feel the terror she had felt, to feel the pain from the physical beatings, to wonder if he would survive.

"Natalie!" Nick shouted in alarm. The desire for vengeance in her eyes filled him with fear, not for himself, but for her. He knew she could not live with herself if she killed him. His voice startled her. Surprised she turned to look at him and then to the scalpel in her hand poised to strike, and it scared her.

"You okay?" Nick asked rushing to her side. Natalie saw his open hand and handed the scalpel to him.

"I'm fine. He may need a doctor," Natalie said, all traces of vengeance gone, but the fear remained. She had nearly taken a human life. What scared her most of all was that she had *wanted* to do it.

"Schanke," Nick said with a quick sideways nod of his head.

Schanke got the message and handcuffed Collins without a struggle.

"Way to go. Remind me never to get you mad at me," Schanke said, teasingly as he helped the scum to his feet.

Natalie and Nick both grinned, hers having a mischievous aspect to it.

"I'm proud of you," Nick said.

"I wanted to kill him," Natalie said, scared at what she was willing to do.

"But you didn't," Nick said, in a reassuring tone.

"I wanted him to feel what I felt. The fact that I wanted to kill him scares me. That's not me, Nick."

"Nat, he hurt you very badly. You were just defending yourself from being hurt like that again. You would have done *anything* it took to survive."

"I know. I didn't let him hurt me," Natalie said, pleased with herself. She had controlled the situation.

"You gonna be okay?"

"Yeah," Natalie said with a grin.

Grace entered the room files in hand, surprised to see the crowd, especially Collins.

"Looks like I missed something." Grace said.

"Yeah, he tried it again. I won this time," Natalie said with a large smile on her face.

Grace could see the major improvement in Natalie. She quickly gave Nat the once over and was relieved to see no injuries outside of her bruised wrist. She saw the rapist being led out of the room in handcuffs, bleeding and limping.

"Remind me not to get you mad at me," Grace teased. She saw Natalie mischievously grin in response.

"Nat, is something wrong?" Nick asked seeing some pain behind the grin. He also noticed her subconsciously rubbing her hand and wrist.

"It's nothing."

"Natalie," Nick said using the long form, which he usually saved for when he was mad at her or when he was trying to figure out what he had done wrong.

"If you must know, my ribs are still a little tender when I move wrong."

Grace took the aspirin bottle from Nat's top drawer and shook two into her hand. She handed them to Natalie with a cup of water. Nat gratefully took them, washing them down with the water.

"Thanks, Grace."

"Grace, do you have any of those instant icepacks around?" Nick asked. "How many do you need?"

"Two, and something to hold them in place," Nick said.

Grace left and quickly returned with the icepacks, which were wrapped in thin towels. She handed them to Nick along with an ace bandage.

Natalie positioned the ice packs, one wrapped around her wrist, covering the bruise, and the other over her hand and knuckles. She directed Nick in how to wrap the elastic bandage so that the icepacks would stay in place and so her circulation would not be cut off.

"That's going to be a nasty bruise. Are you sure you're okay?" Nick asked concerned.

"I'm fine."

"Natalie, honey, we could x-ray it to make sure," Grace said playing mother hen.

"I don't think that's necessary." She saw their concerned looks and wanted to settle the matter conclusively. "But if it will ease your minds we can do it after the ice pack warms up."

Forty-five minutes later Natalie shoved the x-ray of her wrist and hand into the clip on the light box. Natalie, Grace, and Nick stared at it looking for any signs of a fracture.

"I told you that nothing was broken. There's not even a hairline fracture," Natalie said.

"I'm glad," Grace said.

"Me, too," Nick said.

In the busy emergency room Schanke waited with the rapist, who was chained to a hospital gurney, waiting his turn to be examined.

"Your big mistake was thinking you could get away with it twice. Did you think she would be such an easy target the second time?"

"I didn't expect to find her there. It was a pleasant surprise. I was not going to harm her."

"Yeah, right," Schanke said, knowing Collins had been stalkingNatalie. Nick had mentioned it to him.

"I should be pressing charges against her for assault. Look what she did to me."

Schanke wanted to kill the scum but knew that he could not. "You got off easy. If we had arrived any later you might not be alive now."

The doctor approached. It turned out to be the same one who had examined Natalie.

"What happened?" Dr. Benton asked.

"A simple misunderstanding. The bitch tried to kill me," Collins said.

"Officer, what is your version?"

"Detective Schanke. He tried to rape a woman and she fought back."

"Very well, I see. Was she injured?"

"No," Schanke said.

"Sir, where are you injured?"

"Can't you see, you moron?"

"Only the bruise and gash. Do you have any other injuries?"

"The bitch kicked in my knee."

The doctor examined the rapist's knee and ordered an x-ray to determine the extent of the damage.

"She did a nice job. There is some damage."

Later Schanke met up with Nick and Natalie at the precinct. Natalie rubbed her hand and wrist.

"How's the hand?" Nick asked, seeing the bruise around her wrist already beginning to turn purple and green.

"A little sore. It'll be fine."

"Natalie, you did a pretty solid job on him. You fractured his knee, the gash required ten stitches, and there was a hairline fracture of his cheekbone, not to mention one hell of a bruise there. He was still in pain from a shot to the groin. Your knee?"

Natalie nodded with a small grin. "I'm glad I gave him a few reminders. Maybe he'll think twice before he ever tries it again." She sighed. "It probably won't make a difference."

"It did make a difference. Look in the mirror," Nick said. "How do you feel?"

"I do feel better."

Cohen stuck her head out the door and motioned for the two detectives and the coroner to enter her office. They entered.

"Dr. Lambert, I'm impressed with your capture, but..."

"I know. Thanks. It's amazing what one can do when they have to."

"Natalie, how are you doing?" Cohen asked.

"Better. I'll be fine."

"Gentlemen, I'll have the finished report on my desk by the end of the night?"

"Yes, Captain," Both Nick and Schanke said, at the same time.

"Natalie, you might want to put some ice on your fist. It'll help," Cohen said.

"Thanks," Natalie said as she looked at her fist. It still hurt a little. She could tell it was going to hurt a lot more tomorrow. Just as she knew the bruise on her wrist was going to be quite tender for the next few days.

That morning Natalie had another intense nightmare, this one was different from the others. She woke up screaming. Nick was by her side in a flash.

"It's okay. You're safe."

"I saw the attack again but it was in the morgue this time."

"Natalie, he didn't hurt you again. He tried, but you didn't let him."

"I know. Hold me, please."

Nick wrapped his arms around her and held her tightly. She felt so safe there. He felt her arms around him quite tightly. He looked down and saw that she was once again asleep in his arms. Careful not to wake her, he maneuvered both bodies so that they were in a more comfortable position. They slept peacefully the rest of the day.

The next evening she accompanied Nick to the precinct so she could look over her statement.

"How's the hand?" Schanke asked.

"It's a little sore but not too bad. The ice helped."

Both men could see the positive changes in her. Her confidence was up, her depression was mostly gone. Even her eyes looked a little happier.

She read over her statement and found no mistakes so she signed it.

"Will I have to testify?" Natalie asked scared. She knew how rough it could get. She did not want to go through that, but she did want to see justice done.

"I don't know," Nick said. "If you do, we'll be there for you."

"I know. Thanks."

Natalie passed by a few officers on her way out and heard a female officer softly say to another female officer, "Why doesn't she just get over it?"

Natalie stopped, turned around and headed for them, anger flashing in her eyes.

"I pray that you are never raped, but it is not something you can fully understand otherwise. One can not just get over it. It shatters your life. A stranger violates you in the worst possible way, and if you're lucky, kills you," Natalie said using restraint to keep the anger out of her voice. She wanted to make Johnson understand. It hurt that another woman, and an officer, would make such a comment.

That morning Natalie stared out the window as the shades came down. Nick walked over to her. She turned and looked into his bright blue eyes before she leaned forward to kiss him. He did not resist the wonderful feeling of her warm lips against his cooler ones, though he was a little confused.

She felt his confusion and pulled back.

"I'm sorry," She said, a bit awkward.

"Don't be," Nick said as he gently kissed her.

"Make love to me," Natalie said as their lips parted.

"Are you sure?" Nick asked, unsure, seeing the slight hesitation in her eyes. He hoped she knew what she was doing.

"Yes. I need to know that I still can. I can't think of anyone I would rather do it with."

Nick was not sure he could make love to her without the beast coming out and endangering her. Natalie sensed this and knew that the next move had to be his.

Nick kissed her lips ever so gently at first. When she did not pull back but responded, he kissed her more passionately as his arms wrapped around her pulling her close ever so gently. Her arms went around his neck. She felt his fingers caress the side of her face and subconsciously pulled back, the memories of the rape trying to surface. She quickly slammed the door on them.

"Something wrong?" He asked concerned. Had he done something wrong? Had he inadvertently hurt her somehow? Suddenly he remembered trying to caress her face in the hospital and knew why she had pulled back.

"No," she said reassuringly. She mentally kicked herself for her reaction, knowing that if she continued to pull away from him he would once again retreat to that safe distance he kept between them.

She kissed him hungrily and found herself suddenly scooped up into his arms as he carried her upstairs to the bedroom, kissing her as they moved as one. She was a little scared and a little nervous, but was determined to relax and not push him away again.

He set her down gently on the bed and joined her. He ran his fingertips ever so gently down the side of her face as they kissed and was pleased when she did not pull away.

She ran her fingers through his silky blonde hair before lovingly caressing his face in her hands.

He kissed her cheek, her jaw, and then out of habit he kissed his way down the side of her neck, pausing momentarily where her neck and shoulder meet. He felt the beast rise up and used his willpower to force it back down. He would not disappoint her.

His gentle touch melted away most of her fear.

She unbuttoned his shirt and caressed his bare chest.

He pulled her silk top over her head exposing her lace bra. He gently showered her chest and abdominal area with his gentle kisses. His lips were cool against her warm skin.

She playfully nibbled on his ear.

He very tenderly ran his fingers down the side of her face, down onto her shoulders. They continued to trace a path down her front. She flinched a tiny bit as his fingers crossed her breast. She kissed him while mentally cursing herself for her reaction. He had expected her to be a little tense, even a little jumpy, yet he was careful to pay close attention to her reactions, and would stop if it became too uncomfortable for her.

She kissed her way down his chest as she helped him out of hisshirt. His skin was so cool beneath her warm lips.

He felt the beast straining against his willpower and pushed it further down inside him. He would not fail her. After all the bad things that had happened to her, he knew she deserved to feel good, even if it only lasted a short while.

He felt the beast continue to fight him for control. His eyes went yellow and he felt his fangs descend. He kept his eyes shut so she would not notice. He stayed clear of her neck and tried to keep her away from his.

He wanted this to work as much as she did. It hurt to see her, loving her as much as he did, knowing that it could never be. But could it?

She felt him gently lovingly teasing her before feeling his coolness filling her. Their kisses became more intense as the desire blossomed. A small moan came from each one as they fully experienced the moment they had only dreamed of.

He was not sure he could contain the beast any longer, separated from her before bolting from the bedroom.

She laid there, happiness radiating from the core of her being. The light was back in her eyes.

He reached into the fridge for a bottle of his usual, quickly realizing it would not satisfy him this time. He grabbed a bag of the frozen human blood he kept for emergencies and quickly thawed it before hungrily wolfing it down, while thawing a second bag. He drained the second bag with almost as much speed and prayed she would not check his own blood today. Once he had cleaned up the evidence of his snack he returned to her.

"I'm sorry," he said, feeling guilty.

"For what?"

"That I had to dash off."

"It's okay. We did what they said could not be done," She said with a grin.

He smiled, "You're right."

The happiness in her eyes told him that it was worth every second of the struggle. He felt a happiness himself, that he had not felt in centuries.

"I don't know if we can ever do that again, at least not until...."

"I know. It's okay," She said, knowing how hard he had struggled. "While you were downstairs I realized it wasn't the act itself that I needed, but the fact that you wanted me badly enough to go through with it. That I was still attractive to you."

Nick was not sure how to respond. "I do still find you as attractive as ever. I felt so helpless watching you suffer like that, knowing there wasn't anything I could do but just be there for you."

"Your being there meant more to me than you'll ever know. I don't think I would have recovered without you," she said. "It is true, that experience comes with age. I have never experienced anything that exhilarating or rewarding before."

Nick grinned. "You were not the only one who had a truly wonderful experience. I'm glad I could be of assistance," he said, his grin widening.

"I need some sleep. I'll take the couch. It will be safer for both of us that way," She said as she gave him one last passionate kiss before she rose, slipped into her thick pink terry robe and headed for the couch.

That evening they both knew she had to face her apartment. She had been dreading this moment, but knew she had to face it eventually. The longer she put it off the more difficult it would be.

"Nick, I need to get some more clothes. I have to go home sooner or later."

"I know."

Nick showered, dressed, and they both nourished themselves. She slipped into one of her casual outfits and packed her suitcase.

They parked outside her apartment building. Nick heard Natalie's heartbeat increase as they entered the building. Her heartbeat skyrocketed as they neared her apartment. She stopped two doors down, unable to continue, the fear overwhelming her. Nick checked around the corner and shook his head slightly to indicate it was empty. She relaxed slightly. Nick could see that every muscle in her body was tensed, waiting for an attack that would not come.

She unlocked her door and very nervously entered. Once inside her apartment the overwhelming fear rose up again as memories flooded her mind before she quickly shut them out. "I can't do this," she said, panicking.

"Yes, you can. There is no one else here," He said, reassuringly.

Her eyes fell on *that* spot and on her coffee table. She noticed that her blood had been cleaned off of it and was grateful. He watched her, sensing her reliving the attack.

"Nick," she said, fighting the panic.

"It's okay," he said, soothingly as he put his hand on hershoulder. "I'll be right out here."

Without warning silent tears flooded from her eyes as she stared at the place on her floor where her life had been torn apart. Nick knew something was wrong and walked around in front of her. As soon as he saw her tears he took her into his arms and held her. She gratefully accepted his support and wrapped her arms around him. A few minutes later she broke the embrace and wiped away any remaining tears.

"I'm sorry. I don't know what happened."

"It's okay. Remember he's behind bars and can no longer hurt you."

"I know. It all came flooding back as vividly as when it happened. By the way, thanks for cleaning up the coffee table."

"I didn't think you needed that reminder. You okay?"

"Yeah. I knew it would be hard. This is my home. He will not chase me out of it."

She carefully avoided the area where it happened as she headed for her bedroom.

He heard her heartbeat racing like a bullet train. He saw how extremely nervous she was and wished there was more he could do to reassure her.

Natalie entered her bedroom and proceeded to look behind the doors, in the closets, under the bed, and behind the curtains before she wassatisfied. She trusted Nick's hearing, but she had to see for herself. She entered her bathroom and looked in the shower, under the sink, and behind the door before she undressed.

A short time later she entered her living room all dressed and ready to go.

Once they were back in the Caddie and away from her apartment she relaxed. Nick heard her heartbeat return to just above normal.

Nick walked her to her office, unsure if he should offer to stay or not.

She sensed this. "Go, I have work to do," She said, a little playfully.

He was reassured by her words and by the fact that her heartbeat was only slightly more elevated than it had been in the car.

"Call me if you need anything."

"I will."

He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and left.

She sat down at her desk to catch up on her paperwork. Her eyes glazed over as her mind recalled Collin's very unsuccessful attempt to brutalize her again and a grin formed. She had beaten him.

Grace entered to hand Natalie a few new files. She was pleased to see the grin on Natalie's face. She knew that it had not been easy for her friend. It never was. She knew Nat would be fine with Nick's help because Nat was a fighter. She was one of the strongest people she knew. She also knew how much Nick and Natalie cared for each other and knew he was exactly what her friend needed.

Nick entered the precinct and headed for Schanke, who was seated at his desk.

"Nick, how is she?" Schanke asked as he scrutinized his partner.

"Much better. She's going to be fine," Nick said with a grin.

Schanke was pleased and relieved. He saw that Nick no longer showed the exhaustion or worry that he was so evident not too long ago. He had grown concerned for his partner, knowing that being there for Natalie like that could not have been easy on him.

Several hours later Nick and Schanke were in the Caddie, having just left the precinct. Schanke had been complaining that he missed dinner and was hungry and Nick wanted to get out into the night air. Nick heard the familiar ring of his phone.

"Knight."

"Nick," Nat said, fear in her voice.

Nick almost bolted from the car. "What's wrong?"

"I don't know."

Schanke noticed Nick's reaction, the strange look on his face and grew concerned.

"Is anyone there?" Nick asked, concerned. He did not hear anything unusual in the background.

"Not that I can see."

"Would you like me to come over?"

Natalie was unsure. She wanted his strong arms around her, but knew that he could not drop everything and rush over to comfort her every time she panicked.

Nick sensed her hesitation.

"No. Just talk to me," She said, trying to sound more confident than she felt.

Nick wanted to go to her, take her in his arms, and hold her until the fear went away. He noticed her uncertainty and floored the Caddie, getting a surprised yet concerned look from Schanke.

"Everything will be fine. Take a slow deep breath."

He heard her do that.

"Did that help?" He asked hearing her racing heartbeat through the connection.

"A little."

Nick was parked outside the Coroner's building and covered thereceiver. "Panic attack," he whispered to Schanke before handing him the keys.

Schanke smiled. He had been allowed to drive it only rarely, when they were out too close to sunrise. He was sure Nick was still a little mad about his severely damaging the car four years before. Before heading for the entrance, Nick gave him a warning look that could freeze molten lava.

"Nick, you there?" She asked, the panic still strongly there.

"I'm here."

Before she knew it, Nick walked into her office. She heard his voice clearer and closer than it had been and turned around. They hung up.

"You didn't have to."

He held out his arms and she walked into his embrace, wrapping her arms around him and rested her head against his shoulder. She relaxed in his strong comforting embrace. He felt her panic drain away and her heartbeat begin to slow. Her breathing normalized.

A short time later she pulled back and he released her.

"You needn't have come," she said, slightly embarrassed.

"I was nearby," he lied. "How are you now?"

"Better. Thanks."

"What happened?"

"I don't know. I was catching up on some paperwork when I panicked. I tried to control it but I couldn't."

He was reassured when he noticed her heartbeat had returned to just above normal.

"Do you want me to stay?"

"No. I'll be fine."

"You sure?"

"Go."

He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek before he left. He knew she was still a bit uncertain, but knew he could do nothing about it. She would have to work it out for herself.

Nick returned to the precinct and took a seat at his desk.

"How's Natalie?" Schanke asked concerned.

"She's fine. Thanks for not saying anything."

"She needed you. What else was there to do?" Schanke was determined to discover what Nick and Natalie's relationship was. He knew that this had changed it. Hopefully it had helped bring to the surface some of the feelings he knew lay buried.

Natalie was relieved that her evening had proceeded rather smoothly with no further anxiety attacks. By the end of her shift she managed to finish most of her paperwork, which meant a smaller pile awaiting her the next evening. Nick stopped by to give her a lift home but decided to speak to Grace before entering Natalie's office.

Grace saw Nick approach.

"Hi, Nick. What's up?" She asked with a smile.

"Hi, Grace. Not much. How's Nat doing?"

"She's doing okay. I checked in on her a few times."

"Thanks, Grace."

"No problem," Grace said, noticing how Natalie seemed to brighten every time Nick was around, even during her darkest depression. She hoped that as Natalie rebuilt her life she would continue to allow Nick to be a large part of it. Those two belong together, Grace found herself thinking. If they don't figure it out soon, I'm going to sit them down and talk some sense into them.

Nick entered Natalie's office, careful not to spook her. He saw her buried in her paperwork.

"Nat," he said.

She looked up at him, uncertainty and a little fear showed in her eyes as she asked, "If I were to stay at my place, would you stay with me?"

Nick sensed her emotions and responded, "Yes." He would do anything to help her.

They picked up some take-out for her and a bottle of his nourishment on the way to her apartment. Natalie was a little jumpy as she approached the door. Nick reassured her that there was no one nearby.

She entered her apartment, quickly locking and chaining the door behind them. She felt the rising fear eased by his comforting hand on her shoulder.

"There's no one else here," he said.

Her fear faded into a slight nervousness. She knew it would be awhile before she would be able to feel safe again in her own home, before the memories stopped crashing down on her every time she returned home.

She changed out of her suit into something more comfortable. They relaxed and dined while watching a movie. She leaned against his chest causing him to wrap his arm around her shoulders, both protectively and lovingly. She yawned during the last half hour of the movie and decided to retire once it ended.

She handed him a pillow and blanket for the couch before crawling into her own bed, thankful that the attack had not happened in her bedroom. It was still her sanctuary from the world. She quickly fell into a somewhat peaceful sleep.

He slept rather peacefully on the couch after making sure that the curtains were securely shut.

The attack infiltrated her dreams, repeating itself again andagain. "NO!" She cried, bolting upright soaked with sweat and shaking. It was the first one she had had in a week and was as intense as some of the ones right after the assault.

He heard her scream, woke and was by her side in a flash. He heard her heart pounding, her pulse racing and her breath coming in ragged gasps. He sat down on the edge of her bed and held her tight. Her arms held onto him like a lifeline. Only then did he feel her begin to relax. He thought they were past this part. When she had calmed down, she pulled back and he released her.

"I had a hunch this might happen," she said, seeing the concern in his eyes.

"It's okay. You're safe."

"I know. Would you stay with me until I fall asleep?"

"Sure."

He stayed seated on the edge of the bed and held her hand while she fell asleep. Once he was sure she was soundly asleep, he headed back for the couch and promptly fell asleep.

They both slept through the rest of the day. She had a few minor nightmares about the attack but did not wake up screaming again. He sensed her restlessness, but knew she had to face it alone. He also knew that if she needed him, he'd be there for her.

Schanke arrived at work before his partner for a change. Cohen saw him arrive and headed for him. He did not like her expression and tried to figure out what he had done wrong recently.

"Schanke, I just got word from the Crown Prosecutor's office. Natalie will have to testify."

"Oh, man. Hasn't she been through enough? Both she and Nick ID'd him. The forensic evidence matches."

"I know. I'm no happier about this than you are. Would you like me to tell her?"

Schanke nodded. He was not going to be the one to tell her. He could not.

Shortly Nick entered. As he approached his desk, he could tell that something was bothering Schanke.

"What's wrong?" Nick asked concerned.

"Natalie has to testify."

"No."

"The Captain's going to break it to her."

A few hours later Natalie entered and approached Nick and Schanke. Their expressions had her concerned.

"Hi guys. What's up?" She asked cheerfully.

Schanke noticed that the light was back in Natalie's eyes and that she seemed more like herself, and was both pleased and relieved. She was going to be fine.

"What brings you here?" Nick asked.

"I brought the prelim report on the Johnson case. You two look like someone stole your puppy dog."

Before they could respond Cohen appeared in her doorway. "Dr. Lambert, can I see you for a moment?"

"Sure," Natalie said as she headed for the Captain's office.

Once inside Cohen closed her door and motioned for Natalie to have a seat. She did. Cohen sat on the edge of her desk.

"How are you doing?"

"I'm okay. Thanks for giving Nick time off. It really helped."

"You have two really good friends."

"I know," Natalie smiled. "You have all been so... patient and loving. I am forever grateful for my friends. Uhm, was that what you wanted to see me about?"

"No. I just learned from the Crown Prosecutor's office that your case is going to trial and you will have to testify. I want you to know that everyone is behind you."

"Thanks, Captain," She said, the panic starting again. Her hand began to shake. "Is there a chance he'll walk?"

"I don't believe so," Cohen said, noticing Natalie'sreaction. "Natalie, is everything okay?"

Natalie did not respond. She was busy fighting to control the rapidly escalating terror within. She wanted to forget the attack and not relive it in all the gory details for the world to hear.

Cohen stuck her head out her door, "Knight. Can I see you for a moment?"

Alarm bells went off in Nick's head as he walked towards Cohen'soffice. He heard Natalie's skyrocketing heartbeat. As soon as he entered Cohen's office he saw Natalie and knew exactly what was going on.

"Nat," he said, soothingly, squatting down in front of her.

"Nick," she said, panic and terror in her voice. Her breathing becoming more ragged.

"It's okay. Schanke and I will be there with you." He cast a quick glance at Cohen, who nodded her approval.

"I'll be outside," Cohen said, as she left to give them some privacy.

When Schanke saw the concern on Cohen's face as she closed the door behind her, he had a pretty good idea what was happening. Cohen had the right idea as well.

"Panic attack?" Schanke asked.

Cohen nodded. "Schanke, how do you think Natalie is doing? Generally."

"She seems to be doing much better. This evening the light seemed to be back in her eyes and she seemed cheerful."

"How about your partner? And yourself?"

"Nick's doing okay. I was worried about him for a while. I'm doing okay. She's bounced back a lot faster and better than I would. Thanks for giving Nick the time off. He would've been a basket case if he was stuck here and would've driven me nuts. And thanks for not getting mad at me for being late."

"How could I? You were doing your part to help. I've seen this type of reaction before. Has she had any sort of counseling?" Cohen said.

"No. She won't go."

"Do you know if she's been diagnosed as having Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome? She has been showing a lot of the symptoms."

"I think she was. I remember one of them mentioning it. Isn't that usually war related?"

"It can be. It can also be from any severe trauma a person undergoes, like the bombing in Oklahoma, the World Trade Center, or a natural disaster. Rape most definitely qualifies as a severe trauma," Cohen said.

"You'll get no argument from me there."

Back inside the Captain's office, Natalie held out her hand to Nick who took it and soothingly caressed it.

"I don't want to relive it. I can't."

"I know."

"I know what will happen. They will try to blame me. My physical wounds have healed, but his knee will still be healing."

"All I want you to think about is that it was not your fault. Just tell the truth and they will not blame you. I won't lie to you and say it will be easy. It won't be. I know you're strong enough to stand up to them. You stood up to Collins and won."

Nick was relieved when he heard her heartbeat slowly returning to normal. Her hand was no longer trembling, her breathing had returned to normal.

"Do you want me to take you...." He said softly before she cut him off.

"I need to go back to work."

"Are you sure?"

She nodded.

Nick picked up the phone and buzzed Schanke's desk. Schanke answered and pretended like he was talking to someone from the outside world. Cohen got the message and headed for her office.

She entered and saw that Natalie had calmed down, at least her hand was no longer shaking.

"Natalie, are you feeling better?"

"Yes. Thanks for giving us some privacy. He's become pretty good at calming me down," Natalie said with a small grin.

She and Nick walked out of the Captain's office and stopped momentarily at his desk. Schanke hung up the phone a few seconds later and turned his attention to them.

"I'm taking her back to her office. I'll be back shortly."

"Natalie, you okay?" Schanke asked, concerned.

"Yeah, I'm fine. I knew this might happen. I guess it just caught me off guard."

Natalie was spending her first day alone in her apartment. It had taken her several days to feel confident enough to attempt it. She remembered having to convince Nick she was ready for it. As she approached the building, she was not so sure anymore, but knew the longer she waited, the harder it would be.

She parked in her spot and locked the car before she entered the building. Her heart started to beat faster the closer she got to her door. The elevator doors opened and she nervously stepped out, thankful to see a neighbor out in the hall. She waved to her neighbor as she passed. She quickly unlocked the door, nervously looking around to make sure that there were no shadows or people nearby, and entered, quickly locking and chaining her door.

She quickly looked around to ensure that she was indeed alone before she kicked off her high heels and changed into her pajamas and fuzzy pink bathrobe. She heated up a frozen dinner and watched a sitcom as she ate.

Her phone rang and she answered it.

"Lambert."

"Hi. Thought I'd see how you were doing," Nick said, checking up on her. He found himself needing to be sure she was okay.

"Okay, so far." She yawned. The sound of his voice had been quite soothing.

"Sweet dreams."

"You, too."

Several hours later her sleep became restless as the nightmares began. She found herself tossing and turning, suddenly bolting upright soaked in sweat, her entire body trembling. She needed to hear a reassuring voice so she picked up the phone and called Nick. She worked to calm her rapid breathing as she waited for him to answer.

He was on the staircase and answered it before the third ring finished.

"Knight."

"Hi," she said, still shaky.

"Another nightmare?"

"Yes. Sorry to disturb you."

"It's okay. I was heading upstairs to bed."

"I thought this might happen."

"You haven't been having as many or as severe ones lately. Was this a bad one?"

"Yes. It was pretty intense. If the pattern holds it should be the only severe one."

"Is there anything else I can do?"

"No. Just hearing your voice is a great help."

He could hear her heartbeat slowly returning to normal as theyspoke. Her breathing was calming as well.

"I'm okay now. I'll let you get to sleep. Thanks."

"Sweet dreams."

"You, too."

They both hung up.

Nick was heading upstairs when he realized how empty his loft seemed and realized he had become used to having her around. He missed her being there.

Natalie found herself thinking about Nick and realized she was alone. She missed being with him. She missed his arms around her.

Early the next evening Nick knocked on her door, hiding a prettily wrapped medium sized box behind his back.

She answered in her blouse and pants, carrying a cup of coffee.

"What brings you by?" She asked, cheerfully surprised, motioning for him to enter. She knew he was due at the station soon.

As soon as he entered she closed and locked the door behind him.

"I had hoped this would've been ready for your first night alone here...." Nick said as he brought the box out from behind his back and handed it to her.

She smiled as she took the box, sitting down on the couch to open it. Inside was a very beautiful spider-web-like design attached to a suede-covered metal hoop. Feathers and a silver charm hung from the top of it, white unspun wool was tied to the bottom with colorful beads and silver charms. The natural colors matched her color scheme.

"Thank you. It's lovely. What is it?"

"It's a dream catcher. You hang it over your bed and it is supposed to catch the bad dreams and allow only the good ones through. The bad ones are supposed to be destroyed by the morning sun. At least that's the legend."

"Why don't we go hang it right now," She said as she picked it up and headed for her tools. She grabbed a hammer and a nail and headed into her bedroom. Nick followed behind her.

"What do you think? Right about here?" She asked.

"Looks good."

She hung it over her bed, right above where she slept, the morning sun hitting it from the side.

"I'll let you know how it works, tomorrow night," she said with a playful grin.

He grinned. He knew that it would help psychologically if no other way.

The next evening Nick and Schanke stopped by Natalie's office to pick up a file they needed.

"Hi guys. What can I do for you?" She asked cheerfully.

"We need the Martinson tox results," Schanke said.

"Nat, how did it work?"

"Beautiful."

Schanke looked confused and Natalie took pity on him.

"Nick gave me a lovely dream catcher yesterday. It catches the bad dreams so only the good ones get through."

"Very clever," Schanke said. "How are you doing?"

"I'm fine. How about you?"

"Pretty good."

Natalie shuffled a couple of folders on her desk and handed the desired one to Schanke. He headed for the Caddie to give them a moment alone.

"Nat, how about some videos later?"

"Sounds good. Stop by on your way out."

"Will do."

Schanke was waiting in the Caddie, trying to figure out the relationship between Nick and Natalie. He did not think that they were lovers, but knew that they were more than just friends.

"Hey, partner," Schanke said as Nick entered. That was it; it was almost as if they were partners. In what, he did not have a clue. He then remembered she had once said something about helping him with his food allergies. "Where to now?"

"The precinct."

Nick and Natalie entered his loft, microwave popcorn box in her hand, movies in his. She popped her corn while he set up the first movie. They both knew that his place now held memories both painful and joyful. The painful memories were softened by memories of his loving, nonjudgmental support.

She sat down near him on the couch, large popcorn bowl in her lap. During the movie she subconsciously moved closer to him until she was leaning against him. He put his arm around her shoulders. They noticed how natural the feeling was.

"Try some," Nat said, holding the bowl so he could grab a fewpieces. "Don't eat the unpopped kernels." She pointed to them.

"Why not?"

"They're quite hard and have been known to break, or at least chip teeth."

Nick picked up a few fluffy pieces and tasted them.

"You like this? The plain parts have almost no flavor. The buttered parts aren't too bad."

"Yes. It's good for you if you don't put the butter on it. Eat some more."

Nick slowly ate a handful to please her, and because it was not toobad. Her smile made it worth the effort. He was thrilled to see his Natalie back again.

The next evening Natalie arrived at a crime scene and examined the body for obvious information. Nick and Schanke arrived and headed straight for her, watching her as they approached. It was business as usual, they noticed hardly an outward trace showed.

"What do we have here?" Schanke asked.

"It looks as if she was beaten shortly before her death. Apparently she struggled with her captor. She's about 30-35. She's been dead about 24 hours. I'll know more once I get her back to the lab and get a look at her."

Later that evening at the Coroner's Office, Natalie performed her usual careful examination of the victim and went pale. The victim showed signs of sexual assault. All of Natalie's memories flooded back, threatening to overwhelm her.

"No. I can't let it get to me," She said as she took a slow deep breath, fighting to keep control over her emotions and to push the memories back into that dark corner of the mind. The fact that the victim was around her own age made it much harder for her to push out of her mind thoughts of how all too easily it could've been her if it were not for Nick

She completed her examination and the autopsy strictly by the numbers so that it would hold up to any intense grilling. She had yet to have one of her reports questioned as more than just a defense ploy, and was not about to change that. She had a hard earned reputation for being one of the best M.E.'s in Ontario and was not going to let anything or anyone change that.

As soon as she had the preliminary report finished, she headed for the precinct, unable to face the body any longer.

Natalie entered the precinct, still a little shaken by the coincidences and headed for Nick and Schanke.

"Hi, Natalie. What's up?" Schanke asked.

"I have the prelim report on the park victim. She was raped, then beaten to death. I thought you could see if....." Natalie said in her best professional tone, determined not to let the other officers in the room know that the case was bothering her more than she wanted to admit, even to herself.

"I'll check to see if there are any matches. By the way, her name is Anna Bradley. She's 33."

"Nat, you okay?" Nick asked, concerned, seeing her nervousness and detecting a slight rise in her heartbeat. The coincidences were enough to disturb him, making him wonder what was going on inside her. He knew this case could not be easy for her. He thought it was probably too soon for her to be able to handle such a case, especially with all the coincidences.

Nick stood up and headed for a briefing room. She followed him, needing to be alone with him. As soon as the door shut, temporarily blocking out the world, he held out his arms and she leaned against him, allowing his strength to wash over her.

"She could have been me. If you had not arrived when you did, I *would've* been her. She has all the same exact injuries I did, only worse. How am I supposed to deal with all these cases? How long before I can?"

"I don't know. You could turn it over to someone else."

"No. I have to finish it. I don't want the bastard to walk on a technicality because someone made a mistake," she said angrily, but also a bit sadly.

Natalie was back at her office later, finishing up the last of the reports on the rape victim. When she signed off on the last report she let out a sigh of relief, glad to be finished with it. She did not need the constant reminder. Her own memories were enough.

She dropped the reports off with Nick and Schanke as her last official act of the evening. This way she would be truly finished with the case, unless any unforeseen questions popped up.

"Nick, how about dinner?" she asked.

"Sure. You ready?"

"Yes. Night, Schanke," she said as Nick grabbed his jacket.

"Night, Natalie, Nick."

Nick and Natalie headed out for the parking lot.

A short time later, Nick and Natalie entered his loft. She had the videocassettes and he had the Chinese food.

"Did I leave any of my clothes here?"

"I think you left something. Look in the left side of the closet you were using."

Natalie checked the closet and found a long t-shirt and a pair of leggings. She quickly changed upstairs in Nick's bedroom before joining him in the kitchen.

"Much better. I'm hungry. Which movie did you want to watch first?"

"It doesn't matter. You okay?"

"I will be. Thanks for doing this."

"No problem."

Natalie filled up her plate with food from the take-out containers.

"You should try some."

Nick reluctantly stuck a fork into the least objectionable container, taking a bite which he chewed for a few seconds before spitting out.

"I guess it's back to the protein drinks." Natalie grinned wickedly, causing Nick to try another bite.

This bite he managed to swallow with much effort. Even though she had marginally improved the taste of the shakes, they were still somewhat unappetizing, making him willing to try anything to avoid drinking them.

"Satisfied?" He asked.

"For now," she said letting him off the hook.

The fact that she was on his case again meant that she was truly feeling more like her old self. He was pleased for that one reason. He was a little sad knowing that things could never be exactly as they were. Both had been changed by her experience. It had made them face their feelings for each other, something both had been reluctant to do, but doing so had made their relationship stronger.

They curled up on the couch and watched the movie over dinner. She fell asleep in his arms during the beginning of the third movie. He let her be, pleased to have her asleep in his arms again.

At the same time, it hurt knowing that he had to keep a very tight reign on his feelings or he might accidentally hurt her. He wanted to make love to her again but knew that he dare not until they had found the cure.

He fell asleep feeling her restlessness, knowing the last case had been harder on her than she had let on. It was too soon. He wanted to kill the scum for doing this to her.

The case had brought back her less intense nightmares. She was restless the entire day. Nick wanted to soothe her but knew she had to work it out by herself.

Two months later the Crown Prosecutor gathered together her three main witnesses - Nick, Natalie, and Schanke.

"Do you have any questions?" Liz Ferrell asked.

"How long do you think the trial will last?" Natalie asked.

"I would estimate one to two weeks. It depends on what sort of a case the defense puts on." Liz changed subjects. "Dr. Lambert, I want to make sure you realize this could get quite unpleasant, even downright nasty. I know the defense lawyer. She's very good and very tough."

"I know it won't be easy. I'm not looking forward to reliving it again." A moment later she asked, "Is there a chance he'll walk?"

"I don't think so. I think with the evidence we have, as well as both your and Nick's identification, he'll be put a way for a few years at the very least. His second attempt will only help our case. Any luck in matching past unsolved crimes with him?"

"Not yet," Nick said.

"We're going to keep at it," Schanke said.

Two days later the trial started. Natalie and Nick arrived early and parked in the underground parking area, out of sight. Natalie rapped on the trunk signaling all clear to Nick who climbed out of the trunk of his Caddie before they proceeded to the courthouse entrance. She stood between him and the sun whenever necessary during their walk to the courtroom. The fact that she was several inches shorter than he only blocked out some of the sun. Luckily there were only two spots where he had to tip down the brim of his baseball cap to protect his face.

He heard her slightly escalated heartbeat and knew that she would need his support as much as ever. She had butterflies the size of elephants in her stomach. She forced herself to calm down, not wanting either Collins or the defense lawyer to see how much of a nervous wreck she was.

They had to wait in the witness room until they were called totestify. Liz Ferrell entered to brief them on the day's schedule.

"Opening statements will take up part of the morning. Detective Knight, you're the first witness; Dr. Lambert, you're second, Dr. Benton is third with Detective Schanke next and officer Harris last."

"How long can we expect to be on the stand?" Nick asked.

"I think Detective Schanke will be there anywhere from an hour to half a day. Detective Knight, I would expect at least half a day, most likely a full day. Dr. Lambert, I would expect to be up there a day, possibly longer."

The Crown Prosecutor started her opening statement to the jury.

"Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury. I will prove to you beyond a reasonable doubt that Samuel Collins is guilty of the horrific crimes of rape, battery, and attempted murder. I hope that none of you will ever have first hand knowledge of the life-shattering effects of being a rape victim. It is a terrible, violent crime. The victim is stripped of all control. Her self-confidence is shattered. Her trust in her judgment and her trust in people is destroyed. Sometimes victims live through the rape and sometimes they are murdered by the rapist. If they do survive, their lives are never the same. Through witnesses and evidence, I will prove to you beyond a reasonable doubt that Samuel Collins is guilty of the crimes of rape, battery, and attempted murder."

The defense lawyer headed for the podium where she began her opening statement.

"Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury. I intend to prove to you beyond a reasonable doubt that the investigation is not reliable due to conflict of interest. Detectives Knight and Schanke are friends of the victim and were involved in the case. I will bring forth witnesses to prove that there was indeed a conflict of interest."

The defense lawyer took her seat.

"Ms. Ferrell, you may call your first witness," the Judge said.

"The People call Detective Nicholas Knight to the stand."

Nick entered the courtroom and took the stand. Mild concern could be seen in his eyes.

He saw Officer Johnson in the courtroom, glad that she had followed Cohen's orders to be here. He was pleased to see Grace there, as Natalie would need all the support she could get, especially today when she would have to relive the rape in graphic detail.

A Bible was placed in front of him, making him a little nervous.

"Detective Knight, do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?" Asked the Bailiff.

Nick placed his hand on the Bible and hoped for the best. "I do." He removed his hand from the Bible, grateful it had not smoked from the brief contact.

"You may be seated," the Bailiff said.

Nick took his seat in the chair, sneaking a quick glance at his palm, relieved to see only a slight burn there.

"Detective Knight, you found the victim, correct," Crown Prosecutor Liz Ferrell stated.

"Correct," Nick answered.

"You do not live in that building. What were you doing there?" Prosecutor Ferrell asked.

"I am a friend of the victim. I dropped by to see if she wanted to watch some movies."

"What made you enter her apartment?"

"I heard sounds of a struggle and entered."

"What did you see upon entering?" Prosecutor Ferrell asked.

"I saw her lying on the floor unconscious. Her attacker was about to kick her in the left side. She had blood flowing down the left side of her face, a bruise on her left cheek, a bloody nose and blood in the corner of her mouth. Her blouse and bra had been ripped open exposing her chest. There was blood on the corner edge of the coffee table."

"What did you do about the situation?"

"My first goal was to ascertain the condition of the victim. That is always the first priority. Once you see the attacker you can put out an APB and capture him."

"Did your relationship to the victim affect your judgment?"

"No. I followed procedure."

"What is procedure?"

"If the victim needs medical attention it will be obtainedimmediately. She needed immediate medical attention. I took her to the hospital after she refused to have an ambulance come. Once at the hospital I made sure she was promptly examined and that the doctor was informed it was a rape case. I called the captain who appointed a female officer to witness the gynecological examination. After that part of the examination I was allowed back in and stayed with the victim until the doctor finished his examination. Later that evening when the victim felt up to it my partner, Detective Schanke, took her statement."

"Can you give me the name of the victim and is her alleged attacker in this courtroom?"

"Yes to both."

"What is her name?"

"Her name is Natalie Lambert."

"Where is the alleged rapist?"

"Her alleged rapist is seated at the defense table. He is the defendant, Samuel Collins."

"How did you meet Dr. Lambert?"

"I met her through work. She is the chief Medical Examiner for the City of Toronto."

"Is it true that you stayed with her at the hospital and brought her back to your loft when she was released?"

"Yes."

"Is this standard procedure?"

"The rapist was still on the loose. I was concerned for her safety. Sometimes the victim is provided protection. It depends on the case."

"Why was it done in this case?"

"She did not want to go home. She did not want to be alone. She wanted me to stay with her. I did."

"What further participation did you have in the case? Was there any conflict of interest?"

"My active participation in the police work ended after I took her to the hospital. Detective Schanke took her statement later that evening. My only other participation in an official capacity occurred many weeks later when Sam Collins tried to assault her again at work. Dr. Lambert called me for help. My partner and I arrived and arrested him. We had to write reports on the incident. I did not find any conflicts of interest."

"Were you present when Dr. Lambert gave her statement about therape? Where was her statement taken?"

"Yes. She was at my loft."

"Why was she at your loft?"

"She had no family to stay with. She wanted to stay with me. I could not turn her down."

"Were you and your partner present when she gave her statement after the attempted assault? If so, where was the statement taken?"

"Yes. She came down to the precinct right after the attempted assault and gave her statement."

"What is the relationship between you and Dr. Lambert?"

"She's my best friend."

"Do you often stop by her place without notice? Does she often stay at your loft?"

"I do stop by her apartment from time to time without notice. She does stay at my loft occasionally when she falls asleep while watching movies."

"Why do you watch movies at your loft? Why not go to the theater?"

"I have an allergy to the sun and cannot be out in it. It is easier to watch them on my large screen TV because we work most nights and do not get to the theater."

"Does she drop by your loft without notice?"

"Yes."

"Has anyone one else?"

"Yes."

"Who? What are their relationships to you?"

"Detective Schanke and my old friends often stop by. Schanke is my partner and friend."

"Did any of them ever stay over at your place?"

"Yes. Schanke did when he and his wife had marital problems."

"How long was he there for?"

"Several days."

"Have you ever stayed at her apartment?"

"Yes. Sometimes we would be talking and I would be too tired to drive home, or it would be daylight outside."

"Are you intimate with Dr. Lambert?" "Intimate? Define intimate."

"Have you ever kissed her in a non-friend way. Have you ever made love to her?"

"No. We're just good friends," Nick lied. He and Natalie had decided not to mention the complications in their relationship. It would look too odd without the knowledge that he was a vampire.

"Thank you."

It was the defense lawyer's turn.

"Detective Knight, Dr. Lambert's rape happened very close to dawn, correct?" The defense lawyer asked.

"Correct," Nick answered.

"If so, then how could you get her to the hospital and stay with her all day if you can not be in the sun?"

"I can take very small doses of sunlight. I was able to reach the hospital quite quickly because the roads are not congested at that hour. We arrived as the sun was just beginning to rise above the horizon. Most of the hospital areas I was in did not have windows. The shades were shut in her room."

"I have never heard of anyone being allergic to sunlight."

"It is called porphyria. There are several documented cases."

"You expect us here to believe that you stop by each other's residences and occasionally sleep there without being intimately involved?"

"It is the truth. We are very good friends. Is there any reason why a one friend cannot visit another without calling ahead? What is wrong with falling asleep at your friend's house?" Nick asked.

"How long have you known Dr. Lambert?"

"Almost four years."

"Do you find her attractive?" The defense lawyer asked.

"Objection. Irrelevant," Ms. Ferrell objected.

"Objection sustained. Next question," the judge said.

"Have you ever known Dr. Lambert to do anything that could be misinterpreted as a come on?"

"Objection. Neither Detective Knight nor Dr. Lambert are on trial here."

"Sustained. Move on."

"How would you describe Dr. Lambert to a friend?"

"Intelligent, an expert in her field, dedicated, big hearted, wonderful smile, great laugh, loyal, great big blue eyes, very attractive. Basically, fun to hang out with."

"Couldn't these words also describe love?"

"I guess...." Nick was cut off before he could continue.

"So you're saying that you're just friends, but you could see the words you used to describe her used by a lover."

"In a brotherly/sisterly way it could be construed as love, I suppose."

"Are you sure it is not more of a romantic love?"

"Objection. Same as previous one."

"Overruled. The witness will answer the question then the lawyer will move on to a new topic. Anymore on this subject with this witness will be considered contempt."

"Yes, your honor," the defense lawyer said, not very happy with the judge's decision. "Detective, do you need me to repeat the question?"

"No. I am sure it is not romantic love. I do know the difference," Nick said, ignoring the temptation for a little persuasion. He remembered Natalie making him promise not to use it during the trial.

"That is all for now. I would like the right to recall this witness at a later time."

"Granted."

The defense lawyer sat down. The prosecutor stood.

"No further questions at this moment. I also request the right to recall the witness at a later date."

"Granted. Detective Knight, you may step down now. You are still under oath. Do not discuss your testimony with anyone. I want you to remain available for recall."

"Yes, sir," Nick said as he stepped down off the witness stand and took a seat in the gallery, directly behind the prosecution's table.

"You may call your next witness," stated the judge.

"Your Honor, the People call Dr. Natalie Lambert to the stand."

Natalie entered and took the stand. She was quite nervous and some of it showed despite her best efforts to keep it hidden. She remembered Liz telling her that it was perfectly acceptable for her nervousness to show.

The Bailiff held the Bible in front of Natalie. She placed her hand on it and repeated the oath after the Bailiff. Natalie took a seat as instructed by the judge.

Liz Ferrell started her questioning.

"Dr. Lambert, tell us what happened to you on the morning of September 25 of this year?"

Natalie kept her gaze focused on Nick as she answered the first question. She needed his strength to help her relive that horrific night. She purposely did not look over at Collins, not wanting to see the smug look in his eyes.

"I was unlocking my door as I had done a thousand times before, exhausted from a busy night. Suddenly, he leapt out and grabbed me. There was a hand around my waist pinning my arms and another around my mouth. He threatened to break my neck if I did not let him in, or if I screamed. As soon as we were inside he locked and chained the door, and started looking me over. He made a few comments before he grabbed me and pulled me close to him. He pulled off my suit jacket and," she paused, a shudder of revulsion went through her, "and... he crudely ran his hands across... my torso." She took a deep breath before continuing.

"He grabbed a large handful of my hair and held my head still while he kissed me roughly. I tried to pull away but couldn't. I felt his free hand groping... my breasts." She felt her composure begin to slip and fought it. Her voice betrayed the fear and grief swirling inside her. It hurt almost as much to relive the rape and to relate it to the court as it did when it happened.

"He ripped my shirt open and... roughly ran his hands...across my bra covered breasts," She said as she fought the panic impulse. The nausea she had felt then returned in a sudden swift wave. She took a slow deep breath, struggling to hold onto her composure.

"I slugged him in the stomach as hard as I could. He released me and I ran for the door. He grabbed me as soon as I had it unlocked. He viciously slapped me across the face and shoved me onto the floor. I felt the blood running down my upper lip, from my nose." Her composure was fleeing. Tears welled in her eyes as she continued. "I told him to stop, but it had no effect. I was pinned by the weight of his legs as they straddled my lower body." Natalie stopped to take a deep breath and looked at Nick. The love she saw in his eyes gave her the courage to continue.

"I struggled as he tried to kiss me and was brutally slapped across the face." She paused then continued. "He held my head still while he kissed me again roughly. I bit his lip hard and scratched his face. He violently punched me in the ribs and brutally smacked me across the face again, causing the back of my head to smack into the floor." A single tear ran down Natalie's cheek and she quickly brushed it away with her hand. She focused on Nick as she continued. "He tore my bra loose and roughly fondled my breasts using both... his hands... and his mouth." Her body let out an involuntary shudder. She was fast losing control over her emotions, but fought for control. She looked at the jury members, her gaze going from member to member as she relived that horrific event.

"He licked his way down... my... my... neck... breasts... abdomen towards my pelvic region. All I wanted to do was throw up." She had nearly lost all composure. A few tears ran down her cheek. The Judge handed her a box of tissues which she gladly took. She wiped away the tears and continued. Her voice was filled with the pain, nearly as intense as when it had occurred.

"He unzipped his pants before he pulled down my underwear. I could ..... feel him ...... feel his ......." Tears streamed down Natalie's face as she tried to regain control of her emotions, but could not.

"Dr. Lambert, do you need a break?" The Judge asked concerned. He had seen her very strong inner strength when she had testified before him in a few very grisly cases.

"No. I want to finish," Natalie said, taking a long slow deep breath. She wiped away the current tears and continued. "I could feel him forcibly, painfully, penetrating me." Tears streamed down her face. Her voice was full of the same pain as it had been when Nick rescued her. "I started to cry and ...when he was finished...raping me... he looked up and saw my tears. He ordered me to stop... but I couldn't. He savagely kicked me in the ribs. He ordered me to get up but my body refused to respond." Another deep breath to calm her nerves. She could feel Nick and Grace's strength and it helped her continue.

"He roughly jerked me to my feet using both my hair and my arm to lift me. Then he ruthlessly tossed me across the room where I hit my head on the corner of the coffee table."

The Judge could see that Dr. Lambert was in no condition tocontinue. "We'll take a ten minute recess."

The jurors were lead from the courtroom. The Prosecuting Attorney left the room. Nick and Natalie headed for the door. Grace approached them. She hated the fact that Natalie was forced to remember in order to put the rapist behind bars.

"Natalie, honey, you did great." Grace put her arm around Natalie and gave her a hug, knowing she needed to feel loved.

Nick and Natalie entered the witness room. Grace was not allowed in. As soon as they entered the room a few tears ran down Natalie's cheeks, despite her best attempts to prevent it. Seeing Natalie in tears bothered Schanke. It brought back the memories of his questioning her the night of the rape. Nick motioned for Schanke to step outside. Schanke gently laid his hand on Natalie's arm as he passed by on his way out, showing his support.

As soon as they were alone in the room, Natalie wrapped her arms around Nick. Her body wracked with sobs. He held her tight, knowing it was what she needed most at the moment. He knew how painful and difficult it was for her to relive it in such detail.

A few minutes later she pulled away and he released her.

"You did good. The hardest part is over now," Nick said softly, reassuringly.

"I know."

"Don't let the questions get to you. The defense lawyer will probably try anything to make you break down."

"I don't plan to give her that satisfaction," Natalie said with a hint of a grin.

"I'll be there the whole time."

"Thanks. I don't think I would be able to handle all this without your support."

"Are you feeling any better?"

"Some. I'll be ready to continue." She just wanted to get the whole thing over with so she would never have to relive it again, except when the memories or nightmares forced it back into the forefront again. She had had two months free of nightmares, post traumatic stress related panic attacks or returning memories and knew the trial would end that.

Once everyone was back in their proper places inside the courtroom, the trial continued. Natalie noticed the presence of Officer Johnson and was surprised. She wondered why someone who had wondered why she could not just 'get over it' would show up for the trial. She was glad to see Grace there because she would need her support, especially if the rest of the day was to be as difficult as the morning had been.

"Dr. Lambert, what is the next thing you remember?" The prosecuting attorney asked.

"I think I passed out for a minute or two because the next thing I remember seeing was Detective Knight's face."

"Was Mr. Collins in the room at the time?"

"No."

"What happened next?"

"Detective Knight saw that I was in need of medical treatment and took me to the emergency room."

"Were you in pain?"

"Great pain. Every time I breathed or moved it was like knives stabbing me."

"Your honor, I would like to submit these photos and the accompanying medical report into evidence," the prosecutor said as she handed them to the Judge for review.

The Judge quickly looked over the photos and the report before handing them back to the prosecutor, hiding his contempt that one person could do that to another.

"They are entered as People's Exhibit #1."

The prosecutor handed the photos of Natalie's injuries taken at the hospital to the jury for their examination. The jury had several different reactions to the photos from sympathy to disgust, even rage that someone would do that to another human being. Copies of the report would be available for their perusal later.

Natalie hated how the pictures further exposed her at her most vulnerable.

"At the emergency room you were examined by a Dr. Benton. Was Detective Knight there?"

"Yes, I was examined by Dr. Benton. Detective Knight was present."

"Was he there the entire time?"

"No. He was not there during the gynecological examination."

"Was any officer present then?"

"Yes. Officer Harris was present."

"Were you questioned about the rape by Officer Harris?"

"Yes. She questioned me during the gynecological examination."

"When were the photographs marked People's Exhibit #1 taken?"

"Before and during the gynecological examination."

"At what point did Detective Knight reenter the room?"

"As soon as that examination was finished and I was dressed."

"What happened once Detective Knight returned?"

"My injuries were taken care of."

"For the record, what were your injuries?"

"I had a bloody nose, a bloody lip, a black eye, bruising that ran the length of my cheekbone, and a gash on the left side of my forehead that required 5 stitches to close it. Most of the ribs on my left side were severely bruised. Three were fractured. I also had a mild concussion."

"Were you kept in the hospital for observation?"

"Yes."

"How long?"

"Until sunset. Then I had Detective Knight get the necessary paperwork finished so I could get out of there."

"Where did you go when you were released?"

"Detective Knight's loft."

"Why?"

"He's my best friend. He's the closest thing to family I have. I didn't want to be alone and I couldn't face my apartment. I could barely move without strong waves of pain and nausea slamming through my body. I was in no shape to stay by myself."

"How were you feeling?"

"I was brutally beaten and sexually violated. I felt *violated*. He left me feeling violated and dirty, and just plain terrified. I was angry that he could do something so horrible to anyone. I was afraid of every male I saw. I had extremely intense nightmares every time I closed my eyes. I couldn't let my best friend touch me without pulling away or flinching. That hurt. I was afraid of everyone. I was extremely depressed."

"What were your nightmares about?"

"I kept seeing the attack again and again until I woke up shaking, sweating, and often screaming as I awoke."

"Did you want Detective Knight to hold you when you woke from your nightmares?"

"Yes."

"Did you have any trouble allowing him to comfort you?"

"Yes."

"Explain."

"Every time he got near I pulled back subconsciously. I wanted him to hold me, but the memory of my attacker was so strongly there. I did let Detective Knight hold me. I felt so safe in his arms. He made me afraid to let my best friend touch me. He made me afraid to be alone. Afraid to go home. Afraid to go to sleep?"

"Do you see the person who raped you in this courtroom?"

"Yes."

"Point him out."

"Samuel Collins. The defendant."

"No further questions at this time," the prosecutor said as she took her seat.

The defense lawyer took the podium.

"Dr. Lambert, is there more to your relationship with Detective Knight than the court is aware of?"

"No. We're very good friends."

"Do you often stop by his loft unannounced?"

"We often drop by the other's without calling."

"Do you often sleep there?" The defense lawyer asked.

"Sometimes."

"When you do sleep there, where do you sleep?"

"When I do sleep over at this loft, it is because I fell asleep watching a movie or we were up late talking. I usually sleep on the couch."

"Does he often stop by your apartment unannounced? Do any of your other friends do the same?"

"Working the night shift as the chief Medical Examiner does not lead to a wide circle of friends. The few I do have, do stop by without calling and I do the same to them."

"The times when you do not sleep on the couch, where do you sleep?"

"The two or three times I did not sleep on the couch were when I was sick. I had come over to see him and had not been feeling well. I fell asleep and woke up the next morning in his bed. He had spent the night on the couch."

"Are you intimate with Detective Knight?"

"Objection. Irrelevant," the prosecutor stated. "Dr. Lambert is not on trial here."

"Overruled. The witness will answer the question."

"Define intimate."

"Have you ever made love to him? Kissed him in a non friend way?"

"Objection. Same grounds," the Prosecutor stated.

"Overruled. The witness will answer the questions and then the lawyer will move on to another subject or face contempt charges."

"Yes, your Honor," the defense lawyer stated, annoyed at not being given a chance to see whether the doctor was lying.

"No to both."

"How would you describe Detective Knight to a friend who had not met him?"

"Intelligent, very good detective, dedicated, loyal, a great friend, nice smile, attractive, terrific blue eyes, fun to be with."

"Dr. Lambert, can't some of those words also be used to describe a lover?"

"Yes. But..."

"Objection. The witness was not allowed to finish her statement.

"Sustained. The witness will finish her statement. Counselor, you will allow the witness to finish before moving on to the next question.

"Yes, your honor."

"Those words can also describe platonic love."

"Dr. Lambert, how long have you known Detective Knight?"

"About four years."

"How did you meet?"

"We met at work."

"Have you ever met Mr. Collins before?"

"No."

"Why did you let him into your apartment?"

"He forced me, as I said earlier. I had no choice. The way he held me he could have very easily broken my neck. I did not want that to happen. I figured once inside he might let go and I could escape or get help."

"Did you even once tell him to stop. Did you make it so that he would believe you did not want to continue?"

"Yes. I told him to stop, quite firmly. Before that, I had punched him in the stomach and tried to escape out the door. Later I scratched his face as I bit his lip really hard. If that isn't enough I don't know what is," Natalie said, sounding quite professional. She was determined not to let this woman get to her.

"Are you sure Mr. Collins is the man who attacked you?"

"Yes," Natalie stated, without a doubt, and with a hint of anger in her voice. "I will never forget his face."

"But Detective Knight was the first person you saw when you regained consciousness."

"Yes, he was. He was doing ..."

The defense lawyer cut Natalie off.

"So is it possible that Mr. Collins had not attacked you."

"No."

"What was Detective Knight doing when you first saw him after the attack?"

"He was sitting on his ankles in front of me, examining me."

"Did he touch you?"

"Yes."

"What was your response?"

"I pulled away, terrified."

"If he did not attack you, why did you pull away in terror?"

"He did not attack me. I was still a little groggy, disoriented from being knocked out and had just been raped. My vision was also a little blurry, but soon cleared."

"What happened next?"

"He tried to help me sit up." Natalie winced a tiny bit at the memory of how badly she had hurt then. "I had never hurt so much in my entire life. Agonizing waves of shooting pain crashed over me like a parking lot full of 18 wheelers with spiked treads. Breathing hurt intensely as did *ANY* movement. Being touched along the bruised ribs hurt enormously. He scooped me up in his arms and took me to the emergency room."

"Dr. Lambert, when was the last time you had sex?"

"Objection. Irrelevant. Dr. Lambert's personal life is not on trial here. She was the victim."

"Sustained. Careful counselor. One more question like that and you'll be held in contempt. Understand?"

"Yes, your Honor." The defense lawyer stated. "I have no further questions at this time but wish to request the right to recall this witness at a later time."

"Request granted."

The prosecutor stood. "No further questions at this time. I would like to recall Detective Knight to the stand."

"Objection. Detective Knight has heard all this testimony."

"Detective Knight, remember you are still under oath. Will you be able to be objective?" The judge asked.

"Yes."

"Objection overruled. Detective Knight please take the stand."

Nick took the stand and the prosecutor started to question him.

"Detective, what emotional state was Dr. Lambert in when you found her?"

"She was in shock. She was an emotional mess. She appeared terrified. She had just been beaten and raped, and she expressed embarrassment at my seeing her in her battered condition."

"How was she later when you took her home?"

"She was a little calmer. She was still feeling embarrassed but less terrified, at least on the surface. She was afraid to be alone. I think the depression she sank into masked most of her other feelings. She withdrew from any emotional contact with anyone."

"Did she want any physical contact?"

"She usually wanted me to hold her after she had nightmares, occasionally at other times as well."

"What happened when you approached her?"

"She would pull back at first, then she would wrap her arms aroundme. I would then hold her, careful not to aggravate her bruises."

"How did you feel seeing her so tormented?"

"Miserable. It broke my heart. It was frustrating knowing there was nothing I could do but be there for her."

"What is Dr. Lambert's emotional state now?"

"She's much better. Until the trial she had managed to put it behind her and had returned to work. Her personality is very much like it was before the attack."

"No further questions. I would like the right to recall the witness."

"Granted."

The defense lawyer started with her questions.

"Detective Knight, why did Dr. Lambert pull away from you? You did not attack her."

"She was afraid of all men. She did not pull away purposely, I believe it was a subconscious reaction."

"No further questions. I would like to call Dr. Lambert back to the stand."

"Detective Knight, you may step down but stay available. Dr. Lambert please retake the stand. Remember you are still under oath," said the judge.

Nick sat in the gallery while Natalie took the stand.

"Dr. Lambert, why would you pull away from your best friend? You knew he would not hurt you."

"I didn't do it on purpose. It was like an automatic reflex. I had been raped by a man and so my subconscious was wary of all men."

"Did you pull back subconsciously whenever Detective Schanke was present?"

"Yes."

"Did Detective Schanke try to touch you?"

"I don't know. He tried to approach but I pulled back and he stopped. He didn't attempt to come any closer."

"Why would he not try again?"

"I think he had a hunch what had happened and did not want to do anything that would make me feel worse."

"Yet, Detective Knight ignored your pulling away?"

"He did not totally ignore it. He did hesitate, unsure of what to do. I reassured him that I did want his arms around me. He was afraid to hurt me. Whenever I pulled back from an embrace he immediately released me."

"No further questions. But I request the right to recall."

"Granted."

The prosecutor asked her first question.

"Dr. Lambert what is your current emotional state? Have you recovered from the attack?"

"*Recovered?* You don't ever fully recover from such a devastating attack. Physically you heal, your body may recover, mine has. But, the emotional and psychological damage is much slower to heal." She paused, took in a deep breath, regained her composure. "To answer your question the way I think you meant it, when I have a good day, when I am not reminded of the attack, I do feel pretty much like my old self. There have been permanent changes due to the attack. I am, as I said, physically recovered, and I would like to say that emotionally I am somewhat recovered. I knew that I had to get back to my regular routine as soon as I could or it would get harder and harder to do. I had to take control."

"Would your recovery have been possible at all without the help of Detective Knight?"

"I don't think so. He stayed with me and was there for me whenever I needed anything. The poor guy did not get much sleep for the first two weeks or so. I was only able to get a few minutes sleep between nightmares. He was by my side every time I woke screaming. He was there when I needed a shoulder to cry on. When I needed my fears eased. To fix my meals for the first few days when I could barely move. Without Detective Knight's help I would probably still be a real mess. He did not judge me or blame me. In fact he kept reminding me that it wasn't my fault and that I had done nothing wrong. It hurt him to see me suffer. I could see it in his eyes."

"Was Detective Knight the only one who helped you out?"

"No."

"Who else helped and how did they help?"

"Detective Schanke brought us groceries. He kept Nick's loft well stocked so Nick could turn all his attention to me. It was Schanke's way of helping. An old friend of Nick's helped me by listening to my story. She had been a rape victim years ago and knew exactly what I was going through. She gave me some helpful advice and some much needed reassurance that I would come out of it all just fine. Grace Balthazar, my assistant and good friend, helped me out by just being there when I needed someone to talk to or another shoulder to cry on."

Natalie saw Grace sitting in the gallery, silently lending moral support as she had done since early that morning. Grace had come without anyone asking her to, knowing how hard the trial would be on Natalie, especially emotionally.

"Do you still have nightmares?"

"Only once in a while now."

"What triggers them? How intense are they?"

"Various things can trigger then. Working on a similar case can trigger them. They can be intense or not too intense, depending on the trigger."

"How long was it before your nightmares were less intense?"

"It was several weeks before they stopped being extremely intense. They were intense the first day I slept in my apartment after the attack. Also the first day I slept alone in my apartment."

"Who stayed with you in your apartment. How long did they stay? Where did they sleep?"

"Detective Knight stayed with me for several days. I was terrified to go home, but I knew I had to at some point and that the longer I waited the harder it would be. I could not face my apartment alone. He slept on the couch in my living room."

"How long was it before you were able to sleep through the day without any nightmares?"

"Up until about two month ago."

"Has the trial brought back your nightmares?"

"Yes."

"How severe are they?"

"I've had severe ones and not so severe ones."

"Do you expect any tonight?"

"Yes."

"Severe ones?"

"Probably."

"Have you had any other problems due to the attack?"

"Yes."

"What?"

"I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. One of the more frequent symptoms are anxiety attacks. The physical symptoms include trouble breathing, chest pains, feeling as if someone is watching me, trembling hands, racing pulse." Natalie looked at the jury and kindly said, "Some people call them panic attacks."

"Describe them to the court."

"I'll be doing something as mundane as writing a report or walking in the park when all of the sudden my pulse skyrockets and I feel as if someone's watching me. Sometimes I have trouble breathing or my hand shakes. I panic."

"How do you handle them?"

"I call Detective Knight. Or I visit him."

"What then?"

"He either talks with me, helping me to calm down if I've calledhim. Or he holds me and talks with me as I calm down."

"Do you ever show any physical symptoms?"

"Once in a while."

"Such as?"

"My hand shook when I was told that I would have to testify."

"How long do these attacks last?"

"Anywhere from ten minutes to half an hour, rarely longer."

"No further questions. I ask for the right to recall this witness at a later time." "Granted."

The defense lawyer started her questions.

"How long were you on the painkillers?"

"For the first week after the rape. It was the only way I could function. The pain from my ribs was excruciating. The simple act of coughing made me feel as if I was being impaled. When they had healed enough so that there was only a dull throbbing I stopped taking the painkillers."

"Dr. Lambert is it possible that the drugs influenced your memory or your identification of your attacker?"

"No. I was not given any painkillers until the doctor had finished examining me and the x-rays had come back. By that time Officer Harris had finished her questioning of me."

"What about when you gave your statement to Detective Schanke?"

"I had been given a shot of painkiller before I left the hospital but it did not interfere with my statement to Detective Schanke. The memory of the attack was as sharp then as when it happened. I will never totally forget what happened."

"During your period of chronic nightmares, was there ever any time when you slept without a nightmare?"

"Yes."

"When was that?"

"The two times I fell asleep in Detective Knight's arms on the couch in his loft."

"No further questions."

"Dr. Lambert, you may step down. We will take our lunch break here. Court will resume in ninety minutes," the judge said.

Natalie headed for the door of the courtroom. Nick was right behind her. He caught up to her in the hallway. Grace was there too.

"You okay? You're doing good," Grace said, her concern showing.

"I'll be okay. I'm hungry."

"Natalie, I wish I could stay for lunch but I have a few urgent errands to take care of. I'll try to be back by the time the afternoon session starts."

"Thanks so much for coming," Natalie said.

"Why don't you go to the waiting room and I'll have something sentin. If you go out you'll be ambushed by reporters," the Prosecutor said.

"Sounds good. I want a cheese steak and something chocolate."

"And you, detective?"

"I'll have a container of fries and lots of ketchup," Nick said, and saw Natalie try to hide her grin.

"What about Schanke?" The prosecutor asked.

"Get him a Souvlaki," Nick said, knowing that is Schanke's favorite dish.

Officer Johnson approached Natalie. "Dr. Lambert, I'm sorry for what I said back in the precinct. I was wrong to say that. I learned a *lot* today. I will be more sensitive towards rape victims in the future."

"I am curious as to what made you decide to come," Natalie said.

"I was ordered to come as a sensitivity lesson."

Natalie and Schanke watched in surprise as Nick ate the fries before him, heavily doused with ketchup, of course.

"Wow, he's eating real food," Schanke teased. "What about your diet?"

"This is the only food not on it that I can eat."

The more fries he forced down the more nauseous he became. Natalie's smile grew as the container emptied, making his efforts worthwhile. After half the container his stomach sent him an urgent message that if he ate one more bite he would find himself losing all he had just eaten, proving his earlier statement to be a lie, and jeopardizing his cover.

Nick's effort did not go without notice, but only on Natalie'spart. The slightly green tinge of his pale complexion did not pass by her critical doctor's eye. He noticed her concern and subtly nodded that he was okay.

"Schank, would you like the rest? I'm not as hungry as I thought I was."

"Natalie, why don't you eat them. You've hardly touched your lunch," Schanke said concerned.

"You need to eat," Nick said concerned.

"Yes, mom," she said teasingly, knowing they were looking out for her best interests. She just was not hungry. Having to relive it had killed her appetite. She knew she would need the energy if the afternoon was going to be even half as tough as the morning. She knew it would not be a good idea to have her stomach start rumbling in the middle of her testimony.

Nick was relieved when he saw her slowly but surely finish off her lunch. She did feel better, and was not sure if the effect was not at least partly psychological, knowing that the food had not had time to start the digestion process yet. "Better?" she asked lightly.

"Much," Nick said.

Court was back in session and everyone was back in their proper positions. Schanke had just taken the stand and had been sworn in.

"Detective Schanke, you took Dr. Lambert's statement at the loft, correct."

"Yes."

"What can you tell me about that scene?"

"I arrived knowing only that Dr. Lambert had been attacked in her apartment. I was stunned when I saw what a thorough job they had done on her. She was withdrawn, depressed, very sad, scared, and in a great deal of pain. She pulled back as I started to approach her so I stayed where I was. She had the same reaction when Detective Knight approached her. I had pretty much figured out what had happened to her. She knew it and called me on it. I asked her if she wanted me to come back later and she said she wanted to get it over with. She told me what had happened. I was shocked. It's always hard when something like that happens to anyone, especially a friend or a coworker.."

"Do you think the painkiller had any effect on her statement?"

"No."

"How long have you known Detective Knight and Dr. Lambert?"

"I've known Knight for about four years. Dr. Lambert for about six years. Ever since she started working at the M.E.'s office."

"How would you describe their relationship?"

"Very good friends."

"Do you see anything romantic between them?"

"No."

"Have you ever seen him kiss her?"

"Once or twice...." He said before being cut off.

"In a romantic way?"

"No. It was very much like a brother kissing a sister."

"How would you describe them to someone who had never met them?"

"I would describe Knight as a very good detective, loyal partner, good friend, a nice guy, charming, attractive, but a little eccentric. I would describe Natalie Lambert as very good at her job, dedicated, a good friend, fun to be around, attractive, big hearted."

"What do you mean by a little eccentric?"

"I don't know. He's a great guy, but he has that skin condition and he has a lot of food allergies."

"Do his eccentricities bother you?"

"No. Everyone has their own little eccentricities. Hell, Knight would give you the shirt off his back. He's a great guy, really." "No further questions. I request the right to recall this witness at a later date."

"Granted."

The defense attorney stood and asked her first question.

"Have you ever seen Dr. Lambert or Detective Knight date anyone?"

"Yes."

"Who?"

"Nick's a bachelor, and a good looking guy. I've seen him with lots of women. I've seen him with a couple more often than others, like Janette duCharme, and I've seen Natalie with guys before, ah..... Alex, and Roger.... I also saw flowers from another gentleman once," Schanke said, being a wiseass, but meaning well.

"Dr. Lambert said that an old friend of Nick's helped her by sharing her painful experience as a victim of rape with her. Do you find it odd that she would help another woman who had likely taken her place in Detective Knight's affections?"

"Objection. Irrelevant."

"Sustained."

"Do you find it odd that Detective Knight would take up with two women who were victims of rape?"

"Objection. Dr. Lambert had not been a victim when they met."

"Sustained. Counselor, move on."

"Yes, your honor."

"You were in charge of the investigation concerning the rape of Dr. Lambert, correct?"

"Yes."

"Did your friendship with both Lambert and Knight have any influence on your work?"

"It did not affect my professional judgment."

"Are you sure you did not work a little harder on this case because they were friends of yours?"

"I gave it the same professional attention that every case gets." "Are you sure?"

"Yes."

"Was Detective Knight involved in the case?"

"Yes."

"What was his involvement?"

"He was the officer who found Dr. Lambert and took her to thehospital. He called the captain who assigned a female officer to handle the evidence collection part of the standard rape examination as well as taking the necessary photographs of the victim. He was present as Natalie gave her statement about the attack to me. That was the end of his involvement until the suspect tried to attack Natalie again..."

"What happened then?"

"Nick and I were out on patrol when he received a call fromNatalie. The suspect was in the morgue with Natalie. We rushed over to the morgue and arrived just in time for me to arrest the suspect."

"He did not resist?"

"He was in no shape to resist. He was conscious and alert, but injured."

"What happened? What was Detective Knight's part in this?"

"Natalie had fought back and won. Knight was making sure Natalie was okay as I handcuffed the suspect."

"Were you surprised by what you saw as you entered the morgue?"

"Yes."

"What did you see?"

"Natalie kicked in his knee and was prepared for any further attack by him."

"How so?"

"She held a scalpel, ready to defend herself if necessary," Schanke said, not wanting to make it look as if Natalie had been out for Collins' blood.

"What happened next?"

"I took the suspect to the hospital to have his wounds taken care of. I turned him over to Officer Gerlecki when I was informed that hospitalization was required due to his injuries. After that I returned to the station to take Dr. Lambert's statement."

"Who was present when Dr. Lambert's statement was taken?"

"Myself, Natalie, and Nick."

"Did Detective Knight have any further involvement in the case?"

"No."

"Is the suspect you arrested in this room?"

"Yes."

"Where is he? What is his name?"

"He is the defendant. Samuel Collins."

"Why do you think Dr. Lambert called Detective Knight rather than 911?"

"I don't know. Instinct? Friendship? Fear?"

"Did the test results from Dr. Lambert's post rape examination match the samples taken from Mr. Collins?"

"Yes."

"Explain."

"Mr. Collins skin cells were found under her fingernails. His blood type was found on her lip. She had bitten his lip during the struggle. Several markers in his semen matched with what was found in Dr. Lambert. His hairs were found on her and her clothing."

"Could these same findings be found in other people in Toronto?"

"I don't know."

"Are you trying to tell me that no one else in Toronto has the same blood type, skin coloring, or hair color as the defendant?"

"No...." He said before being cut off.

"So what are you trying to say?"

"I'm trying to say that no one else will have exactly the same combination as was found on Dr. Lambert."

"Were Collins' hairs the only hair samples found on Dr. Lambert?"

"No. Detective Knight's hairs were found on Dr. Lambert's clothing as well."

"What is your explanation for this?"

"Simple, he picked her up and took her to the hospital. By her being in his arms she came into contact with his clothing and therefore his hair."

"No further questions at this time."

"Detective Schanke, you may step down, but make yourself available."

"Yes, sir."

"We recall Dr. Natalie Lambert to the stand."

Natalie took the stand and the prosecution asked its first question.

"Tell us briefly what happened from the time you arrived at Detective Knight's loft until you returned to your own apartment."

"I began the process of healing from both the physical and emotional trauma. I saw Mr. Collins outside the window of Nick's loft about a week after the attack. I called Nick over, but Collins was gone by the time Nick looked out the window. About two weeks after that I returned to work. A few days later I returned to my own apartment."

"Did you have any problems at work? Any problems concentrating?"

"Yes. At first."

"How did you deal with it?"

"I started working and found that I was able to partially relax and forget about my problems for a while."

"Was Detective Knight there?"

"Yes."

"Did he stay more than just your first day back?"

"No."

"How long did he stay? Did he help you feel more secure there?"

"A couple of hours. Yes, he made me feel more secure, so I could focus on my work."

"What made him leave?"

"Schanke came by and asked him if he wanted to do some police work. Nick asked me if I wanted him to stay. If I had said yes, he would've stayed. I told him to go on, that I'd be fine. He wasn't sure if he should leave, but he did."

"Did anything unusual happen that night?"

"Yes."

"Describe what happened."

"Mr. Collins came back. I was terrified, of course, but I was determined not to let him hurt me again, not to go through it all again. I tried to keep as much distance between us as possible. I had made it over to my surgical tray and had just grabbed a scalpel when his hand closed painfully around my wrist, threatening to break it if I did not drop the scalpel. He squeezed my wrist so hard I thought he was going to break it, so I dropped the scalpel. He pulled me close and I kneed him as hard as I could right in the groin. He released me and I carefully removed the scalpel from his hand. I slugged him as hard as I could in the cheek. I saw the rage in his eyes and knew that if I did not subdue him, I would die there that night, and it would be a very slow, painful death. I was terrified. I called Nick and told him to get over to the lab immediately. I saw Collins approaching and became more terrified. I started to panic. I used the phone like a club and smacked him across the cheek with it. He continued to come at me. There seemed to be even more rage in his eyes. A bloodthirstiness in them. I kicked in his kneecap and grabbed a scalpel. I was willing to kill him to survive." Natalie paused a moment to take a deep breath. "I am a doctor. I've sworn never to harm anyone. I could not believe what I was willing to do to survive. I had never hurt anyone before."

"Did you use the scalpel on Mr. Collins?"

"No."

"No further questions."

The defense lawyer briefly looked at her notes before asking her first question.

"Dr. Lambert, isn't it true that you never had a chance to use the scalpel because of the arrival of Detectives Knight and Schanke?"

"I could've used it but chose not to. I was not going to sink to his level."

"If you had used it, you would have been arrested for murder."

"No. It would have been self-defense."

"Not if the police were there."

"It would have been a justifiable homicide."

"Didn't Detective Knight shout out your name when he entered and saw you with the scalpel. It seemed as if he was worried you might go through with it," the defense lawyer said, pleased to have shown another side to Natalie. One that was willing to take a human life.

"He did call out my name. He was concerned. I wanted to kill Collins but I knew I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I did. I handed the scalpel to Nick."

"Isn't it true that many people have the same blood type."

"Yes."

"Isn't it true that anyone in this courtroom could have the same blood type?"

"Yes."

"Is it not true that Detective Knight and Mr. Collins have the same blood type?"

Natalie was surprised by the question.

"Objection. Detective Knight is not on trial here."

"Maybe he should be."

"Do you have any evidence to back up your statement, Counselor?" The judge sternly asked.

"No."

"Then I suggest you apologize to Detective Knight. The witness will answer the question. Counselor, anymore stunts like that and I will consider it contempt."

"Yes, your Honor. Detective Knight I apologize for suggesting you should be on trial. And for suggesting that you might be guilty. No further questions," the defense lawyer said.

"Detective Knight and Mr. Collins do share the same blood type but not the same markers within the blood type. It is these markers that we look at to match up two blood samples of the same blood type. If certain important markers match, then the blood samples are considered a match. Otherwise it is just two people who happen to have the same blood type. As you yourself said, anyone in this room could have the same blood type as both Detective Knight and Mr. Collins," Natalie said, in her best professional tone.

"Dr. Lambert, did you have your wrist x-rayed to see if he had indeed broken it?"

"Yes."

"Was it broken?"

"No. There was some --"

"Thank you," the defense lawyer said cutting Natalie off.

"Objection. Dr. Lambert was not allowed to finish," Ferrell said.

"Objection sustained. Dr. Lambert, please finish what you were saying.

"There was some soft tissue damage, as well as some swelling and a very nasty and quite tender bruise."

"Dr. Lambert, you may step down. Keep yourself available."

"I call Detective Nicholas Knight to the stand," Ferrell said as Nick took the stand.

"Remember you're still under oath," the judge reminded him.

"When you entered Dr. Lambert's office and saw her fighting off Mr. Collins, what was your reaction?"

"I was both concerned for Dr. Lambert's safety and pleased at how well she was defending herself."

"What about when you saw her holding the scalpel in a close proximity to Mr. Collins?"

"My first reaction was concern. I was fairly certain that she would not kill him."

"Why were you so sure?" Ferrell asked, before the defense could.

"She values life very highly and would be unable to take a human life. She would never be able to live with herself if she did."

"Is there *any* condition under which she might take a human life?" The prosecutor asked, not allowing the defense a chance to ask the question.

"The only condition I could imagine would be if her life were threatened and she had absolutely no chance for escape. If she were in immediate and severe danger."

"Do you believe that Dr. Lambert's life was in danger in themorgue? That the situation met all the above requirements?"

"Yes. I saw the rage and bloodthirst in his eyes when I entered the room. He would have killed her without a doubt. It would have been a slow and tortuous death."

"How do you know this?"

"Years of experience."

"No further questions "I call Dr. Benton to the stand," the prosecutor said.

The doctor took the stand and was sworn in.

"Dr. Benton, you were the one to examine Dr. Lambert, correct?"

"Yes."

"Briefly tell us what happened."

"She had been brought in by Detective Knight. I was told that a rape victim had just been brought in. I entered the room with Dr. Lambert and Detective Knight. I examined Dr. Lambert for life-threatening injuries. When she had none, I started with the standard rape examination. Officer Harris took photographs of Dr. Lambert at key points during the examination. Dr. Lambert's clothes were collected and sealed in evidence bags. Scrapings were taken from under her fingernails. A gynecological exam was performed to collect evidence and make sure there were no injuries. Detective Knight was not present for this. He was allowed back in after that exam was completed. I cleaned up the gash on her forehead and closed it. I took blood for the standard tests. I examined Dr. Lambert's injuries and ordered x-rays. When I saw that there was no skull fracture I gave her a painkiller. I taped up her three fractured ribs. I checked her for signs of a concussion before admitting her. I checked on her later in the day and released her that night."

"No further questions," the prosecutor said, as she sat down.

"Were there any difficulties with Dr. Lambert's examination? Or with Detective Knight?"

"Yes."

"Please explain."

"I entered the examination room and could see that my patient was in a great deal of pain. The Detective was concerned. I was trying to ease the tension and said "Let's see what the big bad man did to you" when Dr. Lambert started to cry and Detective Knight roughly shoved me out into the hallway. He apparently didn't like my attitude and shoved me against the wall as he explained how Dr. Lambert had had her life shattered, at the end of his speech he told me how she did not need the same sort of treatment from me and that I was to apologize to her. I saw no need to apologize, but I did because I did not want any further trouble."

"What do you think might have happened if you had not apologized?"

"Objection. Calls for speculation."

"Sustained."

The defense lawyer was pleased to have shown that Knight was not perfect. That he did have a temper, especially when it came to someone hurting Lambert.

"Do you remember exactly what Detective Knight said to you?" The defense lawyer asked.

"Yes."

"What was it?"

"He said 'you need to show some respect. She has been violated by a complete stranger. She does not need the same treatment from you.'"

"No further questions."

The prosecutor stood up and asked her question.

"Do you think your comment about the big bad man was in poor taste?"

"No."

"Would you be offended if someone said that to your mother, sister, wife, daughter, girlfriend?"

The doctor paused. "Yes."

"So, what's the difference between you saying it to a rape victim and someone saying it to someone you love?"

The doctor paused.

"Objection. Calls for speculation."

"Overruled. The witness is to answer the question."

"I don't know."

"I'll ask you again. Do you think that comment was in bad taste?"

"Yes."

"Can you understand why Detective Knight was upset with you? Also why Dr. Lambert started to cry?"

"Yes," Dr. Benton said, looking sheepishly at Natalie and Nick. Nick gave him a look that said 'gotcha you idiot'.

"Are you going to be more sensitive in the future?"

"Yes."

"No further questions."

"Dr. Benton you're released. I would like you to stay available in case you are recalled."

"Yes sir."

"The court is adjourned for the day. I want everyone present at 9 am sharp tomorrow morning."

Natalie flopped down on her couch, exhausted from her rough day in court. She had told Nick she wanted some time to herself, but found herself wanting his company very much. She stretched out to think and wound up falling fast asleep. A few minutes later she began to very vividly relive the rape. She bolted upright screaming "NO!" She was soaking wet and shaking as she gathered her wits about her. She picked up the phone and called Nick.

"Nick."

"Nat, what's wrong?" Nick asked quite concerned over the panic he heard in her voice.

"I had a very intense nightmare. Could you come over? I don't want to be alone."

"I'll be right there."

"If you fly, you'll be squished in my trunk tomorrow."

"It's okay."

They hung up.

About two minutes later Nick knocked on Natalie's door.

"Nat, it's me."

She let him in and they walked over to the couch. He could hear her heartbeat beginning to slow down its rapid pace. She had stopped shaking, but the back of her shirt was damp in places.

"Hold me."

Nick held her tight, feeling where her sweat had soaked through her shirt. He also felt some very minor trembles running through her body. She held onto him and did not let go for what seemed an hour.

"I guess the trial got to me more than I thought."

"That's not all, is it?"

"No. I have to retake the HIV test soon. I'm scared."

"I know."

They sat on the couch where she rested her head on his chest and felt his arms wrap around her, almost like a protective cocoon. Nick heard her breathing become shallow and quite regular and knew without looking down that she was deeply asleep. Being careful not to wake her, he maneuvered them into a more comfortable position so neither would be sore when they awoke.

He was exhausted, but because it was nighttime, he found it quite difficult to sleep. He looked down at the beautiful woman in his arms, admiring her strength. Before long he was asleep. Nightmares plagued both of them, causing their sleep to be rather restless, yet neither woke as they battled their own inner demons.

The next morning all the trial players were back in the courtroom. The judge entered and took his seat. Natalie did not look away when Collins stared at her. She returned the stare. Natalie was called to the stand.

"When you first returned to work after the rape, why did you have Detective Knight check through your files? What did you ask him to do?"

"I asked him to remove any rape murder cases because I did not think I was ready to face them my first night back."

"How long was it before you were ready to face them?"

"I did not face them. I had the cases reassigned."

"How long was it before you had to face a rape murder case?"

"About two weeks."

"When did you first realize that it was a rape murder case? What did you do?"

"I did not realize until the autopsy that she had been sexually assaulted. I made sure that the autopsy was done with the same care as every one I do. I am always very thorough in both my autopsies and reports."

"No further questions."

The defense lawyer started to cross examine Natalie.

"Dr. Lambert, did you have a reaction when you first determined it was a rape murder case? Were you able to keep your personal feelings apart from your professional judgment?"

"The memories of my assault did return. I realized she could have been me. I pushed my concerns aside and continued with the examination. I was able to separate my personal feelings from my professional judgment."

Liz Ferrell stood to ask another question or two.

"Dr. Lambert, correct me if I am wrong, but did you not identify your assailant without a doubt? And did you not identify him again here in the courtroom yesterday? Would you mind repeating your identification? Also, how you can be so sure of it?"

"You're not wrong. I did identify him and will identify him again. He is the defendant, Mr. Samuel Collins." Natalie pointed to him. "I can be sure of it, I will never forget him, because I still see his face in my nightmares as clear as when it happened."

"Has this trial brought back the nightmares?"

"Yes."

"How intensely?"

"I had one last night that was as vivid as the night it happened. I woke up screaming, shaking, and soaked with sweat."

"Did you manage to go back to sleep? How did you manage it? Did you have any other nightmares?"

"It took me a few minutes to calm down to the point where I could call Nick. I needed to talk to someone who had been there through it all. I needed to feel secure in his arms. They were the only thing that made me feel safe after the rape. I apparently fell asleep in his arms. We woke on the couch this morning, his arms still wrapped around me. I did have several less intense nightmares throughout the night. The kind where you can't wake."

"No further questions."

The defense lawyer stood and asked her questions.

"Is it unusual for you to call Detective Knight at all hours?"

"No. Whenever one of us has a problem and needs to talk, we call each other, no matter what the hour."

"What were you wearing when you invited him over? Is it your standard wear? What do you wear at his loft?"

"I was in leggings and a nightshirt. I had my thick terry cloth robe over it because the apartment was chilly. I tend to wear long shirts and leggings, sweaters, or sweats when I'm off duty and at home or at Nick's. I like to be comfortable."

"What was he wearing?"

"He was in jeans and a black button up shirt."

"Is this the type of clothes he wears when he's at your apartment or at home in his loft?"

"Yes."

"Have you ever seen him in his pajamas?"

"Yes. If I stop by while he has breakfast. He almost always has his robe on over them."

"Counselor, where is this line of questioning leading?" The judge asked.

"I want to show that she does not care what she wears when around members of the opposite sex. That she does not mind seeing men in their sleepwear. That maybe there is more to their relationship than they have said."

"Move on. I see no relevance of this line of questioning to the case. I will accept no arguments."

"Yes, your Honor."

"No further questions."

"Dr. Lambert, I would like to ask a question. Have you told us the truth about your relationship with Detective Knight? Once you answer this will be the end of it," the judge said.

"I have your Honor." "Thank you, Doctor. You may step down."

"Any more witnesses?"

"Yes, one more. We call Officer Harris to the stand."

Officer Harris approached the stand and was sworn in by the Bailiff before taking her seat in the witness box.

"Officer Harris, you conducted the post rape interview and took pictures of Dr. Lambert."

"Correct."

"Did the description she gave of her assailant match Mr. Collins?"

"To a T. The clothing was different when he was arrested, but everything else was a positive match."

"Did Dr. Lambert give any indications that she was uncertain in any way about her description of her attacker?"

"No, she did not."

"Are victims usually so certain?"

"Sometimes they are and sometimes not. It depends on the person and often the extent of their injuries. I believe that Dr. Lambert's medical training and familiarity with police work made her more observant than a large amount of the general population."

"Did you believe that Dr. Lambert's story and injuries were consistent with rape?"

"Yes. She was beaten rather badly. She was an emotional wreck. She was showing many of the classic signs of rape. She also was in excruciating pain from her injuries, to the ribs, especially."

"No further questions."

The defense lawyer rose and started her questions.

"Officer Harris, could the rape have actually been a case of abuse by a boyfriend?"

"I don't think so. There were subtle differences that made me pretty sure it was a rape and not abuse by a boyfriend. One can never be absolutely certain in such matters."

"When Detective Knight was around, did Dr. Lambert exhibit any signs that he might have hurt her?"

"None what-so-ever. She was terrified when he had to leave her side. It was as if he was her security blanket. It was almost like the fear in a hospitalized child when their parent has to leave for a while."

"No further questions."

"Officer Harris, you're released."

"Ms. Ferrell do you have any further witnesses?"

"No. The prosecution rests."

"Ms. Toller, will you be ready to offer your defense after lunch?"

"Your honor, the defense rests."

"Very well, then. Members of the jury, after lunch you will hear closing arguments, then the case will be turned over to you. Court will resume in ninety minutes."

As soon as the jury was out of the room, Natalie asked Liz Ferrell, "Is it normal for the defense not to present a case?"

"It does happen from time to time. Especially when there is strong evidence for the prosecution and little or no evidence for the defense. I would never have brought this case to court if I was the defense."

"I'm sure he did it just to make her suffer," Nick said, a touch of anger in his voice. Natalie's expression agreed with Nick.

"Do you think they will take long to deliberate? Is longer better?" Natalie asked, her real question unasked, will he get off?

"Longer isn't necessarily better. I don't think it will be more than a few hours at most."

Nick, Schanke, and Grace took Natalie down to the cafeteria forlunch. They tried to get her mind off the trial, but failed. Nick even tried to eat something other than fries, eliciting a small grin from Natalie. He could not get down more than a bite of hamburger before he was forced to bolt from the room, drawing concern from his friends.

"Nat, is he okay?" Schanke asked, concerned.

"He'll be fine. If he's not back in another minute or two, I'll send you to check on him. Okay?"

"Okay."

Nick returned, looking pale, but had lost the green tinge.

"I guess I won't be trying hamburger again soon," Nick lightly said.

"You weren't kidding about your allergies, were you," Grace said concerned.

"No."

The lunch break was over and everyone was back in the courtroom. The Judge entered and called the court to order.

"Ms. Ferrell, you may begin closing arguments."

Liz Ferrell stood and starting stating the prosecution's position.

"Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, I have shown you proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Collins is responsible for viciously beating and raping Dr. Lambert, for returning a second time, this time not to invade her home, but invading her place of business, to attempt to rape, and I believe murder her. You have heard the evidence, seen the photos, and have read the reports. You heard Dr. Lambert's heartbreaking account of her rape and her struggle to get on with her life. You have heard from her friends their accounts of her fight to return to some semblance of a normal life from this most horrific crime. A crime where one person willfully shatters the life of another. The victim never truly leaves it behind. She may go on with her life but it is there in the background. Over the years it fades further into the background, but it is always there. I ask you to find the defendant, Samuel Collins, guilty on all counts. Thank you."

The defense lawyer stood to make her statement.

"Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, I would like you to look deep into your hearts and ask yourself why would someone do something sohorrific? Also, did the prosecution prove to you without a reasonable doubt that my client, Samuel Collins, did commit such horrendous crimes. Carefully examine the evidence and the statement and emotional states of the witnesses. If you have even the slightest doubt, you must acquit. Thank you."

"Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, I leave the matter in yourhands. Court adjourned until the verdict is reached," the judge said.

The jury was led out of the court room to the deliberation room. The judge left for his chambers.

"Nat, why don't we get some coffee? They will page us when the verdict comes back," Nick said, trying to get her out of the courtroom and her mind off of the jurors.

"Okay." She knew what he was trying to do and appreciated his effort.

They left the court room and headed for the cafeteria. Nick pulled out his baseball cap and put it on when he saw that they would have to pass a few light places. He also stuck his hands in his pockets to protect them. Natalie blocked out whatever light she could by walking in front of him. He could tell that she was a bundle of nerves. At least this would give her something to do for a few minutes.

Waiting for the verdict was agony and did nothing to soothe the nerves of Natalie or her friends. They tried everything they could think of to try and help her get her mind off it, but nothing worked for more than a few minutes, if at all.

Three hours passed before Nick, Natalie, and Schanke were once again in the courtroom, having heard that the jury was ready. Nick did not have to be a vampire to see that Natalie was about to jump out of her skin from a combination of nerves and concern that Sam Collins would be found not guilty. She did not want to think about that alternative.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, trying to head off the panic she felt beginning to well up inside her. This was no time for an attack. She did not want Collins to realize what his attack had done to her. Nick placed his hand on top of hers to reassure her. She felt all the panic drain away by that simple gesture. She felt Collins staring at her and returned the stare, making sure her eyes reflected a "you can't hurt me ever again" air.

The judge entered, took his seat and started the proceedings. The jury was led back into the room.

The judge addressed the jury, "Have you reached a verdict?"

"Yes, your Honor."

The jury Foreman passed the slip with the verdict on it to thejudge. He looked at the paper. "Please announce your verdict."

"We find the defendant, Samuel Collins, guilty on all counts."

A huge wave of relief swept over Natalie as a smile spread across her face.

Nick let out a breath he did not know he had been holding and looked over at Natalie.

"Mr. Collins, I am giving you the maximum sentence for each crime. You will not be eligible for parole or early release. You will not be eligible for any sort of program that allows you to leave the prison facilities," the judge said.

A few tears ran down Natalie's cheek. It was finally over. Every pore of her being seemed to relax, knowing she was safe from this predator.

Nick and Schanke were also relieved that her nightmare was over. Nick had heard the slowing of her heartbeat as it returned to normal. Schanke could see her eyes once again sparkling, much like they used to before the rape. "Court adjourned," the judge said, as his final act in the case. As soon as the judge left the room, Natalie hugged Nick.

"It's over." She wiped away the tears. "Thank you for everything."

Next she hugged Schanke. "Thank you for all your hard work. For all you did while Nick was helping me."

"You're welcome. That's our job, getting creeps like Collins off the streets," Schanke said, pleased with the joy and relief he saw in her eyes.

Grace approached and received thanks and a hug. She was pleased that Natalie could now get on with the rest of her life without fearing that scum any longer.

"Thank you, Grace. It really helped to have you there to listen. Just knowing you were there for me whether or not I wanted to talk was a very big help."

Natalie approached Liz Ferrell.

"Thank you for getting him convicted. I can live the rest of my life without having to wonder if he will come back for revenge."

"I'm glad we won this one. It was the excellent work you three did that made my job easy."

"How about dinner? My treat," Natalie said, suddenly feeling like a celebration.

"That sounds great, but I can't. I have too much work to do. I start a new trial the day after tomorrow," Liz said.

"Nick, Grace, Schanke?" Nat inquired.

"Sure." All three replied.

"Schank, invite Myra. I know you told her, because you needed someone to talk to."

"Nick, did I ever tell you what a good detective Natalie wouldmake?" Schanke teased.

"No, you didn't," Nick said, returning the tease. "But I agree."

"You aren't stealing her, guys," Grace joked.

"Myra deserves to be here for the celebration. If only for putting up with our problems over the last six months," Natalie said, trying to sound lighthearted.

Nick saw the subtle change in her eyes when she realized it had been six months. He knew she was thinking about the possibility that the HIV test would come back positive.

"What time should I pick you two up?" Nick asked, knowing his car was the only one large enough to comfortably seat all five of them.

"How does 7:30 sound?" Natalie said, knowing that the sun set around 7:15 that evening.

"Sounds good. That would mean that you'd get to my house about 7:45." "Or you and Myra could come to my apartment."

"Good idea, Natalie," Schanke said. "I have to call Myra and give her time to get ready and to find a sitter for Jenny."

Natalie dropped Nick off at his loft and made sure he got inside safely before she left. Then she picked up Grace and they went shopping because neither felt she had the right dress to wear. Natalie and Grace enjoyed their excursion and helped each other find the perfect dress. Natalie was very picky, wanting to find exactly the right dress. It was the first time she had felt good about herself in months and was not about to let the mood pass. Natalie bought a very nice practical dress, despite Grace's protests that this dress should be for a celebration. Natalie liked being able to return the protests as Grace also bought a practical dress.

Actually the shopping excursion seemed like its own little celebration, the two friends spending some time together like they had before the attack had torn apart their world. They dallied around the cosmetics counters and stopped for some much relished cappuccinos.

Natalie was glad Nick had offered to make the reservations, because she did not know much about making reservations in fancy restaurants. She also knew that men received better service in such places and hated that fact.

Natalie showered, put on her make up and then her new dress. It was a simple, yet elegant royal blue dress that she could use for any number of occasions. She put on the few simple pieces of gold jewelry she owned and a little perfume before slipping into her heels. She hated pumps, but they did go very nicely with the outfit. Her wavy brown hair hung down loosely framing her face. Her dress brought out the blue of her large bright eyes.

At 7:25 the doorbell rang and she answered it finding Schanke and Myra outside.

"I hope we're dressed appropriately," Myra said, noticing that Natalie looked quite good for all she'd been through lately.

"Natalie, you look absolutely stunning," Schanke said, a bit surprised.

"You two look lovely," Natalie said.

Myra was dressed in a simple red dress that came down to her knees, with matching shoes and a simple gold necklace. Schanke was dressed in a simple gray suit, white shirt, and solid gray tie. It was best looking suit she had ever seen him in.

Natalie's phone rang and she answered it.

"Hello."

"Hi Nick, we'll meet you downstairs."

Natalie hung up and followed Schanke and Myra out the door, locking it behind her.

In the car Natalie sat in the front passenger seat with Don and Myra in the back seat.

"Natalie, where are we going?" Schanke asked.

"I don't know. I let Nick pick the restaurant."

"Natalie, you let Mr. Fashion Plate who never eats pick therestaurant? It will be expensive." Schanke teased.

"Would I do that to her?" Nick asked innocently.

"Where's Grace?" Schanke asked.

"She had something to do and said she'd meet us at the restaurant," Nick said. They arrived at Le Triumph and piled out of the car by the front door. Nick gave the keys to the valet. They all smiled at the name of the restaurant, finding it very appropriate to their celebration.

"Take good care of her and I'll take good care of you," Nick said to the valet as he handed the young man the keys.

The valet nodded. Nick's passengers all gave each other a long suffering roll of their eyes.

The foursome entered the restaurant and headed for the Maitre`D. Grace entered right behind them.

"A reservation for five at eight under the name of Dr. Lambert," Nick said as he slipped the man a fifty dollar bill, a move unseen by anyone but the Maitre`D.

"Right this way, Doctor," Francois said as he led them to a good table.

Francois held the ladies' chairs out for them and then handed everyone in the Lambert party a menu.

"Can I get you anything to drink?"

"I want one bottle of a magnificent burgundy," Nick ordered.

Francois left.

"Nick, why did you use my name? Won't he be surprised when he sees who the doctor is," Nat said with a wicked grin.

"Yeah, serves him right. Doctors always get better service in places like this," Schanke said.

"Thanks for picking the wine. I don't know much about them," Natalie said.

"No problem. Nat, you look stunning tonight," Nick said with a smile.

She blushed. It had been a long while since she had felt attractive.

"Thank you."

Everyone studied their menus trying to translate the French.

Nick took pity on them and read the menu to them in English, causing Schanke to give Nick a curious look.

"I had to take French in college," Nick lied, wondering what Schanke would think if he knew that he learned it in France almost 800 years ago.

The wine steward brought over the burgundy, presenting it to Nick who examined the label and the cork before nodding his approval. The steward opened the bottle and poured a small amount in his glass. Nick swirled the wine in his glass checking the clarity and body of the wine. When he was satisfied he sniffed it before taking a sip. He nodded his approval and everyone's glass was filled halfway. The bottle was set down on the table in a wine holder.

Everyone sipped their wine and was impressed by the quality.

"Excellent," was the general consensus.

The waiter approached and took their orders.

"Natalie, thank you for inviting me. You didn't have to," Myra said.

"Yes, I did. You were Don's support system like Nick was mine."

"Natalie, you didn't have to invite me," Grace said.

"You helped me. How could I not have invited you?."

Natalie raised her glass in a toast "to the future and all the good things ahead. To the best friends a person could have."

Everyone raised their glasses in support of her toast.

"To the strongest, most courageous person I know," Schanke said to Natalie.

"To friendship. One of the strongest bonds there is," Nick said.

They all drank before Schanke decided to lighten the mood.

"Nick, you're actually going to eat something?"

"Yes. I told you I have a lot of food allergies. I was careful to pick something I can handle." Or at least he hoped he could eat. He was willing to try, to make Natalie happy.

Everyone could see the change in Natalie since the verdict. She seemed more at peace, more relaxed, happier. Much more like her old self. The sparkle was back in her eyes.

The salad arrived shortly. When everyone had finished, the main course was served. The food was magnificently displayed. It was a feast for all the senses.

Natalie was pleased to see Nick take a bite of everything on hisplate. Her smile was reward enough for him as he tried to eat as much as he could without making himself sick.

Everyone had promised that nothing job related or depressing would be discussed during their celebration. Natalie had extracted this oath out of each of them under the pain of torture for failure. They had extracted the same promise from her. The conversation turned to talk of dreams for the future as well as vacation plans.

After all had finished dinner, dessert and coffee were ordered from the dessert cart that had been wheeled over. Nick had heard that this restaurant had some of the best chocolate dishes in town, which was one of the main reasons he had chosen it. Natalie had trouble deciding between two desserts. Nick decided to make it easy for her and ordered the one she did not pick. Natalie had picked a sinfully delicious rich chocolate mousse with dark chocolate curls on top of a dab of fresh whipped cream. Nick had a chocolate sin cake. Natalie smiled at the combination. Myra also had the mousse while Schanke chose the peach soufflŽ. Grace had the chocolate sin cake, thinking it looked too good to pass up.

Nick tried both his dessert and hers. Natalie finished her dessert and half of Nick's.

"Tomorrow it is salad for lunch for a week," Natalie said in acknowledgment of how many calories she had consumed.

"I agree," Myra said.

"Definitely," Grace said in agreement.

They talked for a while longer, enjoying the rare chance to talk without work interrupting. After a suitable time the waiter placed the check in front of Nick, who handed it to Natalie. She checked the bill to make sure it was accurate and figured in a good tip before she took her gold card out of her purse and laid it down on the bill. The waiter was surprised to see that she was the doctor, picked up the bill and left. "If he only knew what we were, he'd faint," Nick said with a grin. "Right, Schank."

Schanke could not resist letting his large grin show. "Right, Nick."

Natalie did not give in to the guilt for spending so much money on one night's food. It was a celebration and she was going to enjoy herself, for once.

The next night Natalie and Nick stopped by the Raven on their way in for their shift, hoping to see Janette and finding her at her usual spot at the bar. Natalie felt that Janette deserved an update on how she was doing and the outcome of the trial.

"Natalie, Nicola, what brings you here?"

"I just came by to let you know that the rapist will be spending the rest of his life behind bars. And that I am doing much better. I feel free. I feel like myself again. I feel safer than I have since the attack. The panic attacks have become increasingly infrequent. I actually had two whole months free of any of nightmares or panic attacks. Except for during the trial the intense nightmares had completely ceased and the less intense ones come much less frequently."

"I'm glad to hear that," Janette said sincerely. She had noticed the positive change in Natalie as soon as she saw her.

"Thank you for your help."

"You're welcome," Janette said ordering them some drinks.

They casually chatted for a while, covering a multitude of topics. Nick wasn't sure if the two women in his life getting to know each other better was such a good idea. There was so much they could tell each other about him, Janette especially. Natalie and Janette noticed his discomfort and grinned wickedly, making him all the more uncomfortable. He hoped that this would make each view the other as less of a threat.

Two days later Natalie knew she could not put off the HIV retest any longer and made her appointment for later that afternoon. It was her day off and it was not the way she had planned to spend it. She forced all negative thoughts out of her mind, looking at the test as a way to reassure herself that she had not been infected.

She entered her doctor's office about five minutes before her appointment and filled out the necessary paperwork. They had all the files from her rape examination so they knew why she was there. The nurse stuck her head out the door "Natalie, Dr. Banks is ready for you."

Natalie followed the nurse through the door and down the hallway to an empty examination room. Natalie changed into one of those thin paper gowns that left your back exposed and left your entire body feeling as if it had just been shoved into the deep freeze. Afterwards she sat on the examination table, her legs swung back and forth betraying her nervousness.

Dr. Thomas Banks entered, shutting the door behind him. He was in his late thirties, tall, athletic looking, redheaded, and very attractive.

"Hello, Natalie. How are you?"

"Okay. And you?"

"Pretty good. Do you have any medical complaints?"

"No," Natalie said. She liked him. He had never judged her. Never made her feel badly about being a rape victim. He was very supportive.

"How are you doing emotionally?"

"Just fine, finally. He received life with no chance of ever leaving the prison."

"You're here for your 6 month follow up test, correct."

"Yes."

"Do you mind if I give you a complete physical?"

"No. I haven't had one in about two years, outside of the post rape exam."

Over the next hour Natalie underwent a complete physical. Dr. Banks picked up a needle, unwrapped it and cleaned a spot on Natalie's arm.

Natalie looked a bit nervous. She did not like needles.

"I'm not thrilled by them either." He grinned.

She could not help but grin back. Then she flinched as the needle punctured her skin. She could feel it inside her. He drew two small tubes of blood for testing.

He removed the needle and had her hold a small gauze pad over the puncture to stop the bleeding, before covering the spot with a bandaid.

"It's all over with. I'll call you when the results come back."

"Thanks. It means a lot that you call."

"I know it is easier to hear it from a doctor you know than some nurse you don't."

She thought he had an excellent bedside manner, and wished more doctors did. She knew hers had not been perfect.

Natalie headed over to Nick's to spend the rest of the day withhim. They had lined up a video marathon. He knew she would need it to keep her mind occupied. He would not mind having his mind elsewhere for a while either.

The next few days were hard on Natalie. She hoped the test came back negative again. She had that fear inside her that kept wondering what would happen if the test came back positive.

Unknown to her Nick also hoped the test was negative and wondered what would happen if it was not. He knew he would be there for her, he could not do anything else.

The end
Sequel: Devastation

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