The Price of Love
by Judith Freudenthal
1996

Nick was on his way home when he witnessed a red car swerving out of control, smashing head first into a silver/gray one. Glass flew as windshields shattered.

Nick called in the accident as he rushed to the silver/gray car first, hearing no heartbeats from either car. Something about that car was familiar.

When he got closer he recognized Natalie's light brown hair. She was slumped against the steering wheel. Nick started to check on her injuries and knew from the angle her head was at that her neck was broken. His heart shattered as a part of him died, the blood tears rolled down his cheeks as he knew he could do nothing for her.

He released her seat belt and gently scooped her out of the car seeing the two rather nasty gashes on her face giving it a coating of blood, some of which had seeped into her hair. He sat on the cold asphalt, leaned back against the car and cradled her limp figure in his arms. He stroked her blood matted hair as tenderly as a lover does. The smell and sight of her fresh blood repulsed him, yet excited the vampiric part of him.

He battled with himself knowing that he could not drink *her* blood, but knew that it was a way to be close to her. He did taste a few drops that had smeared across his palm, it was so sweet. He could not bring himself to drain her.

He let out a heart wrenching scream of grief before he started gently rocking, as if trying to soothe a cranky child to sleep.

In the background he barely heard the sounds of approaching emergency vehicles and forced the tears to stop, wiping away the last remaining traces. It didn't really matter to him anymore. Nothing much mattered to him at the moment because the only thing that had made his existence worthwhile was laying in his arms asleep forever.

The emergency vehicles stopped at the perimeter of the scene, taking charge of it as their duties stated. Tracy spotted Nick cradling Natalie and rushed over to them.

"How is she? What happened?" She saw the extreme sadness in Nick's eyes and knew. Her heart went out to Nick.

"The other driver swerved into her lane, slamming headfirst into her car. She's......"

Tears welled in Tracy's eyes as she watched the heartbreaking scene in front of her. How could I have been so blind? she scolded herself mentally.

The coroner's assistant approached. Nick refused to release Natalie's body. He just sat there holding her ever so gently. He still rocked her as he stroked her blood soaked hair.

"Nick, John here needs to take her. You can't do anything more for her," Tracy said in her most soothing and reassuring tone.

"She wasn't supposed to die. She's too young," Nick said his voice not much more than a devastated whisper, tinted with a little anger.

Nick knew Tracy was right. He tenderly kissed Natalie's forehead as he stood up with her in his arms and gently laid her on the black plastic of the body bag. He pushed back a few blood matted strands of hair that had crept over her face as he caressed her cheek one last time.

Tracy escorted him away from the body. "I'm so sorry," she said.

"There was nothing she could've done. There was nothing I could've done. It happened too fast." Nick's only relief was that Natalie had died instantly. He was glad she had not suffered. Yet, if her neck hadn't been broken she would be with him now.

"Go home. Call me if you need to talk," Tracy said seeing that he was in no shape to do anything.

Nick walked away feeling everyone one of his 800 years. When he was out of sight of the crash he took to the sky, not trusting himself to drive. He did not want to be the cause of someone else feeling this bad.

He entered his loft and headed straight for the fridge. He had the cork out and the bottle to his mouth before thoughts of her made him whip the bottle at the fireplace. The green bottle smashed upon impact. He couldn't get drunk without feeling like he was betraying her.

Before he knew it he found himself at her office where he dug through her stuff until he found the research journal she was keeping. He was gone without anyone knowing he had been there.

He saw the sky begin to lighten and found himself at her place. Out of habit he knocked on the door before sadly realizing she would not answer. He quickly secured the windows, after a brief consideration of walking into the sun. He knew that his suicide would hurt her too much.

He sat on her couch and let the tears fall. He knew that spending the day here would be very difficult but it would allow him to grieve and say his good-byes. After a while he took a good look around her apartment. He plopped himself back on the couch rather lifelessly.

"I never realized how important a part of my life you were until..... I miss you..." More blood tears spilled down his cheeks.

He picked out a few keepsakes, knowing no one would miss them. That fact made him a little sad, and some guilt rose. Did she give up that much for me? flashed through his mind.

The apartment became unbearably full of her scent and memories of her before the afternoon had gotten underway. Nick laid down on her bed and tried to fall asleep but could not. Every time he closed his eyes all he saw was the crash and her lifeless body making him feel even worse.

As soon as the sun had set he bolted from her place only to find himself back at his loft. Shortly after he entered he realized that it was just as full of memories, if not more so. Everywhere he looked held memories of the times they had shared here, even the bad ones.

Suddenly he felt a vampiric presence behind him and turned to face LaCroix. That was the last thing he wanted at that particular moment.

"Don't say I didn't warn you. Are you ready to leave this foolishness behind and return to the family?"

"No."

LaCroix left knowing Nick would not do anything but sulk until he snapped out of it. He was not in the mood to watch his son sulk. A part of LaCroix wanted Nick to wallow in the pain, so he could understand what losing Fleur had felt like. The bargain had finally been redeemed.

Nick drank the protein shake that Natalie had left him before she had gone to work that morning. He forced himself to down nearly the whole thing, praying it would stay down. Nick began to pack the few items he had brought back with him from Natalie's place. When he had them secured he began to pack his prized possessions, some of which she had given him over the last six years. Thoughts of her drifted into his mind.

He had not felt this way about a mortal since his marriage. Natalie was the best friend he had had in centuries. Other than her sense of humor, smile and beauty, what he loved best about her was that she did not put up with any of his crap. She kicked his butt when he needed it and was always there to listen, even when mad at him.

He fell asleep on the couch shortly after the sun rose. It was a restless sleep of memories both good and bad mixing with the crash. He bolted upright after a particularly nasty nightmare, covered with a fine layer of blood.

Nick stopped by the precinct about an hour past sundown. It hurt as his coworkers expressed their condolences. He listened to each one and thanked them. It just served as another painful reminder that she was truly dead.

Nick knocked on Reese's door frame and saw him motion to enter. He handed the Captain a folded sheet of paper and his badge.

"How are you? Are you sure?"

"I miss her too much to come back here. It would be too painful."

"We all miss her," Reese said sadly. "Good luck. If you ever need any references."

"Thanks."

Nick was leaving the precinct when he saw Tracy approaching and knew she deserved to hear the news from him. She had been a good partner.

"Good-bye. Take care of yourself."

"Why? You leaving?" Tracy asked stunned.

"I can't stay here. It hurts too much. I've lost too many good friends over the past few years."

"I understand. Take care of yourself." She gave him a hug of support before heading inside.

Nick returned to the loft where he just laid there and sulked.

Two nights later was Natalie's funeral. Some of her friends and coworkers thought it was strange to have it at such a creepy time of day, but Nick knew it was a last gesture of love. She knew that he would want to be there as much as she wanted him there. She had remembered how much it had hurt him that he could not attend Schanke's funeral.

Nick left a bunch of sunflowers on the closed part of her casket.

"I love you, and will always love you," Nick whispered too low for mortal hearing. He fought back the tears that seeing her lying there so still and pale brought to his eyes.

After the funeral he pulled Tracy aside.

"You loved her."

"Yes. Don't wait too long to tell someone you love them. It took me three years to admit my feelings to Nat. Then another year before I again told her how I felt. I almost lost her due to taking her for granted. I didn't mean to, it just sort of happened. After that I made sure she knew how I felt."

Tracy found herself wondering if they ever got together romantically. She hoped so.

"Thanks for the advice. I was considering telling someone that I care for him. I think I will."

Nick's last act in town was to stop by the old church where he found Vachon playing his guitar.

"Vachon, I want you to watch over Tracy. Keep her safe and happy. Warn her about the dangers of involvement with us."

"I will. I was so sorry to hear about Natalie. I hope Tracy and I will have that strong a relationship someday. I'm feeling the same way about Tracy as you likely did shortly after befriending Natalie."

"Thanks." Nick smiled a sad smile knowing the good and bad that lay ahead for them. He decided to let them figure it out for themselves.

Nick had his new ID but didn't have a job lined up because he did not know where he was going. He did not want anyone to find him.

On his way out of town for parts unknown he paid one last visit to Natalie's grave. He saw the simple yet nice headstone he had bought for her.

Natalie Lambert
1962-1998
A true friend

A blood tear ran down his cheek as he laid the bouquet of white roses and sunflowers on the ground in front of the headstone.

"I'll see you someday."

The end.

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