Her Final Gift

by Kristen Fife

A Tribute Story dedicated to Judy Freudenthal


Nat hung up the phone, her heart heavy. Nick walked through the door at just that moment, and noticed the sadness in her eyes, the crystalline tears trembling at the corners. He walked over to her just as a single tear ran down her cheek. He gently brushed his hand against it, wiping it away. She looked at him and tried to smile. She almost succeeded.

"Nat, what's wrong?" His voice gently asked.

"I just found out that my friend Dana died. We used to be neighbors. I haven't kept in very good touch with her, but I had no idea she had cancer. Her husband just called to let me know about the memorial service the day after tomorrow."

"Oh Nat, I'm so sorry." He enfolded her in a hug. He expected her to weep, but there were no sobs, although tears did continue to run down her face. He remembered all of the mortals he had lost in his long life, friends that died; young men, women and children that left so much unfulfilled potential. Mortals were so fragile, and each time someone he had grown to care for left the land of the living, a small piece of him went with them.

As he started thinking along those lines, once again he was assaulted with the image of Nat being taken suddenly from him, without knowing how he truly felt, that he loved her. He thought back to the debacle at the Azure, and the fact that Nat didn't have any recollection of that night. He pulled her tighter against him in unconscious response to the barrage of memories and

feelings. She clung to him, sad at the loss of her friend, but also perplexed as to his reaction.

Finally, she sighed. He pulled back and tipped her face up to meet his gaze "Are you OK?"

She nodded.

"Why don't we book off early? I'd like to spend some time with you, and talk to you."

She frowned, even more perplexed. Nick had never even met Dana, and he was reacting as if HE had lost a close friend. She looked in his eyes and realized that the situation had somehow affected him. However, it was so rare for him to want to take time off of work, let alone specifically request time to just be with her, that she quickly nodded.

"Let me talk to Grace. It's been quiet tonight, and I don't think anyone will be upset if I leave." She reluctantly moved out of the circle of his arms and walked out the door to see Grace sitting talking to Eddie, the orderly on shift.

"Grace, do you think you can handle things? I just got some bad news and I'm really not feeling up to finishing the shift out."

Grace immediately frowned and looked at her. "Nat, is everything OK? Sure, it's been quiet, I can handle it."

Natalie smiled wanly in thanks. "Thanks. I just found out an old friend passed away, and I wasn't prepared for it."

Grace came over to give her a hug, then shooed her on her way. Nat turned around and walked back into the exam room to find Nick on the phone talking to Captain Cohen.

"Yes, I'll have my cell phone. I'll tell Schanke. Thanks Captain." He hung up and dialed Schanke's phone. He waited a couple of minutes, then started talking, presumably to his partner. "Hey Schanke, I'm going to book off for the rest of the shift. I already talked to the Captain, and I'll keep my cell phone on and stay on call if you need me. No, it's nothing like that. Nat just got some bad news and I'm going to take her home. I'm fine. Yeah. Sure, thanks, I owe you." He looked up as he set her desk phone down in the cradle.

"All set?"

She nodded then went to get her purse and trench coat. As he held her raincoat for her, he tenderly lifted her hair out from under her collar. Nat became even more puzzled.

"Do you mind if we take the Caddy?" He asked her. She shook her head.

They headed out into the damp spring night, and once they were out of the door to the morgue Nick put his arm around her, almost protectively. Nat leaned into him, grateful for his strong support. As they reached the car, Nick opened up her door and made sure her coat was in before walking around to the driver's side. He got in, started the car and let it warm up for a few minutes.

He turned to her. "Is it OK with you if we go to the loft? Do you want to stop and get any food or something to drink? We can pick up a movie if you like."

Nat looked into his concerned face and lifted her hand to cup his cheek. "The loft is fine, I don't need anything. Let's just go." He lifted his hand to grab hers, brought her fingers to his lips in a feather-light kiss and nodded. He put the car in reverse and they pulled out of the parking lot. Nick reclaimed her hand from her lap and held on to it, letting the warmth from her fingers seep into him.

They drove in silence, each lost in their thoughts. Nat was trying to figure out what was going on in Nick's head. He didn't usually react to death like this, especially not a total stranger. And, truth to tell, she hadn't seen Dana in well over a year. They had spoken on the phone at least once a month, but she lived on the other side of the city. With Natalie's schedule, getting together had been difficult at best. She sighed silently in guilty remorse, and made herself a promise to try and connect more with her friends.

Nick was trying to figure out what he wanted to say to Natalie. He had so much on his mind, and he wanted to make sure that he said the right things. He had put a lot of distance between them after Valentine's Day, and he knew that Nat had been hurt by it at first, although as the weeks turned into months she seemed to accept it better. In fact, she had stopped pushing him, asking him what was wrong, after the first week of March.

They reached the loft and Nick bent down to hit the garage door opener. He pulled into the large bay, parked, and turned off the motor. As the silence intensified, neither made a move to get out of the car, until finally Natalie stirred. She opened her door and started to get out, breaking Nick's reverie. He quickly followed suit and met her at the door to the lift. As the machinery rumbled to life, they kept glancing at each other, almost shyly. Finally the lift door opened, and they stepped in simultaneously. Nick stabbed the button for the second floor and they started up. He could hear Natalie's steady heartbeat, and her breathing. The sounds were comforting and soothing to him. They were so familiar that sometimes he didn't even realize what an integral part of the background of his life they had become, until they weren't there, as on the nights that Nat had off that he was on duty. On those nights, his entire shift seemed "off" and Schanke had occasionally commented that he was irritable and moody.

As the elevator stopped on the second floor, Nick rushed out to turn on some lights, knowing Natalie couldn't see in the dark. He turned on some lamps, then took his duster off. He went to the fireplace and turned it on, then pulled out some matches and started lighting some candles to lend a bit of softness to the air. Natalie walked in and looked around, a slight smile on her face as Nick started creating some coziness with the fire and candles. She started to take her coat off, then realized it was cold in the loft.

"Nick, do you mind if I turn the heat up a bit?" Nick looked at her, startled. They hadn't spoken since they left the morgue.

"No, go ahead. Whatever you need to do to be comfortable."

She walked over to the thermostat and looked it, smiling wryly. Well, at least his heating bill was low, keeping it at 13 degrees; she slid it up to 22. She kept her coat on as she wandered over to the stereo and decided to put something soothing on. She started the CD player and dropped in a series of Chopin, Mozart, Handel and Bach CDs into the empty slots in the carousel. Soon the mellow strains started floating quietly around them, adding to the gentle ambience created by the various flames in the room.

Nick walked over to the kitchen. "Do you want anything to drink?"

"Sure, how about some tea? Do you still have that chamomile I left?" Nick nodded and set the teapot on to boil. As unobtrusively as possible, he pulled a green bottle out of the refrigerator and poured some of the thick red liquid into a mug. Natalie saw him out of the corner of her eye, but decided not to say anything. She didn't have the energy to contradict him or try and stop him from drinking the bovine blood. She wandered over to the sitting area and curled up in the corner, looking at the dancing fireplace. She became lost in a daze. When Nick brought a steaming cup of tea over to her a few minutes later, she looked up, startled. "What...?"

He smiled as he put the tea on the coffee table and moved around it to sit next to her on the black leather sofa. She realized she had zoned off, and looked up at him, a sheepish expression on her face. She leaned forward to pick up the mug, inhaling its soothing fragrance, waiting for it to cool down just a bit before she tried to drink it. As she held the cup, she realized that the loft was warming up, and she put the cup down and slipped her coat off. Nick put his arm around her, and she leaned into him, savoring the security the gesture held. He leaned his cheek on her soft hair for a moment, then turned and kissed her crown.

Nick cleared his throat. "Nat, I wanted to talk to you. I know you're grieving for your friend, and sometimes it's in watching other people that we realize how much life sometimes just passes us by." He paused, gathering his thoughts. He lifted his head, and with his left hand reached around to tilt Nat's chin up to look at him. As her eyes were drawn to his, she noticed flecks of gold dancing deep within their deep blue depths. As he searched her face, her eyes held nothing but openness and trust. Not trusting himself to say the right thing, he slowly leaned down and kissed her.

The kiss shocked Natalie with its suddenness. Passion blossomed along her nerves, and she instinctively brought her hand up and around the back of Nick's head, drawing him closer. As his cool tongue danced along her own, she pressed her torso against him. Expecting him to pull back at any moment, she tried to let her feelings of love transmit themselves through her lips and her hands. As they continued their impassioned embrace, Natalie heard and simultaneously felt a rumble emanating from Nick's chest under her other hand. At that moment she felt his fangs descend, their razor-sharp edges narrowly missing her tongue. Gently but insistently, Nick pulled back and ended their kiss.

He looked down at her, his eyes blazing a red-rimmed gold. She looked back at him. He could hear her heart beating faster, not in terror, but a residual reaction to the passion of their kiss. He saw no fear in her gaze, just compassion. And unconditional love. Her hand was still on his neck, and she brought it forward to stroke his cheek.

"You don't scare me, Nick. I probably should be terrified, but I'm not. This is a part of who and what you are, and I know and accept it. The fact that you stopped and are sitting her just looking at me tells me how much control you are exerting and only reinforces my feelings that I trust you."

Blood tears welled up in his savage eyes. "Oh Nat..." He laid his forehead against hers, his eyes closing as he tried to rein in the vampire. The tears leaked out from under his closed eyes as he felt his fangs retract and his eyes return to their normal blue. Natalie sat, holding him, still offering him her support.

Finally, he pulled back to look at her again, only the vivid red tracks of his tears the evidence attesting to his not-human nature. His own thoughts seemed to be swirling around in his head. Finally he brushed the tears away on his sleeve. He cleared his throat. "Nat, I'm going to tell you something that I've been trying to fight for a while. What I'm about to say could put your life in danger, but I can't go on like this anymore." He took a deep breath. "Natalie Lambert, I love you. With every fiber of who and what I am. God help me, I realized tonight that you could be gone tomorrow and never know how I feel about you. I swore to myself I would keep my silence, but I can't deny my feelings..." He looked at her, and noticed a small smile playing on her lips.

"Nick, I've known how you feel about me since Valentine's Day. I remembered everything about two weeks after that night. I know why you've kept your distance. I heard you and LaCroix talking about Fleur and your 'debt'."

He stared at her, stunned. She knew? She'd KNOWN for the last three months? Suddenly the pieces fit. She hadn't been upset or confused when he had pulled away. Now he knew why.

They just looked at each other for several minutes. Finally, Nat broke the silence. "So, what do we do now? You know I love you too, but we're right back where we were. We cannot acknowledge our feelings for each other. And, the vampire just proved its presence while we were kissing, so it isn't as if we can sneak off on our shifts to do some necking."

Her pragmatic assessment of the situation stunned Nick. Then he noticed her smiling. "Nat, what are you smiling about?" He felt despair start to settle on him. He had thought, hoped, that by admitting their feelings life would get better, if not easier somehow.

"Nick, things are VERY different. We love each other. You admit it, and that means more to me than you can ever know. I know we cannot let the rest of the world know about it, but at least when we are alone we can just...I don't know...be in love."

Nick looked at her, and a slow smile spread over his face. She was right. Maybe they couldn't shout it from the highest mountaintop, but they had finally acknowledged their feelings to one another. Knowing that, Nick realized he finally had the missing piece of his soul that he had been longing for ever since he realized how he felt about Natalie. His feelings had almost scared him in their intensity, and the fact that she apparently felt the same way amazed him. She WAS his life. Without her in it, his life was empty. But all the dreams, issues, realities and realizations were something to think about later. She was right. They deserved the chance to just savor what they had.

Nick leaned down and kissed her once more, tenderly, on the lips. He wrapped her in his arms while the music played and the fire cast its cheery glow. Already the warmth generated by their acknowledged love made a cocoon around them. Nat settled against his chest. He heard her whisper under her breath, almost too quietly for even his acute hearing.

"Thank you Dana. I'll miss you, but I hope wherever you are, you know what a gift your passing has given me; my heart."


Kristen Fife

In memory of Judy Freudenthal - Dana Knight - and all those that have passed before their time leaving things unsaid.