"They're gone," Scully stated the obvious. "But where?" As she looked over the side of the building, seeking a possible route of escape, her partner had pulled his night vision binoculars from his backpack and was searching the skies for answers. "You think they took him by helicopter?"

"Well, it would make sense if it were government boys. They'd need a fast get away." After viewing the skies in all directions, Mulder gave up, then handed over the binoculars to Scully. "Here, check the streets. I want to take a closer look over there."

As Scully scoured the streets below and the buildings nearby, Mulder concentrated on examining the turned over bed by the door. All the linen had been left behind which meant Nick was clothed in only the hospital gown. Mulder lifted the pillow from the ground and discovered the small cloves of garlic underneath. He also found remnants of broken handcuffs where each pair had been snapped off at the chain and the remainder was still attached to the bed rails.

Mulder rejoined his partner at the west side of the building. "Spot anything yet?" he asked her.

"There's an emergency fire escape over here. They could have gotten down that way. But I don't see anything obvious. There's plenty of pedestrians and traffic. Maybe someone down there saw something. We can ask around. Did you find anything?"

"Only more questions. It looks as though Knight broke free of the handcuffs. I'm wondering if his captors were really prepared. Maybe he took them by surprise."

"And did what?"

"Apparently, you haven't been on the receiving end when his inner child takes over. Trust me, he knows how to play rough. He's also got that hypnosis thing going. Maybe he hypnotized them into just walking away. We could have missed them going down in the elevator while we were coming up."

"So maybe Nick just went back to his cabin, you think?"

"Maybe. Let's go see if we can't locate some witnesses."

--------

Abandoned Barn Black Eagle, Montana 8:08 p.m.

Nick remained completely passive while his wrists were being bound with a heavy chain. The other end of the chain was wrapped several times around one of the support rafters above. His arms were suspended over his head, but his bare feet were solidly planted on the straw covered floor. His strength had returned in full and he could have easily freed himself if he so desired. Back on the roof he had considered putting up a fight and escaping, but in the end decided against it. He could no longer control his actions. He was a menace to the mortal population and a security risk to his own kind. He sensed what fate had in store for him now and he would confront it without reservations.

He had gone with his captors quietly, not bothering to question their motives or destination. Basically, he already knew what they had in store for him. It did surprise him however that the Community had sent such young and inexperienced Enforcers after him. Their combined ages could not have been more than three centuries. It occurred to him that it was perhaps their naivete that garnered them the assignment. They probably had little knowledge of how dangerous it was to pursue a child of LaCroix's. The master vampire would not let the simple fact that they were Enforcers stop him from seeking revenge should they harm one of his own. Nick almost felt sorry for them, but they had made their own decision to become Enforcers. It's not a job that's forced upon anyone. They wanted it because it gave them a certain dominance over other vampires. It made them feel important and that they were completely invulnerable. They should have done their homework.

The Enforcers had expected their quarry to put up a struggle, but when he didn't, they foolishly mistook his passiveness for fear which in turn fed their egos. They made smug comments about him not being as tough as they'd heard, but said little else until they had him trussed up in the dilapidated barn miles from humanity. Leaving him hanging like a side of beef with his backside exposed, the two took their sweet time changing out of their hospital garb into their own Ravenesque style clothing. After dressing, they finally spoke to Nick.

"You know who we are?" asked the blonde.

Nick looked from the heavily tattooed torso of the blonde clad in leather pants and vest, to the hairless, black man wearing a fishnet T-shirt with nipple rings, and dryly responded, "My worse nightmare?"

"That all depends," said the black man. "I'm Matt. That's my buddy Chad. And you're the once great Nicholas de Brabant. Brave knight of the Crusades. Cold-blooded killer of thousands upon thousands. A master with the ladies. Look at you now," Matt huffed with an air of superiority. "A cow sucking, pushover who let mortals get the best of you. Is that what happens when you get old?"

Nick had not bothered to make eye contact all the while Matt had been speaking. What the youngster said was all true and there was no need to acknowledge any of it one way or the other. Being reminded that he was indeed older, however, gave Nick a sense of self respect he had thought completely lost. He didn't mind paying for his sins to the Community, but he'd be damn if he'd let these punk ass kids treat him like a feeble-minded, old man. Had no one taught them that advanced age in vampires translated into elevated power?

"No. _This_ is what happens when you get old." Nick raised his eyes to Matt in a subtly menacing glimmer of gold and projected his eight hundred years of acquired power upon the youthful vampire's psyche.

Matt shuddered at the overwhelming and dominating presence he felt emanating from Nick. He knew in an instant that he was no match for the elder vampire should he decide to break free. He took a few steps backwards, then glanced over to his buddy and saw that he too had picked up on the new vibes Nick was putting out. Matt's previously condescending demeanor changed immediately to one of respect.

"No offense, man," Matt mumbled sheepishly as way of an apology. After a moment, he felt the air around him lighten as Nick withdrew, becoming submissive once again. "I guess we can do this without the chains," said Matt as he started forward with intentions of releasing his captive.

"Leave them!" Chad spoke up. After the brief show of power he had just witnessed, he feared what would happen should Nick gain his freedom. They had been warned to take such precautions by the ones who had sent them on this mission, though at the time it didn't seem necessary. Nick's reputation in the vampire community had become laughable among many. He was considered a weakling and a fool for drinking cow's blood and abstaining from killing. That calm flash of fury he had just displayed successfully contradicted those earlier impressions.

When the prisoner didn't bother to protest the wearing of his chains, Matt decided to leave them and get on with the interrogation. "There have been some interesting rumors floating around about you," he began with a touch of nervousness to his voice, "and we've been requested to check them out. To determine what's true and what isn't. Are you willing to answer some questions?"

Nick nodded humbly, keeping his eyes cast downward. "What is it you want to know?"

"Did you kill Natalie Lambert?" asked Matt.

"Yes," Nick answered candidly.

"Were you the one who dug her body up a couple of weeks back?"

"Yes."

"Why'd you do it?"

"I needed to see her again. To make sure."

"To make sure of what? That she was really dead?"

"Yes. I had forgotten that I'd killed her. And once I remembered, I needed confirmation."

"And after you unearthed the body, what did you do?"

"I stayed with her for a little while... held her in my arms, kissed her."

"You don't think that's just a wee bit perverse, humping a corpse?" asked Chad with a disgusted frown. After the death stare he received from Nick, he wished immediately that he had never opened his mouth. Luckily, the elder vampire was forgiving.

Nick cast his eyes to the floor and softly replied, "What was perverse was turning her into a corpse in the first place."

"Did anyone see you or did you see anyone else while in Toronto?" Matt continued the questioning.

"Only the ghosts."

Matt and Chad exchanged a dubious look. It was already obvious to them that Nick wasn't playing with a full deck. There were still more questions to be answered, so Matt continued.

"Are you responsible for the string of mutilated cows in this area?"

"Yes."

"Care to explain?"

Nick gave a slight shrug and said, "I felt like killing something. I just didn't want it to be human."

"Why not go for wild game then?" asked Chad. "Chase down some elk or wrestle a grizzly bear. Where's the sport in sipping from a sleeping cow?"

"I was feeling lazy. They were easy targets. Next question."

"Tell us about the FBI agents," said Matt. "Is it true you kidnapped the woman?"

"A sudden impulse," Nick murmured. "The local ranchers called them out here to investigate the dead cows. I saw the woman. I was attracted to her. I took her back to my cabin but nothing much happened. We just talked. When I fell asleep, she thought I was dead. A search helicopter found us and transported me out in a body bag."

"Do they know you're a vampire? Did you tell them?"

Nick thought about his answer carefully. Apparently, the Enforcers had not overheard any of the conversations he'd had with the agents. As far as they knew, he had played dead during his entire time under mortal scrutiny.

"I played possum," Nick lied, "and just waited for a chance to get out of there."

"Why were you smelling like garlic?" asked Chad suspiciously. When he didn't receive an instant response, he drew his own conclusions. "They know. That's how they kept you contained, isn't it? They know what you are."

"They know," Nick admitted regretfully. "But I didn't have to tell them. They're FBI agents. They know how to put clues together. Agent Mulder is a believer. He suspected what I was even before we met and came prepared. They wanted to find me so they could help me."

"How were they going to help?"

"It doesn't matter. They can't. No one can." Tiring of the third degree, Nick decided to put an end to the inquiry. "Look, can we just cut to the chase now?" he spoke in a more forceful tone. "I freely admit to breaking several major rules of The Code and endangering the vampire community with my reckless conduct. I also admit to being mentally unsound. And, yes, I understand the ramifications of what I've just confessed to you. I know what the consequences are. The incident back at the hospital is pretty much contained. You'll need to double-check to make sure that Dr. Winetraub carried out my orders to destroy all hospital records of me. Your only other concern will be the FBI agents. I strongly advise that you not harm them in any way. Others know that they came in search of me. If anything happens to them, the FBI will issue a full-scale investigation, and you know what that could lead to. It would be best to have them believe that I am, of course, not a vampire, that I am truly dead and that my body has been claimed by relatives. I'm assuming you both know how to hypnotize?"

Nick's commanding voice had held the pair of younger vampires virtually mesmerized. When he finally finished speaking, it took a moment for the Enforcers to gather their wits and respond.

"Yeah," Matt nodded. "Yeah, we can do that. No problem."

"Good. Then I guess that's it. You just need to finish up here."

Matt looked to Chad and gave a simple nod of his head. The blonde walked off a few paces out of Nick's view and came back carrying a foot-long wooden stake in one hand and a razor sharp scythe in the other. He gave the stake to Matt, then stood close by with the scythe in hand.

"Nicholas de Brabant, our investigation shows you to be in gross violation of The Code on several accounts. We also find you to be mentally unstable and therefore a serious threat to the secrecy of the vampire community. Do you have anything you wish to say in your defense?"

Nick shook his head slightly and quietly spoke the word, "No."

"Are you prepared to accept your sentence at this time?"

"Yes."

"Nicholas de Brabant, as representative for the vampire community, it is my duty to sentence you to true death. You are to be staked through the heart, your head severed from your body, your remains set afire, and your ashes scattered to the four corners of the earth. Do you have any final words to say or a message you want passed along to anyone?"

Nick didn't want to spend much time thinking about the ones he would be leaving behind. There was Janette, the everlasting love of his life, and of course, there was LaCroix, the unrelenting thorn in his side.

"Tell Janette... tell her that I shall love her forever."

"Anything else?"

Nick briefly considered what message he should leave for his master. However, their love-hate relationship left him at a loss for words. "No, nothing else," he murmured. "I'm ready."

"So be it."

Matt grabbed the front of Nick's hospital gown and ripped it open to expose his chest. Nick closed his eyes, threw his head back and puffed his chest out to create a better target. Matt raised the stake with both hands, preparing to put it to use. Just as he was about to plunge the sharp point into the pale, unguarded flesh, he was startled by a fierce, animalistic roar.

"No-o-o-o-o!"

A blur of flying feet slammed into Matt, catapulting him through the air, and sending him crashing through the rickety barn doors at the other end. His attention focused on his pal, Chad was slow to react to the danger he himself now faced. Nicholas freed himself quickly by giving a tremendous yank on the chain and dislodging the beam it had been attached to. He swung the heavy chain to easily deflect the scythe which Chad swung at him, actually knocking it from his grasp. Catching the younger vampire off balance, Nicholas was able to wrap the chain around his neck and hold him captive. He forced him to his knees as he knelt down to reach the fallen scythe, then grabbed it and placed the blade beneath the blonde's chin.

"Eight hundred years ago, I made a pact with the devil to live forever," Nicholas growled in Chad's ear, "and that's just what I'm going to do. It'll take more than some century old, candy ass like you to destroy me!"

"Let him go, Nicholas!" a familiar voice commanded him.

"LaCroix!" Nicholas smiled at his master, standing majestically in the doorway with Matt cringing behind him. "I sensed you were near. Knight was going to let them kill me. But when I felt your presence, it gave me the strength to break out. You won't believe what's been going on, LaCroix."

"Let go of him, then you can tell me."

Not really wanting to let go without a taste of revenge, Nicholas reluctantly obeyed his master and allowed the other vampire to go free. On his way to join his friend, Chad paused in front of LaCroix.

"We were only doing our job," he explained. "He confessed to breaking The Code. He agreed to the sentencing."

"Is that true, Nicholas? Did you confess?"

"No! It wasn't me. It was Knight. He's a mess, LaCroix. He wants to die. I need to take over completely, and I think I know how. But I need your help."

LaCroix stepped closer to his barely clad offspring. "If you need my help, Nicholas, you shall have it."

"I need to kill a mortal!" Nicholas spoke excitedly. "I've come close a couple of times, but I always get interrupted. You could help me. If I could just make a kill, I think that will drive Knight back into his little rabbit hole for good. He can't handle killing mortals. So, the more fresh human blood I take, the weaker he'll become. And once I'm in full control, then I'll behave as a vampire should. No more cow's blood, no more trying to live among the humans. I'll be as you want me to be, LaCroix. I swear it!"

"Listen to him," said Chad. "He's completely insane. The Code says--"

"I don't need _you_ to inform me of what The Code _says_," LaCroix snarled over his shoulder.

Chad immediately backed off. The power he felt emanating from LaCroix was ten times the potency of his offspring. It finally became clear to both the young vampires why they had been chosen for this particular mission. Everyone else must have known LaCroix personally and obviously knew better than to come between him and his favorite child.

"We may have been a little hasty in our first assessment," offered Matt to smooth things over. "Maybe we haven't gotten all the facts yet."

"Your patience in this matter is greatly appreciated," said LaCroix before turning his attention back to his protege. "Of course, I'll do whatever I can to assist you, Nicholas."

"I knew I could count on you," Nicholas sighed with relief.

"You need only trust me," said LaCroix as he removed his jacket. He stepped closer to his Nicholas and draped the jacket around his shoulders to cover his nearly nude form. The torn hospital gown was just barely hanging on. "You do trust me, don't you, Nicholas?" asked LaCroix as his hands rested casually upon Nicholas' shoulders.

"Of course, I trust you, LaCroix," came the innocent reply.

"Good, because I only have your best interests in mind."

Nicholas flinched slightly at the tiny sting he felt on his neck. He caught sight of the hypodermic needle he'd just been stabbed with as LaCroix withdrew the hand which had been secretly holding it. He started to question the action, but as the barn began to spin around him, he realized that he had just been drugged. Strong arms kept him from falling, then scooped him up and began carrying him out of the barn.

"Why?" Nicholas managed to croak out just before losing consciousness.

"Trust me, Nicholas. Father knows best."

--------

Mulder's Motel Room Black Eagle 9:50 p.m.

"I don't think I'm going to be able to sleep tonight," Scully sighed as she plopped down on a cushioned chair in the corner of the room. Her partner lay sideways across the bed, his hands folded atop his chest and his eyes closed in thought. "You don't look like you're going to have any trouble though."

"I'm just thinking," said Mulder.

"About how we can track a flying vampire in the middle of the night?"

Mulder opened his eyes and tilted his head to glare at his partner. "Did I hear you refer to him as a vampire, Agent Scully? Are you finally beginning to believe?"

"I was only asking if that's what _you_ were thinking, I didn't say it was what _I_ was thinking."

"Actually, what I was thinking, besides that, is that I may have been wrong when I said that Knight had whammied those two men into leaving him alone."

"What makes you say that?"

"You know how when you first showed up in Knight's hospital room, he nor I ever noticed you were there until you spoke. And when Dr. Winetraub came in, we were all taken by surprise."

"So?"

Mulder sat up and leaned forward. "So how is it Knight knew beforehand that someone was coming when the orderlies showed up?"

"He heard them coming?"

"I think he sensed them coming."

"Sensed them?"

"I think he can sense when his own kind is near."

"His own kind? Are you saying that the orderlies were vampires?"

"Knight alluded to someone coming after him. I assumed that he meant Lucien LaCroix. Maybe Mr. LaCroix sent them. Maybe they were rescuing Knight from public discovery."

"So you're saying that's the end of it then? He's being taken care of by his own kind?"

"Yeah. But taken care of how, I don't know. Could be they were only interested in making sure he wouldn't be drawing anymore unwanted attention to himself and possibly to them."

"You don't suppose they'd do anything to harm him, do you?"

"I don't know, Scully. It's all just conjecture. Talking to witnesses, we know there was no helicopter on the roof and no one saw those two men leaving the hospital by conventional means. All we can do now is wait till dawn and take a helicopter back out to his cabin. If we don't find a sign of him there, I don't know where else to look."

"Does that mean we're just going to give up?" Scully asked, looking somewhat forlorn at the prospect.

The appearance of headlights from a vehicle pulling up outside caused Mulder to delay answering his partner. He went to the window and peeked out through the curtains to see who had just arrived.

"The pizza's here," he announced, then turned from the window and began checking his wallet for money. "Mmm, I seem to be a little short of cash. All I have is six dollars. What about you?"

Scully checked her handbag as a knock sounded at the door. "Pizza delivery!" a young, male's voice called out from the other side.

"Yeah, just a second," Mulder answered as Scully gave him a ten dollar bill. Noticing the downcast look still on her face, Mulder gave her hand a tender squeeze and said, "Who said anything about giving up?"

That got a tiny smile from her. Mulder went to the door and flung it open. Instead of the slightly built teenager he'd seen getting out of a pickup truck, Mulder faced someone else standing in the doorway holding a pizza box. The kid in the truck was already tearing out of the parking lot.

"I believe this is yours," the tall, impressive figure stated amiably. "I took the liberty of paying the bill and adding what I hope was an adequate tip."

Mulder stood dumbfounded, a multitude of thoughts racing through his mind, including the fact that he would never make it to the wreath of garlic in his backpack in time should the person standing before him turn out to be what his sixth sense told him he was. The agent took a deep breath and managed to reel in his fears.

"That was very kind of you," said Mulder as he accepted the pizza box. "Tell me how much and I can reimburse you for your trouble."

"Oh, no trouble at all, Agent Mulder. My pleasure."

"How do you know my name?"

"Your reputation precedes you. I wonder if I might not come inside? I have something very important to discuss with you."

Mulder took a quick, worried glance at his partner before stepping back to allow the visitor to enter. After closing the door and setting the pizza aside, Mulder introduced Scully. "This is my partner--"

"Agent Dana Scully. Yes, I know. It's a pleasure to meet you, my dear. I am Lucien LaCroix."

"Mr. LaCroix," Scully nodded a greeting, keeping her distance, and her finger on the trigger of the gun she wore holstered in the small of her back.

"What did you want to discuss, Mr. LaCroix?" asked Mulder, casually making his way towards his backpack on the floor near the bed.

"It seems that we have a mutual friend in common," said LaCroix.

"And who would that be?"

"Nicholas Fletcher. Or perhaps you know him as Nicholas Knight."

"What's he to you?" asked Scully.

"We're family. He's my... adopted son."

"You don't look all that much older than Nick," Scully noted.

"I take that as a compliment," LaCroix smiled. "But I assure you, I am _much_ older than I appear."

"Are you a vampire?" the words blurted from Mulder's lips.

LaCroix grinned amusedly. "I see that my reputation has preceded me as well. Good. That means we won't waste time with pretense. Yes, Agent Mulder, I am a vampire. Under normal circumstances, after divulging such information, I'd be obligated to kill you both. However, I happen to be in need of your help with a very delicate matter."

"If you're looking for Knight," said Mulder, "We don't know where he is."

"That's not what I need. I already know where Nicholas is."

"Where?" asked Scully anxiously. "Is he all right?"

"At present, yes. He's being watched by the two young men who retrieved him from your custody."

"Oh, so you sent them?"

"No. I'm afraid they have their own agendas."

"Are they vampires as well?" Mulder asked.

"Yes," LaCroix replied candidly. "The gentlemen -- and I use that term loosely -- who took Nicholas are what's known in my little circle as Enforcers. They police my kind. If one of us should become too high profile, the Enforcers do what's necessary to bring about anonymity. Certain things are tolerated to a degree, certain things aren't. Mental illness among my kind is not tolerated. It leads to unpredictable and irresponsible behavior which may draw unwanted attention from the public at large."

"Are you saying that the Enforcers abducted Knight with intentions of killing him?" asked Mulder.

"Neutralize is the word they prefer. I have convinced them to give Nicholas one more chance to redeem himself. Not an easy task in itself. Nicholas has not always made the best choices even when he _was_ in his right mind. Many of his improprieties have luckily gone unnoticed or have been thankfully overlooked. After all, everyone's entitled to a few minor errors in judgment."

"What can we do to help him?" asked Scully, finally relinquishing the grip on her gun.

"I take it, you've had time to examine Nicholas medically?"

Scully picked up Nick's medical chart from the dresser and pulled out one of the x-rays and presented it to LaCroix. As he held the x-ray up to the light to study it, Scully asked him if he knew how the bullets had gotten there.

"I put them there," LaCroix replied with nonchalance. "Well, at least these three," he corrected himself.

"May I ask why?"

"Call it... tough love." He gave her back the x-ray and asked, "What is your medical opinion concerning this?"

"If you're asking if I think the tumor and the bullets should be removed, I'd have to say, yes, most definitely. I'm sure they are the cause of the headaches he's been having. But whether or not they're responsible for his mental status, I can't say for sure. As I understand it, he's suffered a number of personal losses which could easily result in depression and mental confusion. Still, removal of the tumor would be the first step to restoring his health, both physical and mental."

"Mmm, my thoughts as well," said LaCroix. "Unfortunately, circumstances prohibit traditional hospital surgery."

"That's what Nick said. Do you have another idea?"

"I understand that you are a medical doctor."

Scully raised her brows in disbelief once she got the gist of his implication. "You can't be serious! I am _not_ a brain surgeon. I can not perform brain surgery on a walking, talking individual."

"How unfortunate," said LaCroix, appearing genuinely distressed by the news. "Because you see, you happen to be Nicholas' only hope for survival. If there is the slightest chance that his sanity will return with the removal of the tumor, we must take it. And it must be done tonight. I am not being giving much time to _fix_ things."

Scully shook her head with uncertainty. "I don't.... Even if I were to agree to operate on him, I don't have a place to perform it or the necessary instruments, anesthetics, monitoring equipment--"

"I have made previous arrangements," said LaCroix. "I made inquiries and have already collected the medical items needed for such an operation. I feel that you are qualified to perform the surgery and I ask that you consider doing so. I am a man of great wealth and will, of course, reimburse you handsomely for your time and trouble."

"If I do it," said Scully, "I'll do it for Nick, not for money."

"Very noble, Agent Scully," LaCroix smiled lightly. "Although I hate to rush you into making a decision of this magnitude, time _is_ of the essence. What is your answer?"

end part 9