Summary:
After living life as a mortal, Nick has to keep a promise he made to LaCroix forty years ago.For the purpose of this story, "Last Knight" did not occur. Rated: PG

"Good bye, Dad," said Margie as she kissed her father on the lips. "I wished we could stay longer."

"No, you and Ted have to go to work tomorrow, the kids have school and it's a long drive back to the city."

"Well, I'll call you tomorrow, the usual time."

"Great."

Margie got into the car along with her husband and two kids. The set of identical ten-year-old boys in the back seat waved and called out in unison to their grandfather. "Bye, grandpa. Happy Father's Day! We love you!"

He returned their waves and sentiments as the car slowly pulled off. Four other cars filled with departing family members blew their horns at him in passing. Standing at the edge of the driveway, he waved and threw kisses at his many sons, daughters and grandchildren as they drove off into the night. He became startled when an arm suddenly swooped around his shoulders, but calmed quickly once he saw who it was.

"Paul, what are you trying to do? Give the old man a heart attack?"

"Sorry, Dad," his youngest son apologized. "Look, I can hang around a little longer if you like. Spend the night maybe."

"Don't you have that job interview first thing in the morning?"

"Yeah, but --"

"Then you won't get much sleep here. I'm getting up before the crack of dawn and taking the boat out in the morning. Do a little deep-sea fishing."

"Oh man, why couldn't you tell me this last week? I would've scheduled the interview for another time."

"I thought this was the law firm you've been dying to get into."

"It is, but--"

"But nothing. Don't screw around and miss this opportunity. Besides, I need some time alone."

His son nodded in understanding. "I guess we all have been kind of smothering you lately, haven't we? Always dropping by, always calling. It's just because we love you and we care. It's your first time being all alone, and we...." Paul's voice trailed off sadly, unable to finish the thought.

His father hugged him close and spoke softly in his ear. "I know. I know what you guys are trying to do. You don't know how lucky I feel to have all of you in my life." He kissed his son's cheek, then pulled away. "Why don't you go on home, get plenty of rest so you'll look sharp for all the bigwigs in the morning."

Paul nodded. "Okay, I'll get out of your hair. What's left of it," he added with a snicker. "Good-night, Dad. Happy Father's Day."

"Good-night, son. Drive carefully."

After seeing the last of his brood off, he went back into the house, locked the door and turned off all the lights except for a small one over the bar. After pouring himself a glass of white wine, he turned off the bar light as well, then crossed the room to settle down on a deep-cushioned chair in the darkened living room. After a few moments, he felt a presence in the room with him. Someone stood silently behind him.

He took an unhurried sip from his wine glass, then casually spoke to his visitor. "Somehow I knew you'd be coming here tonight."

"Nicholas." It was spoken as a greeting.

"LaCroix. It's been a long time."

"Has it? Seems like only yesterday," LaCroix replied as he moved to stand in front of his son.

Nick reached a hand out to the lamp on the table next to his chair and switched it on. Even though LaCroix could see perfectly well in the dark, he hadn't gotten a good look at his child until the light brought out all the unflattering details. He was taken aback by what he saw. Gone was the smooth, pale, flawless skin, the thick, rich blond curls and the well- developed physique. In their place was wrinkled and sagging, spotted skin, a sparsely covered scalp and about thirty extra pounds, most of which had settled around his middle. And though he expected to find his master unchanged, Nick found himself in awe at how youthful and regal-looking LaCroix appeared, still donning his usual black attire and closely cropped platinum hair.

"You look great," Nick smiled.

LaCroix finally managed to stop staring and replied, "I suppose you look well for a mortal of your apparent age. What would that be?"

"Seventy-six, although I have been told that I don't look a day over sixty."

"A treasured compliment indeed," LaCroix scoffed. He then began touring the room, taking an interest in the multitude of framed photographs perched on tabletops, shelves and hanging on walls. "Quite a brood you've amassed over the years. How many in all?"

"Ten kids, fourteen grandchildren and two great-grandkids."

"One large, happy family."

"Yes. For the most part we've been very happy. Hasn't always been easy. Half of them were special needs kids. We've lost three along the way. But, we managed to struggle through the hard times. All in all, it's been a pretty rewarding life.... How about you? What have you been up to these past forty years?"

"Oh, a little of this, a little of that," LaCroix responded casually over his shoulder as he continued to study the young faces of Nick's adopted children. "Of late, I've been teaching history and philosophy at Yale."

"A school teacher, LaCroix?" said Nick, somewhat amused.

"A mind is still a terrible thing to waste, Nicholas."

"What's Janette up to?"

"The last I heard, she had returned to Paris and opened an old-fashioned cabaret."

"You heard?"

"I'm afraid she's not speaking to me these days."

"Why not? What happened between you two?"

LaCroix finally turned away from the pictures and took a seat on the couch adjacent to Nick. "I killed a prospected lover of hers."

"Any particular reason?"

"He was loud, uncouth and he splashed mud upon my coat as he zipped by on his motor bike."

"So you killed him instead of asking him to be quiet, learn some etiquette and pay your dry-cleaning bill?"

LaCroix frowned. "Janette wanted to bring him across. He was all wrong for her, but she wouldn't listen to me."

"So you were trying to run her life for her, is that it? And now she wants nothing to do with you. How long ago was that?"

LaCroix seemed somewhat reluctant to confess. He smiled in what could almost pass as embarrassment as he stated softly, "About forty years."

Nick caught the flash of sadness in his father's eyes. LaCroix had lost contact with both his most beloved children at the same time. That was an unusual occurrence. Rarely would he allow more than a decade to go by without visiting with one or the other.

"Where are my manners?" said Nick, getting to his feet faster than the average septuagenarian would. "Can I offer you something to drink?"

"Yes, I would like something to drink," LaCroix replied, his eyes falling upon the unbuttoned collar of Nick's shirt.

Nick reached his hand protectively to his neck when he saw where LaCroix' eyes were trained. He then dropped his hand when he realized what a useless gesture it had been. "You still drink wine?" he asked.

"A glass of wine would be graciously appreciated, Nicholas."

Nick picked up his own glass and walked over to the bar. LaCroix followed and perched himself upon one of the bar stools as Nick poured a glass of wine for his guest and freshened his own.

"Thank you," said LaCroix as he took a tiny sip.

Nick downed a big gulp from his glass, then said, "You haven't asked about Natalie. Are you aware that she passed away?"

"Yes. My apologies for not offering my condolences sooner. Some sort of cancer, was it?"

"Yes. You'd think they'd have a cure for them all by now. But a new, harder to fight strain is always popping up."

"I do hope she didn't suffer much."

"I think she was in a lot more discomfort than she claimed to be. She didn't want me or the kids to worry over her so she'd put up a false front. Kept a smile on her face till the very end. Three weeks ago we were sitting out on the patio. I held her in my lap, my arms wrapped around her as we listened to the seagulls and the waves lapping the shore and watched the sun set. The last thing she said to me before she died was, 'Thank you for everything.'" Nick fell silent then, his eyes squeezed shut to keep the tears he felt at bay.

"I am truly sorry for your loss, Nicholas," said LaCroix in a caring tone. "Dr. Lambert was a remarkable woman."

"Remarkable mother, remarkable wife," Nick added after taking a couple of deep breaths that somehow helped him regain his composure. "You know, sometimes, LaCroix we'd lie in bed at night and have discussions about you."

LaCroix raised his brows in surprise. "Do tell."

'We'd wonder where you were, what you were up to. We'd wonder about your reaction to my life now and all the kids. Sometimes I wished that you were around to share in all this. All the birthday parties, Christmas mornings, the graduations and weddings and births. So much has happened, so many wonderful moments have come and gone. I just wish you could have known the joy we've shared as a family. With the kids all being orphans, there was a definite shortage of aunts and uncles."

"But how would one explain the fact that Uncle Lucien never ages?"

Nick smiled lightly. "We could've told them that Uncle Louie is vain about his looks and that you pay a visit to the plastic surgeon every few years."

"I suppose that could have sufficed, however, I doubt that your lovely wife would have appreciated my presence, and at any rate, I don't see myself as the Uncle [i]Louie[/i] type. Of course, if that's just your round about way of saying that you missed me, Nicholas, the feeling is indeed mutual."

There was an awkward span of silence that followed. Nick knew exactly why LaCroix had come and now that the pleasantries were out of the way, it was time to focus on the inevitable. He had dreaded this moment and had naively hoped that it would never arrive. Nervously, he finished off his glass of wine and poured himself another.

"Do you find my presence disconcerting, Nicholas? Surely you were expecting me. You haven't forgotten the terms of our agreement?"

"No. I haven't forgotten."

"Good. And, I assume that you are still willing to abide by them?"

Nick stared down at his wrinkled hands. "I'm... I'm having second thoughts," he meekly confessed.

"If I'm not mistaken, it was [i]you[/i] who defined the stipulations to our little bargain. I withheld my end, did I not?"

"Yes, you have. All those years, I kept expecting you to pop up and cause me grief. You never did and I am grateful for that."

"When I give my solemn vow, Nicholas, I always honor it. Hoping that you'd get this nonsense out of your system once and for all, I allowed you to live in mortal bliss without my interference and without retribution from the Enforcers. By no means was that a simple task. I had to make certain concessions to them."

"Concessions? What sort of concessions?"

LaCroix shook his head as if the question as well as its answer was inconsequential. "Doesn't matter now."

"What concessions, LaCroix?" Nick insisted on knowing.

"I simply agreed to carry out some of their more unsavory duties," LaCroix replied, making it seem as though it was no big deal.

"You mean like the execution of troublesome vampires and the killing of innocent mortals? You agreed to do all their dirty work for them. Would that be the real reason why you killed Janette's lover? Were they testing your loyalty to them?"

"What I did, Nicholas, I did for you," LaCroix spoke with controlled anger. "I sold myself into slavery all so you could lead this wonderfully, happy existence."

"I didn't ask you to do it," said Nick, feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the confession.

"No, but if I hadn't... well, I'm sure you can imagine the consequences." LaCroix waved his hand in a negative motion, tiring of the matter. "Enough of that. What's done is done. Do you need to make preparations, put your affairs in order?"

Nick shook his head slowly and answered, "No. I've already taken care of everything."

"And what of your second thoughts?"

Nick raised his hands hopelessly. "LaCroix, look at me."

His sire stared at him in wonder. "What is it I'm supposed to see?"

"I'm old!" Nick exclaimed, stating the obvious. "I've become an old man, LaCroix. My hair is nearly gone, I have a gut --"

"Vanity, Nicholas?" LaCroix chuckled lightly. "You're concerned about your less than dashing appearance?"

"I wasn't before," Nick tried to defend himself. "As a mortal, I'm fine with my appearance, but... well this isn't exactly the look I'd care to have for all of eternity. And it isn't funny!" he snapped when his sire's amusement seemed to be escalating.

"Oh, but it is," LaCroix insisted. "Come here, Nicholas and I shall tell you a secret."

He motioned his son from behind the bar, then stood and directed him to take his place on the bar stool. Placing both hands on Nick's shoulders in a fatherly gesture, LaCroix offered a gentle smile as he looked into a pair of apprehensive eyes.

"Nicholas, my dear, confused child, you need not worry about your physical charms. Be assured that all the beauty and elegance you exuded before shall return in full."

"How could you possibly know that?"

LaCroix moved his right hand from Nick's shoulder to cup his chin. "The same way I know that you are still very much a vampire."

Nick's eyes grew wide at the statement. "What do you mean, I'm still a vampire?"

"Exactly that," said LaCroix as he released his hold and backed away to take position upon another nearby bar stool.

"But I'm [i]mortal[/i]," said Nick adamantly. "And I have been ever since Natalie found the cure forty years ago."

"That's what you tell yourself."

"Well, how would you explain what's happened to me then? Why is it I'm able to walk in the sunlight without disintegrating? Why is it I no longer hunger for blood? Oh, and by all means explain to me why I could pass for your father now."

"It's very simple. One word as a matter of fact."

"And that is?"

"Psychosomatic."

"Psychosomatic? Are you trying to tell me that this is all a figment of my imagination?"

"In a manner of speaking. The mind is a powerful instrument, Nicholas. Few people manage to harness its full capabilities. Fewer people still understand it. But the mind has a way of taking over the actions of the body. For example, a barren woman desires to have a baby, so she imagines herself with child. Her brain accommodates her emotions by producing morning sickness, an expanding belly and bountiful breasts. Hysterical pregnancy it's called. Then you have your hypochondriacs; perfectly healthy individuals who have convinced themselves that they are otherwise. They imagine themselves to be physically impaired, diseased or dying, and their brains oblige them with the necessary physical symptoms to back up their beliefs."

"So you're saying simply because I believed that I could become mortal, my mind caused my body to transform just like that? After centuries of trying to find a cure, it just happens spontaneously all by itself?"

"There is no cure, Nicholas. You had always believed you'd find one in ancient scrolls, mythical legends and unfounded quackery. More often than not, the cures you thought would give you back your mortality were in actuality death sentences, meant to destroy creatures such as us. That is why I pursued you and interceded whenever you got too close to one. I know you probably still don't believe it but I really was trying to protect you."

"At any cost," Nick remarked bitterly.

"Yes," LaCroix nodded. "At [i]any[/i] cost. You've tasted fatherhood. Surely you can empathize."

Nick looked away, all too well aware that he too would have done anything to ensure the safety and well-being of his children. Seeing that there was no further opposition forthcoming, LaCroix continued.

"When you met the good Dr. Lambert, she convinced you that the ability to change lay not solely in her medical research, but moreover, within yourself. It wasn't enough that you simply wished for it to happen, you had to believe that you had control over your own destiny. You had to believe that you were capable of mastering the beast. Dr. Lambert gave you the confidence you lacked. Your desire to lead a [i]normal[/i] life with her did the rest. You believed without a doubt that you had found a cure with her and your body responded in kind."

Nick thought back to the time when he had tried the Twelve Steps method, treating his vampirism as though it were a controllable addiction. With his sponsor Monica Howard's help, he had been able to turn away the blood lust and eat real food. He had actually felt his body changing, and it was all because he had been given a confidence boost. But as soon as Monica's own addiction reared up and shattered his faith in her as well as himself, he allowed the beast within free reign once again. On another occasion, he had lost his memory due to a bullet wound and thus, with no idea that he was a vampire had briefly taken to acting mortal. So in a way, what LaCroix was telling him made sense. Still, Nick had a hard time accepting it. He shook his head in disbelief.

"You're wrong. This is not just my mind playing tricks on me. The shots Natalie gave me --"

"Performed as well as any placebo. The patient merely has to have faith in it. Nicholas, why not ask yourself a few questions. For one, how is it you were able to sense me when I first arrived? The vibrations, I admit, are extremely weak, but our link still remains, does it not?" Before Nick could attempt a response, LaCroix continued the questioning. "And what of your ability to see well in the dark and your nimble movements for a man of your apparent age? Your reason for adopting, I imagine was because you could not father any of your own? And how has your health been in general? Any colds, headaches, signs of arthritis, heart problems, forgetfulness, hearing loss?"

"No," Nick answered reluctantly. "I've been pretty healthy. Natalie admitted that her cure wasn't one-hundred percent, so certain things were to be expected.... I can't fly anymore," he added as an afterthought..

"Would it have been wise for you to do so, in front of the little ones and all?" When Nick didn't bother to answer, LaCroix considered the issue closed. He clapped his hands together and stood. "Well, at any rate, the time has come to rejoin the fold. And since you believe yourself to be mortal, I shall have to bring you across again. Not an unpleasant task at all. You say that you are all prepared?"

Nick nodded and slowly got to his feet. "Yes. I told my youngest that I'd be taking the boat out in the morning to go deep-sea fishing. I'll probably be pulled overboard by the big one that always got away."

"Mmm, lost at sea. I like it."

"Where will we be going?"

"Anywhere you choose."

"I'd like to see Janette again."

"Then Paris it shall be," said LaCroix. "Perhaps with you by my side, she might welcome me as well."

"Perhaps," said Nick absently as he walked over to a wall filled with pictures and stared at them longingly. "When Nat first brought up the subject of adoption, I thought it was a bad idea. I suspected the day would come when she would leave and you would return and I'd be forced to give up this life. But she convinced me not to think of only myself. These children needed a home and someone to love and care for them. After we took the first one in, that was all it took. The experience enriched our lives so much, we just got a little carried away."

An elderly index finger reached out to draw an invisible heart around the participants in a family group picture taken ten years earlier. "They all came to visit me today," Nick continued in a low voice. "The house was bustling with activity, laughter and music... but it just wasn't the same without Nat by my side. I'll miss them all, but I think it would hurt far too much to stay here without her." He finally turned away from the pictures and discovered LaCroix standing close by. The vampire's attention was focused on the small framed photograph he held of his son as he once had looked decades ago.

"So, have you created any new brothers or sisters for me?"

LaCroix glanced at Nick, then shook his head as he placed the frame back where he'd found it. "No, I haven't. It just wouldn't have been the same."

The two exchanged a moment of silent comprehension, then Nick inhaled deeply and said, "I'm ready."

A glint of gold brightened LaCroix' eyes instantly, though the rest of his demeanor remained calm. He placed a hand on the back of his son's neck and drew him into an embrace. Nick wrapped his arms tightly about his father and surprised him with a kiss on the cheek.

"I love you, LaCroix," the words were whispered tenderly.

LaCroix pressed his lips to Nick's temple and replied, "As I love you, Nicholas."

They held the embrace for several more seconds, then Nick hissed, "Do it!" No further prompting was needed. More than ready to reclaim his son, LaCroix tilted Nick's head to one side and quickly sank his fangs into the sagging flesh. The blood that flowed rich and warm from the punctured vein was pure ambrosia. LaCroix became totally immersed in the images and sensations he received as he drank in the essence of his favorite child. Nothing of his old vampire existence came to light. Instead, Nick shared with his master the happiness he had known for the past few decades along with the sadness of his most resent loss.

As Nick began to weaken, LaCroix held him securely in his arms and savored a few more sips. He was finding it hard to tear himself away from such an irresistible feast, but realized that he needed to stop before it was too late. As he slowly pulled out his fangs, he picked up on one final message from his beloved offspring. 'Thank you for everything.'

LaCroix was left slightly intoxicated by the wine in his son's blood and gave little heed to the last thought conveyed to him. He shifted Nick's completely limp body in his arms and carried him over to the couch where he carefully laid him down. He then sat on the edge of the sofa and tore open a feeding vein in his wrist. Forcing Nick's lips open with the other hand, he allowed a few drops of his blood to trickle inside. He then waited anxiously for his son's rebirth.

After a few seconds had passed and there was still no sign of life, LaCroix began to get concerned. "Come on, Nicholas! We haven't all night." After a few moments more, LaCroix thought back to the last image he had received when he tasted his son's blood. He had assumed that Nick was merely thinking of the last thing Natalie had said to him before she died. He suddenly realized, however, that he was mistaken. Nick had meant the message for him. It had been his way of saying good-bye. Without Natalie in his life, Nick had no further desire to live. LaCroix had just given him an easy way out.

"Damn you, Nicholas!" LaCroix roared out in anger. "Come back! I demand that you come back to me!"

At first there was only darkness, until a doorway opened and a bright light shown through. Nick walked toward the light, stopping when he saw a figure emerge. He strained to make out the face of the person moving towards him. "Nat?"

"No," the dreamlike image with Natalie's face replied. "I am your guide. We've met before."

"Yes. I remember. Is Natalie here?"

"She has passed through to the other side."

"Will I be able to join her?"

"That remains to be seen."

"Can you tell me, has my soul been delivered?"

"You have done much to redeem yourself since your last visit, Nicholas." Her voice carried a "but" though she added nothing further.

"But it wasn't nearly enough, was it?" he asked with a sinking feeling.

"Can you weigh seven centuries of evil against one-and-a-half of good and have the scales balance?"

He was about to answer her when a terrifying, animal-like scream bellowed through the darkness. He jumped at the sound and looked questioningly at the Natalie-like vision before him. "What was that?"

"The one you call LaCroix. He has discovered your deception."

Nick listened as the pain-racked voice of his former master echoed in the nothingness. "I promised that I would return to him."

"Will you?"

Nick looked towards the lighted doorway, not understanding why he was even hesitating going inside. LaCroix's voice broke through again, filled with anger and pain. "Nicholas, don't [i]do[/i] this to me!" it howled. "You [i]owe[/i] me!"

"You must choose," said the guide.

"I am eternally damned either way," Nick sighed.

The guide began drifting back into the light with no further comment. Nick started to follow but stopped when he heard LaCroix speak again. This time the voice was softer and ladened with tears. "Please, Nicholas," it pleaded, "do not abandon me. Do not leave this tired old soul without a friend, without love, without reason to exist. I beg of you, Nicholas.... Come back."

Tears streaked down LaCroix's face as he held the open vein in his wrist to his son's lips without success. He refused to believe that he was gone, that he had chosen death instead of the gift of eternal youth and life which he offered. How his child must have hated him to do this awful thing.

"It will be different, Nicholas. I swear it. I shall not make you a slave or prisoner to my whim. Give me this one last chance to make amends."

There was a gentle sucking sensation at his wrist that grew steadily as the first signs of life began to surface. His heart beat twice in succession as LaCroix eagerly witnessed the stages of rebirth in his son. Before his eyes, wrinkled and loose skin began to tighten and smooth. Thin, gray strands of hair grew into thick, blond curls and bodily flab transformed into lean, firm muscle.

Nick latched onto his father's wrist and suckled greedily until his hunger was satiated. He instantly felt the power and renewed vitality coursing through his veins. He had forgotten how good it felt. Holding up his hands, he looked at them carefully, seeing how smooth and pale his skin now was. He felt for the changes in his face and hair and knew LaCroix had been right. He was as he once had been.

"Welcome back," said LaCroix, an appreciative smile on his face.

Nick reached a thumb up to the elder vampire's face and wiped away a trail of blood tears from his cheek. "Anyone ever tell you that you look beautiful when you cry?"

"No one's ever seen me cry and lived to tell it. You had me worried, Nicholas. I thought you might not be returning."

"Where else would I go?" Nick pulled himself up into a sitting position on the sofa with LaCroix still seated on the edge near his legs. When he noticed LaCroix holding his damaged wrist, he reached for it, brought it to his lips and gently licked the wound until it healed. He held onto the hand and looked his father in the eyes. "It's going to be different this time, LaCroix," he informed him. "You will not be my master and I will not be your slave. This time we will be equals. Agreed?"

LaCroix brought Nick's hand to his lips and kissed it lovingly. "Anything you say, Nicholas. You have my solemn vow."

And they coexisted happily ever after. : )

The End