Arabian Knight

Chapter 3

As Nick's eyes slowly fluttered opened, he found himself in unusual surroundings -- unusual for him at least. He noticed several things simultaneously. The first thing that caught his eye was the pale blue curtain that partially surrounded the bed in which he lay. The second thing he noticed was the needle taped to his right arm and the tubing which led to a couple of bags hanging from an IV stand next to the bed. Both bags were nearly drained, one having had clear liquid in it while the other held a dark red liquid. Add that to the sounds and voices he heard from beyond the curtain, Nick was quick to recognize the fact that he had been brought to a hospital, but a little slow to realize that he wasn't alone. When he slowly turned his head, he discovered a dark-haired, young woman dressed in white, seated to his left, carefully applying sutures to close the cut on his arm. Nick jerked away from her and bolted upright in a sudden panic.

"It's all right!" the woman cooed to him as though he was a child awaking from a bad dream. "You're safe, Mr. Knight," she spoke to him reassuringly as she gently pushed down on his shoulder. "Just settle down. Everything's going to be okay."

Not wanting to cause a scene, Nick forced himself to relax, settling back down on the bed and allowing the woman to continue the work on his arm. He knew he needed to get away from her and the hospital as soon as possible before his unique physical makeup began to raise questions. He noted that he had been stripped of his suit jacket and blue, silk shirt, but the rest of his clothing was intact. He saw a small amount of blood on his T-shirt, and when he took a good look at his injured arm, he frowned in confusion. Although the three-inch gash along his forearm was now painless, it showed no signs of healing itself. It was red and puffy around the edges with traces of blood still oozing out of the unstitched areas.

"How long have I been out?" Nick asked.

"As I understand it, you passed out at the scene nearly thirty minutes ago. You did wake up briefly in the ambulance, but I suppose you were a little too out of it to remember. I'm Dr. Carla Perez," the woman thought to introduce herself. "I'm an intern here at the hospital and you're my first knife wound. But don't let that alarm you. Trust me; the wound isn't all that serious. It was a little deep, but luckily, there was only minor tissue damage. However, you did lose a fair amount of blood -- which would account for your little impromptu nap -- but your vital signs are looking pretty good now."

"My... vital signs?" Nick questioned.

"Yes." The doctor gave a nod towards the silent monitor to which her patient was wired. "Your heartbeat is strong and steady, your blood pressure is stable and your temperature is normal."

"Normal?" Nick repeated the word quizzically as he stared at the monitor and tried to interpret its numerical messages. The information was slowly trickling into his brain. He was beginning to assimilate what he'd just been told about his condition with the events which had placed him in a doctor's care. The fact that he was unable to stay airborne, his weakness and lack of agility against his attacker combined with his inability to heal instantly all added up to one thing.

"I'm mortal," he softly uttered.

"Indeed you are," the doctor verified his statement, apparently thinking nothing odd in him making it. "Do you remember what happened to you?"

"I uh.... had a confrontation with a suspect. He elbowed me...." Nick paused and lifted his right hand to gently probe his swollen chin, finding it painfully tender to the touch.

"Your jaw isn't broken or anything, but you're going to need an ice pack for that," the doctor told him.

Nick gave a minor nod of understanding. "Do you know if my partner is around here anywhere?"

"Well, there was a frantic gentleman here earlier, but I had to insist he go get some air or something because he was driving everyone crazy with suggestions of how we should all perform our jobs."

"That would be Schanke," Nick smiled lightly. "I suppose he probably saved my life tonight."

"Yeah, and don't think I'm gonna let you forget it either," said the man in question as he peered around the privacy curtain separating Nick's bed from the rest of the emergency room holding area.

"No, I won't forget it, Schanke. Thanks. I owe you a big one."

"Hey, don't worry about it, partner. You'd do the same for me."

"Did you call Nat?"

"Oh, jeez!" Schanke exclaimed as he slammed his palm against his forehead. "Everything was moving so fast and I had to answer so many questions from everybody, plus Cohen's breathing down my neck wanting to know what went down--"

"Schank!" Nick interrupted his apologetic tirade. "It's okay. I understand. Just as well. I wouldn't want to worry her unnecessarily. I'll just talk to her later."

"So how's he doing, Doc?" Schanke asked just as the doctor finished securing the last suture.

"No worse for wear," she replied, giving Nick a friendly smile and a pat on the back of his hand. As she tore open a large, self- adhesive, sterile pad and placed it over the wound, she instructed him on future care. "You need to keep the wound dry and clean. I recommend a bandage for the next couple of days. After that, I suggest you wear lightweight, long-sleeve shirts to help protect it from dirt." Dr. Perez picked up Nick's chart and made a notation on it. "Do you have any drug allergies, Mr. Knight?"

"Not that I'm aware," Nick answered truthfully.

"Okay. I'll write you a prescription for antibiotics to stave off any infections and we'll set you up with a little something for the pain."

"It doesn't hurt," Nick informed her.

"That's the local anesthetic at work, but once it wears off, you'll probably be wanting something a little stronger than aspirin. And I suggest you take a day or two off from work. When you do go back, light duty only. If there are no problems with the wound, plan to come back to have the stitches removed in two weeks. Okay?"

"So I can go home now?" asked Nick.

"Well, we'll let you rest for a little while longer, then if you can stand on your own two feet, I don't see why not."

As it turned out, he was only able to stand on one foot. Nick had forgotten about his injured ankle until he actually tried to put his weight on it. Both the doctor and his partner were quick to catch him and prevent him from falling. After an x-ray revealed nothing broken, Nick's swollen ankle was treated with an ice pack, then wrapped tightly with an elastic bandage. An hour later, he was released from the hospital.

Instead of taking him back to the loft, Nick asked his partner to drive him over to Natalie's apartment. Schanke felt better about that than leaving Nick alone to fend for himself. As he drove the car through the predawn streets, Schanke kept stealing glances at his physically damaged friend. He wasn't use to seeing Nick appearing less than perfect. As many scuffles with bad guys as they'd encountered, Nick had always walked away either completely unscathed or with such minor injuries, that he barely needed anything other than a kiss from Natalie to make it all better. It was really unsettling to see him with a large, purple bruise covering his chin, and his arm nestled in a sling to keep it from banging against something and causing more damage. And just to see Nick in pain had been a real eye-opener. He had always been Mr. Macho, able to shake off any blow and even pretend that the bullet that grazed him was no more irritating than a mosquito bite.

"Some night, huh?" asked Schanke, wanting to say so much more, but not knowing where to start.

"Yeah," Nick softly agreed. His mind was still busy trying to absorb it all; not only his injuries, but his newly found mortal existence and what it all meant in terms of his future with the police department, with Natalie and his vampire family.

"You know, you kind of had me worried there for a while," Schanke timidly admitted. "All that blood. I wasn't quite sure it was just coming from the one cut. Then you go passing out on me like that. You could give a guy a heart attack doing stuff like that, you know?"

"I'm sorry, Schanke. Didn't mean to worry you."

"Yeah, well, no harm done. But I mean, if you're going to go around playing Supercop all the time, you've got to stay in character, Nick. You can't go getting yourself stabbed and stuff."

"I'll try to be more careful next time. By the way, were you ever able to catch Tyler?"

"Nah. He got away. But, what the hell, we caught up to him this time, we'll catch him again eventually. So, uh... do you think all this has anything to do with your wish?"

"My wish?"

"Yeah. You know, like what happened with that Melville guy. You think that maybe what's happened here is sort of a backlash to you making your wish?"

Uncannily, Schanke had just hit the nail on the head with his theory but Nick couldn't let on how true his statement was. "No, Schanke," he said softly. "I think my Supercop mentality finally got the best of me is all."

Schanke did a double take of his partner. "Did I just hear right?"

Nick smiled lightly. "Yes, Schanke. I'm admitting it. I screwed up. It was poor police work on my part. I didn't even check him for weapons before I tried to cuff him. Plus, he's a pretty big guy and I should have waited for you to come down and back me up."

"Yeah, you should have. You know, that's why God invented partners in the first place."

"I know. And I'm just lucky you were there for me. Thanks again."

"Yeah. Anytime, partner."

Natalie waited anxiously for Nick to arrive. He had called her at work, revealing nothing of his present condition, informing her only that he had a special surprise for her. When she heard the doorbell ring she rushed to the door and flung it open. Nothing could have prepared her for what she saw on the other side. Her shock almost turned into laughter because she knew that Nick's appearance could not be legitimate. Her first thought was that he had been in a car accident and perhaps because witnesses had been present, he simply had to pretend to be injured. She wondered how he had managed the great makeup job to create the discoloring bruise on his face. Her eyes moved downwards to take in the fact that he wore a sling to support his left arm, and his partner's dark brown jacket was draped over his shoulders to cover a blood-stained T-shirt. The crutch tucked under his right arm helped him to keep his weight off a bandaged left ankle, while Schanke stood at his side with an arm around his waist for added support.

"Nick!? What happened to you?"

"I'm okay, Nat," he told her as he and Schanke slowly worked their way through the door.

"If this is your idea of okay," said Schanke, "I hate to see _not_ okay. Where do you want him, Nat? The bedroom or the couch?"

"The couch is fine, Schanke," said Nick.

Schanke helped his limping friend over to the couch and eased him down to a semi-reclined position that had his back against the right arm of the sofa and his left leg stretched out with a pillow beneath his injured ankle. After making sure his good buddy was comfortable, Schanke turned to Natalie and began telling her the full story of what had taken place. Nick remained silent and just listened as his partner went into the details from when they first made contact with Nathan Tyler up until they left the hospital. There were a few things Nick had been unaware of because he had lost consciousness. He heard the worry in Schanke's voice when he told about waiting for what seemed like an eternity for the ambulance to arrive.

"Then, once the paramedics get there, this one chick starts giving me a hard time about me using my tie as a tourniquet. She tells me that I should have just applied direct pressure to the wound to stop the bleeding because tourniquets can sometimes cause even more problems if they're tied too tight. I try to explain to her just how much blood he was leaking; like he had more than his fair share and was trying to dump the excess. A tourniquet just seemed like the quickest way to get the bleeding under control."

"Well, it's obvious," said Nat to ease his agitation, "that you did the right thing, Schanke. It worked, right?"

"Yeah," he nodded, feeling vindication in his previous actions. "Anyway, it just seemed like they were moving in slow motion getting him into the back of the ambulance. Then when we get to the hospital, the doctors and nurses wasted a lot of time asking stupid questions when they should have been concentrating on helping the patient. I mean, what does it matter what kind of knife was used? The man's been stabbed. Do something! Help him!

"And then, they kept saying that it wasn't as bad as it looked and that Nick was going to be all right, and that I should just calm down. But how is a guy suppose to calm down when he's standing there watching his buddy lying unconscious, looking like death warmed over, and no one's doing a damn thing about it? I mean, well maybe I did overreact just a bit, but I've lost partners before and I didn't want to have to go through that again."

"Sounds like you've had a pretty rough night, Schanke," said Nat as she patted and rubbed his back to comfort him. "Nick may be a little banged up, but thanks you, he's alive and well on his way to a full recovery. You did a good job. But I can take over now. Why don't you go home and get some rest?"

"Yeah," Schanke nodded. "I guess I am about due for a nice hot bath and a stiff, long drink. So, you gonna be okay, Nick?"

Nick looked up with an appreciative smile. "Thanks to you, Schank. Go home to Myra and Jenny now."

Schanke accepted his jacket back from Nick, ignoring the offer to have it cleaned or replaced because of the barely noticeable smears of blood on it. Natalie walked him to the door and gave his arm a gentle squeeze as she bid him good night. After his departure, Nat went back to Nick and stood over him with arms folded, gazing down at him with disapproval.

"Was it really necessary to put Schanke through all that, Nick? Couldn't you have just mesmerized him or something? The poor guy actually thinks you could have died tonight."

"That's just it, Nat. I _could_ have died tonight."

"What are you saying?"

Nick figured that a picture was worth a thousand words. He gently pulled his arm from the sling, then peeled back the bandage. Natalie's eyes zeroed in on the sutured wound, then reached down to finger it. When Nick let out a hiss of pain, Nat jerked her hand away and stared at him in confusion.

"It hasn't healed. Why? What's going on, Nick?"

"I'm not a vampire anymore, Nat. I'm mortal."

Natalie's eyes grew wide in disbelief. Her hand reached out to his neck to feel for a pulse she hadn't expected to find, then allowed her fingers to linger upon warm flesh that had been previously cool to the touch. She gazed momentarily into his eyes before gently touching his bruised cheek. When she saw him flinch slightly at the contact, she was finally convinced.

"How?" was the only thing she could think to say.

Nick reached for her hand and guided her to sit beside him on the couch. "You remember that Chinese puzzle box that Schanke found at the Melville home?"

"Yes. What about it?"

"Remember the legend that I told you about? The one where if you solve the puzzle, you get to make a wish?"

"Wait! Are you saying that it's true? You wished for mortality and it just happened?"

"Apparently. Schanke had the puzzle down at the precinct. I picked it up and started fooling around with it. Next thing I know, it's opening up and there's a crystal ball inside with blue smoke forming the words, 'Make a wish'." Nick shook his head in awe at the remembered vision. "I thought it only existed in fairy tales, Nat. But as soon as I saw it, I knew it had to be the real thing. And when Schanke asked me what I was going to wish for, only one thing came to mind. But I never even said it out loud. I was only thinking it."

"Are you saying that it read your thoughts?"

"Looks that way."

"So you turned mortal that instant?"

"No, it wasn't instantaneous. I'm pretty sure I was still a vampire when we left the precinct. I didn't notice anything at all until we had reached Tyler's hideout and I tried flying up to the window. Got about twenty feet off the ground, then suddenly it felt as though I was wearing cement shoes. I couldn't stay up. Just dropped like a rock to the ground."

"And that's how you sprang your ankle?"

Nick nodded. "Yeah. Everything else is just as Schanke told you."

"But, I don't understand, Nick. How could you not realize that you'd changed? Remember when we tried our little experiment with the lytovuenerine-B? You knew right away that your body had changed. You even said that you couldn't feel the vampire anymore."

"That was the drug all along, Nat. From the moment it entered my vein, I experienced a multitude of sensations. After the pain and nausea, there was this exaggerated sense of well-being that I misread as my becoming mortal again. The drug had both my mind and body completely out of whack. But this... this feels completely different. It's been so long since I've been mortal, I didn't recognize the feeling at first." Nick grinned sheepishly and added, "I suppose as an ordinary human, I'm not very bright. It took me awhile to figure out what had happened to me."

"Mortal, huh?" said Natalie with an amazed but delighted grin. "Is it permanent?"

Nick thought briefly of Stanley Melville and his possible wish to lose weight. It could be as Schanke had theorized that the man simply didn't stipulate exactly how much weight he wanted to lose. Nick shrugged his shoulders lightly and said, "Well, I didn't specify a time limit. But you know how magic is, Nat. I might have only until the clock strikes midnight or it may be happily ever after."

"Or until LaCroix finds out," Natalie pointed out.

Nick nodded. "Yeah, that is a real possibility. That's one of the reasons I asked Schanke to bring me here instead of taking me back to the loft. Knowing how LaCroix likes to drop in unannounced, especially if he senses that I'm--" Nick stopped short, his eyes focusing inwards as he suddenly realized something else different about himself.

"Nick?" Natalie stared at him with nervous concern. "What is it? What's wrong?"

"Our link, Nat. That invisible thread that bound us together from my first day as a vampire. It's what always allowed him to find me no matter where I went."

"Are you saying you can sense his presence? He's coming here now?"

"No. I mean, I don't know. The link is gone. I just noticed that I can't feel him anymore. Even... even when we were such a great distance apart that I couldn't actually feel the vibration, I've always been able to sense that he still existed somewhere in the world, that he was still a part of me. But now... it's like he never was. I feel..." Nick smiled serenely as he thought of the word that best expressed his current emotion. ""

"How can we make sure that you stay free?" asked Nat.

Nick gave it some thought. "I'll have to leave town as soon as possible. Even if he can't track me through our link anymore, he knows my scent. He'll hunt me down like a bloodhound tracking an escaped convict. I'll have to make myself disappear."

"Leave?" Nat tried to hide her disappointment at his decision, but the crack in her voice gave her away. She stood and turn her back to him as she fought to contain her blossoming heartache.

"I'm sorry, Nat. But I can't stay. I'd be putting your life at risk."

"And how far do you think you'll get the shape you're in now?"

"Well, if you have a better idea, Nat, I'm open to suggestions."

Natalie shrugged and shook her head helplessly. "Oh, I don't know. Why don't you just solve that little puzzle again and wish LaCroix out of your life once and for good."

She was being totally facetious. But after speaking the words, she realized that she may have just stumbled onto the answer to their dilemma. She turned and looked at Nick, who one second later shared the same thought.

"Where is it?" Nat asked as she picked up her car keys and purse from the coffe table.

"I left it on my desk back at the precinct."

"Sit tight. I'll be back as soon as I can."

She was out of the door before he could say another word.


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