Arabian Knight

Chapter 5

Soon after Schanke got into his car and drove off, Natalie made her way out of the precinct. Nick was trying to figure a way to break the news to her, how to tell her that from now on, they would have to run for their lives because LaCroix would not rest until he had found them both. He wasn't quite as concerned with his own fate. He knew the type of punishment his master would inflict upon him, but what he would do to Natalie, Nick didn't even want to consider.

When Nat plopped down in the driver's seat and dangled a plastic evidence bag up by one corner, Nick opened his mouth to speak but was momentarily shocked into silence when he saw what she held.

"Nat!" he blurted, finally finding his voice. "How? Schanke said he threw it in the garbage."

"He did. When I first went in, I saw him giving Davis a hard time for fooling around with it, so that made me a little hesitant about asking him for it. Instead, I just followed him around without his knowledge to see what he'd do with it. I saw him toss it in the dumpster, and when the coast was clear, I dug it out. Luckily, I carry around plastic gloves and bags with me everywhere." Natalie frowned slightly as she studied the debris covering the puzzle. "Looks like it met with the used coffee filters and leftover pizza, among other things. We'll need to get it cleaned up before you handle it."

Nick took the bag from her and studied the soiled cube through the clear plastic. "You know why Schanke threw this away, Nat?"

"No, not really. He did seem a little -- oh, I don't know -- spooked by it."

"It's because of what happened to Stanley Melville. Schanke thinks something bad will happen to me if I use it to make more wishes."

"Well, of course, you have to be careful what you wish for. You wished for mortality. Nothing's wrong with that. It's just that you were taken off guard. That's why you got hurt. But now that you know what to expect, you can approach this wishing business logically and not make mistakes. Right?"

"Yeah, I suppose," Nick answered distractedly as his mind almost began to wander back to the legend he'd been told so very long ago.

"Or maybe you don't want to wish LaCroix out of your life." Natalie's words brought him instantly back to the present.

"Why would you say that?"

"Oh, I don't know. Maybe being mortal isn't all that you hoped it would be. I imagine it can't be all that easy after centuries of having superhuman strength and supernatural powers, to just give them all up overnight. It could be that on some subconscious level, you want LaCroix to be able to find you so that he can turn you back into a vampire."

"Nat, you can't really think that, can you?" Nick spoke with pained disbelief. "I've wanted to go back to being mortal almost from the very start. I've spent hundreds of years trying to find a way back. Yes, I'll admit that it's quite an adjustment going from having special powers to feeling as helpless as a baby. But I realize that this is only temporary. In time I'll heal and I'll adapt. I _want_ this, Nat. Don't ever doubt how much I want this."

Natalie held her head shamefully. "I'm sorry, Nick. I didn't mean to doubt you. It just sounded slightly like you didn't even want to try. Look, I know that this was all my idea, and that I'm probably being a little pushy. So if you feel uncomfortable about solving the puzzle again, that somehow things might get worse, then don't do it. We'll just go to 'Plan B' like we discussed on our way here."

'Plan B' involved abandoning there lives in Toronto and trying to keep a few steps ahead of LaCroix. That would make it incredibly hard to settle down and raise a family -- the other thing which Nick strongly desired. 'Plan A' was more idyllic, in which he would solve the puzzle, make a wish, then they would be free to live their lives in peaceful harmony. Nick did have a slightly uneasy feeling about the puzzle, but if he did as Natalie suggested and be careful about making his wish, all should be well.

"I think we'll give 'Plan A' a shot," Nick decided at last. "After all, if it wasn't meant to be, this thing would already be on its way to the garbage dump." Pushing away the mildly disturbing doubts he harbored both about the puzzle and their immediate future, Nick gave Natalie an encouraging smile, one that said to her that everything was going to be all right.

It had been a long night for Schanke. He was hungry and dog-tired when he stepped through the kitchen door from the garage. Even though he'd noted the absence of his wife's car, he automatically called out to let Myra know that he was home. Stopping in front of the refrigerator to read the note she'd left for him hanging from a strawberry-shaped magnet, he discovered that Myra had taken their daughter for an early morning orthodontist checkup. He vaguely remembered her mentioning something about trying to get the appointment moved up so they could leave on their trip to Grandma's before noon. She had tried to talk him into going with them to visit the in-laws, but he used the standard excuse that he couldn't get away from the job. The truth was that he got easily bored down on the farm with its peaceful, easy-going atmosphere. However, after the night he'd just experienced, a little peace and quiet seemed pretty inviting.

Schanke opened the refrigerator and contemplated his breakfast choices. The leftover meatloaf from last night's dinner seemed as good a meal as any. He grabbed the baking dish it was in, and as he closed the refrigerator door, he was startled by the sudden presence of someone standing on the other side. The container slipped from his hand but was quickly caught before it ever had the chance of hitting the floor. His heart thumping loudly, Schanke stared in shock as the tall, pale gentleman dressed in black stood beside him, holding onto his intended breakfast.

"How -- what--"

"Detective Schanke, do forgive me if I frightened you. That was not my intention."

Schanke took a couple of steps backwards, clutching at his racing heart as he sought to calm his nerves. "You nearly scared the life out of me. How'd you get in anyway?"

"Your wife allowed me entry. I explained that I needed to speak with you and she assured me that you would be along soon and that it was quite all right for me to wait for your arrival while she ran her errands."

"Myra -- my wife -- said it was okay? She just let you in and said it was okay to stay here?"

"I assured her that I was harmless and that I would not touch any of your families' private possessions. I only wanted to speak to you about Nicholas."

"Oh, Nick." Suddenly it didn't feel so weird having the man in his home. It was the guy from the radio show that Nick listened to all the time. Schanke had visited him down at the radio station after being involved in a shooting incident. He had been so upset after the shooting that he had begun to imagine that Nick was a vampire. It took the enigmatic man with the somniferous voice to help him face his own insecurities. Turned out that not only was he a giver of good advice, he was also a relative of Nick's. Either a step father or uncle -- Schanke never bothered to question the exact relationship -- but the man did admit to being practically all the family Nick had.

Schanke took the baking dish from him and set it on the counter, then he motioned for his guest to sit at the kitchen table with him. "So I guess you've heard about the attack on Nick last night?"

"I had a premonition that something unfavorable may have befallen Nicholas, but as of yet I've been unable to contact him. Perhaps you know where he might be found."

"Well, not exactly. I dropped him off at Nat's this morning after they fixed him up at the hospital. Oh, it's nothing serious," Schanke was quick to add when he saw the bewildered expression on LaCroix's face. "He kind of got in a minor tussle with a suspect. But he was looking pretty decent last time I saw him."

"At Dr. Lambert's apartment?"

"No, actually, it was at the precinct in the parking lot. They had stopped by so Nat could drop off some papers. Nick said that they planned to take a little road trip together now that his sun allergy problem was gone. Said that if I didn't hear from them for a while, not to worry."

"You say he's cured of his sun allergy, is he?"

"Yeah," Schanke answered excitedly. He started to explain just how it came about, then suddenly realized how idiotic he'd sound with talk about magic puzzles and granted wishes. Instead, he decided to fudge a little on the truth. "Nat had been trying to come up with some kind of wonder drug for him, so I guess she finally worked out all the bugs. That Natalie, she's a pretty smart cookie."

"Perhaps too smart for her own good," LaCroix hissed.

The look of pure hatred on his uninvited visitor's face made Schanke a little nervous. "Yeah, well... look, I've had a pretty long night and I really could use some rest, so if you don--"

"I'll need your help to find him," LaCroix cut him off abruptly.

"Find who? You mean Nick? Like I said, he and Nat are spending some time together. I figure they're probably be back after the weekend."

LaCroix knew he could simply hypnotize the man into assisting him, but he thought it might go a bit smoother if he impressed upon him a certain urgency. "It's a matter of life and death," he informed him.


"You recall Janette?"

"Oh yeah, do I! Is something wrong with her?"

"She happens to be quite ill," LaCroix lied convincingly. "She and Nicholas share the same rare blood type."

"And she needs him to give her a transfusion?"

"It would greatly improve her chances of a full recovery."

Schanke nodded thoughtfully. "Yeah, I'm sure Nick would want to be there for her. They seemed to have a pretty... interesting relationship."

"Then you will assist me in locating Nicholas?"

"Well, you've got that radio show," Schanke pointed out. "Nick listens to it every chance he gets. All you have to do is make a couple of announcements, and he'll hear it and give you a call."

"Unfortunately, that won't be until late tonight," LaCroix countered. "Perhaps in the meantime you might use your position with the police force to put out an All Points Bulletin, I believe it's called? After all, it is a medical emergency. And the quicker we act...."

"Yeah, you're right," Schanke agreed. "I'll call it in now." As he stood and headed for the kitchen phone hanging on the wall, he noted out loud how much easier it would be if Nick had taken his Cadillac. "That thing sticks out like a neon sign, but Nat has one of the more popular models around. But don't worry," Schanke added as he dialed the phone, "we'll get Toronto's best on it."

"Thank you, Detective Schanke. Your cooperation is greatly appreciated."

The first stop for Nick and Natalie was at the veterinarian clinic where they had planned to drop off Sidney for what Nat hoped would be a very temporary stay. When Nick saw the rather small facility and the cramped cages, he couldn't help but have misgivings about leaving the animal behind. And when he saw the longing in Nat's eyes combined with the fear that she may never see her beloved pet again, he relented and decided they would do whatever it took to keep the cat with them.

After leaving the vet's, Nick directed Natalie to drive to a public self-storage facility where he kept a few things tucked away. Among the treasured remnants of his past which had since become valuable antiques, Nick had squirreled away a trunk full of clothing, a locked safe containing thousands in cash and some emergency identification he'd had Aristotle prepare for him right after filling in all the gaps of his Nick Knight biography. It had been Aristotle's suggestion that Nick have a back up identity if he insisted on being a cop. Often, cops were killed on the job and although Nick had been successful so far in covering up his death defying injuries, sooner or later, something would happen that he wouldn't be able to explain away. He would be forced to move on quickly and start a new life elsewhere.

Upon collecting some clothes, money and his new ID, Nick suggested that they find a hotel to hole up in for a day or two. He hoped that solving the puzzle wouldn't take long, but he was sure it wouldn't be as easy as it had been the first time around. Trying to outthink his master, Nick figured that LaCroix would concentrate his search on the airport terminals, train stations and shipyards. Assuming that his offspring would want to get as far away from Toronto as possible, he wouldn't think to look in his own backyard as it were, and now that their link was no longer a factor, Nick felt it was safe enough to simply hide rather than flee.

Although he planned to hide, Nick thought it best not to hide too close to home. He and Nat drove to neighboring Hamilton about forty miles west of Toronto. They passed by several low budget hotels and motels that advertised vacancies on the signs out front, and when Nat pointed them out, Nick frowned, shook his head and said simply that she deserved better than that. Natalie was tired from an exhausting night's work and wasn't quite so picky as long as the place was relatively clean. Still, it was rather flattering that Nick thought first of her needs and wanted her to have the best accommodations available.

The best turned out to be the Sheraton, which luckily accepted pets, but unfortunately was already booked solid. When Nick attempted to hypnotize the desk clerk into bumping someone off the registration list to accommodate him, Nat had to gently remind him that he no longer possessed such useful powers. In the end, a friendly smile and a hundred dollar bill produced the desired effects. Soon, Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas Simmons were settling down in their suite on the fourth floor. Natalie wanted to question Nick as to why he kept the same first name. Apparently, he'd used it many times throughout the centuries. It made her wonder if that was one of the methods LaCroix used to keep track of him over the years and if it were, why Nick would keep using it. On second thought, Natalie decided to hold her tongue regarding the matter. If all worked out, they would never have to worry about LaCroix again.

Standing shirtless in front of the bathroom mirror, Nick finally got the first look at himself as a born again mortal. His eyes were red and puffy from fatigue, and the large, purple bruise on his chin stood out in glaring contrast to his normally pallid complexion. He fingered the area lightly, noticing the slight swelling and tenderness still present. It could have been worse, he thought to himself, if it hadn't been for Schanke. He definitely owed him one now. Nick closed his eyes and placed his right hand over his heart, feeling it beat steadily in a way it hadn't for centuries. "Thank you," he softly whispered, unsure of exactly who or what he had to thank for this miracle, but feeling the need to utter the words just the same.

After washing up the best he could while keeping his bandages dry, Nick emerged from the bathroom, dressed in a pair of his standard black, silk pajamas. Natalie was just finishing up a call to room service, requesting a late breakfast. Upon hanging up, she rushed to Nick's side and helped him to sit down on the edge of the bed.

"You look dead on your feet," she commented. "No pun intended. How's the arm and ankle holding up?"

"Both throbbing a bit, but I can handle it."

"Well be that as it may..." Natalie picked up a small, white bag from the night stand and pulled out two prescription bottles. She uncapped the first bottle and dumped out one white tablet onto her palm, then picked up a previously prepared glass of water. "Okay, listen," she said as she held the pill between her thumb and forefinger. "You're going to open your mouth wide, and I'm going to place this on your tongue. You're to hold it there until you get a sip of water in your mouth, then you'll tilt your head back and swallow the water and pill at the same time. Understand?"

Nick nodded. "I think so."

Following her instructions, Nick still had a little trouble getting the pill to go down smoothly. It took a full glass of water and several aborted attempts to get down one painkiller, followed by one antibiotic. Natalie assured him it would get easier with practice, then proceeded to pull back the covers in order to tuck him into bed.

"Nat," he objected, "I need to work on the puzzle now."

"You can do it off your feet," she informed him. "I still need to clean the gunk off it, so just relax and take it easy."

"Yes, mother," Nick teased as she hovered over him, adjusting his pillow and making sure he was comfortable.

"I took the liberty of ordering up some breakfast. I'm assuming you don't still have a hankering for blood?"

"No. But I'm not so sure I'm ready for solid food either. I can vividly recall what happened the last time. Never been so sick in my entire life. I spent over an hour on my knees in the bathroom getting familiar with the workings of my toilet."

"Yeah, well, trying to eat everything you see will do that. But we'll take it slow this time. Nothing too spicy or hard to digest. Maybe we'll start you off with a little lime Jell-O."

"Yum. I can hardly wait."

Nat planted a kiss on his forehead just before picking up the puzzle and taking it into the bathroom to clean. When she returned in less than two minutes, she discovered her companion sound asleep. Natalie sat down on the edge of the bed and watched him for a moment. She'd had occasions to watch Nick sleep before and had been left a little unsettled by his deathlike appearance. This time was different. She took comfort in the fact that his chest rose and fell with each breath of mortal slumber. Reaching out and taking hold of his hand, she became entranced by the new warmth it now produced. It was still hard to believe that he was mortal, and she was somewhat dismayed that she hadn't been the one responsible for his impossible dream coming true. She realized that she was being selfish for even thinking it. Perhaps it was much better this way. If Nick chose to stay by her side, she'd know that it was because he had strong feelings for her rather than merely feeling grateful to her and thinking that he owed her an immense debt.

Natalie gazed at the puzzle in her hand, finding it basically inconceivable that such a simple toy could create such a miracle. She smiled to herself and softly uttered an age-old adage. "Great things come in small packages."

LaCroix slept very little that day. Normally he wouldn't let it bother him that his Nicholas had run away again. But that was when they still had their bond which made the art of tracking his offspring less arduous. Now he had to admit to himself that he was somewhat worried, not that he wouldn't be able to find him, but rather he wouldn't be able to find him in time to keep him from doing something detrimental to his existence. If indeed he had somehow managed to become mortal, it was only a matter of time that the consequences of being a mere mortal would catch up with him.

When the private phone in his office at the Raven began to ring, LaCroix snatched it up instantly and spoke a single word into the receiver. "Yes?"

"Mr. LaCroix?" Schanke's voice sought verification.

"Yes, Detective Schanke. Have you news?"

"Well, yes and no. I just got a call from dispatch. They located Natalie's car in the parking lot of a rental car agency. But there's something odd going on. The cop on the scene said he asked the girl at the counter if anyone named Natalie Lambert or Nick Knight had done any business there this morning. She told him no, but when he described Nick to her, she remembered him. You know, all women remembers Mr. Tall, pale and handsome, plus the fact that he's kind of banged up and was hopping around on one crutch. Anyway, it appears that he rented a car using some fake ID. The name he gave was -- get this -- Nicholas Simmons. Doesn't he know when you change your name, you're suppose to change all of it? You have any idea why he would do that? It's almost like he doesn't want to be found, but at the same time, he's dropping bread crumbs to be followed."

"I believe that's for my benefit," said LaCroix. "Nicholas and I have a game we like to play. It's sort of an eternal contest of hide and go seek."

"Ooookay," said Schanke, not daring to question that bit of information. "Well, anyway," Schanke continued, "I've put out a new APB on the other car he's riding around in now, so as soon as I hear something, I'll give you a buzz."

"Thank you, Detective. And I do apologize about delaying your trip with your family."

"That's okay. I'll just catch up with them tomorrow. Like you said, this is a matter of life and death."

After hanging up the phone, LaCroix opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out a map and a phone book. If Nicholas was traveling by car, that meant that he couldn't have gotten very far. Not knowing exactly which direction he had taken would make the search a bit tedious, but having a name to track hotel stays would definitely aid his pursuit. He felt fairly confident that this particular game of hide and seek would be over relatively soon.

Natalie opened her eyes to unfamiliar surroundings. It took her mind a few seconds to remember where she was and how she got there. When she turned onto her back, she saw Nick sitting up in bed next to her. His attention was focused on the puzzle he was flipping about in his hands. Nat turned on her side to face him, then asked, "Having any luck?"

"I've got the hind legs and tail in position," Nick responded without looking away from his task.

"That's more than I was able to manage. I played around with that thing for about ninety minutes, then I finally just gave up."

"You were wasting your time. No one else will be able to solve it until it's finished with me."

"Say that again?"

Nick glanced at her and smiled. "Well, that is, if the legend is true. I'm due at least two more wishes. No one else will be able to solve it and make wishes until I've got the rest of mine out of the way."

"Well, how would the puzzle even know who's solving it and who it owes wishes to?"

"If you're asking me how it works, Nat. I have no idea. Maybe it can recognize my touch or my aura or something. Who knows? It's magic."

"But what if you weren't able to solve it again? What if someone else at the precinct had walked off with it this morning? Are you saying that it would never work for another person because it was waiting for you to get it again?"

"Well, it wouldn't wait for me indefinitely. I only have until the next full moon. After that, it would be up for grabs again."

"I see. So how long have you been up?"

"About an hour. Slept pretty soundly too. How about you?"

"Great. Except for the time your snoring woke me up."

"I don't snore," Nick denied with mock indignity.

"Maybe you didn't _use_ to snore," Natalie allowed. "But you most definitely do now. But it's not so bad. It was kind of comforting in a way, really. It let me know that you hadn't changed back. You're still human."

Nick finally paused in his puzzle-solving and turned his full attention to the woman lying beside him dressed in pink, cotton pajamas. "Were you afraid I'd go to sleep and wake up a vampire?" he softly asked.

"The thought crossed my mind."

"And yet you laid down to sleep in the same bed with me?"

"Well, there _is_ only one bed in the room. But even if you did wake up a vampire, I knew you wouldn't do anything to hurt me."

"I wouldn't want to, but I might have."

"You didn't hurt me the first time we met. You were completely vamped out then and you didn't even know me. Still, you resisted harming me."

"That's only because I smelled the blood you kept in the refrigerator."

"Even if it hadn't been there, I don't think you would have hurt me, Nick. You couldn't. You're not like that."

Nick reached his hand out to caress Natalie's cheek. "There's so much you don't know about me, Nat. There's so much I haven't told you about myself, so much I could never tell you."

"I know everything I need to know about you already."

"You couldn't possibly know how much I love you."

Those were the three little words she had longed to hear him utter, but instead of being thrilled, Natalie couldn't help but question the depth of his sincerity. "About half as much as you love Janette?" she responded with a noticeable air of jealousy. When she saw the grievous expression on Nick's face, she quickly apologized for her statement. "I'm sorry. I had no right to say something like that. It's just -- before -- when we thought I'd cured you, the first thing you did was to race off to see Janette. You even wanted me to try the cure on her so she could be mortal too."

"That was the drug talking, Nat," Nick explained.

"Was it?"

Nick captured her hand in his and brought it up to his lips. After anointing the back of her fingers with a single kiss, he looked deeply into her eyes. "I'll be honest with you, Nat. My relationship with Janette is a special one. Yes, to a certain degree, I do love her and I probably always will. But my feelings for you can't compare. You're what I've been searching for all my life. You are everything to me. And the only reason I haven't told you so before was because I knew I could never give you the kind of life you deserve. And now...."

His voice trailed off as he tilted her chin and slowly guided her lips to his. All doubts Natalie previously harbored, melted away instantly with that first, real kiss. He had kissed her many times, but always a chaste peck on the cheek or forehead. This time he openly expressed the passion he had kept bottled up inside.


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