Arabian Knight

Chapter 8

Natalie was having a ghastly dream, one in which LaCroix had broken into her bedroom and somehow paralyzed her. He forced her to watch as he turned Nick back into a vampire, then instructed a vamped-out Nick to make his first kill. Unable to move as she lay helpless on the bed, Natalie could only cringe inwardly as the golden-eyed, young vampire came towards her with no look of recognition in his eyes, only an uncontrollable hunger for her blood. He crawled onto the bed and shifted Nat onto her side so that he could spoon himself about her from behind. Natalie heard him growl at LaCroix to go away, and saw the master vampire immediately do what he was told.

Instead of a bite on her neck, Natalie felt a tender kiss on a spot just beneath her earlobe. She began to relax as warm hands traveled gently over her body and sweet words of love were whispered into her ear. She let out a soft moan as one hand moved down between her legs and began to pleasure her. By the time she felt something hard and hot entering her from behind, Natalie was wide awake. When she shifted her leg to make penetration easier for him, Nick took that as a sign to thrust faster, deeper, harder. He was murmuring in her ear, incomplete sentences that still managed to convey his thoughts. " you."

Natalie screamed out in pleasure as she reached her height of ecstasy, then moaned contentedly as she slowly felt herself float down. Behind her, Nick was still going strong. When she felt his hot breath at her neck, Nat became concerned that he might try to bite her as he had done the first time they'd made love. She tensed slightly and waited. The feel of teeth on her skin never materialized. All she felt was the heat of his heavy panting. A moment later, Nick let out a loud groan as his body stiffened against hers. After a few seconds, he eased away from her and rolled onto his back, exhausted and out of breath.

Natalie tugged the ends of her short nightgown back down over her hips, then shifted around to face him. She became somewhat concerned, seeing his eyes were squeezed shut as though in pain. She also noticed how sweaty and pallid his naked skin appeared and how hard it seemed for him to calm his breathing.

"Nick? Are you okay?"

Nick heard the concern in her voice and instantly opened his eyes. He smiled disarmingly and spoke in-between snatches of air. "Did I... wake you?" he managed to joke.

Natalie grabbed the top sheet and pulled it up to cover his exposed body to prevent him from getting a chill from the air conditioned room. She used one corner of the sheet to wipe the sweat from his face. "Looks like you just got through running a marathon.

"Least...I didn't...faint."

"Well, I guess that's an improvement then," said Nat as she finished mopping the moisture from his face and neck. She propped herself up on one elbow and placed a hand on his bare chest, detecting the fast-paced beating of his heart. "Looks like you're seriously out of shape," she spoke softly. "It's like your body isn't use to this level of physical activity. I know that when you were a vampire, you had all kinds of strength and vitality, but now, it's kind of like your body has to completely start over. Or perhaps, you're merely picking up where you left off before you became a vampire. Were you in decent shape back then?"

Nick nodded his head, his breathing a little closer to normal as he spoke. "Pretty much.... It was...during the Crusades and I had...been at battle for...quite some time. Of tend to use... a different set of muscles...wielding a sword than you do... making love to a woman."

"I would hope so," Natalie grinned.

"And it had been a while...since I'd been with a woman.... I suppose that's why I easily and hopelessly for Janette."

"You know, I'm trying very hard not to get jealous when I hear that name," Natalie admitted, "but so far, I'm not having much luck."

Nick picked up Nat's hand and brought it to his lips for a quick kiss before placing it back over his heart again and leaving it covered with his. "I tell you what, Nat.... I know there must old boyfriend in your past...that you loved and probably...still have fond memories of.... Why don't you tell me about I can have someone to be jealous over."

"No, that's silly. I don't need you to be jealous of Stuart."

"Stuart, huh? I hate him already," Nick teased. "Tell me about him."

"Not much to tell really. I met him in college. We got along great. There was some talk about marriage, but we couldn't quite agree on things like where to live or whether or not to have children. I was for it but he wasn't all that keen on the idea."

"I want kids," said Nick. "At least half a dozen. What do you think?"

Nat chuckled lightly and replied, "I think you have a wonderful sense of humor."

"Oh, I'm not saying you should give birth to them all at once," Nick teased. "However, in the grand scheme of things...that would be quite a time-saver."

"You are seriously warped," Natalie laughed, then leaned over and kissed his lips. "But I love you anyway. Now, why don't we get up and get out of this hotel room for awhile. The sun is still up, and you could definitely use some. Get a little color in your cheeks."

"Yes, ma'am." Nick gave his love a passionate kiss, before rising to get out of bed. As he turned his back to swing his feet to the floor, Natalie let out a gasp of surprise at seeing black and blue bruises covering his upper torso.

"Whoa! What the hell happened to your back?"

"What do you mean?"

Natalie got to her knees directly behind him and ran a gentle hand across his shoulder blades. "It's all bruised up." Nat frowned at the thought of what could have caused the bruising. "I think this is from when I gave you that massage last night. Either I don't know my own strength or you've got a serious vitamin C deficiency. Does it hurt?"

"No. It feels fine."

"I think we need to get you started on some megavitamins. If your body has returned to your pre-vampire state, I guess it's safe to assume that you probably weren't getting enough of your four, basic food groups."

"I remember eating a lot of red beans, wild boar and rabbit. Fresh fruits and vegetables were kind of hard to come by on the battle fields."

"I can only imagine. Well, it might not be a bad idea to get you a complete physical," said Nat. "Along with some allergy testing. We don't want to find out the hard way that you're deathly allergic to shell fish or strawberries or chocolate chip cookies. If you like, I can make an appointment for you tomorrow to see a doctor."

"I thought you were my doctor."

"I was your doctor while you were a vampire. I think that now you can benefit more from someone who practices on the living."

"I suppose. Won't be half as much fun though." Nick stood up, keeping his weight off his sore ankle, then held his hand out to Natalie. "Come on and help a frail, malnourished, ex-vampire take a shower. You wash my back, I'll wash your front."

After getting showered and dressed, Nick and Natalie left the confines of their love nest to explore the rest of their surroundings. Since Nick was still dependent on his crutch, they decided not to stray from the hotel premises. Luckily, everything they desired was easily accessible. The hotel played host to three restaurants, two swimming pools, a game room, and a wide array of stores for gifts and wearing apparel.

They began their evening enjoying a light meal while lounging by the pool and soaking up the warm rays of a perfect sunset. That was followed by a two-hour stint in the game room testing their abilities to shoot down alien spacecraft, and coax little balls into small holes and big balls into nets. A shopping spree ensued afterwards. Nick took pleasure in watching Natalie put on a fashion show for him. She tried on several different outfits before finding something that really seemed to interest her beau. She walked out from behind the curtains wearing a red, satiny cocktail dress with thin straps and just a hint of cleavage showing. Nick suggested that Nat leave the dress on and find her some shoes and accessories to go with it while he excused himself to go to the bathroom.

With the help of a very courteous sales clerk, Natalie had found the perfect shoes, purse and earrings to go with her dress. When she looked around for Nick, thinking that he should have returned some time ago, she saw him making his way over from the men's shop across the way. He had traded in his khakis and pullover shirt for a black, three-piece suit and red, satin tie. Natalie whistled appreciatively as he hobbled over to her on his crutch. Even with his face bruised, the man still looked like the sexiest thing on earth.

"I thought we'd dressed for dinner," Nick explained as he approached.

"Well, you'll get no complaints from me."

Lighted candles on each table and the soft music from a grand piano provided the restaurant with an ambiance suitable for lovers. Nick allowed Natalie to order for him, knowing that she would pick something easily digestible. He had graduated to solid foods, but they decided to keep his diet simple for the time being. He dined on skinless, baked chicken breast, and a serving of green peas and rice while Natalie tried not to make a pig of herself as she enjoyed a generous seafood platter.

Midway between their meal, Nick summoned the waiter and requested some champagne. When Natalie asked him what the special occasion was, he merely smiled impishly at her, then slid from his chair to drop down on one knee at her side. Reaching into his jacket pocket, he pulled out a small, black velvet box and held it up in front of her. Natalie's mouth fell open and her eyes grew wide in disbelief as he opened the box to reveal a three-carat engagement ring.

Natalie finally closed her mouth and tore her eyes away from the ring as Nick reached out to loosely grasp the fingers of her right hand. She could actually feel him trembling as he kissed her opened palm. Afterwards, she watched him swallow hard, then inhale and exhale deeply in preparation. She had never seen him look so nervous or so much like a little boy hoping to convince Santa that he's been good all year long. Finally, he got his courage up and offered a tender smile as he began to pour out his heart to her.

"Feeling a little nervous all of a sudden," he began. "But anyway, Natalie...I just wanted to let you know how much you mean to me. My life was changed forever from the very first moment we met. You've been there for me whenever I've needed you. And you believed in me when I didn't even believe in myself. You've kept my secrets and stuck by me when any sane woman would have run the other way, screaming." Nat let loose a tiny chuckle even though tears were beginning to form in her eyes. Nick could only hope they were tears of joy. He took another deep breath, then continued. "Well, to make a long story short; in the immortal words of the wonderful Stevie Wonder: 'You are the sunshine of my life.'" As he slipped the ring onto her finger, he added, "I love you with all my heart, Nat. And you'll make me the happiest mortal alive if you would do me the honor of becoming my wife. Will you marry me?"

The tears of elation were flowing in earnest now and Natalie could hardly find the voice to respond. She nodded enthusiastically, squeaked out a, "Yes!" then swooped her arms around the neck of her fiancÎ. As Nick embraced and kissed his bride to be, applause erupted in the restaurant with a cacophony of ooh's, ahh's, whistles and one "You go, girl!"

Apparently, Nick wasn't quite finished with his open display of affection. He stood up, took Natalie by the hand and lead her over to the piano. After lifting her up onto the piano top, he whispered something into the pianist's ear, causing the man to stop playing instantly and relinquish his spot. Nick took a seat in front of the keys and proceeded to play the introduction to a contemporary love song. Natalie had only known him to play classical tunes before, so she raised her brows in surprise over what she heard. Her amazement grew considerably when Nick segued into song. She already found his speaking voice to be remarkably sexy, but she never imagined how seductive his singing voice would be. The lyrics to the song were few and simple but spoke volumes about his feelings for her.

"You are so beautiful to me," he sang smoothly. "You are so beautiful to me. Can't you see? You're everything I hoped for. You're everything I need. You are so beautiful to me."

As Nick's fingers coaxed the enchanting melody from the keys, Natalie stole quick glances about the room and saw a mingling of warm smiles, couples holding hands, and heads nodding in time to the music. Her eyes settled back on Nick and found him beaming a large grin. Upon completing the final refrain, the applause sounded out louder than before. Nick stood and kissed Nat passionately before helping her down from the piano. Afterwards, they returned to their table, pausing to accept handshakes and offers of congratulations from the other patrons. Eventually, things returned to normal as everyone resumed eating and continued their private conversations, no doubt with something new to talk about.

Their champagne was waiting for them when they got back to the table and despite Natalie's warning, Nick took a sip anyway as he toasted their upcoming nuptials. Later, he had a nagging thought as he watched Nat stare at the ring he had placed on her finger. "If you don't like it, we can go to the jewelry store and you can pick out something else," he suggested.

"No, this is perfect," said Nat enthusiastically. "It's gorgeous. When did you get it?"

"That day we thought you had cured me. After I dropped you off at your place, I drove around town for awhile and I saw this jewelry store. If the drug hadn't turned me into a complete basket case, I probably would have proposed then. Things didn't exactly work out the way I hoped, but I decided to hold on to the ring anyway, just in case. So, when would you like to stroll down the aisle? Anytime you say."

"Well... uh...I don't know," Nat answered, still feeling wonderfully thunderstruck by both the proposal and the serenade. "I'll have to think about that. I've always dreamed of a big wedding that takes months to plan, but if you'd rather--"

"Whatever you want, Nat," said Nick as he reached across the table and covered her hand with his. "However you want it and whenever you want. Just say the word and it's yours."

"You know, I just realized that I don't have a reason to be jealous of old what's-her-name."

"No, you don't."

By the time they finally called it a night and started to head back to their room, Nick had begun to feel slightly nauseated. It was easily apparent to him that he had overdone it. He probably should have stayed away from solid food and definitely should have avoided the champagne. But it had been a special occasion, and if a little upset stomach was his price to pay, he considered it well worth it. He was able to hold himself together until they reached the room. Not wanting Natalie to worry about him, he didn't mention to her how he was feeling. He simply told her that nature was calling and excused himself to go to the bathroom.

After closing the bathroom door, he quickly dropped to his knees in front of the toilet and emptied out the contents of his stomach. Thankfully, it was nothing like the last time, back when Natalie had tried her cure on him. The effects of the drug had lead him to eat practically everything he came in contact with. It wasn't until the following day that his specialized digestive system revolted and everything was spewed forth in a series of laborious and painful convulsions. This time, the cramping was less severe and short- lived. He flushed the toilet and cleaned up whatever mess hit the seat.

After a few moments, he felt well enough to stand. He stood over the sink and turned on the faucet. Cupping his hands beneath the running water, he collected enough to rinse out his mouth, then splashed his face with the cool water. Grabbing a hand towel from off a nearby rack, he dried his face, feeling infinitely better than he had five minutes ago. Figuring that his breath probably wasn't smelling too fresh, he picked up a glass from the counter and poured a few ounces of mouthwash into it. After a quick gargle he spit it out and prepared to finish up with a final glass of water.

As Nick held the glass under the running water, he became puzzled at the sudden appearance of a red spot near the center of the sink. He turned off the water and set the glass on the counter, then leaned down closer to the basin to get a better look at the red spot. As he stared at the white bowl, he was surprised to see another spot appear, followed quickly by two larger ones. Blood, he thought to himself, then wondered where it could be coming from. He didn't make the obvious connection to himself until he glanced up and saw his reflection in the mirror. There was a tiny river of red flowing from his left nostril. He stared at it curiously for a few seconds, then wiped it with his fingers. The sight of his crimson covered fingers began to stir up certain emotions that he had assumed were no longer an issue. Tentatively, he stuck out his tongue and licked the blood from his fingers.

To his surprise, he found the taste of blood -- even his own -- rather comforting. He wiped away another stream that had formed above his lips and licked that from his fingers as well. He closed his eyes as images of some of his past victims came to mind. The blood on his tongue reminded him of the beautiful young women he had feasted upon an eternity ago. The blood continued to trickle steadily from his nose, and Nick held his hand cupped beneath it to capture the drops that formed into a tiny puddle. When he had collected about a teaspoonful in the palm of his hand, he lapped it up greedily.

"Nick? Are you okay in there?" Nat called to him from the other side of the door.

He didn't know how long he had been in the bathroom altogether, but obviously, it had been long enough for Natalie to become concerned. Her voiced had startled him back to reality, and as he saw himself in the mirror, drinking his own blood, a overwhelming sense of shame flowed through him.


"I'm fine. Be out in a minute," he called back. "Old habits," he said to himself before pinching his nose close to force the bleeding to stop. He could feel the blood draining to the back of his throat and instead of spitting it out through his mouth, decided to swallow instead. He figured it would be simply absorbed back into his system. It took a couple of minutes before the blood flow stopped altogether, then Nick quickly cleaned away all telltale traces. As he emerged from the bathroom, closing the door behind him, Natalie looked at him curiously and asked what took him so long. He hated the thought of lying to her but he felt that telling her the truth would only cause her unnecessary anxiety. Instead, he flashed an embarrassed smile and said, "Let's just say that we need to give the exhaust fan time to air things out in there."

After checking out of the hotel and returning to Toronto, Nick moved some of his things into Nat's apartment and spent most of his time there. Although his loft was roomier, it held too many reminders of the lifestyle he wanted to forget. There were wedding plans still to be made and decisions about whether to remain with the police force or simply travel the world and live off Nick's millions. He had first become a cop in order to help others -- and to a point -- atone for his past sins. He could still help others, but now as a mere mortal, he thought that perhaps he should choose a less dangerous occupation in which to achieve that goal.

Until a final decision could be made, Nick returned to the precinct but was restricted to light desk duty because of his injured ankle. A full week later, and it was still fairly painful, even when he wasn't putting his weight on it. Sometimes the joint would spasm for no particular reason, but he merely assumed that was the normal way a sprang reacted and eventually the problem would soon disappear. Natalie had made a doctor's appointment for him to get a complete physical, but the earliest she could get it was another three days away. Nick figured he could hold out until then.

Nat had also bought him some vitamins; the chewable kind since she knew he didn't like swallowing pills. So far, they had done very little to increase his energy level, and chewing on them only seemed to aggravate his gums which had recently become swollen and easy to bleed when he brushed his teeth. He knew he should have probably mentioned that fact to Natalie, but he didn't want her to worry about him. He didn't want her to think that his being mortal was anything but good. Luckily, he had been able to hide his discomfort from her. It also worked in his favor that Nat had been putting in some very long hours all week on the job and was too tired to do much of anything other than eat and sleep once she got home.

Nick stifled a yawn as he sat at his desk trying to concentrate on typing up one of the many backlogged reports he and his partner had yet to file. He glared blankly at the cup of hot coffee that was suddenly set down in front of him.

"Caffeine," said Schanke. "You look like you could use it."

Nothing else seemed to be working, so Nick thought he'd give it a try. He took a tiny sip and frowned at the bitter taste. "You actually like drinking this stuff?" he asked.

"Of course not. I don't drink it 'cause I like it, I drink the stuff 'cause it keeps me from falling asleep at my desk. What's up with you anyway? You look like death warmed over. What is it? Is Nat proving to be too much woman for you or something?"

"Schanke." The name was said as a simple warning not to go there.

"Sorry," Schanke apologized sincerely. "You guys set a date yet?"

"Not yet. Once Natalie figures out what type of wedding she wants and how long everything will take to come together, then we'll make an official announcement. Until then, just keep this to yourself, okay?"

"Of course. You think I can't keep a secret?" Schanke glanced at his watch to verify what his stomach was already telling him. "I'm starving. You wanna go get something to eat?"

"Thanks, but I'm not very hungry, Schank."

Schanke looked his partner over carefully, noting the paler than usual complexion and the heavy bags beneath his eyes. "You coming down with something? You really don't look too good tonight."

"I'm fine. Just tired."

"Well, come ride with me to the diner. The night air might do you some good."

Nick started to turn him down again, but considered a night time drive might just help him lose the headache he sensed coming on. Schanke was both pleased and worried as he watched his partner slowly rise to his feet. Besides looking pale, his friend appeared to be a few pounds thinner, and more than once, Schanke had caught a glimpse of Nick scrunching up his face as though he was in pain. Could be that he was coming down with a case of the flu, although it wasn't even the season for it. Or perhaps it had something to do with that damn puzzle. It was possible that Nick's wish for his sun allergy to disappear had probably caused some kind of backlash to his overall health. Schanke couldn't help but think of Stanley Melville and his gradual wasting away. He prayed that Nick hadn't fallen into the same kind of trap.

Nick was silent all during the drive. He barely paid attention as his partner rambled on about the bachelor party he planned on throwing for his buddy. When they drove past the Raven, Nick took note of the fact that the building was boarded up and deserted. Apparently, Janette had left the city. She left without saying good- bye, but then again, so had he. Out of habit he reached for the radio and turned it on to CERK. New age music replaced the hypnotic voice he had grown accustomed to hearing. LaCroix had wasted little time getting out of town. Nick felt a minor pang of regret over the loss of his eternal family, but he knew he couldn't have it both ways.

Feeling a sudden dampness right above his top lip, Nick wiped at it with the back of his hand without thinking. It took a few seconds for him to realize what the dampness meant. By that time, the blood was flowing freely from his nose. He pinched his nostrils closed with one hand while the other searched the glove compartment for the fast food napkins he knew that Schanke stored there. With his nose pinched shut, the blood began to run down the back of his throat, and when he attempted to breathe through his mouth, some of the blood escaped and dribbled down his chin.

"What the hell?" Schanke had just brought his car to a stop in front of a well-lit diner. He did a double take as he glanced over at Nick and saw him battling an uncontrollable flow of dark fluid from his nose and mouth. "Nick?"

Nick swallowed the blood that was swiftly collecting in his mouth, then when he got the chance, he made a one-word reply to his worried partner. "Nosebleed," he quickly uttered as he wiped away what he could with the flimsy paper napkins.

Schanke took only a second to decide on a course of action. He had already been concerned about his partner's health, so he wasn't about to just sit back and do nothing while he bled all over the place. The car was put into gear and the siren turned on as Schanke sped off, headed for the nearest hospital. Against Nick's protest, he was delivered to the emergency room in less than twenty minutes. The bleeding had stopped by then but the blood loss and the frantic car ride had left him feeling a bit weak and lightheaded. Schanke helped him through the sliding emergency doors, yelling out for help and letting it be known that a cop needed assistance. It wasn't until Nick began vomiting up the blood he had swallowed, did the medical staff kick into high gear. Several pairs of hands were able to catch him and prevent him from hitting the floor as he suddenly lost consciousness.

When Nick came to, he found himself in surroundings that mimicked his last unscheduled visit to the hospital. His right arm had become a pincushion, and various fluids were slowly being infused into his system. A couple of attached wires lead back to a monitor which kept track of his vital signs. The big difference this time was that all of his street clothes were gone and he was dressed in a hospital gown. The blue privacy curtain that had been shielding him from the rest of the room, was suddenly pulled back and a friendly but anxious face appeared to greet him.

"Hey, you're awake," Schanke announced the obvious as he stood at the foot of the bed. "So, how ya feeling?"

"I'm fine, Schank," Nick replied with a tired voice.

"Yeah, right. I suppose after spewing blood up all over the place and passing out, you're bound to feel fine afterwards. You're sick, Nick. Why won't you admit it?"

Nick sighed wearily and replied with a touch of anger to his voice, "Okay, I feel like shit! Is that what you wanted to hear?"

"At least it sounds like the truth," Schanke barked back, then immediately felt guilty about raising his voice to his ailing friend. His next words were much calmer. "I tried to call Nat but she had just left on her way to a crime scene. I left a message with dispatch for her, so I guess she'll show up as soon as she gets it."

"Thanks," Nick replied, also in a softer tone. "Did the uh... has anyone said anything to you? Have you spoken to a doctor?"

"Yeah, that same one who stitched you up the last time, looked you over. She said that you were badly dehydrated but that you weren't in any kind of danger right now. They're pumping you up with fluids and replacing the blood you lost along with a couple of tubes they took from you in order to do some testing. She said she'd know more once the results of the tests come back." Schanke blew out a exasperated breath, then moved to the side of the bed closer to his friend. "Man, oh man. Nick, you don't think it's that magic wish thing at work here, do you? I mean you go from perfect health to the emergency room twice in one week."

"No, Schanke, I think it's just a bad coincidence. Fate."

"Yeah, sure. Fate," said Schanke, not at all convinced. "I regret throwing it away now. Because if that wish you made is somehow causing all this bad luck for you, then there's no way for you to make another wish to fix it."

"Schanke, please don't worry about it. I'm sure there's nothing seriously wrong. Nat said it's probably just a vitamin deficiency. I haven't exactly been eating well. Either that or I may have picked up a bug last time I was here. You know, all these sick people and their germs that hang out in a hospital."

"Yeah," Schanke nodded, able to easily see the possibility of his partner picking up something contagious from his last visit to the emergency room. "Yeah, maybe you picked up the mumps or something."

"I can assure you, it's not the mumps," said Dr. Perez as she appeared from around the curtain. She smiled warmly at her patient and added, "Glad to see you're awake, Mr. Knight. How are you feeling?"

Nick glanced at his partner first, then answered truthfully, "Not so good."

Dr. Perez gave Schanke a pat on the arm, "Mr. Schanke, why don't you go get yourself a cup of coffee while I sneak a peak at your friend."

"Sure. Nick, I'll check on you later."

"Thanks, Schanke."

"That was quite a nosebleed, huh?" said the doctor as soon as she was alone with her patient. "It wasn't the first one, was it?"

"No. This was the third. The other two weren't that bad."

"Have you been prone to nosebleeds in the past?"


"And you didn't think you should seek medical attention to discover why they were occurring?"

"I have a doctor's appointment for a complete physical on Monday. I figured I could wait."

"I see," the doctor responded casually. "Were you aware that you're running a fever?"


"How's your appetite been?"

Nick shook his head. "Not good. When I do feel like eating a little something, it doesn't always stay down."

"What about your energy level?"

"Well, I seem to tire easily no matter how much sleep I get; and normal, physical activity leaves me pretty winded."

Dr. Perez took a moment to scribble something down on a chart and to review some previous notations. "When you were being undressed, I noticed some bruising on your back. Can you tell me about that?"

"My fiancÎe gave me a massage," he answered simply.

"Did she sort of pound on you or did she just stroke firmly?"

"Just stroked firmly. She says that I'm probably suffering from a vitamin C deficiency. I was never real big on citrus fruits."

The doctor put the chart down and turned her attention to the arm that she had stitched up just a week earlier. "What's happened here?" she asked, pointing to the broken stitches and the still visible bruises.

"Oh, I had a small scuffle with someone."

"The stitches were broken," the doctor noted. "Odd, however, because it's seemed to have healed better than the section where the stitches are intact. In fact, this last inch at the bottom seems to be slightly infected. That's very strange. Any ideas on that?"

"Well, when the stitches were broken, my...uh...uncle used an old family remedy to help the cut heal. I guess he just didn't cover the whole wound."

"Interesting. That's really some family remedy he's got there. But like I said, the rest of this is infected. Have you been taking the antibiotics I prescribed for you?"

Nick bowed his head guiltily. "I took a few, but I'm not really used to swallowing pills, so--"

"You stopped taking them," Dr. Perez finished the sentence for him. She sighed disapprovingly. "Well, I'm going to spare you my lecture on the importance of taking all your medication because I hate wasting my breath. But I will say this much: either follow doctor's orders from now on or suffer the consequences."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Good. Now, as I said earlier, Mr. Knight, you don't have the mumps. I've gotten your blood tests back and we did find some abnormalities."

Nick immediately assumed that his vampire blood had left behind some sort of telltale traces. He wondered if Natalie was present, if she'd be able to explain away the abnormal blood cells. He shrugged his shoulders in ignorance and asked, "Abnormal in what way?"

"Well, you've got a very low platelet count, which explains the easy bruising and bleeding. There's also a deficiency in red blood cells, which is what's causing your anemia, lack of energy. "

Nick nodded his head as though he fully understood what all that added up to. "So what do I need to do to build everything back up?"

"I'm afraid I'm not quite sure yet. We really need to do some more testing first."

"What sort of testing?"

"We'd like to get a bone marrow sample from you."

"Bone marrow? What for?"

"So we can see exactly what's causing the low cell count. Examining the bone marrow and a tiny section of bone, should tell us what we need to know."

Nick wasn't so sure anymore if his old vampire blood was somehow causing all the problems or if it was possible that as a mortal, there was actually something wrong with him.

"Mr. Knight, do you know how a bone marrow biopsy is performed?"

Nick shook his head, then only half listened to her as she spoke of a large needle, local anesthetic and minor discomfort. At some point, he must have agreed to the procedure because within the next half an hour, he found himself lying on his side while something worked its way deep within his hip. The discomfort Dr. Perez had spoken of, presented itself, feeling as though something in his leg was being tugged on hard.


He had been on the verge of falling asleep but became immediately alert at the sound of Natalie's voice. "Hi," he smiled, feeling instantly comforted by her presence.

"Schanke told me that he brought you in bleeding, and that they wanted to keep you for testing. What's going on exactly? What kind of tests are they doing?"

"They did some blood tests earlier. Dr. Perez said that my blood count was low, so she ordered a bone marrow biopsy."

"Bone marrow biopsy?" Natalie tried to hide the apprehension that washed over her at the mention of the procedure. Of course, there was more than one reason why a doctor would want to order such a test, but one in particular stood out above the rest in Nat's mind. "Did she say what she was looking for?"

"No. Do you think that maybe my physical past is somehow showing up in my present?"

Natalie understood what he was asking and shrugged her shoulders in response. "I don't know, Nick. I guess I should have run my own set of tests but, I really didn't think it was all that necessary."

"It's okay," Nick assured her. "But if they come up with some weird findings with the bone marrow, we probably need to be ready with a reasonable explanation."

"But you really aren't feeling well, are you?" asked Nat. "Schanke said that he practically had to carry you in here."

"He's exaggerating. You know Schanke."

"Yeah. I know he doesn't get all flustered and worried without a good cause. Why didn't you tell me you were feeling ill?"

"Didn't want you to worry. It's probably nothing serious."

His smile wasn't very convincing and Natalie could see the unspoken fear in his eyes. All this was new to him; hospitals and being injured and sick. He was trying his best to be brave for her, but it was apparent that he was at least a little bit scared. Natalie kissed his cheek and took hold of his hand. "Yeah, you're probably right," she agreed. "Probably just not getting enough iron. We'll just wait for the test results and deal with whatever comes."

Nearly two hours had past when Dr. Perez returned with the results of the bone marrow biopsy. Nick had fallen asleep while Natalie sat vigilantly at his bedside. She had talked Schanke into going back to work. He had wanted to stick around, and only considered leaving with the promise that he would be contacted as soon as they found out anything.

Natalie stood up as the doctor approached and introduced herself. The two women exchanged pleasantries and handshakes before Dr. Perez turned to Nick and gently shook him awake. Once she was sure he was fully alert, she took on a rather grave demeanor. "I have the results back from the biopsy, Mr. Knight. Would you like for your fiancÎe to stay and hear the details or would you prefer--"

"She stays," said Nick, as he grabbed Natalie's hand and held on firmly.

"I'm sorry," the doctor began, "but I'm afraid I have some bad news to report. Through a thorough examination of your blood cells and bone marrow, it's been determined that you have Acute Myelogenous Leukemia."

"Oh, my god!" Natalie gasped, throwing her free hand up to cover her mouth and prevent further outbursts from erupting.

Nick was stupefied, not quite sure what to make of the announcement or of Nat's reaction. He understood the words 'acute' and 'leukemia,' and decided to concentrate on those two for the moment. Medically speaking, acute meant rapid onset, while leukemia translated into cancer of the blood.

"Do you understand what I'm saying, Mr. Knight?" the doctor asked.

Nick glanced at Nat first and saw the tears that were suddenly rimming her eyes. He then looked to Dr. Perez and nodded. "Yes, I understand. You're telling me that I'm dying of cancer."


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