Arabian Knight

Chapter 9

"Mr. Knight," the doctor spoke sympathetically, "although your condition is serious, it is not an automatic death sentence. A good many people do survive with the proper treatment. I've already contacted an oncologist. He'll be here first thing in the morning to discuss your options with you."

"I want to go home," Nick blurted out in a sullen tone. "Now."

"I'm afraid that's not a very good idea at the moment, Mr. Knight," said the doctor, keeping her voice soft but firm with authority. "You're running a fever and you've got a mild infection that we don't want to see worsen. Also, once that anesthetic for your biopsy wears off, you may find it a bit hard to walk, especially with your bad ankle, which I feel has been compromised even more by the cancer. I think it's best if you just stay here the night and meet with the oncologist in the morning."

"I don't want to meet with anyone. I just want to go home," Nick insisted stubbornly.

"Mr. Knight, I realize that this is very upsetting news, and you need time to absorb it all, but please, you really need to stay and let us take care of you."

"Did I have this last week when I came in?" Nick asked, his expression accusatory.

For the first time, Dr. Perez averted her eyes, feeling somewhat flustered by his imploring gaze. Still, she kept her voice calm and professional. "In all likelihood, yes," she responded candidly. "That would have explained the excessive blood loss you incurred from your stab wound."

"So if you had done a more thorough examination then, the problem would have been discovered that much sooner, am I right?"

The doctor forced herself to look him in the eye again. "At the time, a more in-depth examination wasn't deemed necessary because you weren't displaying any other noticeable symptoms. It was a judgment call, Mr. Knight. If you were not feeling well after your release that night, you should have come back in for a follow-up."

"Nick," Natalie finally found her voice again. "Why don't you just sit tight a minute while I have a word with the doctor."

Nick gave a minor nod, then watched in silence as Nat and Dr. Perez walked around the curtain and out of earshot. As he strained to hear their softly spoken words just outside the room, he found himself lamenting the loss of his vampire hearing. He thought about getting out of bed and dressing, but found the simple act of shifting into an upright position to be more of a challenge than he bargained for. The lightheadedness that instantly greeted him, was unexpected, as was the flare of pain in his hip where the biopsy had been performed. Apparently, the anesthetic had worn off. Nick settled back down in his original position on his left side, then concentrated on catching his breath. It was alarming that such a small amount of exertion had left him so winded. He realized then that he wouldn't be going very far if he had to do it under his own power.

A few minutes passed, and Natalie reappeared at his bedside. She took hold of one of his hands and prepared to speak but Nick beat her to it. "The puzzle, Nat," he spoke excitedly while keeping his voice low. "I've got to get back and start work on solving it. I don't have time for them to keep me here and stick me with needles."

"Nick, slow down," Natalie urged him in a gentle voice. "Let's just slow it down a minute. First of all, I want you to tell me something. And I want you to be perfectly honest with me." She watched Nick give a slight nod of his head as if giving her permission to ask him anything. "Tell me. How do you feel? Physically speaking, how do you feel right this minute?"

His first instinct was to lie and tell her that he felt fine. The words almost formed on his lips, but after looking into her eyes and seeing the love shadowed by deep concern, he decided instead to be truthful.

"Not great. My head hurts a little and I'm feeling pretty weak. But, Nat, I just need to get to the puzzle, then I can make all this go away."

"How long do you think it would take?"

"I don't know. The first time took less than a minute, the second time took less than a day. The third time will probably take less than a week."

"Or it could take longer, right?" Natalie surmised. "There's really no way of telling, is there?"

"No," Nick confessed. "But that's why I need to go ahead and get started as soon as possible."

Natalie sighed deeply as she considered all the facts. "Nick, I just saw your chart," she spoke in a voice that did not signify good news, "and uh....I'm afraid it doesn't make for very good reading. I happen to agree with Dr. Perez. I think you need to stay here tonight."


"I know, I know. I can bring the puzzle, and you can work on it here. But, I don't believe we can afford to wait a few days to begin treatment, Nick. The cancer cells in your blood are growing at an alarming rate. I think the sooner you begin chemotherapy, the better."

"Chemotherapy?" Nick frowned at the thought. He had never studied up on the subject but knew it as one of the lines of defense cancer patients sought out. He didn't know all the details behind it but was aware that it could lead to unpleasant side effects such as severe nausea and hair loss. "Are you sure, Nat?" he asked for confirmation even though he could see the answer in her eyes.

"I'm sure. I wouldn't recommend it if I thought...." Her voice trailed off despairingly. "I should have tested your blood at the very start," Nat chastised herself. "I shouldn't have just assumed that it was a vitamin deficiency. And if you had at least told me about the nosebleeds, Nick, I definitely would have taken some action. Why didn't you say something? Why didn't you tell me you were feeling sick?"

Nick shrugged ashamedly. "I guess I just didn't want you to worry."

"Well, you can forget that, because I promise you I will worry regardless. I love you, Nick, and I worry about if you're happy or sad or sick or well, and whatever's in-between. So you may as well tell me everything from now on. You got that? I want to know."

Nick nodded his understanding and agreement to her demand. "All right. I promise."

"Okay. So, what's going to happen now is they'll take you upstairs and get you settled in a private room. I'll stop by the precinct and talk to Captain Cohen and let her know you'll be taking some time off."

"I don't want anyone to know about the cancer, Nat."

"All right. I'll just say that you're suffering from a severe case of anemia, which is not very far from the truth."

"And you'll bring the puzzle?"

"Yes. Exactly where would I find it?"

"At the loft. Bedroom nightstand. And if I'm asleep when you get back, wake me."

"All right." Natalie gave him a tender, good-bye kiss and promised to return as soon as possible.

A moment after Natalie's departure, Dr. Perez returned to check on him. "I hear you've decided to stick around."

"Apparently, I have little choice," Nick grimly replied.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Knight. I wish circumstances were different. But, I assure you, you'll get the best of care here. We have excellent cancer treatment facilities and some of the best oncologists around."

Nick nodded slightly, not really impressed with the news. He figured that he wouldn't need their best for long. He hoped to have the puzzle solved soon and wish for himself a long and perfectly healthy life.

By the time Natalie returned to the hospital, she found that Nick had indeed been moved to a private room. The nurses on duty had been instructed by Dr. Perez to ignore the visiting hours restrictions and allow Mr. Knight his special guest. He had been resting his eyes when she arrived, but instantly became alert when she entered the room.

"Nat. Did you get it?"

Natalie reached into her oversized handbag and took out the puzzle. She placed it in his anxious hands, then pulled up a nearby chair and made herself comfortable. She sat quietly for a moment as she watched him began to twist and turn the sections of the magic cube.

"It'll be kind of interesting you know, when you solve that and become instantly healthy all of a sudden. Might raise quite a few eyebrows."

"We can say that the diagnosis was wrong from the start," Nick offered. "That it really was anemia all along."

"Not likely," Nat replied. "They had to do some pretty extensive testing on your blood and bone marrow to reach their original conclusion."

"Well then, my recovery will be the act of a miracle. Those have been known to happen, right?"

"Yes, they have. By the way, I talked to Captain Cohen. She said that she'd been a little concerned about you and that she noticed you weren't exactly up to par. She's actually rather relieved to know you're finally getting the medical attention you need. She also gave me some forms for you to file. I'll take care of them for you."

"Thanks. Have you spoken to Schanke?"

"Yeah. I don't think he believed the anemia story. He looked really worried."

"He thinks my illness has something to do with this puzzle, and he's blaming himself for throwing it in the trash because he thinks he's deprived me of being able to make another wish to set things right again."

"So you think maybe we should tell him the truth?"

"Maybe. I'll talk to him when the time is right. You know, you really don't have to stick around, Nat. If you have to get back to work, I'll be fine on my own."

"No, I'm afraid I won't be much good at work for the rest of the night and Sidney's not expecting me home for hours, so if you don't mind the company...."

Nick tore his attention away from the puzzle and eyed the woman sitting by his bedside. She looked worried and scared and very far away. Nick slid over to the far side of his bed and patted the empty spot he'd created. "Come here."

Natalie toed off her shoes and climbed onto the bed to cuddle up next to him. Lying on her side facing him, she rested her head against his shoulder and draped an arm over his abdomen. Nick kissed the top of her head and gave her hand a gentle squeeze, then suggested that they discuss the plans for their forthcoming wedding and honeymoon. Natalie smiled for the first time that night, encouraged by Nick's positive attitude. For the next few hours, they managed to push aside the depressing thoughts of traumatic illness and concentrate on their upcoming future together.

It was just after eight in the morning when the oncologist showed up. Nick had worked on the puzzle nearly non-stop, with very little progress, while he and Nat chatted the night away. They had been interrupted a couple of times when a nurse came to check Nick's vital signs.

"Good morning!" a tall, middle-aged., black man in a white coat greeted them cheerfully as he breezed into the room carrying Nick's medical chart. "What do we have here?" he questioned, seeing two people crammed into the single bed. "A two for one sale?" Embarrassed, Natalie started to get up, but the doctor waved her back down. "Relax. Stay, please. The more the merrier." He walked over to Nick's side of the bed and offered his hand to shake. "Mr. Knight, I'm Dr. Michael Graham."

"Doctor, nice to meet you." Nick shook the man's hand then gestured towards Nat. "This is Natalie Lambert, my--"

"The future Mrs. Knight. Yes, I've been informed." He exchanged a courteous greeting with Nat, then turned his attention to Nick. The doctor pulled out a pamphlet from his coat pocket and presented it to his new patient. "This will help to answer a few questions you may have about your disease and the planned course of treatment. But what I would like to do is just go over a few things quickly, if I may. I don't mean to insult anyone's intelligence." The doctor gave a brief acknowledgment to Natalie. "I understand, Miss Lambert that you have a medical background, but because I also work with a lot of kids, I find it easier just to keep all explanations as simple as possible.

"Mr. Knight, you have been diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia -- AML for short. Simply put it's when good blood goes bad, very quickly. Your body has ceased its creation of healthy blood cells and is now producing sickly, malformed blood cells. These sickly cells are ill-equipped to handle all the work expected of them. They're unable to carry enough oxygen through your body and assist with the normal function of digestion and producing antibodies to help ward off infection and a number of other things. So, what we need to do is kill off all these sickly, cancerous cells and encourage the regrowth of healthy cells.

"And just how are we going to do that? I'm glad you asked. We're going to give you some cancer-killing medicine, every twelve hours for the next seven to ten days. During that time, we'll monitor you closely and watch out for any serious adverse reactions. Many patients experience non-life threatening side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and hair loss. Some of the side effects can usually be countered with other medication. Unfortunately, chemotherapy is not an exact science. Actually, it just depends on the physical condition of the patient and what your body is willing to tolerate. Because of your age and previous good physical condition, I feel we can safely start you out with the maximum doses.

"Now, while killing off the cancerous blood cells, we'll also be destroying any healthy ones that are trying to grow. Kind of like casualties of war. That means that your body will be left weakened and virtually defenseless, open to attack by infection, so it will be important to guard against germs." Dr. Graham looked pointedly at Natalie. "That would mean, no intimate contact and sharing of beds or spending the night for that matter. We'll want to keep his environment as sterile as possible.." He returned his gaze to Nick as he continued with his explanation of things to come. "After about seven days of treatment, we'll do another bone marrow biopsy to see how successful the chemo has been and we'll work out our next step depending on the results at that time. Any questions?"

"What's the absolute longest I can wait before beginning treatment?" asked Nick in a quiet tone.

Dr. Graham didn't even blink as he answered the questioned honestly. "Don't even think about waiting, Mr. Knight. Trust me, you don't want to put this off another day. This particular disease does not play around. However, there are a few things we need to take care of first. Is it safe to assume that you would like to father children in the future?"

Nick gave an adoring glance to Natalie and smiled. "Definitely."

"Then we should take precautions now. One side effect of chemotherapy is sterility. It doesn't affect everyone, but you never know. Therefore, it would be wise to store away some of your sperm for future use." Dr. Graham didn't give his patient much time to dwell on that problem before moving on to something else. "Secondly, in order to save wear and tear on your veins, we'd like to implant an assess catheter called a Port-a-cath. It's actually an easier and safer method of administering medication and fluids, and also for withdrawing blood for sampling. It will be inserted right around the base of your collarbone. It'll require an operation that can be performed under a local anesthetic. When's the last time you had anything to eat or drink?"

"Haven't eaten since yesterday. I had a glass of water a few hours ago. Around three-thirty, I think."

"Okay, then I'll see if I can schedule you for surgery around noon. Just make sure you don't eat or drink anything else for the next few hours. And one more thing. I need to ask if there are any other family members who can speak on your behalf should you become unable to make decisions for yourself."

"You mean, as in...pull the plug?"

"Well, although we don't anticipate things going that badly at this point in time, some patients have been known to have severe reactions to the drugs we'll be using. Should the unexpected occur, and we require permission to proceed in one direction or another, you should have someone who knows your intentions and have the legal right to enforce them."

"Nat here is my fiancÎe. She's all the family I have now."

"But legally speaking, does she have the right to sign papers and make decisions on your behalf? If not, then you two should probably figure out some contingency plans." The doctor clapped his hands together to signify that he had completed the orientation process.

"Okay, I know that was a lot to take in all at once, but I'm going to give you a chance to sift through it and discuss things while I go make some arrangements. I'll be back a little later and I will answer any questions you happen to have then.." The doctor gave a courteous smile to them both before making his exit.

Nick stared numbly at the colorful brochure in his right hand. The doctor had already imparted more information than he cared to know. He blew out a deep breath, then turned his gaze to the woman by his side. Natalie forced a smile past her lips and said, "He seems like a very capable doctor. Seems to really know his stuff."

"Are you sure that all this is necessary, Nat?" Nick asked, hoping for a way out of his impending hospital stay.

"If you're asking me if you're likely to drop dead tomorrow if you don't begin treatment today, then I'd say the answer is no. But if you're asking if I think you'll last the week without some form of intervention... all I can say is, I don't want to take the risk.

Nick nodded his acceptance of both her opinion and his fate. "All right. Then maybe we should go ahead and get married."

"Married? What? You mean today?"

"Yeah. I think it'll just be easier introducing you as my wife rather than my fiancÎe. Less syllables," Nick explained with a tiny grin that quickly faded. "Plus, what he said about someone making decisions on my behalf...."

"Nick, I--" Nat started to object.

"I trust your judgment, Nat. Whatever you think is the right course of action to take, will be fine with me."

"I'm not so sure I can make the right decisions if anything happens to you, Nick," Nat timidly confessed. "Remember what happened with my brother Richard? I didn't make very good choices when it came to him. When he was dying, I wasn't able to let him go. And if anything should happen to you, I...I don't know what I'll do."

When Natalie all but broke into tears, Nick pulled her into a comforting embrace and whispered soothingly in her ear. "It's okay, Nat. Don't worry about it. You won't have to decide anything. One way or the other, I'll make it through this. I promise you that."

Nick was six days into his chemotherapy. Blood samples had been taken at various intervals, and his doctor seemed encouraged by the more recent results. The cancer cells were dying off. Unfortunately, along with the diseased cells, his healthy blood cells were also destroyed in the process, leaving him as his doctor had predicted, in an extremely weaken and vulnerable state. Blood transfusions had been necessary to sustain him and precautions had been taken to keep his surroundings sterile. In his present state, he'd never survive even the simple effects of a common cold. Because of that fact, the puzzle he had so desperately wanted to solve, had been banned from his room. Because of its unique design with all its hidden nooks and crannies, there appeared to be no effective way to sterilize it without causing possible damage. The fact that it had spent some of its existence in various trash receptacles, made it a likely candidate for harboring harmful bacteria, and therefore, something that a man with an impaired immune system should not be handling.

Actually, it was just as well, because Nick spent most of his time sleeping. His waking hours were filled with doctors examining him and asking the same stupid questions over and over. Then it was the nurses turn, bathing him, rolling him over to change the sheets, and making adjustments to the intravenous line that provided him either with drugs or nourishment. They had long since stopped their attempts at trying to get him to eat. He had never really built up a tolerance for solid foods, and the chemo hadn't helped matters. Nausea and vomiting were the first unpleasant side effect he had encountered. Although he was given medication to help alleviate those symptoms, he remained fearful of consuming anything other than water.

The only thing he looked forward to during his waking hours were the visits from Nat. The fact that they were married still left him in awe. Natalie had pulled a few strings with some acquaintances at City Hall and secured a marriage license in record time. The ceremony had been brief, performed in Nick's hospital room just hours after the implant surgery of his Port-a-cath. A couple of nurses and an orderly were their only guests. Of course, they still planned to have a big, lavish wedding later after his recovery. That was of course, _if_ he recovered. Scratch that; _when_ he recovered. He had promised Nat that he was going to beat this disease with or without supernatural help from a magic cube.

He had to keep his thoughts positive, even though he felt as helpless as a baby. He was reminded of the time he'd let some mad scientist experiment on him. The doctor had convinced him that he had to have his blood drained out of his body in order to cure him of his vampirism. Like a fool, he fell for it. Then he lay there on the table, weak and helpless while the doctor strapped him down and confessed his desire to perform more intriguing experimentation. The man probably would have dissected Nick alive just to see what made him tick, had it not been for his vampire family coming to his rescue. How many times had they saved him from a fate worse than death? Especially LaCroix. He always seemed to know instinctively when his child was in danger and always arrived just in the nick of time to prevent his demise.


Nick stirred wearily at the sound of his name. When he heard it pronounced a second time, he forced open his eyes and turned his head towards the direction of the voice. He focused on the shadow seated in the chair at his bedside. As the shadow leaned forward, a soft light was switched on and the shadow came into full view. "LaCroix?"

"I must say, Nicholas, mortality does not suit you well at all."

"What are you doing here?"

"There's nothing wrong with visiting a sick friend, is there?"

"How did you know?"

"I knew from the very beginning. The very first time I tasted your blood, I knew of your illness. Of course, back then, it had not yet been given a name. I tried to warn you, Nicholas, that becoming mortal would not be in your best interest, but you never listened."

"You're saying that, if you hadn't brought me across when you did, that I would have--"

"Died a slow and torturous death from an unknown blood illness. Ironic, when you stop to think about it. A mortal with diseased blood being rescued from death by becoming a vampire. Then, we have a vampire becoming a mortal and dying from the same previously diseased blood. It's almost comical in a way."

"I'm not going to die," stated Nick confidently. "All I have to do is solve the puzzle."

"Ah, yes. The infamous magic puzzle box. It works extremely well, doesn't it? You thought you wished me out of your life, and yet here I am again. Of course, you only wished me not to interfere with your life. You didn't say I couldn't interfere with your death." LaCroix rose from the chair and moved to lean over Nick's prone body. "You will die from this disease, Nicholas," he coldly informed him. "But I could rescue you once again. I could restore your strength and vitality. We needn't wait for you to puke your guts out. We can do it right now. You have only to say the word. You were meant to live forever, Nicholas, or not at all."

Nick considered his options and everything his former master had told him. The only thing he knew for sure was that he wasn't ready to die. Without giving a verbal reply, he slowly turned his head in order to better expose his neck. LaCroix smiled knowingly, then lowered his mouth to the sickly, pale throat and sank his fangs in deeply.

Nick gasped at the strange pressure that seemed to reach down past his collarbone.

"It's okay, Nick. I didn't mean to startle you. It's only me."

It took a moment for Nick to wake fully and comprehend what was happening. "Nat?" He had to look closely at her eyes. It was the only feature he could see of her face because of the surgical mask and cap she was forced to wear during her visits with him. The warm touch of her hands had also been lost to him because of the surgical gloves she wore. Still, he appreciated her presence and the sound of her voice. She always seemed upbeat, telling him how good things were progressing, although her eyes seemed to tell a different story. They looked tired, worried and a little lost, but if Nat was anything but positive about his outcome, she never allowed it to show.

"Yeah, it's me. You kind of got your tubing a little tangled. I was adjusting it for you. Are you feeling okay?"

"Dream," Nick replied drowsily. "LaCroix."

"You were dreaming about LaCroix?"

"He knew, Nat."

"Knew what?"

"About the leukemia. He tasted it in my blood. He knew all along."

"Then why didn't he say something?"

"He probably figured I wouldn't have believed him."

Nat nodded in agreement. She wouldn't have believed it coming from LaCroix either. "So what was the dream about?"

"He doesn't think I'll survive this. He wanted to bring me back across."

"Would you consider that as an option?" asked Nat. "I mean, should things get out of hand?"

"I don't know. In the dream, I gave in to him. I honestly don't want to be a vampire again, Nat. But at the same time, I don't want to die."

"Well, your latest blood test shows that the chemo is working. I know it probably doesn't seem like you're getting better, but you are. You just have to hang in there a little longer."

Deciding to change the subject, Nick murmured softly, "I wish I could make love to you right now. Or at least kiss you," he added with a longing smile. "I'd even settle for seeing you without all that surgical crap on. Are you still as beautiful as ever under all that?"

"I think I may have aged a couple of years this past week. But other than that."

Nat was tempted to remove her surgical mask and give him the hottest, deepest kiss she could muster, but common sense ruled out and she merely settled for stroking his hair with her gloved hand. After running her fingers through his blond curls twice, she frowned with dismay as she noticed several locks of his hair clinging to her hand as she withdrew it. She wasn't sure if she should call his attention to the hair loss, but in an instant, the hair no longer mattered. When a grimace of pain suddenly appeared on Nick's face and he let out a strangled groan, Natalie frantically sought out the cause.

"Nick, what is it? Nick?"

Verbally, Nick was unable to respond, but the alarm on the heart monitor did his talking for him, announcing the fact that something was terribly wrong. Natalie pressed the nurse call button while yelling out for help at the same time. Within seconds, the room was abuzz with activity as a team of doctors and nurses rushed to the scene of a "code blue." A frantic Natalie was quickly ushered out of the room so the hospital staff could concentrate on saving her husband's life.


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