|e stood silently on the corner
with his eyes closed.
The breeze rustled through the trees' fresh new
leaves, and then stopped to play with his hair. He
let it flow over and through him, feeling the wind
with a heightened intensity. He drank it all in with
Nick opened his eyes and watched the petals slip along the sidewalk and
roll in tiny waves across the street. They were pale pink.
Cherry blossoms, he supposed. The harbinger of the fallís harvest.
For a brief moment, pain welled up and overflowed his heart.
Life, Nick thought, was meant to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. When the fruit was ripe, it was plucked. When a man had lived his life and grew old, he died. All things had their time and place, except him.
His face never grew another wrinkle, his eyes didnít grow dim. And his heart rarely beat. He was frozen in his development. Trapped. But even so, it was time he moved on.
He wouldnít see the cherries this year, he thought irrelevantly.
He wouldnít be in Toronto. He was leaving. He was moving on.
It was time for Nick Knight to leave. Past time.
Two months ago, Nick thought, he would be here for a long timeómaybe, if he was luckyófor the rest of his life. But he wasnít lucky.
"You shouldíve known better," Nick murmured, without bitterness as he looked up at the sky. It was an absolutely clear night. The moon loomed large in the sky and Nick was sure he could reach up and touch it. The stars glittered with brilliant luminous light.
Everything tonight seemed bigger and brighter than ever before. Maybe it was because of the incredible desire he had to embrace it all, taste it, feel it, know it, just once more.
Nick shook his head and stepped off the curb. He had things to do, and not a lot of time to do them in. Now was not a time for distractions. He had reached his decision and this was just a delaying tactic. He had never liked moving on and this time was more unsettling than any other move heíd ever made.
He ran his hand lovingly down the fin of the Caddy, pleasuring in the feel of the silky-satin metal under his hand. He would miss the Caddy. But this time he couldnít take it with him.
"Youíre too attached to this life," he said as he slipped into the driverís seat. Nick started the engine and shifted it into gear.
Night slipped by, in shades of black and white, and unexpected pools of brilliant color as he drove. The wind in his face made him feel totally alive as he headed towards the precinct.
But his thoughts were on the simple things, rather than his decision and its consequences. He loved driving with the top down. It was one of those simple pleasures he never tired of. For a moment he was tempted to just keep driving. A smile crossed his face. Even now, it would seem, age old habits of denial and avoidance plagued him. He just never seemed to learn, or for that matter, changeóno matter how hard he tried. It was a bitter pill to swallow.
The precinct loomed into view, and Nick pushed aside his thoughts and meditations. Parking in his habitual spot, Nick smiled in amusement. Nobody else parked there anymore. It was his spot. Heíd claimed it and made it his own. Heíd chosen it to protect the Caddyís paint job. And nobody had argued with him after meeting his eyes. He owned this parking spotóat least for one more night. He took the stairs into the precinct two at a time, eager now, to get on with it.
Tracy waved at him with a smile as she pushed more donut into her mouth than she could obviously eat. He laughed at that. LoMiller greeted him with his perpetual grunt, and Nick drank it in. He took it all in with grateful joy. He had many friends and many wonderful memories in this humble place. The floor was dirty, the furniture old and beaten, but the memories shone new and sparkled with brilliant life. Life had been good in Toronto. So very good.
And one big reason had been Donald G. Schanke, the perpetual thorn in his side. How Nick had hated being teamed with him. Schanke had been so...annoying. Heíd been rumpled, over-talkative, and ate too much garlic, but in the end, heíd been his friend. One of the best Nick had ever had. Heíd been accepted by Schanke, loved by him, and teased unceasingly. Nick missed him with an aching hollowness that never seemed to get any less. It always surprised Nick how attached he became to people, but he was fiercely glad for the pain, because it told him he was alive.
Alive and trying to be human.
Heíd come closer to humanity and mortality here than he had ever hoped with Natalieís help. He shied away from thinking too much about Natalie. Pain radiated out in waves from his heart. He had hurt her so much, caused so much pain and grief, when all he wanted was her happiness. He hoped that now, she might truly find it.
And then there was Tracy. She too, accepted him, and made him human. In some ways, that was the greatest gift, because if anyone should have seen through the facade and recognized him for what he was, it was Tracy. And she hadnít. Bless her heart.
Nick headed straight into Reeseís office. Reese looked up startled.
"Nick, what can I do for you?"
Nick hesitated a moment and then closed the door. Reese furrowed his brow at that.
"Cap," Nick said softly, "Iíve come to resign."
"Again?" Reese asked wearily.
Nick grinned. Reese had a point there. Heíd resigned right after Schankeís death.
"Yeah, again," Nick said. "Only this time itís for real."
Reese looked at him in puzzlement, "Why, Nick? Youíre a damn good cop. Youíve been happy. You and Vetter are finally clicking on all cylinders. Why? And why now?"
Nick looked at his hands for a moment, then met the Captainís gaze levelly. "Because itís time. Iíve done all I can here, and to achieve my goals...my dreams, I need to move on."
Reese leaned back and contemplated Nickís face carefully. There was a serenity in it that he couldnít recall seeing before. Whatever war Nick waged in perpetuity seemed to be overóor at least temporarily assuaged. He played absently with his pencil as he stared into Nickís face. Reese couldnít help but wish just once he could understand the enigma that was Nick Knight.
"And what goal canít you achieve here? Iíve never met anyone more driven that you, Nick. Youíve put your heart and soul into this job, and into the people, too." The subtle emphasis he placed on the words was not lost on Nick. He couldnít quite meet Reeseís gaze.
"Are you sure," Reese said slowly, heavily, "that this isnít about Natalie?"
Nick looked at his hands for a long moment, then met Reeseís knowing gaze. "Yes and no," Nick said quietly. "This moment would have come sooner or later. Whatís happened with Natalie just made me get there sooner."
Reese frowned a bit. "I know its none of my business, but I always thought you two would get together..."
"I know," Nick said softly, "everybody did...except Natalie and me. We always knew better."
Nick met the Captainís gaze, "You donít want to know, Cap,
believe me. Itís caused Natalie more heartache than she should ever have known. My past... well... It doesnít matter. I made some bad choices when I was younger, and I can never escape them. Letís just leave it at that."
Nickís final words stopped the Captain before he asked. It was obvious Nick wasnít going to say more.
"Iím sorry, too," Reese said heavily. "You two just seemed to fit, you know."
Nick smiled bitterly. "I know, believe me, I know."
Reese felt something large move into his throat and close it off. His heart ached as he stared into Nickís face. The pain that suddenly ravaged Nickís pale visage was as startling as it was abrupt. And then it was gone.
Reese marveled at Nickís ability to conceal his feelings. No wonder no one knew what Nick was thinking or feeling. There was a chameleon-like feel to it. He swallowed and tried to clear the lump from his throat.
"Are you sure you want to do this, Nick?" Reese asked. "Think about it, please?" he pleaded.
Nick looked at him and smiled. There was a sweetness to it that was uncharacteristic. "Iím sure," he said softly. "Iíve already made my plans, Captain. Iím leaving in the morningójust before sunrise."
"Where are you going?"
Nick looked at him with unusual candor. "I donít know really. Wherever the road takes me, I suppose."
"Will you drop us a line and let us know where you are, how you are doing?" Reese asked, unwilling to let it go, and not knowing why.
Nick looked past Reese, out into the night, but Reese didnít think he was seeing anything on the street. "I donít know," he said, and then meeting the Captainís eyes, "but I doubt it. This is a clean break, Cap."
"Well, I hope you change your mind, because weíll sure as hell miss you, Nick. We want to know that you land okay, wherever that might be."
Nick pulled his gun out and gently placed it on the desk, then with a last look and brush of his hand across his badge, he placed it down beside the gun.
"Goodbye, CapóJoe," Nick said as he stood.
Reese stood and shook his hand. Tears filled his eyes for reasons he couldnít fathom. "Goodbye, Nickóand take care. Godspeed."
Nick looked at him oddly, and them smiled crookedly. "Thanks."
"Are you going to tell your partner?" He hesitated to ask about Natalie. Somehow he felt that she was forbidden territory.
"Yeah, I am, Cap."
"Well, all I can say is I wish youíd reconsider."
"I know, but I havenít arrived at this lightly or easily; but I feel very sure, very right about what Iím doing," Nick said.
"Thatís damn hard to argue against, Nick."
Nick smiled. "Then donít."
With that he hugged his surprised Captain, and walked out leaving Reese standing there bereft, with tears in his eyes, and
wondering why he felt so forlorn.
"Hey, Nick," Tracy said with a grin. "Guess what? Iíve got a lead on the Winters case..."
Tracy trailed off at Nickís look.
"What? Have I got ink on my nose?"
"No, Tracy. Itís just, well, Iíve resigned. As of now."
Tracy stared at him, her mouth open. Then she closed it with an audible snap. She grabbed his arm and headed for an open interrogation room.
"Tracy?" Nick asked.
"Iím not going to talk about this with the whole squad room listening in," Tracy snapped, anger in her voice, as she walked into interrogation.
Nick followed and quietly closed the door.
"What do you mean youíre resigning?" Tracy demanded and then looking past him to the door, lowered her voice. "What is going on? Is this about Natalie?"
Nick grabbed Tracy by the arm. "Sit down," he said, "Tracy, please?"
Tracy took a breath and sat down. She folded her arms and stared at him angrily.
Nick sat down across the table from her. "Iím sorry, Tracy, to leave you hanging like this, but itís just the way it worked out. Iím leaving because itís time for me to leave. Itís time to move on. Iíve tried to work my problems out here, but I canít. I finally realized that."
"What problems?" Tracy said, "The only problem Iíve seen is that you and Natalie couldnít work things out, which is really... stupid...," Tracy trailed off at Nickís look.
"It didnít work out with Natalie because of my problems, Trace. I donít like to talk about my past because itís ugly. I guess you could say I made a lot of mistakes when I was younger and as a result I ended up in an extremely abusive situation. Itís taken me forever to get out of it, more or less, and still Iíve just got too many problems. Natalie tried. I tried. But some things donít go away, Tracy."
Tracy stared at her hands and said softly, "But your going away wonít solve it either, will it?"
Nick reached across the table and took her hand. "Normally, Iíd agree with you. But this time Iím going someplace I can get help, someplace I can resolve all of this. And then maybe Iíll find what Iím looking for, what I need. This isnít Natalieís fault, and Iím not leaving because she left me, Tracy. I want her to be happy more than anything in the world."
"Because you love her more than anything, donít you?"
"Yes." There was so much pain in that single syllable.
Tracy looked at him sadly, "I wish you would stay." She wanted to urge him to stay, to try with Natalie, but she knew he wouldnít listenóand given what was going on, maybe he was right. It just didnít make her feel any better.
"Iíve learned so much working with you. Iím just beginning to get a handle on things, but I understand," Tracy said wistfully.
"Thanks, Tracy. Iíll miss you, too."
"Have you said goodbye to Natalie?" Tracy asked abruptly, sitting straighter.
"No. We said goodbye weeks ago, Trace. Thereís nothing left to be said."
"Does she know you are leaving? Sheíll hate it if you leave, I know she will, because she still cares."
Nick smiled. "Donít worry, Tracy, Iím not leaving without letting her know. Just not in person. I donít think either one of us can take any more of that. Iím leaving her a letter. Itís better that way. Weíre way past conversation at this point. Itís just hard to be in the same room."
"I donít know, Nick," Tracy said doubtfully. "I still think sheíd rather have you walk in and say it."
"I know, but Iíve already said goodbye once, Tracy...I canít do it again." He smiled at her with gratitude in his eyes. "I appreciate that you care so much."
Tracy clasped her hands together and said in a low voice. "Iíll miss you. Iím going to hate my new partner whoever he is, because he wonít be you. Youíve been really great."
Nick laughed in genuine amusement. "If you say so, Tracy. I thought I was really bad at times. Iím not a very easy guy to get along with, and the way we started wasnít exactly a bed of roses."
"No, but it worked out."
"Yeah," Nick said taking her hand in his. "It did work, didnít it?"
Tracy smiled through tears. "You sure about this, Nick."
He nodded and standing pulled her into a hug.
"You take care of yourself, Tracy. And watch yourself with that snitch of yours, Vachon."
Tracy smiled against his shoulder. If Nick only knew... "Yeah, Iíll take care of myself."
Nick pulled back and grinned at her. "Thanks for everything, Tracy."
"Youíre welcome," Tracy said, wondering why he was thanking her. She was the who had learned the most. "Donít forget to write, Nick. Let me know where you are...where are you going, anyway?"
Nick smiled at her. "Iím not exactly sure. I know where Iím going initiallyóto find someoneóbut after that, itíll be where he sends me, so I donít know. But Iím not much of a letter-writer, Tracy."
"And itís too painful, too close to Natalie, isnít it?" Tracy asked shrewdly.
Nick nodded, "Yeah. It is."
He turned and opened the door, then looked back at her, "Say goodbye for me to everybody. I donít think I could make it out of here without... anyway, say whatever to everybody. Iíve never loved a job or place or people more."
Tracy felt her face crumpling up as she tried to stop the sudden onslaught of tears. "I will."
"Goodbye," Nick said and walked out, across the room and out of the precinct. He never looked back. He knew if he did it would tear him apart. Heíd never said goodbye before. It felt good, but it hurt like hell. But then, leaving always did.
"Goodbye," Tracy whispered as the door shut behind him. She looked over to see Reese standing at his window, a dazed look on his face. His eyes met hers, and Tracy took a deep breath. It would seem Nick had left them both feeling as though the world had ended. Maybe it had.
Nick stood for a moment outside the door on the precinct steps searching for his composure. It seemed to have deserted him entirely. The tears heíd prevented from forming, now seemed to be running rivers down his face. He wiped them away hastily as he headed for the Caddy. Somehow, this didnít seem like a good time to start having to explain blood tears.
Without even thinking about it, the Caddy navigated itself to the Raven. Nick walked into the blast of sound and heat and stood taking it in. He missed Janette, even now, and wished that he knew where she was. He would like to see her again, but somehow Nick knew that she would not approve of his plan. And she would be very angry at him. But it couldnít be helped. The road beckoned to him clearly, and at last he was unafraid to take it.
Nick worked his way through the fevered crowd to fetch up against the bar. The bartender looked at him and asked, "The usual?"
Nick shook his head. "No, make it a glass of LaCroixí best."
The bartender raised an eyebrow, but complied. Nick took the glass and savored the blood as it slid down his throat. Human. Not all the years of denial had ever made the want less.
Nick put down the empty glass, and with a nod, headed for the back. He entered LaCroixí private rooms using his key and stood in the elegant simplicity of LaCroixí seat of power.
The room was empty and silent, as LaCroix was away in Quebec attending to a business venture run amuck. Nick smiled at how the timing had worked out for him so well.
LaCroix was going to be very, very pissed. Nick was oddly amused and saddened at the thought. Heíd never intentionally set out to hurt and anger LaCroix. It just had happened, and this turn of events, well, it wasnít going to be easy for LaCroix. But then it wasnít easy for Nick, either. But it was what he was compelled to do.
He took two envelopes out of his coat and held them for a moment in his hand, and then placed them gently on the desk. One was addressed to LaCroix, the other to Janette. He knew LaCroix would see she got it eventually. With a last look around at the room, Nick left. Just that small visit had sent a frisson of concern down the link from LaCroix.
Nick could feel LaCroix testing, trying to determine what he was up to. It had begun. Now it was a test of wills and a matter of time.
And this time Nick would win. Heíd kept his thoughts and intents quiet, knowing that LaCroix was going on this trip in anticipation of their leaving Toronto together. He was tying up loose ends, not expecting to be back this way for years or decades.
Nick had let him believe he would go with him. But he wasnít. He was making his own pilgrimage, his own personal private journey. One that LaCroix could not and would not allow if he was here, and one that Nick felt impelled to follow.
As clearly as if LaCroix was standing in front of him, Nick heard his words. "What are you doing, Nicholas? ... You mustnít"
"Sorry," Nick murmured, "but I must. Forgive me." And closing off his mind he headed for the Caddy. There was only one more stop to make.
Her apartment was quiet and dark. It was, after all three-thirty in the morning, and Natalie wouldnít be off untilóNick checked his watchósix a.m. After sunrise. This was her last week of night shift, too. Next week she would be going to days permanently. They had both felt it would be best.
He unlocked the door with his key for the last time, and walked through the darkness. Sydney came out of the nowhere to curl silently around his legs. He looked up and seemed to ask where Nick had been. Nick knelt and scratched Sydneyís chin.
"Sorry, Syd, but Iím not welcome anymoreóNatalieís got someone else, now. Did you miss me? Nice to know someone cares, huh?"
Sydney meowed quietly against Nickís hand. Nick sighed and stood. He walked into her bedroom and stared silently of the photo on her bedside stand. She stood in the sun with a tall, dark-haired man.
Natalieís new love.
Nick shut his eyes. It hurt. But it was better this way.
Natalie deserved happiness. And he had certainly never brought her anything but pain.
"Goodbye, my love," Nick said and quietly and taking out the last envelope from his pocket, placed it on her pillow.
He breathed in the lingering fragrance that was Natalie. "God keep you and watch over you always," Nick whispered. It was what his mother had always said whenever he had left. Even the last time, when heíd been a vampire.
He hoped God would watch over Natalie for him, and make her life rich and full.
He turned on his heel and left. He didnít belong here anymore.
Sydney watched him unblinkingly as he dropped the keys on the table by the door, locked it, and then shut himself out for the last time.
Now there was only one more destination. And Nick felt terror and joy combine to overwhelm him, as he drove to the loft.
Waiting for him, seated on the leather sofa was Feliks.
"Nicholas," he greeted him cheerfully. "Iíve got your papers here."
Nick dropped his keys and sat down across from Feliks. "Thanks, I appreciate this."
Feliks smiled, "No problem, dear chap. Iím always happy to help you out, though I must admit, this was a little different from your usual. What are you planning to do? Take up a monastic life or something?"
Nick looked up from the papers he was perusing, "Something like that."
"Well, it seems like you are divesting yourself of everything in this move. I thought you were moving to a mountain top to commune with the Dalai Lama or something."
Nick laughed, "No, no mountain tops."
"Well, I hope not, so uncomfortable, Iíd think. Now, I have taken care of your bequests for Dr. Lambert. Nicholas, are you sure about this? It seems a little odd?"
"Iím sure," Nick said softly.
"And how long am I going to be handling the de Brabant Foundation? I do trust this pilgrimage of yours isnít going to last forever. I might spend all the funds on indigent vampires or something if youíre not careful."
Nick looked into Feliks cheerful face. "Well, if you do, Iím sure it will be the right thing."
Feliks looked at him uncertainly. Something in Nickís demeanor and his lack of answer suddenly chilled him.
"This is temporary, isnít it?"
Nick didnít meet his eyes.
Feliks grew still. "Oh, Nicholas, ... no."
Nick at last looked up into Feliks stricken face.
"You canít...," Feliks whispered. He stared into Nicholas face searching it for reasons, for a denial of what he suddenly knew was true. And realized for the first time in centuries that Nickís eyes were at peace. The pain that lurked and sometimes roiled in them was gone. There was an infinite clearness there that almost frightened Feliks.
"Iíd... I...," Nick stopped and bit his lip. He smiled gently at Feliks. "I have reached the end of my journey, Feliks. Itís time to start a new one."
"How can you say that? Life is full of a myriad of possibilities..."
Nick got up and walked to the window. He stared out into the darkness. "I know," he said in a low voice, "but Iíve also realized...after an eternity in darkness...that my ability to change, to be better, was taken away when I chose this course. I finally understand that."
He turned and regarded Feliks for a long moment, "Iíve watched humans struggle to change their nature, and seen how hard it is for them, but it is possible. And they do it, because time is short for them and they must hurry or else time runs out and they are left with regrets. But we...we are frozen in that moment we die and come across. All our emotions, our mental capacities, our ability to grow and change are frozen at that moment. And changing is almost impossible. Iíve struggled for centuries to change. Centuries, Feliks, and Iíve accomplished so very little. I drink cowóand hate it. I live among mortals, and try to be like them. But Iím not. Iím not much different from the day I came across. Oh, Iíve made some progress, but in 800 years, Iíve made less progress than even the slowest of mortals.
"Itís funny, because we gain a chameleon-like quality to adapt and blend in to changing timesóbut our fundamental character and natureódoesnít change at all. And it took me until now to understand that.
"I want to change, Feliks, and the only way to do it, is to finish this life as God meant it to be finished, and move on to the next. I have faith that there, Iíll be able to change, there I can beg forgiveness of those whose lives I cut short, and there I can atone and find some peace. I finally know I canít do it here."
"Nicholas...," Feliks said slowly, "donít sell yourself short. Of all the vampires, all the people Iíve met through the centuries, you are the most determined person Iíve ever met. Donít tell me youíve barely changed, because itís not true. Youíve changed dramatically. Donít give up this life. Itís a precious thing, and you make such an incredible contribution to mortal society everyday. There is no one quite like you, nor could there ever be again. The world would be empty without you. And there would be a giant hole in the community, and in my life. Who would I play chess with? Think, Nicholas, think!"
Nick smiled genuinely at Feliks. "I have," he said softly. "And all paths lead to one inescapable truth. I cannot achieve anything more, here. I donít want to hurt you, or anyone else by my choiceóand I know I will, butóI havenít the energy to struggle anymore. I am at the end of this road. Iím ready at last to let God do with me as he will."
Feliks closed his eyes against the pain pushing at his heart. He shoved it down somewhere inside and looked at Nick again. The resolve stood out firmly, and Nick seemed to glow with an inner light that Feliks had never seen before.
"Will be...is very angry. Heís finally guessed what Iím going to do, but heís too far away to prevent it. He will be deeply wounded. I donít want to hurt him anymore, but I know this will not be easy for him. Or Janette."
"And Dr. Lambert?"
"Sheís found a new life. I only brought her pain and suffering. We reached a breaking point some time ago, and now, sheís building a life in the sun. She will never know that when I left Toronto, I left this life. I donít want her to bear that burden, because it isnít hers."
"And you think she would be happy to have you do this, Nick?"
"No. And thatís why sheís never going to know. For all intents and purposes, Iíve left Toronto and gone somewhere else to start over. And itís true. Just not in the sense people normally think of.
"Feliks, Iím starting over in the only way I know how. As a vampire, I canít change. As a soul in Godís keeping, I can. Whatever the punishment for this lifeís choices, I will at least no longer be driven by the hunger."
"Being driven by fire and brimstone is better?" Feliks asked dryly.
Nick laughed, "Yeah, for me it is. Iíve been in hell for 800 years. I donít think it can be any worse than that, Feliks."
"How can you be so sure, Nick?" Feliks begged.
Nick stared into space, seeing something that wasnít there. "I had an epiphany about a month ago. I donít think God is an avenging angry God. I donít think we know what God is. Weíve made him into what we want, to fit our lifestyle, our needs. I finally realized itís the other way around. I need to make myself be what he wants me to be. And the first step for me to do is to pay what I can for the murders Iíve committed."
"By committing suicide?"
"By ending this unnatural life and moving on," Nick said flatly. "By giving my own life and blood. By sacrificing the one thing that I still love and desire more than anything else."
Feliks shook his head. "I cannot dissuade you?"
"No, but thank you. But you can do one thing for me."
"Anything...," Feliks choked the word out over the tears that threatened to overflow.
"Help LaCroix and Janette through this..."
Feliks shook his head, "You donít ask easy things, do you, Nick?"
"No, Iím sorry. Itís a hard thing to ask, but Iíll feel better knowing you are there for them."
"Then I will be," Feliks said quietly.
"Would you keep an eye on Natalie, too?"
Feliks walked over and placed his hand comfortingly on Nickís shoulder. They stared silently at each other for a long moment, then Nick hugged Feliks. And Feliks held on, aching with the loss already. He couldnít understand Nickís obsession with God and law and sin, but he knew that for Nick this was the only path left. The only avenue, the only door untried. His heart wept at the loss, the futility of it all. If only LaCroix had been different, if only Janette had not left him. If only... If only...
Feliks stepped back. He smiled shakily, then said simply, "Then God speed you on your journey, and may you find peace at the end."
Nick didnít say anything. He couldnít.
Feliks left silently without looking back.