ick felt as if he was becoming disconnected from reality.  Everything had a very surreal feel to it.  Reese, Tracy, Feliks.  He was pulling out all the connections he had to this life, to any life, one by one, removing all his life support. 
          He felt LaCroix trying to gain access once more and ignored
him.  He had lots of little details to take care of.  For starters, he had to mail these papers to the appropriate places.   
          The phone rang.  Nick let it ring as he began placing the papers Feliks had brought in manila envelopes that were pre-addressed and contained detailed instructions for the dismantling of his life. 
          The answering machine picked up. 
          Nick sealed envelopes efficiently while his disembodied voice spoke in the background. 
          "Beeeep" 
          There was a moment of silence, then, "Nicholas..." 
          Nick looked up.  He should have realized LaCroix would resort to more conventional means. 
          "Pick up the phone.  ...  Please." 
          After a moment, Nick walked across the room and regarded the phone as if it was his most dangerous enemy.  Then he picked it up. 
          "LaCroix," Nick said by way of greeting. 
          "Nicholas, what are these feelings Iím receiving?" 
          "You know what they are," Nick said softly, wearily.  He closed his eyes. 
          "You cannot do this, Nicholas.  I gave you this life to live.  Not to throw it away." 
          "Iím not throwing it away." 
          "Then what would you call it?" LaCroix asked, a dangerous edge infiltrating his tones. 
          "Bringing it to a natural conclusion." 
          "There is nothing natural about this..." 
          "And there is nothing natural about this life, LaCroix.  Letís not play with semantics.  Iím tired of fighting, tired of all of this.  I just canít do it anymore." 
          "So you are giving up?  Is that worthy of a Crusader?" 
          "No, Iím not giving up.  Iím moving on." 
          "To what, Nicholas?  Into darkness?  Nothingness?" 
          "To God." 
          "How can you possibly know there is a God, or what, if any existence continues beyond the here and now?" 
          "I just know," Nick said quietly.  "I always have." 
          "The words of the priests of your childhood no longer bear resemblance to what they preach now, Nicholas." 
          "I know that, too, LaCroix.  The difference is that I finally know that men have changed religion for their convenience throughout history.  But God has not changed.  If we search for him, we can find him, and we can know." 
          "That is utter rubbish.  Religion is and always has been a mechanism to control the rabble.  It is a fabrication, Nicholas." 
          "Perhaps organized religion is, but behind it, there is a God.  I know it; you know it." 
          LaCroix changed tactics, "Donít you love your life, Nicholas?" 
          Nick closed his eyes.  "Yes," he said softly.  "Iíve always loved life, thatís why I became your creation.  For the love of lifeóand the fear of death.  And it is the only thing I have to offer up to God freely as a sign of my repentance." 
          "Nicholas," LaCroix began, but Nick cut him off. 
          "LaCroix, please, donít.  There are no arguments left.  There is nothing you can say that I havenít already said, that I havenít examined or searched.  The decision I have reached is one that didnít come lightly or impulsivelyóitís one forged by every experience and moment of my life." 
          "Are you sure of that?  If the dear Doctor had remained loyal, would you be here at this precipice?" 
          "Not today, no," Nick said, "but I stood at this point when I met her.  Without her, it would have happened long ago.  And if she was still in my life, it wouldnít happen until she was gone.  But in the end, I would still be here.  A few years or decades is of little significance.  Iíve been on this road a long time.  And you know it. 
          "LaCroix, I donít want to hurt you.  I donít want to hurt anyone by this, but I canít go on, and I canít go back.  I just canít..." 
          There was silence for a long moment. 
          "My son...," LaCroix whispered, "do not do this thing.  Wait until I return.  We can, we must find another way.  Do not... please, Nicholas." 
          Nick felt his grip tighten perilously on the phone, and at last tears slid down his face.  "Iím sorry," he said.  "You have been everything to me.  Iím sorry so much of the time we were at odds.  It has always been my nature to struggle for the impossible, seek the unobtainable, and not value what Iíve had.  But I cannot stay or stop this.  Thank you for your friendship...and your love...father.  Thank you for everything." 
          "Nicholas!" LaCroix cried out, but Nick took the phone from his ear, and hung it up.  But he could not help hearing LaCroixí last impassioned plea, "I love you..." 
          He quietly picked the phone up again, and left it off the hook.  There was now no turning back. 
          He finished the envelopes, and leaving the house, he flew to the nearest post box, and after a momentís hesitation, mailed them. Then he returned to the loft. 
          With those letters, lawyers would dispose of his income, Feliks would take power of attorney for the Foundation, his goods would be disposed of, and the loft sold.  The loose ends were tied up.  He looked out the window, and saw the nightís darkness had not yet loosed her grip.  He had an hour yet before dawnís coming.  An hour. 
          He walked to the fridge and opened it, to stare one last time at itís contents.  A single bottle was left.  It was human.  It was odd, Nick supposed, that he would choose for his last meal, that which he had eschewed for so many countless years.  But somehow, like the condemned, he chose to savor that which he loved, no, hungered most for, prior to departing this life.  And since it was donated, he allowed himself to let go of the guilt that plagued himójust this once.  This one last time. 
          He poured a glass, and then with bottle in hand, walked to the sofa and sat down to contemplate how he had arrived at such a difficult place in his life.  As Nick had told LaCroix, it had been inevitable since the night heíd been brought across, but it was the loss of Natalie that had finally left him at this point with no other avenues or options.  There was nowhere for his weary soul to find rest except with God.  He was so very tired of the fight, tired of always losing.   
          Heíd lost his humanity. 
          Heíd lost his soul. 
          Heíd lost Natalie. 
          Natalie. 
          He took a drink and savored it.  Natalie.  And he remembered the moment when he let her go, made her go... 
           
          "I met him at the center," she said in a low voice.  Nick watched her fidget with her hands.  The center, Nick knew, was the Center for Literacy where Natalie volunteered once a week.  Sheíd started doing that to find some balance in her life.  Too much darkness, too much night shift.  Too much Knight, Nick thought, but heíd never said it.  Because he wanted her to be happy. 
          "Iím not in love with him, but I could be, Nick.  If I give it a real shot."  She smiled crookedly at Nick.  "The problem is, I donít want to.  I want to give this a shot," she spread her hands out to encompass him, the room, their life.  "But Iíve been giving it a shot for six years." 
          "And weíre still at the same place," Nick said quietly.   
          "Yeah.  What do I do, Nick.  I love you," she said, and Nick closed his eyes at the pain, but then opened them to let her in.  If they had nothing else, at least they had honesty. 
          Nick closed the distance between them and took her hands in his.  "Natalie," he said in a low voice, "I love you.  But I love you too much to hold you back from being happy.  And you arenít happy.  We live in a place of frustration and pain, and itís not your fault. 
Itís mine." 
          "Nick...," Natalie began. 
          "No, let me say this, now.  If I donít, I might not have the courage to ever say it.  I want you, Natalie.  More than anything.  But it isnít going to happen.  At least not now, and most likely if it does happen, if I do find my mortality, not in a timeframe that will let us be together.  I think we know that.  If science has the answers, itís going to take time.  A lot of time.  And you donít have time.  Only I do.  
          "And not only that, Iím not the best patient.  I get impatient and frustrated.  I fail to follow the doctorís orders.  Iíve hurt you by that, I know.  But I am what I am, and change is not easy.  There are aspects of what I am that are so desirable and so addicting, that I give in to them far too easily.  I forget what I want most, Natalie, for what I want right now." 
          Nick stopped, and leaned his forehead against Natalieís.  
          "So what are you saying, Nick?" Natalie asked with tears blurring her voice. 
          "Iím saying that you should walk away from this.  While you can.  Take your heart and see if you can find happiness with this man.  If you can find love, then do it.  He can give you a whole heart.  One that hasnít been damaged almost beyond repair by his choices.  And Natalie, he can give you children and a home.  Family.  I canít." 
          Natalie began to cry silently into Nickís shirt, and he clutched her close, tears blurring his own vision. 
          "I donít want to, Nick," she whispered. 
          "I know.  I donít want you to either, but you must.  This is your chance, Natalie.  Take it." 
          Natalie looked up at Nick.  "What about you?  What about us?" 
          "Iíll be fine, Nat.  Yes, Iíll be jealous, but youíll never see it, I promise.  Iíll stay away.  Weíll put this back to a business only relationship, Nat.  Weíll let it go." 
          "But the cure?"  
          "If I need to wait for another lifetime, and more science, I will.  If it intrudes on your happiness, then itís got to go." 
          "Itís not fair," Natalie cried. 
          "Life has never been fair, Natalie.  It just is.  And I will do this for you.  Because I love you more than life itself.  I love you more than anything.  And because of that, Iíll wait until another time for a chance for a cure.  Iíve got plenty to work on as it is." 
          "I donít know if I can...," Natalie began. 
          "Yes, you can," Nick said firmly taking her by the shoulders and looking deep into her eyes.  "If you have reached the point where you can look at this man and find him attractive and interesting, you can.  If you think you might love him and you have the courage to tell me, then you canóand you must." 
          Natalie closed her eyes.  "I donít know how." 
          "Then let me help," Nick said. 
          Natalie furrowed her brow.  "What do you mean?" 
          "Open yourself up, and let me in." 
          "Hypnotize me?  NO!" 
          "You must.  Let me do this. I can ease the pain, and help you walk away." 
          "Oh, Nick...," Natalie wept. 
          "Itís the only way, Nat.  Otherwise, youíll end up alone and lonely if that cure doesnít happen soon.  So let the cure go.  Let me go," Nick pleaded. 
          "How will you bear it, seeing me walk away?  How will you live with it, knowing I no longer remember how much I love you?" 
          "Iíll bear it the way I bear everything else.  Because I must.  And Iíll be happy because youíre happy." 
          "Promise me one thing," Natalie said finally weeping openly. 
          "What?" 
          "If it doesnít work with Kyle, youíll bring my memories back." 
          "Natalie..." 
          "Promise me." 
          Nick was silent for a moment, and then said quietly, "I promise." 
          Natalie stared into his face with such longing and desire and hopelessness that Nick felt his heart break.   
          They stared at each other, standing at the precipice,  
knowing there would be no going back.  Natalie put her hands up on Nickís face and pulled him to her, kissing him desperately, hungrily, hopelessly, and Nick responded, pulling her tightly into his arms.   
          And then as his fangs dropped and desire and love turned to lust and hunger, Nick pushed her back. 
          "Natalie," he whispered, reaching into her mind, catching her heartbeat, "open yourself to me, let me in, trust me completely." 
          "I do," Natalie wept, staring into his eyes. 
          "Then listen to me, hear only me..." 

          And she had trusted him, and heard only his voice.  When she had left the loft that day, she had left as a friend and colleague, not a lover.  She had never been back.  He had given her heart back to her, and freed her to go forward into a sunlit life. 
          Her memories were not erased, only altered, for she knew what he was, she remembered the search, but Nick had persuaded her to believe that they had never been more than friends.  And though it hurt more than words, he convinced her that they had determined science could not help him, yet.  Maybe another twenty or fifty years would give him the answer, but not yet.  And so Natalie believed they had ceased to search, and that it was time to devote her life to other things, other people, to Kyle. 
          Nothing had ever given him greater joy, or hurt him more.  And a month ago, Natalie had announced her engagement to Kyle.   
          Somewhere deep inside, Nick supposed, he had hoped it wouldnít work, and he could have her back. 
          Selfishness.   
          But that had defined his life for centuries.  This one 
supremely unselfish moment made him understand LaCroix as he never had before.  It had also cleared the way for Nick to see that he had reached the end of his lifeís journey. 
          He had intended to leave, when people stopped watching him so closely, amazed that he wasnít fighting for Natalie.  But one  
night had changed all of his plansófor forever. 
          Heíd gone to the Raven to drown his sorrows.  LaCroix had been amused and rather slyly sent pointed barbs at Nick. 
          "So, did the good Doctor decide a cure was hopeless or that you were hopeless, Nicholas?" LaCroix asked as he slid deftly onto the stool next to Nick.   
          Nick hadnít answered, only taken another long swallow of the house special. 
          "My...arenít we in a mood, tonight," LaCroix whispered with insidious glee. 
          Nick continued to stare at his drink, but finally answered, "Go away, LaCroix.  Iím not in the mood." 
          LaCroix laughed.  "You never are, Nicholas.  You never are."  But he left just the same. 
          Nick had no idea how much longer it was before he migrated to the back of the club and found a small table to sit at while he sat and drowned his sorrows.  He only knew heíd retreated to escape the laughing crowd of mortal Gothsóvampire wannabesóthat had settled at the bar.   
          And it was there, half-drunk on blood-wine, and half-drunk on his own sorrow, that Nick overheard the conversation that changed everything... 

          "...heís such a jerk.  He acts like he knows everything.  How does he knowóanymore than anybody elseóhuh?" 
          "Carla, donít let him get to you." 
          "Itís a little too late for that.  He had the gall to tell me Iím going to hell because Iím not Catholic anymore.  Has he been to the afterlife?  Has he got the exclusive rights on what God does?  I donít think so!" Carla fumed. 
          "Yeah, well, just let it go." 
          "I canít, Angie.  Every time I go home, there he is.  Iím going to move to the west coast.  Heís such a jerk!" 
          "He may be a jerk, but heís still your brother," Angie reminded her. 
          "Yeah, well, I still donít see how he knows the nature of God.  As far as I can tell, nobody does.  Becca thinks God is a woman, you know.  And what about Greg?  Remember when he and Becca got into it that one time?  He thinks God is just a myth..." 
          "Carla..." 
          "You know what I think, Ang?  I think they are all wrong.  I think that nobody really knows who God is.  Everybody just makes him what they want, so they can do what they want.  Becca is a feminist, so she is insulted that God would be a man.  The day any man has any authority over her is the day she kills herself.  John, my dear obnoxious brother, insists that what we learned in catechism is the truthóand there is no room for variance.  Idiot!  I think theyíre all up in the night.  God canít be so unknowable, he canít be so far away.  He just canít." 
          "Why does it matter so much, Carla?" Angie asked.  "Why are you so upset about this, now?" 
          Carla was silent, and Nick found he was now listening in earnest.  He, too, wanted to know why it was so important. 
          "Because," Carla said finally, "Iíve got cancer.  Itís ovarian cancer.  The prognosis is lousy." 
          "Oh, Carla," Angie said softly.   
          "And I just know...donít ask me how, but I know...that God isnít like what Greg or John or Becca says.  And now that Iím out of time, I finally realize that we are here to become like him, not for him to become like us.  And itís too late."  Carla began to cry softly. 
          "Letís get out of here," Angie said.  "This isnít the place for this." 
          "I know.  I just wanted to have fun.  I didnít want to think about it, but I canít..." 
          With that, they left, but Nick hardly noticed.  He was consumed with what Carla had said. 

          "...we are here to become like him, not for him to become like us..." 
          And all he could remember was what Christ had said: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as my Father in Heaven is perfect..." 
          Carla was rightóand Nick had never ever seen it. 
          Nick couldnít say how long heíd sat there almost afraid to move, stunned by the overwhelming and blinding light that enveloped his mind.  But the conclusions that his frantic thoughts finally reached at the end of all that thinking left him stone cold sober and filled with thoughts with far reaching consequences. 
          He stood abruptly and left, not wanting to be in the dark ugliness of the Raven.  His thoughts were too pure for that.  They were, in fact, almost too pure for him to contemplate without pain. 

          He stood on the roof of the loft staring at the stars and made a quantum leap in his view of God.  God wasnít what his mother had taught him at her knees, or what the priests taught now.  He wasnít to be defined by anyoneís ideas or particular hopes and dreams.  He wasnít part of anyoneís political agenda.  He was God. who Carla had said wanted her to become like him.  The words in the Bible suddenly had new meaning.  Things he had held true suddenly shifted and fell apart like dust.   
          Would God condemn his soul for what he had done?  Would he condemn him for being trapped in an existence that didnít allow change, that trapped him eternally to be like the man he was at the moment he was brought acrossóthe moment he died?  He didnít know.  But he knew that the only way to free himself from the bondage of vampirism would be to finish what LaCroix had started.  If he was freed from the vampire through death...maybe God would give him a chance, no matter what hell he might be placed in, to prove himself. 
          Then he stopped and wondered if he even knew anything about how and when he would be judged and what the results would be. 
          "If God wants me to be like him," Nick wondered, "wouldnít he give me the chance?  Some way?" 
          If he werenít a vampire, only a soul, would he be free to become better without all the chains that held him back?  And still held him back... 
          There was only one way to break the chains and free himself to be what he was meant to be.   
          Terror suddenly overwhelmed him, but the relief he felt at the thought of not having to fight anymore was enormous.  The burden had been so heavy for so long... 
          "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light..." Nick said, and looked up into the sky. 
          Perhaps God could make it so for Nick, too.  And he felt lighter than air at the thought. 
           
          Nick stared down at the bottle.  From those first liberating thoughts had it all begun.  It was time to move on.  Why not move on to whatever God had planned for him.  Might not that be easier to bear than what heíd endured for so many centuries?  And so heíd begun to move slowly and carefully towards the goal.  Liberation from this life.  Liberation from the vampire.  What would happen then he had no idea, but it didnít matter, for he had faith that God loved him, despite the evil he had committed.  And God would give him some way to mend his tattered soul. 
          The radio interrupted his thoughts 
                     
          ...pulled down by the undertow 
          I never thought I could feel so low 
          Oh darkness I feel like letting go 
          If all of the strength all of the courage 
          come and lift me from this place...* 

          He smiled slowly.  It was true.  Heíd been pulled down for so long, but he felt the strength and courage seeping into him.  Though terrified of what was to come, he felt full of power and strength.  He had the power to bind the vampire and free his soul.  And he would use it. 
          The sun was coming up.  The horizon was lightening now.  Nick stared out the window and then took a breath.  He finished the bottle and walked across the loftís spacious floor one last time.  He picked up the box with Joanís cross in it and headed for the roof.   
          His skin prickled at the light, but Nick ignored it.  He put the box down and opened it.  After a moment he reached in and picked up the cross.  It burned his hand, but not as bad as heíd thought it would.   
          He leaned it against the wall, and remembered her face.  Small and petite, but with such strength of will. 
          "Your faith is there waiting for you, Nicholas," Joan had said. 
          And it was. 
          "Forgive me, Father," Nicholas said, "for choosing this unnatural life, for being so afraid.  Forgive me." 
          He stared at the cross for a long moment, as the light strengthened.  It was distinctly uncomfortable now.  And his desire to hide in the dark grew.  
          Nick took a deep breath and stood.  Then flew up and away, over the lake, towards the sunrise.  He met it halfway. 

          LaCroix, far away in Quebec closed his eyes and wept, as his link to Nicholas disappeared in a blinding flash of light. 

          And Nicholas, to his joy and surprise found out that, indeed, God was not what people said he was as he knelt at his Saviourís feet and wept. 
 
 
 

*Full of Grace, by Sarah McLaughlin 
 

 
For those of you who have made it to the end of this story, I would like to point
out that this was a story I did not want to write, but since it haunted me for over
six months, I felt compelled.  I do not believe in suicide, I do not believe it solves
anything.  So why write such a story?  Because it wouldn't leave me alone.  It
demanded exploration.  So I wrote it.  And in the process explored unknown
parts of my own soul and psyche.

In it's defense, may I say that if Nick's basic desire was redemption, and he if
he could not achieve it as a vampire, then this is a logical and perhaps the only
choice that would free him to reach his goal.  Whether God would judge
vampires by the same rules as mortals, is...a debate for another time.<g>

Comments would be appreciated...but flames will be doused before my
my email account catches fire...<g>