Date: Sun, 21 Apr 1996 01:01:38 -0400
"The Final Fast" (1/2)
A Forever Knight Story
by Marcia Tucker
Time: Where else, but Rosy Limboland between 2nd and 3rd Seasons, my Foreve Fiction time zone!
Nick Knight tenderly kissed the woman at his side. "I wasn't sure I would live to see this day," he murmured as he rose from her lips.
She smiled. "I was always sure. Something deep within me knew."
Ten days earlier:
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Natalie had asked.
Grimly, he nodded.
"You know I think this is the only way," she reminded him.
He would give up drinking blood completely. She said that he never really tried to stay off it since his last attempt when he was undercover in a 12-step program. That attempt was prematurely aborted and not entirely his fault. Now she wanted to get him to do it again, to wean him off his life's sustenance and onto mortal foods.
At his request, Natalie stayed away, letting him do this on his own. And if this was to be done, it had to be completely on his own. No hand-holding. Nick must act alone to effect his own cure, she'd said, knowing this would take time and tremendous self-discipline from him. If he had any assistance, once that assistance was removed, he'd likely backslide immediately. This had to be his effort, and his alone.
Moreover, Nick had insisted that he continue to work during this attempt. They'd argued over this, but his stubbornness had won out over her cautions. He'd insisted that he needed the distraction.
So, together they'd poured out all his blood supply. Then she'd left. That was three nights ago. In the ensuing days, the hunger, as expected, had risen again, increasingly strong. To counter it, Nick had done everything Natalie had told him to do - he drank from the stock of protein shakes that she'd stored in his refrigerator and he nibbled at the other foods. At first, he'd actually had ingested an entire shake and immediately called Natalie to tell her. Of course she was tentative; he had a long, long way to go before it would be time for any celebrating. And fifteen minutes later he'd thrown it all up.
His first shift at the precinct after the beginning of this particular project had gone fine. By the second night, Nick was just a little shaky, but by and large was able to concentrate on his work. They had no new crime sites to visit, fortunately. No way did Nick want to look at fresh blood just now. Schanke did comment that Nick looked paler than usual, but that was all. Third night - a near-miss when they did have a body to check out. There wasn't a lot of blood around but Nick had had to leave immediately, feigning stomach flu.
Fourth day. Nick woke after 5 hours sleep and was ravenous. He'd actually flown down from the bedroom to the refrigerator and yanked the door open before he remembered that he had no blood supplies. Hunger gnawed at him. He took out some raw hamburger and nibbled on it. A little stayed down and he felt dizzy, but Nick felt he was functioning enough to go into the station.
More than Schanke had looked at him funny. Nick had resolutely ignored the siren song of their heartbeats and the enticing allure of the scent of their blood. But it had been extremely taxing and he felt so fatigued after about three hours that he was forced to book off. Captain Cohen herself, in fact, had ordered him home, alarmed at his evident weariness and distractibility.
Schanke had called Natalie with the news, evidently, for as soon as Nick had reached the loft, the phone was ringing. His voice, when he'd answered, told her everything she needed to know. "I'm coming over," she'd insisted, but he'd refused her.
The rest of that night and the following day was a complete nightmare. He tried to eat repeatedly, but now absolutely nothing was staying down. Nick tried to sleep, but could only dream fitfully about killing. And blood. He dreamt of long, red rivulets streaming down a naked shoulder, his mouth full of nectar, and the sensation of blood filling his starved body. When he woke, he was covered in blood sweat, and LaCroix was standing at the base of his bed, watching him benignly.
"Don't say it," Nick rasped groggily, staggering to his feet. He swayed, and his master put out a hand to steady him.
"I haven't said anything," LaCroix replied in a quiet voice. He regarded Nick for several long minutes. His "son" stood there, gray and faintly trembling, but on his own feet and under his own power. Finally he spoke again. "Nicholas, you know where to find me. Just.. do not wait too long."
The cryptic words were clear to Nick, long used to LaCroix's subtleties. "Too long? What will happen if I wait too long, LaCroix?" he asked derisively. "I'll die, you mean!"
"You won't die," came back the patient answer.
"No? I'd rather die if this doesn't work, you know that."
A small smile, gone swiftly. "I know that you have utterly no intention of dying. And you shall not die, not this way."
"I will come back across," Nick said venomously, his eyes a bit wild, "and be free of you forever!"
LaCroix did not laugh; this was too pathetic for humor, even for him. He merely looked sadly at his beloved Nicholas for a long moment, then lowered his eyes and spoke: "You will languish until you can no longer move, a zombie in all ways except for the mind. You will not die, but exist in a stasis, immobilized by pain and starvation. Your beautiful, preternatural body will wither, but you will be completely aware. This condition will last until blood is restored to your body. Of course, since you cannot hunt or even cry out, someone else will have to give you blood. You will be totally helpless. Forever, if necessary."
He glanced around the room. "Of course, your mortal friends will find you long before then, but if you have any spark of energy left in you by then, you will be driven to entice them to slice open their wrists for you to drop their essence into your parched throat. If you can resist doing that, they would surely take you to the hospital, which would be a disaster. Oh, that's right, your Dr. Lambert would know not to do that. What would *she* do? Give you the blood that she thinks keeps you on the side of immortality? If she does not, then you languish. She may think she is letting you die, that you wish to die instead of come back, but you cannot die this way. And by then you will be completely unable to communicate this to her."
Nick collapsed back onto the bed, unable to stand any more. LaCroix did not move to help him lie at length on the bed again, leaving him in an uncomfortable heap. "You know where to find me," the elder vampire repeated again, then departed.
She came next.
"Why are you doing this?" Janette asked insistently, worry evident in her voice and in the set of her mouth. She ran her hand up his arm, over to his cheek. He was already turning ashen.
Nick suffered her touch, knowing he could drink from her and ease his need if he but asked. But he did not, and it was harder than he could have believed possible. Even to look at her face and see her own pain, the agony of having to see him like this - that was unbearable in itself. He hadn't wanted her to see him, but he should have known that she couldn't keep away, that she had to at least try to talk him out of this.
"You know why," he whispered, closing his eyes against her. "I have to give this one real try, Janette."
She bit her lip, wanting to run away from him, from his insanity. "Nicolas, this will not work, you must know that!"
A sigh. "Perhaps not, but I need to prove that definitively. I must at least make the attempt. Then..." His voice trailed off.
Janette felt a brief stab of hope. "Then what? Then will you give up this foolishness?"
No response. She made a noise of frustration as she straightened, her hands clenched at her side. "Nicolas, I cannot bear to see you do this to yourself. Please let me get you some blood... or even serve your need myself."
His eyes flew open. "No - please don't."
Their eyes met, and a look went between them that made the centuries drop away. Janette had, because of Nick's quest for mortality, long denied her feelings for him, knowing that until he gave that up, they could not be together. If he would even want that again. Remembering the ardor he once felt for her, Janette deep down knew she would give anything to have that back again. Similarly, Nick, though he'd backslid enough of lately to share blood with her in the vampiric version of sex, could not allow himself to feel more for Janette as long as he was trying to become mortal again. If this should fail...
<I still love her,> Nick realized, feeling a well of emotion arise in him. <And I've used her terribly. Could she...?> He stared at her, wondering what there could be left of the love she once bore him. But she didn't want him mortal, of course.
"Then let me offer you simple comfort, Nicolas," Janette said at last, and slid onto the bed beside him. He allowed her to gather him against her, and he relaxed gratefully in her arms. "There," she murmured, her whisper close to his ear, "rest in our link, mon amor."
He never saw her blood tears.
The Final Fast
Natalie of course had called when Nick did not report in to work, or even call. And he did not answer his phone because he was too weak to go downstairs. Puzzled, she continued to work, but after her shift, decided to stop in at the loft. Called first; still no answer. It was 6:00 AM., eleven hours after LaCroix s visit. Janette had reluctantly left when Nick had asked her to leave an hour earlier.
Nat was utterly shocked at what she found upstairs in the bedroom. Nick had curled up into a fetal ball and was visibly gray. "Nick!" she cried, and tried to roll him over onto his back. But a hand had shot out and grabbed her wrist with bruising force. "Nick, you're hurting me," she whimpered, and then got another shock as she saw his face. His eyes blazed red from hunger, and his lips curled back revealing glistening fangs. There was nothing human in his expression and he didn't seem to recognize her.
Then all of a sudden the vampire had pounced on her with surprising energy, and both crashed to the floor. Natalie, crying out to him in an attempt to get him to recognize her, felt captured in a vise, his hands holding her head at an awkward angle, exposing her neck to him. She realized way too late that he was past hearing her, and screamed as pain exploded in her neck. But she'd pulled away with a burst of adrenaline at the last second, and the bite was much lower, missing the carotid artery.
Nick drank a couple mouthfuls of blood before enough awareness returned to him to allow him to stop. He thrust Natalie away, wiping his mouth, shuddering as the blood coursed through his starved system. Half-sobbing, Natalie sat up, more concerned for him than for herself, but he looked at her in a frenzied rage, his eyes still red. "Get out of here!" he growled. "Now! Go!"
Shaking, Natalie got, but stopped downstairs to check a few things. There were no more protein shakes in the refrigerator, and the hamburger and other foods were reduced by half. Checking the trash can, she found no signs that he'd dumped food there. By the sink were empty containers which had held the protein shakes she'd prepared. Lots of empty containers. And the sink was clean.
Then the whole thing had registered: Nick had abstained from blood for five days and nights, ate real food, and had not come back across. Instead, he'd been forced at great need to drink from her! Hastily she ran to the tiny downstairs bathroom where she was briefly sick, then she examined the bite marks.
<He s a vampire,> Natalie reminded herself ironically. <And now he's a dying vampire. Here I thought if he could just give up the blood; what arrogance! It's not an addiction. Nick needs blood to live. It's *food* for him, for Pete's sake.> She fished in her purse for Band-Aids, for the marks were still seeping plasma. <So, what now, Nat?> But she already knew what. She had to help him. <I'm his friend, dammit. I love him and now I have to let him go. But I must help him first.> She swiped at a few tears, and straightened, resolute.
Upstairs, Nick could hear and decipher every move she made, her heartbeat still a nasty tease to his ravaged need. <Why is she still here?> he wondered. The blood he took from her was beginning to take effect and he found himself calming at last. <She should never have come,> he thought, and wondered why he was so dispassionate. <There was utterly nothing I could do to stop myself. And I still hunger...> He lay back on the floor, feeling utterly defeated, yet calm. <LaCroix knew this would happen. I should have known this would happen. I should never have done this. The whole thing -all of it - is a mistake. And I've now hurt the only mortal who was trying to help me.>
He knew she would forgive him, would understand that he'd been driven beyond control. And would understand that he must now give this hopeless quest up before he could do her - or himself - any more harm. No thought now of any love that once might have bloomed between them. That possibility had vanished forever when his fangs had first pierced her skin. For now that he'd tasted her rich, sweet blood, she'd always be in danger from him.
What he'd tried - the fast from blood - had been a gamble. And his attempt this time had truly been successful. Five days and nights without a drop of blood! And every one of those protein shakes had indeed gone down, though he'd thrown up into the toilet all but the first five. Natalie had believed this would work if he'd just go through with it. He had. He really had this time. And now knew that there was no going back.
He heard her leave the bathroom, then, presumably finished cleaning up her wounds. But she did not leave yet and he had a quick fear that she actually might come back upstairs. <I'll kill her if she does,> Nick worried, feeling the hunger tear at him again. He was still in desperate need and any mortal, even Nat, would be taken as prey right now. He knew he didn't have the strength to stop a second time.
"Nick?" He heard her voice softly query.
With an effort, he managed to crawl to the door of the bedroom. The vampire was still very much in evidence, though his eyes were gold, not red. "Nat, I can't resist you again - go," he rasped weakly.
Natalie looked up at him. "How much will you need?" There was calm and concern in her voice. He couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"Blood," she repeated softly, a compassionate doctor treating a patient. A friend. "I'm a doctor, Nick, I can't let you remain like this. I can't watch you die. How much blood do you need?"
"Won't die "
"You're dying now," she observed calmly.
Slowly he shook his head. "LaCroix. Call LaCroix."
"I don't think you want him right now, Nick "
An angry growl, his fangs an awful white. "Call him!"
Natalie blanched as she realized that the only thing that kept him from coming after her now was the staircase, the distance. He was too weak to fly or walk. The sight of him sprawled so awkwardly in the doorway wrenched her heart. She went to the phone.
A murmured greeting, then she said to Nick's master, "Nick is dying."
LaCroix was impressed that she was still alive. And told her so.
"Well," Natalie replied, fingering the bandaged fang marks, "I nearly wasn't. Nick did attack me."
"He's not dying. Did he tell you that?"
She ignored the sick hollowness that she felt. "What do you mean he's not dying? He's starving "
"A vampire cannot die by starvation, Dr. Lambert," came back the soft reply. "Nick will be immobilized and his body will be reduced to something more resembling a skeleton, but he won't die. He'll be quite aware."
"Oh, my God," Natalie breathed, horrified. "Did he know this?"
"I tried to tell him. But you know how much he listens to me."
"Okay - then I'll bring him blood. How much?" Again the stiffened spine. She would help him. She was his friend.
There was a very long pause, then the answer. "Dr. Lambert, I'm afraid you will only be endangering yourself further. Nothing restores a vampire like blood from the source. You'd better let me handle him." Another pause to let his words register. "Thank you for calling, Dr. Lambert."
The line went dead. She replaced the phone and glanced upstairs again.
Nick had been listening. She saw him relax noticeably. "Thank you," he managed to say.
She felt hot tears start up again. "I'm so sorry, Nick - I never meant for you to suffer like this."
He was still sprawled on his side on the floor in the doorway. He didn't answer. He knew he should apologize for biting her and drinking her blood, but how could he apologize for something he had utterly no control over? She was extremely lucky he'd been able to stop once he realized what he was doing.
Natalie should be dead.
"Please," he said finally. "Just go."
She opened her mouth to add something, but could not speak.
She left. And hard as it was, did not look back.
During the day, his body wasting away through dehydration, Nick had time to think. Cruelly, his thoughts were crystal clear. LaCroix was right. He was no more than a shriveled shell, brutally alive and aware. He did not breathe, his heart no longer beat at all, and he was immobilized, still frozen in the curled up position by the doorway to his bedroom. What kept his mind functioning, he could not imagine.
At first his thoughts were of Natalie. He regretted that this last attempt at mortality must now signal an end to their joint endeavor, but he knew he could not longer trust himself with her. Not any more. And the quest for mortality had fizzled to nothing in the undead state in which he now truly found himself. So, whatever there might have been between him and Natalie must now die. Perhaps a little of their friendship could be restored in the future. But his feeble, childish hopes for returning to his long-lost mortal existence were now abandoned.
Now, once the sun set and his master could come to him and heal him, Nick would return to the only life he'd known for nearly eight hundred years. And would finally recognize it as truly life, so far removed from his current condition. And that which had held him back from living - the guilt in which he'd wallowed for too long, the anguish of non-acceptance of his fate - would be released and allowed to die at last. It was time. Nick was ready to be a vampire - forever.
<I will still revere mortal life and will not take it,> he considered, embracing the pain of starvation as a sign that he was still alive. He wanted to live more than anything else. <But I will stop this abuse of myself. I will atone still, but I will stop my personal torture. I still want redemption someday, even if that be at the end of time, untold millennia away.>
If he'd had tears to shed, he would have cried in sheer relief.
LaCroix had come promptly at dusk, and had tended to Nick as a father would a sick child. Stayed with him while the blood rushed deliciously through him, restoring his starved tissues. It was five hours before he felt something like himself again. All that while, LaCroix had said little. No admonishments, no derision, no smugness. Just the quiet methodical concern.
Nick realized he ought to be grateful that LaCroix had not brought him a victim. Just the bottles, still warm. He knew it was human blood, but he knew full well it was what he needed. And now he was ready to return to it as his normal food again, though he would resist the kill. Finally he was able to articulate something to his master. "Thank you, LaCroix," he said softly, still nursing a glass as they sat together downstairs.
A nod. "What will you do now, Nicholas?"
Nick raised the glass and looked at its near-opaque crimson depths. "Now I will live."
After a while, Nick asked, "Please call Janette for me I need to see her." He was remembering the comfort of her arms. And more.
Dark eyebrows raised in interest. "Indeed I am glad to hear that. But I will not call - there is no need. She is quite near. Can you not feel her?"
Nick set the glass down carefully. Yes, he did feel her, the link between them tingling. The sensation, as never before, made him feel connected, safe. As he felt also the connection with LaCroix. He'd been fearing their remonstrance, and the relief he now felt, now that what he feared would not be forthcoming, was immeasurable.
<Janette, come to me,> he called through the link. And she came. In seconds she was standing before him, offering her hand. Nick took her hand and stood, collecting her into his arms, not kissing but holding her close. Again the comfort of her arms.
Now, five days later, they stood looking out over the lake, in each other's arms. "I feel like I've come through a tunnel," he murmured against her soft hair. "And on the other side "
"What did you expect? To become mortal?" Her voice was gentle though she'd dared to say the one word he didn't want to say himself yet.
"I expected sunshine. Life. Warmth. I don't know. Did I die? It felt like I died "
She parted enough to look up at him. "And you found what, Nick?"
He looked down into her light blue eyes, feeling so much. Smiling, he replied, "I found sunshine in your arms. I found life. I found warmth in your smile." Then, he grew more serious. "And I'm hoping to find something else. Something I found in you once."
His words thrilled her, and she hid her smile in his neck.