Falls Like Rain
2. A Gust Inside the God
It is not your loving, even if your mouth
Natalie juggled her packages as she dug for the keys to her apartment. She carefully shifted a bag of groceries from one arm to the other, finally closing her fingers around the keychain in her pocketbook without dropping a single item. Pushing the door open with a foot, she entered the foyer with an air of accomplishment and flipped on the light-switch with an elbow.
LaCroix was seated most comfortably on her sofa, Sydney curled up in his lap. Keys fell from nerveless fingers and the grocery bag tumbled from stiff arms. Oranges dropped to the floor and rolled every which way, finally coming to a rest in a dozen different places. She never saw LaCroix move, but in the blink of an eye, Sydney was moved aside, the groceries were righted and placed on a low table, and her keychain dangled from a pale hand. Natalie gave herself a mental shake and with a muttered ‘what the Hell’ took the keys from the vampire’s outstretched hand. His cool fingers made no move to capture hers, but Natalie stepped back until the door pressed into her from behind.
“Good evening, Doctor Lambert. I trust you are well?” LaCroix smiled, but Natalie took no comfort in that particular expression, as his glacier blue eyes remained cool and distant.
Why did she suddenly feel like a pampered Pekinese facing Growltiger?
She pushed a hair back from her face and drew in a deep breath. It was high time to regain control of the situation before things got out of hand. She stepped forward and turned on another lamp before replying. “Hello, LaCroix. To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?” she greeted sarcastically.
“To render aid, Doctor, and to express my gratitude,” he replied smoothly, ignoring her caustic tone.
“Gratitude?” Aid? she repeated to herself.
“For helping Nicholas last evening,” he explained.
“He came to you?”
“There are times when a son needs the comforts only a father may provide.”
“I’ll just bet,” Natalie scoffed, rolling her hazel eyes heavenward. “And did you pat him on the head, tell him he was a good little boy and send him off to bed with a cup of warm blood?”
LaCroix arched an ebony brow. He had read Nicholas’ responses correctly, it seemed. “I believe he is on the proper road to recovery, my dear. ‘A wise son maketh a glad father.’”
“Oh, please - spare me the platitudes. You are the last one I expected to quote Scripture.”
“Usually that is true, but I felt the audience here was receptive .”
Natalie moved a step further into the living room, though she kept her eyes from his face and her back to the door at all times. She glanced down at her pager and noted the time; it was nearly 4 AM. “Shouldn’t you be ...” and she floundered momentarily for the right word, “... pontificating, at this hour?”
“I thought to give a more private performance.” He gestured to the sofa, asking her to sit.
Throwing up her hands in defeat, Natalie picked up a sleeping Sydney and took a seat on the edge of the sofa. She held the cat before her like a shield, the warm bundle lending a familiar comfort. LaCroix settled himself in the over-stuffed chair by the cold hearth, crossing his legs and regarding her over steepled fingers. He was the very image of the urbane gentleman.
That’s no gentleman, that’s a vampire. She stifled a giggle that heralded a touch of hysteria and more than a bit of fatigue. Get a grip, Nat she sternly admonished herself.
“So, you mentioned aid,” she prompted aloud, more than a bit dubious.
Again, that half-smile crawled onto his face and curled about like a worm. “Advice to the lovelorn.”
Natalie tilted her head to the side and peered at the vampire through thick lashes. She snorted in disbelief. “Next thing I know you’ll pour gin up my butt and tell me it’s raining.”
A look of pure surprise lit LaCroix’ nearly colorless blue eyes, and his smile widened in obvious amazement. “Doctor, I am shocked. Such language is quite unbecoming so beautiful a woman.”
Wow, that movie line really had the desired effect - even though I did clean it up a little. Natalie reminded herself to use the epithet the next time that burly delivery man called suggestions and promises out the truck window to her. The real thrill was getting a rise out of this smug Roman; she’d need every advantage to keep him off-balance. “Look, can we get on with this?” she asked, barely concealing a yawn with her fist. “Some of us actually try sleeping at this time of day.” Natalie shifted and leaned more comfortably against the back of the plump brocade sofa. Her rich chestnut hair fanned out and made a striking contrast against the champagne colored upholstery. With a vampire of LaCroix’ age, Natalie could not relax her vigilance, though a certain amount of torpor had infected her attitude and posture.
LaCroix bowed his blond head briefly in her direction. “Yes, of course, Doctor. Forgive me. I’ll come to the point.” The ancient vampire took a moment to compose his words for the optimum impact. “You love young Nicholas, yes?”
“And if I did?” she replied warily.
“My, my. I keep getting the same answer.”
“Maybe you should ask a different question.”
Although the doctor appeared outwardly calm, her heart betrayed her roiling emotions. Yes, indeed, these children loved each fiercely, defying all logic, against all odds. Despite Nicholas’ protestations to the contrary, his son had not felt such a burning passion for any mortal but this one, and LaCroix suspected none other would ever take her place. That night at Azure, more than a year ago, had brought their connection into sharp focus for the elder vampire, a tie he had vowed to sever forever. And now, after losing so much and so many, he had no desire to destroy, only protect. He felt his aid tonight would be a more fitting tribute to his Fleur, her purity still a part of his heart, however small. When LaCroix had these bouts of altruism, disturbing as they were, he dedicated them to his lost love from the 13th century, then moved on as quickly as was seemly.
The ancient Roman gazed at the mortal doctor, but still she kept her eyes averted. He moved forward in a blur, reached out and with one long alabaster finger to her chin, pulled her head around to face him. Her warm skin was tinted with the life running so near the surface, and her sweet, fresh scent called to the hunger. The point of their contact was a burning ember, but his control after more than two millennia was perfect. Harming her would drive Nicholas away with no hope of reconciliation; an eternity of enmity would be all he’d gain. As the youth of the times said: ‘Been there, done that.’ It was time for new methods.
Natalie’s heart had sped up but she clung to an outward calm, like a shipwreck survivor to a piece of driftwood. Her hard-won poise came with the experience born of years of exposure to the vampire community. He marveled at how well she kept her composure. LaCroix released her chin and returned to his own chair. “You have every reason to doubt my intentions, and no reason to place your trust in my words; blind faith in me would be misplaced, to be sure, but not this time,” he told her in a near-whisper that was somehow perfectly audible. “What I say to you tonight is born of concern for my son - and for you, Doctor.” Natalie could not believe her ears, yet his low voice held nothing but sincerity. Despite her better judgment, she bravely raised her warm hazel eyes to meet his cool blue ones. Only, the twin glaciers she had remembered had melted somewhat to resemble a Nordic fjord, still frigid yet more navigable. She nodded for him to continue.
“What you hope for can never be,” he resumed in a smooth tone, though it was tinged with the pain of an old wound. “The pages of a book lie as closely as ever any two objects may, yet still they are separate and distinct.” He raised his hands and pressed them together, palm meeting palm, in illustration. “No matter how tightly the book is closed, the pages remain forever segregated - their own entities.” LaCroix spread his arms apart abruptly, momentarily releasing her gaze to study his hands.
“I won’t give up, LaCroix,” Natalie told the vampire in a quiet voice. Her own admission shocked her, but it was too late to take back the honest words. Her declaration drew his eyes back to her face.
“This quest is futile, Doctor. You are the sun and Nicholas is the moon. That is his nature - and yours. You would sooner disrupt the path of the stars.” His intensity demanded belief.
Natalie slowly shook her head in denial. “I won’t believe that we are bound by nature, that that is the sum total of our existence here on earth. Men have walked in space. We can overcome the limits imposed on us by the physical laws of this planet. Your existence is the proof of that.” Her calm conviction was nearly enough to sway his opinions, but as he had told his son, he had seen too much to have faith in anything but himself.
LaCroix puckered his brow and leaned forward in his chair. The eyes of the ancient vampire bore into hers. “You must ask yourself, Doctor, what it is about Nicholas that arouses such passion,” he advised her in a rougher voice than he had been using. “If you seek to change his defining trait, can you actually lay claim to true love?”
The question hung thick in the air and remained like a haze of smoke. LaCroix had said all he had intended, yet he could not resist one last bit of advice or warning. He came to his feet and was suddenly standing over the doctor. “You will see that my words are true soon enough, Doctor Lambert.”
With that prophesy uttered from between lips curled in a chilling smile, and a courtly bow, he took his leave of her as quickly as his power would permit. The only evidence marking his departure was the change in air pressure caused by the speed of his passage, and the slight rustle of a curtain by the half-open window. Otherwise it was as if a shade had visited the coroner’s apartment, that word a more than accurate appellation for LaCroix, with his pale flesh, colorless eyes and ink-black apparel.
Finally allowing herself to relax, Natalie slumped back and released a sigh of relief. A fourteen hour shift and a malevolent vampire in one 24-hour period - she didn’t know how she coped with this life. She didn’t want to think about the strange conversation, but her mind wrapped itself around the odd phrase over and over, words she had heard for the first time more than a year ago. Neither Nick nor LaCroix had any idea she had remembered that Valentine’s night at Azure. Most times, she kept the knowledge hidden in the deepest part of her memory. Although the momentous events of that night were frightening, invading her dreams many times since then, they also served to illustrate Nick’s fierce protectiveness and his willingness to sacrifice.
His needless sacrifice she amended with a mental snort of disgust.
The doctor was certain that LaCroix had not been fooled by his son’s denial of their passion for each other, but chose to ignore the feelings moving along the father-son link for reasons known only to the elder vampire.
Natalie rested her head on the curved top of the sofa, and stared up at the patterns thrown upon the ceiling from the headlights of passing motorists. She ran an idle hand through Sydney’s silky gray fur, his purr of contentment reward for her efforts. She knew she should pick herself up, get some sleep, but the effort necessary proved too great. There were those oranges to get out from underfoot, which still littered the living room floor like a child’s abandoned game of marbles. And the rest of the groceries remained jumbled together in a worse-for-wear brown paper bag.
Is this what my life has become? she asked herself morosely. Living from brown bag to brown bag - when the groceries run out, another week has gone by?
Yes, it was high time for the doctor to take control.
Her subconscious slammed into the ancient Roman’s words once again, and reeled from the mental contact. Could the wily bastard be right? Am I trying to change him? She asked herself these questions in those times when she lost faith in Nick and their quest to find his humanity; times like these. She wondered if their love would even survive his re-entry into the mortal world. She shook her head and cried, “No!” into the silence of her apartment, refusing to believe her desire was fueled solely by a supernatural glamour cast upon her soul. However, in the most private moments of quiet introspection, with scented candles throwing flickering shadows on the bath, she admitted to herself that the vampire’s innate aura of danger and sensuality was a powerful aphrodisiac.
No! The silent explosion pulled her upright, waking Sydney in the process. LaCroix is wrong. Nick and I can make it. We’ll write our own book. We will live our dream one way or another. I have faith. And then more tiredly, Don’t I? Doesn’t he? She finally dismissed it all as the ramblings of a tired mind.
Natalie turned Sydney around and lifted him up so they were nose to nose. Sydney blinked once at his owner, and then licked her cheek with a sandpaper tongue. “So, Syd, what did you think of that?”
“Mrow??” was the tabby’s only response.
“Yeah, Syd. Me, too.”
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