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A Cup of Tears

My soul is a cup of tears
That flows with every aching thought.
And all around is loneliness,
And all around is pain,
And all around is silence Ö
-- c. 1982 C. Loffreda

Chapter One

Tracy wrinkled her nose in disgust at the stench erupting from the alleyway. Stagnant pools of water, encrusted garbage cans and overflowing Dumpsters combined with the August heat in Toronto to create the 'lane from Hell.'

"The stakeout is here?" the tall lanky detective complained to her partner.

It seemed he was no more thrilled than she, his vampiric senses picking up nuances of rotting flesh and spoiled vegetables that undoubtedly passed his human partner by. Lucky for her he thought. "Hmmm," he confirmed, trying to speak without breathing too deeply. "Anonymous tip places our perp's next appearance here."

His face said: 'this better be the place.' They could do with some good luck and better surroundings. It seemed this perp thrived on dirt and filth. The first shooting, three weeks earlier, occurred in an abandoned foundry, choked with soot. Tracy sneezed black dust for three days after. The next sighting was at an old fishery, the odor of dead herring hung thick in the air. The third was a long defunct spice warehouse, redolent with cloves and dead rats. Actually, the place reminded me of Screed; I should give him the address. All three times she and her partner had arrived too late to catch the madman with a rifle - some said an elephant gun - which he used to gun down authority figures. An anonymous tip such as the veteran cop and his rookie partner received accompanied each appearance. But the perp was always one step ahead.

Tracy glanced over at her partner. His blond head was cocked to the side, listening with senses far beyond hers. His lithe body, with its predatorís instincts, was unnaturally still. The sight of him in that attitude chilled her; she was glad he was her partner and not her enemy.

Nick seemed to sense his young partner's unease. He looked over at her and smiled, his eyes a dark blue in the dim glow cast by a lone streetlamp. It's amazing how human they can look Tracy thought to herself as she returned the smile.

"You take me to all the best places, partner," she kidded lightly, trying to take the edge off her fear.

Since being shot Tracy harbored many a seed of doubt - doubt she strove to bury deep inside. She closed her eyes briefly, reliving the moment. Bullets passing through her partner, staggered but unharmed, bouncing off the cinder-blocks of the locker room, cutting into her with fiery pain. Her partner whirling, calling her name, a snarl on his lips, fangs extended, blue eyes turned to a feral gold. Tracy came back to herself, pulled to the here and now by the brief touch of Nick's cold hand.

"Trace, you okay?" he asked, peering deeply into her eyes.

Can he see into my soul? she wondered. "Yeah, fine. Sorry for spacing out. Just an old memory." She swallowed the pain and produced another smile for Nick, though it was just a shadow of her usual wide grin. Her hand covered his briefly and then the contact was severed.

"Tracy," he began diffidently, concern heavy in his voice, "we haven't had much time to talk lately, what with your recovery, the board inquiry and this latest case. Are you okay with this?" He gestured somewhat vaguely to her, to himself. "Are you afraid?" he asked in a low, vulnerable tone.

That's all she needed: an angsty vampire. Life wasn't complicated enough without having to play Freud to the undead in a seedy alley at midnight. "Nick, you're my partner. My partner, got it?"

Nick's posture relaxed, blue eyes flashing with relief, but only for a moment. His body stiffened abruptly into the predator's stillness once more. Tracy became alert; her vampire partner had heard or scented their prey. She drew her eyebrows together in question, not wanting speech to break her partner's concentration. He turned to her, eyes golden, and pointed down the alleyway, fingers making a walking motion. She nodded, all business, her gun appearing in her fist in a practiced grip. Nick gestured her back into the shadow thrown by a large Dumpster as he himself was swallowed by darkness. Silently he rose to get an aerial view, perching on the rusted metal rungs of an ancient fire escape ladder. Were it not for his flaxen hair, linen skin and robin's egg eyes, Tracy would have missed him completely. His clothes, always dark in the shades of night, were consumed - no, not consumed, but embraced - by the shadow.

Tracy huddled back, the miasma of death and decay settling over her, casting a pall. Your typical gothic setting for a vampire and victim; all that's missing is the fog. She smothered a slightly hysterical giggle brought on by the tension, and marshaled her fear into an alert readiness to act.

Nick looked down from his aerie. She's just a child he thought to himself. She's seen too much - experienced too much pain. I can't let this be another close call. With that resolve firmly in mind, Nick let go his perch and dropped soundlessly to the alley floor. Thick soled shoes squelched and echoed from further down the lane; a new shadow was thrown against the far wall.

Tracy began to rise from her position wedged between the Dumpster and the wall; Nick stopped her with a 'stay down' gesture, both hands pushing at her palms outward.

"Let me handle this," he mouthed to his young partner. He moved off before receiving a reply.

Tracy, ever the one to buck authority, always with something to prove, edged out from behind the Dumpster in a low crouch. Nick was traversing the narrow lane, his feet six inches above the detritus on the ground. He heard her movement and turned to once again give the 'stay back' hand signal.

That brief moment of distraction was all the opening the perp needed. He set himself quickly, a wide eye to the scope, and emptied a chamber of the rifle. Nick was spun around from the force of the bullet entering and lodging in his chest; he hit the brick wall hard and fell to the garbage-strewn pavement, grunting with pain. Movement brought more agony, excruciating in its intensity, white light exploding behind narrowed eyes. As the darkness claimed him, Nick saw Tracy step out to confront the shooter. The injured detective slumped over, unconscious, Tracy's name half-formed on his lips.

"Freeze - police," she called to the short, stocky madman, dropping into the police academy classic stance. She managed to squeeze off a shot, even as the perp did, that hit just to the left of his shoulder near the collarbone; his aim was ruined. The bullet from the rifle bounced off the fire escape above Tracy, sheering off a piece of metal. It lodged in the meaty part of her upper left arm, a trail of hot blood running to her wrist.

The young detective took a deep breath, pushing her fine hair from her face, and grimaced in pain as her light jacket pulled at the shrapnel buried in her arm. She heard her partner groan, then. Thank God he wasn't human or he'd be dead. And it was my fault for pulling his attention away from the perp at the crucial moment. She put away the self-recrimination and gave herself a little shake. Ignoring the fiery sensation from her wound, she rose to her full height shaky from the adrenaline washing through her blood. Tracy made a half-hearted attempt to brush at the caked-on dirt clinging to her pants, but her hand left a swath of filth. She cautiously picked her way down the alley to where her stricken partner lay. Pulling her cell phone from a pocket as she approached, Tracy gave their location to dispatch; a request for the ME and paramedics came next. Satisfied that help was on the way, she replaced her cell phone and covered the rest of the distance to where Nick reclined against the wall.

His blond hair was matted with grime, and blood was splattered across his face - a stark contrast to his paler-than-usual complexion. She knelt beside him, oblivious now to the stagnant water beneath her knees. Nick was gasping in shallow breaths, sounds of gurgling blood evident in his tortured respiration. As she reached out to him, the vampire came awake with a violent start, the scent of apricot-laced blood a promise of comfort in his debilitated state. His body needed the blood to heal. Golden eyes gleamed at Tracy, no hint of recognition in them, nothing that told the rookie detective that her partner was 'in there.' Her mind's eye flashed to Vachon in first night feeding lust, growling at her to keep away. Belatedly, realizing that her proximity to a wounded vampire - partner or not - was a dangerous and foolish position, she tried to pull away.

Nick's hand shot out and grabbed her wrist, sticky with shed blood. Tracy yelped in pain, twisting to protect the injury. Her partner was a mindless vessel of hunger. He rose from his position against the crumbling facade and drew Tracy to him. His fangs glinted wickedly in the dim orange glow of the overhead light. She shivered and tried to cower away, but the vampire's grip was intractable - unbreakable.

Get a grip she scolded herself. You've survived Vachon in this state. Nick is your partner. Talk to him. "Nick," Tracy croaked, fear making her voice crack with weakness. His mouth approached her arm, an aura of need exuded by those golden orbs. Tracy was nearly captured by the desire. She shook her head to clear away the influence, avoiding his deadly gaze. "Nick," she said once again with more force. "It's me. Tracy."

She attempted to free her wrist from his implacable grasp, to no avail. His breath was hot on her forearm as he ran his tongue through the fresh blood still coursing down from the wound above. Thick, sweet liquid burned a trail of fire to his stomach. Taste of apricots filled him with warmth. Nick shifted his position in order to move closer, get a better hold. Tracy took the opportunity and shoved Nick over, dislodging his hand from her wrist. He hit a garbage can and over it went, scattering more debris and startling some feeding rats. It seemed they chittered at her in disapproval.

Tracy shot to her feet and placed a few necessary steps between her and her hungry partner. Visions of Vachon, eyes whirling bloodlust red-gold in the candlelight after being injured, warred with memories of Nick desperately pushing her out of harm's way in that parade warehouse so many months back.

In the distance she heard the faint scream of sirens. Help would arrive in scant minutes. She had to aid the suffering vampire, her partner and mentor, before the alleyway streamed with mortals. They couldn't know Nick had been injured. No one survived a point blank shot to the heart with that caliber rifle. It appeared the vampire was hard put to heal, as well.

Tracy called his name softly, as if afraid of awakening the wounded animal her partner had become. An animal that had saved her life many times over. "Nick?"

He lifted his head and looked at her frightened visage. Something snapped in him then, triggered by her terror. He regained some small bit of control. Tracy sensed this and began to move forward to help him. He rose to his knees, holding up a begrimed hand to forestall her approach. Blood still dripped from her outstretched hand. He could hear each maddening drop of the precious fluid as it added itself to the pool at their knees. Drip, drip, drip. Nor any drop to drink was his frenzied thought.

Nick shook his head in denial, covering his face with both hands. He blocked the sight of his youthful mortal partner, the artery pulsing with life just beneath her wide jaw. He obstructed the beckoning fruit-flower scent of her blood. He wished for another set of hands to deflect the sound of her heartbeat, a rapid drumming that pulled at his hunger, pulsed in his veins, drew his fangs into points and awakened the beast once more.

Sirens, loud and bleating, pulled his attention away from her heartbeat. The putrid odor of decay supplanted the delicate scent of apricots and calla lilies that was undeniably Tracy. The dank, oppressive atmosphere crowded his awareness. When at last he uncovered his face, Tracy's gentle hands pulling at his wrists, his eyes were calmer, saner, though still that fey gold. His closed his mouth over fangs that just touched his bottom lip.

"Hey, partner, talk to me," she pleaded - worry, concern and anxiety warring for dominance in her tone. Her blue eyes were everywhere - the crumbling wall behind him, the scurrying rats, briefly the hole in his chest - everywhere but meeting his.

Nick turned his hands and in as non-threatening a way as possible grasped her slender hands in his. Her heart rate shot up, but she remained outwardly calm. "Tracy," he rasped out with a liquid sound. He cleared the blood from his lungs and uttered her name again, akin to a prayer. "Tracy. I'm sorry."

Her eyes - almost - bounced to his, but she caught herself and fastened her gaze on his lips instead. Tracy was having trouble hearing Nick over the din of the approaching sirens; the cavalry was only a few short blocks away.

"Tracy, look at me," he requested. "Look," he repeated when she made no move to comply.

Tracy chanced it, flicking her eyes to his. The gold slowly bled away. Matching blue orbs met hers. Still pain-filled, but the eyes of a cop, not a vampire.

"I'm sorry," he repeated, guilt pulling his features into anguished lines.

She bobbed her head and shrugged, unconsciously mimicking Vachon's favorite non-committal mannerism. "My fault, Nick. I didn't listen to you. This need to prove myself ... young Detective Vetter, Commissioner's daughter ..." Nick interrupted her with a little tug on her hands. He shook his head; 'not that' his glance told her. Tracy looked away for a moment, then met his eyes once more. "That's my fault, too. I knew you were injured." Her gaze convinced him that she knew what the consequences of such an act could be. "I shouldn't have placed myself in that vulnerable position. I just wanted to help you." Tracy pulled her hands from his, and placing the clean one back on his shoulder, squeezed lightly. "I don't blame you," she assured him.

Any comment Nick may have made was cut short by the sounds of sirens, screeching tires and slamming car doors. Officers raced into the alley. The coronerís van pulled up a minute later, Natalieís beige sedan beside it.

"Can you stand, Nick?" Tracy asked urgently. "They can't see you hurt." Nick nodded, gaining his feet with the help of Tracy and a nearby trash barrel. He straightened, zipping the lightweight police wind-breaker closed to hide the ragged bullet hole, just as Captain Reese trotted up to the pair of detectives. Nick gave Tracy's hand a last squeeze in gratitude before turning to meet his superior.

Worry clouded Joe Reese's fleshy face. He took the crime scene in at a glance and began detailing the uniformed officers. Natalie was a mere yard behind the Captain, having picked her way down the alley trying to avoid the worst of the filth. Her practiced medical eyes evaluated the detective's injury and the apparent cause of death of the perp.

"Knight - Vetter, you both all right?" Joe Reese's deep baritone washed over Nick and Tracy. Nick gave a terse nod, but gestured to Tracy's arm. "Your report can wait. Get that arm patched up." Tracy opened her mouth to protest. "That's an order, Detective Vetter," Reese sternly insisted. "I mean it. Now. Go." He called over the paramedic and directed him to Tracy. She resisted his gentle urgings to follow him to the EMS vehicle, until Nick made a shooing gesture. He winked to tell her he was fine. With a last worried glance in his direction, Tracy turned and allowed the medic to lead her away.

The portly captain turned to his star detective, Natalie at his side. She had made a perfunctory examination of the corpse and was ready with an initial report. Reese nodded to her, letting her go first. The coroner pushed her pencil into her hair and took a quick glance down at her hurriedly scribbled notes.

"Weaponís a 30-gauge, high-powered shotgun, with a íscope. Bullets big enough to stop an elephant in its tracks. Real sicko, here. Seems one of our detectives ..." Nick jerked his head towards Tracy. "... Detective Vetter hit him clean through the chest near his collarbone. The resultant shattered bone may have pierced a lung or the heart. Can't tell without a full autopsy. He's definitely our shooter, though." Natalie flipped through the pages on her clipboard until she found the reference she needed. "Same distinct tattoo of a dagger through the world at the back of his head. And of course, the tattered clothing and the tell-tale film of grunge over his body are dead give-aways." Natalie wrinkled her nose in distaste. Nick noted the expression with some amusement. It seemed both women in his life were against grime.

"Thank you, Doctor. Knight?"

Nick casually leaned back against the wall, trying to ease the fire in his chest. He schooled his expression and steadied his voice before beginning. "Tracy and I got the word that this would be the shooter's next site of mayhem." Reese nodded, remembering the call. Nick flashed back to a vision of Reese, pointed cup in hand, valiantly trying to extract water from the recalcitrant cooler; his gruff voice saying 'get that slime off my streets' as he crumpled yet another dry paper cone in disgust. Blinking back to present, Nick continued his report. "We took positions in the alleyway, awaiting his appearance. A sound at the far end pulled us out to investigate. The perp was fast and strong for such a small man. He took me off-guard, barreling into me. I hit the wall hard, stunned. Tracy squeezed off a shot, clipping him even as he fired, saving my life and hers in the process. His aim was spoiled; the bullet hit the fire escape and the resultant shrapnel caught Tracy in the upper arm. It was over very quickly. Tracy called it in." Nick spread his hands, indicating the end of the story.

His report was delivered in his usual precise, clipped tones. Reese nodded in acceptance and stepped away. "I'll have a full report soon, Captain," Natalie called after him. He held up a hand without turning, then "Thanks for taking care of that slime on my watch" drifted over his shoulder.

Natalie looked into Nick's eyes, searched his face, his frame, noted his eggshell complexion and stiff posture. "You really okay? There're two bullets missing from the clip. Where's the other one?" she asked quietly with great concern.

Nick guided her hand and brought it to a gentle rest against his chest. His eyes flared into gold before he could suppress the hunger. He breathed, in sifting through the scents until he isolated Natalieís. Strawberries and roses, mingled with the scent of her perfume, filled his nostrils. He caged the beast; it would not escape again.

Natalie glanced around to see if anyone had noticed Nick's momentary transformation, but most of the activity in the alley was behind him. "Ah, well. Then maybe you need to check into Natalie's Bed and Breakfast."

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