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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 Three

Nick padded down the steps in his bare feet, silk robe rubbing against silk pyjamas with a soft susurration. He had had a restless sleep, haunted by dreams of blood, of past kills with new faces, of hunger. He wasted no time before opening the refrigerator and pulling the last of the blood pouches out of a bin. A goblet was filled to the brim and tossed back almost without thought. Already, his body relaxed somewhat as the blood diffused through his veins. The glass was filled a second time before the pouch was empty, its plastic sides meeting in wrinkled folds. Nick discarded the small bag, then took his glass to the leather couch. A flick of a finger on the remote lifted the shutters to let in some of the late afternoon sun. Another button flipped on the elaborate stereo system, the tuner already set to CERK. A light jazz number filled the emptiness.

With a squeal and a clank, the old elevator began the climb to the loft. Could it be Nat coming to check on me? he hoped. But as the door creaked open on ungreased tracks, Nick caught the fresh scent of apricots. His young partner stood undecided on the threshold. Then nodding decisively to herself as if in the middle of a lengthy discussion, she stepped in, letting the door rumble close behind her. Nick flicked his eyes between her and his glass, caught in flagrante delicto. With effort he forced the glass down and away from his lips.

"Donít let me interrupt," Tracy said, grateful for the opening to the conversation. She wandered in, drawn to the window by the sunlight, suddenly very interested in the artifacts and paintings scattered along her path. Nick took the opportunity to drink his fill before she could turn back to face him.

When some time had passed and Tracy had spoken no further words, Nick set down his glass and walked across the living area to lean against the dragon mantelpiece. Matching blue eyes met, then slid away.

"Why are you here, Tracy?" he asked curiously.

"I hope you donít mind, Nick, but I needed to talk to you," Tracy answered diffidently.

"About?" he prompted. He didnít want to deal with this now, but Tracy knew his secret; accommodations had to be made. His tone must have conveyed some sense of hostile impatience on his part, for Tracy took an unconscious step backwards. When she didnít respond, Nick tried being more hospitable. "Come sit down, Trace." He turned, thinking to lead her to the couch. Still, she hadnít moved. Her face was pinched with thought. "Or stay right where you are, Tracy, if the sun makes you feel more Ö comfortable." The words were spoken gently, though with a hint of pain behind them.

The suggestion jolted her to life, shoulders straightening, eyes widening in dismay. She jumped away from the pool of light as if burned. "Oh, Nick, Iím sorry if I gave you that impression. Iím not afraid," she assured her partner. "The warmth was so inviting and Iím just such a day person Ö" she trailed off. Tracy frowned contritely, then apologized once again for her lack of tact.

"You have absolutely nothing to be sorry for." His tone of voice managed to convey his deep gratitude for her trust. "If anyone should be on bended knee, begging forgiveness, it should be me."

She shook her head, setting short blond hair aswing. "I told you this morning, Nick, itís okay."

Nick was confused. "Then why are you here, Tracy?" he repeated, gesturing once again to the couch. Tracy traversed the distance from the window to the offered seat in a few strides of her long legs. She settled herself into one of the overstuffed leather chairs, while Nick reseated himself at the end of the sofa nearest the tall detective.

"I need to know something." Nick nodded in what he hoped was an encouraging manner. Tracy took a deep cleansing breath and wiped her hands on her jeans. "Why didnít you trust me with your secret? Why did it have to wait for a near tragedy?"

Nick was going to spew out the standard Ďit was too dangerousí disclaimer when he remembered Natalieís admonition to treat Tracy as a rational adult. He swallowed the pat words as they were forming, drew his eyebrows together and formulated a better response. Or perhaps he thought a demonstration would better serve my needs. With vampiric speed, he lifted off the couch and came to a stop crouched behind Tracy, his hands placed lightly on her shoulders. She cried out and jumped up, off the chair and back into the pool of sunlight in a flash.

"Thatís why," he said quietly.

"Thatís not fair, Nick!" she scolded after regaining her composure. "I was only startled. It was like going over the top of the roller-coaster when you least expect a drop."

Nick raised a doubtful eyebrow. "So thatís why youíre standing in a safe place." His words challenged her.

Tracy gathered herself up with as much dignity as she could muster and resumed her seat, as did Nick. "You donít need to resort to tricks. Vachon does this sort of thing to me all the time. I donít appreciate it from him, and I donít appreciate it from you. Give me a straight answer, or tell me to leave."

There was a depth and fire to her that most people missed, misdirected by her perky demeanor. Nick sighed and ran a hand through his blond curls. "Tracy, this Ö exposition isnít easy. Very few mortals learned my secret and lived to tell about it. None of my partners knew, though Schanke did put the pieces together. Luckily, heís not a resister." Nick smiled to soften his words. "My real reason for keeping my nature a secret is this: in the field I want you to always feel safer with me than with the perp."

Tracyís lips parted in surprise. "God, Nick, I do."

Nick shook his head and leaned forward. "Tracy. Do you realize how fast your heart was beating?"

"Of course - when you deliberately set out to frighten me." She threw her hands up in disgust. "Iíll admit, youíre good at it. But then, youíve had centuries to practice."

Her wide jaw was set in such a stubborn attitude that Nick had to chuckle to himself. "Touchť," he replied, letting some of the humor come through. He held up his hands in capitulation, tipping an imaginary cap in defeat.

Tracy slid forward on her seat and reached across to place a warm hand on Nickís. "I told you this morning," she began in a serious tone, "youíre my partner and I trust you. I wonít tell you again. Just accept it, okay? And lay off that vampire showmanship stuff."

"Okay, okay!"

"Okay, good. Now that that bit of unpleasantness is past, maybe I can give you some advice." Nickís eyes broadened in disbelief. "Yes, advice," she confirmed. She leaned back into the plush maroon leather, and crossed a leg over her knee. "Listen, Nick, I know the general consensus going around the station about me is none too flattering: Iím too young, too green, too naÔve, maybe a bit light in the brain department, that I got where I am by riding Daddyís coat tails. But you of all people shouldnít rely on appearances."

"Granted," he conceded. But he couldnít help teasing her just a bit. "You must admit though, Trace, that you do tend to view the world with a tint of pink."

Tracy formed her mouth into a petulant moue. "So Iím an optimist. That is not a criminal offense, you know. Maybe you need to recapture your youth, Nick," she dared.

He snorted ruefully. "As you pointed out, Trace, that was quite a few years back."

Regarding him more like a museum exhibit or a specimen under glass than her partner, she asked, "Just how old are you?"

"I can give your Spaniard three centuries." He watched that casual statement hit.

Tracyís eyes popped open, incredulous. "Wow! Eight hundred years." She considered this youthful-seeming ancient in earnest. "Doesnít it ever get to you, Nick?" she queried soberly.

As she watched his face, the blue of his eyes darkened, colored by layer upon layer of experiences. She thought she could see each and every sacrificed soul in the depths of his cerulean eyes. The ancient knowledge was all up-front, for a moment, before being recaptured by the mask of youth. Bright blue eyes once again played across her fair features.

Nick sat back, snagging his glass with a long arm. A slight smile graced his lips as he pulled in a deeply satisfying draught of blood. He regarded Tracy calmly, patiently waiting for the promised advice; though, honestly he had thought to unnerve her by drinking what she obviously knew to be blood, so casually. He raised a fine eyebrow, inviting comment.

Not one to miss a challenge, all she said was: "At least you use a glass." A guffaw was pulled from Nick at this comment. Her mix of mirth and sarcasm was infectious. Tracy was grateful, once again, for an opening. God, this isnít easy she mentally avowed. "Is that human blood?" she blurted out suddenly.

Nick was rocked back, shocked by her directness. Recovering his composure quickly, he hastened to assure her, "Though itís not my usual diet."

"Why not?" Off-balance, all he could do for a moment was look at her in bemusement and sputter in confusion. "I mean, if human blood is what you need to survive," she continued doggedly, "why drink anything else?"

Why, indeed? he asked himself, as he had done on many occasions. Nick set the glass down gently on the end table, peering into its crimson depths before letting his gaze rest directly on hers. "I donít drink human blood, Tracy; thatís just the way it is. This morning should never have happened."

She waved his words aside. "But it happened. Do you want to know why?"

"No. But youíll tell me anyway," he replied in a flat voice.

She canted forward, elbows on knees, and regarded him steadily. "Nick, Iíve learned a few things from Vachon ..." Boy, have I! she thought, blushing slightly at the memories. "... over these last few months. He doesnít say much about his past, but I think heís afraid of making a bad impression. Itís rather sweet, actually. But Iíve gleaned more information from what he does, by his very attitude, than what he says or doesnít say. You know?" Nick nodded to show he was following, that he was still with her. "Heís very comfortable with what he is. He wants me to become a vampire, but I donít know if Iíll ever be ready for that. What I do know is that he wonít bring me across without my consent. I trust him, too. So you stay out of it, hear?" She waggled a finger under the elder vampireís nose in warning. An amused look was all the response he had time for before she continued.

"Iíve watched you and Natalie, and Iíve listened to all the station gossip. Iím not the only subject of interest, it seems." Tracy looked away, thoughtfully studying the rather Oriental dragon design which graced the wooden mantel. Her restless energy forced her to her feet; she began to pace before the cold fireplace. Stopping in front of Nick, she folded her arms and stared across at him.

"Vachon and I are lovers, Nick," she announced in a wavering voice, tinged with embarrassment.

Tracy began to pace once more, ending her circuit at the window. Checking first to be sure the angled sun wouldnít hit Nick, she moved the vertical blind aside and observed the deserted alley below. Still early for those on the day shift to be arriving home and those on the night shift to leave for work.

Nickís features were awash with warring emotions: curiosity, concern, anxiety. He stirred restlessly, then decided to join Tracy at the window. The sunlight fell on her youthful features, trimming off even more years, her fine hair glimmering in the waning yellow light, blue eyes round and bright. It was no wonder the Spanish vampire found her irresistible.

Tracy let the blind fall back into place, noticing the sun wash briefly over her susceptible partner. Her eyes widened in surprise at his temerity; he had risked the sunlight.

Nick read the emotion in her clear eyes. "This amount of sunlight is not in the same league with catching that bullet, though itís still a bit unpleasant," he explained. "We gain tolerance with age," Nick emended after a moment. Tracy bobbed her head in understanding. "Trace, do you realize how dangerous ..." Nat had warned him, but he couldnít let this innocent be hurt. "... I mean, youíre tempting fate," he finished lamely.

She rounded on him, suddenly. "No, Nick. Youíre the one taking risks here. Werenít you listening? Javier and I make love. He ... feeds from me, but has never hurt me. And his attention doesnít wander when weíre in a crowd." Tracy took a deep breath and plunged on. "You see - hereís my theory - heís not constantly fighting his nature, so his control is near-perfect. He has embraced the vampire and he enjoys it. Itís not only about killing." Tracy gripped her partnerís shoulders in both hands and gazed steadily into his eyes. "Iíve flown over the city with him, the streetlights like stars on earth," she told him, voice laden with wonder. "You can see such beauty each and every day."

"Oh yeah, Trace. Thereís a lot of beauty watching all those you love and care about grow old and die - and knowing you could or will be the cause," he countered ironically. "This evil ..."

"Evil - please!" she cut him off sharply, giving him a little shake for good measure. "Who feeds you this pap? Vampires are no more intrinsically evil than anyone else. I admit I thought so once, but Iíve had an awakening of sorts. The need for blood is a survival instinct," she pointed out. "Itís a part of Nature. You are a part of Nature."

"The dark side," the vampire retorted, breaking free of her grasp.

"Only intent makes an act evil. Just think about it, Nick. If you give your body what it needs, you wonít be in constant conflict. Iím sure a busy day at the station is pure Hell." Apparently out of words, Tracy grew quiet. The mellow sounds of a sax solo took up the silence.

Who had put these ideas into this young slip of a girlís mind? he wondered. Vachon? No, he couldnít "whammy" her, to use the Spaniardís word; it wasnít his style, anyway. LaCroix? No, they had renewed their agreement, their relationship the easiest it had been in over four centuries. Nick reviewed her words once again, still thinking how much they echoed LaCroixís urgings to be true to his nature. Would it really be better? he asked himself wistfully. Tracy is right in that work now resembles some lower level of Danteís Inferno. And Hell it was indeed. All those heartbeats pressing in on him with their constant beating, their incessant thrumming, their continual jungle-drum rhythm. It was all he could do to concentrate. And, there was the blood. Jasmine mingled with sandalwood, combined with musk and woodbine, mixed with berries and pine. The heady aroma wrapped him in a delicious fog of which he could not partake. If - IF - I drank human blood, would the call be easier to ignore? Could I actually love ..?

"What about Nat?" he asked his young partner plaintively.

"Yes, what about her, Nick? Do you think sheís happy? Sheís a doctor. She wants to see you well. But sheís also a woman who wants you on her own terms," Tracy pointed out. "Listen, I am not saying give up your humanity, become a mindless killer. But there has to be a way to have both, to straddle the line as Vachon does with me. Worry about you, first." The vampireís blue eyes darkened, colored by the bemusement brought on by her words. "Sounds callous, huh?" Nick raised an eyebrow, frowned slightly and tipped his head to the side. "I guess maybe it is. But your mortality is what Natalie wants."

"I want it, too," he protested half-heartedly.

"Well, youíve convinced me," she sardonically told the blond vampire.

Tracy retrieved her purse and removed a small apothecary jar filled to the brim with a dark liquid. She set it on the piano where the robust claret caught the fading light. "One last thing. This is from Javier. He says: Ďget well soon.í" She turned towards the door then stopped, suddenly remembering another message. "Oh, he also said - and this is very important - that itís freely given, of free consent." With that final announcement delivered, Tracy jerked the heavy metal door aside and let the elevator swallow her up.

As Nick watched the willowy blond depart, words from younger days drifted through his mind; words that fit this disturbing conversation with his young friend so well. And Wordsworth had written them in a poem about immortality. The irony did not escape him. "... To me, even the meanest flower that blows can give / Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears."

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