Falls Like Rain
1. You Darkness
He and the somber silent Spirit met -
The top was down on the Caddy, the warm summer breeze blowing Nick’s flaxen hair back from his face and riffling the thin silk of his shirt. The night was clear, the stars a scattering of diamonds against a field of black velvet. The streets were crowded with motorists; late-night clubbers jammed the sidewalks near to BCE Place. Nick smiled to himself at the memories the glass structure awakened.
Unconsciously, he leaned forward to switch off the police band, trading it for a more familiar FM station. There was time yet till dawn, and Nick was just driving and thinking, trying to get a handle on his life and the massive changes he’d recently been through. The Captain had booked him off early; this night was the first back on shift since recovering from the “concussion” suffered at the hands of his last collar, two days prior. All the consequences had yet to be seen, not the least of which were his relationships with LaCroix and Natalie. Natalie: her name was a silent sigh.
It seemed Nick had tuned in to CERK just in time for the Nightcrawler’s signoff. He wondered what further words of wisdom would be imparted. Nick had deliberately avoided his master’s broadcasts the last few nights, concentrating more on healing than on the advice of a self-styled sage. Father and son had had a long conversation, inconclusive really, that had left the younger vampire vaguely unsettled. But what else was new? he thought to himself. Even when Nick was sure he knew the lay of his own mind, LaCroix could always manage to introduce a jarring thought or two.
The past 72 hours had left Nick like a leaf tossed in the winds of change. His orientation, his objectives, his emotions - were caught in a tangled web threatened by a sudden and catastrophic collapse. Yet, he maintained a fragile grip in the face of the maelstrom. He fastened on the faces of his relationships, though they shifted violently in the whirlwind: Tracy was a thorough surprise; Vachon was an annoying burr (or, in more honest moments, a grail); Natalie was an open (and unresolved) wound; and, LaCroix was as much an enigma as ever.
Nick stopped for a red light, now more than half-way to the warehouse district where he made his home, and took the opportunity to raise the volume on the radio. He stretched a hand down and twisted the dial rightward. LaCroix’s low, smooth voice mixed with the muted sounds of the city as the light turned green once more. Nick drove onward, though his attention was more on the broadcast than on the traffic before him.
In closing, my children, heed these wise words of the great poet Rilke. They may serve as a reminder of the consequences brought to bear by your journey down a different path…
“You darkness that I come from, I love you more than all the fires
The garage door lifted as Nick made the turn into the alley behind the loft building, and he drove the Caddy in for the day. As the door levered down behind, darkness closed around him, a false night lending comfort, a darkness that had spawned his kind. Was it really to the exclusion of all else? Did he have faith only in the shadows? Nick had trouble believing that even now.
Good night, young ones. I remain the Nightcrawler, whose fire burns for you in the darkness - now and for always.
The haunting strains of a fugue by Bach had backfilled the monologue, and when complete took precedence. Good music for rumination and introspection. Nick was lost in the memory of his conversation with his maker the night of the fateful shooting. It had started innocently enough, with LaCroix spreading his arms wide and saying: “Welcome home, my son, welcome home.”
“I feel as if I’ve come home, LaCroix. But I am still unsure.”
“What is the cause of this confusion, Nicholas?” LaCroix asked in that deceptively gentle tone.
“I have worked so hard, for so long, to keep the vampire buried. And now …” Nick shook his head dubiously.
“You have denied what you are far too long. I made you a power to be reckoned with.”
“You made me a killer,” Nick accused in a harsh voice. He glared dispassionately at LaCroix, who stood silent and unfazed. Nick could not maintain his anger in the face of such calm.
“I made you my son,” the elder vampire countered softly. He turned his back and continued in a low voice nearly beyond the reach of even a vampire’s hearing. “I cannot lose another child.” His shoulders slumped forward in apparent despair.
Nick was caught between centuries of distrust and filial concern. LaCroix was always such a manipulative, cold-hearted bastard, it was difficult too look at any emotion without a suspicious eye. Finally, though, the hostility was drained away by the murmured confession. LaCroix took each death in the community personally, each demise carved a chunk from an otherwise icy heart. Nick knew losing Divia, as well, had affected his maker deeply and quite profoundly.
Before Nick could arrest the motion, he had moved behind his father. He laid a comforting hand on LaCroix’s shoulder, crushing the soft dark silk beneath his fingers. “I am here for you, Father,” Nick whispered, the confrontation all but erased from his voice and stance. LaCroix jerked around to face his son; a brief expression of surprise - even gratitude - flitted across his pallid face, though his features were schooled so quickly Nick swore ever afterward he had imagined the emotions. LaCroix was always such a manipulative bastard, it was difficult to look at any emotion without a jaundiced eye.
LaCroix squared his shoulders, effectively shaking Nick off; self-possessed once more, he raised his own hand to smooth the abused fabric of his black jacket. Nick removed his hand as his maker regained his trademark unruffled poise. LaCroix put some distance between himself and the younger vampire.
“We were speaking of your doubts.” LaCroix casually began automating the radio station for the day, securing the board and starting the tape loop.
“No matter the meaning you pull from this visit, LaCroix, I still will not kill. I will not yield to the monster you created and nurtured through all these centuries.” The pain was evident in Nick’s words, in his listless voice, in the grimace which pulled his mouth down and narrowed his eyes. “I cannot sacrifice all I’ve built here at the altar of evil erected around you.”
The elder vampire turned from his task. “I will not ask that of you, Nicholas,” LaCroix promised quietly. He gazed steadily into the blue eyes of his son, eyes which once matched his own in fervor and shine, eyes which now - more often than not - regarded him warily and with much distrust. He had a way to go to regain the faith lost so long in the past - not lost, but destroyed by attempts to hold the boy close to his side.
LaCroix sighed, a slight sound like the scudding of a small leaf. “`Tout passé, tout casse, tout losse,’” he muttered to himself.
“Pardon?” Nick asked politely, not sure the comment was meant for his ears.
“Just a passing observation,” LaCroix replied, waving a hand in dismissal. “Come; I have finished here.”
LaCroix led the way to the back of the club, and pushed through the door to his private apartments. A few low candles burned against the dark, illuminating the trellised gate in flickering light. He bade Nick be seated, then went about laying out a slender green bottle and two delicate crystal goblets.
“Will you raise a glass with me, my son?”
The ancient vampire awaited no reply, but poured the crimson liquid into the fine stemware and offered it to his son. Nick was drawn from his seat and to the proffered glass like a moth to flame.
“I am afraid I have none of your preferred potable - unless your tastes have changed?” LaCroix scoffingly arched a dark eyebrow, though it mocked with less sting of late.
Nick reached out and took the glass from the elder vampire, cool fingers touching briefly. He brought the rim under his nose and breathed in the sweet bouquet: a peach caught at the peak of ripeness, overlaid by the warm scent of vanilla. He closed his eyes in ecstasy, the hunger flared to life. With great effort, Nick lowered the goblet and placed it on a table by his side.
“If I did not mention it before,” LaCroix began, regarding the dark liquid in his own glass, “allow me to tell you that I have long saved this vintage for just such an occasion. It was commissioned with you in mind.” LaCroix raised a hand to forestall Nick’s inevitable protests; they were weary-making. “There is no death in this offering,” he assured the young one before him. He held up his glass in a convivial toast, and soon Nick had retrieved his as well, tipping his glass in a similar manner. They drank to their mutual health and, oddly enough, to love. Nick tossed down the contents of the glass in a few gulps, then demandingly held it out to be refilled.
“Your tastes have, indeed, changed,” LaCroix observed wryly.
“That pleases you, does it not?” Nick asked bitterly.
“A father wants what is best for his child,” he replied thoughtfully. “I feel the new strength in you - the vitality long missing from starved muscles. Even you must admit it is a boon in your chosen ‘career’, Nicholas,” LaCroix pointed out.
“In some ways,” Nick answered with a slight frown. He turned away from the older vampire and took a seat near the stone hearth. An ancient lute, dating back to the Middle Ages, rested on its stand. Nick idly ran a hand across the strings, producing a tuneless keening that reflected his depression. The blood helped somewhat, filling him with the vivid abstract color blocks of a painter from the modern school. A well-chosen subject, considering his hobby, yet even a second glass could not erase his doubts or ease his anxiety completely.
LaCroix regarded his son steadily, reading so much into that three word response. At least, age had gained him added insight. At most, it had garnered much pain. It seemed the malaise ran in his bloodline, from evil woman-child to angst-ridden son. He had done for one; now the other must be handled, though not in the same manner, to be sure.
“What does your lovely doctor think of this sudden change in diet?”
Nick turned bleak eyes to LaCroix. “We’ve spoken only briefly in the last couple of days. I didn’t feel the time was right to burden her with this decision,” Nick hedged. “Natalie has something else on her mind.”
“Hmm, I see.” LaCroix rubbed the rim of the glass against a lip as he thought about his response. “She has love on her mind, Nicholas,” his father announced wisely.
Nick was jolted; he sprang from the chair to confront his father. “What makes you say that?”
Instead of answering directly, LaCroix said, “Perhaps it is time to leave this life behind.” He gazed into the bottom of his glass and swirled the remaining liquid, a fortune to be told, before upending the glass and sipping the last of the bloodwine.
“I can’t leave, LaCroix,” Nick protested.
“And the reason for this deep attachment,” LaCroix prodded coolly. When Nick had remained stubbornly silent for several minutes, LaCroix supplied the reason. “You love this mortal, no?”
Though there was no hostility evident in the face or voice of his master, still Nick was wary of his response. “And if I did?”
“Nicholas, don’t you realize how much pain love can cause the vampire heart? Once softened by this emotion, any number of hooks can tether it to a life. We must live as do nomads. To remain sedentary is to court destruction.” Nick shook his head in denial. “Oh, Nicholas … I learned a valuable lesson many centuries ago, centuries before you were born. A man schooled in the art of war taught me this - and I forgot it but once - a man without love surrenders no hostages to Dame Fortune; he is an invincible man. The vampire heart must be inviolate.” LaCroix walked over to Nick and placed fatherly hands on his son’s shoulders. The young one tensed, but did not pull away. “There is danger in these feelings - though not from me, as you fear. This love can only bring pain to you and to your Natalie.” He gave his son a gentle little shake to emphasize his words. “Lovers ride on the razor’s edge of a thin sword - no matter who rocks the blade, all astride feel the bite.” LaCroix squeezed Nick’s shoulder kindly, uncharacteristically, as he finished up his lecture. “Learn this lesson well, my son. Erect a fortress around your heart and let none enter in.”
Nick blinked back to present, an Alannis Morissette ballad blaring out at him from CERK’s all-rock morning broadcast. The words this young mortal woman wrote and sang were wise beyond her years, and so powerful: “You live, you learn / You love, you learn / You cry, you learn …” Exactly the lesson LaCroix had tried to impress upon him. He wouldn’t put it past the sly old Roman to have timed the song to appear in the tape when he knew Nick would be listening to the broadcast. Anything to reinforce his opinions and advice.
Suddenly, a very human fatigue gripped Nick; he forced himself out of the car and up the back stairs to his loft. The detective shrugged out of his blazer and harness, hanging both on the back of a kitchen chair. He pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes and rubbed, struggling to stay awake; the lethargy would not release him. Grabbing the large remote, he pressed a series of buttons: the shutters slid down and sealed for the day; the alarm system was re-activated; and, the answering machine beeped the code for ‘no messages.’ Sighing in disappointment and glaring at the offensive machine in disgust, he tossed the remote on the table beside the phone. Nick wearily climbed the stairs to his bedroom, the effort of flying beyond his waning strength. He slipped from his clothes, trousers and shirt making a soft dark heap at the foot of the bed. Thinking that perhaps a shower would revive him, he entered the bathroom and ran the hot water until steam filled the small room. Though his flesh was warmed by the spray of water, an icy fog still clung to his brain. Skin still damp, hair moist, Nick dragged himself back to the bedroom. He sprawled across the bed, pale skin and hair a sharp contrast against the carnelian sheets. The smooth satin caressed his body and lulled him into a deep, yet dream-filled sleep.
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