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From Solitude

No Man Is An Island

by Amanda Berendt
Copyright 2003

     Medical examiner Natalie Lambert parked her car outside the crime scene tape.  Getting out of the car, she grabbed her bag from the passenger seat and headed toward the flashing lights of the squad cars.  After ducking under the tape and winding her way through the maze of parked police vehicles, she found herself at the center of the commotion - a car that had been wrapped around a large tree by the force of an impact.  The driver’s door hung open where the EMTs had tried to help the victim.
     As she approached the car, she looked around trying to see if Nick was around.  He and Tracy had wrapped up the Larouche case two weeks ago and nothing else had come up, so this should be assigned to their caseload.  She hadn’t spoken to Nick since then - he hadn’t answered her phone calls.  She assumed it was because Janette had returned and he had been dealing with that.  Hopefully, he would be here tonight and they could talk.
     After about ten minutes, she spotted another of the night shift detective teams - Jenkins and Quinn.  She approached Jenkins, “So you guys assigned to this case?”
       Jenkins smiled, “Yeah, you got anything?”
     “So far you’ve got an easy one, everything points to an accident.”
     “Good, looks like it might be an easy night.” Detective Quinn added.
     “Do you guys know if Nick is on tonight?” she asked the two detectives.
     Jenkins answered. “Knight hasn’t been around for a couple of weeks.  I guess he’s finally taking that vacation time.”
     This worried Natalie.  If he hadn’t been at work since the last case, where had he been?  He certainly wasn’t returning her calls.
     Since her shift was just about over, she decided to stop in at the precinct instead of going back to her office.
     As she entered the homicide offices of the 96th Precinct, she saw Captain Reese putting on his coat as he came out of his office.  He smiled as she approached.
     “Dr. Lambert,” he asked. “Did something come up on that accident?”
     “No, captain,” she replied in a voice that turned the conversation serious. “I’m wondering... have you heard from Nick, lately?”
      The captain reacted startled, but quickly recovered.  “What do you mean?  Of course not.  He handed in his resignation two weeks ago.”
     Natalie gasped and her knees felt very weak. “What?”
     Realizing this was a surprise to her, the captain softened.  “Natalie, why don’t you come in and sit down.” he said, putting his hand on her shoulder and guiding her into his office.
     Once inside, he sat in the chair next to her instead of in the chair behind the desk. “I can’t believe you didn’t know.”  This was a huge shock to him, considering everyone in the department, including himself, had thought of the detective and the medical examiner as a couple, even if the pair didn’t realize it themselves.  The idea that Knight had quit without telling her was ridiculous.
     Natalie took a deep breath and finally spoke. “You can’t be serious.  What happened?”
     Reese put his hand on her arm. “He said things had changed and he couldn’t do this anymore.  It was right after that Montreal murder case.  I think I still have a copy of his letter.”  He got up and went to the file cabinet that stood against the far wall.
    Opening the top drawer, he sifted through the files until he came to the one he wanted.  He took the folder out, opened it and removed a single sheet of paper.  As he returned to the chair, he said “I am so very sorry, Natalie.  I thought... well, everyone thought you would have known.  I’m sure some people even thought you might have been part of the reason - that maybe the two of you were finally getting together or something.”  He handed her the paper.
     Taking the single sheet from Reese, Natalie examined it.  In truth, there was nothing remarkable about it.  It was a standard letter of resignation - no letterhead, just a computer printout.  The only thing that made it real for her was Nick’s signature at the end of the letter.
     Not saying anything, she looked up from the letter.  She stood up quickly.  “I have to go.”  Handing the letter back to Reese, she turned away from him, opened the office door and stepped through.
     “Natalie,” he called after her. “If you need anything, we’re here.”
     Natalie sat in her car in the parking lot of the police station.  The keys were in the ignition, but she hadn’t yet started the vehicle.  *How could he do this?*   She had to see for herself if he had indeed left.  Turning the keys, she put the car in gear and pulled out of the lot.
     Less than thirty minutes later, she turned into the gravel parking area in front of Nick’s loft.  The sky was beginning to lighten with the coming dawn.  She parked her car and got out.  When she reached the door next to the garage, she held her breath then punched in the alarm code.  Hearing the lock click open, she let the air out of her lungs.  There was still hope.
     Natalie stepped into the freight elevator and pressed the up button.  As the elevator began it’s ascent, the knot that had been forming in her stomach tightened as she prepared herself for what she might find.  What seemed like hours later, the elevator ground to a halt and she pushed the door open.
     Stepping into the loft, it was strange to see the morning sunlight streaming into the room.  The furniture was just as it should be, but not all of Nick’s personal effects were there.  The piano still stood in the corner, the art supplies were still under the balcony, but she could tell things were missing.  There was emptiness.
     She crossed to the sitting area.  The small black box where he kept the relic still sat on the table next to the couch.  She hesitated for a moment then reached over and opened the box.  It was empty.
     Several hours later, she sat on the couch staring at the cold, empty fireplace.  It felt so lonely here.  She had often joked to Nick about it being a fortress of solitude, but now it truly was.  She didn’t have the heart to search through his things to see exactly what he had taken.  It seemed like a violation of his privacy, although she was pretty certain he would not be returning.  She stood up, gathered her coat and her purse from the couch and walked slowly to the elevator.
     Once outside, she put her coat on.  Even though the sun was now high in the sky, it seemed to be growing colder.  Too much had happened.  If she didn’t go home now and get some sleep, her mind would just shut down.  She got in the car, started the engine and set off toward her apartment building.
     Natalie woke up late that evening.  As she opened her eyes, she at first thought perhaps it had all been a horrible dream, but when the cloudiness of sleep drained away she realized it wasn’t.  She glanced at the digital alarm clock on her nightstand as she eased herself out of bed.  It was eight forty-five.  She was supposed to start her shift at nine thirty.  Knowing there was no way she’d be able to get through an entire shift after what had happened last night, she picked up the cordless phone from the night stand and dialed.
     “Hi... Grace? It’s Natalie.  I think I might be coming down with something... yes, thanks... See you then.”
     Setting the phone back in the cradle, she stood up and went into the bathroom.  When she came out, she felt a little better.  *A warm shower can do wonders for the soul,* she thought.  She changed into a pair of jogging pants and an oversized Blue Jays sweatshirt and went into the living room.
     While she waited for the coffee maker to brew, she went to the window and gazed out over the skyline - or at least the part she could see from her apartment.  The coffee buzzed.  She returned to the kitchen and poured the coffee into a mug she had gotten out of the cabinet.
     Picking up the mug, she went to sit on the couch.  As she sat down, her eyes fell upon a photo of Nick and herself at one of the precinct picnics.  He had his arm around her and they were both smiling broadly.  She couldn’t help it.  She put the mug on the coffee table and covered her face with her hands as the tears began to fall.

     It was after midnight.  The Raven was in the throws of a busy Friday night. Lucien Lacroix sat alone on the last stool at the end of the bar.  The music and lights from the dance floor did not appear to intrude into his thoughts.  He sat staring into the depths of the dark liquid that sat untouched on the bar before him.  He seemed to be radiating some kind of signal, which told those around him not to come near.
     Taking a deep breath, he turned his head to glance at the patrons of the club.  At the other end of the bar stood the Spaniard, Vachon.  He had come in earlier with Detective Tracy Vetter, but now he was talking to the beautiful melancholy Urs.  As though sensing his gaze, the two young vampires looked up, but he turned away before they could meet his eyes.  He didn’t want company.
     During the past few weeks, since Janette had briefly returned, there had been an emptiness inside of him.  There was a feeling of something missing.  It had been far too long since he had seen Nicholas.  He had last come in when he brought that horrible police drawing of the murder suspect that resembled Janette.
     He tried to reach out to his son through the link they shared, but it was no use.  Something was wrong; he should be able to feel Nicholas through their bond.  The ancient vampire stood up from where he sat at the bar.  He must go to Nicholas’ loft to see what had happened.
     Usually enjoying taking to the night sky, he would soar leisurely over the mortal world reveling in his superiority, but tonight was different.  Tonight he wasted no time getting to Nicholas’ apartment.  He stood on the roof, facing the strong March winds and gazed through the skylight. Using his heightened senses, he determined the loft was empty.  Silently, he slipped through the skylight and landed on the upper balcony of the room, right outside the bedroom.
     Everything was in its place, nothing seemed amiss.  He did notice that some things were missing, though.  He slowly walked through the loft, touching the furniture and remaining personal items, trying to get a sense of what may have happened.  Again, he tried to reach out to Nicholas, but nothing was there.  What was wrong?  Nicholas had never been able to block his thoughts or even his location from his master.  Lacroix had conveniently ‘forgotten’ that lesson.  If something had happened to his son, he would have felt it over their link.  But there had been nothing other than the recent trauma of Janette’s death.  Perhaps Nicholas had left, unable to cope with the loss, but still there should be something.
     After going through the entire loft, searching everywhere for some kind of sign of what happened, he found himself standing in front of the ornate fireplace mantel.  Nicholas had stood here many times pondering one thing or another.  Lacroix ran his fingers over the carvings of the dragon.  It would soon be dawn.  He sat down on the black leather couch. Leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, he sat pensively, his hands folded as if in silent prayer.
     “Oh Nicholas,” he said out loud to the empty room. “What have you done?”
     The ancient vampire leaned back into the soft leather.  He closed his eyes and let the darkness envelop him.  Outside the darkness began to yield to the dawn.
     The room was dark once more when Lacroix opened his eyes.  For a moment he didn’t realize where he was, but as he awakened the night’s events of the previous night returned.  Once again he tried to reach out for his son, and was not surprised when he discovered it was in vain.
     He rose to his feet and crossed to the refrigerator.  A sly smile spread across his mouth when he looked at the painting which hung over the appliance - it was called “The Yawning Apprentice” or some such nonsense, but it could easily be misconstrued as a scream.  Was this supposed to mirror the torture Nicholas put himself through when he fed?  Shaking his head, Lacroix opened the fridge and took out one of the green bottles.  He selected a glass goblet from the shelf above the counter and filled it with the dark liquid.  He took a small sip from the glass and grimaced.  *This* would definitely have to be changed.
     He retraced his steps from the previous evening, occasionally sipping from the goblet.  As he walked through the rooms, he made a mental note when he noticed something was missing.  Once more, he finished his exploration in the main room in front of the fireplace.  He was surprised Nicholas had not taken the mantle.  But it seemed as though only small items were taken.  A thought came to mind as he placed the glass on the coffee table.  He stepped over to the small end table and opened the black lacquer box that sat alone on the table.  It was empty.
     Lacroix picked up the remote from the coffee table and lit a fire in the fireplace.  He then opened the metal shutters.  Returning the remote to the table, he stepped over to the window and gazed out over lights of the city.  He would stay here in this city for now. Here in this place where so much had happened.  He had come here to be with his children and now they were gone.  He drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly.  He turned away from the window.  He was truly alone for the first time in almost a thousand years.

     The sun was barely breaking over the horizon, making the crests of the waves sparkle as they crashed onto the rocky shore.  Clouds still remaining from the storm during the night seemed to glow from the reflections of the sun’s light.
     A lone figure was perched on one of the large rocks, which lined the coast.  The man sat crouched on the highest point.  He had been in the same place every morning for almost six months.  Every morning he would arrive in the darkness upon his black steed, climb to the highest rock and wait for the dawn to come.  He would be there even when it was overcast or raining.  The sun would rise behind the clouds and he would be there to greet it.
     This morning, as the sky continued to lighten, the man closed his eyes and let the warm morning light caress his fair skin and golden hair.  It seemed as though the sunlight became a part of him.  He sat there, upon the boulder, for another hour or so, watching the sunrise into the sky.  When it was fully above the horizon, he stood, brushed the sand from his khaki slacks and white cotton shirt and climbed down onto the beach below.
     Instead of returning to his horse that waited by the rambling fence at the edge of the beach, he decided to walk along the water.  Today was going to be a beautiful day, he thought.  This was the kind of day he’d been waiting so long to be a part of.  As this thought crossed his mind, a wave of sadness crossed his face.
     This had happened so quickly.  Janette had returned to Toronto.... mortal.  She had come to his apartment that night and it had gone further than either of them had expected.  Although she was mortal, he had been able to control the vampire inside of him when he was with her.  He wouldn’t deny that she had truly loved Robert, but there had always been a connection between Janette and himself - something that went beyond mortality and immortality.
     The thought of Janette made him stop.  He looked out over the water and drew in a deep breath of the fresh sea air.  His stomach grumbled.  Looking at his watch, he saw that it was almost noon.  He turned back the way he had come, and followed his footsteps in the sand.  When he reached the fence, he stopped to put on his boots, then stood and stroked the silky black mane of the large black horse.
     “Hello, Tristan.”  He said kindly as the horse nuzzled his shoulder.  “Yes, we’re going home now.”  Tristan shook his head as if nodding in agreement.  His long black mane trailing behind him in the off shore breeze.
     He mounted the horse and headed off away from the beach.  Surprisingly, the countryside had changed very little.  Of course there were the modern conveniences of telephone lines and the occasional plane flying overhead, but otherwise it was very much the same.  He felt at peace riding Tristan.  He could pretend that so much time hadn’t passed and so many things hadn’t happened.  It was just the two of them.  Two lonely souls riding through the midday sun.
     Reaching the estate, or at least what was left of it, he dismounted the horse and led him to the makeshift stable.  He had hired some local carpenters to build it when he first came back.  The wooden shelter would do until the permanent stables could be erected.  When he reemerged from the shelter, he looked at the main building.  The first floor was still standing, but the upper floors were in the midst of reconstruction.  It had been six months and the architects and stonemasons were well on their way to rebuilding his family home.  The local towns were quite pleased since he had agreed to let it be toured when it was complete.  He had explained he was a descendant of the original family and had just recently discovered its existence.  Officially the project was being funded by The Foundation.  Upon entering the house, the contrast was amazing. Yes, the outside was well on its way, but the interior was a long way from completion.  Now, it was just barely habitable.  He was living in only two rooms off the main hall.  It would probably take years to fully furnish the home.
     Leaving Tristan in the care of the local boy he had hired as a stable hand, he headed toward the manor house. The workers smiled and waved as he crossed the grass from the stable to the main building. He nodded a greeting, but his mind was far away.
     The evening had come and the workers and stonemasons had all returned to their homes in the nearby village. The architects and historians had returned with them to the lodging houses where they were staying during the project.  He was alone.
     After lighting the fire in the great stone fireplace, he sat before it in a large leather armchair letting his mind wander.  The beautiful flames dancing in the hearth before him became, in his mind, the deadly flames climbing the curtains and enveloping the curtains of the suburban Toronto home.  She lay bleeding on the floor and gasping for air in the smoke-filled room.
     “I can bring you across, Janette.” he as said frantically, kneeling over her prone form.
     “No.” came the breathless reply.
     The flames were threatening to overcome them.  He lifted her in his arms, he heart wrenching as she cried out in pain, and took off into the night.  Moments later he landed on the roof of the loft.  He lifted the skylight with his foot and dropped down onto the main floor.
     He knelt down in front of the ornate fireplace, cradling Janette in his arms.  Tears tinged with red began to roll down his cheeks.
     “Oh, God no,” he cried.  “Please, Janette, don’t leave me.”
     As he held her, he felt her body relax.  She took a final breath and released it as she slumped against his chest.  He pulled her even closer; the pain inside of him was unbearable.  It was as if eight centuries of guilt, anger and pain were welling up inside of him at once.  He could no longer endure it.  A roar erupted from his throat, releasing all of the despair he had carried within himself for so long.
     As the scream died into the night, his body fell next to Janette and he lay there exhausted.
     A log crashed in the fireplace, jarring him back to the present.  He blinked away the tears forming in response to the memory.  A single crystal tear escaped down his cheek.  He wiped it away as he stood up to attend to the fire.
     After tending the fire, he returned to his chair near the hearth.  For some unknown reason, his mind flashed to himself and Natalie sitting together in front of the ornate fireplace in his loft.  He shook his head, trying to clear the image from his mind.  He had truly thought that she was the one to rid him of the monster he had carried inside of him for so long.  But it was Janette who had been the one to grant his wish.  In her attempt to reaffirm the vampire in herself, she had obtained mortality and had, in turn, unwittingly granted it to him.  The vampire had left him along with the grief and rage when Janette had died in his arms.
     After believing for so long that Natalie had been the one to help him, he couldn’t bear to tell her what had happened.  So in his grief, he had resigned from the precinct and returned here to his first home.  He had not spoken to anyone - not Tracy, not Natalie, not even Lacroix.
     Lacroix would know what had happened, of course.  He would have felt the break in their connection.  Perhaps his master was even searching for him now.  But Natalie.... what must she think?  The last time he had seen her was when he had brought Janette to the lab to be treated for the gunshot wound.  She had listened in disbelief as Janette described how she had become mortal.
     Turning away from the warmth of the fire, he went over to the newly installed front windows.  They were modern versions of the original style - diamond cuts of glass held together by leading - but they were now insulated to current standards.  He gazed out into the night, thinking again of Janette - her beauty, her grace.  When the tears came again, he let them fall unchecked.  He had not let himself grieve.  He had been hiding his feelings for far too long.
     When he awoke the next morning, he had a crick in his neck from sleeping in the armchair.  The ashes still smoldered from the evening’s fire.  Looking up at the mantle, his eyes fell upon the portrait of Janette she had had commissioned by Leonardo.  Leaning against the dark wooden frame was Joan’s cross.  *Faith... pure, simple faith,* her voice came out of his memories.
       Feeling his muscles protest as he got up, he went into the back room that was serving as his bedroom.  He took a shower and changed into clean clothes.
     Returning to the living room, he stood once more in front of the fireplace.  He placed his hand on the carved wooden box that sat on the mantle below Janette’s portrait.  Taking a deep breath then slowly letting hit out, he took the box off the mantle. Then he kissed his fingers and touched them to the cross.  *I DO have faith* Tucking the box under his arm, he left the room and went outside.
     It was very early.  The sky was only showing the smallest hint of the coming dawn.  The workmen had not yet arrived.  He went to the stable and smiled as Tristan greeted him with a whinny and a shake of the head.  He took a carrot from the cabinet near the stall and gave the horse the treat.  After a few moments of petting, he saddled the horse and led him outside.
     Placing the box safely in the saddlebag, he mounted the horse and headed off towards the coast.  The morning would be clear and beautiful.
 He tied Tristan to the usual post of the fast degrading fence and took the box out of the saddlebag.  This morning, though, instead of heading towards the large boulders, he walked out onto the flat expanse of sand.  When he got to the water’s edge, he took off his shoes and socks and sat down on the cool sand, carefully placing the box on the ground next to him.  He sat with his arms resting on his knees and waited.
     The light of the sun grew brighter on the horizon and the tips of the waves began to sparkle.  As the sun rose higher in the sky, he stood up taking the box in his hands.  The morning breeze blew through his hair as he waded out into the water, not caring that his pants were getting wet.  When the water level was at his knees, he stopped.  The breeze was growing stronger.  Perfect, he thought.
     Holding the small wooden box in front of him, he slowly opened the lid.  The fine gray powder inside stirred slightly as the wind blew across the open box.  As he took a deep breath, a tear slid down his cheek, followed by another.  It was time.
     Taking some of the ash into his palm, he raised his hand toward the sky letting the breeze carry it away.  Once more he took some of the ashes into his hand and released them into the wind.  Tears were streaming down his face, glistening in the morning sun.
     When the box was empty, he closed the lid once more and fastened the latch.  He wiped his eyes and drew in a breath of the clean coastal air.
     Holding the empty box to his lips, he kissed it tenderly and whispered “Goodbye Janette.  I love you.”  Then he threw the box with all of his strength toward the sun.
     Returning to the shore, he sat again on the cool sand.  Wiping the remaining tears from his cheeks, he gazed out at the rising sun and smiled.  This sunrise was different.  He was not sitting here remembering the past, this mooring he was looking toward the future.  This sunrise was a new beginning.