Chapter 5: Remember When
Nick shivered against the cold concrete behind him. He was currently chained spread-eagled against the hard surface, and there was a contraption in his mouth and on his head that kept him from speaking easily. He had tried to grasp the chains, but the crosses hanging from them prevented that. A blindfold covered his eyes, and he also had a linty piece of cloth wedged on top of the device and taped in.
For what had seemed to be hours, and in spite of the crosses, Nick had strained against the restraints, but they didn't budge. The waiting alone was agony. He couldn't see, couldn't speak, could barely even breathe because of the titanium bands placed around his chest that held him to the wall.
Cold seeped into him. His kind was naturally a little cooler than humans, but the bone-aching cold of his surroundings got harder and harder to bear. Everything hurt. After a few hours, he stopped moving as much as he possibly could--every movement sent waves of dizziness through him and made him want to throw up.
The drugs that they had first given him had worn off, leaving even more queasiness. The bindings on his mouth, however, prevented that, so he was forced to keep swallowing his last bloody meal over and over again. At least he didn't feel like he has stepped directly into the sunlight anymore. He groaned softly around the bindings and wished that he were home.
"Hello, Nicky-boy" It was the same, high, taunting voice that had come to him and let him talk to LaCroix. "We've already talked to *papa*," it sing-songed. "Now it's time to try something a bit different."
A small, strong hand grabbed one of his arms and turned it out before injecting something into it. Nick gasped as fire scorched through his veins--the pain was worse than what had accompanied the first dose ofLitovuterine-B. He gasped for air, but was unable to draw in enough through his bindings. The fiery pain was replaced with a blessed coldness that seemed to numb his entire body. He felt himself start to drift away… until the visions began.
Over and over again, he saw the worst humanity had to offer--nightmare images that multiplied the horrors he had seen in his long life by a factor of five. One common thread held them together--Natalie was always among the victims. He saw the German death camps in the aftermath of WWII, with piles of ravaged bodies that all bore Natalie's face. He saw bloody civil war battles, the Haun's Creek Massacre, and many other scenes of senseless carnage.
Next came things that might have been; Natalie as a victim of Roger Jameson, Natalie killed in a car wreck, Natalie being sucked dry by Spark, LaCroix ripping her head from her shoulders. Nick screamed through the fabric as the images progressed in a seemingly unending circle of death and despair.
"You will *suffer*, Nicky-boy," the voice said. "Just as I have suffered--all because you didn't save me." The voice laughed; it was the sound of a person on the verge of losing sanity. Nick couldn't answer. Anguish followed pain in a sickening procession, until the lines of reality blurred, and all he knew were the horrific images in his mind.
LaCroix glared balefully at the phone before turning his attention back to Natalie. He didn't like the circles under her eyes, nor the way she seemed to be using what little energy she had in worrying. It was almost as if his son's health reflected upon hers. If Natalie was any indication, Nicholas was in trouble. She had steadily grown paler until she looked bad even for a vampire, and the circles under her eyes were growing deeper.
He tipped her face up to his. "Natalie" he hissed, his eyes beginning to grow gold.
"Hmm?" she looked at him blearily. "Want to sleep."
He glanced around quickly, glad that the Captain had been forced to leave by a call of nature. LaCroix grabbed a Styrofoam coffee cup and quickly tore into his wrist, squeezing his blood into the receptacle. "Drink, Natalie," he ordered.
"Not thirsty," she said, her eyes beginning to close.
He opened the link between them to its fullest and enforced his will. "*Drink*," he ordered.
Natalie listlessly took the cup, and drank down the blood. She held it out to him. "More?" she asked weakly.
LaCroix repeated the process, hoping that if what he suspected was true, then the blood he was feeding her would help Nicholas. He hadn't realized that their health was so interconnected, and he was surprised that the Chroniclers and Archivists hadn't realized that, too. He took the cup from Natalie's flaccid hand as her eyelids drifted shut.
With a grimace of annoyance, LaCroix carefully guided her head into his lap and began to stroke her hair. She was family--and she was *his*. If something happened to her, it was becoming abundantly clear that something would happen to Nicholas. And if the kidnapper somehow managed to destroy both of them, the Council would make his eternity miserable for the next few centuries.
In many ways, caring for his Nicholas' Natalie reminded him of his own son's infancy. Given that it was now nighttime hours, her behavior was unusual for a newborn vampire, but he decided that it was whatever his son's captors had given him. He could feel the pain through their link--it was more than enough to make him vow revenge on the perpetrator. *Nobody* was allowed to hurt his possessions.
Vampires were not easy toys to break. His son was resilient, but he knew that eventually anyone could be broken. It didn't take 2000 years to learn that. Nicholas had learned how to adapt at an early age. LaCroix half-closed his eyes and allowed himself to remember.
LaCroix rode up to the castle, dismounted, and threw his reins to a servant with one hand, while he held the boy close to him with the other. "See that my horse gets fed and watered," he ordered curtly. "I have business with the Duke." He settled the child more comfortably in his arms and strode towards the entrance.
LaCroix pulled aside the nearest servant. "I require an audience with the Duke," he said gruffly.
"I'm sorry, Milord, but the Duke was called to court two weeks agone.," the servant said, pulling his forelock. "His chatelaine is in residence, will she or his steward do?"
"Be quick about it," LaCroix growled before looking down at Nicolas. The boy stirred and cuddled closer to him in his sleep--his face still buried in LaCroix's tunic.
"It may be a while, Milord," the servant said, tugging his forelock again. "Three of the Duke's children have been found murdered, while the fourth is missing."
LaCroix glared at the man, then nodded to the child in his arms. "What do you think this is about?" he inquired.
The servant's eyes widened and he motioned for LaCroix to follow him. "Milord, if you'll just come with me, I'll fetch both of them."
LaCroix grimaced, but did as he was bid. The sooner he could return the child, the sooner he could be on his way. He never thought that he'd come to the aid of a mortal, but there was something winning about the boy--even in his terrified state. If Janette were older, and the boy older, he might even have made Nicolas into his son. After all, what man did *not* long for a son, even if he had a beautiful daughter?
The servant led him into a hall before attempting to take Nicolas from him. A single glare stopped the man, and he withdrew, murmuring that he would fetch the boy's mother. LaCroix sat down on a nearby bench and settled the sleeping boy in his lap. Nicolas stirred, then began to thrash, as if a nightmare had taken over. "Shhh," he whispered, stroking the child's hair. "You are safe, Nicolas." The child moved closer, and threw an arm around the vampire's neck. LaCroix stiffened for a moment before he allowed himself to savor the feeling of the small, warm, mortal body pressed willingly against him. It had been a long time since anyone had come so close without some form of coercion.
He stroked the child's hair, hoping to keep him asleep. After all, it would be easier to give him back to his keepers if he did not awaken. LaCroix looked up from Nicolas as a woman entered. She hurried over to them, giving time for him to notice the tearstains on her face and her slightly rumpled cote.
Frantically, she looked at the child in his arms. "Milord, have you found my son?" she asked.
"Perhaps," he said, inclining his head. "Or perhaps I have found an orphan to raise as my own son." His face was unreadable as he pronounced the last sentence. The boy was hurting, and his keepers deserved some payback for allowing his sibs to be murdered in front of him. It had been a long time since he had played with his food for the sheer pleasure of playing with them-and this time, there was cause.
The woman bit her lip. "My name is Elaine de Brabant--my son, Nicolas, has been missing, and his brothers and sister have been found murdered."
He could see tears in her eyes as she admitted this fact. "And how could their keepers be so careless as to allow that?" he inquired blandly.
Her face hardened. "I do not know, milord, but as soon as Milord Duke comes back from court, whoever did this will *pay*." Her _expression softened as she looked at the child in his arms. "Have you found my Nicolas?" she asked again, staring at the little one in his arms. "His face is hidden from me."
LaCroix shook the boy's shoulder gently. "Nicolas," he called.
Nicolas's eyes opened slowly as he woke, and he started to look around. "Maman*?" he said, noticing the woman.
She picked him up from LaCroix's lap and covered his face with kisses. "Mon bel Nicolas**," she whispered. "Thank God."
LaCroix stood as if to leave and the boy wiggled free of his mother's grasp. He ran over to the vampire and wrapped himself around his leg. "Don't leave, milord," the child begged.
LaCroix placed his hand on Nicolas's head. "I must leave soon, child--it is a long way to Paris."
"You must at least stay with us overnight," Lady Elaine said. "The hour grows late, and the roads are not safe. We must also be allowed to properly thank you for bringing Nicolas home."
"Please?" Nicolas looked up at him, his blue eyes pleading. "The men who killed my sibs can't hurt me if you're here."
LaCroix sighed and ruffled the child's hair. "I will stay," he said finally. "I will leave tomorrow at dusk."
LaCroix opened his eyes to find Reese staring at him curiously. "What is it, *Captain*?"
"There's no record of your military career," Reese said bluntly.
"If there was, then it wouldn't be *classified*, now would it?" LaCroix asked, amused. "What are you doing to find my son, *Captain*?"
"We have patrols out looking, but so far they've come up empty--the best we can do is wait for the next call." Reese answered.
"Since I must leave this in civilian hands, *find* him," LaCroix hissed before turning his attention back towards Natalie and ignoring Nicholas's annoying boss. His son must have obtained a greater control over his temper than he, himself had--he would have drained the irritating man a long time ago. Then again, he'd met Nicholas's old partner, Skanke. If the irritating little man had been an associate of his, the man might not have survived an entire night. He could hear his son's boss saying something in the background, but he refused to listen. He examined the good doctor and frowned as he noticed how bad her breathing was. Nicholas had better be found soon, or the Council would follow through with their promise.
Daniel skipped gleefully around the room and laughed. His new toy was proving to be more fun than he had imagined. It had taken almost all of his resources to obtain his plaything, and he was overjoyed at the result. Hungry, he grabbed the bottle from the small table and drank down its contents before dropping to the floor to play with his electric train set.
Lucinda was due in a few minutes to give him his lessons, and she didn't know about his new possession yet. He'd give it back--but only when he was ready. With a joyous laugh, he crashed the train into an obstacle, then moved on to find his fire truck. He ran it around the floor for a few minutes, happily running over small figurines of people and animals. Daniel jumped up as she entered the room. "Hello, Lucinda," he said quietly.
"Danny-boy, it's time for your painting lesson," she reminded him gently. "Come, you wanted to further your education by staying here for a few months, did you not?"
He nodded wordlessly and followed her as she turned to leave. It wouldn't hurt to be obedient right now, because he didn't want her to find out about his latest acquisition. Not yet, anyway.
* Maman. Mother.
** Mon bel Nicolas. My beautiful Nicholas.