Parents & Children

By David J. Duncan
April 2001

Note: Nick, Nat, LaCroix, Schanke, Tracy, Alyce, Daniel, Divia, Vachon, Fleur, Henry of Brabant, and Janette are from the show "Forever Knight" which is owned by Sony Tri-Star. Xena, Gabrielle, Joxer, Eve/Livia, the Amazons, and Ares are from "Xena Warrior Princess which was created by Rob Tapert and John Schulian and is owned by Renaissance Studios, MCA/Universal and StudiosUSA. All other characters are mine and are fictional. Any use of real names is purely coincidental.

Advisement to the Reader: There are some scenes of physical abuse in this story.  Just thought you would like to know.  Thanks!

Comments?: Please send comments to dante0220@yahoo.com
 

Chapter 1

The sun had recently set over Tucson's western mountains, allowing the nocturnal shroud to descend upon the Sonoran Desert once again. Marvin Lowmiller opened the door to his twelfth street apartment just south of the university. It had been an extremely hard day at work between the meetings, disagreements with his bickering co-workers, and an animated argument with his boss. After all of that, he wanted to relax and have a drink. He walked over to the refrigerator and pulled on the handle. As if in protest, the door to the ancient appliance creaked open.

Reaching toward the pitcher of Tequila Sunrise left over from the night before, he promised himself, "Just one glass. I'll just have one...."

Pouring himself a glass, he collapsed into his dilapidated recliner and guzzled his refreshment before pouring himself another....
 

Three hours and the whole pitcher later, the angry man dozed in an alcoholic stupor. This was his time of peace and quiet. Nobody yelling at him...no bratty kid...no crabby ex-wife...nor anybody else. He snored loudly, not caring if he disturbed anyone.

At this point, the door opened again. Lowmiller's son, Raymond, crept nervously into the room. Seeing his father sleeping on the couch, the kid hoped he could get to his room in peace. The bruises from the previous night's beating still ached on his arms and right side. Moving as lightly as he could, Ray tiptoed toward his bedroom door.

The father slowly opened his eyes at a particularly loud creak. "Ray, is that you, Boy?"

"Y...Yes, Dad," the boy stammered. "I just got home from school."

Lowmiller frowned. He knew that his son's classes had ended two hours before. The guidance counselors were probably filling his young head with foolish ideas about parental abuse. Well, this would end. Now. "Late again, huh? Stupid! Didn't I tell you 'bout that?" he slurred angrily.

"S...Sorry," Ray trembled, his hair standing on end in fearful anticipation of another beating.

The older man rose with great effort from his chair. "C'mere!"

"I didn't...." Ray protested.

"Damn it! Don't lie to me!" Lowmiller scowled and struck his son across the face hard.

The boy recoiled, his lip bloodied, and the tears streaming down his cheeks. The throbbing began in his side again. Ray, to his credit, realized there was no reasoning with his father on this night. The man was too drunk to care what happened. Grabbing his coat, he ran from the dwelling and ran straight north as if the hounds of Hell were on his tail.

With the coming of night, Alyce Harris rose from her bed with a groan. The night before, she had performed preliminary research on several exhibits for the museum. Progress reports were due by the following evening to the main curator.

"Oh well," she sighed to herself. "You wanted to be the night curator." She looked at her watch and remembered the dinner appointment that she had with David and Angie Dubois. "I'll just make it to the café." After selecting a brown business suit with a white blouse, the immortal academic opened a window, and took off into the evening sky.

***

Dave sighed deeply and reclined in his office chair. It happened. It had finally happened. When Jerry Thomas, the longtime Europeanist had retired from the History Department, he had recommended that Dave take his place. And with an offer like that, how could he refuse?

"Yup, this is going to be great!" he thought contentedly and took another sip from his bottle of Pepsi One. For the hundredth time, he scrutinized the syllabus for the Crusades seminar. Everything seemed in order, which of course, he knew was true. The bookstore had told him they had received the texts. The other readings sat on the reserve room shelf downstairs, awaiting his students, who he knew from the class list, were the best the department had to offer. "What else could a professor want?"

Just then, a knock came from the door. Reaching out with his psychic senses, he determined the visitor's identity immediately. "Come in, Princess. The door's open," he chuckled to his wife.

Angie smiled warmly as she entered the office. "Can't I surprise you about anything?" she teased, although she didn't mind Dave's elatedness. After all of his dark moods, she certainly wasn't going to do anything to ruin the moment. Rather than say anything else, she walked over and kissed his cheek.

"Well, since I can't read your mind, you can tell me. Anything earth shattering?" he asked.

"Other than the fact that Alyce and Eve are waiting to meet us for dinner, no...I don't think so. Let's get a move on," she declared.

"Yes'm," he stated and picked up his satchel. "Now, shall we?"

"We shall," she giggled and led him out the door.

Alyce landed just behind the museum. From here, it was only a short walk over to the restaurant, and she would have a few
minutes to check her email. She walked around to the front of the building and admired the student traffic going through the
Speedway underpass. Several students waved to her, and she returned the greeting. Yes, she was definitely glad that she had
settled in the Old Pueblo.

Then, as she turned to make her way up the stairs, her enhanced hearing picked up on a peculiar voice. A young boy sobbed
miserably from within the museum. Fearing the worst, she raced up the stairs and into the lobby of the building. Sweeping the
marble-walled lobby, she sought out the sound's source. Peering under the twisting staircase, she found him cringing in terror
and nursing his bruises. "Are you all right?"

He crawled further back into the space. "Don't hurt me...." he sobbed.

She exhaled deeply. Who could have done this to the boy? Well, she needed to find out. "I'm not going to hurt you. I just want
to know your name. Just your name."

Ray looked at the strange woman anxiously. Something about her indicated that he could trust her. "I...I'm Ray."

Alyce smiled warmly, "Thank you, Ray. My name is Alyce. Can I get you something?"

"A glass of water...p...please," he requested skittishly.

"Certainly," she nodded and walked over to the nearby fountain. Pulling a paper cup from the dispenser beside it, she filled it
and brought it to him. "There you go."

"Th...Thank you," he sighed deeply and gulped the drink nervously.

She studied the young man carefully. With her senses, she could tell that he was extremely agitated and, from the faint gurgling
sounds in his stomach, he was hungry. "Ray," she asked. "Have you eaten anything today?"

"Well, I...had a piece of toast this morning," he replied, eyeing her suspiciously. "Why? You're not going to take me to jail! I
didn't do anything! Honest!"

The curator backed up and reassessed the situation. Obviously, somebody had beaten the young man within an inch of his life
and left him afraid of his own shadow. Something needed to be done, but first, he needed to eat dinner. "No, I'm not going to
take you to jail. Please relax, Ray. You haven't done anything."

"Then what...?" he probed.

She sighed despondently and continued. "I'm meeting some friends for dinner. Would you like to come with me?"

He tensed, "If I go back out there, he'll find me!"

"Who will find you? Can we call your parents?" she inquired curiously.

"No!" he protested. "My Mom's in Albuquerque. She doesn't know about this situation. My Dad ...well...I've been bad. He
keeps me in line, but it's for my own good.... If you call him, he'll beat me for sure!"

"But isn't he worried about you?" Alyce countered.

He snickered cynically, "Nah, he's too drunk to care about much of anything. But, if you call him, he'll beat me." Then, the
wild-eyed fearful look returned to his eyes. "Please, Miss Alyce, I'll go with you, but don't call him...."

"What did you do that he had to hit you?" she asked.

"M...My teachers wanted me to stay after school. I called and left a message at home. But, I guess he was too trashed to care,"
he shuddered. "When I got home, he was already drunk and...he ...." Overcome by anguish, he began to sob uncontrollably.
"H...Help me, please...."

"Well, first, we're going to go eat. Then, if you would like, we can call your mother," she offered.

"Th...Thank you," the boy gasped and hugged his new friend tightly.

"Shh...It's going to be all right," she assured him. "Now, let's get to the café."

"O...Okay," he relented and followed close behind her.

Fifteen minutes later, Dave, Angie, and Eve sat around an old oak table, waiting for Alyce to join them. Everyone had been
involved with complicated reports, long meetings, and midterms. A good dinner followed by a long sleep was on everyone's
agenda. What they didn't know was that the evening would be far from relaxing....

Angie looked at her menu curiously. There were so many yummy choices. They would bring dinner home for the girls. Deirdre
loved tuna and the twins liked chicken salad. They had been so good lately, putting up with their parents' long hours. Francesca
was spending quality time with them so they wouldn't feel neglected. But, as for herself, she needed to decide on an entrée.
"Dave, what do you think?"

The newly-minted History professor looked up from his menu. "Hmm? About what?"

"Dinner, Dummy, what else?" she teased.

He gave her hand a playful squeeze. "The roast beef melt looked really good, Princess. Either that or the lamb stew."

"The stew sounds great," she agreed. "Eve?"

Her friend looked up at her. The Religion professor could sometimes be confused by Angie's questions. On the one hand, she
was her colleague. On the other hand, due to the fact that the spirit of her mother, Xena, resided inside of Angie, the meaning
could be maternal as well. "I'm going with the Greek salad."

"That sounds great," he agreed and looked around for Alyce. He sensed her presence coming into the restaurant. But, she
wasn't alone. Somebody with pain...great pain....His scalp went numb and he winced.

Angie hugged her husband's shoulders. "Hey, are you...?" she asked anxiously.

"No...I'm not," he smoldered.

Eve saw Alyce approaching the table with a young boy, but recoiled at the latter's condition. "Eli, have mercy," she whispered.

The oncologist noticed their friend approaching them. A split second later, she felt Ray's pain as well. Now, she knew what was
causing Dave's latest fit. Something was very wrong here....

"Hi, everyone," Alyce greeted. "Sorry I'm late, but I met somebody on the way here. This is Ray. Ray, these people are friends
of mine. Meet Eve Messenger, Angie Dubois, and David Dubois."

"Hi there," Eve greeted.

"Nice to meet you, Ray," Angie smiled.

Dave looked up and nodded. With great effort, he managed to keep the Child in check. "Please join us. Are you from around
here?"

"Yes, Sir. I live pretty close by," the boy replied.

Dave considered his new friend's words carefully. There was the nagging feeling pervading his consciousness.... "And your
folks...Are they working right now?"

Ray bit his lip nervously. For some reason, this man was playing with him and his eyes seemed to penetrate right into the latter's
skull. Just who was this creepy guy anyway?

Angie stared at her husband anxiously, wondering what he was trying to gain.

He gave her a comforting pat on the shoulder and continued, "Don't worry, Son. I'm not going to report you. I was just
wondering if we should help you get some medical attention."

"No! I'll be fine. Honest!" the young man protested. He knew there would be questions if they went to the hospital.

From within Dave's head, the Child moaned fretfully. He knew the signs...even if Ray wouldn't admit it. The bruises, the
downtrodden look, the skittish/frightened puppy attitude...the young man was being abused. "Are your parents at home so we
can call them?"

"My mother lives in Albuquerque. After the divorce, my Dad and I came here. He works hard all day and comes home. I try to
leave him alone, but...." Ray sighed.

"But what...?" Alyce inquired.

"But, I'm a bad kid," Ray continued.

Angie shot him an incredulous look. "Excuse me, Ray, but you don't seem to be the type. Who would tell you that?"

"Your father, right?" Dave added knowingly.

Ray jumped back in his seat nervously. "N...No, he wouldn't!"

"Then who?" Dave continued. "I agree with Angie. You seem like a really nice guy. Trust me, you don't have to take that from
anyone."

"But...but, fathers have to keep discipline..." the boy blurted out. Then, realizing his slip, he clammed up and sat there, arms
folded, and a glare aimed back at the History professor. "Besides, how would you know?"

The man across the table smiled uneasily at the question. "Because, I've been there, Kid. And no, keeping discipline doesn't
give anyone the right to beat on you physically, mentally, or emotionally." A shudder shot through Dave, and a tear drizzled
down his left cheek.

Ray scratched his head perplexedly and turned to Alyce. "Is he okay?"

The curator assessed the situation and shook her head, "No, Ray. He's not. He's had long standing problems of his own."

"But...but, it's nothing that you did," Dave assured his young acquaintance and steeled himself. "Now, let's get something to eat."

"What do you think I should get?" Ray probed.

"Anything you want," Angie commented. "It's our treat."

"Th...Thank you," the boy stated appreciatively and looked over the menu for his choice as the waitress approached.

Chapter 3

Nick looked around the bullpen. So far, so good...no sign of Ramirez. The captain had been on edge for the last few evenings.
Consequently, the vampire detective wanted no part of his superior. He made his way to his desk just as the phone rang.

"Miles," he replied.

"Hi, Nick. It's Nat. Listen, are you, Trace, and Schank ready for those results? I just finished the report," Natalie informed him.

He spied Schanke and Tracy entering the area and signaled for them to join him. "Sure, we'll be right down. Give us a minute."

"Great! See you then!" Nat concluded and hung up.

Schanke leaned over the desk and asked, "What's up, Nick? Was that Nat?"

Nick nodded, "Indeed. She has the Reilly report ready downstairs."

"Good. I'll tell ya, I'll be glad to get this case put to bed," the paunchy detective fretted, looking over his shoulder.

"I know what you mean," Tracy concurred. "Now, let's see that report...."

Natalie stirred a beaker of orange liquid with a wooden spoon. The file was indeed ready, but she had finished her latest
treatment for Nick's condition. Six months of hard work had gone into this mixture, but this time, they might have it licked. She
held the beaker to the light. The artificial hemoglobin had a special mixture of Vitamin A byproducts and donor white blood cells
contained with it. The coroner was particularly pleased with the cherry taste.

Then, she felt the telltale feeling, letting her know Nick was close by. "Nick?"

"Yeah, it's me, Nat," he answered. "Along with Trace and Schank. What do you have for us?"

The ME slipped into her official role. "Emily Reilly was stabbed and poisoned."

Schanke and Tracy looked at each other. They hadn't seen any stab wounds on the victim. Finally, Tracy asked, "So, how?"

Natalie smiled mischievously. Sometimes it was fun when you had the
answers. "I was just as mystified as you until I did the blood work."

"And?" Schanke urged.

"And, there was enough curare in her to kill twenty mortals," Nat continued, giving Nick a glance. "The needle mark was
beneath the third fingernail on her right hand."

"So, the curare killed her? I thought that stuff only worked on vampires," Tracy winced, recalling what Vachon had told her.

"Curare only has a tranquilizing effect on us, Tracy. It's a deadly poison for mortals," Nick noted while looking at the beaker
resting on Natalie's desk.

Natalie handed the folder to Schanke and chuckled at her immortal friend's discovery. "Yes, Nick. It is."

Tracy verbally nudged, "It's what?"

"Another of her food supplements," Nick winced, already feeling his stomach protesting at the thought of the previous attempts.

"Oh come on, Nick. At least try it," Natalie shook her head.

Tracy grinned, "Go on, Nick. Take your medicine like a man."

Schanke shook his head at the blonde detective beside him. "Tracy, there's no need to rub it in." Then, he assured Nick, "If you
need anything, Bud. I'm here."

"I know," Nick smiled and set his jaw. Picking up the beaker, he fought the urge to dump it down the sink.

Everyone watched him anxiously.

"Down the hatch," he sighed and guzzled the concoction. For a long minute, he waited for the usual nausea.

"So?" Natalie asked.

"I feel fine...." Nick told her. "In fact, I...."

"What?" Natalie insisted. "Nick?"

The vampire doubled over in pain as the delayed nausea hit him. He reached the sink and surrendered his last feeding to
Tucson's sewage system.

"Hey," Schanke stated, rushing over to his side. "Are you okay?"

"I'll be fine...." Nick assured his friend. "Sorry, Nat."

The coroner shrugged, "Well, it was a good attempt in any event."

"I can get the file upstairs," Tracy offered. "Nick, I'm sorry if I upset
you before."

Her partner waved it off. "That's okay, Trace. Now, get that stuff up to
Ramirez before he blows a gasket. You too, Schank. I'll be there in a
minute."

"Okay," Tracy agreed. "If you say so." She left the exam room and headed upstairs.

Schanke gave his friends the thumbs-up and followed the younger detective to the bullpen.

Nick shook his head. "I tried, Nat. Sorry," he apologized.

"At least you did that, Nick. Thanks. I appreciate that. Now, I guess
Ramirez is waiting," Natalie agreed and smiled warmly.

He sighed in discomfort and stood up straight. He managed a warm grin for the coroner and left the area, leaving Natalie alone
to her thoughts.

Chapter 4

Lowmiller stirred in his chair. Where was his son? Then, he remembered. The miserable brat had run away again. Well, he
knew he would never find the little cuss on his own. No, he'd better go file the paperwork with the police. That way, they could
track Ray down and he could wait for the call. Besides, he thought as he put on his coat and started for his car, that way he
would have more energy to lay into his son with when they got back there....

***********************************

Nick walked up the stairs to the bullpen. His complexion still held a greenish pallor and the waves of nausea continued to assault
his stomach. Struggling to reach his desk, he collapsed into the chair and took several deep breaths.

"Are you okay, Detective?" Chris Novak inquired.

The vampire detective looked over his right shoulder to see the pleasant desk sargeant standing over him and examining his
appearance.

"It was something I ate...it didn't go down the right way," he continued.

Chris winced, "I would say not. Sorry, Nick, but you look like death warmed over. Maybe after your meeting with the captain,
you should book off."

He looked up at her and sighed, "Okay, I think I will." He rose slowly and made his way across the bullpen. Once at the door,
he rapped loudly.

"Detective Miles?" Ramirez inquired.

"Yes," Nick replied and walked into the office.

Ramirez studied the detective carefully. Schanke and Brown had advised him about Miles' condition. "Are you all right? This
can wait...."

"No, let's proceed with the case," Nick urged. "May I sit down?"

The captain nodded, "Absolutamente! Sienta te, por favor."

"Gracias," Nick managed and slumped into the chair.

"Okay," Ramirez continued. "Nick, I have already delivered this message to your partners, and I'll say the same to you...Good
work. There are some inconsistancies with this case, but nothing we can't solve later. Go home and get some rest."

Nick looked at the other man in disbelief. It couldn't have been that easy. Could it? "Anything else?"

"Nothing for now. Go home," Ramirez assured him.

The vampire detective nodded and worked his way back to his desk chair. He dropped heavily into it and looked at Schanke
and Tracy who eyed him carefully. "What?" he asked.

"Nick, are you okay?" Schanke probed. "You're greener than you were downstairs."

"I'll get the paperwork done, Nick," Tracy offered. "You get back to your loft."

Nick nodded absently and started to rise. Then, he noticed the messy-looking Caucasian man stride into the station and walk
over to Sargeant Novak's desk. Oh well, it was probably nothing and the way he felt at the moment, it shouldn't concern him in
any event. Maybe, if the Duboises were close by, they could give him a ride home. He took out his cell phone and dialed their
number. However, there was no answer. Given these circumstances, he wondered if someone would be willing to give him a
ride home.
 

*****************************

The Duboises, Alyce, and Ray had a great meal at the cafe. For his part, the timid young man had developed a small measure of
trust for these people. The others, for their part, enjoyed his company. Now, as promised, they returned to the museum, and let
Ray call his mother. Since she had changed her name to Anita Fisher after leaving Tucson, it took some doing to find her. But,
eventually, the number was located and the call was made.

"Hello?" Anita answered.

"Mom?" Ray greeted. "It's me."

"Ray? Is that you? What's going on?" she probed. "Is everything all right?"

"Now, I'm fine. I met some people at the university and...well, I'm feeling better. Still hurts though..." he explained.

"What still hurts? Ray, did your father hit you? You tell me if he did," she demanded.

Ray sighed guiltily. He had slipped again. No wonder his father thought he was a bad person. "He did, Mom. I deserved it....."

"No, you didn't. Ray, can you stay safe until I get there? This time, he won't be able to lie his way through custody proceedings.
I'll be there as fast as I can. Can you put one of the people on please? Thanks, son for calling me and letting me know," she
assured him.

Ray handed the phone to Alyce. "My mother wants to talk to you," he informed her.

The curator nodded, "Hi, Ms. Fisher, this is Dr. Alyce Harris, I'm the night curator at the university museum. What can I do for
you?"

Anita responded, " How badly is my son hurt, Dr. Harris?"

Alyce detailed, "He's bruised and his eye's swollen. I found him in the museum, hiding in a closet when I started my shift tonight.
He won't talk about his father."

"I would guess not," Ray's mother stated grimly. "That man doesn't have a responsible bone in his body. Has he eaten
anything?"

"My associates at the university and I fed him over at the cafe. He really likes ham and beans," Alyce assured her.

"He always did," the worried mother agreed. "Dr. Harris, I'm on my way to Tucson from Albuquerque even if I have to drive all
night to get there. Can I call you tomorrow when I arrive?"

"Absolutely, my number is (520) 621-5432. Meantime, I'll see what I can do for your son," the curator agreed. "See you soon."

"Sure...and thank you, Dr. Harris. I'll be in touch and thank you for keeping Ray safe," Anita concluded and hung up.

"Right," Alyce agreed and hung up as well. She walked over to Ray who was sipping on a can of Coke. "Your mother will be
here tomorrow. Meantime, we might want to keep you in a safe place."

"What about my father? He'll get mad if I don't call," Ray gulped nervously.

"We can call him when we get to my friend's place. You'll like him," she noted.

"If...If you say so," Ray agreed albeit nervously.

"Sure," Alyce added. "Let's go and see what Dave, Angie, and Eve are doing. Then, when we're ready, we can go over there."

*******************************

Dave sat beside the window and stared out into the night. He promised Angie and Eve that he would see Ray to a safe place
when they had left. Besides, looking at that young man, sent him back to a time long before....a time he had forgotten....

************************************

(Ludlow, MA, September 1982)

Dave ran into the house from school. Between the exams and his class project, life was certainly challenging enough for the high
school sophomore and he only had a few minutes to get ready for his evening job at the library. As usual, his grandmother had
left a plate with two chocolate chip cookies and a glass of iced tea on the table as an after-school treat.

"Hi, Dave," his grandmother called, coming into the room.

"Hi, Gram," he replied pleasantly. "How's everything?" Then, he noticed the embers in the fireplace. "Why did you need a fire
today? It's seventy degrees outside."

The older woman frowned, "Your father wants to talk to you. He'll be back in a minute."

He trembled fearfully. Stuart Dubois was known for his fierce temper tantrums and stubborn attitudes. "Can't this wait? I have
to get to work," he indicated while running up the stairs.

Janet Dubois called up the stairs, "No, it can't. He's not happy."

The teenager frowned and responded sharply, "When is he ever happy with me?" Then, he noticed that his door was ajar.
"That's odd," he thought. "I know I closed it this morning." Giving it a slight push, the room seemed fine, but the young man
knew somebody had been in there. Then, he dropped his jaw in horror.

His books were gone...and his notes had been rifled through. Dave felt his emotions churning inside of him. He thought of the
fireplace downstairs. It had been odd to have a fire burning today. Now, he knew why.

"So, you've discovered that your books are gone," his father's voice sounded behind him.

"Why, Dad? Why?" the young man moaned.

"Because I won't have any book worms in the family! Damn it! You're the oldest son. My oldest son! You'll be a plumber just
like the rest of us and like it!" his father screamed.

"No!" Dave denied the last statement.

"What was that?" the elder man bellowed.

"I said I won't! I made a promise and I'm sticking by it!" the boy challenged.

"I'll teach you!" the man snarled and backhanded his son repeatedly across the face. I brought you into this world, and I can
take you from it as well...as well...as well."

***********************

The words still stung thirteen years later, sending another shudder through Dave.

"C'mon!" he advised himself. "The kid's scared enough! No sense in getting him anymore worked up. Cool it."

He rose from the chair in the corner with great effort and motioned for Alyce and Ray to join him. The sooner they got the kid
to Nick's loft, the sooner he could get home and deal with the Child's moods.

Chapter 5

Schanke's station wagon sped through the downtown section and along Congress St. Finally, after what seemed to be an
eternity, but in reality was only ten minutes, the detective slammed on the brakes in front of his friend's warehouse loft.

"Here we are, Partner," he indicated. "Do you need a hand?"

Nick looked up. Although his stomach was a bit less nauseous from Natalie's drink, the vampire knew that he would need rest.
He also sensed Janette close by. "I think I'll be okay, Schank," he indicated. "Thanks anyway."

Schanke scratched his head in confusion. Granted, Nick had great recuperative abilities, but he was still sick. "If you say so, but
I'm stayin' put until I know you're okay."

"That is admirable, Detective Schanke," Janette replied pleasantly as she landed beside the paunchy detective's side of the car.
"But, I can take care of Nicolas."

Schanke regarded the vampiress. Even before he knew what she was, he had sensed from their encounters at the Raven that
she was not a woman to be taken lightly. If she said that Nick would be taken care of, then it would be so. "Thanks. In that
case, I'll be heading back to the precinct. Oh, by the way, Natalie and Tracy should be dropping the Caddy off here within the
hour."

Janette nodded and opened the passenger door. Gently easing her shoulder under Nick's left arm, she braced her master and
helped the latter to his feet. "Thank you, Detective, for assisting Nicolas. It is very much appreciated."

"No problemo," Schanke smiled. "Nick's my friend. He would do the same for me. Well, call if you need anything."

"Thank you. I will," she concluded and helped Nick toward the door. Once out of earshot of the car, she murmured to her
charge. "Let me guess, Natalie's been trying to cure you again."

"Her intentions are good, Janette," Nick coughed.

Opening the door and assisting him into the lift, she chuckled, "I'm sure, but the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, eh?
Certainly, you would have learned by now."

Nick sighed painfully as they made their way to his bedroom, and he slumped on his bed. Once there, he was out like a light.

Janette shook her head. She knew that Nick wanted mortality, but she didn't want to watch as he suffered as well. "Que sera,
sera," she surmised and walked back downstairs.

**********
At that moment, across town at KRAN, LaCroix sat down at the microphone and slipped on his headset. After a day of
deliberation, he decided to let his audience have an "open session". For the sake of popularity, the general mused, best to let the
masses maintain the fantasy that they had some form of control. He took a draught from the glass of blood-merlot beside him
and looked up at the clock. "Hmm...10 PM, showtime."

He turned on the microphone and started, "Good Evening, Gentle Listeners. This is the Nightcrawler once again, and I will be
here with you for a while yet. There is no specific topic tonight. The floor is yours...."

The red light on his phone blinked incessantly at the vampire DJ.

"I believe we have a call," LaCroix crooned and spoke into the mike, "You are on the air."

"Y...Yeah. How'ya doin'?" a drunken voice replied.

"I'm fine. The question, my friend, is, how are you?" the DJ probed.

The man coughed abruptly, "Cripe! It's my kid, he keeps running off. Never listens to me. I always have to beat some sense into
him. Stupid brat."

LaCroix shrugged, "You are the father, are you not?"

"Damn straight," the other stated emphatically.

"Well now, you do have the right to enforce the rules of your household," LaCroix advised. As soon as he said it, he smiled to
himself and hoped that David Dubois was listening. That statement was certain to make the insolent mortal fly into a rage.

He noticed that the phone lights were going off at the last statement in sequence. So, the self-appointed bleeding hearts were
responding. Good, let them.... Meantime, this particular mortal merited all of his attention. "Tell me, where is the boy now?"

"Hell if I know. I've been looking for him, but he vanished into thin air!" the man bellowed. "Ray has always been a
disappointment. His mother mucked with his head, and now, I can't keep him in line."

"Do what you must, my friend. You are the father, and, as the head of the household, you have the right to keep control."
LaCroix concluded and moved through the next batch of calls. As he did so, his mind flashed back.....
 

(Pompeii, 79 AD)

Lucius prepared stringently for his next campaign. The Emperor needed him and his step-sister, Livia, to head north and take
out the remaining barbarian tribes in Gaul and western Germania. While equal in rank, as head of the familia, it was he who
controlled the flow of the planning.

The younger woman seethed at this turn of events. For the past three years, she had received the subtle whisperings from Ares,
the god of war, himself. She knew what needed to be done. Still, she had to flatter her step-brother. "We head north through
Gaul and annihilate the remaining hordes," she stated.

"Germania is weaker, Livia, and we will go through there first," he
disagreed.

"And pray tell why? Ares says..." she started.

He growled, "I don't care what you think Ares said! I think we should go here."

"Even when he says otherwise?" the female warrior contradicted.

The general ground his teeth in rage. "I have made my offering at his
temple, and I know my plan! As the paterfamilias of this house, I will
lead!"

Livia's hand instinctively moved to her sword, but did not grasp it. While she was grateful that Gaius Martellius had raised her as
one of his own, her allegiance did not automatically transfer to his pretentious heir. Lucius had always looked out for himself first
in all things...especially when it came to his military command. "I will go and say farewell to Divia," she informed the other and
walked back toward the house, leaving the other to his pathetic musings....

*******

(Back in the Present)

LaCroix sighed. Seeing Livia again, especially in her pathetic guise as the Messenger of Eli, brought back painful memories.
Rather than dwell on them, he moved onto the next call, preferring to deal with the present rather than the past.

Chapter 6

Francesca closed the door to her cousins' bedroom quietly behind her. It had been an interesting evening to say the least.
Always in tune with their parents' feelings, something had upset them. The Italian literature professor was willing to bet that
"something" was Dave's darkness in turmoil yet again. How she wished that he could find a way to keep both sides of his
persona happy simultaneously. "Oh well," she pondered. Such is life." Then, she noticed a set of headlights outside of the
window. Looking through the curtains, she recognized Angie's car. "Good, she and Eve are back," she thought.

"But, something's not right," Gabrielle's voice explained.

Francesca turned to see the Blonde Warrior-Bard of Potadeia's shimmering form standing in the kitchen. "Gabrielle, what do
you mean?"

"Eve's upset about something. And I can feel Xena gritting her teeth inside of Angela. Trust me, something's up," her spiritual
friend indicated.

"I see," Francesca commented and watched as her two companions entered the dwelling. Despite the fact that most meals at the
café were pleasant, on this evening, both Angie and Eve were depressed.

"Should I ask how dinner went?" she continued.

Eve sighed and trembled slightly, "Sorry, Francesca, but if you will excuse me, I need to be alone for a while. Thank you, Angie,
for bringing me with you and David tonight."

"It was our pleasure," Angie assured her. "By the way, if you want to talk, both Xena and I are here."

The Messenger smiled briefly, "I know. Thank you. I'll see you at the
apartment, Francesca. Sorry that I'm not more talkative right now,
Gabrielle. It was a rough night." With that, she walked back through the door, heading across the pavement for her sanctum.

Gabrielle frowned, "Okay, Angela, what happened tonight?"

Angie sighed, "We were on our way to dinner when Alyce found an abused boy hiding in the museum. Anyway, the pain was
emanating off of him in waves, and it set Dave off."

Francesca winced, "That must have scared the boy senseless."

Angie shook her head, "Fortunately, Dave reined in his temper. The young man was unnerved, but I think they adjusted to each
other as the night went on."

"And what about Eve?" the Bard interjected.

"Eve's mood has been sinking since we left the restaurant. Ray-that's the young man's name-reminded her of something in her
past," Angie noted.

"It's Lucius' doing," Xena's voice cut in.

The threesome watched as the Warrior Princess' spectral image stood beside her best friend's form. The newest arrival was
agitated over the events of that evening.

"What do you mean 'Lucius'? Who?" Francesca wondered, her head swimming.

Xena's eyebrow arched and her mouth set in a grim line. "Lucius is Lucius of Pompeii. You know him," she explained firmly.

"How? Angie, what is she talking about? How could I...?" Francesca
insisted incredulously and turned to her "roommate". "Gabrielle, who?"

The Potadeian spirit shivered briefly and looked at Xena. After receiving a nod from her companion, she continued, "Lucius is
LaCroix."

Francesca's jaw dropped and she muttered, "Mama Mia! Are you sure?"

"Yeah. And I'll bet my last dinar that he and his father both have
something to do with how Eve's feeling right now," the Thracian warrior stewed. "Just wait'll I get my hands on Lucius. After
they corrupted her...."

Angie shrugged helplessly, "If she wants help, she'll ask for it. Meantime, you and I both need to be careful."

Xena's image nodded and stared out the window. A sudden monsoon was sending a torrent of rain down on the complex.

****************

Eve curled on her bed and stared at the bare whitewashed walls of her room. When she returned to Earth, she had maintained
her stoic practices from antiquity. She had hoped that now she would have been able to spread the word about Eli without
interference. All of those plans changed when Lucius had appeared in Tucson. It had been bad enough to know that he had
survived in his corrupted state, but now that he was nearby, the prophetess sensed that he would make a claim on her. She also
knew that her mother would never allow him to enforce it....

Tears drizzled down her cheeks. The memories were still very poignant despite the fact that they were Livia's.

**************
(Pompeii 79 AD)

As she had on many other clandestine trips, Livia rode hard from the villa into town. Upon reaching the house where she knew
Selene and Divia lived, the commander dismounted, stalked into the house, and observed the goings-on. The other women of
the household busied themselves with daily tasks. However, it was not them whom she was concerned with. Rather, it was the
little blonde girl who sat alone on the hearth, staring angrily into space.

"Divia?" the female commander called.

"Yes?" Divia snarled and looked up to see the woman in front of her. "What do you want, Aunt Livia? Don't you know that
Lucius won't like it if he finds you here?"

The commander was confused as to why this girl brought out such
feelings in her. Despite the fact that Ares had commanded her to banish those emotions, she could not bring herself to do so.
Perhaps it was the fact that they were both outcasts. Unfortunately for the latter, the youngster was Lucius' illegitimate daughter.
"But, at least she knows her parents," she mused to herself. "In that regard, she is better off than I am." Composing herself, Livia
replied pleasantly, "Your father and I are leaving shortly, Divia. I wanted to say farewell before we depart."

Divia shook her head sadly. With her father's and aunt's departure, nobody, save her mother, Selene, would care about her. Oh
sure, they would talk to her, but the young girl knew that they really looked down on her because of her mother. "Will you be
back soon?" she asked.

"Only the gods know that for sure, Little One," her aunt recolor="#ff0000">NewW.ߞMz߾vz·:qd|+ble>
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worthy to ask, I beg you to help Lucius. Help him to find some compassion. Please."

In the deafening silence that followed, the Messenger closed her eyes and fell into an uneasy slumber.

Chapter 7

Janette watched Nick sleep uneasily. Despite her promise to Natalie not to interfere in the latter's effort to cure the former
Crusader, she wished that these efforts would not put her former love through so much pain. Leaning over his sleeping form, she
brushed his cheek with her lips and wished, "One day, Nicolas, you may realize how foolish your quest really is and embrace
your true nature."

The buzz from the intercom interrupted her thoughts. Somebody must want to see him, but at 11:30 PM? Who would that be?
The vampiress hurried across the room and stared out the window. On the street below, she recognized the Dubois' car. Her
senses also picked up on Alyce's presence, as well as a young mortal's. Pressing the white button on the security console, she
activated the lift, and sat down on the couch to await her guests' arrival.

Only a moment later, the elevator door opened and the three newcomers entered the room. David and Alyce looked
particularly stressed. The young man with them wore his pain in clear sight along with his bruises. Janette could not help but
think of Daniel, the poor boy of the wartime London streets, whom the trio had adopted, brought across, and eventually, had to
destroy...all for his own sake.

"Bon soir, mes ami," Janette declared. "And who is this?"

"Greetings," Dave smiled. "This young man is Ray. We need to keep him safe until his mother arrives in town."

"She lives in Albuquerque," Alyce added.

"And what of your father, Ray? Surely, he is worried sick and is looking for you, no?" Janette inquired.

"Looking to give me another beating," he muttered. "Ma'am, sorry, but you have no idea."

The former Parisian snickered, "You would be surprised, my young friend. Now, come and lie down on the couch. You are
safe here."

Ray looked at his two friends who nodded to assure him that it was indeed safe. With that signal, he lounged on the couch and
fell fast asleep.

Janette looked at the two visitors. "So, why did you bring him here?"

"We needed a secure place," Dave shrugged.

"And Nick is a police detective after all," the curator added.

"Yes, but unfortunately, Nicolas is ill tonight. One of the good coroner's concoctions has him feeling rather nauseous," Janette
declared.

Alyce asked caringly, "Is he resting all right? I would like to check on
him if it is all right. I won't wake him."

Just then, the phone rang twice and stopped before the message machine kicked on, letting them know that Nick had taken the
call himself.

"He is up now in any event. So, you can talk to him when he comes
downstairs," Janette shrugged.

Alyce nodded and sat down beside Dave and Ray on the Ottoman, waiting for the vampire detective to join them.

******************
Nick was resting soundly as the phone rang shrilly, interrupting his rest. "Whoever it is, you better have something important to
say," he muttered sleepily. Picking up the phone, he answered, "Miles."

"Hey, Nick. It's Tracy. Umm, sorry to bother you when you're under the weather," Tracy opened.

"I'm sure. Okay, what's going on?" he asked.

"Well..." she winced and looked across the bullpen to where Marvin Lowmiller sat impatiently as the police searched for his
son. "There's a guy here, Marvin Lowmiller, and he's looking for his son, Ray. Apparently, he was last seen at the university
with Alyce, and there's an APB out on both of them."

He scratched his head. Alyce wasn't a kidnapper. Something had to be up and, from what his enhanced senses were picking
up, she was downstairs. "Let me work on it, and I'll get back to you," he concluded and hung up.

"Wait! What do you...?" she cut in and stormed, "Damn it! I hate it when he does that to me!"

Schanke leaned over and smiled, "He knows where the kid is. Trust me."

Tracy shook her head. How come everyone knew what was going on except for her? Oh well, Nick had best come through for
them all lest Ramirez throw a fit over this man's missing son....

********************

After smoothing the wrinkles from his work clothes, Nick slowly descended the stairs to join his friends. About halfway down,
he saw the young man sleeping on the couch and realized it was Ray Lowmiller. Seeing that Dave and Alyce were protecting
him, the vampire detective knew this situation could get nasty.

"Nick, Janette said you were sleeping," Alyce indicated and embraced him. "I was worried!"

Dave and Janette exchanged looks. This was definitely a new wrinkle. Nick, for his part, was unsure about this outpouring of
affection, but managed to return the embrace. "It's...good to see you too, Alyce."

"Are you okay?" Dave inquired. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you're
looking a little green around the gills."

"It was something I had for dinner," the detective explained. "By the way, who's the boy?"

"His name is Ray Lowmiller. I found him hiding in the museum. He ran away after his father beat him tonight," Alyce stated.

"Do you have proof?" Nick asked.

Dave scoffed, "Oh, for crying out loud, Nick! Look at the bruises. Surely, you've been knocked around enough by His
Imperiousness to know what causes bruises like these...."

Nick nodded, "Yes, but his father has requested that he be brought back to him."

"But his mother is coming!" Alyce protested.

Ray stirred and sighed, "That's okay, Miss Alyce. My Dad always gets his way. Mr. Nick, I don't wanna get you or anyone in
trouble. Let's get this over with."

"Sure," Nick agreed and locked stares with Dave. The latter wasn't happy. In fact, the professor's glare sent chills up and down
the vampire's immortal spine. "This is a police matter now, Dave. I don't like it any more than you do, but I need to take Ray to
the precinct."

"And what do we tell the mother when his father mistreats him again?" Dave demanded. "Somebody needs to protect him."

"That's why we have due process," the detective countered.

"What about the kids? Who speaks for them? Who spoke out for you? Who spoke out for me? Who spoke out for Alyce
when she was left for buried? No, Nick, you know better than that!" Dave spat vehemently.

Alyce nodded, "As much as I respect your need to uphold the law, Nick, I have to agree with him at least on principle."

"Your objection is noted-with me at least," Nick concurred. "Sorry, but as much as I wish it otherwise, the law is the law."

Ray stood up and put his coat on. "Thanks for the cool evening, Ms. Alyce, and Mr. Dave. I do appreciate it."

"No problem," Alyce indicated.

"Be safe," Dave added and hugged his young friend. "If you need to talk, I'm available."

The young man nodded and, after a short glance backward, followed the detective into the lift.

"I hope he will be all right," Alyce worried.

"It is no longer your concern," Janette stated. "I care for the young man
as well, but it is his parents' responsibility to look out for him."

Dave shook his head furiously and watched as Nick's Caddy drove off into the night. Somehow, he knew that this drama wasn't
quite finished yet. If anything, it was just starting....

Chapter 8

Ten minutes later, Nick and Ray walked into the precinct. An uncomfortable feeling pervaded the area as everyone's eyes
stared at the young boy. The attention made the vampire detective squirm in discomfort.

"I wish they wouldn't do that," Ray muttered low to himself. "Looks like my father's done it again."

"Done what?" Nick inquired. Now, he was beginning to share Dave's
misgivings.

"He made a big show of his caring for me," the boy stated with equal parts disappointment and cynicism in his voice.

Lowmiller burst out into the bullpen area and approached the two newcomers. He called, "Ray! Where have you been? I was
worried!"

Ramirez smiled, "Great going, Nick. At least, I can put this missing boy report to bed." The captain turned to the father. "Mr.
Lowmiller, unless there are any other questions for us, you're free to take your son home."

"Thanks, Captain," Lowmiller replied in his most polite voice. "Come along, Ray."

"Yes Sir," Ray sighed. He knew what was coming when he got home.... As he walked out the door, he gave one last glance at
Nick and Tracy.

Just as they cleared the door, Lowmiller muttered to his son, "Just wait
until later, I'll beat the tar out of you...."

Unbeknownst to him, Nick's enhanced hearing had picked up on the comment. Now, his butterflies were getting bigger, and
Dave's words rang over and over in his ears. Who would speak for the boy to his father? What would happen if Ray were
beaten to death? Too many questions and not enough answers...

She looked her partner over. "Should you be back here? You're sick. When we brought your car over to your place, we didn't
think you would be able to drive tonight," she noted.

"I know, but Ray needed a ride over here. I volunteered," he explained.

"Well, maybe you shouldn't have, Nick. I don't know why, but that guy gives me the creeps," she shivered. "Something tells me
that we just made a big mistake."

"Dave Dubois told me the same thing about twenty minutes ago," he concurred. "Well, if you don't mind, I'm going back home
and go back to bed. I'm still queasy."

"Absolutely," she agreed. "Go on. I'll see you tomorrow night."

He smiled briefly, walked across the bullpen, and through the doors, leaving Tracy to her continuing misgivings.

************

About twenty minutes later, Nick stepped out of the lift into his loft. As he wasn't in the mood to argue with Dave at this point,
he was glad that his friend had gone home. He slumped into the Ottoman, but still couldn't relax. His senses picked up on the
familiar presence of his former mentor. Turning his head, he watched as LaCroix saluted him with a goblet of human stock.

"To what do I owe your company, LaCroix?" Nick asked coldly.

"Does there have to be a reason for me to drop in on you and Janette?" the general supposed. "Such manners, Nicholas." He
took a gentile sip of the blood. "Janette has been keeping a better stock in the refrigerator. You really ought to try some."

The former Crusader shook his head and fumbled to the fridge. There, he poured himself a glass of cow blood and drank
deeply of the substitute fluid. "No thanks. I have my own."

His associate winced and shook his head in disgust, "Someday, you'll
understand that the poison in that glass is doing you more harm than good." Rather than argue the point with the purulent child,
the general let the point drop. "Ah well, as to the heart of the matter," he started while descending to the base level of the loft.

"Which is?" Nick pushed.

Once again, LaCroix hissed to himself. The Duboises were proving to be unfortunate influences and would have to be dealt with
soon enough. "It is...the fact that I wanted to congratulate you for doing the right thing tonight. Janette told me you returned the
boy to his father."

The younger vampire scratched his head. LaCroix didn't make a practice of throwing around verbal bouquets without reason.
"And you know about it?"

"His father called into the show tonight," the other explained. "He caused quite a furor. It seems that the delicate people of
Tucson can't take proper discipline on the part of a good father." A snicker escaped his lips. "Perhaps that is why they can't
control their own children."

"That depends on what you call proper discipline," Nick muttered to himself.

"Nicolas!" Janette lectured as she stepped from the shadows.

LaCroix smiled. Yes, the boy's insolent streak would bear watching. While he liked to see Nicholas being strong and
determined, independence on the young one's part wasn't part of the bargain. Still, there was no need to upset the fledgling
vampiress at this point. With a slight shake of his head, he cut off her further protests in that regard. "No, Janette, it's just
Nicholas being like the pathetic mortals he embraces. Weak and mewling. Well, I've said my piece, and now, I will depart. Au
revoir," he stated and took off through the open skylight.

Janette merely shook her head in disapproval and walked back upstairs to her bedroom.

Nick sat back down on the couch and meditated on the evening's affairs for a while longer. Gradually, he drifted into an uneasy
slumber of sorts.

Chapter 9

Dave scratched his head and lay perfectly still on his back, listening to
the rain pelting down against the window. The scene at Nick's loft still
lingered in his mind's eye. He could only imagine what Ray would have gone through at his father's hands. An icy chill shot down
the professor's spine. No, he knew that the odds were stacked against the young man.

A familiar voice hissed, "You should have brought him home with us."

Dave looked over toward the far end of the room and saw the Child standing there, illuminated by an orange corona of light.
"You know I couldn't," he stated.

"Rules, rules, rules," the Other spat in disgust. "Look at what those
stupid stipulations got us. 'Course, I was born out of the deal." A
sarcastic smile spread across his face.

"We got out," Dave argued.

The darkness chuckled in great amusement at his older half's naivety, "Oh really? Then, why do you still carry your anger and
disdain with you like an overloaded suitcase? Face it, my Brother, you are still outraged at our dear parents, and you have every
right to feel that way. We may have left, but we're still imprisoned in this cage of pain."

Dave sulked briefly. Bad enough that the Child was there, but did he have to stick it to him like this? At least, they were far
enough away from Massachusetts where he wouldn't do any harm to his father.

"You really think that would stop me?" the Child doubted. "But then, you don't know what happens when I come out, do you?
Oh, that's right, you don't. Well, I'll let you guess. Meantime..."

"Meantime, you're going to go back down your hole and stay there," Angie's voice cut through the dark. "Cut it out."

"Ah man! Who invited the Little Woman in on this conversation?" the Child complained. "Eavesdropper."

The oncologist scoffed, "You'll find out how 'little' I really am if I have
to make you leave. He feels bad enough about what happened tonight and I won't ask you again. Go back and leave Dave in
peace. Now!"

Through the inky blackness, the Child could see Angie's eyes start to glow, signaling the channeling of psychic energies within
her. While he thought that the destructive confrontation would be entertaining, a potential face-off with her and Xena was
enough to make even him back down. "Okay, you win for now. But, I'll be back." With that, he vanished back into the dark
recesses of Dave's mind.

Angie shook her head and stared at her husband, "That alternate personality of yours is really something else. Are you okay?"

He shrugged his shoulders, "Okay is a relative thing for me in any event. I'm just dreading what is going to happen to Ray."

She hugged him tightly, "Now, Dave, there was nothing you could have done. Nick had to bring him back to his father. That's
the law. Without due process, there's no foundation for a case."

"That is small consolation. The law is very slow to recognize the rights of abused minors. Besides, you've never had to deal with
that on an everyday basis," he stated gruffly.

She sighed deeply. He was right. How many times had she seen the stories on television and read the statistics in the
Psychology and Sociology journals? She had been lucky that her parents raised her as they did. She imagined the Hell that living
with his father for those summers and every other weekend must have been for him. From the stories told by Karen, Steve, and
Frank Landers not to mention her single meeting with the man himself, it wasn't too hard to imagine why Dave turned out the
way he did. At least, his grandmother was there to buffet the storm and support him in his time of need. For that, Angie was
grateful.

Dave rose from their bed and stretched with great effort. It was 5:30,
about an hour early, but he knew that he wouldn't get anymore sleep in any event.

"Where are you going?" she asked.

"The office," he replied cryptically. "Since I can't sleep, I might as well
work."

She concurred, "You do that. But, let's get a good breakfast first, okay?"

"Sounds good," he agreed and walked out of the room, heading toward the shower.

****************************

Three hours later, Angie had dropped the twins and Deirdre off at day care and walked into the hospital. She had a lot of
research to do, a report to type, and her usual daily routine. However, she never made it to her office, for as she approached
the elevator in the lobby, the newest doctor, Belinda McDermott, flagged her down.

"Dr. Dubois! Wait!" she called.

"Belinda? What is it? What's wrong?" Angie inquired.

"There's a young boy. Caucasian... black hair... He's been beaten really
badly," Belinda explained.

Angie felt her husband's nervous feeling creeping up her own spine. "His name. Did you get a name?" she demanded, grabbing
Belinda's shoulders in a dreadful panic.

"What is it, Doctor? Might you know him?" her intern probed.

"Maybe. But, with all due respect, I hope not, not yet." Angie hoped and, without another word, bolted for the Intensive Care
Unit down the hall. As she ran, her enhanced senses reached out ahead of her and probed for the mystery victim. As her mind
touched the injured party, she gasped in shock, but forced herself to keep going. A minute later, she flew through the double
doors and stopped at the victim's bedside. She rubbed her head in anguish as her husband's worst fears and premonitions had
been realized.

It was Ray lying in the bed. He was unconscious with internal and external injuries from the previous evening. Checking the
chart clipped to the footboard, Angie scanned the list of multiple injuries and watched as the respirator forced recycled air into
the patient's lungs.

"Where is he?" a woman's voice called out from the hallway. "Where is my son? Where is Raymond Lowmiller?"

Angie turned to see a middle-aged woman rush into the area, her face pale with panic and sandbags under her eyes from lack of
sleep. "Excuse me, Mrs. Lowmiller?" she asked.

"That was my name. I'm Anita Fisher now. Are you the doctor in charge?" the distraught woman demanded.

"No, but I work here," Angie replied, trying to keep her composure.

"I thought he was going to be safe," Anita sobbed, the tears running down her cheeks. "The curator promised that she would
keep him safe!"

"It wasn't her fault, Anita," Angie explained. "Your husband brought the police into it. My husband and I did have dinner with
him last night
though. We made sure that Ray had a good meal. Believe me, he has been a nervous wreck all night thinking about Ray and
dreading what his father would do to him."

"What? Oh, he's the professor. Well, I owe him a few choice words as
well," Anita stated.

"Umm, I wouldn't advise that. He does care, believe me. He argued with the police as long as he could. He is upset, and when
he hears about this, let's just say, you will not want to be anywhere near him. As somebody who was abused, he knows the
pain." Angie advised, nervously biting her lip.

Belinda entered the room at that moment. "Excuse me, who are you? This is a restricted area."

Angie shook her head at the newcomer. "She's fine. This is the boy's
mother. Your patient's name is Raymond Lowmiller."

"So, what happened?" Belinda wondered. "Who would have done this?"

"His father finally did it. The fool beat Ray to a pulp. If it's the last
thing that I do..." Anita ranted.

Angie touched her shoulder. "Umm, Ms. Fisher. Dr. McDermott's going to need some details concerning Ray and your family."

"Certainly, if it'll help," the distraught mother agreed.

"It will. I'll be back in a few minutes," Angie promised and headed out of the ward. Once back in the lobby, she took the
elevator up to her office.

"Good morning, Dr. Dubois," Lori Applegate greeted.

"Sorry, Lori, but I need you to hold any calls for a while. I'm going to
need some time to myself," Angie stated.

The receptionist noted the oncologist's tenseness. Something had happened and obviously, the doctor needed to talk to her
husband. "Absolutely. Thank you for letting me know."

"Thank you," Angie sighed and locked herself in the office. Once there, she picked up the phone and started to dial. "Please be
in the office, Dave."
 

********

Across campus, Dave poured over his research notes. While he wanted to get himself caught up after the move across campus,
his mind just wouldn't stay on his work. Somehow, he knew that something was up. About three hours into his exercise, the
phone rang.

"Hello?" he answered.

"Hi, Dave. It's me. Listen, I've got some bad news. But, before I tell
you, promise me that you won't erupt," Angie started.

He pondered this cryptic request. "Why? I...Wait a minute! Is something wrong at the hospital? If it's you, or the girls...." he
guessed.

"N...no, that's not it," she continued. "Okay, remember how you felt this morning?"

"Yeah, I...Wait a minute! Is Ray...? He's there, isn't he?" he realized,
his voice beginning to spike upward in volume.

"Dave, now..." Angie cut him off.

"ISN"T HE?" he bellowed. "Damn it! I knew I shouldn't have let Nick take him last night! Sonuva...."

"Chill out, Dave," Angie urged, knowing that her words were useless by this point.

He took a deep breath and continued. "Sorry, Princess, but see what I mean? The law...What's the law for that sleaze who
could do something like this?" he responded truthfully, the tears starting to flow down his face. "Dang it!" He grabbed for the
bottle of St. John's Wart and a glass of water, gulping them down like a desperate man with a fix. "Is the mother there?"

"Yes, she's here. I'm not sure that it's a good idea to get you two
together right now. Just stay put, and I'll keep you updated," Angie stated firmly.

"Oh, I'll keep my distance, but I'm going to have a chat with someone. Be back in a bit," he concluded and hung up.

"Dave? Dave? Darn it, don't do anything rash!" Angie exclaimed and, realizing that he had hung up, did likewise, wondering what to do next....

Chapter 10

For several minutes after the call, Angie sat pensively staring at her
husband's picture on the desk. There were so many issues and difficulties to be resolved with him.... But, where was he going?
Then, it hit her. She picked up the phone and dialed a number. "C'mon, be there. Please be there...."

*****************************
Natalie typed away on her latest report. The computer keys seemed to get heavier with each stroke. The Brown case had been
finished for two days now, but she couldn't finish the report until now. Finally, at the bottom of the page, she hit "save" and
printed the document.

"Whew," she thought relievedly. "A job well done."

A rapping came from the door. "Yes?" she answered it.

"Hey, Natalie. How's the Brown report coming? Sorry to bug you, but
Ramirez is getting antsy again," Schanke commented.

"That's the document coming out the printer right now. Sorry, Schank, but the DNA workup, not to mention the results from the
hair and skin samples, just came in about three hours ago. It's a match," she explained. "Looks like you got your murderer."

"Great!" he grinned. This case had been eating away at him, Nick and Tracy for a week now. At last, they had the perp nailed
dead to rights...and he could get the captain off of their collective case. Coupled with reuniting the Lowmiller kid with his father,
this might be a good day after all.

Natalie took the completed report from the printer, placed it in a file
folder, and put her blue blazer on. However, just as she was about to
leave, the phone rang. "Hello, Natalie's Bed and Breakfast," she replied.

"Nat, it's Angie Dubois. Listen, is Nick home right now?" Angie inquired nervously.

"Yes, the sun is up after all," Natalie stated. "Angie, what's wrong?"

"Did Nick or anyone at the precinct mention a boy and his father last
night?" Angie wondered pensively.

"Not to me. Hang on, Don Schanke is here. Why don't you talk to him?" Natalie noted and handed the phone to her friend.

Schanke nodded and answered, "Yeah, Angie, what can I do for ya?"

"Don, did you happen to see a ten year old boy last night at the precinct? Nick brought him down there to meet his father,"
Angie probed.

"You mean the Lowmiller kid. Yeah, he was here. The father took him home and that was that. Why?" he responded.

"That was not that...." she sighed. "Do you know where Raymond Lowmiller is this morning?"

The detective shook his head, "Angie, what are you gettin' at? The kid went home with his Dad. He's either there or at school
right now...." Then, he remembered looking at the little guy's bruises. "Oh man, you're not saying....What happened?"

Sensing that the underlying cause of her friend's anxiety was about to come to the surface, Natalie leaned closer to get in on the
conversation.

"He's downstairs in Intensive Care, Don. His father beat him within an inch of his life last night. There are massive internal and
external injuries, and he's on a respirator. Worse still, the mother's here, and Dave's on his way to Nick's loft...in an extremely
ugly mood," Angie detailed. "I'd feel a lot better if someone would get over there before he does something that we might all
regret."

Picking up the phone on her desk, Natalie jumped in, "Angie, don't worry, we're on it right now. I'll let you know what
happens."

"Thanks, Nat. Sorry to have to break it to you like this, but I'm really
worried...." Angie expressed.

"Don't worry about it, Kiddo," the coroner assured her. "We'll get you an update. Take care."

He looked at the ME and stated, "C'mon, we can be at Nick's in ten minutes. Let's go."

Natalie simply nodded and followed his lead out the door, closing it behind her and rushing up the stairs towards his car.

**********************************
The buzzing from the door roused Nick from his reverie. Who could it be at this hour? Ramirez would have called first.

"Mon Dieu!" Janette snapped from her room. "Nicolas, whoever it is, make them go away!"

He sighed, "Yes, Janette, I'll take care of it." Stumbling over to the
intercom, he grumbled, "Whoever this is, it had better be really important."

"Nick, it's Dave. Open up. Sorry, but I have some news," Dave reported.

"How could you wake me if I never went to sleep? Look, why don't you take the lift, and we can talk? That way, Janette can
get her sleep," Nick suggested.

"Okay. Be there in a minute," Dave agreed.

Nick stalked back across the loft and reached under the sink for the coffee can. Remembering what Natalie had shown him, he
measured out two tablespoons into the coffee maker and started the appliance.

Meantime, the lift door opened, and Dave walked into the room. One look told Nick that his friend had spent a long night
wrestling with his personal demons. The two auras were both present and fighting with each other. "What's going on, Dave?
You wouldn't come over here in the middle of the day unless it was an emergency," the detective started.

The History professor examined his friend's face. Well, at least, Nick's
conscience had been bothering him too. "Remember what I told you last night?" he pushed moodily.

So, this did concern the Lowmiller boy. "We did what we had to do, Dave. The boy's father has custody over him.
Consequently, until something happens to warrant action otherwise, he needed to be with his father," Nick tried to assure his
friend.

Dave laughed ruefully, "Fat lot of good that does the kid now. Your
'something' may have happened last night."

Nick stared at the other man. "What is it?"

"I just got a call from Angie. Ray Lowmiller is in the Intensive Care unit at the UMC this morning. He's on a respirator after
receiving the beating of his life. Damn it, Nick! Didn't I tell you that this would happen?" Dave demanded passionately.

The vampire's head drooped, and he sagged his shoulders. Once again, he was caught between his principles and experience on
the one side, and the law on the other. "I thought that...." he started.

"C'mon, Nick! You of all people should know what an abusive father is capable of! Do I have to draw a map for you? I know
what kind of men Henry of Brabant and LaCroix are....Your experience should tell you I'm right!" Dave continued to rant.

The detective shook his head. His friend had a point and he knew it.
However, as much as he wanted to take justice, he could not do so.

For his part, Dave stood up and paced to and fro across the room like an angry tiger in a cage. The Child wanted to rip the
father to shreds, and the faculty member struggled to keep himself in check. "Do you mind if I have some coffee?"

Nick nodded, "Please, help yourself."

"Thank you," Dave managed to say and poured himself a cup of the hot drink. Then, his senses picked up on the other presence
coming down the stairs approaching them. "Good morning, Janette," he stated through clenched teeth.

"Monsieur Dubois," she replied curtly, equally annoyed at being disturbed by his tirade. "Do you realize what time it is? How
would you like it if I woke you at 2 AM?"

"If it was important, I would deal with it," Dave retorted and walked back over to the couch. "I suppose you heard my news."

"I think your pronouncement would have drowned out the bells of Notre Dame. If you spoke up a little louder, perhaps the
people in Istanbul would have heard you as well, eh?" she replied sarcastically.

"I'm really not in the mood for this," Dave growled and stared at the
enraged vampiress.

"Well, neither are we! Please control yourself!" Janette admonished.

"That's easy for you to say. I was the boy once...and the father was like
Lowmiller," Dave snarled and shook his head as the chills and numbness swept across his head.

"But, you survived," Janette maintained.

"Yes, we did," Dave spoke, but with the Child's voice. "In fact, I'm almost grateful...I'm here, ain't I?" The leer, the closed eye,
and the subtle change in his aura told the two immortals that the Other was back in charge. "Remember what I said in Toronto?
It still holds true."

"What about the mother? Is she here?" Nick inquired.

"From what the little woman said, I guess so," the Child shrugged. "She's ticked off too. At least, some women understand...."

Janette bore her fangs and tensed. Bad enough that this insolent mortal
disturbed them with his rantings, but to imply that she didn't care or have maternal feelings for the boy! And then, to make that
insulting remark on top of it....

Nick jumped up and stood between them. "Both of you, settle down!" he ordered. Then, he heard the loft hum to life. "Who?"

The door opened, allowing Natalie and Schanke to race into the room.

"Hey, Nick, are you okay?" Schanke asked, taking in the potential battle which almost took place.

"I'm fine, I guess," the vampire detective stated. "Other than a few angry words, nothing else has happened."

"That's a relief," Natalie agreed and turned to Dave. "And as for you,
Mister, you need to call your wife pronto. She's worried sick."

"So, she's worried," the Child cracked. "Let'er deal with it."

The coroner listened dumbfoundedly to his retort before realizing that the Child was trying to incite her.

"She's your wife, Pal. You should let her know what's goin' on," Schanke added.

"Now, the Butterball's telling me what to do. Geez...you folks are
something, ain't ya?" the Dark One cracked.

The mortal detective's face flinched slightly. If anyone else had made that remark....

"Aw, Donnie's ticked off...." the Child laughed. "Go ahead and take your best shot. Maybe, you should have done it last night
instead of letting the jerk use his kid as a punching bag."

"So, this is what the ranting's about," Schanke realized.

"Newsflash. It finally got through," the Child growled. "Well, goodie for you...." Then, he gripped his head. "Ow! Stop it! No!"
he complained as the spasms of pain shook his head.

"Yes...I will...have control!" Dave declared and reclaimed dominance. After ascertaining his status, the faculty member slumped
into the Ottoman. "Everyone, I'm sorry about what was said...whatever it was." The tears streamed down his cheeks. "It
just...the pain never dies, it never goes away."

The coroner embraced her friend and tried to sooth his feelings. "It's
going to be okay, Dave...Shhh...." she assured him.

"I'm going to use the carphone to call Angie and let her know that
everything's okay now," Schanke stated and walked back into the lift.

Janette watched the scene with equal parts of sympathy and disgust. She could relate to the pain, but the man needed to control
himself, lest in one of his rages he destroy a city block. She walked over to the fridge and poured herself a glass of human blood
from her stock.

Nick laid his hand on his friend's shoulder. He definitely could relate to the other man's rage and indignation. "Look, Dave, why
don't you spend the day here?"

His friend declined, "Sorry, Nick, I really appreciate it, but I have a
class this afternoon to teach."

"Are you sure that you can get through it?" Natalie insisted.

"I'll make it," he shrugged.

"Okay, but you're leaving your car here," Nick stated firmly. "You're in no shape to drive right now."

Dave looked at his car keys and tossed them to Nick. "I'll be back later
for them."

Natalie suggested, "Why don't Schank and I drive you to the university? I have to go and talk to Angie about some things
anyway."

"S...Sure," Dave accepted. "Nick, I'll see you later. Thanks for putting
up with me."

Nick silently nodded and watched as his friends walked back into the lift and vanished from view.

Janette surmised, "The man has so much pain, no?"

Nick poured himself a glass of cow blood and guzzled it. Then, he replied, "He does indeed, Janette...He does indeed."

Chapter 11

Angie sat with Anita for a long while that morning. While she had her work to do, Angie couldn't bear to leave the distraught
woman by herself. After all, wasn't she a mother too? And how would she feel if the situations were reversed? She shook her
head furiously. No, she had to give Anita credit. There would be no way that she would be able to wait out the nervous hours,
seeking a glimmer of hope. And Dave? "Don't even go there," she advised herself with a shudder.

"Don't go where?" Ray's mother asked.

"Sorry, I was thinking what I would do if my daughters were hurt as Ray was. I've got to hand it to you. You're handling
yourself great, Anita," Angie noted.

The visitor chuckled, "It's an act, Angie. Inside, I want to reach out and
beat my ex-husband to the ground. Do you ever have to deal with feelings like that?"

"From time to time. It's human nature to feel that way," Angie mentioned.

Having made that confession, Anita's shoulders sagged. She began to wail uncontrollably and moaned, "If only it could have
been like it was...."

"You don't have to say anything if you don't want to...."

"No," Anita sobbed. "For some reason, Angie, I feel as though I can trust you." She took a deep breath and continued, "Okay,
in the beginning, Marvin was the best man in the world. At least, he seemed that way to me. We fell in love right after high
school, dated through college, and got married. Ray was born two years later. But, the responsibility of fatherhood was...too
great. He didn't adjust, but grew moodier, more angry. Then, he was laid off from his job...." She choked up but managed to
resume speaking, "He started hitting me. I finally left and we divorced six months later. I tried to take Ray with me...but it took
me a while to find a decent job. Of course, the court wouldn't allow me to have custody...."

"And your ex-husband promised to look after Ray?"

"R...Right. What an act! Within a week, he started beating on the poor
boy. Now, look at Ray!" Anita complained. "The system didn't do him
justice."

The oncologist sighed and rubbed her new friend's shoulder, "That's the
second time I've heard that today." Then, her senses kicked in. Somebody was coming down the hall under a full head of steam.
"What now?"

The doors swung open, and in stormed Marvin Lowmiller. Upon seeing his ex-wife, the enraged man screamed, "What the Hell
are you doing here? You're not supposed to be here!"

"He's my son too, Marvin. You can't stop me from being here," Anita replied tersely.

Belinda approached, "Sir, please keep your voice down. The patients
are...."

Lowmiller turned on the young physician, "And who are you? Where is the doctor on duty?"

"I am the doctor on duty," Belinda replied coolly. "Now, please..."

"Look, you, just fix my son and don't be all snippy with me!" he snapped.

Angie noticed that Belinda was getting flustered. There was no need for him to treat her like this. She stepped between them
and stated, "Mr. Lowmiller, there is no reason to be like this. Raymond is resting right now. You'll need to wait with the rest of
us to see what happens."

"And who are you?" he asked.

"Dr. Angela Dubois. And I need to ask you to calm down, or I'll be forced to have you removed from the premises," she
directed.

"You, and what army, Lady?" he screamed.

From within Angie's head, Xena grinned wickedly. "If she lets me out, I'll show him whose army."

Meantime, Angie stood tall and looked Lowmiller in the eye. The man was too drunk for his own good. "Sir, I'm going to have
to ask you to leave. Please do so or I'll call security."

"Right," he scoffed and pushed her roughly out of the way. "I wonder who else is going to have a problem with me seeing my
son?"

"I do," a voice indicated.

"What now?" he rasped and turned to see Dave standing just inside of the door. Schanke and Natalie were running down the
hall, trying to restrain their friend before he got himself arrested.

"I'll thank you not to touch my wife and to keep away from the boy," Dave growled.

Lowmiller coughed and slurred, "And if I don't stop? I suppose you're the sec'rity?"

"I guess you could say that," the professor chuckled maniacally, the smile forming on his face.

"You wouldn't have the stomach for it, Bookworm," Lowmiller spat.

Angie could sense the fury building inside of her husband. "No," she
whispered desperately. Then, she rose and stepped between the two men. "Dave, Mr. Lowmiller, please stop!"

"What? Is the big bad Bookworm going to beat me up?" He looked down at Dubois. "I'm at least a half foot taller and probably
outweigh you by thirty pounds. I'll kick your tail."

"Size ain't everything, Blowhard," Dave grinned and closed his eyes. It was feeding time at the zoo, and the Child was starving.
With a thought, the two sides of his personality swapped places. "Now, speakin' of a whoopin'....C'mere...."

"You asked for it!" the drunken interloper screamed and threw a haymaker wildly. He missed by a good six inches.

"Oh, my, my, my...My turn," the Child snickered and, moving lightning quick, grabbed the man by the collar, and threw him
through the doors, stalking purposefully after the drunk. "Now, where were we?"

Lowmiller gaped at the enraged man in front of him. "Tha..tha..ain't
human!"

"Oh, I'm a monster now, right?" the Child inquired. "Funny, but you're the Boogey man to me. And they call me the beast! Just
remember something, my father made me like this..." A second later, he had Lowmiller up against the wall and continued, "And
you're so much like him, it's sick! I oughta...!"

"Dave! Stop!" Schanke ordered. "Back away now!"

"Stick it, Lardball!" the Child hissed. "This fool has a poundin' coming to him! Somebody needs to teach him!"

"Don't be stupid!" Schanke pressed, drawing his pistol. His eyes bulged wide and he began to sweat profusely. "He ain't worth
it, Dave. So far you've done nothing wrong. Just back away and everything will be okay."

Natalie rushed over to Angie's side. "Hey, are you okay?" she asked.

Angie nodded, "Yes, I just had the wind knocked out of me is all."

The coroner smiled in relief on that front. However, the other issue still remained just outside the door. Would Dave do as
Schanke had ordered?

****************************

Out in the hall, the standoff continued between Schanke and Dave. For a long minute, the Child teetered on the edge, holding
his fist cocked and ready to deliver a serious blow to Lowmiller's head. Then, the anger gradually faded. Dave was back in
control.

"Schank, I'm back," he assured his friend. "Can you take this piece of
garbage?"

"Yup," Schanke concurred. "Just let him go."

"He's all yours," Dave agreed and released his victim from the chokehold.

"Thank you," the detective told his friend and began to cuff Lowmiller.
"Mr. Lowmiller, you're under arrest."

"For 'hat?" the drunk wondered.

"For disturbing the peace, assaulting the good doctor over there, and for
the treatment of your son. Come with me," Schanke directed.

"What 'bout him? You gotta deal with him! He's a monster!" Lowmiller protested.

Schanke stared at his friend. Yeah, the Child was a dark, malevolent force. But, at least, Dave had kept it somewhat in check.
"From where I stand, you're the monster. Come on." With that being said, he led Lowmiller through the door and toward the
elevator.

Angie and Natalie approached Dave. "Are you okay?" Natalie inquired.

He began to quake once again with nervous energy. Tears filled his eyes, and he fell to his knees. "N...No," he sobbed.

Angie embraced him tightly. Despite everything, he hadn't surrendered to the Child...he hadn't taken his vengeance. "It's going to
be okay."

"I...still feel the rage," he explained.

"But, you held it under control," she assured him. "Look, I'm so proud of you right now. Would you like to go home?"

He nodded, "But, I don't want...to leave Ray's mother by herself."

Anita shook her head. "You look like you need to be alone."

"N...No, I insist," Dave continued. "It would make me feel better."

"There won't be any change for awhile, Ma'am," Belinda stated. "Meanwhile, if I hear anything, I can reach you there."

"You'll call if there's any change?" Anita insisted.

"The very minute that it happens," Belinda promised earnestly.

"Okay, if you say so...Angie, I accept your husband's invitation. Thank
you," Anita agreed.

"You're very welcome," Angie smiled warmly.

The concerned mother hovered over her son's bed momentarily and stated, "It'll be okay, Baby. I'm going to get a hot meal, but
the good doctors here will take care of you. I'll be back."

Belinda beamed warmly and nodded.

Then, Anita joined Dave, Angie, and Natalie as they walked toward the elevator, the Taurus, and home.

Chapter 12

Nick leaned forward on his couch, contemplating the half-full jade bottle in front of him. Sleep had eluded him throughout the
day. Finally at 3PM, figuring that he wasn't about to doze off, he walked downstairs and pulled the bottle from the fridge.

"I wish I could have done more to help that boy," he mused to himself.

How often had he been in that situation himself? After the righteous
feeling of his "police mentality" had worn off, the vampire detective was left feeling with yet another crisis of conscience. At that
point, his mind flashed back over the various points when LaCroix had beaten him both physically and mentally. "What was it
that he used to say? That he was doing it for my own good? That he remade me in his image?" he queried to the air about him.

From within his mind, his former master's words reverberated across his consciousness....

First, he was back in the Parisian crypt in 1228 on the night he was brought across...LaCroix was commenting about his
adventures with Nero, Charlemagne, and Genghis Khan before finishing up with the statement: "All of these things I have given
you. The crusades which you have endured will seem as a heartbeat in your lifetime.... I have made you my brother."

Then, the scene shifted to England at the turn of the twentieth century. LaCroix had caught Nick coming back from the
apothecary and brutalized him. "Think how this makes me look!" was the concern at that point.

Another jump in time brought him to the Toronto warehouse during the jade cup fiasco. "Isn't what immortality what you
wanted? Not to end up like this? [slaping the side of beef]...This is how you thank me?...thank me?...thank me?...thank me?"

"Poor Nicholas," a familiar voice chided from the top of the stairs.
"Always stewing over the past and never letting go of it."

Sensing the identity of the figure behind him, Nick guzzled the bottle's
contents almost in protest and gave a smug smile even as the cow blood
drizzled down his face.

LaCroix watched this act with some satisfaction. At least the boy was
redeveloping some resolve. This latest display seemed to solidify the elder vampire's thinking on this topic. Still, the foolish quest
to become mortal had to be stopped at some point. That activity was taking a toll on the Roman's reputation, and he was now
being viewed as growing soft in the eyes of the Community at large. As little as ten years ago, no group of renegades would
have dared to sic the Enforcers on him or his children. The recent battle between the vampire hunters, Xena, and the insolent
Dubois had illustrated clearly that views of his personage were sinking in the eyes of the immortals surrounding them. Something
would have to be done....

"You really should stop drinking that swill," he continued, levitating to
the floor. "It will be the death of you yet."

"That's the idea. Well, to be...." Nick shrugged morosely.

"Yes, yes... 'to be human'. I know, I know....We have danced to this tune before, Nicholas," LaCroix sighed, a bit of a frown
forming on his face as he let the irritation pepper his speech. "Can't you accept what you are? You are a vampire! Let go of the
weakness...You can never go back to being human. You do realize that, I hope."

"I really don't believe that," Nick stated adamantly. "You want me to give up, to accept what you made me. I didn't have a
choice, not really."

LaCroix snickered. Oh, yes...The boy was playing the philosopher-barrister once again and being really pitiful in the process of
it. "Oh really? You seemed enamored by it at the time. You did come back to me from Death's door...as if that was really an
option in any event."

"I was intoxicated at the time," Nick argued.

"Of course you were!" LaCroix laughed incredulously. "And in high spirits after being with Janette as I recall. Face it, Nicholas,
none of us have the perfect conditions under which to make the choice. I was under the threat of death either by molten ash or
at my daughter's hand. Of course, I didn't understand the exact implications of Divia's meaning at the time either." He crossed
the floor, opened the fridge door, and poured himself a glass of his own choice stock. "Ah, this really hits the spot. Are you sure
that you won't have any? Janette would understand, trust me."

"I'll pass," the former Crusader declined and tipped the bottle at his
guest. "Then, why don't you get what I'm saying?"

LaCroix raised his eyebrow in silent frustration. Finally, after a moment of trying to restrain himself, his eyes turned golden.
"Because, this is what we are! Yes, we are victims of circumstances! The Fates do not give us a choice in this grand drama in
which we deal! What was it that your actor friend used to say -something like 'Life is like a play full of sound and fury, signifying
nothing'? What was it that Machiavelli said about life: 'a man makes his own fortune'? Trust me, by coming with Janette to me,
you made your own golden fortune, Nicholas. Carpe diem...Carpe centuriam...Carpe mille annium. We are all victims, accept it
and end this farce."

Nick pondered his companion's words carefully and then, posed the question, "You once said that you made me in your
image..."

"I did," LaCroix agreed, wondering where he was going with this latest
conundrum.

"Well, didn't Divia create you in her image when she brought you across? And yet, you rebelled against her," Nick continued.
"Why is my rebellion any different than yours?"

The elder vampire's smile grew wider. The younger one certainly was
learning something after all. But, as usual, he had a ready answer:
"Because, I am her father."

"As a mortal, yes," Nick pressed, savoring the knots he could almost see twisting in LaCroix's mind. "But, didn't you say that
she told you to let go of your mortal bonds? That includes the parental bond, LaCroix...and includes the concept of the
paterfamilias. Once you were a vampire, the roles reversed. She was the parent, and you, the Child. If I remember correctly,
you said that she wanted an immoral relationship. Isn't that why you imprisoned her?"

"No, she didn't respect her master. She killed him, so I did the same to
her," LaCroix snapped, getting annoyed at the direction that the argument was taking.

"But in so doing, were you not rebelling against her, LaCroix?" Nick pushed. "And in so doing, were you not rebelling against
the natural relationship between fledgling and mistress? The relationship is what she wanted. By betraying her, you went against
her wishes for you...and in so doing, you refused to accept your own nature."

"That is rubbish!" LaCroix stormed.

"But, you know it's true. Why is my search for humanity any different than your holding onto your Roman sense of virtue...of
morals? It seems to me that you are just as guilty of being a hypocrite as I am," the younger vampire continued to press his luck.

The Roman general shook his head at the argument. "It's different," he
denied vehemently. "I made you. You are mine!"

"And you were Divia's. I fail to see the difference!"

"The difference is," he reiterated. "that I made you."

"And she made you," Nick repeated.

For what seemed like an eternity, but was really only five minutes, the two immortals locked stares. Nick stubbornly held his
ground. LaCroix quaked with rage at Nick's impertinent statement. "This...is not...finished!" the elder snapped and streaked
away under a vicious head of steam, leaving Nick to wonder if he had finally made some headway against the old Roman.

"Bravo!" Natalie's voice cheered.

Nick turned to see the coroner stepping into the light. Both he and LaCroix had been too engrossed in their argument to notice
her presence. "Nat? How long have you...?"

"Oh, ever since the 'you made me in your image' part," she crowed. "I gotta tell you, Nick. That was impressive."

"Thanks for the complement, but I was just refuting him which is nothing new," he debated.

She shook her head definitively, "No, it is a step...Yes, you defended
yourself as always. But tonight, you took it a step further. You pushed
the guilt back into LaCroix's court. Now, he can't stop you...at least not
without being a hypocrite." She rubbed his shoulder. "You should be proud of yourself, Nick."

"I guess Dave, Angie, and Xena are rubbing off on me," he admitted. "But, it does feel good."

"Of course!" she cheered. "And I'm glad they're having a positive effect." She put her coat back on.

"Where to?" he asked, picking up the keys to the Caddy.

"Oh, down to the precinct. Unfortunately, I need you to look at some
paperwork down there...and I think Ramirez wants to see you," she grimaced.

He winced, "Ouch...Well, we'd best get this over with."

She nodded and held the door to the lift, "After you."

"Thanks," he accepted and headed toward another heated discussion in the precinct.

Chapter 13

Alyce awoke at sunset with a nervous feeling in the pit of her stomach. She couldn't comprehend why she felt this way, only that
she was sure that she did have the twitchiness.

"Okay, settle down," she assured herself and walked over to the fridge for a draught of blood. The nourishing fluid helped to
calm her somewhat. She walked down the hall to the bathroom and took a shower. Although she didn't need to do this activity
anymore, the cleansing was a vestigial ritual of her mortality. Besides, for some reason, the ritual helped to clear her mind and
focus on the new evening's activities.

Dressing herself in an orange blouse and a beige skirt, the curator walked back into her living room and looked around. The
clock on the wall read 6:30. "Three hours to go," she mused and took another swallow of her nourishment.

A knock came from the door. "Yes?" she asked cautiously.

"Alyce, it's Nick. Can Natalie and I come in?" Nick asked.

"Absolutely," she replied and opened the door. Noting the tautness on her friends' faces, a big problem had to be brewing.
"What's going on?"

Nick cleared his throat, "Well, you remember the Lowmiller boy from last night?"

The curator nodded, "Sure, but what happened?"

"After his father took him home last night, something happened. He was put in Intensive Care this morning," the detective
continued.

Alyce gasped, "Does his mother know? She's on her way!"

Natalie grimly nodded, "She knows all right. Apparently, she showed up at UMC. Angie and Belinda McDermott got her
settled down. And then, his father showed up...."

"Oh my!" the curator exclaimed. "Did he...?"

"Schanke and I weren't there at the beginning. Dave however...." Natalie continued.

The curator winced, remembering her friend's moodiness from the night before. "And, what happened?"

"Lowmiller lost it. He had already knocked Angie over and was screaming at his ex-wife. Dave came into the room. The next
thing we knew, he had Lowmiller pinned up against the wall in the hallway. Fortunately, Schank stopped him just in time before
he hurt Ray's father," Natalie reported. "Lowmiller's at the precinct right now, along with Ray and his mother. Dave and Angie
gave their statements to Schanke this afternoon and since witnesses collaborate his account, he's in the clear."

"Okay, so what does this have to do with me?" Alyce asked.

"Since you and Ray were seen together last night, we need a statement from you as well," Nick told her. "Don't worry, it's
routine."

"Okay, well...as long as I'm at the museum by ten to start my shift," Alyce agreed. "Are we taking the Caddy?"

"It's right outside," he concurred. "Let's go."

***********

To Nick, Alyce, and Natalie, the ride in the Caddy seemed too brief. In all too little time, they walked through the doors into the
precinct. At the front desk, an anxious Sargeant Novak noticed their arrival.

"Excuse me, Detective Miles, Dr. LeBeau, you're needed in the captain's office, ASAP," she stated.

"Sure," Nick nodded.

The pathologist nervously looked around and whispered in his ear, "Let's get in there and get this over with."

The trio crossed the bullpen and knocked on the captain's door.

"Si?" Ramirez asked.

"Captain, it's Detective Miles. I have Drs. LeBeau and Harris with me."

"Please, come in!" he bade.

Nick opened the door and ushered his companions inside. Schanke and Tracy were already there. In the corner of the sanctum,
Ray and Anita watched the newcomers carefully.

"Ah, Detective! This is Ms. Fisher," Ramirez introduced.

"It's good to meet you," Nick greeted.

"So, you're the detective who let Ray back into my ex-husband's clutches," Anita snapped. "I ought to sue you...."

"I had no choice," he argued.

Ramirez came to his defense. "He's right, Ms. Fisher. He had to do
exactly what he did."

"Believe me, I didn't like it," Nick assured her.

"Well, that's easy for you to say," the distraught mother bit back, "It
isn't your son lying in a hospital bed hooked up to machinery." Then, she turned on Alyce, "And, as for you, I take it you're the
curator. You told me that my boy would be safe. Instead, you took him to this detective here."

Alyce shook her head, "I thought he would be safe with the detective. I am sorry."

"How do you people sleep at night making these decisions?" Anita cried, the tears coming down her cheeks.

Natalie looked at Ramirez who nodded. The coroner continued, "Ms. Fisher, we have somebody for you to talk to. Her name
is Michelle and she's a great listener. Feel free to talk to her about these issues, okay?"

Anita nodded, "All right. But, this isn't finished! You better hope he
wakes up! All of you!" With that, she stormed out of the office.

Natalie gave the others an incredulous look and followed the distraught
woman out of the area.

The captain studied the vampire detective. "There was nothing you could have done, Nick. In the case of custody issues, it
takes irrefutable evidence to reverse parental control over the child," he assured.

Schanke and Tracy studied their two immortal friends, wondering what type of court could free them of LaCroix's influence.

Then, the balding detective broke the silence, "I can imagine what I would be like if Jenny were in that bed. Sorry, Pardner," he
told Nick. "I would have said the same stuff. It's Hell being a parent sometimes."

"But neither you nor Myra would put her in that bed, Schank," Nick rasped, staring out of the window at Anita who was
meeting with the counselor across the bullpen. How many times had he been treated in that fashion? And then, Dave's words
continued to echo across his consciousness. "Who speaks for them...for them...for them?"

"Nick," Tracy tapped him on the arm. "Hey, we had to do it."

The blonde detective shook his head discouragedly.

Schanke shook his head silently and motioned for Tracy to follow. After a momentary hesitation, she agreed to do so.

The captain waited until the two men were alone. "Life stinks sometimes, Nick. At least, we have the proof we need. Why don't
you take a couple of nights off and get this out of your system? We'll be okay," he offered.

"But, Tracy and I have other cases," Nick disagreed.

"Which Schanke can help her with," Ramirez stated. "Look, Amigo, I'm giving you a choice. Either take a voluntary vacation, or
I'm ordering you to be on a three day leave minimum. I will order Chris Novak to throw you out if she sees you anywhere near
here. Comprende?"

"Yeah, Cap. I get it," Nick shrugged. "I'll see you next week."

"Good. You're one of my best, Detective. I want you to stay that way. See you soon."

Nick nodded silently and walked out the door. With the briefest of waves to his friends, he exited the precinct and sped away in
the Caddy before the weight of his memories overwhelmed him entirely.

Chapter 14

Meantime, a light rain had begun to fall across the Old Pueblo. On the top of the old Congress Hotel, LaCroix watched the city
lights and observed the activity far below. He was still stewing over the argument with Nicholas. This desert arrangement was
already becoming a nuisance especially given the way his son's views were being warped! Looking toward the east, he sensed
Eve's familiar presence in addition to those of Xena and Gabrielle close by. No matter, if he could not have his golden child at
the moment, he would reclaim the last member of his familia. As his mind focused on the Messenger, the years rolled back once
again....

***********

[Northern Italy 79 AD]

The previous year's campaigning had been a tremendous success. The Roman army under the combined leadership of Lucius
and Livia had swept through Germania and Gaul, eradicating all organized resistance, putting most to the sword, and subjugating
the rest. Between the Gauls, Germanic barbarians, and even, the Amazons, there was no force mighty enough to defeat them.
Once they crossed back into Italia, their last target was clear. Ostia harbored the followers of Eli and would need to be
disciplined.

In the command tent, the siblings poured over their maps and battle plans in minute detail.

"What do you think?" he inquired, pointing at the targeted port.

The brunette fury leaned over the drawing and smiled. Attacks from the west and south simultaneously would force the town to
surrender. "I say we make an example out of those who would harbor the enemy."

Lucius concurred, "Yes...but we spare the wealthiest. After all, the port
is still valuable to the Emperor."

She scoffed, "Surely, you're joking, Lucius? Wealthy or not, they're allies of the enemies of Rome."

"I will not be a party to the needless slaughter of those people," the male commander refused and added to himself, "Especially
since they are among my greatest supporters."

Despite his caution, Livia knew his thoughts. After all, when two people had lived together under the same roof for as long as
they had, they got to know each other really well. She knew about his Ostian power base and if that center fell apart in the raid,
oh well...what was the old expression about killing two birds with one stone? In any event, it would be over soon.

"Is it a stalemate then?" a powerful voice inquired from the darkness.

The two commanders turned to see Ares appear in a flash of light. The war god had not been far away from their forces
throughout the whole campaign. In fact, he seemed too close to Livia for Lucius' liking. When they got back to Pompeii, the two
siblings would have a talk about who was really in charge.

Ares smirked and shrugged to the male general. Since the war god knew his general's thoughts and desires, his ponderings were
hardly a surprise. "So, Lucius, you're thinking of sparing those poor Ostians. Hmmm, interesting strategy, Big Guy. Tell me,
what's in it for you?"

Livia smirked icily and arched her right eyebrow as she sauntered close to the Olympian. "Yes, Brother, what is in it for you?"

Lucius growled indignantly. All of the years of planning...of contemplation could go up in flames if Ostia was laid waste.

"Tsk...tsk, such frustration," Ares cracked. "If I didn't know better, I'd
say you were in this for yourself and not for me."

"It's my career, Ares. While I'm grateful for the successes, they will
bring glory to my house," the general snarled, even as he managed a
face-saving bow.

"Take care, General," the war god warned. "One day, you may turn your back, and your proud house might be obliterated if
you're not careful to show some respect."

"After all of the glory I have given you!" Lucius ranted. "You wouldn't
dare...."

Ares coughed incredulously. Who was this clown to tell him what he would and wouldn't do? Perhaps, he might show the
pompous general what life without the god of war's blessing was really like....

At that moment, an emissary rushed into the tent and bowed, "My lords, I have news! From Pompeii!"

Lucius turned on the man, "What is it? Spit it out!"

"Yes, General. It's Divia. She is mortally ill!" the man informed them.

Livia gasped. Her niece of like mind and like ill-will couldn't leave her
to put up with the self-made man. She had to do something. "Ares,
certainly you will do something, please?"

Ares smirked, "I might...if you ask nicely enough. You see, Lucius, I am not a bad guy after all. Both you and your daughter will
live for a long, long time."

Lucius smiled at this blessing and left silently. It would be a long ride
from Ostia to Pompeii and he would need every minute to reach his villa. "Take care of things, Livia, until I return!" he called,
riding away from the tent....

************

[Back in the Present]

LaCroix frowned, "Yes, Ares. I have lived a long time. If this is your
curse, then I have beaten you." He crushed a granite cornice with his left hand, watching as the dust blew away on the storm's
wind. Then, sensing another presence, he turned toward the north.

Janette landed beside him. "I was concerned for you, LaCroix. I was afraid you might do something rash."

He snickered, "No, nothing of the kind. I thank you for your concern,
Janette. However, tonight, I will reclaim someone who has owed me for two millennia."

She shook her head desperately and pleaded, "Certainly, you cannot be
referring to the girl...Xena's daughter? I beg you, do not do this."

"She is also my sister! That infernal warrior woman has caused me enough pain! If I can reclaim Livia and cause her pain in the
process, then all the better!" he spat venomously.

"Blood, LaCroix, is thicker than water. A name is all you have. For
everyone's sake, let it go," she urged.

Her former master smiled. Certainly, the change in masters had not changed Janette that much. "I will see you later, Cherie," he
assured her and kissed her cheek. Then, he took off into the night.

For her part, the lady of the night stood watch on the rooftop.  Finally, she followed his flight path, hoping to head off any trouble.

Chapter 15

Back at the apartment, Dave sulked as he lay unable to sleep in the
darkness. Too many things slid through his memories...and forced his mind back once again.

***********************

[1982]

Dave looked in the mirror. His face was a mass of bruises, as was his back. From deep within himself, he felt the anger and hate
welling up. Now, he would have to go to school like that and put up with all of the
rubbernecking and comments.

"No more," he told himself and walked over to the dresser drawers. Slowly, he began to pile the different types of clothing on
the bed. He had decided to run away. While he didn't know what life on the streets would be like, it couldn't be any worse than
this crap.

A rapping came from the door. "Damn!" he cursed to himself. "Can't a guy get lost in peace?" He turned to the door, "Come on
in!"

The door creaked open. He saw that it was Karen Alvarez and turned away lest she see his father's handiwork.

"Dave, it's okay, I know all about it. Your grandmother called and told
me," she revealed. "Turn around and talk to me."

"No!" he spat. "I look a sight!"

She stood firm and grabbed his arm, spinning her distraught friend around. "And I said I know about...My goodness! I...I'm
sorry!"

"Are you happy now?" he sighed. "You get to see the beast after his weekly beating."

"You are not a beast!" she lectured. "And you certainly don't deserve this! So, where are you going?"

"On a trip...a long trip," he replied cryptically, stuffing clothes into his
duffel as fast as he could.

"You're running away, aren't you? Where will you go?" she demanded.

"I'll figure it out as I go. Besides, nobody cares anyway," he growled and zipped the bag. "Look, Karen, you're a great friend. I
really like
you...but if I stay around, my Dad will eventually kill me." With that, he climbed out of the window, and tried to slide down the
rain duct. The aluminum tubing predictably crumbled under his weight, sending the distraught teen hurling three stories to the
ground.

"Dave!" Karen screamed and ran out of the room.

On the ground below, he felt a sharp overwhelming pain in his left leg.
Great, he had broken it. Combined with all of the other little pains, the
jolting of this latest injury drove him toward blissful oblivion....

*******************************

[Modern Day]

Dave rose from bed and stared out the bedroom window. The rain had picked up in intensity. It would be a bleak
day...matching his mood.

Behind him, Angie stirred. "What time is it?" she muttered.

He turned, "Sorry, Princess, I didn't mean to wake you."

"The way you've been tossing and turning, I'm lucky I could get any sleep at all," she yawned and rose from bed. "Are you still
having those nightmares?"

"They keep getting more intense," he replied sadly.

"You seemed to be doing better. What is going on?" she asked.

"It's just one of my down cycles. I'll get through it," he chuckled, trying to reassure her.

Her brow arched, "Yeah right. I'm putting on some coffee for both of us. Let's have a chat in a few minutes...once I'm awake
enough to think." She let out a gigantic yawn. "Goodness me!" she exclaimed. "Well, maybe you're starting to get to me, but
now I'm getting that feeling. Something's going to happen tonight."

He nodded absently and continued staring out into the inky blackness.

*********************

Across the complex, Eve poked and prodded at her computer's keyboard. Bad enough, she had an introductory piece to do so
soon after starting her new career, but the twentieth-century technology confounded her as well. After three hours worth of
effort, all she had were three typed pages and a wastebasket full of crutched-up attempts at the same.

"Eli, give me strength," she muttered. "If only I had more time." She took another sip of coffee. "At least, David and Angela
know their beverages. This raspberry drink is wonderful," she remarked to herself and kept going. For a while, she kept
trudging on the paper until she realized that she was no longer alone.

"Francesca?" she inquired and glanced toward her roommate's bedroom. The door was still closed and the Italian professor's
rhythmic breathing indicated that she was still asleep. Then, she felt the curtains rustling in the night breeze.

"Okay, whoever is in here, show yourself!" she demanded.

From the shadows, a voice replied, "You know me, Livia. I've always been with you."

"Lucius!" she exclaimed, panicked. She knew that as weary and distraught as she was, she would be no match for her immortal
step-brother. "What are you doing here now?"

"Is that any way to greet your family?" LaCroix inquired sardonically.
"Tell me, have you forgotten that much about yourself? The killing, the martial glory...they are still within you...."

She frowned and shook her head, "I'm not Livia any longer! I am redeeming myself for my past. You helped to make me a
bloody killing machine. I may never cleanse myself of that, but I will never stop trying!"

LaCroix scowled. He wouldn't have thought it possible, but yes, lightning had struck him twice. Two of his finest creations-the
mortal and immortal pieces de resistance-regretted their nature and were sickened by the glory that was rightfully theirs. "By the
gods, what has that Thracian witch done to you?" he wondered aloud.

Eve frowned, "I will thank you to remember that Xena is my mother. My true mother...flesh and blood. Address her
respectfully!"

The former general was in no mood to be lectured thus. "She abandoned you. Father raised you with me in the familia. That
period means more than a few pains!" In anger, his eyes went yellow, and his fangs descended. "Perhaps if you are brought
across, you would see the error in your ways."

The Messenger shuddered and backed away from the advancing vampire. If only she could get to the door....

"There's no escape, Livia. Embrace what you are. The glory of your true nature. Think of the immortal conquests, the effect you
would have on history. The Elesians are weak. You were strong and will be again." LaCroix prophesized. "You are friends with
Nicholas, are you not? Certainly, you can see that he is mine...forever. There is no breaking a bond with me. Not for him and
certainly not for you!"

The thought of being a vampire revolted her, sending spasms throughout her entire body. "No! I am Eve, messenger of Eli! Livia
is gone!" she protested.

"We shall see...." LaCroix smiled and continued to move closer. Just as he reached the terrified woman, something hard struck
the back of his head. While the impact would have incapacitated a mortal, it was a mere annoyance to the ancient. "Who
would?"

"Leave her alone, Lucius," Gabrielle directed, readying her staff for
another swipe if needed.

LaCroix shook his head incredulously, "You! Really now, you have gained some nerve since our last encounter at Corinth. To
attack me without Xena anywhere close by..."

"I'll do what I have to in order to protect Eve. I won't warn you again!"
the bard directed and unscrewed the ends of her staff to reveal her new
javelin. "I have been carrying this with you and your kind in mind."

The ancient vampire turned to face his new opponent, giving Eve a bit of breathing space. She bolted for the door and into the
now-driving
torrential rains.

"Curse you!" he hissed and backhanded the Potadeian across the room. "I will deal with you later!"

*******************

"Mother!" Eve screamed, running across the hardtop as hard as she could manage. "Mother, help me!"

"There is no escaping what you are, Livia," LaCroix's voice reminded her mercilessly. "We are alike, you and I."

"No!" she shrieked and kept up her pace. By now, her terry cloth robe was heavily drenched and beginning to slow her down,
but somehow, she found the strength to keep going. She reached the Dubois' door and banged loudly.

"Come away from there! Don't make me hurt you!" he hissed menacingly.

"Stay away from me, Lucius!" she demanded.

"Or what? Are you going to hit me with daisies or some pretty verse?" he baited.

As if on cue, a whistling sound could be heard above the rain. "What?" he asked just before he felt something cut a gash into his
side before
disappearing into the night again.

"No, but I'm going to hit you with something else, Lucius," Xena's voice hissed from out of the dark rain. "Eve, get inside with
David now!"

LaCroix rubbed his side and bore his fangs. The confrontation was finally here....

Chapter 16

Nick meandered through Tucson for much of the night. His guilt over Ray Lowmiller's situation continued to weigh heavily on his
conscience. Tuning the radio, he expected to hear LaCroix's voice on KRAN. Instead, there was a substitute for the
Nightcrawler. That was odd. The elder vampire relished his role and let few things interrupt him from his listeners. The
detective's mind flashed back to their debate earlier in the evening. The argument...that had to be it. LaCroix was past his usual
annoyed state at the end of the discussion. Rather, he flew off with an unknown purpose.

Then, his cellphone went off. "Miles," he answered.

"Nick, it's Nat," Natalie replied nervously. "Something's going on outside. The rain is making it hard to see...but it looks like a
woman is being chased by someone over here at my complex."

"Ramirez sent me home, Nat," he protested despite wanting to go over there.

"I'm sure he'll understand!" the coroner argued. "Look, Nick, with all of the shrieking going on...Oh...my gosh!"

"What is it?" Nick demanded. "Nat?"

"Nick, the man has glowing eyes. It's LaCroix! And, things are about to get worse! Xena just confronted him, and they look as
though they're about to go at it! Get over here now!" she reported and hung up.

"Now, you've done it, LaCroix," he muttered to himself while putting his phone away. Then, he sensed a familiar presence drop
into the passenger seat beside him.

"Indeed, he has, Nicolas," Janette's voice agreed. "You know now where he is going, I trust?"

The vampire detective nodded, remembering the statements made at the
Blackwells' farm about the bond between LaCroix and Eve. "He's gone after Eve."

"He wishes to reestablish the paterfamilial link," the female vampire
continued his thought. "However, in his current emotional state, he failed to take into account certain other factors, no?"

"Xena, Dave, and Gabrielle," Nick agreed. "Well, according to Nat, he
chased Eve into the storm. Now, Xena's confronting him."

"We must stop this from escalating, Nicolas. It would be a danger to the whole community!"

He quietly concurred and climbed out of the Caddy. Looking up into the falling droplets, he ascended into the air, heading east
at top speed.
Janette, for her part, followed closely behind....

*******************

Gabrielle rubbed her head anxiously. She couldn't believe that she let
Lucius get through her defenses as easily as he did! Still, Eve had managed to get away.

"I wonder what's happening," she pondered and staggered to her feet.
Feeling the beginnings of a headache inside of her temples, she knew a
migraine special would be forthcoming in the morning. Then, she heard the familiar piercing battle cry. Angela had released
Xena! Well, she couldn't let her friend face the former general alone. "Hang on, Xena!" she stated while grabbing her javelin,
and running out into the storm.

*******

Meantime, Schanke and Tracy rode the circuit around the extreme edges of the precinct's territory. Aside from a few crank
calls and miscellaneous things, their ride had been eerily quiet. To each person, it seemed funny not to be riding with Nick.
However, with everything on the guy's mind, the two detectives had decided to make the best of it and ride together for the
night.

"I hope he's okay," Tracy started.

"Hmm?" Schanke replied. "Nick? Well, other than the depressive bouts, yeah, he'll be fine. Trust me, every once in a while he
gets really
serious. I guess when you've been around as long as he has, you have a
right to be that way."

She nodded, "Yeah, I remember a few of his moodier shifts. Especially
after...." She almost talked about the plane crash, but stopped just short.

"After what?" he inquired.

"That's okay," she shook it off.

"If you mean the crash, it's okay. Hey, everything worked out. You and Nick got to be partners...and now, we're sort of a
threesome," he assured her.

She sighed dejectedly. It was bad enough sometimes having Nick playing the protective older brother/partner up in Toronto.
Now, with Schanke around, there would be two such likeable issues to put up with. Would she ever get ahead?

The balding detective looked her over once again. He knew that type of reaction in a cop. A territorial issue had developed
between them.

He was about to speak when the radio cut in: "81Kilo! 81Kilo! Over!"

Tracy picked up the mike and spoke, "Brown here. Go ahead, Dispatch."

"Detective, proceed over to East Fifth apartment complex immediately.
Residents are reporting a disturbance," the officer indicated.

"Dispatch, this is Detective Schanke, this doesn't seem like normal homicide stuff," he countered.

"Everyone's tied up in other cases. Sorry, but that leaves you two. Out," the dispatcher concluded and signed off.

"Well, shall we?" Schanke inquired with a shrug while putting the siren on the dashboard.

"Sounds like a plan," Tracy affirmed while punching the gas and heading eastward.

*********

Meanwhile, in the midst of the rain-soaked lot, the two ancient warriors
circled each other anew. Neither letting up for a minute nor taking an eye off of the opponent.

"Get out of my way, Xena. She's mine!" LaCroix stated firmly.

"Like Tartarus, Lucius!" she contradicted, allowing the battle-craze to
settle into her eyes while whipping her sword menacingly between them. "Rome is long gone, and so are your claims over her!
Come on! Try your luck!"

The former general steeled himself. God killer or not, she would not stand between him and his stepsister. "Suit yourself," he
hissed and flew at her.

The Warrior Princess grinned enthusiastically, executing a perfect flip over his head. In mid-leap, she struck out with her foot,
sending him careening into a nearby wall.

Struggling to his feet, he snarled, "First blood goes to you, but that is
not necessarily the victory!" Dusting himself off, the ancient vampire
composed himself again. "You abandoned her, Xena! When you did that, you lost your claim to her!"

"Eve is my child!" the Thracian warrior bellowed into the rainy air between them. "You corrupted her!"

"Her training was my father's greatest joy," he affirmed angrily. "Imagine having to compete for his affections with her."

Xena smirked, "Must have been a real trial for ya, wasn't it? You're
breakin' my heart. Too bad, Lucius. Deal with it. Besides, my daughter already has enough blood on her hands. I won't let you
do any more damage to her." Taking a firmer grip on her sword, she readied it anew and glowered. "And you have destroyed
enough lives as it is...."

Looking over his shoulder, LaCroix watched Dave standing in the window and felt the rage shimmering off of him. Then, he
faced Xena anew. "Livia and Nicholas only followed their true nature! I released that piece of their character!"

"Tell that to Joxer...to the Gauls, and to the Amazons, Lucius. Your hands are dripping with blood of innocents. You took my
friends! Gabrielle's sisters!" She looked over at her partner with a knowing glance before continuing, "But, I saved my daughter,
Lucius, and I won't lose her to you again!"

LaCroix readied himself for another attack when he heard the sirens off in the distance. The infernal mortal authorities! Why
now? Perhaps, he could finish this before they arrived....

"Stop it, LaCroix!" Nick directed, landing beside his former master.

"Stay out of this, Nicholas!" LaCroix bellowed. "This is between me and Xena."

"Bring it on, Tough Guy," she hissed, readying herself for another move on his part. "I have been waiting a long time for this!"

"LaCroix, please!" Janette begged.

"Lucius, don't!" Eve protested.

The enraged elder vampire paid no attention, storming forward toward his opponent.

She smiled and sidestepped him once again. As she did, her sword cut a deep swath across his right shoulder, causing of all
things, massive bleeding.

He gasped, "How? I can't...."

"Oh, yes, you can, Lucius. One thing about me: I don't need a stake to
kill ya, just my sword and my natural talents. Now, do us all a favor and let Nicholas and Janette take you out of here. I'd just
as soon finish the job, but then, you'd be more trouble than you're worth. Go on! Get out of here!" the Warrior Princess
informed him.

Nick and Janette helped LaCroix to his feet. The two younger vampires nodded appreciatively to Xena before they took off
into the night sky with their companion in tow.

Seeing the siren and lights getting closer, the warrior and her bard companion raced through the last part of the apartment complex and disappeared into the woods, leaving the gathering crowd to wonder what had happened. Dave, for his part, simply closed his apartment door, brewed a cup of blackberry tea, and logged onto his computer to read his email. Eve sat subdued in a corner, chanting a prayer of serenity to help herself cope with the attack.

Chapter 17

About 5 minutes after everything settled down, a rapping came from the backdoor.

"What?" Eve inquired.

Dave got up from the computer, walked across the room to affirm his
suspicions. Sure enough, it was Angie and Francesca.

"Sorry, not interested," he joked even as he let them into the apartment.

"Yok it up, Wiseguy," Angie deadpanned. "You weren't the one going against LaCroix out there."

"Believe me, the Child wanted a piece of him. You're lucky he respects
Xena," he chuckled.

"After my comments from the other night, I don't doubt it," she cracked and rubbed his shoulder.

"Eve, are you all right?" Francesca worried. "I hope I did the right thing by letting Gabrielle out."

"Absolutely. You probably saved my life. Thank you," the Messenger beamed.

Just then, a rapping came from the door. Dave opened it to see Schanke and Tracy standing there.

"Hi, Guys," he shrugged. "Come in."

Tracy smirked, " So, what went on out there?"

"Oh, we had a little rowdiness. A minor fracas. That's it," Angie shrugged while starting the coffee maker. "Want some coffee?"

"After the up and down night we're having? Yeah, that sounds great," Schanke agreed.

"And, I take it that Xena was in the midst of all of this?" Tracy probed
expectantly.

Eve shook her head, "What do you think, Detective Brown?"

"I think that she picked a fight with someone..." Tracy continued.

"That's enough speculation, Tracy," Schanke interrupted. "Cool it."

The blonde detective glared at him. "Why?" she seethed.

"Because, it'll cause more trouble for all of us...if you get my drift.
Now, chill out! Pronto!" Schanke urged firmly. "Take a seat, cool down, trust me...you'll feel much better."

Sensing an argument she couldn't win, Tracy retreated to the corner and sat down. "So, did Nick ever get over here?" she
managed to ask.

"He and Janette bailed LaCroix out of trouble," Angie shrugged.

"So, what happened?" Schanke inquired.

"Lucius broke into my apartment and came after me. Somehow, I managed to get past him. I ran over here and then, my mother
intercepted him," Eve recounted.

"It wasn't much of a fight actually," Dave grinned. "LaCroix was charging around like an enraged brahma bull and Xena took a
few swipes at him with her sword, gashed his side with the chakram, and kicked him into a building. And she didn't even get a
scratch."

Schanke shook his head as he accepted the cup from Angie and began to sip. All in all, it had been a long night and he was glad
that his shift was over soon. "What a weird night it's been," he mused, taking a sip.

Everyone agreed. It had been a trying week for them...and to a person, they would be glad to move forward.

Chapter 18

Alyce sat in a lonely chair by Ray's bed. The young man's breathing was rhythmically set to the beat of the respirator. Other
than that, however, he showed no outward sign of life. The curator had assumed a voluntary watch in order to allow Anita to
grab a precious hour or two of restless sleep. She brooded. The young man had done nothing to deserve being in that bed.
Why wasn't he at home sleeping peacefully?

"Why?" she mused. "Why do the sick people roam the earth preying on others?" So many people among those she knew had
been touched with tragedy. "How do they go on?" she wondered. Worse still, she felt guilty for letting Nick take him back to
Lowmiller.

Then, as if in response, Ray coughed. It was only a momentary reflex, but it was a sign.

She scrambled over to the monitors. Sure enough, his vital signs were
showing improvement.

"Thank You," she whispered to the sky for she had realized the answer: hope gave everyone, even vampires, a reason to keep
going. She ran down the hall and found Belinda.

The young doctor hurried to the bedside and studied the machinery. Then, she took the stethoscope and listened to his chest.
Finally, she looked at the curator and smiled, "You're right. I'd say that he is definitely on the mend. Let's go tell Ms. Fisher shall
we?"

The two women walked down toward the lounge to deliver the happy tidings....

*********************

Nick sat at LaCroix's bedside, keeping a close watch as Janette wrapped the former's injuries. Xena's sword had bitten deeply
into the shoulder. Accordingly, the injury would take a few days to heal. Fortunately, the scars and bruises from his impact into
the wall were almost gone.

"Why, LaCroix?" Nick asked.

The Roman opened his eyes and stared weakly at his golden child. "Because...she is mine," he rasped. "Just as you are."

Nick shook his head, "Neither of us are yours. You helped to forge us, but we are our own beings now."

Janette frowned knowingly, "Nicolas."

LaCroix shook his head minutely, "No, Nicholas. Both of you are mine...and always will be mine. Accept it."

The former Crusader sighed deeply and stood up. His companion had learned nothing from the misadventure and would repeat
his mistake again at some point. "Well, I must be going. Janette, can you let me know how he's doing?"

"Oui," she muttered. While she was glad to care for LaCroix, the vampiress didn't relish having sole nursing duty.

He glanced once more at his former master lying in the bed. Then, he walked over to the open window and took off into the
evening sky.

"Stubborn boy...." LaCroix murmured.

"Oh, you know how emotional he can be," she assured him.

He ground his teeth. "I know," he hissed weakly. "But, one day....I will...show him...I will show them all...."

Janette exhaled deeply and walked over to the window. Staring out from the upper story window in LaCroix's flat, she only
shook her head and wondered about the future....

**************
Eve stared out the window of the Dubois' apartment into the night. While she still had her deadline, her mind was still too rattled
by the attack to concentrate. Thinking on the events of the previous three hours, she was split between fear and anger. Nobody
owned her. She thought that her words to her mother and Gabrielle outside of the Amazons' village would have made that point
crystal clear. But, fate kept throwing curves and bumps in the path. On that thought, her mind flashed back anew....

****************
[A Roman Road, somewhere between Rome and Pompeii, 79AD]

Eve stumbled a bit while proceeding down the cobblestone way. The battle at Ostia with her mother had left the young woman
drained. But, who was she really? Up until the encounter in the temple, she was Livia, the destined leader of Rome. In the space
of a heartbeat, that had changed. She knew that her name was Eve...and that she had to repent...to seek forgiveness....

"Wh...Where?" she wondered almost dreamily. The sun and dust were taking a heavy toll on her exhausted body.

Then, as if by a sign, the sky grew dark and the air became acrid.

"What?" she coughed.

An inner voice replied, "Look to your adoptive home."

"Divia!" she realized. Hoping against hope, the tired woman managed some additional energy to pick up her pace, heading south
along the road. Looking up at the sky, she pleaded, "Eli, please help her!" Moving somewhat quickly, she made her way along
the road until she could go no farther. For about 35 miles from Pompeii, the first bits of hot ash popped up around her,
smoldering through her sandals, and irritating her already-blistered feet.

"Stop!" Eli's disembodied voice commanded. "You can do nothing to save them now! They were swept away in Vesuvius'
anger."

"But what about my family?" the former commander demanded fearfully.

"They are lost," the voice informed. "The people you knew are dead.
Remember them as they were, Eve....Remember...Remember..."

The weary woman dropped to her knees and wailed mournfully for the victims of the volcanic blast. Over and over, she
screamed in protest to the skies, but no response was forthcoming.

"I have to go on," she thought and made her way for the coast. There were other ports where she could catch a ship for Portus
Magnus or Icosium. As Livia, she had shamed herself and her mother. Until she repented, she could not be with Xena. Thus
steeled, she moved toward destiny.....

*****
[Back in the Modern Age]

The Messenger sipped her tea and shook her head. While she appreciated her mother's aid, Eve didn't want her to injure Lucius
so badly. If only the latter wouldn't maintain his old-fashioned notions of ownership, of familia, and the paterfamilias. But she
knew that he would try again at some point.

"Eve?" Angie's voice called.

The former commander turned to see Angie standing by the kitchen counter and looking expectantly at her. "Couldn't sleep
either?"

"I'm still nervous about tonight," Eve noted.

"Me too," the oncologist stated. "As is your mother. Tonight was a little too close for comfort. I think you two need to talk
because she has something to say."

"All right," her guest agreed and covered her face.

Angie drew the sword and initiated the change. A moment later, Xena stood in her place.

"Yes, Mother?" Eve inquired cautiously.

"I should have told you about Lucius," the Warrior Princess admitted. "I knew what had happened. So did Gabrielle."

"I guess when you all were talking about Divia, I should have put the pieces together. But, part of me didn't want to think of her
as being that
monster," her daughter commented. "But, how did you know?"

"Ares appeared while we were trying to catch up to you," her mother
explained. "He wanted us to know that he had made a deal with the other gods to cause Vesuvius to erupt. However, he left us
with a riddle: Lucius was dead, and yet not dead. It wasn't until we faced each other later at Corinth that I knew for sure. I'm
sorry...." A tear drizzled down the warrior's cheek.

"No, that's all right," Eve assured her, embracing her parent tightly. "It
worked out in any event."

The two women sat down together, and talked some more....

*******

Dave slept uneasily as his mind still kept regurgitating the events from the past. Tossing and turning like a fish on a dry dock, he
moaned and winced as each new memory replayed itself...

************
(1982)

The doctor had set Dave's leg with a rock-hard cast and suspended it in the air. He made sure that the young man knew how
lucky he was. The grassy patch on which the latter had landed was only seven feet wide and had asphalt on three sides. If he
had hit any of the blacktop, the injuries would have been much worse....

"Thanks, Doc," the high school student told him.

The older man nodded and, walking out the door, he stated, "You have a couple of visitors. Keep the visit brief. You need your
rest."

"Yes, Sir," Dave agreed. He was definitely too tired for a long
conversation.

Karen walked into the room and nervously looked at her friend. His right leg was broken and the bruises still looked bad, but
she was worried about the emotional damage. Already he had shown signs of fits and short emotional outbursts. One could only
wonder at what would happen next....

"Hey," he smiled.

"Hey yourself," she laughed. "Everyone at school said you were too tough for a fall. I should've listened."

"Too bad," he muttered. "Now, I gotta go back."

"Dave, you can't go back there! He'll kill you," she protested. "You said so yourself."

"What...What else is there?" he rasped. "I'm his kid...."

"Dad?" she called into the hall.

"Coming, Princess," a heavy male voice replied as he walked into the area. He stood about six and a half feet tall with short
brown hair and a stocky frame.

"How are you, Mr. Alvarez?" Dave coughed.

"I'm fine. How are you feeling is more important, I guess," the elder man replied.

"I'm surviving. Just like always. Day to day," the young man shrugged and sipped his orange juice.

"Well, you may not have to," Alvarez advised.

Dave's brow scrunched in wonder, "What...? What can you...?"

The visitor chuckled and looked at his daughter. "Not now, David. You rest and get better. When you're feeling better, we'll
talk then."

"Whatever....Sorry, I'm...sleepy....the pain drugs," the young man tiredly explained and dozed off.

*********

[Modern Day]

A smile formed across the professor's face. He had been one of the lucky ones.... Despite everything, the Alvarez family had
intervened and given him a secure place, a safe haven to call home.

"Thank God for my friends," he thought, finally dozing off into a normal slumber.

Conclusion

Two weeks later, Ray slowly made his way out of bed and dressed himself. Today was the big day. His mother was taking him
back to New Mexico with her. Still, he worried about his father. What would happen now? He looked out into the desert
evening sky and wondered about the future.

A knock came from the door, diverting his attention away from the anxious thoughts.

"Are you ready, Ray?" Anita inquired happily.

The young man nodded eagerly and ran over to his mother. "I'm glad to see you," he told her.

She kneeled and embraced the boy tightly as the tears soaked her face. Even after everything, Ray was still a loving child.
"C'mon. We have to say goodbye to your friends first."

"Friends?" he wondered. Then, as they reached the nurse's station, he
beamed as the group of well-wishers came into view. Nick, Schanke, Natalie, Alyce, Angie, Dave, Francesca, and Eve all
smiled as they say the two relatives approach. "Oh wow!"

"Hey, Champ!" Schanke cracked good-naturedly. "Didn't think we'd forget, didya?"

"We wanted to see you off in style," Natalie added sincerely.

"Amen," Francesca stated. "Best wishes, Ray."

Everyone in the group exchanged hugs with their young friend.

Anita sighed and smiled broadly, "Thank you, everyone. Thank you for being there for us."

"You're welcome," Angie noted as she glanced toward her husband. "Believe me, the help was mutual."

"I don't understand...but anyhow, we need to get on the road. I need to be back at work by tomorrow night...Thanks again,"
Ray's mother concluded and took her son's hand. "Come on, Ray."

"Bye and thanks," he added, while walking away. Turning a corner, he
disappeared from view.

Natalie walked over to Schanke. "So, what happens with Lowmiller?"

"Who knows? It'll depend on the judge. The man has a record of physical abuse so maybe this time, he'll get a sterner
sentence," he speculated. "With the system, it's hard to tell...."

*************************

Nick stared out the window, watching Anita's car lights head west down Speedway Boulevard toward I-10. The young man
had been lucky indeed. At least, his mother would keep him safe and try to give him a stable home. He wished them well.
Hopefully, after some therapy and time served, Lowmiller would be able to play a positive role in Ray's life.

Both Natalie and Alyce hung back. Each wanted to reassure their friend and offer words of wisdom. However, they sensed he
wished to be alone with his thoughts and joined the rest of the group in the waiting area.

Nick continued to ponder the significance of the events and their relation to his own life. While he cared about LaCroix, the
former knight wished his companion would respect his wishes. Why were his choices so wrong?

Then, he felt a hand brush his left shoulder and turned to see Eve standing behind him. "Yes?" he inquired.

She smiled almost whimsically, realizing that they were both thinking about their situations with the same person. "Dinar for your
thoughts?" she probed.

"I was thinking of Ray and Anita and how happy they are. They are blessed," he replied.

"Well, I think they have a hard road ahead of them. Ray will need to
rebuild his own faith and trust. But, given time, I agree. They deserve
it," she concurred. "What else is bothering you?"

He shrugged wordlessly and turned back toward the window.

"It's Lucius, isn't it?" she pushed.

Nick realized there was no use trying to fool her. "Yes. I wish he would leave me alone," he moped.

Eve's eyes stared at the floor as she admitted, "I know the feeling.
Nicholas, I don't know what to tell you except that you aren't the only one who is having these thoughts. As his stepsister, he is
still trying to
assert his familial rights over me. Worse still, my mother is stifling me with her overprotectiveness."

"Can't say that I blame her where LaCroix's concerned," he explained. "I kept my sister, Fleur, away from him." Still, their
situations'
similarities did not escape him. Just as Xena and Gabrielle protected Eve, so too was Natalie trying to separate him from his
former mentor. And of course, there was the barrier of the general himself. A big obstacle in his own right. It was an interesting
irony.

Just then, a bright light appeared in the far corner, coalescing into
Fleur's familiar form. "Nicolas, Eve," she acknowledged with a bright
smile.

"Fleur!" he exclaimed, embracing his angelic sister.

"Oui, mon Frère, it is I," she beamed. "Tell me, are you both all right?"

"Yes," he replied.

"As am I," the Messenger reassured her. "Why do you ask?"

The angel studied their features for a moment before continuing, "I was sent here to make sure that the situation from yesterday
was taken care of. ..and to deliver a message. Nicolas, Eve, I want you to be patient with Lucien."

"You mean Lucius? I don't hate him," Eve protested.

"Yes, but you have fear in your heart," Fleur commented.

"Can you blame her?" her brother protested.

Fleur sighed heavily. His feelings toward her love hadn't changed even
after 800 years. How she hoped he and Lucien could resolve their
differences at some point. "Non, I cannot. But, I do remind you both of his love for you. I cannot blame you for disliking his
methods. Despite his words to you, Nicolas, Lucien clings to the past like lichen to a stone. He cares about you both. Please
see that."

"We'll try," the two friends stated.

The angelic messenger beamed with delight. "Then, I must go. Nicolas, Mama, Andre, and Alyssa send their love. Do take
care, mon Frère. Eve, watch out for others. You are on the right path," she advised and blew her immortal brother a kiss as she
faded away. "A revoir!"

For five minutes, neither Nick nor Eve could speak or look at each other. Fleur's message would take time to sink into their
collective consciousness. In terms of their relations with LaCroix, what was the balance between love and hate, fear and respect
in addition to discipline and abuse? After 2800 years of collective experience, they still had no answer to that question. Finally,
they walked out of the now empty room and joined their cohorts.

For that night and a long while afterwards, the puzzle would rattle around in their heads. Only experience would bring solutions
and those would come at their own pace. Meantime, all they could do was keeping having adventures, attempt to deal with their
common relative, and hope for the best.

THE END (for now)

(**Okay, it was a little heavy, but I hope you enjoyed the story! I have some other projects which will be forthcoming over the summer. Meantime, take a look at my story site (http://Dante_6.tripod.com/stories/dubois.html or http://dante6.fanspace.com/dubois.html). Do send comments! Thanks for the interest!**)


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