Quest for Mortality KC Smith Okay. I'm going to attempt to do a crossover... be gentle! This is an FK/Star Trek:The Next Generation crossover. I just happen to love both shows, and I recently read what started out as a FK/STNG xover, so I thought I'd give it a shot. Disclaimers: Nick, Natalie and the FK crew are property of Sony/TriStar. Picard and the STNG crew are owned (I think) by Columbia House. At any rate, none of them belong to me and I'm not making any money from this story. I just write it, because I love it! Permission is freely given to post on any site, including fkfanfic.com and the ftp site. This also makes reference to a character from my story, 'More than Friends'. You may or may not remember him. Enjoy! Quest for Mortality by KC Smith 1999/2000 Nick and Nat watched as the huge starship loomed ever closer to their small shuttle craft. It had been a quiet voyage from their last assignment on Printhus IV, to the Enterprise. Of course, Mr. Worf didn't seem to be really big on small talk. Natalie glanced once more at Nick, then leaned over and gave him a light kiss on the cheek. In the four centuries since she'd been brought across, they'd been husband and wife. Now, after two centuries, they were Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas Knight, once again. Natalie leaned back in her seat and let her mind drift back over time. She recalled, with sadness, the third world war, that had nearly wiped out the mortal population. Even a number of vampires had not survived that catastrophe. She had used her medical skills to save as many people as she possibly could, enlisting the aid of Nick and a few other vampires. She and Nick had stayed in Colorado for many years, following that, and had moved on, as needed, ever since. Nick gave Natalie's hand a reassuring squeeze. He knew that she was saddened by having to leave this life behind. She had grown quite attached to a number of children on Printhus IV. He wished that they could find a cure for this curse, so that they could share their dream of raising a family. He hoped that this latest quest was not another wild goose chase. "Prepare for docking in the ship's landing bay." Mr. Worf sternly ordered them. Then, as if remembering their fictional status, added 'please' on the end. He turned back to his controls and his communications with the Enterprise. "I hate landings." Nat said, as they entered the ship's docking bay. Nick grinned at her. "We could always use the transporter." He said, a wicked gleam in his eyes. "You are positively evil, do you know that?" Natalie accused. "I will NOT have my body broken down into a gazillion pieces and floated through space. Absolutely not." She stubbornly crossed her arms over her chest and glared at him. Four centuries with Natalie had taught Nick one thing he'd lacked before meeting her: Patience. Nat simply refused to do something she didn't want to do. No arguments, no compromise. Just give in and you'll be safe. That was the best way to deal with the situation. Even LaCroix agreed with him on that particular point. The shuttle craft landed with a soft 'thud', then Mr. Worf stood and opened the shuttle doors. He gestured for them to exit, then followed them down the ramp. Natalie took Nick's arm, as they descended the ramp. She noticed a group of officers in their dress uniforms, waiting at the base of the ramp. Captain Picard stepped forward. "Ambassador and Doctor Knight. We are pleased to have you among us. I am Captain Jean-Luc Picard. This is my senior staff." He shook Nick's hand, then lightly kissed Nat's. Then he continued on with the introductions. "This is my First Officer, Commander William Riker." Riker nodded in their direction. "It's a pleasure to meet you." He said. Natalie smiled at him. "Thank you." "This is our Ship's Counselor, Commander Deanna Troi." Picard continued. "This is our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Beverly Crusher." Natalie nodded. "I've heard a great deal about you, Doctor. I look forward to working with you." Dr. Crusher looked slightly suprised. "Thank you. I look forward to working with you, as well. I understand that some of your medical accomplishments on Printhus IV were nothing short of miraculous." Natalie smiled. "A bit over exaggerated, I think. I simply did what I had to do." She looked at Captain Picard. "Please, continue. I did not mean to interrupt." Picard smiled at her. "Quite all right. This is our Chief Engineer, Commander Geordi LaForge and this is Commander Data. Of course, you've already met our Chief of Security, Mr. Worf." Picard finished. "Ah, yes, the talkative one." Nat smiled playfully, giving Mr. Worf a short wink. Worf shifted slightly, glaring at her. "Play nice." Nick said, gently elbowing her in the ribcage. He had been smiling at everyone, throughout the introductions. "It's a pleasure to meet all of you. Natalie and I look forward to our stay on board the Enterprise." He told them. Picard nodded, as he dismissed his crew. "I will show you to your rooms." He told them. "Your things will be waiting for you, there." He motioned to a few young crew members to handle their belongings. "Um, actually, we'd like that one to be carried with us." Natalie said, as a young woman picked up a large, silver case. "It contains some rather delicate items." She smiled at the young woman, taking the case from her. "Thank you." Natalie said to her. The young woman smiled at her. "You're welcome." She turned and picked up something else, heading to the transporter. "Well, if you'll follow me, I'll see you to your quarters." Picard said, turning towards the lift. They followed him onto the lift, with Troi and Riker close behind. A young ensign came onto the lift and smiled at Natalie. "I'll carry that for you, if you'd like." Natalie stood, quietly staring at the young man. She started, when he spoke to her. "Of course, thank you." She handed the case to him. "I'm Natalie Knight. Who might you be?" She asked the teenager. "I'm Wesley Crusher." He told her, smiling self-consciously. "My mother is Doctor Crusher." He told her. Natalie smiled at him. "Well, Mr. Crusher, I thank you for your assistance." She gave Nick a significant look and tilted her head in Wesley's direction, in a nearly imperceptible way. Nick raised an eyebrow, then nodded slightly. He knew that there was something Nat needed to talk to him about, concerning Mr. Crusher, but he also knew that now was not the time. Counselor Troi didn't miss the small exchange between the two. She was baffled by the senses she was getting from them. They seemed to genuinely care for people, and they were quite friendly, but there was a sadness and a sense of secrecy about them. They both seemed to be fighting a silent war within themselves. She decided it best to just observe quietly and then take her concerns to the Captain, later. They reached the deck where their quarters were, and Natalie and Nick followed Picard down the hallway. He showed them a number of things they'd need to know, or might find of interest, along the way. When, at last, they reached the doors, Captain Picard showed them in. "These will be your quarters during your stay with us. Please, feel free to tell me, or any one of my staff, if you need anything, or find anything unsuitable. We will be meeting for a small breakfast, later this morning, if you'd care to join us." "Actually, Captain, we appreciate the offer, but we are used to sleeping during the day. It may take us several days to switch over. I think we'd like to lie down and rest, for a bit." Nick told him. "Oh, of course. I'd almost forgotten about your allergy to sunlight. Please, forgive me." Picard said. Nick smiled reassuringly at him. "It's quite all right." "Well, I look forward to chatting with you." Picard said, as they turned to leave. "If you need anything..." "You'll be the first to know." Natalie smiled at him. "Thank you, so much. We appreciate being made to feel welcome." Picard nodded once, then turned and exited with Riker, Troi and Wesley right behind him. Once outside, he turned to his officer's. "They seem to be a lovely young couple." He said. "Counselor? You've been quiet. Is there something I should know about?" Troi looked back in the direction they'd just come, as they entered the lift. "I'm not sure. They seem genuinely caring. But there's something going on within them, something that makes them sad and, I think, potentially dangerous." She frowned. "They are very hard to read." Picard frowned slightly. "Keep me informed." He said. Troi nodded. "I find it odd that they are both allergic to sunlight. I thought that a cure for that particular ailment was discovered years ago." Riker stated. "It was. For some reason, however, it does not work on them. They refuse to let anyone do any further studies with them, however, so it is unclear as to why the treatment would not work on them." Picard told him. Natalie came out of the bathroom, drying her hair. "Oh, that was lovely." She sighed, dreamily. Nick smiled at her. "I take it you enjoyed your bath?" "Immensely." She nearly purred. "I'm going to miss Printhus IV." She said, as she settled onto the bed next to him. "I know. So will I. But we've got to keep searching. We spent almost thirty years there. That's longer than we've dared to stay, anywhere else." He put his arms around her waist. "You're going to miss the children, aren't you?" He asked, quietly. "Yes." Natalie said, softly. "Especially Spri and Neri. They were so adorable." She sighed. "Speaking of children." Nat said, turning to look at him. "Wesley Crusher. He looks so much like Geoff." She said. Nick frowned, then opened his eyes wide. "Oh, of course, Geoffrey." He shrugged. "They have the same last name. Perhaps they are ancestors?" He knew Nat was referring to her old boyfriend, Geoffrey Crusher, who'd shown up in Toronto as a vampire. In a way, Nick owed that visit to the fact that he and Nat were together, now. He still remembered how sad Nat had been at Geoffrey's death. "I don't see how. As far as I know, Geoff was the last of the Crusher's in his father's bloodline. He didn't have any siblings or cousins. Or even any aunts or uncles." Nat frowned thoughtfully. "I'll see what I can find out, tomorrow." She said, looking up into his eyes. "Mmmm. Good idea. I can think of much more pleasant things to do and think about, right now." Nick told her, as his eyes turned golden and his fangs dropped. He scraped them along her neck, drawing a thin line of blood. "Oooh. Oh! That's cheating! You're getting a head start on me." Nat laughed. She let her eyes turn golden and her fangs drop, as well. "I think retalliation is in order." She grinned wickedly at him. She pushed him over onto his back, bringing her legs over, so she was straddling his waist. Nick laughed and wrapped his arms around her. "Retalliate all you like." He growled at her. On the ship's bridge, Counselor Deanna Troi suddenly stopped what she was doing and looked up. "What the..." She whispered, frowning. She concentrated a bit harder, then gasped. Who and *what* were these two? Natalie awoke and looked at her chronometer. 14:22 hours. She groaned and pulled herself out of bed. If she and Nick were going to switch back over to mortal hours, they'd have to start getting up earlier. Nat glanced down at her husband's peacefully sleeping face. She smiled in contentment, as she headed for the sitting room. She went straight to her computer and checked their mail. A message from Janette... she was enjoying her time back on Earth. Nat shook her head, as she read of Janette's latest love interest. She sent a quick reply, then moved on to the next item. LaCroix and his wife were headed back to Risa. They liked that planet more than any others, because the mortals were so accomadating. Nat rolled her eyes at the short message from the General. She composed a reply, letting him know of their latest plans, then she stood and went back to the bedroom. Nick was still sleeping. Nat chuckled softly. Nick had once told her that the older one got, the less sleep one needed. Nat was always the early riser, where Nick had to be forcibly drug out of bed. She'd asked him just last week, why it was that she, at only four hundred years, could sleep less than he, at twelve hundred. Nick had given her his 'lost little boy' look, then had effectively distracted her, by pulling her into the shower with him. "Nick?" Nat called softly, sitting on the bed near his head. "Nick? Time to wake up. Come on Sleeping Beauty. We have things to do." Nat played with his hair and tickled his ear with her soft lips. "Nick. Now. Come on." Nat shook him. Nick opened one eye. "What time is it?" "Right around 14:45." Nat told him. "That's what I thought. Wake me up in a couple of hours." He turned his back to her. Nat stood, hands on her hips. "Oh, no you don't, buster. You get out of that bed right this minute." Nick winced at Nat's tone. "Why?" He asked. He knew he was asking for trouble. "Because, Mr. Ambassador, we need to meet with the Captain and his staff. We're going to be on this ship for at least the next month, so we need to make the effort to keep up appearances." Nat told him. She laid down behind him, wrapping her arms around his waist. "Please?" Nick grabbed her hand and kissed it. "Okay." He said, turning over to face her. "Any word from the family?" Nat smiled. "Yeah. Janette's back on Earth, in Las Vegas of all places, and she's got a new lover." Nick shook his head. "Someone from the Community? Or another mortal?" "She didn't say. All I know, is his name is Fredrick." Nat told him. "And, of course, our daily letter from the General." "Where are he and Urs headed, now?" Nick asked. At Nat's look he shook his head. "Not again! What is it about that place that they find so appealing?" "Nick, we've been there. You tell me." Nat said, remembering their last visit to Risa, nearly a century ago. "Oh. Well, there is that." Nick said, remembering the attention from the Risan people. They were willing to do anything. If you could think of it, they would do it. "Anyway, they're on their way to Risa and I guess Javier and Tracy are going to meet them, this time." Nat said, rising from the bed, once more. "I hope they stay out of trouble." Nick said. "So do I." Nat went to the closet and found them both some clothing. "Well, we can wear Starfleet issue, or we can be ourselves and wear whatever we like." Nick nodded at the outfit Nat had pulled out for him. "I like our own things. Starfleet uniforms are so itchy." Nat smiled, as she handed him his clothing. "I'd like to spend some time talking with Commander Data. He is so interesting. I've never come across an android, before." Nick nodded. "Yeah, I know. I was hoping to get to talk to him, as well. I'd also like to spend some time on one of the Holodecks." He grinned impishly at her. "You know, recreate some old memories..." "Nick! What if someone caught us?" Nat asked, not at all shocked by his suggestion. "We could always 'whammy' them. Unless they're a resistor, of course." He said, turning to look at his reflection in the mirror. He combed his unruly blonde curls, then scratched at the stubble on his chin. "Nat? You think I should grow a beard again? It makes me look a little older." "If you'd like to." Nat told him. She got an evil gleam in her eye. "I certainly enjoy it, when you have a beard." Nick raised both eyebrows, as he turned to regard his wife's stunning attire. "Really? Hmmm. All the more reason for me to grow one then." Nat smiled and accepted his arm. "Ready?" "Of course." He said, heading for the door. Captain Picard sat in the Command chair, reading over some daily reports. He looked up at the sound of Worf's disapproving growl. Nick and Natalie stood on the lift, looking into the Bridge. "Permission to come onto the Bridge, Captain?" Nick asked, politely. "Of course, Ambassador, Doctor. Welcome." Picard said, standing and straightening his uniform. "Is there something I can do for you?" "Well, we were hoping for a tour of the ship. If it's not too much trouble." Nick said. "No, of course not." Picard said. "Since you're here, let's start with the Bridge." He showed them the various stations, and explained their functions. He was suprised and relieved, that they did not ask any questions of a delicate security nature. He could tell by Mr. Worf's stance, that he, too, was relieved. "Where are the children?" Natalie asked. "I haven't seen any, but I was told that there are children aboard the Enterprise." Wesley beamed up at her. Her exclusion of him as one of the children made him very happy. "I'd be happy to show you where to find them." He said. Natalie smiled at him. "I'd like that." She said. "If it isn't interfering with your duties, of course." Picard nodded towards Wesley. "No. You may take her up, Ensign." Wesley smiled at her, as he gestured for her to enter the lift ahead of him. "Are you coming?" Nat asked Nick. "No. Go on. I'll join you, later." He said, smiling at her. "Stay out of trouble." Nat gave him a wide-eyed innocent look. "Who, Me?" "Hmmm." Was all Nick said, as the lift doors closed. He looked at Captain Picard. "We can't have children of our own, so Nat always finds a way to spend time with the children around us." He said. "She'd make a wonderful mother." Nick said, looking wistfully out at the viewscreen. He pulled his attention back to the Captain. "I understand that you are interested in archaeology, Captain? I'd love to compare notes with you." "You have done some exploration?" Picard asked, suprised. "Yes. I was on the first team at the recent Printhus IV tomb discoveries. It's a pasttime Nat indulges me in." Nick smiled. "I understand they made some incredible finds on that dig." Picard said, now thoroughly intrigued. "My, yes. I was amazed, myself. Their ancient civilizations were anything but uncivilized. Some of our findings indicate that they may have actually been capable of a form of space travel." Nick told him. "Fascinating." Picard said. He looked over at Data. "Commander? Would you be so good as to show Ambassador Knight the rest of our ship?" Data stood. "Of course, Captain." He said, looking at Nick. "Please, follow me." "I would accompany you, but I'm afraid administrative duties make it impossible. I do hope you understand." Picard told Nick, as he walked with him to the lift. "Administrative duties are one thing I unfortunately have a great deal of experience with." Nick laughed. "Perhaps we can chat at another time." "Absolutely. I am very interested in hearing more about your findings." Picard said, shaking Nick's hand. Nick turned and entered the lift. "Well, Captain, have a good day." Nick said, as the lift doors closed. Picard turned questioning eyes on Troi. "Counselor?" "It's so odd." She said, softly. "What?" Riker asked, frowning. "They seem to be sincere, yet there's still that feeling that something isn't quite right. As if they are constantly struggling within themselves against their true nature." She looked up at Captain Picard. "Whatever is going on, Captain, they are not human." She told him. "Not human? Their records say that they were both born on Earth; that they are both quite human." Picard said, frowning. "I know what their records say, Captain, but I'm telling you, they are *not* human." Troi said. "I don't have any idea as to *what* they are, but they are definitely not what they appear to be." Picard's frown deepened. He did not like people lying to him, especially when the safety of his crew was at stake. "I think, then, we need to spend as much time with them as possible. We need to find out what's really going on." Riker and Troi nodded, both standing and heading for the lift. "You take the Ambassador, I'll visit the Doctor." Riker told her. Troi frowned. "I'm not sure that's a good idea. You seem a bit taken with her." "Oh, as if you hadn't eyed him more than once?" Riker asked, icily. "I'm just doing my job." Deanna smiled sweetly at him. "Fine. Then *you* take the Ambassador." She told him. Riker just scowled at her. "Okay, fine, whatever." Natalie sat on the floor of the playroom, molding a piece of clay with a group of children. Troi stood outside, looking through the glass. She motioned for the teacher to join her. "What's going on?" She asked. "Dr. Knight is telling the children a story, using the clay as a visual aid. It's actually a history lesson, and they don't even realize it." She told her. "It's amazing. The children took right to her. She's very good with them." Troi nodded, then followed the teacher back into the room. "--and that's why we travel amongst the stars, learning about other life forms and allowing them to learn about us." Natalie finished saying. She took the young klingon boy by the hand. "Now do you understand, Alexander?" Alexander nodded. "Yes, I understand." Nat looked at the expectant faces. "I think it's meal time. We'll do another story, some other time." She smiled. "Awwww." The group mumbled. "Come on. Everyone get cleaned up." Nat said, accepting a ball of clay from a small girl. The little girl threw her arms around Natalie's neck and kissed her cheek. "Come again?" "I promise." Nat said, brushing the girl's dark curls from her face. She stood and turned to Troi. "Counselor. Is there something I can do for you?" "Actually, I'm here to ask you the same question, Doctor." Troi said, helping Nat to clean up the rest of the clay. "Please, call me 'Natalie'. I was just about to go in search of my stray husband." Nat told her. "All right, Natalie. I am 'Deanna'. I can help you locate him." Nat smiled. "All right." She put the canisters of clay on a shelf, then followed Troi out the door. She stopped once, looking longingly into the large window at the children sitting at the table, eating. She sighed. "Someday." She said, softly, then turned to follow Troi down the hallway. Nick sat quietly observing the patrons coming and going from Ten Forward. He noticed that Riker was eyeing most of the females in the room with an appreciative look. He smiled to himself. Janette would find Riker amusing. The bar's owner came forward, setting drinks in front of them. She looked at Nick with a knowing smile, nodding once at him in greeting. "Here you are." Riker turned his attention from a lovely blonde and regarded her. "Thank you, Guinan." He looked at Nick. "May I introduce Ambassador Nicholas Knight? Ambassador, this is Guinan. She's our lovely hostess." Nick stood and took Guinan's hand, kissing it lightly. "A pleasure to meet you." "Ambassador. If there's anything you need, let me know." She smiled at them, then turned and strode away. Riker watched her go, then turned his attention back to Nick. "Well, Ambassador, what do you think of the Enterprise?" Nick smiled at him. "Please, call me Nick. I find it fascinating. How long have you been first officer?" "Since she first sailed. That was, oh, seven years ago, now. The time has gone by rather quickly." Riker smiled and sipped at his drink. Nick nodded. "Time has a way of doing that." He looked up, as the lift doors opened, and smiled broadly at his wife. He stood and went to her, placing an arm about her waist and kissing her lightly on the lips. "Did you enjoy yourself?" He asked her, as he seated her at their table. Natalie smiled up at him. "Yes. The children here are wonderful." She looked at Riker. "What have the two of you been up to?" Nick leaned forward and whispered in her ear. "I've been admiring the ship. Riker's been admiring the crew." Nat raised an eyebrow. "You haven't turned an eye on at least one?" She asked, knowingly. Nick feigned an innocent expression. "Me? Now why would I do a thing like that? I already have the best of the lot." Natalie kissed him. "Good answer." She sat back in her seat and reached for his glass, sipping at the contents. "Mmm. Excellent." Nick nodded. "Thank our hostess. I believe Riker said her name was Guinan." Natalie's eyes widened slightly. "Oh. Well, then, I suppose I should go and speak to her." She stood and walked gracefully over to the bar. Riker quietly watched her go, then started when Deanna poked him in the ribs. "Hmm? Sorry. May I say, Nick, that you have a very lovely wife?" Nick smiled at him. "You may. Just don't touch. I tend to be a little posessive, where my wife is concerned." Riker saw Nick's mischievous smile, but he heard the underlying threat. "Understood." He looked over at Deanna, who just tilted her head in acknowledgement. Natalie seated herself at the bar and looked up at Commander Data. "I didn't realize you were moonlighting, Commander." "Moonlighting, Doctor?" Data asked, tilting his head slightly. After a moment, he nodded in understanding. "If you are referring to my current activity as a bartender, I am not 'moonlighting'. I simply find it helpful in my research of human behavior." Natalie smiled. "And just why would you want to study human behavior?" Data frowned slightly, as if considering the question. "I wish to be like other humans." "But you aren't human. You're an android. Is that such a terrible thing?" Natalie asked, raising an eyebrow. "No. But it makes it impossible for me to experience life, as humans do. I wish to know what it is like, to love and be loved. To feel emotion and to grow old. Is that not the nature of human beings?" Data asked her. Natalie looked down at her intertwined fingers, sadly. "For most, Data." She sat quietly staring at her hands for a moment, then seemed to shake herself. "Not all humans are happy being able to feel emotion. It can cause a great deal of suffering." "Yes, that is true. I have observed this to be so." Data began wiping down the bar in front of him with a shimmering towel. "But I have heard many humans say that the rewards are worth the pain that must often be endured. Is not pain a natural part of the human equation?" Nat smiled sadly up at him. "More often than you can know." She said. Data tilted his head, as if considering his next words. "Doctor, if I may, I wish to inquire as to the reason behind your sadness. I have been told by many, that it often helps to 'talk it out' with an outside party." Natalie smiled at that. "Unfortunately, I can not share such a secret with even you. It's not as though I don't trust you to keep it, it's just that, it is something that has been so deeply ingrained into my nature. Please, understand." Data nodded. "I do not take offense, Doctor, if that is what you mean." Natalie laughed. "Yes, that is what I mean. Thank you." She lightly touched his hand. "And please... call me 'Natalie'." "Very well, 'Natalie'." Data said. He looked across the room and nodded. "If you will excuse me, I believe I am needed." Natalie nodded. "I hope we can talk again, Data." Data stopped and smiled. "So do I, Natalie." He then turned and left. Natalie watched him go for several moments. "He looks at the world with the eyes of a child." She commented, as her old friend stepped up to the bar in front of her. Guinan smiled. "Yes, he does. It is unusual and refreshing. He helps me to put things into perspective, at times." She took Natalie's hands in her own. "How are you?" Natalie leaned forward and hugged her. "I'm fine. We've just come from Printhus IV. What has it been? Ninety years?" Guinan nodded. "Time certainly travels quickly, doesn't it?" "Sometimes, not quickly enough. At others, too quickly." Nat said. "Are you and Nick still seeking a cure?" Guinan asked, as she placed a goblet in front of Natalie. Natalie sipped at the contents. "Yes. There has to be one, somewhere." Nat sighed. "And if there isn't?" Guinan asked. Nat looked at her with wide, sad eyes. "I don't know." Nick turned and looked in Natalie's direction. He could feel her sadness, and her fear. He frowned in puzzlement, as Natalie came back over and joined them at the table. "What is it?" He asked. Natalie sat and smiled at him. "I'll tell you, later." She looked over at Riker and Troi. "So, tell me about Alexander. He and Lieutenant Worf are the only two Klingons I've seen aboard the ship, so I'm assuming that they are related?" Troi nodded. "Yes. Alexander is Worf's son. His mother was killed a few years ago." Nat nodded. "He told me that his mother was killed. He seems to be a bit lonely." "He's had a bit of a rough time adjusting to being around the other children, but he's doing much better." Troi told her. "I'd like to spend more time with him and the other children. They are all wonderful." She looked at Nick. "You should join me." Nick shifted uncomfortably. "Nat..." "Just... think about it? Please?" Nat asked him. Nick smiled at her, kissing her hand. "Deal." Nat smiled at him, then moved to sit in his lap. "You're so good to me." She said, nuzzling his neck. Nick gently pushed Nat to a standing position, then took her hand. "Perhaps we should continue our tour of the ship?" He asked Riker, as he stood. Riker stood up and nodded. "Certainly." He and Troi waited for Nick and Natalie to precede them from the room. At the lift, Natalie laughed, when Nick grabbed her around the waist and picked her up off of her feet. He set her down, resting his chin on her shoulder. "How do you like this adventure, so far?" Nat pushed back against him. "I'd like it much better, if we could spend it in our room." She whispered. Nick wagged is eyebrows suggestively at her. "Patience, my love. We'll get there." As Troi and Riker entered the lift, Nick pulled Nat inside. Riker looked at Troi with raised eyebrows, grinning. Deanna just regarded him with a puzzled frown. A week later... Natalie and Nick walked into Ten Forward and looked around the room. They saw Captain Picard, Dr. Crusher, Commander Riker and Counselor Troi waiting for them. Smiling, they walked towards the group. "Hello, Ambassador." Picard said, standing to greet them. "How are you this evening?" "Hello, Captain. Please, call me Nick. We're fine, thank you." Nick said, pulling a chair out for Natalie. "And how about you, Dr. Knight? I trust you are enjoying yourself?" Picard asked. "Yes. I am. I've really enjoyed working with Dr. Crusher and I love spending time with the children." Natalie told them. Dr. Crusher smiled. "Thank you. I've enjoyed working with you, as well. You have an incredible amount of medical knowledge, for someone as young as you are." Natalie and Nick exchanged amused glances. "Thank you." Nat said. Guinan came and brought Nick and Natalie their drinks. Natalie took a drink and had to fight the urge to spit it back into the cup. She made a face, as she swallowed the drink, gingerly pushing the glass away from her. Nick raised an eyebrow, eyeing his own glass. "What's wrong?" Nat winced. "Romulan." She said, shuddering. Guinan tilted her head. "I take it, that's bad?" Nat nodded. "The worst." Guinan picked up their drinks. "Well, I'll see what else I can find. I'm terribly sorry about that." Natalie nodded. "It's okay." She winced again, as she swallowed. Nick smiled and pulled something from his pocket. He made a motion with his right index finger, then held it close to Nat's mouth. Nat opened her mouth and sucked the sweet fluid from his finger. His blood exploded across her senses, making her shiver in delight, as she always did. Nick's wound quickly healed and Natalie released his finger. "Is that better?" Nick asked, smiling. Natalie gave him a wicked glance. "Much." Picard and the others exchanged confused glances, as Guinan returned and placed new cups in front of Nick and Natalie. "Here you are. Tell me what you think of this." Natalie took a sip, and a dreamy smile spread across her face. "Oh my. That's much better." She said. She took another sip and took a deep breath. "What * is* that?" Nick took a drink and smiled broadly. "Betazoid." He said. Counselor Troi raised an eyebrow. "I'm from Betazed. I didn't realize you were such an expert on wine, Ambassador." "Please, it's Nick. And, yes. It's a hobby of mine." He told her. "My. Archaeology, wine tasting... what else do you do for hobbies?" Picard asked. Nick looked at Nat and smiled secretively. "Oh, you know. A little of this, a little of that." Natalie grinned at him. "I believe you promised me an adventure on the holodeck." She said to him, taking another long swallow of her drink. Guinan smiled at them. "That's my cue to go. I'll see you later." She turned and left. Natalie looked expectantly at Nick. "Well?" Nick laughed lightly. "Very well. We'll have to return to our quarters to change first, however." "Hmmm. What are we doing tonight, Detective?" Nat asked, playfully. "You'll see." Nick told her. "Detective?" Riker asked. Nat smiled. "It's a pet name I have for him." Riker nodded. Nick finished off his drink and waited for Nat to do the same. Then he stood and held his hand out to her. "Shall we?" Nat smiled. "By all means." She turned and regarded the group momentarily. "Please, excuse us." Picard stood. "Of course. Enjoy yourselves." Nat looked at Nick, then smiled coyly. "Oh, we will." She took Nick's arm and they turned and left the room. "They're an interesting young couple." Dr. Crusher noted. "Yes. Quite unusual." Picard responded. Picard, Crusher, Riker and Troi stepped into the holodeck and stood, momentarily mesmerized by the scene before them. They were standing on a grassy knoll, a wealth of trees and flowers spread out before them. To the left, there was a small lake. A pale, full moon shown down, reflecting off of the water and a light, warm summer breeze blew gently. It had a magical, sensual feel about it. They heard the sound of laughter, and turned to see Nick chasing Natalie along the waters edge. Nick was wearing a dark pair of breeches and knee-high black boots. The white, cotton gauze shirt he wore was laced in the front, hanging mostly open, and the sleeves were gathered in the middle of his forearms, the lower edges fanning out towards his hands. Natalie wore an off-the-shoulder white, cotton gauze dress, that had a full skirt that ended just below her knees. Her hair hung in coppery waves down her back, the sides swept up with silver combs and she was barefoot. Nick stopped where he was and smiled. In a blur of movement, he was standing behind a tree, directly behind Natalie. Natalie stopped, turning to look back in the direction he'd just been. "Nick?" She called, walking back the way she'd come. As soon as she reached the tree, Nick came up behind her and grabbed her about the waist. Natalie shrieked in surprised laughter and tried unconvincingly to get away. "You've got to learn to search with your senses, not with your eyes." Nick told her, holding her firmly against the smooth marble of his chest. "Hmmm. It might help if you weren't blocking me!" Nat said, trying her best to sound indignant. Nick just laughed, turning her to face him. "That's part of the game, my dear." He said, using his best imitation of LaCroix. Natalie laughed again. "Oh, Nick! You're terrible! What would the General say, if he heard you?" Nick released her and stood straight, imitating LaCroix's posture and mannerisms. "He'd say, 'Nicholas, why must you make a mockery of me? Have I not always tried to teach you our ways?'" Natalie used that moment to her advantage. In a blur of movement, she was gone. Nick stood, turning circles, looking for his wife. "Nat?" He called. "Natalie? Where are you? You know you can't hide from me, forever." He looked behind the two nearest trees. "I thought blocking was against the rules!" He called. He heard a soft giggle and looked up. Natalie was sitting on a tree branch, just above his head. "Oh, so that's how you want to play, is it?" Nick asked. Levitating himself off of the ground, he stood, hovering, just before her. "Now what are you going to do?" Nick asked, as he placed an arm to either side of her on the branch. Natalie wrapped her arms around his neck, smiling seductively, then let her weight drop from the branch. The unexpected movement caused them both to tumble to the ground, with Nick lying on top of Natalie. "Are you all right?" He asked, pulling back in concern. Natalie made a quick, sharp movement, and Nick was suddenly the one on his back, lying beneath her. Her eyes were glowing with a golden light and her fangs were extended, as she smiled at him and growled. "Oh, yes. I'm fine." She said, nipping at his chin with her fangs. Nick laughed, then he, too, vamped out and wrapped his arms around her waist. Natalie threw her head back, exposing the creamy length of her neck, and Nick licked his way from her collarbone, to just below her ear. He kissed her at the vein on her neck, then began sucking hungrily on it. Natalie moaned in pleasure, her fangs gleaming in the moonlight. She closed her eyes momentarily, and when she opened them again, they were red with desire. Nick growled deep in his chest, then reared his head back and pierced the skin of her neck with his fangs, smiling to himself at the sound of her gasp of pleasure. Four mortals watched in horrified fascination, as the two creatures before them shared blood. "What the hell...?" Riker said, finally breaking the silence. Nick and Nat both looked up and hissed at the intruders, then looked at one another in shocked dismay. Natalie scrambled off of Nick, turning her back to the group and hugging her knees close to her. Nick sat up, moving behind Nat, and wrapping his arms around her. "It's okay, Nat." He whispered. He looked at Riker and the others. "Sorry. You surprised us." He said, giving them a reassuring smile. "What are you?" Riker asked. Nick and Nat looked solemnly at one another, then at the group that had cautiously moved to stand before them. "We're vampires." Nick told them, hugging Nat closer and kissing her on the temple. "Vampires?" Picard asked, incredulously. "I thought that they were only mythological creatures." Nick shook his head. "No. I'm afraid we are quite real." "That's why you can't go out in the sunlight? And why you don't eat with us?" Dr. Crusher asked. "Yes." Nick answered. "In the past, humans that discovered our existence were made to forget, or killed. Our Code has become somewhat lax, as it is more difficult to enforce. But we generally still try to keep our existence a secret." He told them with meaning. "That's what I've been sensing. This is the secret you've been hiding." Deanna said. "Why you seem to be at war within yourselves." Nick looked at Natalie and then nodded to Deanna. "Yes. We don't want to harm anyone. Our 'nourishment' comes from a bottle, or a food synthesizer. We don't kill people for food." Nick said. "But the danger is always there. If we should lose control, we could hurt, or kill, someone. Neither of us wants that." Nick told them. "That's why you can't have children." Deanna noted, sensing the pain that her words caused. "I'm sorry." "It's okay." Natalie said. "It's something we've had to come to terms with. It still hurts, but we can deal with it." "Please, sit down. We'd be happy to answer any questions you have." Nick told them. Picard and the others sat on the grass near Nick and Natalie. They watched the tender way Nick held and comforted Nat and the look of intense love that crossed between them. "How long have you been a vampire?" Picard asked, clearly intrigued. Nick smiled. "I was brought across in the year 1228. I met Natalie when I was around 800 years old." He kissed Nat on the forehead. Nat smiled and rubbed his hand, holding hers. "I was born in the year 1964. I was a Forensics Pathologist in Toronto, Canada, in 1992, when Nick was brought into my morgue. He'd been the victim of a pipe bomb, after he'd tried to stop a robbery. He was dead one minute, and the next, he was sitting up on my table." Nat smiled fondly at the memory. "He signed on with the local police force, as a Homicide Detective, so we could work closely without a lot of questions. I was trying to cure him of his vampirism." Nat said. "Obviously, you didn't find the cure. What happened?" Dr. Crusher asked. Nick ran his hand through Nat's curls. "We fell in love. It was crazy, but we couldn't help it." He told them. "We tried to ignore it, to deny it, but it wouldn't go away. Then a chain of events happened, that brought us to where we are today." Picard raised an eyebrow. "Chain of events?" Nick nodded. "Natalie had an old boyfriend come to visit. She didn't know that he'd become a vampire, since the last time she'd seen him. They became 'involved', and I was terribly jealous. There was a Hunter-someone who hunts vampires- that nearly killed Nat's friend. Because of their relationship, and the link it formed between them, Nat almost died, too. In the end, her friend was killed, and I realized just how much she meant to me." Nick smiled as he continued to stroke Natalie's hair. "We admitted how we felt and we tried to find a cure for a few more years, but we soon realized that we weren't getting any closer to finding one. I couldn't bear the thought of being without her, so I let her talk me into bringing her across." Nat smiled. She'd always known that his protests that night were just a cover. "He brought me across in 1996. We've been married, ever since." "And you are still searching for a cure?" Riker asked. Nat nodded. "Yes. But after four hundred years, I'm beginning to wonder if we'll ever find one." Nat said, quietly. "We've been all over the galaxy, with no luck." Dr. Crusher smiled. "Maybe we can help. Having a fresh perspective on it, just might be what you need." Picard nodded. "Yes. We have the finest medical team in the Federation. And I'm sure that Mr. Data would be of valuable assistance, as well." Nat looked tentatively at Nick. "What do you think?" She asked. Nick looked at the group in front of him. It'd been a long time since he and Nat had entrusted mortals with this knowledge, but somehow, he sensed that these people were genuinely willing to help. "I think it's a great idea." Counselor Troi sat on a sofa, across from Natalie. She'd talked the two of them into spending some time in counseling with her, both together and seperately. "I didn't realize that what we interrupted the other night was so personal." Troi told her. Nat smiled. "I know. For a vampire, the sharing of blood is a more bonding relationship than sex. It allows us to feel and experience everything about that person. Who they are, who they love, what their dreams are... it's a very intoxicating feeling." Deanna smiled. "Well, it sounds wonderful." "It can be truly terrifying, as well. It depends on the intentions of the vampire, and the person the vampire is feeding from." Nat told her. "I've been very lucky. Nick has always been so wonderful to me. I love him, very much." "You seem to be able to find one another, just by sense." Deanna noted. "Yes. It is very difficult to explain. The connection is more than just a physical bonding, it's emotional and spiritual, as well. I believe the relationship is similiar to that of what you would call 'Imzadi'." Deanna started at that. "You know of that term?" Nat smiled. "Yes. Nick and I spent a number of years on Betazed. It was quite an experience." "How did you keep your secret among telepaths?" Deanna asked her. Nat laughed. "We didn't. Strangely, we weren't the only vampire's they'd ever met. They were very accepting." "Dr. Crusher to Dr. Knight." The intercom interrupted. "Yes?" Nat answered. "Could you come down here? I've found something, you should see." Nat and Troi exchanged glances. "On my way." Nat said. She looked at Deanna. "Would you like to join me?" Deanna smiled. "I'd be delighted." Natalie and Deanna walked into sickbay and greeted Dr. Crusher, who ushered them into her office. Nick and Commander Data were already there waiting for them. Nick stood and pulled a chair out for Natalie, waiting for her to be seated, before returning to his seat. "I've been studying the blood samples that you and Nick provided me with. The anamolies that make you vampires are extraordinary and amazingly close...unlike regular human DNA." Dr. Crusher told them. Nat smiled. "That's because Nick is the one that brought me across. In vampire families, you'll find nearly identical DNA strands, but they're different than other vampire families." Data tilted his head. "Much the way humans work. While the actual DNA strand of an individual is unique, you will find striking similiarties among family members." Dr. Crusher nodded. "I've identified what you called the vampire 'virus'. It's very unusual. It actually attaches itself to the cells and alters the DNA structure." "Were you able to isolate it?" Nick asked. Beverly nodded. "Yes. When I remove it from the DNA strands, however, they begin to collapse, suggesting that should we manage to find a way to simply remove it from your systems, you would die." Natalie nodded solemnly. "I came to the same conclusion myself, about a hundred and fifty years ago." Data looked at Natalie. "Are you truly more than four hundred years old? Your physical appearance suggests early to mid thirties." Nat smiled. "One of the few benefits of this existence. Yes. I really am over four hundred years old. And Nick is really over twelve hundred." "Fascinating." Data said. "The two of you must have an incredible insight to human history, as you have no doubt experienced much of it." Nick grinned at him. "You have no idea." Counselor Troi turned her attention back to Dr. Crusher. "Beverly, is there any hope at all that we might be able to find a way to remove this 'virus', without killing Nick and Natalie?" Dr. Crusher sighed. "I'm not sure, to be honest. I am running a few tests, and I'm trying some fairly recent treatments for other types of viruses, but I won't know anything for certain for at least a few days." Natalie looked questioningly at her. "You said you've found something that I should see?" Dr. Crusher smiled at her. "Yes, follow me." She stood and led them around the back of her office, to a lab where several experiments were in progress. "We may not be able to cure you of your vampirism, but we may be able to make it possible for you to have children." She told them. Natalie looked sharply at Nick, eyes wide, then turned her attention back to Dr. Crusher. "How?" "I've discovered what prevents you from conceiving a child." She looked at Nick. "You're fine. As a matter of fact, you could probably impregnate a mortal woman, quite easily." Nick looked both surprised and baffled. "I don't understand. Vampires are supposed to be sterile." Dr. Crusher smiled. "No. At least, not in your case." She looked at Natalie. "You, however, have an unusual lining along the uterine wall, that prevents a fertilized egg from attaching itself and growing. Almost as if you're body sees it as a danger and fights it off." "What are you saying, then?" Nat asked. "It is quite possible that you've had lots of fertilized eggs try to implant themselves, only to be rejected by your body. I've discovered a way to neutralize the lining and then remove it, making it highly possible that you could conceive and carry a child to term. However, with your increased metabolism, and other unique factors, I cannot tell you what 'term' for a vampire child would be." Beverly told her. "The child would be *born* a vampire, then?" Nick asked. "I can't even say that, for sure. I'm assuming that that would be the case. But even that may not be accurate. There's no way to know for sure, unless we try." Dr. Crusher told them. Nick looked at Natalie. "Could we have some time to discuss it?" He asked Dr. Crusher, never taking his eyes off of Nat. Dr. Crusher smiled. "Of course. Take all the time you need." Deanna laid a hand on Natalie's arm. "I'm here, if either of you need to talk about this." Natalie nodded, then turned away from them. She stepped out into the hallway and walked silently beside Nick, until they reached the lift. Nick looked at Natalie and frowned slightly. She'd suddenly withdrawn and was shielding herself from him. She only did that, when something was really bothering her. He reached out and pulled her into his arms. "I love you, Nat." He whispered into her hair. "This isn't your fault. You had no way of knowing." He pulled back slightly and looked into her eyes. "We've been so intent on finding a cure, we overlooked any other possibilities, that's all." He kissed her softly on the lips once, then wrapped her securely in his arms once again. "I love you more every day." With that, Natalie finally broke and released her tears, allowing Nick to sense her grief and anger and frustration. Nick absorbed it all with patience and understanding, letting her feel his love for her. And he just held her. "She's blaming herself." Deanna noted to Beverly, as they watched Nick and Natalie leave. "Why?" Beverly asked. "She hasn't done anything wrong." "She feels that she should have thought of this sooner. That if she hadn't been so absorbed in finding a cure, they could have had a family long ago." Troi looked at her friend. "Nick doesn't blame her. He loves her so very much." She sighed. "She's very lucky." Dr. Crusher nodded. "They both are." She said softly, remembering her own husband, lost so long ago. Nick had held Natalie until she'd cried herself to sleep. He didn't know what to do to reassure her. When he felt that she was indeed, asleep, he slipped silently out of bed and went to the computer console out in the sitting room. "Computer, establish a secure channel." Nick said. "Secure channel established." The computer answered. "Connect me with General Lucien LaCroix, currently on Risa." He said, standing and pouring himself a glass of blood from a crystal decanter. "Connection established." The computer informed him. Nick took his seat and faced his ancient master. "Hello, LaCroix. I hope I am not disturbing you?" LaCroix smiled at Nick. "No, of course not, Nicholas. I must say, I am surprised to hear from you." Nick smiled. "I know. How are you? And Urs?" "We are both well. Ursula is currently busy shopping with Tracy. I'll never understand why those two must go shopping with one another, every time they visit." Nick laughed. "I think it's a woman thing. Shopping is one of the first things Nat does on any planet we visit." LaCroix nodded solemnly. "Indeed." He eyed his son for a long moment. "You are not calling merely to socialize. What is troubling you?" Nick took a sip from his glass and then sighed. "No. I'm not. Natalie and I were discovered by the mortals on board the ship... the ship's senior staff. They are amazingly accepting of the whole thing." LaCroix nodded. "I do not think that the Enforcers will be necessary for much longer. Humans have become incredibly accepting and intelligent over the last several centuries. You are not in any danger, then?" Nick shook his head. "No. In fact, they've offered to help us... find a cure." He whispered the last. LaCroix sighed heavily. "You are still searching, then? Oh, Nicholas. I had so hoped that you and Natalie had given up this foolishness." Nick nodded slightly. "I know. It's just that we both want a child, so much." He looked at LaCroix. "The ship's Doctor may have found a way for that to be possible- without us becoming mortal again." LaCroix raised an eyebrow. "Oh?" "Yes. She said that I am capable of fathering children, even with a mortal. Natalie is the one that needs to be treated. She has some sort of lining around her uterus that prevents a fertilized egg from attaching itself and growing." Nick told him. LaCroix seemed to consider this. "Well, mortals don't survive if we mate with them, so that would explain why there's never been one impregnated by one of us. If, indeed, the difficulty lies with the women, you may have just changed the course of history." "Natalie isn't taking it well. She feels that she should have been exploring every possibility, not just simply searching for a cure. I don't blame her, but she blames herself." "Hmmm. A subject you are, no doubt, familiar with. Would you like for us to join you?" LaCroix asked. Nick smiled in relief. "I think it would help if we had our family with us. All of you." LaCroix returned the smile. "We shall arrive shortly, then. Nicholas, just comfort her. Share your blood with her, and don't hold anything back. She has to know you accept her, unconditionally. If this treatment doesn't work, she's likely to fall into a depression much like the one she went into after the beginning of the twenty-third century. We can not allow that." Nick nodded in agreement. "I know. I'll see you soon. Father?" "Yes, Nicholas?" "Thank you." LaCroix gave a curt nod of his head, then ended the transmission. Nick sighed in relief. Their family would be together again, soon. Janette, Tracy and Ursula would help Natalie. In fact, they might all help each other. Counselor Troi and Doctor Crusher were sitting at a table in Ten Forward, quietly talking. "If you can treat Natalie, so that they can have a child, this could mean the beginning of an entirely new race of humans. Can you imagine? Never growing old, never dying?" Deanna said, sipping from her drink. "It does sound pretty incredible. But look at all of the things that they are missing out on, too. Sunlight. Food. Being around people, without getting hungry." Beverly added. Deanna nodded. "It's odd to think that vampires truly exist. I spoke with my mother, and she wasn't surprised. She's known all along that vampires are real. In fact, she's known several... including Nick and Natalie. She absolutely adores them." Beverly raised both eyebrows. "Nick did mention that they'd spent some time on Betazed a number of years ago. It never occured to me, that they might know your mother." Deanna looked intently at Beverly. "Promise not to laugh?" Beverly nodded. "I promise." "I'm seriously considering asking Nick or Natalie to bring me across. The idea is incredibly appealing." Deanna said, gauging her friend's reaction. Beverly was shocked. "Seriously? Deanna, what for?" Deanna shrugged. "It seems like an interesting endeavor. I've never really liked the idea of growing old and dying. I eat to survive... except where chocolate is involved. But Natalie mixes hers with blood, and she says it's wonderful. And, honestly, how often do I get out into the sun?" Beverly looked at Deanna. "You're really considering this, aren't you?" Deanna nodded. "I just don't know if either of them would agree to it. They both seem to be so set on finding a cure." Beverly nodded. "Well, at least if we found a way to cure them, we'd know that if you didn't like it, you could always change back." Deanna smiled. "My thoughts, exactly." Captain Jean Luc Picard stood in the transporter room with his crew, awaiting the new arrivals to their ship. He glanced over at Ambassador and Dr. Knight and noticed that they seemed a bit anxious. "Is everything all right, Ambassador?" Picard asked. Nick looked at the Captain and smiled. "Yes, thank you. It's just... sometimes these 'family reunions' can get a little tense." Picard nodded and gestured for the transporter chief to beam the waiting party up. Within moments, Vachon, Tracy, Ursula and LaCroix were standing on the platform before them. LaCroix stood silently, as the younger ones greeted one another with hugs and smiles, and while the introductions to the Captain and his crew were made. Then, he turned and looked at his son. "Nicholas. It is good to see you again. You are looking well." Nick took his father's hand and shook it. "So are you. Thank you for coming." LaCroix nodded once, then gazed over at Natalie. As his eyes met hers, he saw the pain and fear masked behind her calm gaze and he nodded slightly in acknowledgement. "Natalie. Would you be so good as to show me to my quarters?" Natalie glanced at Nick and saw his approving nod. She turned back to LaCroix and held her hand out to him. "I'd be delighted." As they stepped out of the room and headed down the corridor, Urs turned to Nick. "What's going on?" Although she had a pretty good idea as to what this was all about. "Natalie needs him right now. It's odd, how he's taken to her." Nick said, smiling softly at her. "He's fiercely protective of her." "He's like that with all of his family, Nick. You should know that by now." Urs said, kissing him on the cheek. "Where's Janette?" "She'll be in, tomorrow. Apparently she and her new lover had a falling out." Nick said. "Do I dare ask what the outcome was for him?" Tracy asked Nick, wincing. Nick shook his head. "I don't think that's a good idea, Trace." He turned his attention to the mortals in the room. "Shall we adjourn to Ten Forward?" Picard nodded and took Ursulas arm in his. "I am delighted to meet all of you." Ursula smiled at him. "Thank you. We're delighted to meet you, as well." As the group filed out, Riker took Troi's arm and leaned closer to her. "I think I missed something." Troi looked up at him with an indecipherable look. "I somehow get the feeling that their relationships are much different than what we are accustomed to." Riker frowned. "Why?" "I don't think that the General took Natalie to his quarters for a simple 'chat'." She whispered. Riker looked towards the door, where the others had just stepped through. "Does Nick know that?" Deanna nodded. "Yes, I believe he does." Natalie showed LaCroix to his and Urs' quarters and waited while he opened the door. Once they were inside and the door closed, Natalie turned and flung herself into his arms, crying. LaCroix gently wrapped his arms around her shoulders and held her for several long minutes, stroking her hair. "There now, child. It's all right." He whispered. Nat pulled back and wiped the blood tears from her eyes. "I can't believe I've been so foolish!" LaCroix took her hand and kissed away the tears. "I know. But you can not go back and change it, no matter how badly you may want to do so." Natalie squeezed her eyes shut and nodded. "I know." She said in a strangled whisper. When she opened her eyes, they were golden. "Help me. Please." LaCroix bent forward and captured her mouth with his own. "Of course, my dear. Don't I always?" He whispered between fervent kisses. He picked her up and carried her into the bedroom. In Ten Forward, Nick and Ursula looked over at one another. Neither needed to say anything, they were both quite aware of the goings-on in LaCroix's quarters. Urs smiled reassuringly at Nick and he returned her smile. Strange as the whole thing seemed, he understood how Natalie was feeling. Raising his goblet in toast, he tossed his head back and quickly downed the contents, then headed towards the door. "Where's Nick going?" Tracy asked Urs. "To join Natalie and LaCroix." Urs said, sipping at her drink. Tracy's mouth turned up into a surprised 'o' and then she went back over to sit with Vachon. Troi watched the whole exchange with a sense of intrigue. Things were *definitely* different for them... LaCroix sipped at his glass, as he heard the chimes to the door. "Enter, Nicholas." He stated, calmly. Nick walked into the room and regarded his father's dressing-gown-clad form. "How is she?" "She is sleeping. I thought it best to allow her some time to rest, before we converse." He handed Nick a goblet. "Thank you." Nick said, seating himself in one of the chairs in the sitting room. LaCroix simply nodded, as he sat in a chair opposite Nick. "Nicholas, I am reluctant to bring this discussion up again, as it always brings discord into the family... " He paused, holding his hand up to silence Nick's reply. "I have told you- and Natalie- on more than one occasion, that this quest of yours is bound to end only in heartache. I am grateful that you have both agreed to live as your nature requires, with the exception of killing, until a cure can be found... but it *has* been nearly six centuries since you first began your search. If mankind has not come up with a way to cure you by now, perhaps it is just not meant to be." Nick looked thoughtfully into his glass. "I know." He whispered. "And I can not bear to see Natalie-- you what?" LaCroix asked, not sure he'd heard properly. Nick stood and paced the room. "I said, I know. Look, LaCroix, Natalie and I have been so close to the cure, so many times, and each time it only ended in disappointment. How do you think it makes me feel, to see Natalie wither every time we fail? It's killing me by degrees!" "Then you are ready to abandon this impossible quest?" LaCroix asked, a faint hope stirring within him. Nick looked directly at LaCroix. "Dr. Crusher is working with Natalie on the possibility that we might be able to have children, as we are. We are on our way to check out a lead for a possible cure... Natalie and I had a long discussion about this, last night. If this last lead does not lead to a cure, Natalie and I will give up our quest to regain our mortality. If we do not have any promising leads on being able to conceive, and carry, a child within the next six months, we will adopt. Neither of us can bear this burden, any longer." LaCroix carefully considered his son's words. "Very well, then, Nicholas. As a token of my gratitude, I will promise you, that should your 'cure' work, then I will not interfere. If it does not, but you find a way to produce a child, I will not interfere in that, either. But, however, if neither work, I will hold you to your promise to give up this foolishness, once and for all." He looked directly at Nick, his eyes plainly stating his demands, his need. Nick nodded. "Very well." They both turned to the sound of Natalie stirring in the bedroom. She moved to stand in front of the bedroom door. Smiling, she looked at the two men before her. "I thought I heard voices." LaCroix brought her a glass, pouring a generous amount from a crystal decanter. "It's good of you to join us, my dear." Nick kissed Natalie. "I was just telling LaCroix of our discussion, last night." Natalie nodded. "Well, I feel much better." She eyed Nick with a sly smile. "I think I need a bath. Care to join me?" Glancing at LaCroix, she smiled again. "Both of you?" LaCroix toasted Natalie and downed the last of the contents of his glass. "Indeed. It has been much too long since the three of us shared a bath." "Or a bed." Natalie said, softly. Nick smiled at her and motioned for her to precede them into the bathroom. "So this 'Janette' will be arriving soon?" Riker asked Javier Vachon. "Yes. She's going to join us, tomorrow, I think." He eyed the man before him. Yep, Janette was going to eat him alive...possibly literally. She really hated cocky, self-assured males. "I'd steer clear, though. She can be a real handful. Or, so I've heard." He told him. "Oh yeah?" Riker grinned. "I like a woman that's a challenge." "Well, just remember that to this particularly challenging woman, you're considered a meal." Tracy told him, grinning mischieviously as Riker blanched. "Janette knows how to handle herself... just ask Nick." "Nick? How would he know?" Riker asked, a little less sure of himself, now. "He was married to her for nearly a century." Vachon told him. "How do Janette and Natalie get along?" Deanna asked. She was enjoying watching Will squirm. "Oh, they're like... I don't know... sisters." Tracy said, smiling mysteriously at Vachon and Urs. Urs covered her smile with her drink. Things were definitely getting interesting around here... Natalie smiled softly at Nick, as he kissed her hand. She glanced over at LaCroix, noticing that he seemed content, as well. She sighed in contentment, as she sipped the contents of her glass. At last, her family was together again. Janette glanced over at Natalie, when she heard her sigh. Noting the younger woman's contented smile, Janette excused herself from chatting with Captain Picard and Dr. Crusher, and headed towards LaCroix's table. "Natalie, my dear, why don't you and I go for a walk? It's been simply ages since we last got to chat without the men around." Janette smiled at Nick and LaCroix, ignoring Commander Riker completely. Natalie smiled and nodded. "Of course. That sounds like a wonderful idea." She stood and kissed Nick. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do." She playfully whispered, then raised an eyebrow and paused. "No, don't do anything I *would* do, either... there's too much room for you to get into trouble." She chuckled and followed Janette out of the room. Riker smiled at Nick. "She has quite a sense of humor." Nick nodded. "Yes. Just one of her many endearing qualities." He turned his attention to Dr. Crusher and Captain Picard, as they approached. "Doctor. How goes your research?" Nick asked her. Beverly beamed at him. "Well, as soon as you and Natalie are ready, we can try the first step in the process." Nick looked mildly surprised. "Really? You're ready, this soon?" Captain Picard smiled at Nick. "Beverly is one of Starfleet's greatest scientists." Nick noted the look of pride on the Captain's face, and caught the look of embarrassment from the doctor. "Well, I wouldn't go quite that far." Beverly stated, somewhat nervously. "I just can't put a project down, until it's completed." Nick smiled. Natalie and Dr. Crusher had become fast friends. They both had a great deal in common, not the least of which was their medical careers and love of scientific study. Counselor Troi walked into the room and headed straight for the assembled group. She smiled, as LaCroix stood and gracefully kissed her hand. "Greetings, Counselor. It is good to see you, again. I trust that all is well? My family is behaving themselves?" He asked her. Troi nodded. "Yes, of course, General. Everything is fine. I was just looking for Natalie." "She and Janette went for a walk. I imagine that they'll end up with the children, before too much longer." Nick told her. "Oh. Well, then, I suppose I can wait to speak to her, until later." Troi said, giving Riker a stern look. "I have some other errands to attend to." With that, she turned and moved swiftly out the door. "What do you make of that?" Vachon asked Riker. Riker shrugged. "I have no idea. She's angry with me, but I don't know why." Vachon was about to comment, but noticed Tracy's raised eyebrow and thought better of it. Things had finally settled down between them, again, and he wasn't about to go making her angry at him. Natalie sat in a rocking chair, singing softly to a newborn. She gently stroked each tiny finger and marveled at the softness of the delicate skin. Janette stood in the corner, silently watching her. She knew the longing in her 'sister's' heart. It was a longing she'd once had, herself. But time, and life experience, had removed any hope of ever having that longing filled... until now. If Dr. Crusher and Natalie were successful, it would be possible for vampires to have children. Not just by creating another undead creature of the night, by death and blood sacrifice, but to actually be able to procreate out of love. The soft whisper of the door opening and closing broke Janette out of her reverie. She looked up to find Counselor Troi standing there, silently watching Natalie. Janette found herself liking this strong-willed young woman. "Can I help you, Counselor?" Janette asked, softly, so as not to disturb Natalie. "Actually, I was looking for Natalie." Deanna replied. "But she seems so at peace right now, I really don't want to disturb her." Janette nodded. "Oui. I have never seen her more at peace, than when she is with a child." She sighed once. "I hope that Dr. Crusher can help her and Nichola have a child of their own. They have wanted one for so very long." Deanna nodded and followed Janette out into the corridor. "How long have you known Nick and Natalie?" Janette smiled. "Nichola and I have known one another a very long time. LaCroix was my sire... and I am the one that lured Nichola to him." Deanna frowned slightly. "*Was*? I don't understand." Janette sighed deeply. "I became mortal for a short time. I ended up being shot... I was dying... Nichola brought me across, again. He could not bear the thought of losing me to death, after having been through so much together." "You became mortal? How? Why didn't Nick and Natalie use the cure you found?" Deanna asked. Janette's face clouded slightly and she brushed away a stray tear. "I fell in love with a mortal. I... we... " She sighed. "I do not know how I became mortal. I just know that when we made love, I no longer felt the driving need to drain him. He warmed my heart in a way that no one ever had before... or has since." She broke out of her sorrowful state. "Natalie never got the chance to study what had made me mortal. When she and Nichola became lovers, whatever it was that cured me, did not work for them." She looked at Natalie, still silently admiring the sleeping infant in her arms. "I almost wish that it had. They have yearned so long for a family of their own... to walk in the sunlight. Odd, how something mortals never think twice about, one of our kind fears more than anything else." Deanna nodded silently, deep in thought. "How do you cope? Not being able to go into the sun?" Janette shrugged. "It has been nearly two millenia since I last saw the sun... I no longer miss it. But for others, I do not know." Deanna again nodded. Janette looked thoughtfully at her. "You are considering it, no?" Deanna looked at her, surprised. "I thought that Betazed's were the telepaths. How did you know?" Janette smiled indulgently. "I recognize the look in your eyes. Consider it carefully, Deanna. If this final cure Nick and Natalie are seeking does not work, there will be no going back. Ever." Deanna looked directly into Janette's eyes and nodded in understanding, as she saw the crystal blue turn to a shimmering gold. "I know." Janette stood with LaCroix and the others, as they watched the shuttle crew preparing to depart. "Do you think that they'll be successful this time?" She asked, softly. LaCroix glanced at her. "No. But if they are, I have promised not to interfere." Janette looked surprised. "You're serious?" LaCroix turned and regarded her. "Yes. Perhaps it is time to let him go, Janette. We have finally found a peace between us... I do not wish to ruin that." Janette smiled and kissed him on the cheek. "You grow soft in your old age, mon pere." She said, teasingly. "Perhaps." LaCroix looked thoughtfully at the assembled group. "Or perhaps I have just grown weary of eternity." "We're ready, Nat!" Nick called, before Janette could reply to LaCroix. "Are you sure you won't come with us?" Nick asked the others. "No, Nicholas. We shall wait here for you to return. It is better this way." LaCroix told him. Nick nodded. "Father, if something happens..." LaCroix silenced him with an upraised palm. "It won't. Go, my son. We will be here, waiting for you to return." Natalie came up and kissed everyone. She stopped before LaCroix. "Thank you... for everything." LaCroix nodded and brushed a stray curl away from her eyes. "Good luck, my dear." He whispered. Natalie smiled, then took Nick's hand and turned to follow the Away Team onto the shuttle. LaCroix watched as the shuttle lifted off, then left the docking bay. "I love you. Both of you." He whispered so softly, no one, but he, could hear. Natalie shifted for the third time in less than a minute. "If you don't stop that, I'm going to strap you down." Nick told her. He knew she was nervous. So was he. But that wasn't any reason to fidget so. Natalie looked apologetically at him. "I'm sorry. I'm just so nervous about this whole thing. What if it doesn't work?" Nick looked at their entwined fingers, then kissed her hand. "Then we do as we promised LaCroix. We give up our search." Natalie nodded. In a strange way, the thought was a bit comforting. Captain Picard approached the pair. "We're coming upon the planet's surface. There is still about half an hour of sunlight left. We'll set out, as soon as the sun sets." Nick nodded. "Thank you, Captain." Deanna looked at Nick and Natalie. She'd been silently observing the pair since the arrival of their 'family', and had noticed a major change in the both of them. They both seemed more at peace, more relaxed. She had learned that Ursula and LaCroix were not married, in human terms. Natalie had simplified their relationship, by calling Urs LaCroix's wife, however inaccurate the term may have been. She had wondered about how the vampire family structure worked, so she'd spoken to Natalie about it one afternoon. If anything, she was more confused than ever.
"Wait a minute... Nick was Janette's 'brother', because LaCroix was both of their sire, but now Nick is Janette's 'father', because he's now her sire? And LaCroix is yours and Janette's 'grandfather', because Nick is both of your sire? And you are Nick's 'daughter', but also his wife? Natalie, how do you keep it all straight? And where does Tracy and the others come into this?" Natalie smiled indulgently. "Believe me, it takes a few decades, but you eventually work it out. As for Tracy... well, Nick brought me across right after his first partner was killed in a plane explosion. He realized that he didn't want to lose me to death, the way he'd lost so many others. Tracy had found out about vampires, because Vachon had also been on the plane that exploded. She found him, and he sort of surprised her. Anyway, Nick and I didn't want her in any more danger than she was already in, so we kept our true nature from her... but she's too stubborn for her own good. She ended up being shot in the line of duty, so Nick decided to bring her across. He and Vachon got into a disagreement over which of them should bring her across, so while they were off arguing about it, I brought her across. Then I had Janette help me get her 'transferred' to another hospital... one where the majority of the doctor's were vampires. Nick and Vachon couldn't believe it, but I think they were both a little relieved to not have to carry the responsibility. Nick was a bit angry, though, because he said I was much too young to have a fledgling of my own to worry about. Janette offered to stay and help her, so the both of us taught her the things she needed to know. When Nick and I got married, she talked Vachon into a formal ceremony, as well. Since Urs is Vachon's 'child', and she and LaCroix have been together for the last several centuries, we're all just one big, albeit sometimes *confused*, family." Natalie smiled at Deanna, who sat dumbfounded. "And you're sure you eventually get the hang of it?" Deanna asked. Natalie grinned. "Well, as best as possible." Deanna still didn't fully understand, but she was beginning to sort it out. She'd been giving a great deal of thought to the idea of becoming a vampire, weighing both the pros and the cons carefully. She was still unsure who she'd ask to bring her across, should she decide she wanted to join the 'night crew', as Tracy and Vachon called it. Then there was Will to consider. Their relationship had been rocky, at best, since they'd both signed onto the Enterprise. She didn't know if there was any real future for them, or not. Will certainly hadn't been showing any obvious interest in her, lately. He was usually too busy ogling the other women around. And yet, whenever there was another man in her life, he acted like a jealous lover. She was getting a little frustrated, and a bit angry, as well. Either he wanted her, or he didn't. She decided it was time to sit down and have a 'chat' with one William T. Riker, once and for all. He couldn't have it both ways. Captain Picard approached Nick and Natalie, as the rest of the Away Team prepared to depart. "We're ready. Dr. Crusher will show you where the life support suits are." Nick smiled indulgently at the Captain. "They won't be necessary. We do not actually have to breathe... at least, not in the same manner as you do. We usually do it, only to fit in better with the mortals around us. We do require some air, but only a very small amount. I think that the planet's atmosphere should be sufficient." Picard looked at them in amazement. "Well, if you are certain, then we can proceed." Nick nodded and took Natalie's hand, as they followed the Captain to the back of the shuttle craft. Worf stood by the hatch, glaring impatiently at Nick and Natalie. "We're waiting on you, sir." Nick smiled at him. "We're ready. Open the hatch." Worf frowned in disapproval, looking to Captain Picard. Picard nodded towards him. "It is all right, Mr. Worf. Open the hatch." Worf let out a snort of dissatisfaction, then pressed the lever for the hatch. The hatch lifted with a soft hiss, and the crisp night air of the plain was revealed. Picard and Nick led the way, with Worf and Data close behind. Natalie, Dr. Crusher and Counselor Troi followed, with Commander Riker. Nick opened his tricorder and ran a quick check of the area. He picked up readings that matched the pattern he was searching for, and turned towards the east. He kept his enhanced senses alert, taking each step cautiously, ever mindful of the mortals that accompanied him. Natalie, too, kept her senses open and alert. She knew that she and Nick had a better chance of protecting the group, if they worked together. She sent Nick a soft touch, letting him know that she was aware of their surroundings. They followed the tricorder readings along a rocky ridge and down a steep slope. At last, they came upon a stream bed. Deanna gasped, at what she saw. The stream was flowing with a deep red liquid. "What is it?" She asked Nick, reaching a gloved hand towards it. Nick grabbed her hand, before she could touch it. "It's blood." Deanna pulled back. "Where is it coming from?" Nick looked around them, at the desolate surface. "If the legends are true, from inside the planet's core." Data approached and knelt beside the pair. "I am afraid that is impossible. Planets do not bleed." Nick looked at Data, then scanned the surface of the stream. "This one does. See for yourself." The others gathered around, checking tricorder readings and looking around at the surface. "What are we supposed to do now, Nick?" Natalie asked. "We're supposed to drink it. As much as we can." Nick told her. Natalie winced. "And then?" Nick sighed. "And then, we wait." Lucien LaCroix sat silently at the bar in Ten Forward, sipping a glass of bloodwine. He was deep in thought, contemplating the situation unfolding on the planet's surface, when a familiar voice broke into his reverie. "You're getting to be as bad as Nick." LaCroix looked up and smiled at Guinan. "That, my dear, is an insult." "It got your attention, didn't it?" She smiled back. "Indeed." LaCroix said, setting his empty glass on the bar. "Natalie says that you have a Romulan vintage?" Guinan nodded. "Natalie was not very fond of it. Would you like some?" LaCroix nodded and smiled. "Of course. It has been quite sometime since I last tasted a warrior race." Guinan raised an eyebrow, then gave LaCroix a sour look, as she poured him a glass full. "Enjoy." She said, rather unenthusiastically. LaCroix simply chuckled, as he took a sip and sighed. "I will. Thank you." Guinan shook her head and turned to tend to her other patrons. LaCroix suddenly gasped and nearly fell out of his chair, knocking his half-full glass to the floor. Guinan turned quickly back to him. "LaCroix! What's wrong?" LaCroix gasped again in pain, then looked with pleading eyes at Guinan. "It is Nicholas. It has begun." Picard stood over Natalie's unconscious form, as Worf and Data tried to subdue Nick. Dr. Crusher pushed her com-badge and barked into it. "Enterprise, beam the Away Team directly to sickbay! Now!" Within moments, the group was in sickbay. Dr. Crusher quickly stripped off her protective suit, as she began giving orders. "Will, carry Natalie over to the bed on the other side of the room." Will moved to pick up Natalie, when a deafening roar sounded and he froze. He found himself staring into the red-eyed gaze of Nick. "Okay... maybe that's not such a good idea." He said, softly. He backed slowly away, hands upraised. "Worf, Data, can't you do something?" "Nicholas!" A voice barked from across the room. "Get a hold of yourself!" LaCroix was across the room in the blink of an eye, holding Nick in a tight grip. "Let them try to help her." Nick looked at LaCroix with uncomprehending eyes, as he fought to reach Natalie. Riker gently picked up Natalie and placed her on the bed. As Dr. Crusher and the medical team raced to her side, he moved to stand by Captain Picard, near the door. "Perhaps we should wait outside?" Riker suggested. Picard shook his head. "No. I promised them I'd help. I have to stay and see this through." He looked at his first officer. "You can go." Riker frowned. "Absolutely not. If you're staying, then I'm staying." Picard nodded, as he watched the scene of semi-organized chaos playing out before him. He turned at the sound of the sickbay doors opening, to find Janette standing there. Janette took one glance at what was happening in the room, and she was instantly by LaCroix's side, helping him to hold a violently hissing and thrashing Nicholas. "Nichola! Nichola! Stop this, at once! You can not help her, if you are acting like a wild animal!" Nick tried once more to pull free, but was held fast by Janette forcefully grabbing his face in between her thumb and forefinger. "Nichola!" She said again, forcing his eyes to meet hers. "If you do not calm yourself, and she dies, it will be your fault!" Nick froze in place and stared at her for several long moments. His gaze roamed to where Natalie lay, with the medical team trying desperately to revive her. When he looked at Janette, his eyes were a clear blue. "Let me go. I can help her." Janette nodded and released him, motioning for LaCroix to do the same. Nick stood and moved to where Beverly was frantically trying to save her friend's life. He gently placed a hand on her shoulder and looked into her sorrowful eyes. "It's okay, Beverly. I know what to do. Let me help her." Beverly looked at LaCroix and Janette, who simply nodded, before motioning for the rest of her team to move out of the way. "All right, Nick. Go ahead." Nick moved to stand next to Natalie's near-lifeless form. He gently took her hand in his, kissing her knuckles tenderly. "Forgive me, my love." Nick whispered. "I did not mean for this to happen." He leaned forward and softly kissed her lips, then gently opened her mouth and bit into his wrist. He placed his bleeding wrist over her mouth, allowing the blood to flow freely down her throat. "Come back to me, my love. Please, don't leave me. I need you." After several tense moments, Natalie grasped hold of Nick's arm and began sucking greedily at the life-giving fluid, and then laid back down when Nick gently forced her to release his arm. "Shh. It's all right. Get some rest now." Nick told her softly. He turned towards LaCroix and the others, but was stopped by Natalie grasping his arm and pulling him back towards her. "Nick, please. Don't leave me. Please." She whispered. Nick nodded and gently kissed her, then lay down next to her and wrapped his arms around her. In just a few minutes, exhaustion claimed them both, and they were deeply asleep. Dr. Crusher and the other mortals had waited anxiously, until Natalie sat up and stared with golden eyes into Nick's. When Nick and Natalie were both soundly sleeping, Beverly walked over and did a quick scan with her medical equipment, then covered them with a blanket. "I think they'll be all right. I don't really know enough about their physiology to tell you, for sure." LaCroix merely nodded. "Yes, Doctor. They will be fine." He assured her. Deanna carefully moved closer to the pair, eyes slightly widened, and her lips gently parted, in awe. She tilted her head slightly to the side, closing her eyes and smiling. "Counselor?" Picard called, softly. "What is it?" Deanna turned to face them, her eyes shining. "I've never felt anything like that before, in my life." She almost whispered. "It's... indescribable. They are at such peace... and they are so in love..." She looked again at the sleeping couple, her eyes shining with unshed tears. Picard looked at Dr. Crusher. "We'll go now and let them rest. Inform me, the moment they wake up." Dr. Crusher nodded. "Of course." Picard and the others turned to leave. Only Deanna and LaCroix stayed behind. LaCroix looked once at Deanna, then moved to stand by his sleeping 'children'. He gazed down at them, again aware of the incredible power between them, yet still not understanding. Turning, he raised an eyebrow and smiled at her. "I believe you have a question, Counselor?" Deanna looked at LaCroix momentarily. For all of his pomp and show, he was truly a very vulnerable man. She nodded and lifted her chin slightly. "Yes. Which of your group do you think would be the best choice to bring me across?" LaCroix smiled again. "Why, I would, of course." Deanna raised both eyebrows. "Really? Why? I think, General, that I am going to interview each of you, before I choose. " LaCroix raised an eyebrow, then smiled an evil smile. "Choose to become one of us, or choose whom to do it?" Deanna looked at Nick and Natalie. "I've already decided one thing for certain." She looked directly into his eyes, not showing a trace of fear or indecision. "I want to be brought across." In the background, Beverly Crusher frowned and sighed. She truly hoped that Deanna was making the right decision... for all of their sakes. Deanna Troi walked briskly down the corridor, heading for Will Riker's quarters. She had arranged to meet with the ship's second in command, to discuss her future plans, and to find out just exactly where he did- or didn't- fit into them. As she stood outside the door to his quarters, she hestitated for the briefest of moments before signaling her arrival. Riker heard the chimes to the door, and realized that Deanna had arrived. He smiled as he opened the door, his smile fading as he saw the determined look in the ship's Counselor's eyes. "Deanna?" Riker asked. "Is everything all right?" Deanna accepted Riker's invitation into his quarters, and she took a seat as she thought about what she was about to say to him. "Actually, Will, no, it's not." Will turned, giving Deanna a puzzled look. "What's wrong?" Deanna looked at her hands for a moment. Why was this so difficult? When it came to anyone else, she was calm and collected. She was capable of handling most any situation to arise, but when it came to one William T. Riker, she was a nervous wreck. "Will, I've come to an important decision." Deanna started, holding up her hand to silence him. "No, please. Let me finish. I've decided that I'm going to ask LaCroix to bring me across." Will stood silently for several stunned moments. Suddenly he stood up and let out an explosive breath. "What!??! Deanna, have you lost your mind? Do you have any idea at all what you're getting yourself into?" Deanna waited for Will's tirade to finish, then she looked up at him and stood. "Yes. I do. I know *exactly* what I'm getting myself into. I have given it a lot of consideration and thought. I have weighed every pro and con of the situation." She looked directly at him. "Will... do you love me?" The question threw him completely off guard. "What? Deanna, I don't see what that has to do--" "Exactly my point! You don't see! You have no idea what you've put me through for the last seven years!" She turned and paced around the room. Will sat down and frowned. "Deanna, what's going on?" He asked quietly. Deanna sat across from him and took both of his hands in hers. "Will... For the past seven years, I have watched you chase every available woman that has come along. Yet, whenever I've even started getting involved with someone, you've interfered and chased them off. I need to know... how do *you* feel about me? I am not changing my mind. I want to be a vampire. But I need to know where I stand with you." Will frowned up into her eyes. "Why, Imzadi? Why would you possibly want to be a vampire?" Deanna sighed in frustration. "Will... That is not what I'm here to discuss... We can talk about that, later. I need to know... do you love me?" Will looked down at their intertwined fingers. Did he love her? How could one simple question be so complicated? He closed his eyes and stood, releasing her hands as he did so. "Deanna... I - I don't know what to say." "Tell me the truth. That's all I ask." Will paced around the room, looking at the various articles he had adorning the room. He was deep in thought, as he quietly examined each piece. Deanna stood and started to walk towards the door. "Yes." Will's voice halted her steps. She turned to face him. "What?" Will cleared the distance between them in a few short steps. "I said, 'yes'. Yes, I love you." He reached out and pulled her into his arms. "I love you, and I want you." He said, before claiming her mouth with his own. Natalie stretched and smiled, as she turned to face Nick. She still loved waking up next to him, even after all of these centuries. Gently, she reached out and caressed his face, smiling at the tickling sensation caused by his quickly growing beard. Nick opened his eyes and smiled at his lovely wife. "Mmmm. Good morning, love." Natalie leaned forward and lightly kissed him. "Good morning to you, too." Nick took her hand in his and kissed her knuckles. "How are you feeling?" He asked, seriously. He still felt some measure of guilt over the events of the day before. "I'm fine, Nick." She said. "I've told you that, several times." She leaned forward and kissed him, once again, as if to emphasize her point. Nick pulled her over onto his chest, securely wrapping his arms around her. "I know, Nat... it's just, I feel terrible over what happened. If anything would have happened to you..." Natalie kissed him, to silence him. "It didn't. Nick, you can't dwell on the 'what ifs'. It'll make you crazy. I'm fine, and I love you more than ever." Nick sighed, as he brushed a stray curl from her eyes. "I don't know what I ever did to deserve you." Natalie smiled. "Who says it was anything you did? How do you know it wasn't *me* that was being rewarded?" She laughed, as she felt Nick tickle her sides. "Oh! That's the way you're going to be, huh?" Nick said, turning so that she was pinned beneath him. "MmmHmmm. What are you going to do about it? Hmmm?" Nat said, trying to stifle a giggle. Nick waggled his eyebrows at her. "Oh, I can think of *something*." He said, leaning in to kiss her. Nat wrapped her arms around his neck, then wrapped her legs around his waist. "I'm counting on it." She whispered. Deanna Troi smiled and turned over to face Will Riker. She laid there, quietly studying the man she loved. She frowned once, as she realized that they may not be able to be together, once she was brought across. Will opened his eyes, to find Deanna frowning, as she gazed off into space. "What? Was I that bad?" He asked her, teasing. Deanna jumped slightly, then grinned at him. "No. I was just thinking." She wrapped her arms around his neck. "Actually, you were better than I remembered." Will grinned. "Well, I am certainly glad to hear that." Deanna laughed along with him, then she suddenly turned serious again. "Will, I meant it when I said that I wanted to be brought across." Will's face darkened. "Yes, I know. What I don't understand, is why." Deanna pushed him over onto his back, laying herself across his bare chest. "Will, I don't know how to explain it..." She sighed. "I've never really relished the idea of growing old, or dying. And, let's face it, how often do I see the sunlight? I mean, I wouldn't exactly be missing anything. Can you imagine? Living forever? Actually getting to be a part of history, as it happens, then being able to recount the story hundreds of years later?" She traced small circles in the fine hairs of his chest. "There are so many reasons..." Will gently grasped her hands in his, kissing them. "I get your point. To be honest, I've been considering it, myself. I mean, let's face it, I've always wanted to be immortal... now I find out that I actually have a shot at it." Deanna smiled. "If we both were brought across..." Will returned her smile. "We could be together forever, just like Nick and Natalie." Deanna nodded. Will flipped them over, so that he was now lying above her. "But I'm not so sure that LaCroix is the best choice. I think Nick or Natalie would be better." Deanna raised an eyebrow. "Oh? And just why is that?" "He's too much like my father." Will laughed, as he kissed her neck. Deanna broke into helpless laughter, as she pulled him closer to her. Lucien LaCroix sat quietly sipping his drink at a corner table in Ten Forward. It had been several days since the disastrous incident with Nicholas and Natalie, in their search for mortality. He was somewhat relieved that this final failure meant that his children would, at last, give up their foolishness. Urs walked silently up and sat next to him. She had just come from Dr. Crusher's office. Natalie had requested that they all be tested to see if her condition, which prevented her from conceiving a child, was unique only to her. As it turns out, it wasn't. If Beverly could successfully neutralize and remove the lining from the uterus, any one of them could conceive a child. Whether or not they could carry a child to term, was another matter altogether. LaCroix raised his eyes to gaze upon his companion. They had been together for nearly a century this time, and he could feel the familiar restlessness beginning to stir within her. "Yes, my dear? What is it?" Urs looked at her hands, nervously twidling her thumbs. "How much longer will we be here?" LaCroix smiled indulgently. "I am not certain. Is there somewhere else you'd like to be?" Urs shrugged her shoulders. "It's just... all this talk of Nick and Natalie having a baby. I am not really into that kind of thing..." Nodding his agreement, he stood. "I believe it is time to gather the family for a meeting." "Did he say why he wants to see all of us?" Natalie asked, as she buttoned up the collar of her dress. "No. I'm assuming it has something to do with our lack of success in regaining our mortality." Nick said, coming up behind her and kissing her neck. "Don't worry. You and I have already discussed it with him. He knows we've agreed to give up the search." Natalie sighed. "Yes, I know." She turned in his arms, pulling him closer to her. "Did I mention that Beverly said that we can begin the process, as soon as you and I are ready?" Nick smiled. "No. That is wonderful!" He looked seriously at her. "How soon would you like to begin?" Nat sighed. "I was thinking, probably tomorrow. I have to go through all the initial treatments. Then, it wil be about a week or two until we can start to try and conceive." Nick leered at her. "I think I'm going to enjoy that part." Nat smiled playfully at him. "Hmm. Me, too." She leaned forward and pulled him into a deep kiss. The sounding of the door chime broke them apart. "Enter." Nick called out, as he went to the replicator to procure 'breakfast' for them. Deanna looked at Will. "Are you certain about this? I've given it a lot of thought over the last several weeks. You know there is no going back, once it is done..." Will smiled at her. "I'm sure. I once told the Captain that I planned to live forever. I can't go back on a promise now, can I?" Noting her serious look, he sobered. "Deanna, I am sure. I, too, have given it a great deal of thought. It is what I want. By the way, did you contact your mother?" Deanna cringed. "Yes. She was furious. Began rambling on about not having grandchildren, and me outliving her... How about you? Did you contact your father?" Riker nodded. "He seemed rather indifferent. Of course, you know how he is. Since Tom's arrival, he hasn't seemed as interested in what I am doing. Tom is suddenly the focus of all his energy.... I almost feel sorry for him." Deanna pulled him close to her and gave him a gentle kiss. Even though he would not admit it, she knew that his father's lack of affection greatly saddened him. "Well, I think we'd best speak with Nick and Natalie." Riker nodded, as they headed out the door. "Which one of them do you think is the best choice?" "I think we need to discuss it with them. They have a lot more experience in this area, than we do." Deanna told him. Will nodded. "Yes, that they do." He said, reaching out to ring the chimes. Nick looked up, pleasantly surprised to see Will and Deanna enter. "Hello. What brings you here?" "I hope nothing is wrong?" Natalie asked. "Oh, no, nothing is wrong. We've come to discuss something with the two of you." Will told her. Deanna smiled at the two of them. "How are you both feeling?" Natalie smiled. "Fine. We do heal rather quickly." "I am glad to hear that. But, I was referring to your emotional state. I know that you both wanted to become mortal." Deanna said, pointedly. Nick sighed, as he wrapped his arms around Natalie. "It is not so much that we want to be mortal, as that we want a child. True, we would like to be able to eat solid food and walk in the sunshine, but those are minor irritations, compared to being unable to create a child of our own... and not a vampire child." "Which brings us to why we are here." Will said, as Natalie motioned for them to sit. "We have given it much thought and consideration," Deanna said, taking Will's hand in her own. "We would like to be brought across." Natalie and Nick looked to one another in astonishment. "Are you certain of this?" Nick asked. "You know, once you cross over, there is NO going back... we've been searching for centuries." "Yes, we know." Will said. "We have discussed it. We understand what we are asking." They discussed the issue for several more minutes, until finally Nick and Natalie were convinced that they truly knew what they wanted. "Our only uncertainty is who will bring us across." Will said. "I don't think I'd want LaCroix to do it." "Neither would I." Deanna agreed. Nat glanced at Nick. "How about you take Deanna and I take Will?" Nick grinned at her. "It certainly makes it more fun that way." Nat smiled. "I think they should come to the family meeting then, don't you?" "Definitely." Nick nodded. He smiled at the pair before him. "Well, let's get you started..." LaCroix and the others were waiting for them, when they arrived. They were all lounging comfortably in LaCroix's quarters, drinking a 'special vintage' that he had brought with him from Earth. "Nicholas. Natalie. This is a family gathering... I thought I made that clear." He said softly, nodding towards the two mortals that had joined them. "They will soon *be* family, LaCroix." Nick told him. "They wish to be brought across." LaCroix's surprise was evident, but he smiled. "Good. Good. Have they chosen whom they wish to bring them across?" Natalie kissed his cheek. "Yes. Nick and I. Nick is going to bring over Deanna, and I will take care of Will." LaCroix smiled at her. "Yes, it is much more pleasurable, that way." Nat just grinned at him. LaCroix motioned for them to take a seat, as Urs brought Deanna and Will a glass of wine and Nick and Natalie the 'special'. "Well, my children. It appears that we will soon have two additions to the family." He told the others. Tracy looked at Nick and Nat. "That was fast. I thought you were going to wait and try Dr. Crusher's treatment, after you tried this last 'cure'?" Natalie smiled. "No, Tracy. Not a baby... not yet. We are going to start that process, tomorrow. He is talking about Will and Deanna. They have decided to becom 'Members' of the 'Club'." Janette gave them a slow, sultry smile. "Oh my, now that is good news." Will grinned at her and Deanna lightly elbowed him in the ribs. "Well, let us first take care of 'business', then we shall celebrate." LaCroix said to them, raising his glass in a silent toast. Natalie stood in Will's livingroom, silently staring out at the stars blurring past. She turned when she heard him enter, and smiled. "Did you and Deanna get everything worked out?" She asked him. He nodded. "Yes. I think it took us both a bit by surprise when you and Nick explained exactly what we were going to do, and what to expect." Nat nodded and smiled at him. "It usually is a bit of a surprise." "How many people have you brought across?" Will asked her, sitting in a chair and motioning for her to be seated, as well. "Three. Tracy, another young woman we came across several centuries ago, named 'Leanne' and a young man named 'Peter'. I brought Peter across, to be with Leanne... they were both killed in a fire, several years ago." Nat said, remembering with sadness her two 'children'. They were both barely twenty, but they were very special to her. She looked up at Riker and smiled again. "As Nick puts it, 'stay out of the sun and keep away from sharp sticks and you'll live forever... that's the deal.' " Riker laughed. "I think I can deal with that." Natalie stood and took Will's hand in hers. "Are you ready? Or do you need to ask anything more?" Will swallowed hard and then nodded. Why was he nervous? "Yes, I'm ready." Natalie lead him into the bedroom and wrapped her arms around his neck, giving him a gentle kiss. As she began unbuttoning his shirt, she whispered to him, "Don't worry, this won't hurt a bit..." Nick smiled as he watched Deanna quietly studying the various artifacts he'd brought with him. He could feel her nervousness, he knew that she was a bit uneasy about the way this was to be done... "Deanna?" He called. She started slightly, as she turned to face him. "Yes?" He motioned for her to sit across from him. "You and Will are 'Imzadi', are you not?" Deanna nodded. "How did you know?" He smiled. "I recognize the signs. You and he are very much in love... besides, I read up on your personnel files. It says that he was stationed on Betazed several years ago... that that is where you met." She nodded. "Yes. We met at my best friend's wedding. I really did not like him, at first, but he sort of grew on me." She smiled at the memory. Nick smiled, as well. "Deanna, we explained to you how relationship's work within the 'Community'. You will be mine, and Will will be Nat's... but only as master and child. You and Will don't have to anything you don't want to, once you've been brought across." Deanna smiled and nodded. "I know. I am just trying to get used to the idea, I suppose." Nick stood and took her hand, leading her to the bedroom. "Don't worry, I promise not to hurt you." He told her, pulling her closer and kissing her softly. Deanna looked at him. "That's what I'm afraid of." She whispered. Nick looked at her puzzled. "I don't understand." "What if I like it *too* much? I don't want to hurt Will." Nick smiled. "Trust me, Deanna. You will fully understand, as soon as you've come across. Just relax." He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her. "I promise, this won't hurt a bit..." Natalie smiled softly, as she watched Will Riker sleeping soundly. He would soon awaken and be in the throes of First Hunger. She went out to the livingroom and carried in the case that LaCroix had procured from Guinan. Will began to stir, as Natalie entered the bedroom. She sat on the bed beside him and gently stroked his hair, until he at last opened his eyes. Will opened his eyes to find that everything was cast in a golden glow. He felt odd. Sounds and smells were more pronounced. He could see things with much more clarity. Suddenly he was wracked with an intense pain. He looked to Natalie, who sat calmly observing him. Natalie watched Will, as he tried to adjust to his new senses. She saw and felt the exact moment when the Hunger hit him, and she handed him an open bottle. "Here. Drink this." She commanded softly. Will grabbed the bottle from Natalie, not even stopping to question her. He upended it and drank swiftly, downing it in a few moments. Natalie handed him another, and then a third. Halfway through the third bottle, Will took a deep breath and looked at her. "So, am I...?" He asked starting slightly at how loud his voice sounded to his own ears. Natalie smiled, gesturing to the bottle in his hand. "What do you think? Tell me, now that the Hunger has passed... what do you feel? Take a sip and savor it... feel the person who gave the blood..." Will looked at her questioning, but did as he was told. He smiled in ecstacy, as the fiery liquid soothed him. He relived the thoughts and feelings of the person who had donated the blood. He looked to Natalie in surprise, as he slowly finished the rest of the bottle. "What was that?" He asked her. Natalie gently caressed his cheek. "That, my dear, was the power of the Blood. It's incredible, isn't it?" Will just nodded, as he handed the empty bottle to Natalie and watched her set it in a wooden crate by the bed. As he watched her moving about the room, a new hunger stirred within him... a bit more familiar, yet at the same time, foreign. Natalie looked at Will and smiled. "Don't worry. What you are experiencing is perfectly normal. Just relax." She moved closer to him, sitting next to him on the bed. She leaned forward and gave him a tender kiss and was pleasantly surprised when he pulled her to him in a fierce embrace. "Natalie... I need you. Please." He said, gasping. Natalie smiled, as she unbelted her robe and let it slide from her shoulders. "Then take me... and I will teach you about the wonders of blood sharing..." Nick looked down at Deanna, sleeping peacefully. He could sense Nat, and knew that Will was successfully across. He smiled at the feelings of pleasure he could feel from her. Deanna would awaken soon, and he would teach her, just as Natalie was now teaching Will. He stood and went to the other side of the room, opening three bottles. LaCroix had procured the necessary nourishment from Guinan, who had refused to tell him anything other than that it was freely donated... and Human. Nick walked back to the bed and sat beside Deanna. He began softly kissing her fingers, murmuring words of encouragement to her, until he felt her stir. He smiled when she opened golden eyes and stared at him. "Nick?" She whispered. Nick nodded. "Hello. I was beginning to wonder if you were ever going to wake up." He smiled at her, remembering to speak in low tones, so as not to overwhelm her. Deanna sat up, pulling the sheet around her. She gazed in wonder, as she began to experience her newly enhanced senses. Now, not only could she sense people as an empath, but her hearing and eyesight were sharper. She could smell things that she'd never before noticed. She looked at Nick and smiled. Nick nodded, as he returned her smile. "Welcome." He reached for a bottle, when Deanna suddenly doubled over in pain. "Here, drink this. Don't fight it." Deanna was just accustoming herself to her new senses, when she was hit with an intensely searing pain in her stomach. She gratefully took the bottle Nick offered her and swiftly drank down the contents. She had finished her second bottle, and was now starting on her third, when Nick put his hand on hers. "Deanna... what do you feel? What do you sense? The blood is more than just our food, as I told you before I brought you over. Take a moment to savor it, experience it." Deanna nodded and did as she was instructed. She smiled brightly, as she experienced the emotions, thoughts and memories. "It's wonderful. Incredible, actually." Nick smiled and nodded. "Tell me." Deanna took a mouthful, closing her eyes in concentration. She swallowed, then looked at Nick. "It's a young woman. She is in love with someone who does not return her love. She... her name is Maya." Nick smiled at her. "Go ahead and finish it." He motioned to the bottle. Deanna quickly finished off the bottle, handing it to Nick. "What now?" She asked. Nick grinned at her, as he moved to put the bottle away. "Why don't we just take things as they come?" "But when can I see Will?" She asked. "Not until tomorrow. Natalie is taking good care of him." "So, he is a vampire, too?" She asked. She began stretching out her senses, searching for him. And was surprised when she felt the feelings of intense pleasure coming from both him and Natalie. She frowned sadly, as she looked at Nick. Nick noticed and sat beside her. "What is it?" "Will. He and Natalie..." She broke off, not wanting to even say it aloud. "I know." Nick told her, smiling slightly. "They are enjoying themselves." Deanna looked at him in shock. "And that's okay with you?" Nick chuckled lightly. "Oh, Deanna, we already discussed this. Relationships in the vampire world are so much different. Especially between a vampire master and his or her fledgling. It is perfectly normal." He looked at her, as he kissed her fingers. "Perhaps if you would relax, you would begin to understand." Deanna frowned, then nodded. She took a deep breath, using the relaxation techniques she so often taught her own patients. When she opened her eyes, they were once again golden. "Nick? What is this? I feel so odd... Hungry, but... not." Her expression was questioning. Nick smiled. "That is your next lesson." He pulled her to him, kissing her deeply. He ran his tongue across her canines, and felt her fangs drop for the first time. "Oh!" Deanna exclaimed, pulling away slightly. "What...?" Nick just pulled her closer, kissing her gently, stimulating her fangs. He pulled back a little and looked into her eyes when he heard a soft moan escape her. They were now red with desire. "That's it, just relax." He stood and removed his robe, then pulled the covers from Deanna. "Trust me." He soothed, lying beside her and pulling her closer. Deanna relaxed into his embrace, as she began to understand... LaCroix smiled down at Urs, sleeping soundly in his arms. He was fully aware of the activities of both Nicholas and Natalie, and he was immensely pleased. His family was growing, and Nick and Natalie were finally beginning to stop fighting their nature. He sighed as he pulled the blankets up around Urs and settled in. Closing his eyes, he pushed into the sensations coming from his children. At last, things were as they should be. Nick embraced Natalie as she and Will entered the room. He kissed her on the cheek, as he nodded to Will to join Deanna in the bedroom. "How is he?" Nick asked. Natalie playfully swatted him. "As a vampire... he is adjusting. As a lover..." She grinned, then whispered in his ear. "He pales in comparison to you, my love." Nick grinned at her. "Good answer." He murmured, kissing her deeply. "Deanna is adjusting rather slowly. I think that we should begin their training immediately." Nat shook her head. "Not until they've had some time together. This is a huge adjustment and they need each other, right now." She began kissing Nick on the neck, gently licking his carotid artery. "Besides, I need *you* right now." She whispered. Nick picked her up and carried her to the spare bedroom, closing the door behind him. Will cautiously entered the bedroom that Nick had indicated that Deanna occupied. He smiled at her sleeping form, as he sat down on the bed beside her. She was even more beautiful than he'd ever thought it possible. Gently lifting a hand, he began kissing her fingers. "Deanna, love, time to wake up." Deanna stirred slightly, then slowly opened her eyes. The golden glow was more familiar to her now and she found herself more calm than she had previously been. She looked up to find Will smiling down at her, his eyes also glowing with an amber fire. "Will?" She asked, touching his face. "When did you arrive?" Will grinned. "Just a moment ago. Natalie felt it time for us to be reunited." Deanna frowned slightly and nodded. "I see." Will returned her slight frown, with a puzzled one of his own. "Imzadi, what is it? What's troubling you?" Deanna opened the bottle sitting on the table beside the bed, and filled the two glasses beside it. Handing one to her companion, they both sipped at their drinks, before she answered. "I know that Nick and Natalie explained vampire relationships... it's just that I..." Will nodded. "I understand. Deanna, I won't lie to you. I enjoyed my time with Natalie... she is, after all, my 'master' now. But I have been relentlessly pestering her to be able to see you. We are 'Imzadi'... nothing will ever change how much I love you." Deanna sighed at last and smiled. "Thank you. I needed to hear that." She sat up straighter, the blankets slipping from her bare form. Smiling seductively at him, she pulled him towards her. "Nick showed me, as I'm sure Natalie did you, the wonders of blood sharing. I have been waiting all day to find out what you taste like..." Will just grinned at her. "Well, then. By all means." Captain Jean-Luc Picard paced nervously about his ready room. Will and Deanna had informed him of their decisions to be brought across and made into vampires. After much discussion with not only his two crew members, but Nick and Natalie as well, he had conceded giving them the necessary time away from their duties to adjust. He had been awaiting word on how either of them were doing, as he was certain that the conversion process must have already been completed. The chimes sounded at his door and he stopped pacing and turned to face it. "Enter." Guinan strode gracefully into the room and smiled her calm smile. "Captain." Picard looked at her in surprise. Guinan rarely strayed far from her bar, wanting to be certain that everything ran smoothly. "Guinan. May I help you?" Guinan motioned for him to take a seat, then sat down across from him. "Actually, Captain, I'm here to help you." Picard frowned. "I don't understand." Guinan sighed. "Will and Deanna are both safely across. They are now vampires." Picard visibly relaxed. He had always felt rather paternal towards his first mate and the ship's counselor. Knowing that they were all right finally released the tension he had felt for the better part of two days. "How do you know this?" "LaCroix told me. And believe me, he would know. He knows everything that happens within his family." Guinan told him. "Will and Deanna will need several days, at least, to adjust, before they will be able to be around human beings again. Nick and Natalie will use the holodecks to help train them. They will also enlist the aid of LaCroix and the rest of the family." Picard sighed and nodded. "So there is no chance of me being able to see them?" Guinan smiled patiently. "I think I can arrange that. Of course, Nick and Natalie will have to be present to help keep them in control. They are at a very vulnerable stage right now." Picard nodded in understanding. "Very well. I would like to see them." Guinan stood and took his hand. "Come with me." Natalie, Nick, Will and Deanna sat in the living room of Nick and Natalie's quarters. Nick had poured everyone drinks, and they now sat comfortably chatting. Nick and Natalie were explaining to Will and Deanna some of the lessons they would learn, before being able to return to duty. "Control is the most important thing. You could inadvertently harm a fellow crew member and that would cause trouble. Right now, very few people on board know of the existence of vampires, and we need to keep it that way. So the first thing you will learn, is the Code." Nick told them. "The Code?" Deanna questioned. "The set of rules that guides the vampire Community? Nick, I thought you said that it was outdated." Nick sighed. "To a certain degree. But the fewer people that know of our existence, the safer we are. Humans and other life forms still often misunderstand, or become afraid. Their fears are still dangerous." The chimes rang at the door and Nick and Natalie looked at one another. "That will be the Captain. He wishes to see how you are doing. This will be the first test of your control." Nick told them. "If you begin to feel yourself slipping, even slightly, I want you to immediately withdraw to the bedroom. Don't worry about excusing yourself, just go." Natalie opened the door and smiled warmly at Picard. "Captain. Welcome." She motioned for him to enter. Will saw Picard and was immediately struck by the intense smell of his blood and pounding of his heart. He forced himself to remain planted in his seat. Natalie walked over and touched his arm. "Relax. Don't fight so hard. Try to calm yourself." Picard caught the immediate flash of gold in Riker's eyes and wondered if this visit had been such a wise idea. He saw Natalie speaking softly to him, and noticed that Will seemed to relax. "Deanna, Will... how are you?" Deanna had caught the sensations, as well, but had not felt the overwhelming desire for the blood that she knew Will had. She could sense Picard's unease and concern. She found that her empathic abilities had, in no way, been hindered by her conversion. Perhaps that explained her ability to control herself so much more easily. "Fine, Captain." Will said, once Natalie had taken a seat not far from him. "It is quite an adjustment, but I think we'll be all right." Deanna smiled at him. "Yes. We will be fine." Picard smiled in relief. "Good. I am glad to hear that. Guinan informed me that you will not be able to return to duty for several days. I want you two to take your time... as long as you need. I do not wish to lose either of you." "Thank you, Captain." Will said. Deanna stood and looked hesitantly at him. "Captain, would you object to my coming closer? I do not wish to make you uncomfortable." Picard glanced at Nick, who nodded in encouragement. Then he turned back to Deanna. "Of course, Counselor." Deanna walked closer to him, carefully gaging both his reaction, and hers. When she found that she had no desire to harm him, she smiled. "It's quite all right. I do not understand it, but I do not feel the desire to harm you. I can smell your blood and hear your heart, but it has no real affect on me." She looked questioningly at Nick. "I don't understand." Natalie smiled. It was much the same reaction she had had, after coming across. "Deanna, your whole purpose in life is to help people heal... emotionally, perhaps, but it is a healing, nonetheless. It is the Healer in you, that allows you to control your Hunger. I had much the same reaction." Will frowned. "What does that say about me, then? It took every ounce of will power I had, not to race across the room and attack." Natalie placed a gentle hand on his. "You are an Officer... a military man. Everything that you have been taught, is in tactical skills, fighting... survival. It is a very normal reaction. The fact that you did not race across the room, shows that you have a great deal of self control. I am very proud of you." Nick nodded. "She's right. I, too, was military trained... as a knight. Our very nature is one of the hunt... so to speak. Don't worry, you handled yourself wonderfully." Picard smiled. "Yes, well, I suppose I should be on my way. As I said before, take as much time as you need. And Number One? I, too, am very proud of you." Picard turned and left the room. Will smiled at Deanna. The Captain's praise meant a great deal to him. "Okay." He began. "Where do we start?" Nick refilled their empty glasses. "At the beginning, of course. We are going to go over the Code and answer any questions you may have. Then, we will rest, before we begin the actual 'hands on' phase of the training process." Natalie sat beside Nick and sipped from her glass. "You must pay close attention... it is very important that you completely understand." Deanna took Will's hand in her own, as they looked at one another. Then, they turned their complete attention to Nick and Natalie. "We're ready." Will told them. Picard sat on the edge of his bed. He had finally stopped shaking. He had rarely been frightened of anything in his life, and the fact that Will had frightened him so easily unnerved him. He had been truly grateful for Nick and Natalie's presence. They had been a calming force within the room, and he was certain that had they not been there, Will would have killed him, before he'd realized what he was doing. As he looked into the small mirror on his bedside table, he began to wonder at the idea of being eternal. As the last of his family line, he was feeling his age more and more every day. Will and Deanna now had eternity ahead of them... but he only had a few short years. Sighing, he turned off the light and climbed into bed. Perhaps he should have a talk with Beverly. She always seemed to be a calming presence. Maybe she could help him make sense of his feelings. "What is this? Why has everyone suddenly decided to become a vampire!?" Beverly all but shouted, throwing her arms into the air. Picard raised an eyebrow at her, as he stood and took her hands. "I didn't say I wanted to become a vampire. I simply need someone to talk to about these unusual feelings. Since Counselor Troi is unavailable, I thought that you would be the most logical choice." He sat on the sofa and gently tugged her down beside him. Beverly sighed. "You're right. I'm sorry." She smiled ruefully at the Captain. "I take it that you are not pleased with Will and Deanna's decision?" Picard asked her. "It isn't that." She said, sipping from the drink the Captain had given her, upon her arrival. "I'm not sure exactly how I feel. It just seems odd to me. I..." She sighed again. "I can't even explain it." Picard smiled and nodded. "I understand. Neither can I, and that is what is most troubling." They sat in silence for several minutes. Then Picard spoke again. "I have just been feeling my age, more and more, and it isn't recent... Deanna and I have had many discussions about it. I feel like time is quickly running out. And as the last surviving Picard... the idea that when I'm gone, there will be no more Picards is very difficult to face." He looked sadly into his glass, before taking a sip. "Becoming immortal is one way of handling that, I suppose, and it isn't exactly the worst way, either." Beverly nodded her head in understanding. "I know... I have been feeling my age, as well. Wesley is growing up so fast and I am powerless to prevent it. And I have been feeling rather lonely, as of late. The idea of living forever, never growing older... it is very seductive." She lightly caressed his cheek with the palm of her hand. "The question is, are the sacrifices worth the rewards?" Picard nodded, then took her hand. "That, I'm afraid, is the toughest question of all." They sat in companionable silence for many moments. When, at last, they looked at one another, they seemed to get lost in the other's eyes. There was a time, once, when they had been telepathically linked, when their true feelings for one another had been revealed. But they had both pushed aside those feelings, settling, instead, for a comfortable friendship. Picard was too afraid of getting involved, for it meant that his judgement as Captain could be affected. Beverly was too afraid of getting involved, for she felt it a betrayal of her husband's memory. She was also afraid of what Wesley would think. But at this moment, as they both questioned their motives and their uncertainty of the future, they found that the reasons that had kept them apart no longer seemed quite as valid... Picard leaned forward and tentatively kissed her. It was a gentle, cherishing kiss. A kiss that asked a thousand wordless questions. Beverly responded to his kiss with an unspoken fear. Fear of the future. Fear of the pressure this could place on their friendship. One thing that she understood quite clearly, however, was the unspoken need that they both felt for one another. And at that moment, all thoughts of the future, or the past, suddenly fled their minds. As Picard pulled Beverly to her feet and led her to the bedroom, she smiled at him. Somehow, this just felt right. Deanna sat bolt upright in bed, as she realized exactly who's emotions she'd fixed upon for the last hour. Eyes wide, she forced herself to lie back down beside Will's sleeping form. "Deanna?" Nick called from the doorway. "What is it?" Deanna looked over at Nick, then smiled. "I just felt something... someone. I wasn't quite prepared for it." Nick nodded, then noticed her peaceful smile. "Who?" He asked, also smiling. Deanna hesitated, then sighed. "The Captain and Dr. Crusher." Nick nodded, turning to leave, then stopped. Turning back to face her, it was apparent that her words had finally registered. He grinned at her, then turned and headed back to his own room and to Natalie. Deanna snuggled closer to Will and closed her eyes. "It's about time... I've been waiting for them to realize they were crazy about each other, for years." Wills muffled voice noted. Deanna grinned, as she turned to face him. "Oh, you have, have you?" Will nodded at her, grinning himself. "Yeah." Quirking an eyebrow at him, she asked, "I see. Tell me, what is your excuse for waiting so long to tell *me* how you felt?" Riker opened his eyes wide, giving her his most innocent look. "Temporary insanity?" He asked. Deanna laughed, as she smacked him on the arm and pushed him towards the pillow. LaCroix watched as Urs, Vachon and Tracy transported off of the Enterprise. They had said their 'farewells' to everyone the day before, and were now off to once more roam about the galaxy. He had no regrets, for he knew that they would remain in touch and that they would one day meet again, as they always did. Urs and Tracy were not very enthusiastic about this whole 'baby thing', as they referred to it. They were both quite content, the way things were. Since Tracy did not mind sharing Vachon with Urs, they made quite the little entourage. Janette sighed, as she turned to face LaCroix. "I am sorry to see them go." LaCroix nodded. "As am I. But we will see them again. You know that." Janette nodded. "Oui. I know." LaCroix raised an eyebrow. "If Nicholas and Natalie succeed at having a child, you will wish to try it, no?" Janette looked sharply at him. "How did you--?" LaCroix smiled at her. "Janette, my dear, that is one thing about you that I have always been aware of. Your desire for a child of your own. Your only dilemma now, is who will father it?" Janette sighed. She had someone in mind, but was afraid that he'd never agree. "I do not know." LaCroix simply nodded. He knew she was being less than truthful, but decided he would not push her... at least, for now. Natalie and Nick looked at one another and grinned happily. Will and Deanna were coming along wonderfully in their training. "Will! Watch out for the--!" Natalie cringed, as Will flew headlong into a tree. Nick and Natalie landed beside him, shaking their heads ruefully. Oh, well. Just about everyone had to hit a tree, at one time or another. Reaching down, Natalie pulled Will to his feet. "Come on. You gotta pay attention. If you were on a populated planet, someone would see you if you flew that low..." Will nodded, shaking his head to regain his equilibrium. Deanna settled softly beside him, grinning. "Don't say it..." Will growled. Deanna gave him an innocent smile. "Who, me?" Nick looked at Will and smiled. "Don't worry. It happens to everyone." "Indeed, Nicholas, not to *everyone*" LaCroix's smooth voice chuckled, as he walked confidently down the slope of the hill to where they were standing. "Toronto, Nicholas?" He asked, looking around at his surroundings. Nick grinned. "Yeah, well... some of my happiest times were here." He looked affectionately at Nat. Natalie smiled and kissed his cheek, then turned to LaCroix. "I love the Holodeck. You can be anyone... go anywhere. It's wonderful." Deanna smiled, as well. "Yes. That is one of my favorite things, as well." She allowed LaCroix to kiss her hand. "General. It is good to see you, again." Will raised an eyebrow at her, but said nothing. He could feel the power that emanated from the ancient vampire, and knew that it would not be wise to get on his bad side. LaCroix glanced at Will, admiring the boy's restraint. Indeed, Nicholas and Natalie had informed both Will and Deanna that should he decide to take either of them, there was nothing they could do about it. Keeping the young ones in their place... how refreshing. "I came to see how the training was coming along." Nick smiled at him. "Very well, actually. Will and Deanna show remarkable promise. I believe they will be able to return to duty in just a few days." LaCroix looked at the young vampires appraisingly. "Indeed. I believe that we should join Janette in Ten Forward. A test, perhaps." Natalie looked at Nick. 'Is that a good idea?' She questioned, silently. 'We're about to find out.' Nick answered, nodding to LaCroix. "Very well, then. I trust that you and Janette will help us to keep them in line?" "Of course, Nicholas." LaCroix said, taking Deanna's arm and leading them up the grassy knoll. Natalie smiled at Will's jealous frown and took his arm. "Come on." She laughed. Janette sat in a quiet corner of Ten Forward, demurely sipping from a glass. She smiled as LaCroix and the others entered and headed towards her. "Janette, my dear. Striking, as always." LaCroix said, kissing her hand. "I take it that the young men aboard ship have been amorously seeking your attentions?" Janette sighed. "Oui." She smiled at Natalie and stood to kiss her on the cheek. "How are you, my dear sister?" Natalie smiled, as Nick silently cringed at the reference. "I am doing wonderfully." "Natalie, dear, I did not ask before, but whatever happened on the planet's surface that made you so deathly ill?" Janette asked, as she took a sip from her drink. She nodded in thanks, as the waitress brought them all a round of 'special blend'. Nat stared sadly into her drink. "The blood from the planet was supposed to cure us. But instead, it was more like a poison. It had a distinctly garlic flavor." Nat shuddered. "Nick has eight hundred years on me, so it didn't have the same toxic affect on him, as it did me. I felt as if I were choking... and the next thing I remember, I was waking up in sick bay, with Nick feeding me. Apparently the legend was false." She sighed. Nick nodded, as he squeezed Nat's hand. "I wasn't thinking rationally. At least, not until you and LaCroix arrived. If it hadn't been for the two of you..." His voice trailed off, as he sighed. "Thank you for coming. I would not have been able to go on, if I lost Natalie." Janette smiled at him and nodded. "You are quite welcome, Nichola. We, too, have grown rather fond of Natalie." Nat just smiled at her family. "Well, how are you and Deanna feeling, Will? Are the heartbeats getting to you?" Will shook his head. "I'm fine, actually. Deanna?" Deanna smiled, then looked around. "No. They are not bothering me." A young woman walked by and she raised her eyebrows in surprise. "How odd..." Nick looked questioningly at her. "What is it?" "Each person has a distinct... scent. That young woman over there-" She pointed to the woman that had just walked past. "She smells like oranges and walnuts." She looked around again. "And the young man at the next table smells like almonds and pine." Natalie smiled, as she nodded. "Yes. Everyone has a unique scent. Usually it will remind you of some sort of flower or plant. Occasionally, it will remind you of some kind of food. Nuts, trees and fruits are very common." "No wonder they make us hungry." Riker said. Nick laughed at that. "Indeed. But you must always remember that to hunt, to kill... it is very dangerous. It opens us up for exposure." "Yes. Hunger will bring out the vampire, but so will intense emotions... anger, love, passion, pain. You must learn to control the vampire and not let it control you." Janette warned. "You speak as if it is a separate entity." Deanna observed. "In many ways, it is. And yet... it is not. It is very complicated. You will become accustomed to it, in time." Nick told her. Natalie looked at her chronometer. "We must be going. We don't want to overexpose you two. Too much, too soon, could be disastrous." Nick and the others stood. "Will you come to our quarters tomorrow?" He asked LaCroix and Janette. LaCroix smiled and nodded. "Certainly." He shook Nick's and Will's hands, then kissed Natalie and Deanna on the cheek. "Until then." Natalie settled into the bed beside Nick. "What does LaCroix have planned?" Nick kissed the top of her head. "I know he wants to test them. He always does." Nat nodded, remembering her own test by the ancient vampire master. "Should we warn them?" Nick sighed. "We'll talk to them, tomorrow. Let them sleep, tonight." Natalie smiled up at him, kissing him lightly on the lips. "I'm glad we came aboard the Enterprise." Nick smiled down at her. "So am I. Are you going to see Dr. Crusher tomorrow? I know you had to postpone your treatments until Will and Deanna were stabilized. I think I can handle things for a few hours." Nat nodded. "Okay. I've been rather anxious to get started." Nick kissed her. "Don't worry, Nat. If this doesn't work, we'll adopt. I promise." Nat hugged him tighter, then closed her eyes. Nick lay silently listening to the sounds aboard the starship. After several hours, he, too, drifted off to sleep. Natalie settled into the seat across from Dr. Crusher and read over the results of her latest tests. It appeared that everything was ready for them to begin treatment. Beverly silently watched Natalie, as she read the reports. When Natalie set the report on her desk, she spoke. "Do you have any questions before we begin?" Natalie shook her head. "No. You've explained it rather thoroughly. I'm ready whenever you are." Beverly motioned for Nat to follow her into sickbay. "Here we are. Lie down and we'll get started." Natalie lay on the exam table and placed her arms at her side. "I'm ready." Beverly smiled at her, as she adjusted her scanners to Natalie's body functions and then pulled out a hypospray. "This won't hurt at all. We'll give you an injection now and if you tolerate it, we'll give you another in about an hour. You can go to sleep, if you'd like." Nat just smiled. "No. That's all right." She looked at Beverly. "You seem to be in a good mood today. What's up?" Beverly smiled, then blushed. "I'm just happy. Happier than I've been in many years." Natalie smiled at her. "That's a good thing. Tell me... it wouldn't have something to do with a certain ship's captain, would it?" Nat asked, quietly. Beverly gave Nat an injection, then nodded. "Yes, it would. How did you know?" Natalie sighed. "I recognize the look between you two. I can tell that you are very much in love." Beverly looked at her in surprise. "Is it that obvious?" "To me." Nat told her. "Not to everyone. But I think Deanna knows something. Of course, being Betazoid might have something to do with that." Nat brushed a curl from her eyes. "You can go and see her, if you'd like. She and Will are doing quite well. I'll be fine here." Beverly took Nat's hand in her own. "Maybe later. I want to stay and see this through. I know how much it means to you." Nat gave her friend's hand a gentle squeeze. "Thank you." Beverly nodded. "I have to go back to my office. I'll check in on you in a bit." "Okay. See you in a bit." Nat told her. Nick wandered into sickbay and looked quietly around. Nurse Ogawa smiled at him and pointed to an exam table in the corner. He nodded at her and smiled, then headed over to Natalie. "Hey you." Nick said softly, leaning over to kiss her. "Nick? Who's with Will and Deanna?" Natalie asked. "LaCroix and Janette. Don't worry, they'll be fine." He sat in a chair beside her, holding her hand. "How are we doing?" Nat looked deeply into his eyes. She knew that he must have picked up on her emotions through their link, which was why he was here. "I'm okay... physically. Emotionally is another story. I'm really scared, Nick. I really want a child of our own... what if I manage to conceive, but something else goes wrong? I don't know if I could take that." Nick kissed her fingers. "We'll deal with that when, and if, it comes. We'll be okay Nat, because we're together. We promised each other forever... no matter what." Nat smiled, wiping the blood tears from her eyes. "I know. I'm just so worried." Nick moved to sit behind her, cradling her in his arms. "I know, love. I know." He kissed the top of her head. They were sitting there quietly like that, when Beverly returned. She smiled at them from across the room. There was always such a peace about them, whenever they were together. She walked over to them, reluctant to break upon the moment. Natalie saw Beverly and nodded. "Hello. I take it that it's time for number two?" "Yes. It is." She prepared the hypospray and then injected Natalie. "There we are. If you'd like, you can return to your quarters to rest." Natalie nodded. "I'd like that." "But you have to *rest* Natalie. I want you in bed, or on the sofa." She looked at Nick. "I'm trusting you to make sure she doesn't do anything for the next six hours." Nick stood and saluted. "Yes, ma'am. I promise." Beverly laughed, as she helped Nat up. "I'll check in with you in a while." Natalie sighed. "Okay." Nick picked Natalie up and carried her back to their quarters. LaCroix took Deanna's hand as he led her down a deep embankment to the water's edge. They were once again in the Holodeck and he had chosen a quiet lake in the French countryside to use for her training. He'd instructed Janette to use another Holodeck to 'work' with Commander Riker. Deanna stood looking silently out across the dark water. She could feel LaCroix's presence behind her, as he moved off a bit. She turned when she heard the soft sounds of a mortal heart. "LaCroix?" She called. LaCroix was beside her in an instant. "I hear it. It is only a simulation, but it is the next phase in your training. You must learn to hunt." Deanna's eyes grew wide. "But, why? I mean, Nick and Natalie said that we can get our nourishment from Guinan, or the replicator... or other places, when we are off-ship." LaCroix nodded slowly. "That is true. However, the time may come when you will not have modern conveniences around to aid you... you must know how to survive in that circumstance." Deanna swallowed hard and sighed. Nick and Natalie had warned her that this time would come. She just hadn't expected it to come so soon. "What do I do?" She whispered. LaCroix smiled at her. "Good." He indicated the direction the sound of the heartbeat was in. "First of all, locate the mortal. But do not allow them to see you, as of yet." Deanna nodded and silently took off. It took her a few moments, but she located the sound of the beating heart. Landing softly several yards away, she carefully remained hidden. LaCroix landed behind her. "Very good." He whispered in her ear. "Now, stalk him. Do not let him know he is being followed." Deanna did as she was commanded, only once coming close to discovery. As the young man stooped close to the water for a drink, LaCroix signaled for her. "Let him discover you... bait the trap. Please him, even, if you'd like. It sweetens the blood." "But-- this is just a holodeck simulation..." Deanna whispered back. "Just do it. You must learn the proper method, for when it IS real." LaCroix told her. "Now, go." Deanna slipped from out of her hiding place and walked gracefully towards the unsuspecting man. "Hello." She said, softly, smiling. The man looked her over and grinned. "Hello, yourself. I thought I'd heard something out there." Deanna looked contrite. "I'm sorry. I wasn't sure if you'd want company." The man smiled at her. "I'd love some..." "Deanna." "Deanna, then." He watched as she moved closer to him, until she was only inches from him. "What is a pretty lady like you doing out by yourself?" Deanna smiled softly. "Just roaming about." He looked her in the eyes... such beautiful eyes. "I see." Deanna focused on the sound of the man's heartbeat, willing him to come to her. They man stepped closer to Deanna, lightly pulling her closer. Swiftly, his lips found hers. Deanna kissed the man deeply, passionately, until she felt the telltale glow of her eyes and the tingling sensation as her fangs dropped. She kissed him along the jaw to the vein in his neck. He moaned softly and she struck. The blood was fiery and thick and warm. Everything that the man thought and felt was suddenly a part of her. She found herself lost in the feelings and the intoxication, until the heartbeat slowed, then stopped. Deanna let the man drop to the ground, her eyes lighting up in horror, as she gazed at LaCroix. Shaking violently, she turned and started to run. LaCroix caught her. "No! You must hide what you've done. On a populated planet, you mustn't leave a body around!" Deanna pulled away. "This isn't a populated planet!! It's the holodeck! And that... that was a *real* human being..." Her voice trailed off and she turned and ran again. "Computer! End Program!" LaCroix stood watching as Deanna found the main doors and quickly exited. He chuckled slightly to himself, as he picked up the dead man and prepared to dispose of the body. Nick was lying on the bed with Natalie, his arms resting lightly around her waist, when he sensed the turmoil from Deanna. Frowning, he began to untangle himself from Nat. Nat, sensing his unease, also frowned. "What is it?" "Deanna." Was all Nick could say, before the door to their quarters opened and they saw Deanna rush through their bedroom door. Deanna stood at the foot of Nick and Natalie's bed, shaking like a leaf and crying. Nick and Natalie sat up. "Deanna? What is it?" Nick asked. "Nick... I... LaCroix..." Deanna began to sob once more, burying her face in her hands. "What did he do?" Nick asked. Natalie stood and wrapped her arms around the young fledgling's shoulders. "It's okay, Deanna. You can tell us." Deanna tried to compose herself. "He tricked me." Deanna began. "He took me to the holodeck. He said we were just going to practice hunting. It wasn't supposed to be real!" She broke down and began to sob once more. Nick and Natalie looked at one another with a growing sense of dread. LaCroix was up to his old games again. "It's all right, Deanna. It isn't your fault. The General is an evil old Bastard. He takes great pleasure in tormenting fledglings." Natalie told her. "Come on... let's get you cleaned up." Deanna nodded as Natalie led the way to the other room. Natalie looked at Nick. "Find Janette and Will. If she's playing along..." Nick nodded and headed out the door. Janette stood atop a thirty story building, gazing down at the city below. She smiled over at Will and took his hand. "I have always loved the city. Such anonymity." She told him. "It is easier to hunt in the city. The more people there are, the less one will be missed." Will frowned a bit, but nodded in understanding. "So we are going to practice hunting?" Janette kissed him lightly on the lips. "Oui. And if you do a good job, I will reward you, later." She told him softly. Will just grinned at her and nodded. "Well, then. What are we waiting for?" "Follow me!" Janette said, as she took to the air. Will did as he was instructed, following her to a rundown area of the city. Finding a dark, seedy alleyway, they stood silently beside a large dumpster. "What are we doing?" Will asked her, softly. "We are waiting. When you see a mortal, you must move quickly. The fewer witnesses, the better. "Good thing this is just a holodeck simulation." Will muttered, as he scanned the alley for any signs of 'life'. At last, a single heartbeat could be heard. A woman came stumbling down the alley, looking disheveled and disoriented. She was crying, as she moved unsteadily about. Janette silently motioned Will into action. Will moved quietly through the shadows, until he was close to the woman. "Hello. You seem to be lost. Perhaps I could help you?" He smiled reassuringly at the woman. The woman, upon seeing him, looked nervously around. "I have no idea where I am. Please, can you tell me where I am?" Will moved closer to her, her heartbeat and fresh scent calling to him. "Of course." He looked deeply into her eyes, focusing on the sound of her heart. "I'll be happy to help you." She looked up at him and gave him a half smile, as she fell under the hypnotic trance he induced upon her. Will pulled her closer, gently tilting her head to the side. In one swift movement, he struck. "Will! No!" Nick's voice shouted from the end of the alley. But it was too late. Will was lost in the emotion and fire of the blood. Within mere moments, he'd completely drained the beautiful girl. Nick stood, watching in horror, as Will drained her. His anger at his 'daughter' rising, he moved faster than the human eye could catch and grabbed her by the shoulders. "What are you doing? Do you realize how dangerous this is? What the hell were you thinking? Tell me!" Janette stared coolly back at him. She looked in Will's direction, not answering Nick's question. Will had let the body drop to the ground and stared with a look of horror and fear on his face. Nick released Janette and grabbed Will by the shoulders. "Will... look at me." Will looked up at Nick. "I... she..." He looked once more at the young woman, then back at Nick. "She was really alive..." He said softly, the shock of it hitting him. "Yes." Nick said, just as softly. "I'm afraid you were tricked." He glared back at Janette. "Clean up this mess." He ordered her, as he led Will out of the holodeck. Janette just smiled evilly at his retreating form. "Yes... *master*." Natalie could tell the instant that Will had killed and it grieved her. She knew that it would eventually be inevitable, but had wished to spare both Will and Deanna the pain of it for as long as possible. Deanna looked up from the bed, at Natalie. "Something is wrong with Will." Nat nodded solemnly. "Yes. I'm afraid Janette tricked him, the way LaCroix tricked you." Deanna looked stricken. "Oh no..." She whispered. Natalie patted her hand. "Stay here. Let Nick and I handle it. I'll send Will in, soon." Deanna nodded, as Natalie left the room. Natalie met Nick and Will at the door. Silently, she hugged Will and led him to the bathroom in the spare room. Will could not even look at Deanna, as Natalie led him through the room. Natalie supervised as Will stripped off his clothing and hopped into the sonic shower. When he was sufficiently clean, she pulled him out and had him dress in his pajamas. "Will." Nat said, looking up at him. Will avoided her eyes, so she gently placed her palms on his cheeks and forced him to look at her. "Will, you didn't do anything wrong. You had no way of knowing that it was a trick. It's not your fault." Will frowned at her, wanting desperately to believe her. "It wasn't your fault." Nat said again, more forcefully. "And Will... LaCroix tricked Deanna in the same way. She is just as devastated." Will's eyes suddenly became concerned. "Can I see her?" Nat smiled. "Yes. You two will need one another tonight. Try to talk it out. Then get some rest." Will nodded, as Nat led him into the bedroom. She kissed him on the cheek, then quietly left, closing the door behind her. Will climbed into bed next to Deanna, drawing her into his arms. For a long moment, they said nothing, both too caught up in their emotions. Finally, Deanna began to cry. Will held her tightly, allowing a few tears of his own to slide silently down his cheeks. "Are they settled?" Nick asked, as Natalie climbed back into bed. "Yes. For now. They'll need to work this out, on their own. If they ask for help or advice, then that's different." She sighed, as she covered up. Nick removed his robe and climbed in beside her. "I can not believe they'd do something like that. We've been getting on so well." He covered up and pulled Natalie closer to him. "That's just it, Nick. We agreed to abandon our search for a cure. They are expecting us to rejoin the family." Nat told him. Nick frowned. "Well, if that's the way they go about it..." "Nick. Don't. Please. We've finally found some sense of peace. LaCroix wants us to make a fuss. He wants to test us. If we don't let it get to us, he won't have won his little game." Nat looked into Nick's eyes. "Don't let him win, Nick." Nick smiled softly at her. "All right. I won't. I'm still not happy, though." "Nor am I. We can be angry, without causing a fuss." She told him. Nick nodded and kissed her lightly. "How are you feeling? Dr. Crusher told you to rest, and here you've been up and about for the last several hours." Natalie smiled. "I'm fine. I'll go see her in the morning. Maybe we can start the next series of treatments." Nick smiled back and then sighed. "Try to get some sleep. I love you." "I love you, too. Forever." Natalie awoke and dressed quietly. She silently peered in to check on Will and Deanna, finding them both sleeping soundly. Then she went to the dining area and got herself some breakfast from the replicator. Taking her drink and sitting at the computer, Natalie called up files and photos on the Crusher's. She stared once more at the photo of young Wes. He looked so much like Geoff had at that age... Sighing, she began her family lineage search. After an hour of searching, she finally had her answer. Smiling, she turned off the computer and then headed down to sickbay. Beverly was filing a report on an incident from the chem lab. One of the students had mixed the wrong chemicals and had gotten a rather serious burn. She had treated the injury and had warned the student not to try mixing chemicals without the teacher's authorization, then had released the student to his parents. She looked up at the knock on her office door and smiled. "Natalie. Good morning." She motioned for Nat to enter her office and have a seat. "Good morning, Beverly. How was your night?" Natalie asked. "Not too bad. Wesley couldn't sleep, though. He was too excited about his latest experiment." Beverly smiled wistfully. "He's growing up so quickly." Nat nodded. "Yeah. Children do that." She sighed. Beverly stood. "Are you ready for your next treatment?" Nat smiled and nodded. "Yes. I am very anxious to get on with this. I really would like to try and have a child of my own." Beverly motioned for Nat to precede her into the sickbay and then she followed, showing Nat which exam table to lie down on. Natalie laid down and then took a deep breath, as Beverly began the exam. "Well. It looks like this is progressing faster than we'd hoped. You may not need as many treatments as we'd first thought." Beverly told Natalie with a broad smile. Nat looked at her, stunned. "Really?" Beverly nodded. "Really. I wasn't expecting you to have progressed this far until after the third or fourth treatment." She gave Natalie the next injection. "Stay here for a few hours. I'd like to monitor your progress." Nat nodded. She'd had such a long night. Between the incident with Will and Deanna and her own disturbing dreams, she hadn't slept well. Closing her eyes, she drifted off to sleep. A few hours later, Natalie awoke to find Nick sitting beside her, holding her hand. She smiled at him. "What brings you here?" "I was checking on you. You didn't return right away after your treatment and I was beginning to wonder if everything was all right." Nick kissed her softly. "Did Beverly tell you?" Nat asked, her eyes lighting up. Nick looked puzzled. "No. I haven't seen her, yet. I just arrived." Nat pulled herself to a sitting position. "The treatments are working better than we'd ever dare hope for. Beverly doesn't think that I will need as many as we first believed." Nick smiled broadly at her. "That's wonderful, Nat!" He pulled her into his arms and kissed her tenderly. "Ahem. We aren't quite ready for that stage of the game, yet." Beverly's amused voice broke in. Nick and Nat parted and grinned at her. "Just practicing." Nick told her, a gleam in his bright blue eyes. Beverly laughed, as she motioned for Nat to lie back down. "Let's have a look." She did her exam quickly, then smiled at Nick and Natalie. "This is amazing. In only two treatments, we've managed to accomplish what I was sure it would take at least six to eight treatments to do." She rechecked her tricorder readings, then looked at the happy couple. "Give it about twenty four hours, and you two can start trying to conceive." Nick looked at Beverly in awe. "Really?" He shook his head. "This is really happening?" Nat smiled, as she hugged him. "I know. After so long, it feels strange." Beverly nodded. "I want you to rest for at least the next two or three hours, then tomorrow, you two can start trying to conceive. I would like to see you first, though." She told Nat. Natalie nodded, then hugged her friend. "Thank you. For everything." Beverly hugged her back. "You are welcome." Nick hugged Beverly, then took Nat's hand and led her back to their quarters. Will and Deanna were chatting quietly, sitting on the sofa, when Nick and Natalie arrived. "How are things?" Deanna asked. Nick and Nat both smiled widely. "Better than we'd ever dared hope for." Nick told her. "That's wonderful!" Deanna said. She looked at Will and nodded. "Um, Deanna and I have an announcement." Will said, hesitantly. Nat smiled at Nick, then looked expectantly at Will. "Yes?" "We've decided to get married." Will said, smiling at Deanna. "That's great! We're so happy for you!" Nat said, hugging them both. "Congratulations. I know you two will be happy together." Nick told them, hugging Deanna and shaking Will's hand. Deanna looked at Nick. "How long before we can see our friends? We'd like to tell them, as well." Nick looked at Natalie. "Why don't you rest, like Dr. Crusher told you? I'll take Deanna out for a stroll, then Will. If they do well, we'll take them to Ten Forward tonight and celebrate." Nat smiled and nodded. "Sounds good to me." She looked at Will and Deanna. "Is that okay with you?" "You two are our 'masters'. We will abide by whatever you think is best." Deanna told her. Will nodded. "After last night, I don't want to push it." Nick nodded his agreement. "All right." He held his arm out for Deanna. "Ready?" Deanna kissed Will, then took Nick's proffered arm. "As I'll ever be." Nick walked with Deanna down the busy corridors of the Enterprise. They talked quietly about anything and everything. They visited the arboretum and Deanna told Nick of the time her mother had come to visit and had gotten very ill. It had been here, in the arboretum, that she'd first learned of her older sister that had drowned when Deanna was just a baby. "She was beautiful." Deanna told Nick. "Mother showed me pictures of her. And then with the experience I had in the telepathic link to Mother, I also got to see her." "What was her name?" Nick asked. "Kestra." Deanna said, smiling sadly. Nick squeezed her hand. "I had an elder brother that died when I was only three. He died of smallpox. His name was Henri." Deanna looked at Nick. "It must have been odd, to grow up in a time when illness often caused the death of children. I can hardly imagine it." Nick nodded. "Medical science has progressed enormously since then. I am glad that other families are spared the suffering my own had to endure." They continued on for a bit longer, Nick telling Deanna tales of the times in which he lived. When they finally returned to their quarters, Nick found Natalie soundly sleeping in their room. He kissed her on the cheek, then went to take Will around the ship. "Deanna is a wonderful young woman." Nick said to Will, as they strolled aimlessly down the corridors. "You are very lucky." Will smiled. "Thank you. I know. It has certainly taken me long enough to get here." Nick looked puzzled. "I don't understand." "Well, I've known I love Deanna since the first day I saw her. We met at her best friend's wedding on Betazed. She didn't like me much, at first. But she was determined to teach me the ways of the Betazoids. She felt I was too closed minded for my own good." Will chuckled at the memory. Nick smiled. "She told me how you met. And how you parted and were reunited on the Enterprise. Did you think about her in the time you were seperated?" Will nodded. "More often than I can count. But I was certain I'd blown it and I let my career ambitions get in the way. By the time we met again, I was certain it was far too late for any sort of relationship between us." "Obviously, it wasn't." Nick smiled. "No. Deanna had to confront me, though. I don't know why I never had the courage to tell her, before." Will said, softly. "You thought she'd always be there for you. You thought you had all the time in the world..." Nick sighed. Will looked at him. "Yeah. How did you know?" Nick looked thoughtful for a moment. "I almost lost Nat. She was in a serious car accident and she nearly died. When she recovered, she convinced me to bring her across. I couldn't bear the thought of losing her, so I let her convince me." Nick smiled at Will. "I'm glad I did, actually. I love her more each day." "You two don't seem to have a problem with the other being with someone else, though." Will said, confused. "No. Monogamy has a whole different meaning in the vampire world. Nat and I are married and we love one another, but we understand that there are times when it is not only desirable, but often necessary, for us to be with someone else. As long as we return to each other. That's what counts." Nick told him. Will nodded. This was going to be interesting. They headed back to their quarters, to find Natalie and Deanna seated on the sofa, chatting and drinking bloodwine. "Hey, you two. Back so soon?" Nat asked, as she began to rise. "Sit, Nat. I'll get it." Nick told her, going to the replicator. He got two more glasses of bloodwine and handed one to Will. Nick and Will sat with them. "We've been gone over an hour." Nick told her, looking at his chronometer. Nat smiled. "True." They engaged in quiet conversation for several hours, before they retreated to their bedrooms to get ready to go to Ten Forward. Natalie looked at Nick and smiled. He wore black leggings with black boots that came to mid-calf and a deep blue silk shirt. His golden curls were neatly combed and he smiled his charming 'little boy' smile. Nick stared at his lovely wife for several moments. She wore a floor length deep blue gown that shimmered in the light. It had 'spaghetti' style straps and a low neckline, and hugged every curve. She had put on a delicate golden heart pendant with diamonds and sapphires and the matching earrings. Nick kissed her tenderly, wrapping his hands in her silky soft curls. When they parted, he smiled at her. "You look ravishing." Nat smiled. "You aren't so bad, yourself." She grinned, her eyes sparkling merrily. They went out into the living room, to await Will and Deanna. Deanna and Will finally emerged, after several minutes. They smiled at Nick and Natalie. "You look lovely." Nick said, when he saw Deanna's long black dress. It was very much like Nat's only in black and with off-the-shoulder elbow-length sleeves. "Thank you." Deanna said. "This is really awkward for me. I am not used to dressing up like this." Will smiled. "Well, you look wonderful." He said, kissing her lightly. "You look pretty good, yourself." Nat told him. He was wearing the same style black pants and boots as Nick, but he had an ivory colored shirt on that had a low 'V' neck on it, showing his bare chest. The sleeves were full, until they reached his forearm, at which point they hugged his arms to his wrists. "Are we ready?" Nick asked. Nat smiled and nodded, as did Will and Deanna. "All right then, let's go surprise everyone." Nick said. Nick, Natalie, Will and Deanna entered Ten Forward and all conversation stopped. Everyone turned to see the Second in Command and the ship's Counselor, as they stood arm in arm. The rumors as to their week-long 'disappearance' had been flying and everyone was still very curious about the strange couple that had boarded their ship weeks before. "Well, talk about an entrance!" Geordi said, smiling as he shook Riker's hand. Riker grinned at him. "I think we surprised them, don't you?" Captain Picard approached the group, a smile on his face. He knew that if Nick and Natalie felt that Will and Deanna were ready to rejoin the crew, there was nothing to worry about. "Number One, Counselor. It's good to have you back." Will shook the Captain's hand and then looked at the still silent group in the room. "Well, since we seem to have everyone's attention, I'd like to make an announcement." Picard looked at Nick, momentarily concerned. When Nick just smiled at him, he relaxed. They knew what they were doing. Will took Deanna's hand and then smiled at her. She returned his smile and nodded her approval. "Deanna and I are getting married." Will announced. There were murmurs of surprise and a few cheers. Soon they were surrounded by a crowd and hugs and murmurs of 'Congratulations' filled the air. After several minutes, everyone went back to their own tables and conversations. Nick, Natalie, Will and Deanna joined the rest of the Senior Officers at a table near the window. Guinan came over with a tray of drinks. She handed everyone their favorites, including making sure that the four vampires had their drink of choice. Will took a sip of his drink, then looked at Guinan in surprise. "How did you know?" Guinan just smiled mysteriously. "Oh, I know quite a few things, Commander. I can't give away my secrets, now, can I?" Will just grinned at her. "I propose a toast. To the happy couple. May they have a long and blessed marriage." Picard said, toasting Will and Deanna. Everyone raised their glasses in salute and then clinked them together and took a drink. "Commander, Counselor? May I ask you a question?" Data asked. Glancing at some of the others around the table, he added, "In private?" Will and Deanna looked at one another, puzzled, but agreed. They stood and followed Data over to a quiet section of the bar. "I do not wish to pry, I am simply curious." Data told them. "How does it feel, to be a vampire?" Deanna and Will looked both surprised and relieved. They smiled at him. "Well, our senses are more enhanced. We can smell and hear and see things that we couldn't before." Deanna told him. "It is a bit odd, but we are learning to manage it." "We can hear the heartbeats of those around us and smell their blood. If we don't eat properly, that can become dangerous." Will told him. "Right now, we're fine, because Nick and Natalie made sure that we had enough before we left our quarters." "You are staying with Nick and Natalie?" Data asked. "For now. Since Nick brought me across, and Natalie brought Will across, they are our teachers, our mentors, our... 'masters'. They guide us and make sure that we don't hurt anyone. They also make sure that we learn what we need to know as vampires." Deanna told him. "I see." Data said, frowning. Will smiled at him. "We are still the same people, Data. We are just a little different now." Data nodded. "Thank you. I have been wondering." They smiled and returned to the rest of the group. They talked for several hours and then returned to their quarters for the night. Natalie awoke and smiled at Nick. He was lying there, watching her. "Good morning." She said. "Good morning, to you, too." Nick pulled her close and kissed her. Natalie pulled back and looked at him. "I think I should go see Dr. Crusher. Then we can continue this?" Nick grinned evilly at his wife. "Of course." Nat climbed out of bed and headed for the bathroom to shower and dress. When she had 'fed', she headed to sickbay. Dr. Crusher smiled at her, as she entered sickbay. "I thought I might see you bright and early." Nat smiled back. "Well, I am kind of anxious, you know?" Beverly nodded. "I know. Come over here and let's take a look." Natalie laid down and took a deep breath, as Beverly ran the scanner over her and looked at her tricorder readings. She smiled at Natalie and nodded. "Anytime you and Nick are ready, you can start trying." Natalie sat up and looked at Beverly. "I can't believe this is actually happening." Beverly smiled at her and gave her a hug. "It is. Go on, I bet Nick is just as anxious as you are." Natalie nodded and hurried out of sickbay, waving to her friend as she left. Nick was talking with Janette, when Natalie entered their quarters. "Janette, I know that you and LaCroix were only playing, but it is very serious. Will and Deanna are *our* fledglings. We will handle their training." Nick told her, sternly. "Oh, Nichola. You take the fun out of everything." Janette said, kissing him lightly. "Well, just no more of that. Please?" Nick asked. He looked at Nat and smiled at her. "Well?" Nat grinned at him and nodded. Nick looked at Janette. "I think you'd better go. Nat and I have something very important to do." Janette raised an eyebrow, but nodded and left silently. Nick pulled Nat into his arms and kissed her. He led her to the sofa and handed her a glass of bloodwine. "Wait here." He disappeared into their bedroom and reemerged minutes later. "Okay, now. Where were we?" Natalie had given him a puzzled look when he set her on the sofa. She was even more confused when he disappeared into their bedroom. She knew he must have some sort of surprise in store for her, so she just sat quietly, sipping from her glass. When Nick came out and smiled at her, she knew she was in for something special. Deanna looked up at Will and smiled. They'd both been sensing Nick and Natalie for the last several hours and knew what their 'parents' were up to. Will grinned at Deanna, before turning back to his reports. After several minutes, he stood and walked over to where she was. "I think Nick and Natalie are enjoying themselves." He whispered. Deanna nodded. "I know. They're bound to conceive, after this." She whispered back, stifling a giggle. "How about you come back to my quarters and we'll give them a dose of their own medicine?" Will asked, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. Deanna smiled and stood. "I'd love to, Commander." Will took Deanna's hand and led her off of the bridge. Nick looked down at Nat and smiled. She looked so peaceful when she was sleeping. He sighed, as he climbed out of bed and pulled on his robe. He headed out into the dining area and got himself a drink from the replicator. Taking a seat at his computer console, Nick started working on some research he was helping Commander Data with. After an hour of work, he gave up and turned off the computer. Nick went back into his room and crawled back into bed with Natalie, wrapping his arms around her. "Nothing new?" Nat asked, sleepily. Nick smiled at her. "No. I just couldn't concentrate. I kept thinking about the beautiful woman lying in my bed." He kissed her softly. "How are you?" Nat smiled contentedly. "Wonderful." Nick's eyes were sparkling as he leaned closer to her. "Good." He said, kissing her once more. LaCroix looked at Janette and rolled his eyes heavenward. Nicholas and Natalie were at it, again. Janette smiled at LaCroix, as she went back to her reading. She really hoped that this worked for them and that they could have a child of their own. Maybe then, they'd be content to live as they were. LaCroix stood and looked at Janette. "I am going to Ten Forward. Care to join me?" Janette shook her head. "No. Thank you." LaCroix sighed and nodded, then turned to leave. Perhaps he could convince Guinan to play him a game of chess. Beverly smiled, as she felt Jean-Luc kiss the top of her head. She looked up at him and sighed. "I'd better be getting back. Wesley is going to be up, soon." Picard nodded. "I know. I have work to be done, as well." He looked at her, eyes sparkling. "Perhaps you could join me for lunch?" Beverly nodded. "I'd love to." She said, as she stood and began dressing. Picard propped himself up on one elbow, as he watched her. "My, but you are lovely." Beverly blushed. "If you don't stop staring at me like that, I'll never get out of here." "And that's a bad thing?" Picard asked, a broad smile lighting his features. "When we both have work to do, yes." She said, returning his smile. She was happier than she'd been in years. Picard nodded, as he climbed out of bed. Pulling her to him once more, he kissed her tenderly. "I'll see you at twelve hundred hours?" Beverly caressed his cheek with her palm. "Definitely." Reluctantly, she turned and left. She wanted to check on Wesley and change, before heading into her lab. Deanna lay quietly watching Will as he slept. She was still amazed by the blood sharing and the feelings it evoked. She sighed, as she stretched out her senses to seek out her friends and 'family'. Nick and Natalie were finally sleeping soundly. Beverly was puzzling over something, while Captain Picard was concentrating on another thing. Both were more content than they'd been in years. LaCroix was both amused and annoyed, while Janette was feeling melancholy. Smiling, Deanna snuggled closer to Will and closed her eyes. She and Will were supposed to be married in one short month and her mother was scheduled to arrive in three weeks. She just hoped that her mother didn't make a big scene when she arrived. *Three weeks later: Nick and Natalie waited anxiously for Dr. Crusher to finish her exam. They were all keeping their fingers crossed that the treatments had worked and that Natalie had conceived a child. Beverly finished her exam with quiet efficiency and then looked up at her friends and smiled. "Congratulations. You're pregnant." Nick and Nat both laughed in relief, as they hugged each other. Nat looked at Beverly with tears in her eyes. "Thank you." "Well, don't thank me yet. We still have no idea what full-term is for a vampire child. This is all new territory. I want to monitor your progress very carefully." Beverly told them, seriously. Natalie nodded. "I understand. Trust me, I am not going to do anything that might endanger our child." Beverly smiled. "Glad to hear it. Okay, I want to see you everyday, until we get some idea of what we're dealing with. Since you're a doctor, I am not as concerned as I think I would be with someone else. You know that if something is wrong, you come and see me." Natalie nodded. "Promise." Beverly hugged both of her friends. "Go on, get out of here. I'm sure you want to share the news with the rest of your family." Nick and Nat returned her hugs and then left sickbay hand in hand. LaCroix could sense Nick and Natalie's anxiousness and then their elation and he knew that they had been successful. Sighing, he stood and poured himself another drink. He knew that they wanted to become mortal, still, and had only given up their quest temporarily. If they succeeded in bringing a child to term, perhaps they would give up this insidious quest once and for all. He sensed Janette's presence behind him and sighed. She had grown increasingly more melancholy as the weeks had passed. Turning, he smiled at her. "My dear. I trust you felt Nick and Natalie, as well?" Janette nodded. "Oui." She sighed. "I am happy for them, really." LaCroix nodded his understanding. "I know." He handed her a crystal goblet. "They are coming. As are Will and Deanna. I think a quiet, family celebration is in order." Janette nodded, as she moved to a recess in the wall and removed several dark green bottles and set them on the dining table. Then she set out for more crystal goblets. Nick and Natalie met Will and Deanna outside of LaCroix's quarters. "Nick, Nat, what's up?" Will asked. Natalie smiled. "Wait until we're all together." She said, as she rang the door chimes. LaCroix answered the door and motioned them inside. When they were all inside, he indicated that they should all be seated. "It is good to see you, my children." He looked at Nick and Natalie. "You have something to tell us?" Nick and Natalie both smiled broadly, barely containing their excitement. "We're going to have a baby!" Nick told them. Deanna stood and hugged them both, as did Will. Janette came over and hugged them both, murmuring soft words of congratulations. LaCroix stood silently apart from the others, just watching. Natalie turned to face him. "Aren't you happy for us, LaCroix?" She asked, hesitantly. LaCroix smiled at her and nodded. "Of course I am, child." He told her, kissing her lightly on the forehead. He looked solemnly at Nick and then shook his hand. "I propose a toast." Janette poured everyone a drink and then joined them. "A toast, then. To Nicholas and Natalie and their unborn child. May you be granted health and eternal life." LaCroix said. "Cheers." Will and Deanna said together, as they clinked their glasses with Nick and Natalie's. They spent the next several hours together and then headed towards their own quarters to turn in for the night. Deanna stood nervously fidgeting in the transporter room. Her mother was due to arrive soon and she was not sure how she felt about it. She looked at Nick, who smiled reassuringly at her, then at Will, who leaned forward and kissed her. "It'll be fine. Your mother and I get along well enough." Will told her. Deanna stared at him. "You do remember how set against us she was?" Will nodded. "Yes. But that was a long time ago. Things have changed." Deanna wondered what, exactly, he meant by that. Nick put his arm around Nat's waist. "I can't believe we're going to see Lwaxana again." Nick smiled. Nat nodded. "I wonder if she is as... eccentric... as I remember?" She smiled at Deanna's shocked look. "We've known your mother for many years. As I recall, she and LaCroix are rather fond of one another." "Mother and LaCroix?" Deanna asked, slightly horrified. "We don't stand a chance, if they get together." Nick touched her arm reassuringly. "It will be fine." "Sir, I'm being hailed from the planet's surface. Two to beam aboard." The transporter chief informed Riker. Riker nodded. "Beam them up." There was the usual swirl of bright lights and then two forms began to take shape, and then solidified. One was Mr. Hommn, the other, Lwaxana Troi. Natalie gave an involuntary shudder at the sight of the two figures materializing. She hated transporters and knew that Lwaxana shared her discomfort. Lwaxana looked herself over, to make sure that none of her was missing, before stepping off the transporter pad and pulling her daughter into a large embrace. "Little One! I am so glad to see you!" She said. "And under such wonderfully happy circumstances." She turned to face Will. "Well, it's about time." "Mother!" Deanna said, horrified at her mother's tone and attitude. Will just smiled, as he affectionately kissed Lwaxana on the cheek. "You are very right." "Of course I am, dear. I'm always right." Lwaxana said, before turning to Nick and Natalie. "My goodness! It's been simply ages since I last saw you two. You haven't changed a bit. I take it that you haven't found the cure you're looking for?" Nick smiled, as he kissed Lwaxana's hand and bowed. "Lwaxana. You look as radiant as ever. Natalie and I have abandoned our search. With the help of Dr. Crusher, we are expecting a child." Nick told her, placing an arm protectively about Nat's shoulders. "That's wonderful! Oh, my dear, I am so happy for you." Lwaxana said, hugging both of them. She turned and looked at Mr. Hommn. "Take my things to my quarters and prepare for dinner." Mr. Hommn nodded and silently left the transporter room. "Mother. You shouldn't treat him so." Deanna scolded. "Oh, nonsense, dear. Mr. Hommn adores me and is quite happy taking orders." Lwaxana waved off her daughter's concern. Deanna sighed. "What would you like for dinner, hmm? I know! I'll have Mr. Hommn prepare your favorite dish. Now, you must invite your friends to dine with us. We will have a celebration, in honour of your wedding!" "Um, mother... about dinner..." Deanna said, leading her mother into the corridor and speaking softly to her. "You're WHAT!?!?!" Lwaxana's shrill voice could be heard from inside. "Oh, dear. I don't think she took it well." Natalie said. Nick and Will both grimaced, knowing the next few hours were going to be simply miserable. LaCroix smiled to himself, as he sensed the distress from his family. Lwaxana was a force to be reckoned with, even for him. He stood and headed for the direction that he sensed the others, knowing that Lwaxana would need all the support she could get in this time of need. Perhaps he could convince her to finally take him up on his offer. Lwaxana sat miserably in a chair in the living room of Nick and Natalie's quarters. She simply could not believe that Will and Deanna would do something so foolish. "Mother, please try to understand. We gave it a great deal of thought. Weighed the benefits and disadvantages. It is what we both truly wanted." Deanna said, trying to console her mother. "But Deanna, now I will never be a grandmother." Lwaxana said. Then, as if remembering, she looked at Nick and Natalie. "Wait... you're having a baby? How is that possible?" Natalie smiled. "Dr. Crusher discovered something rather interesting, while trying to help us look for a cure. She found out that male vampires are perfectly capable of fathering children... it's the females that have the difficulty. There is a special lining around the uterus that prevents us from conceiving. Beverly found a way to neutralize and remove that lining and build up the necessary nutrients to make it possible to conceive. We are the first to ever try, but if we're successful, it will mean that vampires can have children." Lwaxana sat up, looking a little happier. "Then there is still hope?" Deanna smiled. "Yes, mother. Will and I have already discussed it. If it works for Nick and Natalie, we will try it in another year, or two." "That long?" Lwaxana asked. "I could be dead and buried by then! I'm not getting any younger, you know." Deanna laughed lightly. "Oh, mother." She leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek. The chimes sounded, indicating someone was at the door. Nick stood and went to answer it, though he already knew who it was. "Hello, Father. Come in." Nick said, stepping aside. "Well, I must say, you look as remarkable as ever." LaCroix said, looking at Lwaxana. Lwaxana stood and moved to him. "Lucien. It is good to see you, again. You look the same as I remember." "Well, immortality does have its advantages, my dear." LaCroix told her, meaningfully. "Yes, so it does." Lwaxana said. 'Not in front of the children.' She said to him, silently. 'Of course not.' LaCroix returned. Deanna looked uncertainly at Nick, knowing that her mother and LaCroix were communicating silently. Nick just winked at her and nodded. "I do hope that you will all still join me for dinner. I will have Mr. Hommn prepare a meal for us mortals and I will see if I can come up with something suitable for your tastes." Lwaxana said to them all. "Is Janette with you?" LaCroix nodded. "Yes. She is reading." "Well, you must invite her, as well. I simply must see her!" "Of course, my dear. I shall deliver your invitation, myself." LaCroix told her. Lwaxana smiled and headed for the door. "Now, don't be late! You know how much tardiness irritates me! And Deanna, you and Will simply must change into something more appropriate. After all, this is to celebrate your upcoming wedding and you ARE a daughter of the Fifth House." Lwaxana said, before turning and leaving. Nick sat heavily in the chair Lwaxana had vacated. "Ever get the feeling we're not in Kansas anymore, after she's been here?" He sighed. Natalie laughed and sat in his lap. "Oh, cheer up, Scarecrow. At least she's a good witch... sort of." Nick grinned at her and kissed her. Deanna and Will looked confusingly at one another. "I think we missed something." Will said, though he, too, was grinning. Deanna just shrugged. "We'd better go change. Mother will have a fit, if we don't." She sighed. Will wrapped an arm around her waist as he led her out the door. "Perhaps we could find a way to entertain ourselves before dinner?" "Will! With my mother here? You're kidding, right?" Deanna asked, as the door closed. Nick chuckled. "Poor Will." "Poor Deanna." Natalie said, kissing him. "Ahem." LaCroix cleared his throat, breaking them apart. "I shall see you shortly, then. I must go and tell Janette that Lwaxana has arrived." He turned and left. "Somehow, I think the whole ship already knows she's here." Nat said, kissing Nick again. "What do you think he's up to?" She asked. "I don't know. But it can't be good." Nick told her. "I don't want to think about him, right now. I just want to enjoy the quiet, while we can." He stood, scooping her up with him and headed for the bedroom. The week passed quickly, as everyone was preparing for Will and Deanna's wedding. Lwaxana had insisted that they honour the Betazed custom of having the wedding party and guests attend naked. Deanna had insisted that they not, for fear of embarrassing her friends. They finally came to a compromise. Natalie smiled at Deanna, as she adjusted the sprig of flowers in her friend's raven colored hair. "Nervous?" She asked. "A little. Mostly worried that Mother is going to do something embarrassing." Deanna told her. Natalie smiled. "That's what mother's are for." Deanna laughed. "Ah. You see? It worked. I got you to laugh." Nat told her. She rubbed her slightly swollen belly and smiled again. "Is the baby kicking again?" Deanna asked. Natalie nodded. "Yes." She took her friend's hand and placed it on her abdomen. Deanna grinned. "I remember when I was pregnant." Natalie looked surprised. "I didn't know you had a child." Deanna nodded, the bittersweet memories of that time making her smile sadly. "What happened?" Nat asked, as she began to work on Deanna's hair again. "There was an 'entity' that passed us in space and was curious about us. He figured the only way to truly understand us, was to become one of us. The 'entity' entered my body one night while I was sleeping and impregnated me. It was quite a shock." Deanna laughed. "I can imagine." Nat smiled. "Will was horribly jealous, though he tried to hide it. The pregnancy progressed extremely quickly and I delivered a beautiful baby boy. I named him Ian, after my father. He grew extremely fast... he was only a day or so old, but had the body of a four or five year old. He wanted to learn everything, through experience. I didn't get much rest those few days." Deanna said, smiling again at the memory. "There was a problem with some samples we were transporting. A type of radiation was making one of them very dangerous. Ian was the source of that radiation. He knew that he was the cause, so he just willed himself to die. He turned into this tiny ray of light and spoke to me, explaining what had happened. He told me that he would miss me." Deanna sighed. "I still miss him." Natalie smiled at her. "You were very lucky. You got to experience the most wondrous thing that can happen... the creation of a life. You and Will can have a child of your own, eventually." Deanna smiled. "I know. It was a wonderful experience. I learned a lot from it. About me, about life..." She shook herself. "Goodness! We need to get going, or we're going to be late." Natalie nodded. "I wonder how Will is holding up?" She grinned. Will Riker looked critically at his reflection in the mirror. Somehow, the thought of standing naked in front of all of his friends was very disconcerting. Nick smiled at him. "Relax. No one will even notice." Will glared at him. Nick shrugged. "What else am I supposed to say?" He grinned. "Aren't you even a little bit nervous?" He asked Nick. "Not really. When you've lived as long as I have, very little surprises or embarrasses you." Nick told him. Will sighed. "I can't believe Deanna finally caved in." Nick laughed. "Just be glad that it's only the wedding party that has to be naked. Can you imagine Worf without any clothes?" Will shuddered. "No." He grinned at Nick. "How about LaCroix?" Nick gave Will an odd look and turned around. "Um, actually, I know what he looks like." Will raised an eyebrow. "Dare I ask?" "Well, he and I have 'shared' Natalie before, as well as Janette." Nick said. He didn't usually reveal personal details, but he wanted Will to try and understand the vampiric nature. Will was speechless for several moments. "Is it common, to, uh, 'share'?" He asked, uncomfortably. Nick nodded. "Yes. Sometimes Nat will be with LaCroix, or another of our 'family'... even you. I have been with Janette, as well as Urs. And Deanna, after she was first brought across. Will, I don't want to upset you on your wedding day, but you must understand. Natalie is your 'master', as I am Deanna's. We have the right, by vampiric law, to demand whatever we wish from our 'children'. Natalie and I tend to stay mostly with each other, but there are times when it is not only necessary, but desirable, to be with another. Deanna will always be your wife, as Natalie is mine. Just keep in mind that relationships are different in our world." Will swallowed hard, trying to accept this. It was a lesson he was finding very difficult. "I'll try not to let it bother me." He said. Nick smiled. "Don't worry. Nat and I have never demanded anything from our 'children'. We both prefer that it is something both parties want." He sighed. "LaCroix, on the other hand... well, let's just say, whatever he wants, he gets. Don't even try to fight him." Will frowned, but nodded. "All right." Nick clapped him on the back. "Come on, I think they're waiting for us." Will gave Nick a worried look, as he turned and followed him out the door. Will stood stock still facing the group gathered for the wedding. He didn't dare to look at any of them, for fear of what he might see on their faces. Nick stood beside him, smiling at Will's discomfiture. He'd been to enough Betazoid weddings to know the routine. Soft music floated through the air, as Lwaxana made her way down the aisle to stand in front of Captain Picard. She turned to face the back, as Natalie walked silently down the aisle. Nick's smile broadened, as he saw his lovely wife walking towards him. The fact that she was just starting to 'show' made her look even more beautiful to him. He winked at her, as she stood beside Lwaxana. The music changed and Deanna appeared at the end of the aisle, escorted by LaCroix. As patriarch of the 'family' he had insisted on giving the bride away. They walked down the aisle, at a slow pace, until they came to stand in front of the others. LaCroix took Deanna's hand and placed it in Will's. "If you hurt her, you'll deal with me." LaCroix said, so that only the vampire's could hear. Will nodded his understanding, as he turned with Deanna to face Captain Picard. Picard, dressed in his formal uniform, stood before the group and performed the ceremony with quiet dignity. "Do you, William Riker, take this woman, Deanna Troi, as your lawfully wedded wife?" He asked. "I do." Will replied. "Do you, Deanna Troi, take this man, William Riker, as your lawfully wedded husband?" "I do." Deanna answered. "You have the rings?" Picard asked. Nick retrieved the rings from a stand behind him and handed them to Will and Deanna. "Deanna, place the ring upon William's finger and repeat after me. I, Deanna, take thee, William, as my husband." Deanna shakily placed the ring on Will's finger and smiled at him. "I, Deanna, take thee, William, as my husband." "William, place the ring upon Deanna's finger and repeat after me. I, William, take thee, Deanna, as my wife." Will placed the ring on Deanna's finger and kissed her hand. "I, William, take thee, Deanna, as my wife." "Well. By the powers invested in me by Starfleet, and as Captain of this ship, I pronounce you husband and wife." He looked at Will and smiled. "Well, go on, kiss the girl." Will grinned and pulled Deanna to him, kissing her soundly. He traced his tongue around her fangs and smiled as he pulled away to see her eyes a golden color. "That was grossly unfair." Deanna told him, softly. "You can get even with me, later. Right now, I need to get some clothes on." Will told her, just as softly. "Oh, I don't know. I kind of like you, just the way you are." Deanna said, a wicked twinkle in her eye. "I'm glad you do. I just don't think our shipmates share your enthusiasm." He said, taking her hand and leading her down the aisle, to the cheers of their friends and crew mates. Will quickly led Deanna through the door to the room where their clothes were waiting for them and locked the door. He turned and grinned wolfishly at her. "Now, Will, wait a minute... the others are expecting us to meet them in Ten Forward." Deanna said, laughing as Will pulled her to him. "Let them wait." Will growled, seeking her lips with his own. Nick and Tracy had just finished interviewing a possible suspect and were heading back to the station, when the police radio caught their attention. "81 Kilo, 81 Kilo, please respond." "This is 81 Kilo, go ahead." Tracy said into the mic. "What's your 1020?" "9th and Williams." Tracy responded. Suddenly the Captain's voice came on. "Proceed to Victoria and Riverside... there's a bad car accident. Nick... Nat's car has been identified in the mess." Nick looked sharply at Tracy, as he turned a corner and sped the Caddie in the right direction. "We're on our way." Tracy responded. "We'll keep you posted." "You do that. Dispatch, out." Reese said. "81 Kilo, out." Tracy said. She watched her partners worried expression, as he carefully dodged traffic and hurried to the accident scene. The scene was an absolute mess, at least fifteen cars piled up on each other, or smashed in one way or another. Nick brought the Caddie to a screeching halt and jumped out. Racing to the first officer he could find and recognizing him. "James. They said Nat's in this mess?" Nick asked. James nodded somberly. "Yeah... over there." He pointed to the worst of the wreckage. "Nick, she's in bad shape. They're trying to get her out, but there's a lot of other people in there, too." Nick nodded and raced over to the mess. There were wounded and dead all over the area, as paramedics worked to treat or transport the injured, and fire crews and police worked to rescue those still trapped within their cars. Nick saw Natalie's car, beneath a SUV and an older model Ford Thunderbird. He raced over there and watched as a firefighter pulled an injured woman from the SUV. He ran over to Nat's car, noticing that the driver's side window had been smashed in. He looked in and saw Nat lying there, unconscious. His sensitive hearing detected her heart, beating erratically, and her shallow breathing. Leaning into the window, he kissed her forehead. "I'm here, Nat. Hang on." Natalie didn't stir and Nick fought the rising panic he could feel building within him. He saw that the paramedics had started an IV line and he carefully took her hand. A police officer came over and asked him to help them with another victim, so Nick nodded. "I'll be right back, Nat. Don't leave us." He said, kissing her hand and then walking towards the group trying to pull a young man from the wreckage of the Thunderbird. Natalie began to stir, sure she'd heard Nick's voice calling her name. She groggily opened her eyes, realizing that she was in incredible pain. As she looked through glazed eyes around her, she began to remember the moments before she lost consciousness. Something beneath her feet felt very warm and she vaguely wondered what it could be. As she fought to stay awake, a familiar smell invaded her senses and she tried desperately to place it, as her eyes closed. Natalie's eyes snapped open, as her brain registered the smell. Something was burning. Natalie found the strength to lift her head and saw smoke coming from the front of her car. She tried to move her arms, her legs, anything, but couldn't. As the flames started to lick up around the edge of the hood of her car, Natalie felt an increasing sense of panic. This was her worst nightmare. Natalie managed to find enough strength to call for help, unsure if there was anyone close enough to hear her, but praying there was. Nick heard Nat's voice and looked up from the Thunderbird. They had managed to free the young man and they were pulling him out. He saw that Nat's car had flames coming from the hood, at the same time the firefighters rushed over to try and extinguish the blaze. Racing to Nat's car, Nick tried to open the door, only to find it jammed. Using his vampire strength, he pulled the door from its hinges and reached around to unbuckle Nat's seat belt. Nat saw Nick and felt a surge of relief. She knew he would not let anything happen to her. Nick bent the steering column out of the way and then carefully lifted Natalie from the car, racing over to the paramedics and placing her on a gurney. Nat felt as if her insides were on fire, as Nick carried her over to a paramedic unit. He laid her on the gurney, just before she lost consciousness, once again. Natalie snapped awake, wondering what had made her remember that horrible night. She sat up and rubbed at her stomach, trying to soothe the baby and herself. Getting up, she headed for the dining area and got herself a drink from the replicator. Finishing it quickly, she headed back to bed, aware that the synthetic blood had not calmed the hunger. She sat on the bed, looking at Nick's sleeping form. Nick stirred and opened his eyes, to see Nat sitting beside him, lost in thought. He could sense the feelings of fear and uncertainty within her and he sat up and touched her arm. "Nat? What is it?" Nick asked. Nat looked at Nick and frowned. "I don't know. I'm hungrier than I've been since the First Hunger. I don't know what to do." The fear showed in her eyes. Nick kissed her forehead. "I'll get you something. Stay here." He stood and headed for the dining area, pulling a bottle from a recess in the wall. He opened the bottle and carried it in to Natalie, handing it to her. "Drink this." Nat took the bottle and drank it down, then looked at Nick. "Better?" Nick asked. Nat sat quietly for a moment. "No." She said, the fear clear in her voice. Nick frowned. "Maybe we'd better get Beverly." Nat shook her head. "Nick, I'd kill her. Right now, I'd kill anyone." She opened pain filled golden eyes and stared at him. "It hurts." Nick sat on the bed and pulled her close. Nat's eyes turned red and she growled, when Nick pulled her close to him. "Nick, I need your blood. Please?" Nick pulled back and looked at Natalie, then nodded. Handing her his wrist, he watched as she planted her fangs into it and sucked greedily. After several moments, she pulled away, a look of peace on her face. "Thank you." Nick smiled. "My pleasure. I take it, that helped?" Nat nodded sleepily, as she laid back down on the bed. "Immensely." She sighed, before falling asleep. Nick brushed a stray curl from her face and went to get him something to drink, before returning to bed. They'd definitely have to mention this to Beverly, tomorrow. Beverly looked over her latest findings and then looked at Nick and Natalie. "Well, everything appears normal. We already know that the pregnancy is progressing much faster than a mortal pregnancy would. I believe that Nick's blood is as necessary to the growing fetus, as yours is, Natalie. After all, you are both a part of the baby's DNA structure." Nick raised his eyebrows. "Does this mean that I'll have to feed Nat?" Beverly frowned. "I'm not entirely certain, but I believe so. If it gets to be a problem, we'll have to try to find another alternative." "How about other members of the family?" Nat asked. "Would they work, as well?" Beverly sighed. "I just don't know, to be honest. You could try, to see what happens." She looked at her friends. "I wish I could give you a more definitive answer." Nat smiled. "I know. It isn't your fault. This is new for you, too." Beverly smiled back and then looked back at her instruments. "Any word from Will and Deanna?" Nat laughed. "Yeah. They're enjoying themselves. Although, I think Will wants to kill his new mother-in-law. I tried to tell Lwaxana and LaCroix that they didn't need them tagging along, but they wouldn't listen." "Poor Will and Deanna." Beverly said. "When are they returning?" "In another day or so. I think Deanna wants to get back, just so her mother will leave them alone." Nick said. "Lwaxana can be a handful." "That's putting it mildly." Nat laughed. "Is there anything else?" She asked Beverly. "No, not for today. Keep me informed of any changes. I'll see you, tomorrow." Beverly told them, as she stepped away from the table. "Okay. See you, then." Nat said. She took Nick's hand as they headed out of sickbay. Natalie sat at the console in their quarters, reading over some research material. Nick had gone to help the Captain prepare for a delegation from Zrion. Nick had agreed to help negotiate a treaty between the Zrionians and the Federation. Natalie sighed, rubbing at her swollen belly. For every week that had passed, so far, the baby had grown one mortal month. If this continued, she'd deliver in less than four weeks. Rising from her chair, Nat went to the replicator and got herself something to drink. She finished it off and then went to lie down. She was tired most of the time now, and she wondered if it would get better, or worse. She laid down on the bed and closed her eyes, rubbing her stomach and thinking of the baby. She began to get a sense of uncertainty and fear, along with a feeling of curiosity. Natalie sat up, as she realized that it was the baby she was sensing. Looking down at her stomach in surprise, Natalie laid back down and pushed into the feelings. She focused on sending images of herself and Nick, as well as feelings of love, peace and reassurance. After several moments, the baby quieted and Nat could feel that it had fallen asleep. Smiling, she fell asleep, as well. Nick returned to their quarters to find Nat sleeping peacefully. He headed back out to the living room area, to speak with Janette. "Nat's asleep. She seems to need a lot more, these days." Janette smiled. "It must be the pregnancy taking its toll on her." Nick nodded. "Can I get you anything?" Janette shook her head. "No. Thank you. I just came to visit with my family. LaCroix is off with that mortal and I have had no one to talk to." Nick smiled. "Well, what would you like to talk about?" Janette sighed. "I do not know. I am feeling so melancholy as of late. I do not understand it." Nick moved to sit beside her and took her hand. "Does it have something to do with the baby?" Janette looked thoughtful. "I suppose it might. I have always wanted a child, but I never dared allowed myself to dream it was possible. And now..." Nick smiled. "And now Nat and I are attempting the impossible. If we are successful, what will you do?" Janette looked at him. "I do not know. Tracy and Urs have no desire to have a child and Vachon is glad of that. I would not dream of asking you and LaCroix, well, he just isn't right, either. I don't know what to do." Nick nodded. "Don't worry, Janette. When the time is right, you'll have the answers you seek." "I wish I shared your optimism." Janette said, rising. "I think I'll be going, now. I promised Commander Data that I'd assist him in his study of vampires." Nick smiled. "Well, just keep in mind that he isn't human. You can't drain him, if you get frustrated." Janette laughed and smacked him on the arm. "Oh, Nichola. You are impossible." She said, then turned and left. Natalie awoke to find Nick sitting in the chair beside the bed, watching her. She smiled at him. "Good evening, beautiful." Nick said, moving to sit on the bed beside her and kiss her. "Good evening, yourself." Nat said. She remembered earlier and sat up. "Oh, Nick! I have to tell you. The most interesting and wonderful thing happened earlier!" Nick looked at her and gave her a puzzled smile. "What is it?" Nat placed his hand on her stomach, so he could feel the baby move. "I felt the baby." "Nat, you've been able to feel the baby for over a week, now." Nick said, slightly confused. "No! I mean, I *sensed* the baby. I could tell what he was feeling." Nick looked surprised. "Really? What did you sense?" Nat smiled at him. "At first, he was a little uncertain and fearful, and a bit curious. I started to send him feelings of love and reassurance, along with images of us, and he calmed down and went to sleep." Nick looked amazed. "Nat, that's incredible." Nat looked confused a moment, then she smiled. "Talk to him, Nick." "What?" Nick asked, a bit warily. "Talk to him." Nat insisted. "What do I say?" Nick asked. He didn't have a klew what to say. "Anything. He likes to hear your voice." Nat told him. "He does?" Nick asked, slightly awed. "Wait... he?" Nat smiled. "He. It's a boy, Nick. I can tell, though I'm not sure how." Nick looked at her and grinned. "A boy. Wow." Nat nodded and laid back down. "Talk to your son." Nick looked at her, as he leaned closer to her stomach, rubbing it gently. "Hello in there. This is your daddy." Nick said a bit uncertainly. Feeling a slight kick, Nick smiled. "Your mommy and I have waited a very long time for you and we both love you very much." He noticed Nat's eyes glaze over slightly and raised his eyebrows. "What?" "I was showing him what you look like." Nat told him. "I just picture you in my mind and tell him who you are." Nick was dumbfounded. "Just like that?" "Yeah. It's kind of funny. He thinks in images and shares feelings. Actual words are strange to him, but he likes to hear our voices." Nat told him. Nick smiled. "Nat, this is wonderful. Do mortal parents experience this?" Nat's smile grew. "No. Nick, this is something wonderfully unique. If we were mortal, we'd never have this opportunity." Nick smiled back. "I guess we should be extremely thankful, then." Nat nodded. "That, we should." Nick laid there rubbing Nat's tummy and talking to the baby well into the evening. At last, they got up and headed to Ten Forward, to meet Janette for 'dinner' and to share their wonderful news with her. *Two Weeks Later Nick sat reading over his report on the treaty negotiations between the Federation and the Zrionians. Natalie had been spending more and more time either working in the lab with Dr. Crusher, or in the school with the children, so Nick found himself with more free time on his hands. Natalie's pregnancy was progressing at the same rate and she was looking more radiant every day. LaCroix had returned, as had Lwaxana and Will and Deanna. Life was returning to some semblance of normal. One of Nick's fledglings had contacted him, to inform him that he would be arriving with the next shuttle. He was looking forward to a visit from Andrew, as he hadn't seen him in over three hundred years. After Nick finished his report, he shut down his com pad and then headed off to find Natalie. Natalie sat in the nursery, rocking a sleeping infant. She could feel her own son's movements and she smiled. She felt so peaceful at this moment. Nick entered the nursery and stood silently watching her. She was such a natural with children. He knew that she would make a wonderful mother. He wasn't so sure about how he'd do as a father. Natalie sensed Nick's uneasiness and looked up to find him staring at her. She smiled at him and then her eyes took on a questioning look. "Nick? What is it?" Nat asked. Nick shrugged. "Nothing." Nat raised an eyebrow. "Wrong. Try again." Nick laughed. "Okay, okay. I was just thinking about what a terrific mother you are going to make and I was worrying about whether or not I'll be a good father." Nat stood and carried the baby over to where he stood. "Come on, hold her." Nick tried to back away. "Nat... I don't know the first thing about babies." "You need to learn, then. You don't think I'm going to be the only one taking care of our son, do you?" She asked. "No! Of course not. It's just... I don't know what to do." Nick said uncertainly. Nat smiled. "So, I'll teach you. Come on." She handed him the tiny infant girl and showed him how to properly support her back and head. Then she led him further into the nursery to show him the ins and outs of infant care. After several hours, the parents started arriving to pick up their children. Nick had been learning all about feeding, changing and handling infants and he was doing wonderfully. When the last child was gone, Liza turned to smile at them. "Thank you both, so much, for all your help. We really appreciate it." She told them. "Feel free to come back, any time you'd like. Nick, you are doing a great job. You're going to be a terrific father." Nick smiled. "Thanks." He took Nat's arm and led her out the door. "That wasn't so bad." He told Nat, as they walked towards their quarters. "See? And all this time you've been missing out." She smiled. Nick just smiled at her and kissed her. Nick and Natalie walked into their quarters to find a message waiting for them. "Andrew will be arriving tomorrow." Nick told Natalie. "Oh, good! I've missed him." Nat answered. "Yeah, so have I. I'm glad I've finally gotten to where I can bring someone across and not have them turn on me." Nick sighed. "Andrew is very lonely right now, Nat. Ever since his wife was killed, he just hasn't been the same. I invited him to come stay with us, after Anna died, but he refused. I think he is finally ready to meet the rest of the family, though." Nat smiled. "Well, if Tracy and the others come back for the baby's birth, then he'll get to meet them all. I do hope they come." Nick nodded. "So do I." They got ready for bed and laid down, wrapping their arms around one another. "Nick?" Nat called, softly. "Hmm?" Nick responded. "We haven't made love since we found out I was pregnant. What's wrong?" Nick pulled back and looked at her. "I don't want to hurt either of you." He told her, concern showing in his eyes. "Oh, Nick. You can't hurt us." Nat said, relieved that that was all there was bothering him. "Are you sure?" Nick asked her, still fearful. Natalie smiled. "I'm sure. If anything feels wrong, I'll tell you, okay?" Nick smiled sheepishly. "Promise?" Nat nodded. "I promise." Nick grinned at her. "Well, then, I guess it would be all right." He said, kissing her and pulling her close to him. Nick and Natalie were waiting in the shuttle bay to greet Andrew when he arrived the next night. They were both very excited to see him. Andrew stepped off the shuttle and stared in amazement at Natalie's distended belly. "Okay, what'd I miss?" Natalie laughed, as she pulled him into a warm embrace. "Oh, Andrew! I've missed you." Andrew kissed Nat on the cheek. "I've missed you, too." Nick shook Andrew's hand and pulled him into a bear hug. "How are you?" Nick asked, laughing. "I'm fine. It looks like you two have been busy. I can still sense that you're vampires, so what's going on? How is this possible?" Andrew said, clearly confused. "Come on, kiddo. I'll explain everything." Nick told him, putting an arm around Andrew's shoulders. "So, this Dr. Crusher found a way to make it possible for you to have a baby as vampires? That's wonderful!" Andrew said, after having settled into Nick and Nat's quarters and hearing their tale. "And, you two have given up your quest for mortality, once and for all?" Nick nodded. "Yes. We still miss the sunlight and food, but at least we can have a family." Andrew nodded. "So, when is the big day?" Nat smiled. "Well, we're not exactly sure. So far, the baby has grown one mortal month, for each week of pregnancy. We figure I should deliver in a week or two, but we just don't know for certain." "Wow. Well, I arrived just in time." Andrew smiled. "So, I hear there are two new members of the family?" Nick nodded. "Yes. The ship's second in command and the ship's counselor both asked to be brought across. We each brought one across. Then they got married." "It's been really busy around here." Andrew laughed. "You said that LaCroix and Janette are here, as well? I've been wanting to meet them." Nick nodded. "Yes. I have asked them all to meet us for 'dinner' tonight. You can meet everyone, then." Andrew nodded. "Well, I suppose we should get some rest then." "I think that's a good idea." Nick told him. Nat smiled and kissed Andrew on the cheek. "Good night." "Night, Nat." Andrew said, as he headed off to bed. Natalie laid on the bed, rubbing her tummy. "Nick, your son wants you." Nick smiled at her, as he laid down beside her and began to rub her tummy as well. "Hello in there, young sir." He smiled when he felt the strong kick against his hand. Nat closed her eyes. "He is getting impatient because he doesn't have enough room to move around as much." She smiled. She opened her eyes. "He wants me to feed from you. It calms him when we share blood." Nick smiled. "I can do that." He said, kissing her tummy. He moved close to Nat and opened the collar of his black silk pajamas. Nat kissed his neck, before gently sinking her fangs into the pulsing vein. She relished the sensations she felt from both Nick and the baby. After several moments, she pulled back. "Nick, complete the circle. Take my blood." Nick smiled at her, then sank his fangs into her delicate neck. Nat returned to feeding from Nick, pulling him tightly to her. After several minutes, they pulled away, both feeling at peace. They closed their eyes and fell into a deep sleep. Nick set out the last crystal glass onto the table and opened another bottle of bloodwine. He'd opened one uncut bottle for Nat, since she wasn't supposed to have anything with alcohol, or even synthehol. Andrew came out of the spare bedroom and smiled at Nick and Natalie. "So, when is everyone arriving?" Nat smiled. "Any time, now. Have a seat." Andrew found a place to sit and watched as Natalie instructed the computer to turn on a classical music set. Will and Deanna were the first to arrive. Since they'd returned from their honeymoon, they'd been to visit Nick and Nat almost every day. "Nick, Natalie." Deanna said, kissing them both. "How are you, today?" "We're fine, Deanna." Natalie said. "I'd like you to meet Andrew. Andrew, this is Will and Deanna Riker." Andrew kissed Deanna's hand and shook Will's. "It is nice to meet both of you." Deanna smiled. "It's nice to meet you, as well." She looked at Nick, a puzzled expression on her face. "Is it just me, or is there something familiar about Andrew?" Nick smiled at her. "It's the bloodlink. Andrew is one of my other 'creations'. He's family." "Oh. Well, that makes it even more of a pleasure to meet you." Deanna said, as she took a seat beside Will and accepted a glass from Nick. "I'm finding that our family is expanding rather quickly." Andrew said, winking at Nat. "I am very excited for Nick and Natalie. I know they've wanted a child for many years." LaCroix and Janette arrived and Nick introduced Andrew to the family patriarch and to his 'sister'. Andrew was enthralled by Janette. "It is a pleasure to meet such a beauty as you." Janette smiled, as she eyed him. He was nearly as tall as LaCroix and had dark hair and green eyes that sparkled merrily. 'So very handsome.' Janette thought to herself. "It is a pleasure to meet you, as well." Nick looked at Nat and grinned. Everyone in the room could feel the sparks between Janette and Andrew. "Well, now that we have the introductions out of the way, let's get to know one another, shall we?" LaCroix asked. *One week later: Natalie sat on an exam table in sickbay, watching as Beverly finished up her exam. "Well?" She asked. Beverly smiled at her. "Everything is going wonderfully. How do you feel?" Nat shrugged. "Fine. A little tired, but otherwise, okay. Why?" Beverly motioned for Nat to follow her. "I've been running tests on you, Nick and the baby ever since the first day we found out you were pregnant. Look at this." She motioned to a screen. "This is your genetic pattern, before you got pregnant. This is yours after three weeks, five weeks and seven weeks." Nat nodded, noticing the changes. "This is the baby's genetic pattern, right after we discovered you were pregnant. Then again at five weeks and seven weeks." Beverly told her. Nat nodded again, noticing that there were a number of changes. Beverly showed her another screen. "Now, this is Nick's genetic pattern. Nothing at three weeks or five weeks, but look at this one, at seven weeks. There's a huge change." Nat frowned. "What does this mean?" "I'm not sure. For some reason, your genetic patterns are altering. Now with you, because of the baby, I can understand that there may be some changes. But this change in Nick is not only amazingly fast, but it didn't occur until the seventh week." Nat smiled, as she remembered that the seventh week was the one in which she'd finally talked to Nick about making love and sharing blood. "Well, Nick refused to make love to me, or share blood, until the seventh week. I had to convince him that it was all right, that he couldn't hurt me or the baby." Beverly looked at her in surprise. "Well, that explains it, then. Sort of." Nat shook her head. "Sort of?" "Well, I still don't know what all of these changes mean." Beverly told her. "I'm running a few different tests, to try and find out." Nat nodded. "Well, let me know if you need any help." "I will. Hopefully, this little guy will decide to come, soon." Beverly said, smiling at Nat. "Have you two decided on a name, yet?" "Well, we're toying with a couple. Nick isn't certain. I like either, so I'll be happy, whatever he decides." Nat told her. "That's good. I'll see you, tomorrow?" Nat nodded. "Yeah. Tomorrow." She turned and left, still wondering about the odd changes in their genetic makeup. Nick climbed into bed and laid next to Natalie's sleeping form. He'd been busy helping the Captain and the rest of the Senior Staff prepare for the next assignment. Natalie snuggled closer to Nick and sighed. "Hey you. How are you?" Nick smiled, as he wrapped his arms around her. "Fine. How are you?" "Okay. Beverly showed me something rather interesting today. Can you come with me tomorrow? I'd like you to see it, as well." Nat kissed his chest. "Sure. What's up?" Nick asked. He could feel the confusion from her. "Our genetic makeup is changing. It has something to do with the baby, but we don't know what. We don't even know what the changes mean." Nat told him. "Well, I feel all right. How about you?" Nick asked, frowning. "Fine. In fact, other than feeling a little tired, I feel better than I have in a long time." Nat told him. "Well, I'll go with you tomorrow and see if we can figure out what's going on. Maybe Andrew can help. He has several degrees in genetics and he's been studying vampire physiology for centuries." Nick told her, kissing her on the top of the head. "If you can separate him and Janette long enough." Nat laughed. "They've really taken to one another." Nick smiled. "I'm glad. I think they'll be good for each other." Nat nodded and yawned. "Have you decided which name you like best?" Nick shook his head. "No. I like them both, but that would be an awfully long name." Nat sighed. "I'll be happy with whichever you choose. Just don't wait too long. Junior is going to be here, any day now." Nick laughed. "Junior? Don't give me another name to think about!" Nat smacked him on the arm. "Good night, Nick." Nick kissed her forehead. "Good night, Nat." Natalie, Nick and Andrew made their way to sickbay, to see Beverly. Natalie was still uncertain about the changes in her and Nick, so she'd asked Andrew to accompany them. "Beverly, this is Andrew. His specialty is vampire physiology. He's been studying it for centuries. He and I have collaborated a few times on trying to find a cure for Nick and myself." Natalie told her friend. "Oh, good. Perhaps you'll be able to shed some light on the changes occurring in Nick and Natalie." Beverly smiled. "I hope so. I haven't been able to come up with a cure, but I do know about all there is to know about vampire physiology." Andrew told her. Beverly led them into her lab and went over the changes that had occurred. She showed them all of the samples she'd taken and all of her notes and observations. When she was finished, she allowed Nat and Andrew some time to run a few tests of their own, helping when they asked her to. After thirty minutes, Nick had grown quite bored. "Nat? How about I go meet with Will and Deanna, then I'll come back in a while?" Nat looked up at him and smiled. "Okay. I'll call, if we find anything." Nick nodded and kissed her. "See ya." Nat nodded and went back to work. Several hours later, Nick was sitting in the Captain's Ready Room, going over the next mission assignment with Will, Deanna and Captain Picard, when his comlink beeped. "Yeah, Knight." Nick answered. "Nick? Could you come down here? We've found something." Nat's voice came over the comm. "I'll be right down." Nick replied. He looked at the Captain and the others. "Could you excuse me?" Picard nodded. "Let us know what they've found." Nick smiled. "I will." He hurried out of the Ready Room and down to sickbay. Nat was waiting for him and she launched herself into his arms. "Oh, Nick! This is wonderful!" Nick wrapped his arms around her, laughing at the awkwardness with her swollen belly in the way. "What is it?" Nat grabbed his hand and pulled him towards the lab. Beverly smiled at Nick. "Well, we think we've discovered what the changes in your genetic makeup mean." Nick nodded. "So I gathered. Someone want to klew me in?" He smiled. Andrew laughed. "Sure thing." He motioned for Nick to follow him over to a console and motioned to the images and words on the screen. "This is a breakdown of your genetic profile." He punched a button and a similar image appeared beside the first. "This one is mine." Nick nodded, as he noticed the differences. "Okay, so what does this all mean?" Natalie smiled at Beverly, as she stood on a platform. "Okay, turn it on." Beverly nodded and flipped a switch. The platform that Natalie was on suddenly lit up with a bright yellow light. She smiled broadly at Nick. "Isn't it incredible?" Nick shook his head in confusion. "I don't get it, Nat. What is that?" Andrew grinned at him. "It simulates sunlight. Watch." He stepped over and stuck his hand into the light. Instantly, his hand began to smoke and burn. He pulled it away, wincing slightly, then watched as it healed. Nick's eyes were wide. "How is it that Nat can stand in it?" He tentatively walked closer to the light. "That's what we're telling you. The changes in your genetic makeup is making it possible. You could probably stand there with Natalie." Beverly told him. Nick stuck his hand into the light. Nothing. Grinning, he stepped onto the platform with Natalie. He looked at her in stunned disbelief. Nat laughed, as she hugged him. "Isn't it wonderful?" Nick looked at his own hands. "Could we go out into real sunlight?" Nat smiled. "Yes." Nick pulled her to him and kissed her. "What are we waiting for? Let's find the nearest Class M planet and try it!" Beverly smiled. "I'll talk to Jean-Luc. We'll try first thing, tomorrow." The next day, Nick and Natalie settled themselves onto the shuttle with Captain Picard, Dr. Crusher, Will, Deanna and Andrew. Commander Data was piloting the craft for them. "Okay, I want all of you to stay safely in the back, out of the sun, until after we land." Beverly told them. Once they'd landed, Captain Picard, Dr. Crusher and Commander Data moved to the back and opened the shuttle doors. All five vampires instinctively pulled back, away from the sun, as the three stepped out into the bright light. Natalie looked at Nick. "Ready?" Nick smiled. "Yeah." He took her hand and they carefully stepped out into the light, with the others. Will, Deanna and Andrew watched from the safety of the shuttle, smiling to themselves, as Nick and Natalie got to experience the sunlight for the first time in centuries. Nick and Natalie both blinked at the brightness, shading their eyes with their hands. After several moments, they looked at one another in awe and happiness. Nick pulled Natalie to him and hugged her. He pulled back and looked at her for a long moment. "I'd forgotten how beautiful you look in the sunlight." Nick whispered. Nat sniffled and wiped the tears from her eyes. "Oh, Nick." Nick pulled her close again and kissed her. Then he looked at Beverly and the others. "How long before we have to go back?" Picard smiled at them. "Take as long as you'd like." Nick smiled and nodded, then hugged Beverly. "Thank you." "For what?" Beverly asked. "You're the one that found a way for us to have a child, and now it's given us this wonderful gift." Nick told her. Beverly smiled at him. "You're welcome." Nick and Natalie went back into the shuttle and hugged their other friends. "I'm sorry you can't join us." Nat said, somewhat sadly. Deanna smiled. "Don't worry about it. It's been a lot longer since you've been in the sun, than it has for us. Go on, enjoy it." Andrew nodded. "Who knows? This may be a breakthrough for all of us." Nat smiled and hugged them again, then followed Nick out into the light. Nick and Natalie spent the day walking in the sun, enjoying the blue of the sky and the green of the trees. It had been so long since either of them had seen their surroundings in natural light. They were like two toddlers, discovering the world around them. Natalie sat in a field of wildflowers and smiled at Nick. "I think your son is getting hungry." Nick nodded. "So am I. Maybe we should head back." Nat sighed. "I suppose you're right. It will be dark in a few hours." Nick took her hand and helped her to her feet. "Come on, I'm sure the others are ready to go." Nat held Nick's hand as they walked back towards the shuttle. She suddenly stopped and frowned. Nick looked at her. "Nat? What is it?" Natalie looked up at Nick. "I'm not sure. I feel... strange." Nick tried not to panic. "Strange? What do you mean?" Nat looked up at Nick, eyes wide. "Nick... the baby. He's coming." Nick touched her stomach. "Are you sure?" Nat nodded. "Yeah. He 'told' me. Nick, we won't make it back to the shuttle and I don't want to be transported." Nick winced, as he hit his comlink. "Knight to Dr. Crusher." Beverly's voice came over the comm. "What is it, Nick?" "The baby's coming and Nat refuses to use the transporter. I need your help." Nick told her. "Stay where you are, I'm on my way." Nick took Nat's hand as he helped her to sit and then lie down. "Are you in pain?" Nat shook her head. "No. It doesn't hurt. It's just an odd pressure." Nick nodded, as Beverly, Captain Picard and Data materialized a few feet in front of them. "Natalie, I wish you'd let us transport you to sickbay." Beverly said, motioning to Data and Captain Picard to stand back. "No. Unless there seems to be a problem, I want my son born in the sun." Nat told her. Beverly smiled. "All right, then. Let's have a look." Over an hour later, Nat was being held in a semi-sitting position by Nick and pushing for all she was worth. Nick kissed her temple, trying to reassure himself, as much as her. Nat relaxed when Dr. Crusher told her to, then took Nick's hand in her own. "I'm glad you're here." She told him. "Still no pain?" Beverly asked. Nat shook her head. "No. Just a lot of pressure." Beverly nodded, as she looked at her tricorder readings once again. "Okay, Natalie, here we go. Push." Natalie took a deep breath and held it, as she began to push. She stopped a moment and took another breath, before pushing some more. Dr. Crusher smiled at them. "You're doing great. We're almost there." Nat nodded and took another breath. Nick watched in fascination, as the baby's head emerged. "Okay, Natalie, hang on." Beverly told her. She grabbed her bag and quickly suctioned out the baby's nose and mouth. "There we go, let's get him out of there." Natalie took one last, deep breath and pushed. The baby came out and let out a scream of protest. Nat leaned back against Nick, watching as Beverly laid their son on a blanket and ran the tricorder over him, punching a few buttons. Then she wiped him off with a cloth and wrapped him up. "Here we are. Congratulations, it's a boy." Beverly said, smiling. Nat held her tiny son to her and smiled, as a tear slipped down her cheek. She looked up at Nick and saw that he, too, had tears in his eyes. Nick kissed Nat. "He's beautiful, Nat. Just like you." He looked at his friends. "Thank you, for everything." Beverly gathered her things up and looked towards the western horizon. "The sun will be setting soon. Can we transport you, now?" Natalie laughed and nodded. "Okay." She was busily admiring her son, counting fingers and toes. Beverly hit her comlink. "Shuttle Three, *six* to beam aboard." She said, smiling at Nick and Natalie. Natalie and Nick sat on the sofa in their quarters, quietly admiring their newborn son. Nat looked at Nick. "Have you decided which of the two names you like best?" She asked. Nick looked at his son and smiled. "Yes. How about the first one we chose?" "I think that is very appropriate." Nat smiled back. "So, are they coming?" Nick nodded. "LaCroix said they'd be here soon." Nat smiled as she leaned back against the sofa cushions and sighed. "Today was absolutely wonderful." Nick looked at her, then at their son. "Yes, it was." A few minutes later, the door chimes rang and Nick handed the baby to Natalie. "Stay here. I'll get it." Nat laid the baby against her chest and smiled down at his sleeping form. He was mostly mortal, and very healthy. He'd had a full bottle of synthetic breast milk and had 'nursed' from Natalie, since he seemed to need equal quantities of blood and milk. Nat smiled as she remembered Beverly's surprise at finding the baby had fangs, that dropped when he needed blood. Natalie heard the familiar voices and looked up at their visitors. She smiled, as she stood up and held the sleeping infant so that they could see. "LaCroix, Janette, we'd like you to meet Lucien Connor deBrabant/Knight." LaCroix's face registered his surprise. "You named him after me?" Nick smiled. "Yes. And Nat's father, of course. Are you pleased?" LaCroix looked at Nick, his eyes reflecting emotion he rarely displayed. "Yes. Thank you, my son." Nick nodded and then smiled at Nat. "Would you like to hold him, Auntie Janette?" Nat asked with a grin. Janette looked surprised and terrified. "Oh, I don't know... I'm afraid I'll drop him, or something." Nat smiled. "Sit down." When Janette complied, she handed her the sleeping infant, making sure to show her how to hold his head and back. Janette looked with wonder down at the tiny being in her arms. "Natalie, Nichola, he is exquisite." Nick smiled. "We think so." Janette held the baby for a several minutes, watching him as he slept. He opened his eyes and yawned, then looked at Janette. "He seems to be studying me." Janette said, looking at Natalie. Nat smiled. "Talk to him. He loves to hear voices, and now he can actually see you for himself." Janette frowned. "What do I say?" Nat laughed. "Whatever you like." Janette looked at Lucien and smiled warmly. "Welcome, little one, to our family." Lucien sighed and closed his eyes. When he opened them, they were golden. Janette felt a light touch on her mind and she looked at Natalie in surprise. "What is this?" Nat took his tiny hand in hers. "He wants to know you." She looked into her son's eyes. "Not yet, Lucien. Be patient." She pierced her finger with her own fangs and let a few drops of blood fall into the baby's mouth. Lucien looked at Nat with clear blue eyes. "Quite remarkable." LaCroix stated, as he watched the exchange. Lucien heard LaCroix's voice and turned his head, trying to see him. "He hears you now, *grandpa*." Nat laughed. LaCroix raised an eyebrow. "Grand*father*, perhaps, but never grand*pa*." Natalie just laughed, as Janette handed her the baby. She carried the infant over to LaCroix and looked at him. "Okay. Your turn." LaCroix looked at her. "My turn, for what?" "To hold Lucien, of course." Nat told him. "Natalie, I do not handle infants." LaCroix answered, somewhat disdainfully. "LaCroix, this is our first child. We plan on more. Get used to it." Nat told him, as she thrust the baby into his arms. LaCroix took Lucien and held him, at first awkwardly, but he quickly got the hang of it. He looked into the baby's eyes and raised an eyebrow. "He looks like Nicholas." Nat smiled at Nick and winked. Nick looked at Natalie, shocked. How had she managed that? Lucien regarded his grandfather seriously for several moments, before his eyes turned golden and his fangs descended. "Oh, no, not again. Lucien!" Nat said in exasperation. She moved to place her finger in his mouth, but LaCroix held up a hand. "Wait. Allow me." He told her. Seeing her worried look, he sighed. "I will carefully monitor what he is allowed to see and feel. Do not worry. I give you my word I will not harm him." Nat looked at Nick and saw him smile and nod. "Okay." She said, smiling. LaCroix closed his eyes momentarily and then bit his finger, allowing a few small drops of blood to fall into the infant's mouth. Lucien closed his eyes, then tilted his head and regarded his grandfather for a moment. LaCroix felt a light touch on his mind, as Lucien sent a wave of contentment, before closing his eyes and falling soundly asleep. He smiled down at the tiny baby boy. "Welcome to the family, young one." He whispered. Natalie laid her son in his crib and climbed into bed. She was still amazed at the changes that had taken place in her life, in such a short time. She smiled at the memory of LaCroix and Janette, holding and talking to Lucien. Nick stirred a bit and looked at her. "Everything okay?" Nat kissed him. "Yes. Go back to sleep. Next time, it's your turn." Nick nodded and wrapped his arms around her, quickly falling back to sleep. Nat thought about the conversation she'd had with Janette, earlier. Janette had confided in Natalie that she and Andrew had become quite fond of one another, and that they'd been discussing how they each desired to have a child of their own. They were considering the possibility of having a child, together. "Just remember, Janette, once the child is conceived, you are committed to one another for the duration of that child's life. At least until he or she is grown. A child needs two parents." Natalie had told her. "I know. We are just discussing the possibility, right now." Janette had assured her. Nat closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep. *One month later: Nick finished feeding Lucien his bottle and then burped him, the way he'd learned. Then he took the baby and held him so that he could look into his eyes. Lucien looked at his father and smiled. Since his birth a month prior, his growth had slowed considerably, yet at one month, he was physically closer to three. Mentally, however, was another story. He was well advanced for such a young infant. His eyes turned golden and he touched Nick's mind. Nick smiled back at him. "Okay, but just a little." He used his sharp fangs to slice his index finger open, and stuck it in the infant's mouth. Lucien suckled greedily at the tangy fluid, frowning when Nick pulled away. He began to cry. Nick sighed. "Lucien, please don't." He pulled the infant closer and began rubbing his back. Nat entered their quarters to the shrill sound of her son's cries. "What's wrong?" Nick looked at her in relief. "He wants me to give him more blood. Nat, I'm afraid of what'll happen, if we give him too much." Nat smiled, as she rubbed the infant's back. "Don't worry, Nick. I just finished looking over a sample of his blood. He's fine. It isn't changing him, at all. In fact, he seems to need it." Nick handed her the now whimpering infant. "I think it'd be better for you to do that, then." He smiled. Nat nodded her understanding, as she began to unbutton her blouse. This was as close to actually nursing her child as she would ever get, so she took advantage of it, whenever possible. Nick sat beside her, as she settled on the sofa and allowed Lucien to 'nurse'. "I spoke with Administrator Belfast today. He says that as soon as we are ready, we can start to get settled." Nat looked at Nick and sighed. "I'm going to miss the Enterprise. I really am happy here." Nick sat quietly for several minutes, before finally speaking. "You know, Mr. Worf is transferring to Deep Space Nine. Captain Picard offered me the Chief of Security position." Nat glanced at him and saw his mischievous smile. "Doctor Crusher asked if I'd like to stay on, as well. They are losing one of their doctors. I guess she is transferring to another ship, to be with her new husband." Nick rubbed Lucien's back. "We really should stay close to Will and Deanna for awhile, as well. They are doing okay, but they still need a great deal of training." Nat smiled, as Nick met her eyes. "You'd better call Administrator Belfast and let him know our plans have changed." Nick smiled and kissed her. "I think that would be a good idea." LaCroix stood in the transporter room and looked at his son and daughter-in-law. "Are you certain you will not change your minds?" Nick shook his head. "We're happy here. At least for now, this is where we'd like to stay." LaCroix nodded. "Very well. Do stay in touch." Nick smiled, as he extended his hand. "We will." LaCroix took Nick's hand and shook it, then pulled him into a fierce embrace. "Take care, my son." He kissed Natalie and Lucien, then quickly stepped onto the transporter pad. Nick nodded to the transporter chief and waved one last time, as his father dematerialized before them. "I'm going to miss him." Nat smiled. "So will I." She laughed. "I never thought we'd say that about *LaCroix*!" Nick laughed, too. "I know. Come on." He led her out of the transporter room and to their quarters. Nat placed Lucien in his cradle and accepted the glass of synthetic plasma from Nick. "Have you heard from Janette and Andrew, yet?" She asked, sipping from the glass. "Yes. They are getting settled. Janette is deliriously happy with Andrew. I haven't seen her this in love, in a very long time." Nick smiled. Nat smiled, too. "I think they'll be good for each other." Nick pulled her close to him and kissed her. "Thank you." He whispered. Nat looked puzzled. "For what?" Nick smiled at her. "For coming across. For being my light in the darkness. For always having faith in me, in us. For giving me a beautiful son and giving me back the sunlight. For everything." He kissed her again. Nat gently caressed his cheek. "I'd do it all exactly the same, if I had to do it over again. I have never once regretted becoming a vampire and your wife. I love you." Nick smiled at her. "I love you." Nat laid her head on Nick's chest, as he ran his fingers through her soft hair. They could hear Lucien making gurgling and cooing noises from his cradle, and they allowed themselves a rare moment of quiet companionship. Captain Jean-Luc Picard fidgeted nervously and readjusted his collar one last time. He glanced at his chronometer and found that only two minutes had passed since the last time he'd checked it. Sighing in frustration, he rearranged the books on his bookshelf and absently toyed with a number of artifacts lying about. Beverly hesitated briefly, before opening the door to the Captain's quarters. She knew that tonight was going to be different, somehow. Captain Picard smiled, when he saw Beverly standing by the door. "I'm glad you came." "I'm glad I came, too. Thank you for inviting me." Beverly said, smiling. Picard motioned for her to take a seat on the sofa, then sat beside her. He handed her a glass of sherry and then smiled again. Beverly thanked him for the sherry and began sipping at it. Even though it had little alcohol, it had the desired soothing affect. "What was it you wanted to speak to me about?" Picard set his glass down and stood, nervously fidgeting with the hem of his uniform. He could do this. Beverly raised an eyebrow at him, as he moved across the room and then came and sat beside her, once again. Picard pulled out the small box and opened it, turning it so that Beverly could see its contents. He pulled the beautiful ring from its resting place and gently took her left hand. "Beverly, would you do me the great honor of becoming my wife?" Beverly looked at the ring in astonishment, then up at Jean-Luc. She hadn't been expecting this. "Jean-Luc, do you realize what you're asking? What you're getting yourself into?" He nodded solemnly. "I have given it a great deal of thought. I have never been one to allow my emotions to control me, but I can not help the way I feel for you. Wesley will be leaving for the Academy soon. I have always been proud of him, even though he was not my son. " He sighed. "Beverly, Jack was my best friend. It almost killed me, when he died. I promised him once, that if anything should happen to him, I would look after you and Wesley. I have loved you for so very long, and I want to be with you every moment that we can. Marry me?" Beverly smiled a radiant smile and leaned forward to kiss him. "Yes, Jean-Luc. I will marry you." Relief flooded the Captain's features, as he placed the ring on her finger and pulled her into a warm embrace. *450 years later: Lucien came into the house and went straight to the bedroom and knocked on the door. When he had permission to enter, he opened the door and went in. Nick was sitting beside Natalie, holding her hand. He looked up at his eldest child and smiled. "Hi. Glad you could make it." "I almost didn't. Is there anything I can do?" Lucien asked. Natalie smiled at her son. "Keep everyone downstairs and occupied until after? I don't really want everyone roaming in and out." Lucien kissed her on the forehead. "I can do that." He left the bedroom and silently closed the door. Walking down the stairs, he made sure that everything was ready for the family's arrival. Then he opened the curtains to the early morning sunlight. Tracy, Vachon and their two children arrived first. "Lucien, how are you?" Tracy asked, as she kissed him on the cheek. "Hi Aunt Tracy. Uncle Vachon. I'm fine." He kissed the Karina and shook Carlos' hand, before leading them into the main room. Will and Deanna arrived a few minutes later. They had their three youngest children with them. "Lucien." Will greeted him, smiling. Lucien shook Will's hand and kissed Deanna's cheek. "Uncle Will. Aunt Deanna. Are the others coming?" Deanna shook her head. "No. Kayla returned to Earth to go to Academy. Kyle and his family are on Betazed and Jean-Luc and his family are on the Mercury. We just brought Anna, Jeremy and Ian." Lucien smiled, as he hugged each child. "I'm glad to see you." Anna hugged him and laughed as he tickled her. "Where is your family?" Will asked, after they had greeted Tracy, Vachon and their little ones. "Mira had some last minute things to attend to. She is coming with the children, in a bit." Lucien told them. "Mother wishes everyone to remain down here, until later. She and father would like to be alone." "Have Beverly and Jean-Luc arrived yet?" Deanna asked. "Not yet. They are on their way. Beverly said that mother and father have done this enough times, that they don't need any help." Lucien smiled. "They are bringing Data with them." "Really? I haven't seen him in over a hundred years." Will said, pleasantly surprised. The bell rang and Lucien went to answer the door. It was Janette and Andrew. They had their eldest son and his family, and their four youngest children with them. Jean-Luc and Beverly arrived a short time later. As well as Data, they had their two teenage children with them. "Where is Grandfather?" Asked Jenna, Janette and Andrew's youngest daughter. "He's coming." Lucien assured them. Natalie looked at Nick and smiled, as he opened the curtains to let the morning sun fill the room. "Thank you." Nick smiled as he kissed her. "I know you like the children to be born in the sun." He rubbed her belly. "Are you okay?" Nat nodded. "Yes. Sounds like the family is arriving." Nick listened, then nodded. "Lucien can handle it. It still amazes me how our family has grown." Nat laughed. "I know. And ours isn't the only one. Are you still happy?" She asked, suddenly worried. Nick pulled her close. "Of course I am. I have you and six wonderful children. And another arriving any moment." He smiled, as he rubbed her tummy. "We have Vachon and Tracy, Will and Deanna, Jean-Luc and Beverly, Urs and William, Janette and Andrew and all of their families. And now that LaCroix has married, we have him and Lillia. I am wonderfully happy and content." He kissed her passionately. Nat smiled up at him, as she took a deep breath. "It's time." Nick took her hand and nodded, moving to the end of the bed to help deliver his seventh child. Lucien LaCroix entered the house silently, with his wife. He smiled to himself, as he saw his family, now quite large, sitting in the main room, waiting for the birth of Nicholas and Natalie's child. This was how it should be. Lucien saw his grandfather and smiled. He shook his hand and kissed Lillia, then invited them into the room. He handed them a glass of the synthetic bloodwine and then took a seat. He smiled at his wife, as they relaxed and joined in the quiet conversation with their family. They had sent all of the children out into the back yard to play. It was a beautifully sunny day, and it got them out from under foot. Nick suddenly appeared in the doorway, grinning ear to ear. "It's a boy." He accepted everyone's congratulations and then he led LaCroix up the stairs. "I'm glad you could make it, Father." LaCroix smiled at him. "I am glad, as well." They entered the bedroom and saw Natalie sitting in the bed, smiling at her son and counting fingers and toes. "Must all mothers do that?" LaCroix asked her, his eyes sparkling. Nat smiled radiantly up at him. "Yes. It reassures us. I am always amazed at what a miracle each tiny life is." LaCroix nodded, as he came over to the bed and kissed her. "May I?" Nat nodded, still smiling, as she handed him the tiny baby. LaCroix looked into his eyes and felt the light touch of his mind. He saw the tiny eyes turn golden, and he cut his finger with his fangs and allowed the child to taste him. "What have you named him?" "Nathan Ryan." Nick told him, smiling at Natalie. "After his beautiful mother." Nat smiled at him. "I finally gave in." LaCroix chuckled, as he held the infant close to him. His family was getting larger every day. And he wouldn't have it any other way. The End! KC Smith firstname.lastname@example.org Nick/Natpacker with Dark Knightie tendencies. "I've never met a chocolate I didn't like."