NEVER SEEN ANYTHING (QUITE LIKE YOU)
"I'm blessed as a man to have seen you in white
But I've never seen anything quite like you tonight..."
The switch of the kettle clicked off loudly as it came to a boil, snapping Nick out of the pensive stare he had been directing towards the downstairs bathroom. Taking his hands off the edge of the worktop, he turned back towards their kitchen. The sounds of her dry heaving made him wince as he reached up to remove a dainty little china teacup from the cupboard overhead. Pouring the water in and leaving the tea to brew for a few minutes, he took a moment to grab the magazine he'd purchased for her and placed it on the little tray laying on the counter to his left, along with a funny postcard he had found featuring a frazzled looking orang-utan that he thought might make her smile. Anything was worth a shot. Giving the tea a stir, he removed the bag and dumped it in the trash, then placed it on to a saucer (Schmidt would be so impressed that Nick even knew what a saucer was actually for...) and carried it carefully over towards the powder blue couch in their living area that he hated so much. Honestly, he despised this couch. The colour, the feel of the material against his skin, the weird little cushions it came with...but, Jess had her heart set on it the moment she laid eyes on the damned thing in the furniture store. He resisted heavily, however she managed to break him down in the end with her pleading and a big flutter of those enormous lashes framing her twinkling ocean blue eyes. (Please, Nick? You'll grow to love it once it's in the house, I swear. Look how beautiful it is!)
Setting the tray down on the coffee table, he looked up just in time to see Jess shuffling back towards him looking decidedly green around the gills. She hugged one arm around her stomach, the other swept across her brow and wiped away the bead of perspiration that had settled there.
"Well, we can add bagels with cream cheese to the list of foods I can no longer eat successfully..." Jess stated, causing Nick to grimace and recoil dramatically.
"Did not need to know that!"
"Sorry" She stuck out her bottom lip in the best 'sad face' she could muster.
He gave a sympathetic smile and pulled her to him in a gentle hug, careful not to stroke her back like he usually would, as he knew that would have her heading right back to the bathroom.
"Why do they call it 'morning sickness' if it lasts all day?" Nick mused into her hair.
"I've been asking myself that same damn question for weeks, Miller!"
Jess tried to laugh but the effort made her stomach muscles ache and she sank back down to the spot on the couch she had barely left for the past fortnight.
Her nausea had started really early - at first it was just an underlying queasiness akin to being on a boat in choppy waters. Not great, but tolerable. She'd been able to hide it from the others and power on through the day with the help of frequent, salty snacks and some sea-sickness wristbands that were hidden under the sleeves of her sweater. As the weeks progressed, so did the levels of nausea, until it reached the point where the tiniest movement had her running for the toilet bowl. Even the scent of Nick's cologne, which usually revved her up instantly, was enough to make her stomach lurch. The faintest smell, the merest of tastes, and it was too much for her poor body to handle.
Nick perched on the couch next to her, leaning forward to pick up the cup and saucer and holding it out to her like a prized offering.
"I made you some tea. I know you don't like the taste of anything much these days, but it's peppermint - and I read that it's supposed to be great at helping to sooth your stomach, especially in pregnancy..." He gave a lopsided little grin and Jess could feel her heart swell in her chest.
"You been doing a little reading, Nicholas?" she spoke softly as she accepted the tea with one hand, placing the other lightly on his cheek and stroking it down his stubble laced jaw. He shrugged, mildly embarrassed.
"A little. I just thought there might be something I could do to help you, Jess."
"Oh, you're doing more than enough already. Seriously, stop fussing - it's unnerving!" She poked at him playfully and took a sip of her tea as Nick reached forward again to pick up the other items from the tray and placed them in her lap.
"Ooh, trashy mag - score!" Jess smiled widely "And...awww...look at this fuzzy haired little fella! He looks like his day has been as bad as mine..."
Her hand bought the postcard closer to her face to scrutinise it, and her brows knitted together as she went still. Nick turned to his left at her sudden silence and saw her bottom lip wobbling. Oh, crap.
"I'm sorry" she sniffled, doing nothing to stop the big, wet tears making their tracks down her flushed cheeks "it's just...now I'm wondering...like, what happened in this poor little guy's day to make him pout like that, y'know? Did things get better for him? Did he get to go to sleep happy? I just...I can't...stop thinking about...whether he's ok..." She was sobbing now, causing Nick to curse himself for thinking that stupid thing would be an amusing distraction to buy.
He removed the teacup from her grasp to place it back on the table and tried to take the postcard too - but Jess was clutching it tightly to her chest with her right hand and wouldn't let go, so he chuckled, rolled his eyes and scooted as close to her as he could.
"Oh, honey - come here..."
Tucking her under his arm, she let her head drop into the crook of his shoulder, allowing his strong embrace to sooth and calm her, just like always. Swallowing her cries, she looked at him with red rimmed eyes.
"I'm sorry, Nick. I'm such a mess at the moment. Every tiny little thing sets me off - it's these damn hormones! They're all over the place right now. I'm just a disgusting bundle of vomit and tears!"
He regarded her with a somewhat serious expression, tucking the stray strands of hair behind her ear and off of her face before tracing over her cheek with his thumb and smiling at her. He shook his head slightly.
"Are you serious, Jess?" He said in disbelief "You're beautiful."
She lifted her eyes heavenwards and scoffed at him, sitting back up and leaning sideways against a cushion "Shut up, you doofus!"
"I mean it" Nick insisted, bending down so his face was in front of hers, ensuring she couldn't wriggle away from his compliment again "You're growing our child, Jessica!" He rested both hands over her abdomen as gently as he could. She wasn't showing yet, it was too early, but he loved to lay his hands there often and let his mind wonder about the little human that was forming just below the surface "And you are beautiful to me, always."
"Even when I smell of sick and peppermint tea?" She asked jokingly, whilst scrunching up her face in disgust.
"Even when you smell of sick and peppermint tea..." He nodded with a laugh and pressed his lips against her forehead, resting them there for a moment and wondering if she would ever believe him when he said how much he loved her. How he didn't care if she had no make up on or had been throwing up for hours, she was still the prettiest girl he had ever seen. And he'd seen a lot of girls.
"...so don't argue with me!" he whispered, sitting back upright and winking down at her, making her stomach squirm - but in a good way that had nothing at all to do with her nausea.
Nick hooked an arm under both her legs and lifted them up to place them across his lap before starting to rub her dainty little feet in that way he knew she loved. Sure enough, when he looked over, Jess's head was leaning contentedly back on the couch and a satisfied little hum came from her lips as she wiggled her toes against his fingers.
"Mmm...magic hands, Miller...magic hands..."
"Not the first time I've heard you say that" He smirked.
She snorted and rolled her eyes at him knowing full well he was correct. She had told him that many a time.
Once he had lulled her into a relaxed enough state with his foot massage that he could see her eyelids becoming heavy, Nick shifted closer and slid his other arm around Jess's waist, standing up carefully and taking her with him. She moaned feebly with disappointment at being removed from her warm snuggle spot on the cushions and wriggled slightly in his grip to try and get him to put her back down.
"Nuh-uh." he shook his head with a chuckle "You need some rest, you're exhausted...time for my girls to go to bed!"
"For the last time, Nicholas - it's too early to know the gender!"
"Maybe for you. Maybe for the Doctors...but, trust me. I know your body better than anyone and I'm telling ya - that's my little girl in there." He gave her such a full, warm, beaming smile as he walked them to the staircase that she couldn't help but reciprocate, and gave a little nod to let him have this one. They'll find out soon enough, but secretly she was really hoping he was right. As he went up the first couple of steps, Nick took a second to adjust his footing and steady himself and his precious cargo.
"Honestly, you can put me down now. I'm capable of walking up them by myself!"
"No, no. Let me do this for you while I still can, Jessica. Because pretty soon you're going to be HUGE!"
"Nick!" She slapped him on the chest and his laughter filled her ears and her heart simultaneously.
"Like, really big...a total heifer, for sure"
"I hate you..." She pouted.
"I love you too, Jess..."
Nick approached the front door quietly, conscious of making sure he didn't cause any unnecessary noise. Tucking his wallet in to the back pocket of his jeans, he reached into his navy blue jacket and removed his front door key. Placing it slowly in to the lock, he turned it as gently as he could and pushed the heavy wooden door open just a crack, holding his breath for a second, daring to hope that there was silence on the other side...but, sure enough, after a slight pause he was instead met with the dulcet tones of his 8 week old daughter going hell for leather in the crying stakes. He glanced down at his watch (a platinum and rose gold number that Jess gave him as a gift on their wedding day. The back is engraved: 'And I owe it all to you...' in reference to a line from a song that holds a very special place in their hearts. Even if Nick would never admit that he knows all the words.) and noted the time: 8:37pm - right on schedule. Every night, their little bundle of joy seemed to take great pleasure in testing their ear drums to the absolute limit with her screaming between the hours of 8 and 10.
Stepping into the hallway, Nick set down his keys and shrugged off his jacket, hanging it up next to Jess's. He rubbed the heels of his hands hard against his eyes in a bid to shift the tiredness that now settled there constantly, stretched his arms up over his head, and yawned loudly as he headed towards the noise. He dodged two piles of clean, folded laundry on the floor and an overflowing basket of dirty laundry stacked by the entrance into the living area then nearly tripped on a couple of discarded baby toys strewn to the right of the giant play-mat that was now a permanent fixture within the room, but managed to keep himself from cursing - Jess had insisted they try not to cuss around the baby - he tried super hard, but sometimes they just came out before he could catch them so this one was rather impressive and he gave himself a mental pat on the back for that. Jess turned around at the noise and her face displayed a look that was a mix of surprise, relief, and desperation as she gently bounced their little girl up and down on her shoulder whilst repeating long, drawn out shushing noises. Nick curled his lips over his teeth and raised his brows slightly at her "Bad day, huh?"
"You're home early - thank god! I can't even begin to explain my day...I just don't know what's wrong, Nick." She rubbed small circles on the baby's back and bobbed closer towards him from her position in front of the kitchen. "She cried, so I fed her. But she cried some more, so I burped her. Still she cried, so I tried to get her to sleep - but apparently that isn't what she wanted either...I put her down on her mat and she REALLY cried...repeat process times one hundred throughout the day...so now I'm bobbing and swaying and shushing...and none of it is working. None of it..." Jess's voice cracked with frustration. Nick could see she was close to tears and completely exhausted.
He reached a hand across her shoulder to the skin on the back of her neck, stroking softly with his thumb and bringing her in close to him so he could plant a kiss on the top of her head, the pair of them sighing heavily in unison before he bent down to place a kiss on his daughter's head so as not to leave her out. Glancing to the right, he caught sight of the growing stack of dirty dishes by the sink and Jess followed his gaze "Ugh, sorry, I'll get to that..."
"It really doesn't matter, you've had your hands full. We can just eat dinner off those paper plates or something..." Nick chuckled, waving an arm dismissively in the direction of the kitchen.
"Oh yeah, about dinner...I kinda haven't gotten around to that either..."
He gave her a faked look of outrage before looking down at his stomach and patting it with both hands, tilting his head to one side "Well I guess you kinda did me a favour. I could stand to lose a few pounds, so, every cloud! I'm gonna go and get changed, a barrel split and I literally smell like a brewery right now."
"I quite like it, but ok! I need to feed this little monkey anyway." Jess spoke loudly as the crying kicked up a notch then took herself off to the couch as Nick jogged upstairs.
Fifteen minutes later, Nick returned to the living area where Jess was once again stood swaying with the baby, patting her back and urging her to bring up a burp. She must have swayed a little too hard because instead of bringing up wind, their little girl deposited milky vomit all across Jess's shoulder, causing her to throw her head back in defeat and give a wry laugh. Of course she was covered in baby sick. Of course. Because her day hadn't been hard enough, clearly. She felt Nick sidle up beside her and reach over to take the tiny bundle from Jess's arms, balancing her in the crook of his elbow as the screaming jiggled her little body and reddened her cherubic cheeks.
"It's ok, Nick - I can take her. You've been at work all day, you need to go eat"
"Have you eaten?"
"Well, no, not really but_"
"I rest my case."
"Jessica. You don't have to do this on your own - I'm her father, you need to allow me to help."
"I know, I just..."
"I got this." he said firmly, shifting his daughter up on to his shoulder and drawing out a tiny little burp, momentarily silencing her cries "See!" He laughed and Jess looked at him in open mouthed disbelief.
"I've been trying to get her to do that all damn day!"
Nick raised an arm in victory, bringing it down to cup Jess's face and draw her mouth up to his so he could kiss her repeatedly "Now, go relax and have a bath. I love you, but you're covered in sick, and it's gross..." he murmured against her lips with a smile.
Jess slapped him on the backside and headed off upstairs, the sounds of crying starting up again as she reached the top. She paused on the landing, resting her hand on the railings and smiling as she took a second to listen to Nick's attempt at singing 'Twinkle, Twinkle, little star' in his deep, gravelly voice. It was almost sexy...almost.
Walking towards the bathroom, she noted the light was still on and rolled her eyes - Nick never remembered to turn the darn thing off - but as she got closer she realised it was on purpose. Pushing the door all the way open, she found the biggest, bubbliest bath already drawn and waiting for her. He'd even lit some of her scented candles that bothered him so much ('If you want the room to smell of lilies, Jessica - just buy some damn lilies!') and he had a fresh pair of flannel PJ's hanging up ready for her next to her pink robe. Jess felt the happy tears prick at the backs of her eyes at his adorable gesture and made a mental note never to moan at him about leaving the light on again.
Jess tied up her robe and stepped out of the bathroom, scraping her damp hair up out of her face and into a messy bun. A few strands escaped and tickled the sides of her face, but she didn't have the energy to re-do it so she shrugged and padded down the hall. Her eyes widened when she saw the clock - it was 9:45pm and she had been in the bathroom for almost an hour! Feeling slightly unnerved by the silence from downstairs, Jess hurried down the staircase. Passing the kitchen, she noticed the pile of dishes were now sparkling clean and stacked ready to put away. The dirty laundry from the basket was currently spinning away in the washing machine, and the floor was decidedly clear from baby toys and the other miscellaneous items that had previously resided there. "That man is a damned Saint..." she whispered to herself as she walked into the living area to be struck by the most beautiful sight her eyes had ever encountered: Nick was resting on the couch, one leg up on the coffee table, head leaning back against the cushions fast asleep. There was a blanket carefully draped over his lap and more cushions propped up against his sides to support his arms which safely cradled their tiny, perfect, daughter on his chest where she had finally succumbed to the slumber she desperately needed. Her bare little legs were tucked up against him like a frog, she had one hand with fingers splayed over his heart and the other curled in a fist under her chin. Her delicate little mouth hung open as her face snuggled right in to him. Jess bought her hands up to her face and let out a little gasp. Her heart swelled in her chest with love for these two people that had become her entire world. Everything had changed since the baby arrived. More than they could have expected. They were permanently exhausted, the house was a mess, some days they were like ships passing in the night and were barely able to share more than a few sentences with one another...but right now, in this moment, Jess was certain she had never felt happier or more content in her entire life.
Tiptoeing over to the couch, Jess gently lowered herself down next to Nick and tucked her knees up under her as she rested her head on the other side of his chest. Sensing her weight against him, Nick reached an arm over her head and around her shoulder, allowing Jess even closer.
"Hey..." He whispered in a voice laced with sleep.
"Hey" She replied as she stroked the downy hair of their little girl's head, unable to take her eyes from the beautiful specimen they created together "I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to be gone that long. I lost track of time."
"It's fine, we didn't miss you..." Nick joked and she prodded him lightly in the ribs, making him yelp and move suddenly, causing a little squeak to come from the baby. Jess gently scooped her up and wrapped her in a comforter before laying her in the Moses basket next to the couch where her little eyes fluttered closed once more. Returning to her spot next to Nick, Jess ran a hand across his chest and up to rest on his cheek.
"Thank you, Nick...for tonight. That was just what I needed to recharge"
"You're welcome. We enjoyed some Daddy/Daughter time so it was all good. I think she's even starting to like my singing..."
Jess snorted but redeemed herself by planting a big kiss on his mouth before he had time to pretend to be insulted.
"I'm sorry about dinner. Did you want me to get you something now?"
"I ordered take-out...should be here in, ooh, seven minutes."
Jess did an exaggerated fist pump of celebration and giggled excitedly as she stretched her legs out across his lap.
"You really are a prince among men, Nicholas..."
Jess awoke with a start, taking a moment to let her eyes adjust in the darkness. She squinted at the clock to her left that was casting a dim red glow across the covers: 7:25pm. Bringing both hands up to her head, she slowly rubbed her temples and groaned loudly at the heavy thumping she could feel there. She blinked a few times and slowly rolled over, noticing her pillow was soaked in sweat. 'Gross!' she thought, before realising it was her sweat. The cold, damp hair sticking to the back of her neck confirmed this, and she grimaced at the sensation. Pulling the quilt up over her shoulders, the shivering set in and caused her teeth to chatter in her jaw. Jess knew she was in her own bedroom...but had absolutely no recollection of how she came to be there. None.
Flipping her pillow over to the clean, dry side, she furrowed her brow and buried her face against it, trying hard to recall the events of earlier that day. Her memory was distinctly fuzzy at first, but snippets of her morning started to reappear and she was able to begin piecing them together. Jess remembered forcing herself out of bed when the alarm went off at 5:30am. It had been a struggle, because she was aching from head to toe, but she had no choice to stay in bed - the kids needed waking up and getting ready for school, and Nick wasn't back from his trip until tomorrow. She'd found some painkillers in the medicine cabinet and forced them down with juice while the children ate breakfast, willing the dull, heavy pain sitting above her right eye to disappear. She didn't eat, she couldn't face anything - but made a mental note to try and grab something at her desk once she was at work. Jess recalled having to open all of her office windows by mid-morning because she was burning up. Her cheeks were flushed and clammy and if she was honest with herself, she knew she was too ill to be at the school. But, hey...she was there now, so she may as well muddle on through the day like usual, right?
She could remember deciding to go on an early lunch with the notion of trying to take a power nap in her car, but it all went a bit squiffy round the edges after leaving the school building, and Jess was drawing a complete blank on what had happened next. Suddenly, she sat bolt upright in her bed.
The kids had needed picking up from school!
Oh my god, what was she going to tell the teacher? They'd probably already reported her to social services for abandonment and she clearly only had mere moments left before the police arrived knocking at her door to cart her off to jail. Shit. She flung back the comforter with as much strength as she could muster (which was not a lot), and couldn't help but notice she was wearing pyjamas. Did she forget to get dressed this morning? Had she worn her blue polka dot PJ's to school?! Well, she was bound to have been fired over that. Great, so now she had no job AND she was going to jail.
Feeling her temperature rising and the heat sweeping through her body, Jess braced her hands on the edge of the bed and carefully got to her feet. She needed some air. Taking small, shaky steps, she was able to shimmy to her bedroom door. Curling her fingers over the metal doorknob, she paused for a moment to appreciate the cool feel of it under her fingers and rested her forehead on the door. The effort of getting to the other side of her bedroom had left her heart pounding against her ribcage, and she needed to take a few deep breaths before being able to stand upright by herself again. Jess opened the door slowly, wincing at the light that streamed in from the lamp on the landing. Stepping out of her room, she scrunched up her eyes as they struggled with the brighter atmosphere in the hallway. Keeping her right hand pressed on the wall, she took a few steps towards the bathroom and happened to glance down to see a pair of brown suede shoes that had been aimlessly kicked off and half-heartedly shoved to one side. They looked like Nick's. They were certainly lying there in the characteristically haphazard way she was used to seeing from him. Jess stopped where she was standing and leaned with her back to the wall, she then actually did that thing she saw people do on tv all the time that she had always thought was ridiculously stupid - she pinched herself to see if she was dreaming. Literally took the thumb and forefinger of her left hand and gave a hard pinch at the skin of her right forearm. She wasn't entirely sure how that was meant to prove anything. I mean, she felt it...and it hurt a little, so she wasn't dreaming - that's the general idea, right? Frowning and giving her shoulders a little shrug, she turned her head to look up the hall in the direction his shoes were pointing in, and could see the door to the kids bedroom was ajar, a slither of light beaming across the carpet through the gap. Straining her ears, she took another couple of steps closer until she could hear the girls chattering away together, and the unmistakable Chicago accent of one Nicholas Miller. What was he doing home?! Feeling a little like a child creeping out of her room past her bedtime, Jess tiptoed up the hallway until she was near enough to peak through the gap in the hinge of the door, but not near enough to be seen herself.
She smiled broadly as she heard their little chorus of laughter, seeing Nick's arms swinging down to tickle them, and then watching the kids tag-teaming him. The eldest jumping on his back and throwing her arms around his neck, hands reaching forward to try and cover his eyes. He played along (as always) and pretended he couldn't see where he was going. Bumping into furniture and yelping before the smallest of the Miller clan stood on his foot and wrapped both her arms around one of his legs tightly, so that when he stepped forward, she was carried along with him. All three of them then ended up on the floor in a giggling heap.
"OK, OK, I give! You win!" Nick surrendered, arms waving above his head in defeat as their oldest daughter placed a foot on his chest and pumped her arms in victory.
"Daddy lose!" The youngest proclaimed, running in a circle around him "We win, we win!"
"Alright, nobody likes a show off..." He laughed as he got to his feet and scooped them both up into his arms as they squealed and tried to get away "...now it's definitely time for bed!"
They protested lightly, but scooted under the covers of their beds as he set them down and yawned in unison. Jess loved that little noise.
"Goodnight my little superheroes..."
"Daddy, wait! Mommy always tells us a story before bed!" The eldest sat up, fixing him with blue eyes as her dark curls flopped around her chin.
"Yeah, Mommy like stories!" The little one nodded enthusiastically, her dark brown eyes a perfect copy of his own and shining with expectation.
Nick pursed his lips and thought for a moment, glancing over his shoulder, then pulled a little stool across so it was positioned between their beds and sat down with his hands clasped together.
"Ok. You want a story? I'll tell ya my favourite one of all...Once upon a time there lived a fair maiden with eyes as big as the moon. She ran away from an evil, slimy serpent called Spencer and ended up across the town where she met a lowly innkeeper and his two village idiot friends..."
Jess had to stifle the laugh that bubbled up from her chest as she realised he was about to tell their children a bedtime story about how they had met.
"...the fair maiden needed a place to rest her weary head, and as luck would have it, the innkeeper and his pals had a spare room. As she entered their lives and strolled in to their home, who should be there but Cupid - and he shot his arrow right through the innkeepers chest, making him fall in love immediately. Now, the fair maiden did not feel the same way - in fact, it was pretty clear she found these men smelly and annoying. But, she grew to enjoy their company quickly and pretty soon they were like a little family. She and the innkeeper began to spend more time together, and the innkeeper wondered if maybe the fair maiden might one day feel the same about him - but his dreams were thwarted by a giant named Sam, who burst in to their lives out of the blue and swept the fair maiden off of her feet with his super long arms. This made the innkeeper sad, until one day, he could hide it no more and he gave her a perfect fairytale kiss. Unfortunately, the giant found out about this and he punched the innkeeper...but the innkeeper fought back and won the heart of the fair maiden."
"Is that the end?" Asked the oldest daughter.
"Oh sweet child, that was just the beginning!" Nick laughed and Jess leant against the doorframe, resting her head on the wall and closing her eyes to listen to the rest of his tale with a smile spanning from ear to ear.
"So, the innkeeper and the fair maiden fell deeply in love. She filled his world with sunshine and illuminated his life. It was like magic. They were inseparable, and they loved each other more than anyone in the entire world. Unfortunately, an evil curse by the name of 'True American' came to ruin their perfect lives and the aftermath caused them to stumble in to the biggest mistake they would ever make, forcing them to go their separate ways and carry heartbreak around with them like a heavy stone"
"No, Daddy!" The little one cried sadly.
"I'm afraid so, girls. The fair maiden and the innkeeper moved on with their lives although neither one of them was truly happy. They still lived in the same home though, and the fair maiden kept the innkeeper and his friends heading in the right direction, even though they didn't always know it. She was so wonderful like that - she took care of everyone all the time, except maybe herself. One day, the fair maiden was called up by the King to go and help him at his castle. He needed her assistance to decide if some crooks should be thrown in the dungeon, and she would be gone for many weeks. The innkeeper didn't know what to do without her. He had no compass to guide him now, so he lost his way on the path he was taking and ended up so far away from her that the brightness disappeared from his surroundings. He tried to fix it by finding another lady to lead him, but he did not choose wisely. The fair maiden returned to the house, but things had changed. The innkeeper became very sad down the road he had taken and missed the fair maiden terribly. There was no light...without her, his world was full of a darkness so black, he couldn't even see what was right in front of him."
"How did he get back?"
"Well, he realised something. It took him a while, but he finally figured it out."
"What? What?" The youngest whispered.
"He realised that she was his light. The fair maiden. And that even in the darkest of nights, no matter how far off course he had gotten - he would always able to find his way back home because of her."
"So did he? Did he go back?"
"Of course. She was totally the kind of fair maiden an innkeeper would go back for..."
"And did they live happily ever after, Daddy?" The oldest girl clasped her hands together across her heart. Nick smiled and nodded his head.
"So far, so good kiddo...so far, so good..."
Jess felt her breath catch in her chest at his words and a tear escaped her eye, rolling down her cheek before she could swipe it away. She heard him say goodnight and tuck the children in, then realised she needed to move away from the door otherwise he would know she had been stood there listening to him the whole time. She padded back towards their bedroom, but felt suddenly light-headed and had to pause to steady herself. Hearing him approach, she bit her lip.
"Jessica - what are you doing out here?"
She turned to face him with a look like a deer caught in the headlights. He was still dressed in his smart clothes - he'd been away for days on a business trip about the second instalment of The Pepperwood Chronicles - and his scruff was looking perfect. It might just be the fever coursing through her veins, but he almost seemed to have a glowing aura around him right now. Jess gave him a dopey grin and shook her head, seemingly unable to speak.
"You need to be in bed, honey - you have the flu" Nick spoke softly and reached out to stroke a finger down the side of her face. She melted in to his touch with a sigh. "I missed you" she managed to murmur, just loud enough for him to hear.
"I missed you too" He placed his lips against her forehead but drew back quickly "Jess, you are burning up, let's get you back to bed."
Steering her through the door and in to their room, he eased her down on to the mattress and bought her legs up under the comforter, which she promptly kicked off.
"I'm too hot..." Jess moaned and Nick reached over to her nightstand to retrieve the cool flannel he had placed there earlier in the day.
"This should help."
"Ohhhhh, that feels so good!" She smiled and closed her eyes, feeling the exhaustion creeping in from her little excursion down the hall and making her limbs heavy. She sighed and let her head bury in to her pillow, then became aware of Nick's retreating presence.
"Don't go..." Jess pleaded, reaching an arm blindly in his direction. "Sit with me...Please?"
"You need to rest, Jessica. You gave us all a bit of a scare." He approached the bed again and perched next to her, holding her hand in his and tracing his thumb across the skin of her palm.
"I...I don't remember what happened Nick. After this morning, at school...it's all blank."
"Well, you passed out on the way to your car_"
"Yup. Blacked out. Fainted. Hit the deck. So your head might feel a little sore..."
"Oh, well, that explains that one. But, I don't understand. How did I get home? How did you get here?"
"The school called me. Obviously I was too far away to help right away, so I called Cece who came to your rescue and bought you home. Got you changed, put you to bed..."
"That woman truly is the angel Schmidt always refers to her as..." she laughed "...and the girls? I was so worried they'd been left at the school gates and that I was going to go to jail..."
Nick chuckled softly and placed his hand on her pyjama clad thigh "No, I can safely say that will not be the case. I called Uncle Winnie and asked him for a favour. The girls loved getting a ride home in his patrol car...hopefully that's the only time I'll be saying that, though!"
"But you...your trip? Why did you come back?"
"I cancelled my last meeting. I've rearranged to meet the publisher again next week. It's fine, don't worry."
"I'm sorry, Nick. I know that meeting was important."
"Shhh..." He gently placed his finger on her lips, letting it linger there for a moment as he looked at her all small and vulnerable curled up in their bed. Jess never got sick. Ever. They always used to joke she'd be the last one standing if there was ever some kind of apocalypse due to her unwavering and impenetrable immune system. But this one had knocked her for six and it had unnerved him seeing her like that "...you are way more important to me, Jessica. Way more. Get some sleep, I'll be up again later."
Nick bought her hand to his mouth and kissed the back of it before standing and heading for the door. As he was closing it behind him, he heard her faint voice emerge from the darkness like a tiny ray of sunshine.
"We really did find our happy ever after, huh, Miller..."
He smiled to himself. He'd known she was outside the door the whole time earlier - Jess was terrible at creeping up on people, and he always had some kind of sixth sense alerting him to her presence when she was nearby. Holding the door handle with one hand, he rested his other on the wood of the frame and leant back in to the room ever so slightly.
'So far, so good, kid...so far, so good..."
"Sometimes words just ain't enough
For this love that's more than love..."