A/N Still disappointed that moments that really meant something between Natalie and Adrian on the show never went anywhere. So I continue to write my own. So there! Of course, I own nothing except my A/N shipper heart.


Adrian

Adrian Monk detested weddings. They usually made him sad and depressed. But on this day, this warm June evening, he made an exception. He got dressed, shot his cuffs, straightened his tie, and headed into the living room to meet his "date." He'd agreed to go to this wedding only because the people getting married meant a lot to him. He had an interesting history with the groom, mainly. And only because Natalie had agreed to go with him as his date. His invitation had indicated he should bring a date. There was no one on Earth he would rather have by his side, and not just because he paid her to be there. His heart raced when he thought of Natalie waiting in the other room.

He stopped short when he glimpsed her long, lean legs disappearing under the skirt of her classy but somehow still alluring black cocktail dress. She was standing near the fireplace, back to him. Her feet were encased in sky-high, strappy black heels, making those legs even sexier than they always seemed to him. He was immediately turned on. For so many years, he'd lied to himself or ignored Natalie's many charms. Now she, and her charms were all he could think about when they weren't working. Or when they were working. Or when he should be sleeping. He was going to drive himself to drink with thoughts of her. For a man who didn't drink, that was a giant imaginary leap.

He knew this charade of them being coworkers and best friends was wearing on him. He wondered how she felt. He often caught her looking at him in a particular way that was way more than the empathy of years gone by and far different than the original look of patient exasperation she often favored him with when they began their time together. He believed she was feeling the same way he was. Leland had alluded to it, as had Dr. Bell, Randy, Sharona, and every other person they knew until Monk started believing it himself. He was amazed, astonished, confused, and nervous around her all the time now. Everything she said and did had taken on a double meaning. And for a human to whom double entendre was ordinarily a thing that passed him by, he sure was starting to get it.

The bigger question now was, how to bring it up? When would be the right time? Certainly not while they were working! While they were making a meal together? No, too many risks involving knives. While they were driving? No, she could cause an accident from the shock. When? Was he ready today? At the wedding? It would be a romantic setting. There would be music. She liked music. Was it rude to tell the woman you loved that you loved her for the first time at someone else's wedding?

He pondered this as he stepped into the living room, and Natalie turned to look at him. She took in a sharp breath. "Oh! Don't you look handsome!" she exclaimed as she laid one hand gently on his chest, as she'd done dozens of times over the past ten years. Her smile was genuine and so pretty. Her makeup was a little more dramatic this evening. She was stunning no matter what, but her beauty was particularly noteworthy tonight.

"Thank you, Natalie. May I be the first to say you look very beautiful tonight." It came out without him thinking about it. She blushed prettily and lowered her eyes bashfully.

"Thank you, Mr. Monk."

Natalie, since you're my 'date,'" he even made the air quotes, "tonight, don't you think you could call me Adrian?"

She stared into his eyes for a fraction of a second which was too long to be genuinely comfortable. "Um. Yes. I could. If that's what you would like."

"Yes, we're being social. Let's be a little more casual."

She looked at him again and frowned for a moment. Then, she smiled brightly and said, "Alright, you're the boss...or...ah... the date, Adrian!"

He smiled back at her sincerely, while inside, he had melted into a puddle when she smiled like that at him and then said his name.

Natalie

Natalie contemplated the picture on the mantle very seriously. It had arrived there without ceremony or comment fairly recently. It was a photo of the two of them from his fiftieth birthday party last year. If she had to guess, it was Randy who had taken it. They were dancing and smiling at one another in a way that made her heart skip a beat each time she looked at it, set in its prominent place in his home. Near the picture from Christmas years ago with Julie and the two of them, but more importantly, near the photographs of Trudy. The sacred shrine to Trudy. The venerated, immovable, unchanging shrine to his long-dead wife. Natalie tried as always to stifle the combination of anger, jealousy, and hopelessness that those thoughts stirred in her heart. Those kinds of thoughts were both unbecoming and unlike her. She didn't like herself for being angry at or jealous of a dead woman—but she knew she was when she was honest with herself.

Every damn day that passed, she knew the unalterable nature of her feelings for Adrian Monk grew more profound and the sheer hopelessness of her torch-carrying more irreversible. He would never view her as anything but a friend, a helper, one of the guys. But her heart yearned, and it wouldn't be stopped. But it would be denied. There was simply nothing she could do about it.

She turned as he entered the room. She caught her breath as he came into view. It was a sharp breath, and she knew he'd heard it. Damn it. She smoothed the skirt on her vintage-inspired black cocktail dress. She loved the dress. The saleswoman had said she looked like Audrey Hepburn with blonde hair. She covered her sharp breath with a flurry of words. "Oh! Don't you look handsome!" She laid one hand possessively on his chest, as she'd done dozens of times over the past ten years, hoping he'd get the message this time. She was staking her claim. Her smile widened as she felt his heartbeat steady and strong under her hand. How she'd like to feel his heart race under her hand.

"Thank you, Natalie. May I be the first to say you look very beautiful tonight." Wow! He noticed and commented. That was unusual! She felt her cheeks flame, and she looked towards the floor in what she hoped was a modest and demure way.

"Thank you, Mr. Monk."

Natalie, since you're my 'date,'" he actually made the air quotes, "tonight, don't you think you could call me Adrian?"

She stared into his eyes for a fraction of a second that was too long to be truly demure. "Um. Yes. I could. If that's what you would like."

"Yes, we're being social. Let's be a little more casual."

She looked at him again and frowned for a moment. Was he trying to flirt? Then, she smiled brightly and said, "Alright, you're the boss... or...ah... the date, Adrian!" She stuttered a little there. Damn it.

He smiled back at her, genuinely; she melted into a puddle inside when he smiled like that at her.

Adrian

They drove along the hills of San Francisco without much effort. They'd done this hundreds of times in the last ten years. The only difference was that he was the one driving today. They drove in companionable silence, as the silences between them always were. He peeked glances at her patrician profile, her long, lean legs, and her delicate hands resting on her tiny handbag. He wondered what was going on behind her pretty green eyes. They arrived at The Merchants Exchange Building on California Street and left his car with the valet. They took the elevator to the fifteenth floor to the Julia Morgan Ballroom. Adrian cursed many things over that five minutes. Leaving his car in the hands of a stranger, taking an elevator, and the fact that he would be spending the next six or seven hours on an odd-numbered floor. However, one thing he did not curse was the view next to him. The blonde version of Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina. She was like sunshine on a cloudy day, so perfect and warm. Graceful and charming. He reached for her hand without thinking and clasped it in his much larger hand. She probably thought it was the elevator fear that made his palm sweat a little; she had no way of knowing it was her scent and her nearness. She looked at him with kindness and understanding.

Natalie

Surprise illuminated her face when he reached for her hand, but when she felt how clammy it was, she realized it was just the elevator making him nervous and uptight. She squeezed his hand and sent him a look that she hoped was kind and comforting. Just touching him, even like this, where he initiated it, sent fireworks shooting through her veins. At last, the elevator opened onto the fifteenth floor, and when she realized that the uneven number was also driving him crazy, she smiled. He'd forget that after a while. If she was good at anything, it was distracting him.

Meanwhile, she looked around as they stepped forward. The ballroom combined a timeless Beaux-Arts interior with historic significance, breathtaking details, amazing views of the city and the bay, earning its top-tier spot among San Francisco's elite wedding venues, party venues, and banquet halls. She was excited for tonight. People were getting married. It was romantic and fanciful, and maybe a little of the magic might just rub off on them. They found their way to the room doubling as a ceremony site; neither the bride nor groom had religious affiliations with a synagogue. Like us, Natalie thought as she looked at Adrian, who by now had dropped her hand and was examining the architecture, the artwork, and looking, it seemed, anywhere but at her. He had no particular interest in religion except as an abstract concept and how it could relate to crime, and now the man who knew something about everything studied the space. She had lost any interest she'd had in religion when Mitch had died and had raised Julie to be an agnostic as well.

She saw Leland and TK waving from seats a few rows from the front, and Natalie grabbed Adrian by the arm and pulled him towards their friends. The Stottlemeyers moved in and gave Natalie and Adrian the two outer seats so Adrian could be on the aisle. TK leaned over Leland and handed Natalie her camera, "Get some good pictures for me as she comes down the aisle, okay?"

"Will do!" Natalie took the camera carefully and mock-saluted TK. They laughed happily. Excited to be there. Coincidentally, TK worked with the bride's mother. So they'd been happy to find they would all be at this party together.

With quiet confidence, the groom stepped to the front of the room, his cousin, the best man, beside him. The groom winked at Adrian, and he smiled in return. Adrian whispered, "He looks so happy."

Natalie nodded at Adrian's observation. Troy Kroger, the groom, had just graduated from Stanford and was getting married before he and his bride went east to medical school in August. They had a long road ahead of them, but upon meeting Troy's fiancée, Natalie felt they had the same thing that she and Mitch had when they were very young, that special spark that could make it through the hard times. As they waited for the ceremony to begin, Natalie ruminated on that now and wondered if he were alive today, would she and Mitch have "gone the distance." How different her life would have been. Their twenty-second anniversary would have been in the coming year. But, unfortunately, there was no way to know what could have or should have been. There was only today. She looked at the man to her left and decided that today would be a good day. It would be the day she changed her life again… and his too. Wouldn't that be romantic? Was it a crime to confess your feelings at someone else's wedding? A wedding as the scene of the, uh, crime.

Adrian

Troy looked so mature and happy. Very unlike the angry young man who had tricked him and Natalie into helping him find what he and his friends thought was a buried treasure. If only his father could have been here. That thought inevitably led to others. If only Charles Kroger could be alive. He could tell me what to do about Natalie—how to talk to her. Wait, that was selfish. Especially today. He had to be more considerate of others. She'd never love him if he reverted to his old ways. Adrian went on thinking about what Dr. Kroger would say if he were alive. Sometimes that helped him piece together a plan of action. Dr. Kroger prompted him to think more deeply or more broadly about his fears and issues. Dr. Bell was more of a storyteller, a man of parable. Dr. Kroger had been more of a listener, letting Adrian come to his own conclusions. They were both excellent doctors, just with different approaches. Once he got used to Dr. Bell, he came to appreciate his technique.

Adrian was deep in thought until Natalie had to prod him gently to stand for the bride's walk down the aisle. The maid of honor had already sailed past while he was lost in thoughts of Dr. Kroger and his Natalie dilemma. Was it a dilemma, or was it just fear of the unknown? Obviously, it was fear, pure and simple. He knew it. He sighed silently as he watched Jenny, the lovely girl Troy was marrying, approach with both her father and mother in the Jewish tradition. Natalie leaned against and around him to take pictures with TK's camera.

The jolt of desire Natalie's body against his had produced was shocking yet welcome. The recognition of desire made him both happy and nervous. He hadn't forgotten how to be a man. It just hadn't been a need he acknowledged until now. He held onto her so she wouldn't fall over into the aisle. One hand on her arm, one hand on her waist. More nudges of desire and protectiveness. One or both of them had been clumsy or had silly incidents in the past—looking back at them, they could laugh—but they had sometimes been foolish and occasionally foolhardy in the moment. So, he'd often held her, touched her, rescued her over the years. And vice versa. Although her rescues ran more to saving him emotionally. One or both of them had endangered their lives over a case and sometimes gotten hurt, or in a jam or in a precarious situation in the years they'd been together. He always wanted her to be safe, ever since that very first time that she'd nearly been killed because of a case—in the back of a dump truck. He mentally shook off the bad memory—that had been so long ago. A decade. Life had changed so much for both of them in the days between then and now. And as Natalie moved back to her seat and further brushed against him, the twinkle in her eye that he caught as she sat and faced forward was very sparkly and a little more flirty than he'd have expected. What was going through her mind at their contact?

Natalie

When she unwound herself from around Adrian, Natalie saw his Adam's apple bounce up and down a few times. He was nervous. She'd deliberately made contact to see how he'd react, with no idea why she'd decided to be so… frisky… today. But watching a twenty-two-year-old boy... Yes, boy! Getting married and moving forward may have been the impetus. She was tired of the stand-still her own life had come to and wanted an answer to her persistent and endless feelings about Adrian and where she stood with him. Or maybe where he stood with her… she knew how she felt. Adrian's hands on her made her feel secure, cared for. Perhaps she did it because the couple also reminded her so strongly of her wedding to Mitch. So impossibly young and in love. Ready to take on the world and its problems just to be together. She missed being one-half of a pair. For now, she turned her attention to the beautiful couple being married by a rabbi in the front of the room. She looked over at Adrian when they got to the "until death do us part" section of the vows and patted his knee, leaving her hand as a comfort and a reminder that she was there. She offered him a smile of commiseration and understanding. He shut his eyes momentarily and breathed deeply. When he opened them, Natalie was unable to interpret his expression. Then, surprisingly, he covered her hand with his own, tucked his fingers around hers, and turned back to the ceremony. Their hands stayed that way on his knee until they rose to watch the newlyweds retreat down the aisle.

Adrian

In the beginning, Natalie's touch had been odd and unsettling. No one on Earth had ever touched him as much as she did, not even Trudy, but after a while, he got used to it. He understood it to be a communication tool. A language without words. He readily found comfort in her touch, in her taps and touches and cutesy fake punches and tickles and pokes. The variety of touches she employed to motivate, distract, entertain, and assist him were almost endless. At this point, he looked for them and desired them. Like this afternoon before they left—how she'd laid her hand on his chest. That feeling had been exhilarating and exciting. She often employed that particular touch to express her pride, gratitude or to stop him from moving or making a mistake. What would that soft, gentle hand feel like on his bare skin? A thrill of fear and fever coursed through his body at the idea of it. He wanted it very badly. While he mused, the bride and groom disappeared to sign their marriage certificate and take photos as the guests milled about the cocktail hour.

They conversed with Leland and TK and Madeline, Troy's stepmother, and some random guests as they stood at the bar and various food stations. Well, at least Natalie made conversation; Adrian occasionally lost the thread of it when his mind wandered to the words "'til death do us part." He acknowledged just recently to Dr. Bell that for all the years that Trudy's murder had gone unsolved, he had been purposely resisting "the parting" that is part of death. He had not wanted to permit it, felt that somehow any healing, any movement away from grief would be a betrayal, a kind of infidelity. Intellectually, he knew that was foolish, but the heart and the intellect are often strangers. Parting requires more than absence. It requires acceptance. And it comes in segments, surprising you, throwing you off balance. Just when you accept that there will never be any more of this, you are suddenly reminded that there will also never be more of that, and that, and that. And so it goes, month after month, the perpetual parting. Every moment you shared together has to be parted with, let go… there seems to be no end to the discoveries of what death has taken from you, what you must reconcile yourself to be parted from, to do without. The only person he'd ever mentioned this to, described this to, outside of therapy, had, of course, been Natalie. She'd understood him instantaneously. It felt so good to not have to explain himself, which even with Dr. Bell, he'd had to expand on his point somewhat. He remembered the hug they'd shared after that particular conversation. It might have been then that the ice wall around his heart had started to melt.

Natalie

She watched him zone in and out of the multiple conversations they'd been a part of since the ceremony. As they made their way through the ballroom to Table 10, Troy and Jenny were nothing if not kind. Natalie placed her hand on his back. Adrian tensed for a fleeting moment in the crowd and then relaxed and moved closer to her. She wondered what was going on in his head. He hadn't been himself since the mention of death during the ceremony. He was obviously lost in thought. Possibly about Trudy. He did have a bit of a dreamy look on his face, but today it was mixed with steely-eyed determination. He pulled out a chair for her and seated himself at her side. Leland and TK joined them moments later.

The foursome was drinking and chatting as they awaited the introduction of the bride and groom. The band was playing softly as the guests filtered in from the cocktail party. Natalie was sipping malbec. Adrian had a bottle of Sierra Springs untouched in front of him. TK had a glass of prosecco, and Leland had a glass of Johnnie Walker Blue on the rocks. Two other couples joined them, and introductions were made. Natalie, of course, switched seats with Adrian immediately, so he didn't have to sit next to a stranger, thus began several minutes of him changing and straightening their utensils, plates, and other paraphernalia. He then asked Leland and TK to switch seats so they would be "boy-girl-boy-girl" again and offered to swap their utensils and plates, which they declined. The two new couples looked at him like he was bananas, especially when he pointed and directed them to seats so his pattern wouldn't be broken. Natalie, TK, and Leland just kept up their conversation about honeymoons and other vacations and allowed Adrian to do his "thing." Once their table was set up to his liking, Adrian visibly relaxed again. So much so that he actually leaned into Natalie and listened to the tail end of the vacation conversation while leaning against her.

At last, the band played a big "Tah Dah," and everyone stood, and the parents, bridal attendants of which there were just two, and the new Mr. and Mrs. Kroger were introduced to the guests. The bridal couple danced their first dance, and a toast was made with the half-filled glasses of warm-ish champagne on the table. Even Adrian sipped a little, which surprised Natalie. He whispered in her ear, "For Dr. Kroger." She nodded in understanding and felt tears spring to her eyes. He was so sweet and thoughtful sometimes. His feelings so deep, inscrutable, and tender. They watched as the attendants, parents, and step-parents joined the happy couple on the dance floor.

Natalie swayed to the music a little, and her shoulder kept bumping into Adrian's. He was built of sturdy stuff. She often thought that when they were in a dangerous situation. But, he was strong and brave when it was called for. Lord knew what was under that suit he was wearing, but he was undoubtedly not flabby or wimpy. He'd had to go through the police academy and training, so physically, he was fit and mentally improving all the time. Ever since they'd met Ray "the Machine" Regis, he'd begun running again, a childhood sport he'd liked and was good at, and that was good for him. It allowed him to be alone and think. That helped with his work and with his mental fitness. The leaps and bounds by which he'd improved mentally in the last two years since Trudy's case had been solved were staggering. Yes, he still had his foibles, as did every human on Earth, but oh, how she wished Dr. Kroger could have been here today for this wedding and to have witnessed Adrian's improvement!

She smiled up at him and watched as he did a double-take. Thankfully his skills didn't lend themselves to mind reading. He had no idea why she was smiling at him that way.

Adrian

Good grief! What was that smile for? What had he done? She radiated an appeal from every fiber of her being that spoke to him in a way no other ever had. And every fiber of him really wanted to tell her that maybe he should find a moment and take her to one of the many terraces. They were up high but enclosed. Yet open and airy.

When Natalie and TK excused themselves for a few minutes, Leland verbally cornered Adrian.

"So…"

"So what?" The great detective replied näively.

"Are you having a good time?" Leland probed.

"As much as I ever do at these things. But I feel like I'm representing Dr. Kroger in a way, so I'm trying harder than usual, I guess." That self-awareness was a sign of his vast improvement.

Leland was quiet for a moment, observing Monk anxiously observe the doorway that Natalie and TK had disappeared through minutes before. "They will be back. It's just a trip to the ladies' room," he teased.

"I know!" Monk answered, annoyed that he'd been caught worrying about Natalie when she was away from his side, out of his sight.

"That's the only reason you're having fun? For Dr. Kroger?"

"Should there be another reason?" Adrian asked, smelling a trap, but like an ensnared rabbit, unable to get out of it.

"Should. No. But is there? Is there something else that has you smiling and talking at a social function in a way I haven't seen you do in better than twenty years?"

Adrian thought through what he wanted to say to Leland. He was literally the next best thing to Dr. Kroger sometimes, despite Dr. Bell's good intentions. He could tell him about his Natalie situation. But should he? Finally, he decided, Why not? and in a long-standing Monk habit, he blurted everything at once, completely incoherently. "Well, it's just that…I know that this will be weird… It's been so long since I… And I really have no idea if now is the right time… and if it's not, when will it be? And if she freaks out? And if I freak out? I just don't know."

Leland leaned back and contemplated his very fine, very expensive scotch. It was a very nice wedding. Years of Monk-to-English translation made him grasp immediately what his friend was going on about. He looked up at Monk and said, "Hallelujah."

Monk looked at him with a combination of scowl and confusion. "What? That's it?"

"Well, if I got everything right, you've finally admitted to yourself, and me, just now, that you have feelings of a romantic nature towards Natalie, and you're wondering if this is the time and place to tell her."

Adrian stared at him as if he were some kind of psychic. "How did you… ?"

"We've skirted this topic so many times, Monk. It is about time you've begun to think about living your life again. You've needed this for a long time. You need someone to do that with. I believe that you've finally figured out what everyone around you and Natalie figured out years ago. She's perfect for you. You're perfect for her. You know each other as thoroughly as two people ever could. You probably know each other more thoroughly than even you and Trudy did." Adrian scowled at him momentarily and then conceded his point and nodded in agreement. "You two were practically made for each other. You understand each other. You love each other. When you think of your life, your future, can you imagine it without her?"

"No. Not anymore. I can't breathe without her. Honestly."

"I know, buddy."

"I love her, Leland." He smiled tightly. He was nervous about having admitted it, to feel it.

"Don't tell me. Tell her." So advised, he looked into Leland's eyes and blinked once. He swallowed and nodded. Out of the corner of his eye, Adrian caught the two women on their way back towards them. Leland winked at him and turned towards his wife, who looked lovely in a red dress, and then smiled at Natalie, too. "Welcome back, ladies."

"We weren't gone that long, gentlemen! Did you miss us that much?" TK teased as she bent to kiss her husband.

Adrian looked into Natalie's eyes as she retook her seat, "Yes, I did."

Natalie

It was Natalie's turn to swallow with difficulty, although she'd just taken a sip of her fresh glass of malbec—snagged on a side trip to the bar on the way back to the table. The look in Adrian's eyes when he said that they'd been missed was magnetic and mystifying. The band was playing slower music between courses, and Adrian stood unexpectedly.

"Natalie, would you like to dance? With me, I mean?" Her surprise was only overshadowed by her enthusiasm at what she saw on his face. Nervous excitement?

"Yes, I would. Very much."

He pulled out her chair, took her hand, and led her to the dance floor. When they reached a spot that was to his liking, he turned to face her. He regarded her thoughtfully and placed his hand on her waist, and she placed a hand on his shoulder. Their free hands joined, and he pulled her closer to him as his hand slid from her hip to her lower back. The black silk of her dress let his hand slide easily. Tiny sparks of electricity pricked her skin as his hand moved over her body, even through the dress. She tightened her hand around his, and she felt safe and happy as being near him always made her feel. She tilted her head back and smiled up at him. He smiled back at her. A genuine, warm, loving smile. His smile lit him from the inside, and as she watched his face, she felt lit from the inside as well. The dance continued, and she laid her head on his chest. The moment she did, his head leaned on hers, his cheek on her hair, and he sighed softly, contentedly. Natalie's heart beat like the wings of a hummingbird. The song ended, and he looked down at her, a serene expression on his face.

"Another one?"

"Oh, yes!" She replied happily. Happy to be in his arms. Happy to be dancing. Simply happy for a change. The song started, and she thought that the bride and groom had eclectic but good musical sensibilities. The band went from a Santana song to Led Zeppelin's Thank You ostensibly at the couple's request. Natalie had forgotten how much she liked this song. She remembered listening to a lot of Led Zeppelin in her formative years. This particular song had been released even before she'd been born, but she'd always thought it was incredibly romantic.

If the sun refused to shine

I would still be loving you

When mountains crumble to the sea

There will still be you and me

Kind a woman, I give you my all

Kind a woman, nothing more

Adrian looked at her after the first verse, and the look on his face was indescribable. At that moment, Natalie knew. She knew her long-held back feelings were returned. It would just take saying them out loud. Acting upon them. Breathing the life into them that they deserved at last. He pulled her closer and drew her extended arm and hand into his chest. She nestled her head under his chin.

Little drops of rain, whisper of the pain

Tears of loves lost in the days gone by

My love is strong, with you there is no wrong

Together we shall go until we die, my, my, my

Inspiration's what you are to me

Inspiration, look 'n' see

Adrian

Adrian didn't know what this song was or who had sung it originally. But all he knew was it was written for them. With her in his arms, tight against his chest, her head so comfortably tucked under his chin, he felt so peaceful and happy. He had been right. Tonight was a good night to tell her how he felt. Maybe he didn't even need words at all.

And so, today my world it smiles

Your hand in mine, we walk the miles

Thanks to you, it will be done

For you to me are the only one

Alright, yeah

Happiness, no more be sad

Happiness, I'm glad

If the sun refused to shine

I would still be loving you

Mountains crumble to the sea

There will still be you and me

As the song ended, he brushed his lips against her temple and said, "Thank you, Natalie. Would you like to get some air?"

She blinked herself out of the romantic haze she was in and replied, "That would be lovely." With his hand at the small of her silk-covered back, he guided her to one of the many terraces around the ballroom. This one was empty and lit with lanterns as they found a spot to sit and take in the moonlight. They sat for a few quiet minutes. Each was too nervous to say anything at all. They just looked at the moon...and wondered what they should do. Ridiculous, Adrian thought. This is Natalie. The one person in the whole world he always felt at ease with. This should change that nervousness to ease. In fact, it should make it better…uh… easier.

Out of the blue, Natalie said, "Remember that time with Marge Johnson…You needed to apologize to her for the way you'd behaved, and I told you to 'Just speak from your heart?'"

"Yes." Where was this going?

"Well, you got angry with me when it didn't go well. But, most of the time, Adrian, when you say the words that are in your heart, it goes well."

He looked at her then, her skin luminescent, her eyes shining, her lips turned up in a smile that was just for his eyes. She was right. If he just said the words in his heart, then they'd be out. Then they wouldn't be inside him driving him crazy anymore. Of course, Natalie would be the brave one of the two of them. Of course, she would be the one who, with her emotional availability, her people-smarts, her innate kindness, sussed out what was inside of him and was willing to, without words, insinuate what was in her heart. To pave a path for him. To smooth the way as she had been doing all of these years. Now he had to speak. He had to say the words first. It was important that his feelings not be a reaction to hers but to stand on their own. He wanted her to know his love was true and real and forever.

He blushed, not just on his face. He could feel it spreading all over his body like a feverish affliction. But he turned to her on the bench they were occupying and took one of her delicate hands in both of his.

Adrian and Natalie

"Natalie. We've been together a really long time."

She laughed slightly, almost derisively. "Yes, we have." She was thinking about the beginning. Thinking about the times he had been less than kind. The stubbornness, the stupid fights. The money issues. The time he'd said, "I'd rather do male bonding with you than Leland, Natalie!" or the time he said he wasn't used to being around beautiful women. The time he blamed her for his being shot and how he treated her afterward. He'd been downright mean. Natalie stood abruptly and walked away from him then, the past catching her off guard. Making her sad at both the way they started and the years it had taken them to get to the point she thought, no, knew, they'd reached. He caught her as she reached the clear plexiglass, and despite a small bout of vertigo as he looked out, he fearlessly wrapped his arms around her from behind and kissed her temple again. Her shoulders were shaking. He turned her to face him, and tears were streaming down her cheeks.

"Natalie! What is it?"

"Nothing. I was thinking of some times in the past when I didn't like you very much. When you were less than kind to me. It shook me for a second, trying to reconcile who you were with who you are now."

"I - I don't know what to say." His mind skipped back through time then, hating himself for how he'd treated her sometimes. It was confusing, but he knew it was wrapped up in guilt for feeling anything for her while still trying to solve Trudy's murder. Not an excuse. He knew this now.

"It doesn't matter anymore. You haven't been that man in a long time."

"Natalie, I hurt you then. How can I expect you to trust me or anything I say now?"

"That was very insightful. See how much you've changed?" She asked as she swiped at her unruly tears. "You are absolutely amazing."

"I am not even close to amazing. I have been selfish, mean, difficult, hard, closed-off, and completely unlovable on more than one occasion. I know now that so much of my behavior was informed by guilt over loving you when I couldn't let go of Trudy and couldn't find her killer. I shouldn't have taken out my inner demons on you. It wasn't your fault I fell in love with you. Well, I guess, yes, it was your fault. But not in a bad way, in a good way. You did nothing wrong. You were simply your charming, beautiful, kind, helpful, warm, loving, and truly exceptional self. I was just me."

Adrian didn't even realize what he'd just said or admitted to Natalie. Her tears had stopped, and her sage-colored eyes turned from water-logged to sparkling like the stars above their heads.

"Adrian, all these years we've been together have been lessons in patience and forbearance. They've also been lessons in love. Watching you love Trudy and seeing the loyalty you had for your marriage, and your faithfulness to your vows taught me what I wanted so badly. Someone to love me that way, but of course, only you could love that much, that fiercely, that staunchly. So it was only natural that there wasn't a single man I met that could measure up to the example you set. You ruined me for other men. You ruined my life. You made me fall in love with the ultimate unattainable man." She laughed humorlessly at his expression. "I love you, Adrian. I have loved you, been in love with you, for more days and nights than I care to remember. Unfortunately, I remember every single minute of every lonely, painful night." She finally took a breath and put her face in her hands. Half embarrassed. Half relieved to have admitted her feelings at last.

Adrian raised his hand to her chin and pulled her face gently up away from her hands, so she had to look directly into his eyes. Then, fiercely he said, "Natalie, you never have to be alone again if you choose not to be. I want to be with you always. I love you, sweetheart, and all I want is to spend my days making up for the last decade and making every minute we're together happy and special."

When she looked into his eyes and saw the adoration and the blatant tenderness that he'd always reserved for someone else directed at her- Natalie couldn't help how hard her heart suddenly began to thrum and how it felt like a nervous pit had opened in her stomach. To be the object of Adrian's love and desire was the thing for which she had wished for so long that she couldn't believe that this moment wasn't a dream. It was a fantastic and amazing moment, one she'd remember as long as she lived, but one she was already pushing aside as he drew her into his arms and against his body. He looked directly into her eyes and said, "I love you, Natalie. Forever." and bent his head and met her lips with his. It was electrifying and satisfying and thrilling and perfect. When the kiss came to its natural conclusion, they parted only a fraction of an inch, and Natalie sighed with pure happiness.

"Adrian, you are my whole world. I have loved you for as long as I can remember, but you loving me in return is my fondest wish fulfilled and has been my deepest and most secret desire for years. I've never told a soul. Only my own silly, romantic heart. When my brain tried to talk me out of it, my heart talked me right back into it. You are the only man I will ever want. You are the only man I will ever need-" whatever else Natalie was about to say was lost to another kiss when Adrian covered her mouth gently with his and held her face in his hands as he angled her head to kiss her more deeply. Natalie was elated and shocked at the same time. Adrian Monk was an excellent kisser… Where on Earth did he learn this skill? Did he do it via correspondence like swimming? Did Trudy teach him? Based on the pictures and videos she'd seen, she doubted it. Their love was definitely real, but their passion? Definitely lived on a simmer. It never boiled over as this kiss was about to do. Maybe Adrian Monk had some heretofore undiscovered, undeveloped talent among all the other amazing things he could do? Whatever. Natalie did not care, nor would she ever ask. She was thrilled, titillated, and so wrapped up in Adrian that she didn't notice when several people, including Leland and TK Stottlemeyer, opened the door to "their" terrace. They then slowly backed out and closed the door when they saw the heated embrace in which Adrian and Natalie were engaged. As for Adrian, peripherally, he heard the door open and close; after all, he was who he was, but his sole focus was Natalie, and nothing would distract him from his mission. To kiss Natalie until she believed in him and his love for her.

He didn't realize Natalie already believed in him. She believed in his love. She believed in them. She knew that together they could be whole. Their lives could be complete only if they were together. They could each leave the half-life they were living behind and move on together to something new.

"We should go back inside, shouldn't we?" she asked him from the safety and warmth of his embrace. He, the moderator of all that was right and appropriate in the world, didn't want to leave the quiet privacy of the terrace but didn't want to be rude to their hosts or to the newlyweds.

"You're right. Just know this, I am not letting you leave my sight for a good long time after this. So I don't care who gets themselves murdered or who needs us, except if it's Julie. I want to spend some time alone with you, no phones, no other people. When we leave here, I want to go away with you for a few days and leave our phones on silent and our whereabouts a secret."

Natalie felt a thrill run down her spine. "Adrian!"

"Yes?" he responded with a smile that was sexy and sly.

"Do you mean it?" The tiny hairs on her arms were standing up with the goosebumps she was feeling.

"I do. We'll run away for a few days. We deserve it. When was the last time we took even one day off?"

"That would be never," she smiled and raised an eyebrow.

"Then we deserve it even more."

"Where shall we go?"

"Leave that to me. We'll go to your house first so you can pack, and I will make a few calls. We're not going to go far, but we'll go somewhere private. Then we'll go to my place, I'll pack, and we'll leave from there."

All Natalie could do was stare at the man who sometimes looked at a menu in a restaurant and couldn't decide what to have for lunch.

"What?" he asked at her amazed expression.

"I've never seen you make a decision and take charge like this."

"Natalie, we've wasted too much time as it is. I don't want to waste another day without getting to call you mine. Without getting to kiss you whenever I want. Without getting to watch you sleep in my arms and wake up in my arms. Honestly, I'm never going to be able to spend another night without you. You just told me about how lonely your nights were. I spent all of those same nights alone too. In the beginning, it was missing Trudy, then for years, I didn't understand the emptiness I felt. Why I could never find a way to fill the hole in my soul. Then I realized I was yearning for you. It has been torture watching you go out with other men, particularly in the last year or so. I'm never letting you go again."

"Oh, Adrian," Natalie sighed at his declaration of longing. "I will never want to let you go either. But I can still go to yoga, and to the nail salon, and the gym on my own….right?" she teased him as she stepped away from him and entwined her hands with his.

He laughed and brought her hands to his lips. "Yes, my Natalie, you can still do those things, but when I say this is it for me, I mean it."

"I mean it too."

"Good, let's go say our goodbyes. We have places to go."

"Adrian, they haven't even served dinner."

"We can eat later. I'm hungry for something other than food right now." Natalie's eyes widened, and she threw herself back into his arms, knocking him off balance.

She pressed a quick kiss to his cheek and one to his lips and said, "Okay, I can get behind that plan!"

They walked hand in hand back into the ballroom and bade a quick farewell to the Stottlemeyers without explanation but were trailed with knowing smiles from their friends. They saw the bride and groom engaged in a dance with their respective parents and decided to slip out. Adrian deposited an envelope in the cute "Mr and Mrs" mailbox by their table on the way out, and he took Natalie's hand and practically dragged her to the elevator.

Once inside, he wrapped her loosely in his arms, settling his clasped hands at the small of her back, and said, "Nothing bothers me when you are with me, Natalie." He kissed her softly over and over as the elevator descended. He released her when the door opened and then took her hand. They walked to the valet stand, and Adrian fished the ticket from his pocket. He also released Natalie's hand to find two dollar bills in his wallet for a tip for the valet.

Once he settled Natalie in the passenger seat and he buckled into his own seat, he turned to her and said, "Are you ready for the future?"

"So ready!" she exclaimed with breathless excitement and happiness.

"Let's go!"

Off they drove into the night, into their future—together, forever.

#FINIS#