Author's Note: Another SU2 story, or rather: another N/K 'shipping fluff. Hope you guys like it! Tell me so in your reviews.
Disclaimer: SU2 still belongs to Evan Katz and the others, although they don't seem to want it. The quote in the beginning belongs to Bush (one of the best bands I know!); it's from "Communicator," written by Gavin Rossdale, released on the 1996 album "Razorblade Suitcase." And I don't own Cosmopolitan, either.
Summary: Kate joins a writing contest with a short story in which she depicts her feelings for Nick. Rated PG just in case.
Mortal feeling I have found surrounded by your glory
Hold me now so that I never drown
The kiss was sweet and tender, and it was all I could do to restrain myself from simply ignoring the other two hundred people in the room and allow his hands to explore my body. But due to our being in a public place, this was quite an impossible thing to do, and so I just closed my eyes and savored the incredible feeling of happiness that spread through me. Finally, finally the moment was here. And I would try to make it last forever.
Kate paused and stared at the blinking cursor on the computer screen. "What are you thinking?" she muttered to herself. Here she was, trying to write a love story, and the male part mysteriously happened to look and behave exactly like Nick. Not to mention the striking resemblance the female character bore to her, Kate Benson. Anyone who knew her, and read this, would immediately know where the inspiration had come from.
But she simply had to do something, otherwise she'd go mad. She had been repressing her feelings for her partner much too long. And since Nick did not notice anything - which was mainly because Kate made enormous efforts to prevent him from noticing anything - she had to find some other way to compensate for that. So when she had discovered the writing contest announcement in Cosmopolitan, she had decided to participate. The assignment was easy: Write a short story of the approximate length of 2,000 words but no longer than 2,500 words. Best story will be published in Cosmopolitan and the aspiring author will receive a prize of one dollar per word. No stories by professional writers accepted. Free choice of topic.
Kate had, naturally, chosen to write a love story. She did not suppose that her story would even make it into the top 100, for about 99 of the other participants would very likely choose the same topic. But the mere process of writing everything down was already a relief. Thinking about it, Kate decided that it might be even better if no one was going to read her story. She doubted that Nick ever had a look into Cosmopolitan, but still he might hear of her story if she won the contest and the fluff she'd written was published. And Kate would not want him to read it. For then he would know, and the atmosphere between them would become awkward. Not to mention Carl's teasing and Jonathan's questions, for that matter.
But Kate was 200 sure that her story would not win the contest, so she did not see any reason why she shouldn't finish it and send it in.
The only problem was that she was still lacking a plot. She had already written five different beginnings, each of them putting the characters into different situations, but she was not nearly satisfied. She just couldn't decide whether her "boy meets girl" situation should take place on a cruise, on the subway, in court, on a plane, or on Malibu Beach. And she found it extremely difficult to describe this crucial moment, this flechazo, this love at first sight. She just couldn't formulate it without making it sound exaggerated, melodramatic and trite. She was sick of keying in phrases like "her mysterious gaze made him shiver," "his chocolate eyes seemed to burn right down into her very core," or "it only took one look to know that he had found the love of his life," and then deleting them again. So Kate had decided to assume another point of view and use an I-narrator. That was a little bit better, but still she had no beginning. In a flash of anger, she had deleted everything except for the few lines that she was now staring at - the end.
She was OK with the end. But now she had to find a beginning that matched.
Kate leaned back into her chair, exasperated, and ran her fingers through her hair. She exhaled audibly and was just about to get up and get herself a drink when the phone started to ring.
She answered on the third ring. "Benson."
"Hi, Kate, it's me." Nick's voice crackled cheerfully through the phone line, and Kate had to make an effort not to gasp. How on earth did he always manage to call when she was thinking of him? What a hard question, she told herself sarcastically. That's because there is hardly a moment when you don't think of him.
"Nick," she said, noticing with some relief that her voice didn't tremble. "What's up?"
"I'm bored to death," her partner told her. "So I figured I'd just give you a call and ask if you by any chance felt the same."
"Actually, I'm working," said Kate. It was not exactly a lie, she reminded herself. After all, she was working. On a story.
"Now?" Nick chuckled. "Always the good cop, Kate. Is it very important or could you spare an hour or two and join me at a bar or something?"
Kate smiled. "It's pretty important, but I may as well take a break," she said. "Where and when?"
Nick suggested a place not far from her apartment, and Kate agreed. She was just about to hang up, but Nick called, "Kate?"
She put the receiver back to her ear. "Yeah?"
"Don't make a fuss out of styling or something. Wear what you're wearing now."
Kate grinned quietly. She wore a plain tank top and tracksuit bottoms, and she was certainly not going to keep that on.
Two hours later, Kate returned to her apartment. She was a little light-headed from the beer, but her mind and senses were still working properly. She and Nick had been doing this more often recently - meeting for a few drinks after work or on Saturday nights. A very normal thing to do for best friends. But it was exactly their friendship that made Kate's problem so grave. There was simply so much at stake, and if Nick didn't reciprocate her feelings, then she would lose everything.
"Too much at stake," she murmured. She bent down to take off her shoes, but she froze in the movement. An idea shot through her head with the clarity of a picture. She remained motionless for a moment, then she hastily took off her shoes and rushed over to her computer. She had found her plot! Now, she was wondering why she hadn't thought of that before. It was so simple - she had formed her two main characters after herself and Nick, so why shouldn't she turn her whole situation into the plot? No "magic moments" or "love at first sight" - much simpler: Her story would be about a woman who realized that she had fallen in love with her best friend and colleague.
Kate waited impatiently for the system to boot, then she opened the file that contained her story and started keying wildly. The phrases flowed out of the keyboard without her doing much about it apart from moving her fingers. She seemed to form the sentences in the instant they appeared before her on the screen. She kept writing for two hours straight, pausing only now and then to correct a typo or to spell check a word she was not quite sure of. Once or twice, she consulted the thesaurus that was attached to the writing program, but all in all, she just wrote. She was transfixed, and the more she wrote, the more she understood her own feelings, everything she had still resisted to become aware of. It was as if writing it down made it real.
When she finally stopped, she had written 1,200 words in one go. She saved the changes and read over it once again. It wasn't bad. It was actually quite good, she realized with some surprise. And the best thing was that she had, after all, managed to deviate a little from Nick's actual character. The protagonist of her story was nicer, flirtier, and more charming. Yet underneath it all, it was still her Nick, and Kate noticed that her heart was racing at top speed. The usage of an I-narrator rather than an omnipotent narrator somehow made it more intense. It was all too easy to forget that this was a story and to imagine that this was just an excerpt from her journal. Make-pretend, Kate thought a little bitterly. I've always been good at that.
She copied the file on a floppy disk and turned the computer off. If she was lucky, she was going to have pleasant dreams tonight.
"Kate!" Nick called after his partner, but Kate did not hear him. Apparently, the thought of some coffee made her deaf to everything else going on around her. She had volunteered to go and get some fresh Cuban coffee from the nearby coffee shop, and Nick had resolved to remain downstairs at HQ. When Kate had gotten up from her chair, a floppy disk had slipped from her pocket, and Nick had picked it up, waving it, intending to ask her what to do with it. But due to the aforementioned coffee, Kate had not heard him.
Nick stared down on the floppy disk for a moment. What might be on it? Probably whatever she had been working on yesterday. Nick grinned. That was probably the report on the last case, the Sphinx they had tracked down, but not destroyed, and if that was the case, then he would love to have a look. After all, the Sphinx case had been no big success, and Nick was curious how Kate had described their failure in the report.
After Nick had checked that Carl was at a safe distance - he was talking to Jonathan, apparently complaining again for a change - he inserted the floppy disk into the drive and clicked on the directory. There was only one file on the disk, simply labeled "story.doc", and although Nick realized immediately that this was not the Sphinx report, he opened the file.
A text popped up on the screen, and Nick, unscrupulously, read the opening lines:
FAR TOO MUCH AT STAKE
A story by Kate Benson
It started out so normal, but it has been getting more and more complicated recently. I guess more or less every woman has experienced this at least once. What it feels like to be friends with someone, trust him, and then suddenly wake up one morning only to realize that you dreamed of him again. When I began to find myself repeatedly in this situation, I realized the obvious: I had fallen in love with my best friend.
Nick frowned. What was this? It dawned on him that this was not meant for him to read, but something made him go on.
At first I didn't want to believe it. I tried to fight the feeling, but I found out very soon that it was pointless. Feelings couldn't be controlled. I couldn't snap my fingers to make them vanish. It only became worse.
The object of my affection was my friend and colleague, Nicholas Clark. We've been working together for two years, and I used to think that we were friends and nothing more. Good friends, yes, but still no more than friends. But my subconscious wouldn't agree with me, and so I had to face the fact that I wanted more from him.
In the instant I realized this, I made a resolution: I would never ever let him know. I would continue playing my role as his best bud. I would not allow the situation to get awkward.
From then on, everything got complicated, no matter how hard I tried. Whenever he talked to me, or, even worse, touched me, I'd cringe secretly. I'd try not to listen when he charmd me in his usual manner. The problem was that he was just a natural charm. He practically couldn't converse with me without slipping in a compliment or two. Comments like, "I've got the best company I could wish for" or "I've got a beer in front of me and a beautiful woman by my side" were normal for him, but for me, every word was a cutting knife. How could he crack jokes when all I wanted was for these words to be truly meant? It was not that he didn't mean them, though; it was just that he didn't think much about them. For him, it was part of our friendship.
For me, it was part of my torment.
Nick paused and looked around. He heard footsteps on the stairs. Without thinking twice, he copied the file on his own computer and ejected the floppy disk. By the time Kate returned, the disk was lying innocently on the floor beside Kate's desk, just where she had dropped it. He was well aware of the fact that he betrayed her trust by secretly reading this, but he coudn't help it. He was so curious...
Kate set down a cup of hot, steaming coffee in front of him. Nick deeply inhaled the aroma and closed his eyes. "That's perfect," he said. "I've got the best partner I could wish for."
Kate stared at him for a moment, and he had the impression that she had gone a little pale. Now why was that? he wondered. A moment later it dawned on him that he had just quoted from her story. He had to pay more attention, he reminded himself.
Kate recovered from the shock when she spotted the floppy disk on the floor, taking the bait that Nick had laid out for her - she assumed she had just dropped it there and Nick had not noticed. She quickly picked it up and slipped it back into her pocket. Nick watched her.
"What's that?" he asked innocently.
"Nothing," Kate said quickly. "Just something I've been working on..."
"None of my business?" Nick suggested when she hesitated.
Kate offered an apologetic smile. "Nothing interesting," she clarified.
Nick nodded to signal that he didn't want to pursue the matter any further, and Kate heaved an audible sigh. She sat down at her desk again and started flipping through the files. "So what have got today?" she asked.
"Link alarm on Chestnut Street," Nick answered.
They continued their ordinary workday, but secretly, Nick was wondering. He was wondering a lot...
Nicholas is a tall, handsome guy with dark hair and chocolate eyes that always seem to sparkle. He never shaves quite clean, and when he smiles or grins, he looks ten years younger and so cute that I have to make great efforts not to do something I might regret. He always has an answer to everything (and sometimes one or two to spare if someone contradicts), and he hates nothing more than restrictions. Of course, this means that he sometimes gets in trouble with our boss, and then it's my turn to act as a mediator. I've covered for him countless times, but I know that he would do the same for me. It's just that one of us has to abide by the rules, and that's always me. Nicholas doesn't care about the rules. But most of the time, he acts in a way that makes you forget that there ever were any rules. There's hardly a problem he cannot solve, and our boss knows it.
Nicholas is a rebel, the bad boy of the department, but he is also a true friend with a strong desire for justice, a great sense of humor, and basically he is a very good-hearted man who hides this heart under an air of rough-and-readiness. But I know both his sides, and it's this duality that fascinates me every time I see him.
Nick leaned back, unbelieving. This was exactly how Kate would describe him, Nick O'Malley, to someone else. Heck, this was a description of him! Looks, character, even the name resembled his own. OK, maybe he wasn't as flirty with Kate as this Nicholas character in the story, but basically it was Nick O'Malley being described here.
By his partner and best friend.
The logical conclusion was obvious, and still Nick couldn't believe it. He must have missed something. Kate wasn't the kind of person to write a cheesy story about him... or was she? Thinking about it, Nick realized that, although he knew her so well, he knew almost nothing about how she handled her feelings, especially the ones that came unbidden. Yes, she had complained many times about how she seemed to scare the good guys off and attract the Links and jerks. But had she ever talked to him about the other side? About the problems of unrequited love, which he was sure she had experienced now and then? About whom she fell in love with and why? As far as he could remember, they had only talked about the dark side of the whole thing. Yet he couldn't believe that Kate had fallen in love with him. He would have noticed. She would have changed her behavior towards him, wouldn't she? And besides, Kate would never fall in love with him. She was way too good for him...
We left the bar at around eleven thirty, both of us pretty drunk. He held the door open for me, and when I stumbled, I automatically reached out to him and took his arm to regain my balance. Nicholas stopped, smiled, and then he put his arm firmly around me. Without thinking, I slid my own arm around his waist. Arm in arm, we went down the street to the subway. None of us said a word, but I felt as if I was in exactly the place I was meant to be. We both couldn't walk straight anymore, causing our hips to touch every now and then.
A red traffic light on the next street made us stop. I leaned against his shoulder, and I felt his grip around my shoulder tighten. This is the moment, I thought. Now or never. We are both drunk, we both have lower inhibitions, and he's been extremely charming tonight. Maybe he feels the same about you and hides it behind this casual charm - for the same reasons as you do. You can still blame the alcohol if it ends up in disaster.
I turned to him and slid my other arm around his waist as well, embracing him. He chuckled quietly.
"Problems to stand straight?" he asked, pulling me into a hug.
I tried to fix my gaze on his chocolate eyes and felt my knees grow weak. "Nicholas," I said, and then I paused, not knowing how to continue.
"What?" He smiled down at me. And I chickened out.
"It's green," I said, pointing at the traffic light.
Nicholas seemed a little bit bewildered, but he did not say anything. We continued the way to the subway in silence.
Only when we were standing on the platform did he take his arm off my shoulder. He said something, but I was too absorbed in my thoughts to listen. I tried desperately to make out whether what he had said and done tonight was his normal behavior, or whether it might have been a signal. I only needed a signal from him that told me he felt the same to pluck up my courage and let him know I loved him. Because then everything would be alright. But without this signal, or with an unclear one, I would keep my mouth shut. Far too much at stake.
"Isn't that your line?" Nicholas asked when the next train was due. I nodded.
"So it's goodbye now," he said. "It was a great evening, wasn't it?"
"Oh yes," I agreed. "Always a pleasure with you."
"Hey, that's my line," Nicholas protested, his eyes sparkling.
"I thought I could surprise you," I replied.
"Awww, I love it when you do that." Another of those lines. I blinked, uncertain what to say.
The train arrived, and Nick pulled me into another hug. "Have a safe journey," he said into my ear. And then he did something he had never done before: He kissed me. It was just a little kiss that landed somewhere between my ear and my temple, but it shot through my body like an electric shock.
I plucked up all my courage. The train was slowing down, due to come to a halt at any second, and I was drunk, so why not risk it? I wouldn't have to explain anything...
I put my hand on the side of his face, my thumb touching the corner of his mouth, then I pulled him to me and kissed his lips. I did not allow my tongue to slip into his mouth - as much as I would have loved to - but I felt very clearly that his lips parted a little bit under mine. But before he could say or do anything, I withdrew, hurried into the train and turned away. The doors closed and the subway went on, taking me away from the place and the moment that might very well decide on my future.
Here ended the file that Nick had copied from the floppy disk. He stopped reading, feeling a little dizzy. He recognized the situation. He and Kate had also walked arm in arm from a bar to the subway, and even the stop at the traffic light was authentic. The only difference was that neither of them had kissed the other in the subway station, but the rest was almost a word-for-word account of one of their evenings out. He didn't need any more proof that this seemed to be Kate's personal story. And if he needed more proof, it was provided in the Freudian slip Kate had not noticed - she had accidentally called her male character Nick instead of Nicholas.
Nick re-read the last passage and was surprised at how clearly he could imagine it. And he caught himself wishing he knew how it felt to be kissed by Kate. And once he'd learned how it felt, he would want to feel it over and over again.
In the dark of the empty office, only illuminated by the dim glow of his computer screen, Nick O'Malley realized that he as well was in love with his best friend.
Kate hit ENTER for one last time and typed The End at the bottom of the text. The automatic word count of the program told her that the story was exactly 2,427 words long. Well within the given frame.
Kate re-read the whole thing, every now and then reformulating a sentence or altering the syntax of a phrase. Then she saved it in a extra document and opened her e-mail program. She felt that she might lose courage if she didn't send the story out right away. She wrote a short mail to the Cosmopolitan editor in charge of the competition, then she attached the file containing the story and hit SEND. The e-mail went out.
The games were opened.
Nick felt like a tiger in a cage. He was in a real dilemma. He knew about his own feelings and he knew about Kate's, and yet he could not do anything. Whatever he did, she would sooner or later start to wonder what had caused this change of mind. And then she would learn that he had read her story, and she would regard this as a breach of trust. And Nick could not even defend himself, for it all came down to exactly this.
On the other hand he knew that Kate would never do something before he did. Far too much at stake. Only now did he really understand what she had meant.
There was only one way: He had to confess, the sooner the better. And then somehow try to convince her not to be too angry.
Having resolved this, Nick got up and left the apartment. He didn't bother to call Kate. He only wanted to get to her. As fast as possible.
He drove too fast, as usual, but he arrived safely and stopped with screaming tires before her house. He rushed over to the door and rang the bell.
It took Kate only a split second to answer. "Hello?"
"It's me," Nick called, his voice suddenly sounding flat, as if it got stuck somewhere in the back of his throat.
"Come on in," Kate said without further comment. The buzzer went off and Nick pushed the door open and climbed the stairs to her apartment.
Kate was waiting for him at the door. She looked lovely, Nick thought. She wore plain jeans and an even plainer t-shirt, but Kate would still look lovely in rags.
"What's going on?" she asked. She sounded slightly wary, and Nick remembered that it was Sunday evening, that he looked pretty disheveled from the hurry, and that he had not called before he stopped by, which was the usual proceedings. Of course Kate thought that something was wrong.
"Nothing," he said, intending to call her down. "I mean, nothing terrible happened. It's just that I have something to tell you. Can I come in?"
"Sure." Kate still looked wary. Nick gave himself a mental slap in the face. He was scaring her off. This was all wrong.
When they had settled down on the sofa, facing each other, Kate looked at him expectantly. "Now tell me, what was so important that you couldn't wait until tomorrow?"
"Uhm..." All of a sudden, Nick was at a loss of words. A thing that very rarely happened.
"Coffee?" Kate asked, intending to give him some time time to deliberate. But Nick couldn't use any distraction right now.
"No," he said therefore, taking her by the wrist and pulling her back on the sofa. "This is really, really important, Kate. And please promise me that you won't be mad at me."
"Why should I be mad at you?" Kate asked.
"Because I did something that you very likely will not approve of," he said a little stiffly. "But before you start wondering - don't you think I could make up for it if I do something else that will completely redeem this mistake? And a mistake it was, really. I didn't want to..."
"Nick," Kate interrupted him with a frown. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"Okay." Nick took a deep breath. "When you went to get the coffee, remember? You dropped a floppy disk, and I thought it was the Sphinx report, so I decieded to have a look. Nothing bad to it, is there? I mean, you always show me your reports. And when I opened the file, I noticed that it wasn't any report or something, but the opening lines caught my eye, and so I kept reading..."
Nick glanced at Kate. She had gone very pale and two red spots showed on her cheekbones. She took a breath, but Nick hurried to continue. "Of course I noticed that this was something personal, and that I shouldn't read it at all, but I, dunno, just had to go on. I can understand you perfectly if you think I betrayed your trust, but I didn't want to, really, Kate, believe me." He was pleading, he realized with some surprise. "And that's why I'm confessing now," he ended.
He threw her another careful glance. Kate didn't move. She was staring at him, her eyes glazed. "You read my story," she said finally, her voice flat and husky.
"Yeah." Nick winced instinctively as if to cringe away from a blow, but Kate still didn't move.
"I suppose you drew some conclusions from it," Kate said, still looking through rather than at him with these glazed eyes.
"Well," said Nick uncomfortably, "before I tell you I'd like to know what you're thinking. Please don't sit there and just glare at me, Kate. It makes me nervous."
"Well, you asked me not to be angry," Kate said. Her gaze finally fixed again on him, and the glazed look in her eyes disappeared.
"I think I'd prefer an angry Kate to a thunderstruck Kate," Nick said and ventured a smile. "Please, be angry with me, OK? Just don't be so... so..."
A sudden flash of her eyes made him trail off. "You actually read a private document, Nick? I can't believe it! How much of it did you read?"
"Everything," Nick said sheepishly.
Kate frowned. "You can't possibly have read everything in those five minutes I was away for the coffee..." Understanding dawned on her, and she gasped. "You copied it?" she blurted out. "You copied the file and finished reading it when I was gone? Is that what you did, Nick?"
Nick's guilty conscience was so clearly visible in his face that he did not have to say anything.
"How could you!" shouted Kate. "I thought I could trust you! I thought you were..."
"Your best friend?" Nick interrupted. "Well, why don't you stop for a minute and listen to what your best friend says? I know it was wrong, and I shouldn't have read the stuff, but I did, and I can't undo it. But maybe it wasn't really bad that I read it. I mean, it helped me to become clear of some things I didn't know before. About you and about me." He saw Kate blush, but he continued. "You know, I would never have thought that you'd write a story, especially not a love story. But reading all that was like a, I dunno, revelation. I really understood the meaning of 'too much at stake,' and I don't wanna risk everything, either. But maybe we don't have to risk anything, Kate."
Kate looked at him. "So why are you here, Nick?" she asked sharply.
Nick ventured another grin. "Can't we just skip all the complicated stuff that's still to come and save it for later? I wanna know how the story ends."
Kate stopped short. "Skip the complicated stuff and save it for later?" she repeated. "What do you mean?"
Nick straightened. "That," he said. He made a spring, and a split second later he had her grasped in his arms, searching her lips. Kate was so startled that she did not put up any resistance, or maybe she just did not want to resist - he didn't care. All that mattered was that she was here in his arms, and that he was kissing her. Quite passionately, for that matter. Her lips finally parted against his and the kiss deepened. Nick's senses registered the soft feel of her hair and skin under his hands, the quick heaving of her breath, the rapid beating of his own pulse that seemed to echo in his ears. This was it, this was the moment that the poets had written about - the moment when you realized that you found your soul in someone else.
If this is no clear signal, Kate, then I can't help you.
When the first few euphoric hours of newly found love had passed, Nick and Kate were cozily cuddled against each other on the sofa once again. He had his arms around her and his hands folded in front of her belly as if to make sure that she couldn't get away from him. She, in turn, leaned against his chest, her hands on his, her head leaned comfortably back against his shoulder. She only had to turn her head a little aside to receive another kiss, which was what she repeatedly did.
"Still mad at me?" Nick finally broke the silence.
Kate smiled quietly. "I think you were right," she said. "You had something in store to redeem this mistake."
"Told you," Nick said with a wide grin and kissed her temple.
She nudged him. Then she grew calm and pondered for a moment. "Nick, you know," she said after a while, "maybe I was secretly hoping for you to find and read the story. I mean, I didn't need the story at HQ, and still I brought the floppy disk. Why?"
"Dunno," Nick said. "Maybe you're right. And after all it was a real stroke of luck that I read it, don't you think? Otherwise we'd still be sitting in our respective apartments, hoping for the other to take the first step."
"Yes, and imagine what a waste that would have been." Kate adjusted her position in his arms.
They remained silent for a little while, savoring each other's presence.
After a few minutes, Nick murmured, "Kate?"
"Will you now tell me how your story ends?"
Kate smiled. "I guess I have to rewrite the ending. A certain moment from three hours ago was just too good not to be written down."
"Are you telling me I'm your muse?" Nick teased.
"You were all along. Haven't you noticed that?"
"Yes, I have," Nick said quietly and kissed her again. "A damn good muse, I daresay."
"Are you telling me you actually like my story?"
"I love your story," Nick assured her. Then a wide grin broke through on his face and he added, "Though I don't think you'll win the contest."
End Note: If anyone is interested: This story would have been much too long for the contest: It's 5,574 words long J