As requested (many times) the fluffy-bunny epilogue to NSF. YAY!
Disclaimer: I Don't own it…please don't sue me, I can't afford it.
Dedication: Dedicated to the wonderful and amazing Cora Clavia, who has been beyond an encourager and an editor, but a friend to me over these past few months, and especially for all her work on these last two chapters. Thanks again, girl!
Four months later…
The late July sun streamed through her window, effectively waking Terry from a sweet dream. She lay still for a few moments, relishing the dream's memory for just those precious seconds, before opening her dark eyes and stretching languidly. She stretched to wrap an arm around Don, sighingwhen her hand touched empty sheet and memory came back to her: he'd gone home last night straight from the office…for the eighteenth day in a row. Concern furrowed her brow; he'd been so distant lately that she wasn't sure what to make of him. She cast her mind back over the last three weeks, trying to remember if she had said or done something to make him angry with her.
She climbed from bed, shedding clothes on the way to her tiny bathroom. The hot steam from her shower cleared her senses and by the time she stepped from the shower , she was in a much better mood. She slapped on the small radio she kept on the counter, humming along as she fixed a late breakfast for herself. The night before had been tough and late, and Don had agreed to let her come in late the next morning. She decided to eat on the couch while looking over the paperwork for the newest case they'd acquired.
She had just taken a seat, her bagel in one hand and a folder in the other, when her cell phone rang shrilly. She set her armful down on the coffee table and rose to answer it. She shifted through the pile she'd dropped in the chair beside the door last night on her way in, searching for her still-beeping cell. When she finally located it in the cushions of the chair, she hastily flipped it open and pressed it to her ear. "Lake."
"Hey, beautiful…I didn't wake you up, did I?" At the first sound of his voice, all her doubts and fears melted. Apparently, whatever he was going through didn't involve her.
"No, I was just sitting down to review the case."
"You need to get out more." His voice was teasing, but there was a note of concern in it.
"I'm fine, Don, I'm just…working hard. You know me." She was quick to reassure him.
"Well, I'm getting you out of the house tonight if it kills you. Unless, of course, you have other plans."
She resisted the urge to snort. When was the last time she'd had plans that she wasn't willing to cancel for him? Oh, right. Never."Not a single one."
"Good. I know you're coming into work today, but be ready to duck out around six…I've got dinner reservations for seven-thirty."
"To where?" She asked, excited. This was to be only the fourth time they'd been out together since their arrival home from the Baxter case all those months ago…and the first time they'd gone to a place that required reservations.
"Now that would ruin the surprise. Just be ready to go at six."
"How will I know what to wear if you don't tell me where we're going?" She knew she sounded like an overeager child, but she couldn't help it. His laugh was warm and bright and held just a hint of secrecy.
"You'll know, I promise. Don't worry. I'll see you soon."
"Okay…bye!" She hung the phone up and collapsed on the sofa, grinning like a mindless loon. Don was taking her out to dinner…someplace nice, she was sure. She allowed herself to wallow in the happy prospect for a few more minutes before rising and turning her mind firmly back to her work. But she couldn't resist a peek at the clock…there was only nine hours left until they'd be heading out.
The shift was a long one, though by the time five-thirty rolled around, the entire team was in high spirits. Their new case had been solved spectacularly, with a full confession from the woman behind the killing. She had even been so kind as to turn over the murder weapon to them. All in all, it had been a good day.
Don gave her a surreptitious glance before announcing, "Good work, everyone…let's get out of here before they find something else to give us to do."
If anyone was surprised by this slightly uncharacteristic announcement, they were smart enough not to show it. Hastily, the group gathered their things and headed out the doors. As she passed by, Kylie, who had arrived and begun her work just a week ago, gave Terry a little nudge in the ribs. "Have fun tonight." She whispered, linking her arm through David's as they strolled casually out the door. Terry was staring after them, wondering when the world had gone mad, when Don came up behind her and placed a hand between her shoulder blades. To anyone else, it would've seemed a perfectly platonic gesture, but it made her skin burn pleasantly beneath her black silk dress shirt.
"What was that?" She asked, gesturing to the retreating pair, who had their heads bent close together and were laughing quietly about something.
"Oh, they've been sending love letters since we left Pittsburgh. Quite endearing, actually." He stopped his explanation at the incredulous look on her face. "What? You didn't know that?"
"Obviously not…how did you find out about it?"
"David told me." He shrugged. "I noticed the way they were behaving around each other--edgy and a bit awkward--as soon as she arrived and asked him about it; I wanted to make sure they weren't going down the same 'not getting along' path as they were in Pittsburgh. Obviously not… you must have just been too distracted." He said to her how-did-I-miss-this look. By now, he was stealthily guiding her to the door. She went willingly, head spinning.
"I think I'm just going to cease being shocked now." She told him as they exited. He gave her a dubious look.
"Terry, you're an FBI agent. You think you can stop being surprised by peoples' behavior?"
"I can if I concentrate hard enough. Am I dressed right?"
"Relax, Terry. Everything's under control." He told her, leaning over to kiss her cheek as he opened her car door for her. She climbed inside, feeling as though she might melt into a contented puddle on the seat. This was so unlike the Terry she'd tried so hard to become, but she decided she didn't care as Don climbed inside behind the wheel, gave her a grin, and started the car.
Charlie sighed, rubbing his hands tiredly over his face. "We're getting nowhere." He commented, threading his fingers through his dark curls.
Amita slid an arm consolingly around his back. "You knew when we started that this wasn't going to be easy." She said gently. "You're doing great."
He turned his face slightly to give her a smile. "Thanks, Amita."
Her arm tightened slightly in a kind of one-armed hug. "No problem. You haven't eaten all night, how about I call for a pizza?"
"Sounds great." He confessed, sinking back against the couch as her comforting presence withdrew.
"Where's your dad tonight, Charlie?" She asked from the kitchen as she flipped the pages of the phone book.
"Out on a date."
"Same girl?" Alan had been seeing a woman, Marsha Briggs, for nearly a half a year now.
"Yeah, Marsha again."
Amita found the number, placed the order, and returned to the living room, "I'm glad he'd doing so well in the dating circle."
"I guess so." Charlie was scribbling furiously on the chalkboard again.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have brought that up." She apologized, cringing inwardly.
"Huh?" He looked up at her, blinking curiously as he tried to figure out why she was apologizing. It took a moment or two to dawn on him. "Oh, no, it's not a problem. I'm not upset with you." By the end of the sentence, he was talking to the chalkboard as his fingers flew. A split second later, he slammed the chalk down in an uncharacteristic display of temper. "Why won't this work?"
"Hey." She caught his hand, hovering millimeters from erasing the work. "Take a break. Relax. When you come back, it might make sense." She advised, gently prying the board from his hands.
He sighed. "Okay, you're right." He admitted, settling back against the cushions. She laid a hand tentatively over his, trying to calm him. He gave her a grateful smile. "I need to get my lesson plans done…you want to help?"
"Sure." She answered, glad that he had thought of something to distract him. He gave her hand a squeeze before leaning down to rifle through his enormous canvas bag, pulling out several thick books. He handed her one and opened the other on his lap, setting the pile of lesson plans he'd already put together between them. She smiled and bent over the book, her dark curls tumbling over her flushed face. Charlie studied her profile discreetly, wondering why she held such a pull over him. She was beautiful, no doubt about it, but it was more than that. He just couldn't quite put his finger on what it was.
"What?" She asked, meeting his stare from the corner of her eye. "Is there something on my face?" One slender hand came up to touch her left cheek, searching for a piece of tape or some chalk dust.
He shook his head, lowering his gaze. "No, I'm just thinking." He replied thoughtfully.
"Thinking so hard that you've lost track of your work?" She questioned, a smile darting playfully across her features.
He looked up sharply, concerned that he'd upset her until he caught her teasing smile. "Yeah, you're distracting me." He retorted, only half-joking.
"Hm, I can see that." She taunted, leaning forward to cross her arms over the open book in her lap.
They rode in comfortable stillness until the houses began to look eerily familiar. "Don, why are we going to Charlie's?"
"You'll see." He answered mysteriously. Though she could only see his profile, the tell-tale smirk was in place. Don was up to something.
Once they arrived at their destination, they climbed from the car in silence. Don was fairly bursting, obviously anxious about something. Terry followed him up the walk, smiling at his boyish behavior. He let them in the house without announcing his presence, motioning for her to precede him into the living room. She did, her curiosity mounting to a nearly explosive level. She never was very good at waiting for things, she mused as she followed his unspoken order.
In the doorway, she stopped. Her decision to no longer be shocked at anything flew out of her mind at the sight before her.
He smiled at her, all thought of lesson plans and even math altogether gone from his mind, copying her movements so their faces were only about a foot apart. Her dark eyes sparkled with mirth as she tipped her head to study him. He let her, though he felt his face turning a shocking shade of red. To occupy his mind, he studied her as well, this girl who had gone from his student to his friend to his…well, whatever she was. He was sure that his feelings for her were no longer platonic, though he wasn't quite sure what they were.
He let out an exasperated sigh. As though reading his mind, she reached over and gave his hand a friendly squeeze. It was a movement she'd used a thousand times in their relationship--as friends, of course--that somehow, now, held another dimension of meaning.
Before he could decide what the new dimension was, though, it was over. She drew her hand away and dropped her gaze, apparently scrutinizing the headline of the page on his book.
"Amita?" His call was so quiet, she wasn't sure he'd even said it. She looked up, meeting his eyes once more.
And he kissed her. He didn't know what provoked it, or why he decided to do it. He just knew it felt right, and he wasn't about to pass up the opportunity. She stiffened, and he started to pull away, an apology already forming on his lips.
She gave him a Look before pulling him back, settling a hand in his hair to hold his head in place as she kissed him.
Terry's gaze took in Charlie and Amita, seated comfortably on the couch, thick books open on their laps and paper strewn everywhere. A small chalkboard rested on the floor by the coffee table, covered in rows of Charlie's untidy math-scrawl. Nothing about this scene was unordinary. The fact that they were ignoring it all wasn't even that surprising. The fact that reason they were ignoring their work--leaning across all the paper to wrap up in what looked like a very involved kiss--was.
Don, who had nearly collided with her when she stopped so suddenly, peered around his girlfriend's shoulder and stifled a triumphant laugh at the sight. About time, too. He mused.
"Do you think we should come back?" He asked softly, leaning casually against the wall.
Charlie jumped, and the pair pulled apart so fast that the neat pile of papers between them slid to the floor and tumbled everywhere. The younger Eppes brother's face turned as red as the shirt he was wearing as he stammered, "Don, I thought you were going to be later than this."
"Obviously." His brother teased. "We wrapped up early…did you pick them up?"
"Yeah, they're in the kitchen. Did you think I'd forget?" Charlie asked as he bent to help Amita pick up the fallen papers.
"Well…now that you mention it..." Don ribbed, moving forward to guiltily help re-stack the mess. When the papers were picked back up and replaced between the pair on the couch., he straightened and moved back to Terry's side.
"Sorry I scared you." He apologized as he led a growing-more-confused Terry through the living room.
Charlie shrugged, his composure returning, "It's no problem, you just startled me."
As Don ushered Terry through the doorway, he glanced back over his shoulder to see that his little brother and Amita had become engrossed in their work once more. He wondered how long that would last. With Charlie, it was impossible to tell.
Once in the kitchen, however, his mind returned to the task at hand. An assortment of boxes, all wrapped in pink paper and tied with silver ribbon, adorned the kitchen table. He watched Terry's reaction carefully as she took in the pile, her eyes widening. "Donald Alan Eppes, you didn't!" She admonished reverently.
"Of course I did." He replied, a hint of pride in the words. He was clearly going to enjoy this.
"These are for me?" She stuttered, blinking.
"No, I decided to buy Charlie some early birthday gifts. Pink's his favorite color too, did you know that?" He chuckled as she gave him a dirty look. "Are you going to open them or stand and look? Open the big one first." He commanded, pointing to a large pink gift to the forefront of the rest.
She moved forward as if in a daze, her hands reaching out to take the box and trembling slightly--Get a grip, Lake!---as she removed the wrapping. Inside was a box from "Threads", a small boutique on the nicer side of LA. Her eyes widened again as she took in the label. She opened and closed her mouth a few times, trying to decide just what to say to him.
"Open it." He said, leaning against the wall.
She did, lifting the top off the box and folding back the tissue paper to reveal an exquisite summer gown. It was beautiful, light pink silk and low-cut. When she lifted it from the box, she examined the scalloped sleeves and hem and the intricate glass beading around the neckline, which wound down around the right side of the gown to end at the slit just above the knee. "Oh, Don, it's gorgeous!"
"You like it?" He asked anxiously. "I noticed that you had grown a pink fetish, so I tried to keep on that."
She pressed the gown to her front, stealthily checking the size as she did so. Perfect. "You did wonderfully."
"Kylie and Amita actually helped pick it out." He replied, looking slightly embarrassed at the praise.
She carefully draped the beautiful dress over a chair, smoothing a hand over it as though reassuring herself that it was real. Don watched her with a smile, enjoying her excitement. "Go on, there's more." He instructed, nearly as eager as she.
Terry studied the pile for a moment before selecting another box.
Don and his helpers had thought of everything--shoes (small, flat pink summer sandals that matched the dress flawlessly), combs for her hair, even a tube of soft pearl-pink lipstick, which he told her Kylie had insisted on. Finally, there were only two boxes left on the table. They'd been hidden under the rest of the pile, and Terry got the feeling that she was supposed to open them last. After a second of debate, she mentally flipped a coin and chose the longer, thinner gift. She tore the wrapping away eagerly, revealing a black velvet jewelry box.
With renewed awe, she opened it to reveal a delicate bracelet of pink and white diamonds. It shimmered energetically in the florescent kitchen light. She gazed at it, trying to think of something to say. Finally, she looked up at him, "Don…I can't take this." She whispered, watching his eyes grow confused, and she continued her explanation, trying to make him understand, "It's gorgeous, Don…I love it, but there's no way I can let you spend this--"
"Terry, listen to me." He interrupted, finally understanding. "I haven't had a girlfriend in almost eight years. And I've never had one that I've felt about the same as you." He knew he wasn't making much sense, but he never was good at explaining his feelings. He tried anyway. "I've lived by myself for most of that time, having no one but my dad and brother to spend money on…give me the opportunity to buy some pretty things for the girl I love, okay?"
She froze. Had he just said that he loved her? She tried to answer, but the words seemed immobile in her throat. Instead of elaborating, he moved forward, took the box from her hands, and deftly clipped the bracelet around her wrist. It lay glowing against her pale skin like sunshine.
Don hooked two fingers under her chin and brought her face up to meet his. His lips searched hers, trying to relay all the feelings he'd kept buried for almost ten years. For a moment, she was still and unresponsive, but suddenly she was melting into his arms, answering his unspoken questions and pouring every suppressed emotion she could imagine into her movements. By the time the need for air drove them apart, both were panting heavily and offering each other smiles of understanding. Don planted another kiss on her forehead and checked his watch. "Open the last one, then go get dressed. We'll have to hurry."
She did as he instructed, opening the last box to find a breathtaking pendant and earrings to match the bracelet. She gave him a half-adoring, half-exasperated look and pulled him in for another quick kiss. "What am I going to do with you?" She asked fondly as she gathered the paper up and pushed it into the trash can. She looped one of the bows around his neck as she passed, chuckling at the amused look on his face.
By the time she emerged from the bathroom, into which Amita had also disappeared, offering to help the blonde fix her hair, Don was already dressed and sitting with his brother in the living room, waiting for her. Amita stood in the doorway beside her friend and cleared her throat, catching their attention and displaying Terry like a porcelain doll.
Indeed, she looked the part. Amita had given her shoulder-length hair a hint of curl, so that it swirled up into the combs that held it and cascaded to her shoulders. The pink gown and accessories beautifully complimented the rosiness of her skin.
"You look incredible, Terry." Don said, when he felt he could use his voice again.
"Beautiful." Charlie agreed with a nod, and she gave him a grateful smile.
Don rose and took her hand, "We'd better go. Thanks again, Amita. You too, Charlie, for everything."
Terry nodded her agreement and allowed herself to be led out into the warm summer evening. As she turned to close the door, she caught sight of Charlie and Amita sitting on the couch once more, their fingers twined together as they bent over the chalkboard. She smiled and closed the door softly, feeling that the world had, indeed, gone mad, but she liked it that way.
By the time Don and Terry had been gone ten minutes, the pizza had arrived. Charlie eagerly accepted the delivery from a bored-looking young woman and carried the box back to the living room. "Food's here."
Amita dropped her pen immediately. "All right!" She cheered, following Charlie back to the kitchen. He removed paper plates from the cupboard and set them on the counter next to the pizza box.
In anotherfifteen minutes, they were seated in the living room again, thoughts of math problems and lesson plans gone from their minds. Charlie cleaned off the couch, piling the papers haphazardly on the coffee table, and switched on the TV. "I'm not usually much of one for television." He confessed to her surprised look, "But I think my concentration's pretty far gone for tonight."
She gave him a mischievous smile and curled up contentedly in a corner of the couch. "What're we watching, then?"
"Hm…" Charlie flipped the guide on and scrolled through the channels. "Wow, not much on on Friday nights, I guess." He commented, watching the options tick by.
"I suppose most people have better things to do than sit at home on Friday night and watch television." She mused. "Though, when I was younger, there was this show I loved on Friday nights. I would hurry home from whatever I was doing with my friends so I could be in front of the TV by ten o'clock, no matter what I was doing. They used to get so exasperated with me."
"Sounds like fun." He chuckled.
"No, the sad thing was, I wasn't the only one. There were thousands of other people just as bad as I was that tuned in faithfully every week and-- Stop! Hitch, I love that movie!" Amita yelped, reaching for the remote.
He gave it to her, curious to see what had excited her so much. By the time the movie was halfway over, though, they had bothgiven up, curled togetheron the overstuffed sofa to nap. As he drifted to sleep, Amita curled contentedly against his side, his fingers idly running through her hair, he mused that not getting to see the end of the movie wasn't so bad…his lack of concentration hadn't allowed him to really figure out what was going on anyway.
"Don, this is feeling strangely familiar." Terry commented as he gently draped a strip of black cotton cloth over her eyes.
"It's supposed to." He replied, tying off the blindfold and placing her hand in the crook of his arm. "I'm determined to get this right. I've been watching the weather this time."
She laughed. "Probably would have been a good thing to do the first time around." She commented, squeezing his arm.
"Yeah, probably." He chuckled, "Just a little farther."
"Good, I don't like this blindfold thing." She replied, but he could hear the happiness in her voice. She was loving it, and he knew it.
They strolled comfortably for a while, content to just be in each others' presence. Finally, he stopped. "Okay, we're here." He gently removed the blindfold, careful not to muss the curtain of curls. "It's not the one I was trying to get you to while we were at the Academy, of course, but pretty close." He confessed, searching her reaction.
The restaurant was at the center of a vast garden. Lights were strung around the patio, and each of the fifteen or twenty tables sported a beautiful candelabra, casting an ethereal glow about the place. A stage had been set up beside the path that led to the kitchens, and a small orchestra was playing on it, weaving a spell of music over the almost-magical area. "Do you like it?" Don asked, giving up on trying to read her face.
"I love it. It's gorgeous." She replied truthfully, giving his arm another reassuring squeeze and remembering to breathe.
"Good." He answered as a white-shirted waiter arrived to seat them.
After checking if it was okay, Don ordered them a bottle of wine. Once it was poured, their orders taken, and they were left alone again, he smiled at her. "So did I surprise you well?"
"Completely." She confessed, gazing around at the unreal surroundings. "How long have you been planning this?"
"About two and a half weeks." He replied, amused at the look of surprise on her face.
"I knew you were up to something!" She exclaimed softly. "You had me worried; I thought you were upset with me or something."
"Upset with you?" His eyes darkened with confusion.
"You were so distant…I thought maybe I had made you angry or something." She told her plate, toying with the napkin in her lap and determinedly avoiding his gaze.
Don frantically thought over the last few weeks, realizing with a sinking stomach that she was right. He reached over to take her hand in his. "I'm sorry, Terry. I didn't mean for that to happen."
"I know that now." She replied, finally looking up to meet his eyes.
"Good." He replied. She smiled at him, a genuine hundred-watt grin that made his heart skip a few beats.
"Hey, Charlie." A gentle nudge to his shoulder pulled Charlie from a deep, contented sleep. He grumbled, swatted at the offending hand, and pulled Amita closer to him.
"Charlie, wake up."
Finally, after coming to the unhappy realization that whoever was bothering him was not going to go away, Charlie opened his sleep-heavy eyes and blinked, "Huh? Dad?"
"Charlie, you'd better move or the both of you are going to wake up in the morning with some serious cramps." Alan suggested softly, gesturing to Amita.
The youngest Eppes glanced down at the girl, smiling warmly at the look of content on her face. He nodded, and, moving painfully slowly, extracted himself unwillingly from her arms. He gently rearranged her so she was lying comfortably on the couch and tenderly lifted her head to put a pillow beneath her head, then spread a blanket over her. He stood, watching her fondly. Alan tried unsuccessfully to hide his smile, but failed.
Charlie glanced at his father, taking in the look on his face, before deciding he'd really rather not answer any questions tonight and beating a quick retreat to his room, glancing one last time at Amita's peaceful form before disappearing around the corner.
Cheerful beeping interrupted Terry's peaceful dream. She growled angrily at the offending noise, disengaging herself from Don's arms to fumble around on the floor for her cell phone, all the while squinting against the bright July sun streaming through her window. She finally located it next to Don's belt and flipped it open. "Lake."
There was silence on the line for several moments before David's voice crackled over the wire, "Hey, Terry. I know it's your day off, I wanted to call and let you know that they set the court date for the Dalton case."
"Dalton case?" Her brain clearly wasn't functioning yet.
"Yeah, the one we just wrapped up yesterday."
"Oh, right. Already? Wow, that was quick. Thanks, David."
"No problem. Could you pass the message along to Don, too?"
"How do you know I'm with Don?" She asked, raising an eyebrow when David's amused chuckle filled his ear.
"I'd hope you are; you answered his phone. You might want to be a bit more careful about that in the future…" David chuckled as he heard Terry let out a horrified gasp.
"Oh, not again!"
FLUFF/Dances/ All hail to the power of the fluff!
And now, as a special thank-you, a little glimpse into the second story in this little arc, "Love Me, Love Me Not":
Agent Terry Lake sighed as she heard another peal of thunder break through the hazy morning. Was it ever going to rain, or was it simply going to threaten for another few days? She heard the familiar ding of the elevator doors and waited for them to slide open.
"Morning, Terry." Don greeted her with a polite nod, which she returned with the barest hint of a secretive smile. He gave her a sly wink as he turned to engage her in meaningless morning conversation about the weather.
Once they arrived on their floor, he escorted her out, looking just as comfortable and nonphysical as he had months ago, before Pittsburgh, before they became more than just friends. Terry smiled her thanks and moved to drop her purse onto her desk, knocking something else off as she did so, which fell between her desk and the wall. Curious, she pulled the desk away and peered between it and the wall. Something red and shiny winked back at her.
She drew it out, examining it with shocked dark eyes…a box of chocolate? Intrigued, she read the note that had been scotch-taped to the box,
To my love:
I've known you for what seems like forever, though you don't notice me. You are such an amazing person, with your bright eyes and your ready smile. I've seen you with your new boyfriend--you are dating, are you not?
He is not good enough for you, Terry. No one is good enough for you, save me. We were meant for each other. You will see that, but I have to give you time. In the end, you won't have a choice.
I hope you will accept this meaningless but hopeful token of my devotion to you. I only trust that you will recognize it for what it is--a gift from a man to the woman he loves.
Terry dropped the box onto her desk with shaking hands. "Don?"
Before the word had even left her mouth, he was at her side, concern flashing in his dark eyes. "What? What is it?"
"I think there's a problem." She replied, trying to force her voice into calmness. "A big one."
So... there you have it. I'm not leaving, nor am I hoping to be gone so long this time:-D See you all very soon, and until then, take good care.
All my love,