the ease of friendship
by abby

spoilers: none
category: pre-Dark Knight vignette; Nick/Nat friendship
disclaimer: they don't belong to me, I'm only borrowing them: no money is being made
summary: a drowsy medical examiner, a foot rub, and an enigmatic vampire cop


Natalie's return to consciousness happens in a series of stages, as her senses slowly reveal her surroundings.

First there's the smooth yet rough texture of the leather she lays on, much unlike the softness of her bed or the pliant goodness of her couch at home. Why am I sleeping on leather? I don't have a leather couch? Nick... I'm at Nick's but why was I asleep? Slowly, the distinctive scent of oil based paint begins to tickle her nostrils. The room doesn't usually smell of paint so why now? Nearby a small popping sound leaves her momentarily confused. Her hearing also faintly picks up the slight clank of a bottle meeting the rim of a glass goblet. Nick must be nearby. Is he really painting with her in the room? Now that's new. In the relatively short time she's known Nick painting is one of the few activities he reserves for his moments of solitude. He's only recently asked her opinion of a completed piece and the fact that he was sharing that tiny piece of himself overjoyed her. Even with their growing bonds of friendship Nick is extraordinarily private. That tiny glimpse into his mind and what it could mean kept her mind occupied, when it wasn't otherwise engaged on more serious matters like work or research into Nick's condition.

The semi domestic sounds of Nick in his home, the increasing prickly discomfort in her immobile hand and the exhaustion that was now leaving her cause Natalie to stir more vehemently. When she finally opens her eyes she sees the loft's massive shutters are open to reveal the night sky behind them. It's a clear night or at least it is from her limited vantage point. 60 percent chance of rain her mind provides absently remembering the weather report in the paper she read during her lunch break. How long ago was that? Her stomach echoes the sentiment much to her chagrin. If Nick didn't know she was awake she's sure he does now. Damn vampire hearing. So much for trying to make her wakeful state known to him in some graceful, effervescent, and lady like manner; whatever that means.

Now fully awake Natalie can't help but shift some more in her cozy cocoon of throw pillows. The movement causes the fringe of the mysterious afghan covering her to tickle her nose and Natalie swats it away. She raises her arms above her head and lets out a wonderfully luxurious stretch with a sigh. The minutes tick by and the subdued sounds from Nick's makeshift art studio continue to provide the only sound in the cavernous room—a series of heavy brush strokes, the rattling of brushes in a tin can, the meeting of Nick's goblet against the table (Any chance it's filled with my latest shake Nick?), and plenty of other sounds she can't identify. For now Natalie is content to simply lay there and enjoy her stolen moment a little longer. Although at some point she really should leave. Too late. She hears Nick's bare feet pad over from the hard floor to the carpeted space of his living area.

He appears before her. A chagrined smile marks his face. "Hey," he says simply. "Hey," she sheepishly parrots back. Slightly self-conscious under his unwavering attention Natalie pulls herself into a slight reclining position. To her surprise Nick sits at the other end of the couch and places her afghan enclosed legs on his lap. He casually drapes one arm over the edge of the couch while the other lies comfortably on her lower legs. Sometimes these gestures of familiarity on Nick's part really throw her for a loop. Where's the man that a few months ago warned her not to get too close to him? Well buddy last time I checked you were the one with your hands well into my personal space. Then again to be fair she's the one that fell asleep on his couch.

"How long have I been Goldilocksing your couch?" A small yawn punctuates her question. Maybe she is still tired.

"It's almost one now."

"One!" Her shift had ended at 6PM and she'd arrived here shortly after, which meant she'd been asleep... "Almost 7 hours," Nick provides for her. "The recommended daily number by most physicians."

Whatever remark Natalie was about to say instantly dies on her lips because at that moment Nick chooses to lift the afghan from her stocking clad feet, leaving them exposed on his lap. He gently begins to massage the ball of one of her feet in a wonderfully relaxing way. OK this is getting very weird. Thankfully Nick can't see the look of surprise on her face because of his concentration on her very appreciative feet. In an attempt to look anywhere but at Nick's minstrating fingers Natalie casts her gaze around the familiar yet still foreign surroundings.

The remote to the shutters lies on the center table, her heels lie neatly by the far armchair, and the gas fireplace continues to issue the occasional popping sound she'd earlier heard while residing in that wonderful place between sleep and wakefulness.

"You must have been really tired. After I let you in I couldn't have been gone more than 5 minutes. When I got back you were already sound asleep."

The intimate timbre of Nick's voice plus his heavenly hands were causing Natalie's eyelids to droop. "I can't believe I did that. I didn't feel tired or at least no more than usual. Camping out on your couch for the equivalent of a full night's sleep was definitely not on tonight's agenda. I'm sorry Nick."

And Natalie is sorry. She had intruded into his space. She'd meant to merely pop in after her shift to get some new readings on his vitals before the weekend. Instead, she'd taken advantage of the burgeoning ease between the two of them. They'd come so far for her to screw it up in a weak moment. The first few months of their acquaintance had been filled with professional detachment on her part and general caution on Nick's. He maintained a respectful distance from her and rarely volunteered any information about himself. But by nature Natalie is a friendly person and the dour meetings between the two of them were frustrating. Surely not even guilt-ridden vampires live bleak existences 24 hours a day. When Nick failed to respond to any friendly teases or humor she thought it best to reluctantly follow his lead. Only with his sudden emergence in the persona of Nick Knight, Metro homicide's newest detective from Chicago, did some of his protective shell begin to chip away.

Natalie hadn't been assigned to Nick's first case so she was afforded the luxury of watching him work it without being professionally involved. At first the shock of having her secretive vampire patient conferring with one of the other coroners at the 27th precinct almost sent her crashing into a wall. The insanity of him as a vampire cop was quickly tempered by the proficiency at which she saw him work his case. At the end of his first official shift Nick dropped by her office to let her in on his other little secret. Yes he'd been a cop before, yes he has gone through the academy, and yes he does like it. According to Nick it was the rise of the computer age and some other matters that had kept him away from it for a few years though. Before he left Nick reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small gray plush bat wearing dark glasses. It wore a yellow t-shirt with the message, "Blind as a Bat." He tossed it to her along with a mischievous smile and a wink. He had apparently witnessed her almost run in with the bullpen wall. Natalie stood silently stunned after he had left. Nick Knight, vampire cop had just teased her.

The sound of Nick's voice brings her back to the present. "There's no need to apologize. I'd much rather you fall asleep here than behind the wheel." Natalie nods her head slightly in understanding. He hesitates slightly before saying his next words. "Is there something you want to talk about? Have you been sleeping OK lately?"

"It's nothing really. My sleeping patterns are just off and they're finally catching up to me. I guess covering for Dr. Fitzgerald is taking more out of me than I thought it would."

An affirmative grunt is Nick's only response.

To her surprise his hands travel up towards her lower calf and pause there momentarily. His fingers draw unidentifiable patterns over her stockings before slowly retreating back towards the relative safety of her toes. For some people toes are erogenous zones.

"Are you hungry?" Nick asks after a small while when he switches his attention to the other foot. Natalie remembers her treacherous stomach's rumblings from earlier.

"Yes...and no. I know I should eat something but I'm really not in the mood for anything."

"What do you want?" Nick asks her and for some reason she gets the impression he's not asking about food.

I want to kiss you. Whoa where did that come from? To her horror or perhaps her salvation a small whimper escapes her lips instead just as Nick finds the perfect spot to knead on her foot. He smiles and Natalie really wants to wipe that smile off his face but then that would require moving.

"There's a storm brewing," he says simply, his earlier question swept under the rug for later rumination.

Natalie looks towards the window but with the exception of a few clouds she sees nothing to confirm neither Nick's forecast nor the newspaper's. Then she hears it. It starts off slow, almost unassuming, and then builds in intensity until finally the pressure releases and the thunder rolls over them and the loft. Damn vampire hearing.

"So there is."

When she turns back to face Nick she finds him looking at her intently. Don't you dare fall for him Natalie. This is nothing more than a drowsy medical examiner, a foot rub, and an enigmatic vampire cop.

She clears her throat to break the silence and the impenetrable mood they'd found themselves in. "So tell me about the latest Nick Knight original."

And he does. Her friend does.

-30-


Author's Note: Special thanks to betas Misty and Desiree from the NNFic Yahoo!Group for taking the time to read and provide detailed suggestions and comments on this story. Also, thank you to everyone else who were kind enough to answer my request for beta assistance.