Nick dreaded this upcoming holiday season. It was the first Christmas he would spend alone, now that his mother, the only family he had, was gone. He glanced up at Kate, who was biting her lower lip, filling out reports. Her long blonde hair fell in golden strands down her shoulders. Since she was distracted, he took that time to study her closely. Nick took in every detail of her face. She was beyond beautiful, he thought to himself. Watching her, he felt a surge of love from inside himself, and the more he watched her, the more he loved her. There were times, like now, he caught himself staring at her. She had to have noticed at least some of those times, but he covered them up everytime with a joke or some stupid sarcastic remark. Sometimes the need to hold her became so strong, so sudden, it about floored him.

He remembered when he rescued Kate from Detective Scott's basement. She looked so vulnerable for a few seconds, looking at him. He asked her if she was alright. He hesitated in hugging her when she finally did step out of the cage. Mistake. She sensed the hesitation and grew strong on her own. He missed his chance. Before the backup crew arrived, he almost told her how much he cared, and how scared he was when she was gone...but he didn't. He always wanted to tell her how he wanted to comfort her that night, somehow, he always missed his chance.

Kate reached for her cell when it rang. A smile grew on her face as she laughed at whoever was on the other end.

"Hey! Well I know." Kate laughed again. "I never said that!" Another laugh. Kate tapped her pen on her desk as she spoke. "Tell dad that I love up later on tonight...yeah...of I'll see you than. Love you...mwuah!"

"Megan?" Nick questioned.

Kate looked up as she set her phone down. "Yeah." Her eyes squinted. "Listening in on my conversations?"

Nick moved his head to one side. "There interesting."

"Uh huh."

"How long are you gonna be up there?" Nick said, he tried to sound casual. He would miss her.

"Four days."

Nick nodded his head. "Well be sure to call me when you get there, let me know you got there ok."

"Can't do that." Kate said with a sly smile.

Nick looked confused. "And why not?"

"Well...your coming with me." Kate didn't wait for his reaction or an answer. "I'll pick you up at seven." Than she left.

Nick took a deep breath in and tried to hide his smile. He wouldn't miss Kate, he would be with her. He shut down his computer and went home to pack. This holiday season wouldn't be so lonely after all.

At six fifty two Kate's car pulled up alongside his apartment complex. He was waiting for her outside. She helped him get his luggage into the trunk and they were on their way.

"Long ride." Kate said, motioning to a cup of coffee resting in the cup holder.

"Thanks." He pulled the lid off and took a sip. Creme and sugar, just enough of both. She made excellent coffee.

An hour into the trip, Nick caught himself again looking at her. This time she saw him. Laughing, Kate glanced his way. "What?" She flashed him one of her smiles that Nick couldn't get enough of.

Nick just shook his head and smiled. "Nothing." His smile lasted longer than it should have, but he covered for it by giving an obvious look to the speedometer. "Want me to take over driving?"

Kate just shot him a look and rolled her eyes. It was easier for her to just conceit to him taking the wheel than deny him. She pulled over and he took her seat. An hour and a half later, they pulled up to her fathers house in the woods.

Nick got along great with Kate's father, James, who had the door opened seconds after they pulled in the drive. He had a smile on his face as big as Kate's. "Hi, dad."

"There's my pumpkin." They hugged eachother and Megan was second in line for a hug. James shook Nick's hand. "How's it going, Nick...good to see you."

"Been great, and it's good to see you too, sir."

"James." He corrected Nick. Formalities aren't any good in this house, besides, your family here."

Nick did feel like family there.

"Hi, Nick." Megan held up her hand in a little wave.

"Megan, how are you?"

"Better now that my big sister is here." She smiled at Kate again, and hugged her close for the second time. She tugged gently at Kate's long hair. "Wow, it's getting so long!"

They disappeared into the kitchen, leaving Nick and James to talk about sports.

"Want a drink?"

"I'll take a scotch if you got one." Nick followed Kate's father into the den where the bar was.

"When Kate and Megan joined them in the living room half an hour later, Nick was suprised and happy to see Kate sit next to him on the sofa, instead of the free chair opposite of him. They couldn't sit without their legs touching, and he liked it. Nick's heartbeat excelled.

"When are we eating, I'm starving." Kate grumbled.

"Should be done in another hour or so." James said.

"Ugh!" Kate threw herself into the back of the couch. Nick would have done anything to have had her lay her head against his shoulder.

By eleven pm, Kate was starting to doze off. The three of them had been drinking brandy and after the drive, it was taking it's toll on her. "I'm heading off to bed soon." She yawned and leaned her head back on the couch.

When Megan and James were discussing the family that was expected to come the following day, Nick jumped at the chance. "You look tired."

Without opening her eyes, Kate spoke. "I am."

"My shoulder makes a great pillow." Nick wondered how she would take it.

"No, I'm hitting the sack." She dragged herself off the couch and repeated herself to her father. He hugged her and kissed her forehead.

"Goodnight, pumpkin. I'll see you in the morning. Big breakfast tomorrow."

"Night daddy. Night, Megan."

"Night, sis." Megan said back smiling. "It's good to have you home."

She smacked Nick on the arm playfully. "See yall tomorrow." She said threw another yawn. Kate stopped at the living room entrence. "Where are we all sleeping, by the way."

James looked like he hadn't given it much thought. "Ahh...well, Megan has her room. why don't you take your old room with Nick. You don't mind, do ya Nick?"

Nick was in a mid shake of the head when Kate reacted.

Kate didn't budge. "huh?"

"Well Bob and Carol are driving up tonight late, and they are folding out the I figured if I just threw you and Nick in your old room, that would be easier. Kate looked at Nick, who was not objecting. "Is that a problem? Your the only one with a queen size bed."

"I'm fine with it." Nick said, hoping Kate wouldn't. Megan giggled.

Why not just have Megan sleep with me, Nick can have her room."

"Take my room?" Megan looked irritated. "No offence, Nick, but the last time dad gave my room away I was miserable. All my stuff is in my room."

Kate looked uncomfortable but said nothing, walking out of the room. Nick gave Kate ten minutes and decided to follow her so he wouldn't wake her later on.

"I should probley turn in too. It was a long drive up here. Goodnight everyone."

The two said night at the same time and Nick went upstairs. He found the room Kate was in and knocked on the door frame, even though the door was open. "You o.k. about this? I can take the floor if your not."

Kate turned to look at him. "No, of course not, it's fine." She didn't sound angry, just tired.

Nick walked in the room, looking around. There were pictures of her and friends framing the mirror over her dresser. He took a closer look, giving Kate a minute to get situated. Most of the people in the pictures with her were guys. He could tell she had been popular in college. She was beautiful back than as well. He studied the photos.

Kate unfolded the bed and crawled in. "Bathroom is that way." She pointed to an ajoining room. Nick grabbed his toothbrush and made his way to it. He thought she was asleep already when he got back in, and he was a little disappointed. He was hoping for the alone time with her.

"You asleep?" Nick whispered when he got in bed next to her. Her back was to him.


Nick laid on his back and thought for a minute. "Hey, Kate?"


"Thanks for asking me to come."

Kate took a minute and rolled over on her other side, facing him as he lay on his back. "I'm glad you came."

"You are?" Nick smiled. He wanted to turn to his side and face her, but he didn't want to scare her or make her uncomfortable.

Kate smiled and nodded her head. "My dad adores you, you know that?"

Nick slowly nodded his head. "He's a good man. He raised a great daughter."

Kate's eyes shone. "Hey, Nick?"


Kate thought for a minute. "Nothing." She closed her eyes and sighed.

Nick chuckled. "What?"

Kate opened her eyes again and nodded her head. "Nothing, really."

They kept eye contact for a few minutes. Nick reached over and touched her face, brushing a whisp of hair behind her ear. "Sweet dreams, Kate." She gave him a warm smile back and rolled on her original side again.

Fifteen minutes later, when he could feel Kate had fallen into a deep sleep, Nick moved closer to her and put his arm around her waist, taking her hand in his. He buried his face in the softness of her hair. Gently he kissed her neck, whispering, "I love you, Kate Alice Benson." Within minutes, he fell asleep himself, feeling more secure than he ever had before. "This is where I belong," he thought to himself before drifting off to sleep.

He woke up to Kate stirring against him. He checked the clock. It was two thirty seven. She awoke and turned, becoming aware of his arm around her. He pretended to be asleep. He could feel her hesitate on what to do, but to his relief, she did not move his arm. Instead, she nestled in next to him again and went back to sleep.

When Nick woke the next day, Kate was already out of bed. He took a shower, changed, and met the others downstairs.

"Hey, partner, I was just coming to wake you up. Hungry?"

"Yeah. Man, I slept like a rock."

"After the way your bed was squeeking all night, I wonder why you did." Megan smirked and her father gasped.

"Megan!" Kate stared in disbelief.

"What? I was only joking, jeez."

"Nick, this is Mork and...Mark, I mean Mark and Mindy Shorewood, friends of the family. The family won't be here until tonight." A happy looking pudgy man in his fourties held out his hand to Nick. Mark, Mindy, Nick O'Malley." The woman was eager to take Nick's hand. She laughed as she did so. Something in Nick said she was the type to laugh at anything.

"How ya doin'?" Nick cast a glance at Kate who was watching this.

"How long have you and Kate been involved?"

Megan gave a sinister little laugh.

"We're not involved." Kate said.

"Were real good friends," Nick offered, smiling at Kate. "And in our spare time, we work together."

"Ohhh, isn't that nice." The woman looked less interested in him now. "So, Kate, why isn't your boyfriend here with us? Celebrating with his family, maybe?"

Kate gave a sigh he was sure only he picked up on. Under her breath, she said "here we go." She offered a polite smile and with tight lips, "I'm not seeing anyone right now, Mindy." She than went back to her coffee.

"Your not? Well I can't imagine why not, dear. You were always such a pretty little thing. Isn't she a beautiful girl?" She asked everyone, but Nick answered first.

"Yes, she is very beautiful."

Kate looked up and just about fell our of her chair. Nick smiled affectionatly at her.

"Well you should be with someone, marriage, dear, children. With your looks honey you should have men knocking down your door." Mindy shook her head as if she was pondering it deeply.

Kate was doing her best to ignore her comments.

An hour later, they were all seated in the living room, drinking coffee, talking. Kate sat with Nick again on the sofa. She was facing forward, Nick had his arm propped up on the back of the couch, behind Kate's head. They sat even closer than the night before. Out of the blue, Mindy spoke, who Nick had noticed was watching them closely the entire time.

"You know, the two of you really look adorable together. Really." She pointed at the two of them, which made everyone's attention go directly to them. The room stopped talking, waiting for an answer to an unanswerable question. Nick felt Kate's body tense up. She gave that "I'm not real happy" laugh of hers with a tight closed mouth, looking down so she wouldn't stare daggers at Mindy. Nick sort of enjoyed the line of questioning. He knew in some small way, it had to be making Kate think a little bit, or at least forced it into her mind. "Aren't they just adorable together, Mark? So, tell me, what keeps you from dating eachother? Your obviously very very close."

Kate gave Nick a look of "If you don't handle this, I'm going to shoot her." Nick tapped her leg to reassure her and looked at Mindy point blank. "Actually, I am completely in love with Kate, but she just doesn't see it." Nick wrapped his arm around Kate and pulled her into him. Her head went immediatly to his chest and to keep from moving too far into him, she had to put her hand on his upper leg. The room turned silent, everyones eyes were on Nick, who kept a straight face. A minute later he could feel Kate roll her eyes, dismissing his words as a sarcastic smartass thing to say for shock value. The room laughed. But her father gave Nick a good long look. Nick knew he wondered how much truth there was to that. But he didn't look upset, just unsure of how to take his words. Nick knew Kate would try to pull away from him fast, so when he pulled her close, he kept a secretly tight hold on her, just enough she would have to struggle to sit straight up again. He felt Kate move slightly under his pressure, but not wanting anymore attention, she simply didn't resist it. Half an hour later, they were still in that position, but only now, Kate was actually reclining into him, relaxing. When she would speak, Nick would look to the side, down at her. He couldn't help but realize just how easy it would be for him to kiss her in this position.

By five pm, guests started to crowd the house. Nick met all of Kate's extended family, and all of them sooner or later either inquired to Kate or Nick about their relationship. Nick was in the dining room having a drink alone, watching her, when Megan walked up behind him. He hardly noticed her until she began speaking. "You really are in love with her, arent you?"

Nick completely suprised, turned to her. He tried to laugh it off, and ask Megan what would make her think that. She only raised her eyebrows as if searching for the real answer. Nick's face grew serious. "I love your sister very much, Megan." He would have left it at that, but was almost glad when her questions continued. He needed someone to talk to about this, and he figured someone as close to Kate as Megan was, was probley the best person he could talk to about it.

"Are you?"

Nick contemplated the question for a minute, looking back at Kate. She was talking with her cousin, Derek.

"Why don't you just tell her?" Nick hadnt answered the question, but he really didn't have to.

"It's more complicated than that." Nick said, seriously. His eyes went back to Kate. "Besides, she doesn't know I exist."

Megan gave a little laugh, but it was more of a "wake up" laugh. "Your here, aren't you? Kate worships you. She never stops talking about you." Megan took a step closer to Nick, so they could talk and not be overheard.

"Yeah, as a friend." Nick's voice sounded beaten.

Changing the subject, but not really, Megan smiled slyly when she spoke. "Has Kate ever shown you the top of the hill in winter?"

Nick shook his head.

"Should have her take you for a walk up there, later on. It's really beautiful." She walked away, and behind Kate, where she wrapped her arms around her from behind, holding on as sisters do.

Nick walked over to the kitchen window and looked out at the white world. It was snowing big flakes and dispite this, it was strangly warm for the end of December. He thought of nothing but Kate.

"Whatcha thinkin' about, partner?" He turned only half way around, knowing that voice. He smiled, turning back to the window again. Kate took position next to him. Her eyes were also on the window.

"Is that your dad's property too?" He pointed towards the hill.

"Yeah. It's the main reason he bought the house."

It's really nice outside, want to go for a walk up there?" He motioned towards the hill behind the house.


For awhile, neither of them spoke as they walked. But it was on both their minds. When they reached the top, Kate finally broke the silence. "I'm sorry for the interrogation, before. My family is a little"

"Don't be sorry. They love you, they only want what's best for you, that's all." Nick's eyes were on her, looking deep inside her, a look only a man in love can give. Big white flakes fell in her hair, and she looked stunning. He couldn't take his eyes off of her. Kate looked straight ahead, sometimes down at the ground, dispite the view in front of her.

"Kate." Nick put his hand on her arm and guided her to face him. "I wanted to give you this tonight, but maybe now's a better time." Nick pulled a box out of his coat pocket, handing it to her. "And just so you know, Carl didn't pick this out, I did." Kate could have taken that as one of Nick's goofy things to say to cut the seriousness, but not with his tone, or his look. He was serious. She opened the box and found a necklace. It was a frosted pale blue heart crystal. When she laid it in her hand, to get a better look at it, it moved, showing a crack inside the glass. A second heart, lined in silver was behind it.

"When the two hearts aren't together, the heart breaks." Nick said.

Kate was breathless, she didn't know what to say. Her eyes grew misty and she looked at him, unsure of what to say, think, or do. "Nick, I don't know what to say." Her voice was honest.

Nick looked at her, look at the necklace. He could feel his chest rise and fall with emotion. "Kate"
She looked up at him. She couldn't believe how far they had come in the year they had known eachother. She waited for him to speak, the whole while taking in his image. His black hair seemed to be perfectly outlined by the white snow behind him. He looked down to her hand where she held the necklace. Taking her wrist gently, he took the necklace out of her hand and moved close to her. He took her long hair in his hands, and pushed it over her right shoulder. She shuddered. He looked in her eyes for a minute, than placed the necklace around her neck, bringing her hair back so that it fell softly down her back, "a river of gold," he thought to himself. Before stepping back, he placed a kiss on her cheek. Kate stood, a loss for words. Their faces were still only inches apart, and Nick contemplated telling her he loved her, taking her in his arms and never letting her go, but that moment was soon to be over, interupted.

"Hey, there you are." Nick and Kate turned to see one of her cousins, Seth, coming up the hill towards them. He had a snowball in his hand, which he threw at a tree, his aim sharp and perfect. "Bunch of us were going to head over to the Road House, have a few drinks. You guys coming?"

Nick looked at Kate, who was overlooking the trees below them. "I think I'll stay here."

"Nick?" Seth turned his glance to the man who was at Kate's side.

"No, I think I'm going to hang back too."

"You sure?"

"We're sure." Kate said, giving him a polite smile.

"Catch you two later on than."

By the time Kate and Nick got back to the house, everyone was gone. Kate sat down on the bed in her room, Nick followed her. He could tell she was thinking. He stood in the doorway and watched her. After a few minutes, she finally broke the silence. "What do you want to do?" Her question was vague, but Nick was not going to let an opportunity like this one pass him by. He had done that too many times. He took a few steps into the room and knelt in front of her. He put his hands on her legs, just above the knees. Their eyes locked on eachother.

"Make love to you." Nick said.
(to be continued)