The Bet

A/N: Long time no see, eh? But still I can't help myself; if I want to create fluffy, 'shippy situations, it's always Kate and Nick I choose. They are, after all, my favorite 'ship for some reason. So here's another "they-finally-make-it" scenario. As usual, not at all canon with anything. Forget whatever happened in my other stories ("The Last Hour", "The Story" and "The Proposal"); this is a stand-alone. Hope you like it… Please review.

Disclaimer: As usual, not mine.

Classification: Fluffy, 'shippy one-shot with one sole purpose: making 'shippers feel good! Set some time after the show ended. Rated PG for subject matter.

Summary: Kate is "forced" by two friends to take on a bet. A very special bet, that is. And when Nick finds out, he's not amused…

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

"You do know you're not the only one, do you?" Debbie gave her Cosmopolitan an expert swirl before she downed the rest of a drink in one go and raised her hand to order another one.

Kate, at whom the question had been directed, looked down into her Manhattan and absently stirred the liquid with a piece of pineapple. "The only what?" she asked.

"The only girl with trouble in the men department, luv," Sorcha explained Debbie's point.

Kate looked up and eyed her two friends wearily. "Maybe not," she conceded, "but I'm certainly the only one who has li… I mean, jerks lined up around the block on the one hand and not one decent man in sight on the other hand."

"There's always that cute partner of yours," Debbie pointed out. "And where the fuck is my drink?!"

"Coming…" The young waiter hurried to their table and put another Cosmopolitan in front of Debbie.

"Thanks, sweetie," Debbie crooned and winked at the waiter, a Hispanic twenty-something with dark brown eyes and, admittedly, a very cute butt.

"Yeah, right," Sorcha joined in. "That Nick guy. He's an eye-turner, that's for sure."

"He's my partner," Kate pointed out. "I have to work with him every day. It's not that easy." She took a deep swallow from her cocktail in order to hide her face. "Besides, he's my best friend," she said from behind the glass.

"Not a reason, luv," Sorcha said sternly. "You have the hots for him or not?"

"Not," said Kate, knowing that it wasn't quite the truth. But that was nobody else's business. Not even her two best friends'.

"Well, what you need is some fun," Debbie declared. "No commitments, nothing serious. Just something to boost your self-esteem a little, girl."

"I'm not having a one-night stand, Deb," Kate said warningly, knowing that Debbie would suggest something like that.

Debbie's eyes sparkled with demonic joy. "Not a one-night stand as such, Katie," she said. "Gimme a minute."

She grabbed Sorcha by the arm and pulled her a little distance away from the table. Kate saw the two of them whispering, saw realization dawn on Sorcha's face, saw the big smiles on their faces, and knew she was in serious trouble.

That kind of trouble when your two best friends come up with some miraculous plan to make you feel better. It never worked out.

"Can't we just finish our drinks and go home?" Kate asked as soon as Debbie and Sorcha were back.

"No way." Debbie's eyes were still glinting. "I have the ultimate idea to make you feel better."

"She does," Sorcha said. "It's not as crazy as her usual ideas, but it's..."

"… brilliant in its simplicity," Debbie finished without any false modesty. She turned to Kate. "You, my dear, are going to collect kisses."

"I'm going to what?"

"Collect kisses, Kate. You do remember kisses, do you?"

"And why should I collect kisses?" Kate was still at a loss.

"Because if you don't, you'll owe Sor and me a week's worth of cocktails."

Kate sighed, exasperated. "What is this, blackmail? You want me to arrest you?"

"Nope, not blackmail." Debbie and Sorcha shook their heads. "It's a bet."

xxx

Nick was bored. It was Saturday night, his apartment was empty and dark, and he did not have any beer left in the fridge. He had been toying with the idea of inviting Kate over, but due to the aforementioned beer problem he had not done so. If she came over, he wanted to have something to offer.

She wouldn't be home, anyway, he remembered. She was out with Deborah and Sorcha. Out for drinks, and maybe a night club later on. He debated for a moment. It was probably supposed to be ladies' night out, but maybe he could join them later in the club, where there was loud music and no chance to talk, anyway. Yeah, he could do that, he decided. Slightly astounded, he noticed that he was feeling better already. The prospect of going out, after all… or was it maybe just the prospect of seeing Kate tonight?

He grabbed the phone and punched in Kate's cell phone number. It rang three times and he started to think she might not hear it, but then somebody answered.

"Hello?"

Nick hesitated for a moment. That wasn't Kate's voice.

"Who is this?" he finally asked.

"This is Deb," the voice answered. "Kate's at the ladies'. How are you, Nick?"

"How do you…" Nick started, but then he trailed off. Caller ID, of course. "Where are you ladies?" he asked instead.

"Why, you wanna join us?"

Nick had forgotten how direct Debbie was. "Well… yeah. Later," he said hastily. "I seem to remember Kate said something about a club later on, and I figured you won't do your ladies' talk there, so…"

"Hold on a sec, will you, Nick?" Debbie interrupted him. He could hear her place a hand over the receiver and talk to someone else. A minute or so later, she came back on.

"Yeah, Nick, why don't you meet us at midnight at the Viper Room," she suggested. "We'll already be inside, so just come in and join us. That okay?"

"Sure." Nick felt relief. "Thanks for having me," he added charmingly.

"Anytime, sweets." Debbie hung up.

Nick wondered whether Kate would like this arrangement as much as he did. He was almost excited – which was completely stupid, of course, since he saw her every day, anyway. But at work and off work were two different worlds…

He shuffled over into his bedroom to pick his clothes. He wanted to look good for her tonight.

xxx

"The Viper Room?" Kate looked from Debbie to Sorcha. "Are you serious?"

"Course we are!" Debbie nodded energetically. When Kate had returned from the restroom, Debbie had informed her that they were going to the Viper Room, a night club just one block down the road, to help Kate win her bet.

"You do know, luv, that even the movie stars sometimes hang at the Viper Room, do you?" Sorcha pointed out. "Loads of good-looking guys to steal a kiss from."

"Mmph." Kate still wasn't sure whether she liked the conditions of this bet or not. The deal was that she had to kiss ten men tonight. Debbie and Sorcha would pick the men and would also capture the kiss with Debbie's multifunctional digital camera. The men had to be single and good-looking, men to be proud of. Men to boost her self-esteem. Kate did not like the sexist implications of Debbie's suggestion, but she had to admit that it was exciting, and clearly different from Debbie's usual antics. And it was worth the trouble, she mused. If she managed, Debbie and Sorcha would pay her drinks for the next month; if she didn't (which would considerably lower her self-esteem, of course), she'd have to pay for the two of them, though only for a week. All in all, not a bad deal, Kate, she told herself.

"Stop whining and come with me," Debbie ordered. "We've got to make you look stunning, hon."

xxx

Almost an hour later, the three friends arrived at the Viper Room. It was only a quarter past eleven, and already the club was packed. The bouncers scrutinized everyone carefully before admitting them. A couple of people were rejected for wearing sneakers or looking too young; two were removed from the club as Kate and the others were waiting in the queue.

"Will they even let us in?" Kate asked, nervously smoothing her skirt over her thighs and knees.

"Yep, they will," Debbie said. "They don't have any reason not to. We're free, white, and twenty-one."

"Shut up!" Sorcha hissed, shocked.

"Hey, it's just a saying, I wasn't being racist or anything…"

"Just shut it!"

Debbie pouted and shut her mouth.

She was right, however; the bouncers waved them through without giving them even a second glance. They paid their admission fees, got rid of their coats and headed for the bar next to the dance floor. Debbie clutched her camera.

"Okay, show time," she said, grinning.

Kate rolled her eyes, ordered three beers for them, and turned back to her friends just in time to see them checking out a man leaning against the bar only a short distance away from them. They were whispering agitatedly.

"Please don't tell me you've found the first victim already," Kate said, pleading. "I'd actually like to…"

"No, you're not gonna wait and get accustomed to the idea or whatever you were thinking of," Debbie interrupted her. "You gonna jump right in, girl. I'll push you if I have to."

Kate sighed and took a closer look at the man they were checking out. He did look good, that much was certain. Blond hair, dark blue eyes, chiselled features, lean muscles. He could have been a Davidoff Cool Water model right down to his half-unbuttoned shirt granting a glimpse at an impressive sixpack.

"Wanna give that Josh Holloway lookalike a try?" Sorcha nudged Kate.

Kate hesitated. "Look at him," she said. "No way he'd be interested in me. And no way he's single!"

"Let's find out!" Debbie marched off in the direction of the Davidoff model, and before Kate could stop her or even start after her, she had reached him and tugged at his sleeve.

"Hi," she said. "You look like you might be able to help us out here. We'll explain in a minute, but first we need to know if you have a girlfriend or wife."

The man looked at Debbie as if she'd spoken in Chinese to him. "You wanna know if I'm taken?" he finally asked, and a slight smile curled the corner of his perfect mouth. "May I ask why you need to know that?"

"Because if you're not, you can help my friend here win a bet." Debbie did not waste any time. "She'll have to kiss ten handsome guys tonight, but they have to be single. That's a rule." She gave "Josh Holloway" a mischievous look. "Or shall we say, they have to say they're single."

He smiled more broadly this time. "Is that the only rule?" he asked. "They have to be handsome and unmarried?"

Even Debbie was confused for a moment. "I think so," she finally said. "And it's got to be a real kiss, not just a peck on the cheek or something."

The Josh Holloway lookalike pondered for a moment, then he smiled. "Deal," he said. "I'll do it. But I have a rule of my own."

Kate secretly rolled her eyes. She thought she knew what was coming next – her phone number, a couple of drinks, no more kisses tonight with anyone else, something like that. He'd turn on the cheap charms that only increased his arrogance. So what he ended up saying came as a real surprise: "No tongue."

"What?" screeched Debbie, backing away from him. "Are you serious?"

"Damn serious," the man replied. ""I fit into all your categories, is that right? Plus, I'm willing to help your pretty friend here win her bet. And since I'm supposing you'll film the whole thing, I'll do my best to make it look like a frencher. But no tongue. That OK?"

He looked at Kate, who had been following the conversation with increasing surprise. She now snapped out of it and said hastily, "Yeah, I think that's OK."

"Good." He winked at her good-naturedly. "Then why don't you come over here and we'll introduce ourselves while your friend is getting her equipment ready?"

"Yeah, sure." Kate did not really know what to think of all this. She walked over to him and shook his outstretched hand. "I'm Kate."

"Jake."

"Nice to meet you, Jake."

Jake gave her a long look. "May I ask why you took on such a bet?"

Kate smiled. "You may, but it's a long story… involving low self-esteem, too many jerks and two overzealous best friends."

Jake chuckled. "I get it. This wasn't your idea, then?"

"Nope."

Jake smiled at her. "But you know you don't need a bet to get handsome guys to kiss you, right?"

The compliment took a moment to hit home, but then Kate understood and blushed slightly. And then she thought, What the hell am I doing here? An image of Nick crossed her mind, and suddenly she loathed the idea of kissing ten random guys tonight, no matter how handsome. What was the point, even if Debbie and Sorcha made sure they were "available" – i.e. single – when she knew very well she wanted someone else?

She backed away. "Jake…"

He had been watching her. "You're chickening out, are you?" He had lowered his voice so that Debbie and Sorcha, who were still fiddling with the camera, couldn't hear.

Kate blushed. "I…"

"Is it because of me or because of someone else?" Jake looked genuinely interested, and Kate didn't want to lie to him.

"There's someone else," she confessed, hardly believing she did. "I'm sorry…"

"Nah, don't worry." Jake grinned at her openly. "It's not as if you'd be raising false hope in me. You wanna know why I said no tongue?"

Kate looked at him. "Tell me."

With a conspiratorial grin, Jake lowered his mouth to her ear. "I really don't have a girlfriend or wife," he said, "but I do have a boyfriend…"

Kate stared at him, utterly bamboozled, then she burst out laughing. She had not expected that.

"You see, I really only want to help you win your bet," Jake continued. "No strings attached. You don't have to fear I'll run after you for the rest of the night." He winked. "So what do you say – you wanna at least give that bet a try before you call it all off?"

Kate couldn't help laughing. "Alright," she conceded. She had never kissed a gay man before – why would, she, anyway? – but Jake was certainly handsome. And he was nice, she noticed with some surprise.

"Don't tell the others," she whispered into his ear. Then she turned to Deb and Sorcha. "You ready?"

"Yep." Debbie held up the camera, already in film mode. "Ready when you guys are."

Kate and Jake exchanged a conspiratorial glance. "Ready," Jake said. "Press record and prepare for the show."

He placed his hands on Kate's shoulders and drew her closer. Kate could hear Debbie saying, "Handsome Guy Number One" and knew the camera was recording them. She suddenly felt excited, like a school girl, suppressing the urge to giggle at a secret only she and Jake were in on.

"Ready?" Jake whispered, his face inches from hers.

"Uh-huh."

Jake bent to her and his lips touched down on hers. He had tilted his head to one side and his lips were parted, blocking them from full view, so Kate supposed it was really impossible to tell whether there was some tongue involved or not. There wasn't, but still the kiss was sweet, and Kate even found herself enjoying it a little. Jake really did what he could to make it look real; he pulled her closer and put both arms around her.

When their lips parted, they lingered for a moment, just looking at each other. Then Jake winked at Kate and she laughed, Debbie yelled, "Cut!", and Jake let go of Kate's arms.

And then Kate turned around, still laughing – and stared directly in Nick's shocked face.

xxx

"Nick?!"

The surprise and – yes – horror in her eyes told Nick two things: that she had obviously not been told he'd come here, and that she had not wanted him to see her kissing that man.

Well, a little too late, Kate, he thought cynically. I've seen you, and that's enough.

He had not meant to give up on her easily. He had always thought he would fight for her when another one threatened to take Kate from him; that he would seize the opportunity to finally tell her everything. But now… he couldn't. That guy she had been kissing looked too good to be true – handsome, funny and nice. Usually it was only one or the other. But he could see that Kate liked, really liked this guy. The way she had laughed with him… she couldn't have known him long, but already they seemed to have their own secrets, the way every couple did.

"Hi, Kate," he finally managed. Nodding at Debbie and Sorcha, he added, "Howdy, ladies." Then he turned to look at the man. "And you are…?"

"Nick, it's not what it looks like," Kate said hastily. She looked… guilty, Nick noted with surprise. And why did she so hastily apologize to him?

"So, what does it look like?" he replied wryly.

Kate blushed a bright red. That guy next to her bent down to her and asked her something – Nick thought he heard the words "…that someone else?" – and she blushed even more and nodded.

The guy sighed. "Then you'd better explain," he said. "I'll be off. Nice to meet y'all." He bent down to Kate again and gave her a small kiss on the cheek. Then he turned around and disappeared into the crowd.

Nick stared after him and then back to Kate. "Now what was that all about?" he finally asked angrily. "And why did Debbie say 'Cut!' when you were finished smooching that guy? And why is it 'not what it looks like'? Kate, talk to me. Did you even know I was gonna be here tonight?"

Kate shook her head.

Nick shot an angry glance at Debbie. "Forget to tell her, huh?" he growled. Debbie shrugged playfully, her eyes glinting again.

"Whatever. Care to explain it – whatever it means?"

"Hey, tone it down, Nick, will ya?" Debbie cut in. "She doesn't have to explain herself to you!"

"That's OK, Deb," Kate said hastily, her face still flushed. "I want him to know."

"Oh… OK." Debbie conceded unusually fast, and Nick cast her a suspicious glance. But Debbie merely grabbed Sorcha by the arm and pulled her off in the direction of the bar.

Nick focused on Kate again, one eyebrow arched. "So tell me, partner… who was this guy?" He tried hard not to sound too jealous.

"Jake, his name's Jake…" Kate trailed off, looking around. "He's…"

"… your new man, I figured," Nick said wryly. "Thought we were friends, Kate; why didn't you tell me?"

"He's not my new man," Kate protested. "He's gay!"

Nick's face fell slack. He couldn't believe what he had just heard. Why on earth would Kate kiss a gay man in a night club?!

"Care to tell me why you're smooching gay models at the Viper Room?" he asked.

Kate blushed even more, looking around for Debbie and Sorcha, but they were miles away at the bar, negotiating for drinks.

"It's a bet," she finally confessed. "A stupid bet. It was Deb's idea…"

"Of course," Nick commented wryly.

"I'm supposed to kiss ten handsome guys tonight," Kate told him. Her eyes were avoiding his. "Deb is filming everything. Jake was the first one we asked. He agreed to do it…"

Nick almost fell over. "Ten guys?!" he spluttered. "Jesus, Kate, are you out of your mind? That's so not you!"

"I know." Kate looked sheepish. "At first I thought it was fun, but then I actually wanted to chicken out. Jake convinced me to give it a try, just for fun, and of course it was a bit different with him, seeing as he…"

"He's not a danger, right?" Nick finished for her. He began to understand. So Kate did not have a new man. Her crazy friend had manoeuvred her into a situation she was trying to escape now.

Well, he thought, you gave me a pretty good scare, partner. Let's see if I can pay you back. And then he said loudly, "That's another story, of course. So why don't we see to it that you really win that bet of yours? I'm volunteering."

xxx

"Volunteering for what?" Kate did not think she understood him right.

"Why, as your second victim, of course," Nick said. "Deb!" he yelled before Kate could stop him. "Come over here, and bring that camera of yours. Show's gonna continue!"

"Nick!" Kate hissed, horrified. "Stop it!"

"Why?" He looked at her, innocently mischievous – or would that be mischievously innocent? Kate could have killed him right there and then. How could he?!

"Why?" he repeated. "Am I not handsome enough to count?"

"Of course you are…" Kate felt hot and weak all over. She was trapped, she realized, and Nick was enjoying it. Did he want to humiliate her? Or had he just, like so many times before, forgotten what exactly tactfulness was? Either way, she had to deal with the situation. If Nick wanted to play, it was usually best just to play along.

"Alright," she said and straightened. "Deb?"

"I heard." Debbie's grin was definitely sardonic. "Fine with me. Sor?"

"Handsome enough, I'd say," Sorcha agreed. "Single, too. So, yeah, Nick, you're in."

"Kate, get ready," Debbie ordered, camera poised.

Kate turned back to Nick. She was embarrassed and horrified, but now she was also defiant. In the corners of her mind she was aware that she'd had a drink too much and that she would probably regret this tomorrow. She did not even want to imagine what this kiss might do to her relationship with Nick – as friends, as partners, as fighting buddies. But it was Nick who had started it, and she would not back down now.

Not when she secretly longed to do it, anyway…

Nick placed his hands on her shoulders and pulled her closer. He bent his head so their faces were almost level.

Kate was shivering inside. She was having a hard time to keep her teeth from chattering, and it wasn't because she was cold.

"Nick…" she managed faintly, but then Debbie yelled, "Action!", and suddenly Nick was all over her. At least that was what it felt like, being completely wrapped in his overwhelming presence. She could think of nothing else, only his lips on hers, his hands on her shoulders, now wandering up her neck, over her cheeks and to the back of her head, running his fingers through her hair…

She found himself opening her lips against his, half aware that the kiss was not half as passionate as it had felt at first. Nick's lips were slowly moving over hers, as if he was prolonging every millisecond of the kiss as long as he could; tantalizingly slowly, his tongue finally dipped into her mouth, and she welcomed him, kissing him back with all she had.

Ten seconds passed, then twenty. Far, far away, Debbie was yelling, "Cut!" but neither she nor Nick made any move to stop the kiss. She was dazed, high on his scent, high on the feeling of him being as close as never before.

When she finally started to come to her senses, the passion had faded from the kiss and was being replaced by a kind of playful tenderness. Nick was still kissing her; quick, small kisses, their lips never quite parting. Somehow her own hands had found their way around his neck, she noticed. One hand was buried in his dark hair.

"Kate! Cut!" Debbie yelled again, and Kate felt as if she was waking up from a dream. Slowly, her eyes focused again and she found herself staring into Nick's eyes.

"We can stop kissing now," she murmured against his lips.

"U-huh," mumbled Nick.

Neither of them stopped, though.

xxx

"Kate!"

"Huh?" Kate finally turned around to see an exasperated Debbie standing in front of her, arms akimbo, pretending to be furious while in fact she was having a hard time hiding a satanic grin.

"You clearly exceeded the limits of this bet, girl," Debbie said sternly. She held up her camera. "I've got hard evidence here. Ninety-seven seconds!" She finally allowed the grin to spread over her face. "Congratulations, you two," she said. "I'd've lost my breath long before that."

"We're police officers, Deb," Nick chimed in. "We've got lungs like horses."

Debbie looked at Kate and Nick, who were still standing there with their arms around each other, Nick's chin resting on top of Kate's head.

"I've got a feeling that the bet is off," she finally commented. "And that Sor and I will have to spend the rest of this evening without you."

Kate turned back to Nick, who quickly bent his head, buried his face against the side of her neck and planted a kiss there, which made goosebumps spring up all over Kate's body. Inadvertently, she winced. Nick made his way up to her ear and whispered, "I've got a feeling she's right."

Kate nodded in Debbie's direction. "You may be right," she said. She wanted to continue, but Debbie interrupted her.

"Get out of here, you two," she said. "I can't stand to watch you pining for each other any longer. Off!"

"That's an order," Sorcha added when neither Kate nor Nick made a move. "Come on, guys, get the hell out of here."

Nick looked at Kate. "Are we?" he asked quietly. "Getting out here, I mean."

"If you want to," Kate replied cautiously.

"Hell, yeah," said Nick heartily. Then he suddenly became serious. "Really, Kate, is that what you want? You… me… this…? Because if this is just the alcohol talking, I'd rather leave alone…"

"It's not just the alcohol," Kate replied calmly. "It's exactly what I want – you, me, this. And I've wanted it for quite some time already…"

xxx

Some hours later, Kate was lying in Nick's bed, comfortably snuggled against his body, his arms around her, her hands covering his. She was dozing already when Nick spoke again.

"Kate?"

"Uh-huh?"

"Is this for real?"

She smiled, turned around in his arms and kissed him full on the mouth. "Real enough?"

Nick made a small, contented sound and pulled her closer to his chest. "Then I guess the one who actually made all this possible is Debbie, and that stupid bet. I can't believe I'm actually saying this, but remind me to thank her for that…"

xxxTHE ENDxxx

End Note: Okay, I might have gone a bit over the top here, but I've had this idea for so long, it just had to be written down… What do you think?