Title: In the Blink of an Eye
Author: Erin
Characters: Natalie, Stephen and Brooke Beck (kinda) (mention of Beck family, Jack, Lisa, Hannah Montana, Natalie's mother and ex-husband)
Rating: G
Summary: Stephen interrupts an IM-session between Natalie and Brooke.
Warning: post-series. Oh, and I completely assumed the bits about Natalie's past. If she ever gave a date, I'll adjust accodingly.
Disclaimer: The original characters belongs to NBC and their respective actors. Hannah Montana belongs to Disney and Miley Cyrus. Title comes from One in a Million, by Hannah Montana.

Natalie Durant was sitting on the couch in her apartment. Her shoes were off and her legs up, almost in an indian-style position, but not quite. Her laptop was sitting open on the coffee table and she had a bowl in one hand and a fork in the other.

She looked at the screen for a moment as she chewed on the mix of lettuce and croutons while reading the words being typed into the small chat window and smiled. Setting the fork into the bowl and placing both items onto the table, she leaned over and typed her response.

Boys are hopeless.

She smiled again at the response to her comment and glanced up to the CD player, which had just kicked to the next song. The music was clearly not Natalie's normal taste, but she did have to admit that the beat was infectious.

Seeing the flash on the screen, she turned back to the computer to see the next message.

It had been almost two years since Natalie and the team from NIH met Brooke Beck. The little girl had lost her father to Smallpox before Natalie and her coworkers could find the disease, let alone produce a cure. While Brooke was under forced-seclusion, she and Natalie had formed quite a bond and, once the NIH had cleared the Beck family, Brooke promised to write Natalie.

Natalie, of course, nodded and smiled and watched the girl leave with her mother and brother as the family began to move on from their loss. She hadn't thought much on the promise until one day, almost two months later, a pink envelope was delivered to her office.

She sat down with the envelope and read the few pages, a smile on her face that Stephen Connor hadn't seen in a very long time. He'd been walking past her office and, as usual, glanced her way to see what she was doing. He'd actually stopped short at the sight of her smiling, as it wasn't often any of them smiled those days.

One letter, Natalie couldn't recall which one, included the address of a website that Brooke had created for a school project. It was a basic page, complete with pinks and purples and flowers and many uses of the word awesome, but Natalie loved it. Her eyes did mist over slightly when she got to the part of the page where Brooke mentioned her father, and the team from NIH who helped save her mother and brother.

Seeing that the girl had some computer skills, Natalie decided to include her personal email address in the next note back, complete with 'hi' and 'hello' from Eva and Miles, directed to the entire Beck family. A few days later, Natalie received an email with the link to one of the instant messenger sites. They had a similar program at work, but she found it easier to simply walk across the hall and give Stephen the message.

Now, sixteen months later, Natalie and Brooke had almost-regularly scheduled 'chats.' On this particular evening, Natalie had logged on and sent her first message of "Thank you," having received a puffy envelope from Brooke containing a birthday gift.

Brooke had sent Natalie two CDs - her current favorites - and told Natalie that she would "LOVE them!" Natalie wasn't sure how much she would like Hannah Montana, but knew that Frank's daughters loved the singer and the show. Frank did explain the basic plot to her the first time Brooke mentioned that it was her favorite show on television.

Natalie looked up again at the sound of a knock on her door. Typing a quick 'Be right back' to Brooke, Natalie hauled herself up from the couch and did a half-skip and slide across the floor. As she reached for the doorknob, Natalie turned and looked to the laminate-wood floor and smiled as she realized she hadn't slid across the floor in a long time. She'd almost forgotten how much fun it was.

Pulling the door open, Natalie turned to face her visitor - smile still spread across her face. If it was possible, the smile grew wider as she took in the sight of a suited-Stephen Connor, holding a plate with small, strawberry-topped chocolate cake.

All of a sudden, Natalie felt very under-dressed in jeans and a multi-colored sweater. "Uh... Hi," she said tentatively, eyeing the cake. Stephen held the plate out toward Natalie and frowned.

"I missed your birthday." Natalie didn't even bother to hide her smirk as she took the plate from his hand and nodded him inside her apartment.

"Well, in your defense," she said looking at him over her shoulder. "You were doing important NIH... boss-things..." she trailed off, raising an eyebrow at her weak description of his big meeting with the heads of the NIH and other government organizations.

Natalie set the plate down on the coffee table and disappeared into the kitchen, leaving Stephen standing in the center of her living room. He noted an open pizza box on the other side of the laptop - two slices of pepperoni missing - as well as the bowl of salad.

A smile spread across his face at the image of Natalie 'taking it easy' and, a moment later, she reappeared with two bottles of beer and two forks. Passing one of the beers to him, she waved toward the pizza and took a swig from her bottle. "Please," she said shaking her head. "Finish that."

Stephen raised an eyebrow and shook his head slightly before taking a swig. He moved to the coffee table and set his bottle down so that he could remove the suit coat. He hated having to wear the thing, but he also had to admit that he did get a slight kick out of the look on Natalie's face when he first entered the room each time.

Tossing the jacket across the back of the couch, Stephen waved to the pizza box and began to loosen his tie as he sat down next to Natalie. She passed the box across the laptop without looking at him; she was back to typing to Brooke.

Sorry about that. Doctor Connor just brought me birthday cake.

Ooh. What kind of cake? Does it have frosting? Candles?

Natalie smiled as she began typing again. Stephen picked up a slice and leaned against Natalie's shoulder, trying to see what she was typing. He caught his name, but that was all before Natalie grabbed the lid and pulled it down as she turned to him.

"Excuse me?" Stephen made a face, reached for his beer and leaned back into the couch. Natalie gave him a look and opened the laptop again, turning it away from him rather uncovertly. She typed another message back to Brooke and her eyes darted to Stephen.

He was trying to read what I was typing.

Tell him you're talking to a boy. See if he gets jealous.

Connor doesn't get jealous. Just cranky. He had a big meeting today. Had to wear a suit.

I want a picture!!

Stephen ate two pieces of pizza while Natalie typed, smirked and giggled. Had it been anyone beside Natalie Durant, he'd have ignored it entirely. But Natalie didn't giggle. Ever. She did smirk, usually at his expense.

But never giggle.

And she didn't listen to whatever this was. He blinked and looked from Natalie to the CD player. "What is this?" he finally asked. Natalie looked up for a moment and reached for the envelope and CD cases from Brooke.

"Hannah Montana." Stephen took the envelope from her and flipped the top case over. He recalled Lisa mentioning something about Jack being completely in love with Hannah-something. 'Must be her,' he thought with a shrug.

So he brought you ONLY a cake?!


That is a cop-out. Demand a real present.

It's really not that big a deal.

Natalie picked the wrong time to reach for her beer. Brooke's next comment caused her to snort, which forced beer up her nose and, thankfully, she had the sense to look away from the computer before spraying it all over the laptop.

Stephen gave her a look and she simply shook her head as she reached for a stack of napkins that had come with the pizza. She wiped at her sweater and rolled her eyes slightly before pulling herself up from the couch and rushing into the kitchen.

Stephen watched intently as she disappeared around the corner and dove for the laptop, wanting to see what had caused her reaction. One eyebrow shot up and he glanced toward the kitchen before hurrying back to previous position. Reaching quickly for his own beer as Natalie rounded the corner, he simply nodded to her.

"You okay, Doctor Durant?" Natalie simply nodded in his direction and sighed as she dropped back down to the couch. Shaking her head, she typed something and leaned back into the couch then looked at Stephen. He turned toward her and simply stared back.

He had to look away as a yawn got the best of him, which caused Natalie to smile. "I should go," he said, waving toward the cake. "I just wanted to make sure you-"

"Thank you, Stephen. You didn't have to." Stephen shrugged and pushed himself up from the couch and reached for his suit jacket.

"Well, I know you don't really like to-" he sighed as she quickly glanced away. Natalie hadn't been fond of celebrating her birthday. All the bad things in her life seemed to happen right around then; the death of her mother, her divorce. She pushed up from the couch as well and moved around the coffee table as Stephen pulled his jacket on and moved toward the door.

The next track on the CD began playing and Stephen shot a smile in the direction of Natalie's stereo, but he didn't say anything as Natalie shrugged. He took a moment to glance back to the laptop and then back to Natalie.

"Happy Birthday, Doctor Durant." Natalie was mid-nod when Stephen's arms were suddenly around her and pulling her to him. Synapses fired, but she couldn't function much past the simple realization that Stephen was kissing her.

It was one of those literal weak-in-the-knees kisses, too. She had one good blink once he pulled back and let go of her. Thank God the door was right there, so that she had something to hold on to. Stephen was halfway out the door when he turned leaned back into the apartment.

Pointing toward the laptop, he nodded to Natalie. "And tell Miss Beck that Sam was the hero." He gave her a smirk and straightened - while Natalie's eyes went wide and the color drained from her face - before turning and heading down the hallway toward the stairs.

Blinking twice, she turned her head toward the laptop and cursed Stephen Connor.

In fact: demand a good kiss. Like the end of Lord of the Rings-good. When Aragorn sees Arwen after he's crowned king and lays one on her. Take your breath away-hero gets the girl kinda kiss. Seriously.

Sam was the hero of Lord of the Rings, Brooke...