A/N: Well... looks like this is it. I'm sad, but also proud. I've got some ideas floating around for future stories, though, so don't think I won't be back!
Thank you to I'mapersonandyoucan'tstopme, Guest, Caranath (that Joe will mock Frank and Nancy is implied, though not explicitly stated ;P), ILoveMom (x2!), bhar (I'm glad to hear that a non Nancy-fan can enjoy the story too!), Shenice, Agent Striker, the. vulture, hardydrew222, Really Cinderella, Guest, TrixieNancy124, and George99 for your reviews! In fact, thank you to everyone who's left me a review of the course of the story. You're all fantastic!
And without further ado... enjoy!
Six Months Later
"Nancy? Do you think I should bring my red dress? Or the light blue one?" Jill called, poking her head out of her bedroom door.
In the kitchen, Nancy set down the knife she was using to slice vegetables. "The blue one's the one with the fluttery sleeves?"
"That one." Nancy said. "The red one's too formal for a wine tour."
"Good point." Jill said, "Thanks!"
Nancy smiled to herself as she resumed making her salad. Sometimes she just had to sit back and marvel at the progress Jill had made in the past few months. Her rapid recovery from her gunshot wound had been miraculous enough, but since then she'd reconciled and reunited with her parents and testified against Tommy in court. She was like a completely different girl, the kind of girl she might have been if she'd never met Tommy.
Nancy had never been prouder of Jill than when she'd taken the stand last week to tell the world what sort of man Thomas Dawley really was. Being in the courtroom with Tommy, talking about all of the terrible things he'd done to her, dealing with reporters... it had taken a lot of courage for Jill, but she'd handled it all with dignity and quiet grace. They'd gone back to Chicago for the trial and stayed the week with her father and Hannah. It hadn't been until yesterday that the court released the verdict: guilty as charged on three counts of attempted murder, arson, kidnapping, assault, racketeering, and other various assorted charges. Though they hadn't been able to get him on Ned's murder, Nancy was able to content herself with the fact that Tom Dawley would be in jail for a long time.
Jill had burst into tears of joy and relief upon hearing the verdict, and she'd immediately begun planning a vacation of sorts to celebrate. Since she worked nine to five on weekdays as an administrative assistant at a nearby women-in-crisis shelter, she decided to take the weekend to stay with her parents upstate and visit a few of the nearby wineries in New York wine country. Regrettably, Nancy had volunteered to take extra weekend shifts at Maxine's, to make up for the time she'd taken off during the trial, so she couldn't join her.
There was a knock on the door and Callie Shaw stuck her head into the apartment. "Jillian Hendricks, are you ready to get our drink on?" she called.
"In a minute!" Jill called back from the bedroom.
Nancy smiled at the new arrival. "Come on in, Callie." Callie had met Jill the day she moved into the apartment and, to Nancy's surprise and bewilderment, the two had instantly hit it off. At first it had been awkward having Callie around so often, but over time both Callie and Nancy had gotten used to the situation, and even formed a tentative friendship of their own. Nancy could admit, if only to herself, that Callie was bright, spunky, and pragmatic; it wasn't difficult to understand what Frank had seen in her.
"Hey Nancy." Callie said, pulling a small rolling suitcase in behind her and perching on the couch. "You sure you don't want to come with us? It'll be fun..."
"I'd love to..." Nancy confessed. "But I have to work tomorrow. I'm glad you guys are getting to go, though. It's been a stressful week, what with the trial."
"Yeah..." Callie said sympathetically. "I can't even imagine..." She trailed off awkwardly and glanced around the room. After a minute she smiled. "Hey, you finally got Joe to fix the chain on your door!"
Nancy laughed. "I know. Don't get me started on what an ordeal that was."
Jill finally appeared in the living room, her weekend bag slung over her shoulder. She was wearing a jean skirt and a pink ruffled top, and tugging her sandals onto her feet as she walked. "I'm ready!" she announced.
Nancy folded her arms. "You realize you have a six hour car ride ahead of you, right?"
"Five and a half." Jill corrected, smiling brightly. "You're not going to bring me down tonight, Nance. Besides, I prefer to think of it as a 'road trip.'" She looked to Callie, and Callie nodded her confirmation. "See? Road trip!"
It was good to see Jill happy after the week she'd had... after the year she'd had, really. She looked as carefree as Nancy had ever seen her, and it warmed her heart. "Well, say hi to your parents for me." she said, hugging Jill goodbye.
"We will," Callie said as she maneuvered her suitcase back out the door. "And we'll have a glass of wine for you, too!"
"You'd better." Nancy nodded.
"And, hey, I know you have to work," Jill said, winking at Nancy. "But you try to have some fun this weekend too, okay? The nightmare is finally over!"
"I promise." Nancy said. "Now get out of here! Have a good road trip!" The door closed and she stood in the living room for a minute. A brief wave of melancholy washed over her as she listened to the sounds of Jill's and Callie's excited chatter dying away, but she shook it off before she could get mired down in it. It was a shame about missing the vacation, but in many ways, a nice, quiet weekend at home was just as good.
She finished preparing and eating her salad and she was just finishing with the dishes when the phone rang. She grabbed it and checked the screen before accepting the call. "Hey Dad, what's going on?"
"Not much, sweetheart. We had some reporters here earlier looking for quotes on the Dawley verdict, but they're gone now... I just wanted to see how you were holding up."
"I'm fine." Nancy told him. "Why wouldn't I be? He's actually going to pay for what he did to Jill, what he did to Frank-"
"What he did to you." Carson finished. "I know. I'm happy about that too... But I'm sorry the murder charge didn't stick, honey."
Nancy shrugged, although he obviously couldn't see her. "You know... Ned's death was an accident. Tommy told me that, and I-" she huffed a brief laugh, "I actually believe him."
Carson spoke in a wary tone. "Does that make things better? Or worse?"
"Better, I guess." Nancy answered. "I feel... okay about the verdict. I really do."
"I'm glad." Carson said warmly. "How did Frank and Joe take the news?"
"I haven't actually seen them in a few days." Nancy said. "They've been away on a case with their dad. I think they just got back to Bayport. Joe texted me just after they read the verdict though, to say congratulations."
"Nothing." Nancy said with a sigh. She could tell just by the tone of her father's voice what his next question would be.
"How are things going between you two?"
And there it was. She rolled her eyes. "Really, Dad? You sound like Bess."
"I'm just asking..." Carson said lightly. "I like to know what's going on in my only daughter's life, especially since she moved so far away and I don't get to see her that often..."
"You saw me last week!" Nancy sputtered, but she couldn't help grinning. As a lawyer in the courtroom, her father well knew how to approach a topic sneakily, but when dealing with his daughter, he'd often found more success with a shamelessly obvious guilt trip. She relented, just as she knew he'd expected. "Things are going fine between me and Frank. We're still just friends. Nothing's changed."
"All right." Carson said, "Believe me, I'm not trying to pressure you. As your father-"
"You'd be happiest if you knew I was safe at home with the door locked every night, instead of going out on dates with men?" she guessed cheekily.
"Why, yes, in fact!" Carson teased. "Although, obviously, a convent would be the most preferable..."
"Hmm... a convent?" Nancy pretended to consider it. "Let me think about it and get back to you."
It was all well and good to joke with her father about the lack of forward progress with her relationship with Frank, but she couldn't deny that, more and more, she'd been thinking about trying to make that change.
She was in love with him, there was no doubt about that. And she knew he had feelings for her too. It was obvious in the way he acted around her, the way he talked to her, the way he looked at her. She knew he'd tried to turn down the emotional heat in order to give her time to mourn Ned properly. She knew he'd wait for her to be ready, patiently, as long as it took. And she loved him all the more for it.
The problem was that being ready wasn't exactly as simple as flipping a switch on or off. How could she tell when she'd gotten past Ned's death? How would she know when it was the right time to make a move with Frank?
It wasn't like she didn't want to. God, did she want to. She was happy with his friendship, and glad to live in Bayport where she could see him several times a week... but she'd never been immune to his appeal, and she wasn't now. But she'd held back because she wanted him to know that when they finally did get together, when she finally did make that commitment to him, that she had no doubts about it. No reservations, no regrets, no strings attached. It wouldn't be fair to him to enter into a relationship when she wasn't completely over Ned...
Even if she did lie awake in bed some nights, thinking about the kiss they'd shared before he left River Heights, the kiss that had tested the limits of her resolve and turned her insides to jelly.
"And how is Jill doing?"
"Hmm, what?" Nancy started, returning her mind to the conversation at hand. "Oh, she's okay. More than okay. She was so relieved when she heard that Tommy was going to prison that she started crying. She just left, actually. She and Callie are taking a trip upstate to spend the weekend with her parents."
"Good." Carson said. "I think they're good people."
"Yeah," Nancy agreed. She vividly remembered the first time she had seen Jill's parents, rushing into the hospital late on the day of Jill's surgery and demanding the nurse take them to their daughter. It had been immediately obvious to Nancy where Jill got her looks. Her father was a rather short, balding man with a dark mustache and glasses obscuring his dark eyes. Her mother, while of average height, had Jill's petite bone structure and graceful features. They'd had plenty of issues to work through with Jill, but she admitted that, by the end of it all, she felt like she had her family back. "I'm really glad she feels comfortable enough to visit back home."
"I think all three of them just decided not to waste any more time they could be spending together." Carson said. "It's a good idea."
Nancy agreed, and they chatted about more inconsequential things for a while. Finally, Carson told her he was sure she was busy and that he would let her go.
Nancy laughed. "You sound like you think I have something better to do tonight."
"In for the night?" Carson asked.
"Yes... I don't have work early tomorrow, but I've got a double shift in the afternoon, so I might as well be rested. I might do some reading; I just started a book that's pretty good." she said.
"All right." Carson chuckled. "Well, have a good night, sweetheart. Hannah sends her love."
"Tell her I say the same." Nancy replied, before exchanging goodbyes and hanging up. She tossed her cell phone on the table and settled onto the couch, picking up the novel she'd started the night before. As she flipped it open, however, she found herself with a lack of focus on the story.
She glanced around the room, surveying the little apartment. It had been rather cold and uninviting during her first week here, but with a little work it had become downright cozy. Pictures hung on the walls, dishtowels hung in the kitchen, framed photos on the end tables... It had taken a while to make the place feel like home, but, with Jill's help, she'd done it.
Just having Jill here had been a huge help; she'd been ecstatic about the littlest things like shopping for curtains or going to job interviews. She even helped Nancy pick out their blue-and-brown patterned dishes. It was as if she was finally coming out of the quiet, sullen shell Tommy had forced her into. When Nancy sat here and looked around their apartment, it was hard not to feel content.
Snippets of her conversation with her father kept niggling at her, though... mostly the way she'd felt when he brought up Frank. It felt like she'd been in no-man's-land with Frank for a long time, and sometimes she wondered if, as her father said, they were wasting time they should be spending together...
The sound of a throat clearing broke Frank's concentration.
He looked up, startled, realizing for the first time that it had gotten late, that the office was now in darkness, and that his desk lamp was the only light in the room except for the outside streetlights filtering through the cracks in the blinds. His first thought was thank god Joe was on a date tonight, or Frank would definitely be subject to teasing about his "workaholism" and the need to find him a girlfriend so he would have somewhere better to be on a Friday night than the office.
"You'll ruin your eyes reading in the dark like that, Hardy."
His second thought was that this was just like one of those old film noir movies. Nancy Drew was standing in the doorway, leaning against the door frame and smirking at him fondly.
She must have known what he was thinking. "Late at night, the handsome detective sits alone in his dark office," she narrated in a low, slow voice, "When the mysterious woman appears in the doorway..." She pushed off the door frame, sauntering forward a few steps.
"The femme fatale." Frank supplied, leaning back in his chair, trying not to show just how attracted he was to her right now. She looked pretty, as always, in a dark-colored tank top and one of her much-favored pencil skirts, but it was the way she was teasing him that made his pulse speed up.
He watched her suppress a smile. "Right," she said, "The femme fatale." She stopped slinking forward, ruining the illusion, and walked normally the rest of the way to his desk. "The femme fatale..." she mused with a smile. "I kind of like that..."
Frank shook his head, shuffling some papers around on his desk. "It's not you."
"Oh no?" she raised an eyebrow at him, which he found to be completely adorable.
"Nah. That's more like the kind of woman Joe dates. He's probably out with one right now."
"He's out with Vanessa, and you know it." Nancy laughed. "And why can't I be the femme fatale? You don't think I'm beautiful and dangerous?"
"Oh, I think you're both." Frank said seriously. He hesitated before finishing, "Only... you're too good. Sorry, Nan, you're not corrupt enough."
"I'm not?" she looked like she wasn't sure whether to be pleased or insulted.
Frank's mind flashed back to another dark place: the back of a cop car on the way to the hospital, six months ago, and to Nancy, resting her head on his shoulder as she explained that she hadn't shot her attacker because she'd never loaded the gun. "Definitely not." he murmured, looking straight into her eyes.
She smiled as she realized it was a compliment. "Thanks." she said, before breaking eye contact.
"Hey, I never got the chance to say congratulations on the Dawley trial." Frank said.
She shrugged. "You were as much a part of it as I was. And yet, everyone wants to know how I feel about it." That had been the very question he was about to ask, and Nancy evidently saw it in his expression. "I'm fine." she said with a chuckle. "It's over with, he's going to prison, I'm happy. You?"
Frank nodded. "Me too."
Nancy glanced down at his desk. "So what are you working on?"
Even though it was dark, he could see the sparkle of curiosity in her eye. "Why, Nancy Drew... I thought you weren't interested in mysteries anymore?"
She blushed. "I like my job, but it's not particularly mentally stimulating." she said. She leaned against his desk and tucked her hair behind her ears with both hands. "I'm thinking of quitting."
"And doing what?" Frank asked, but she just shrugged.
In some ways, he was surprised. She'd seemed so resolved to stop her detective work, never wavering at all since the end of the Dawley case. But in others, it was no surprise at all. He often saw that glimmer of interest in her eyes when he and Joe discussed their cases in front of her. Despite her claims of being officially retired from detecting, she'd always be a detective.
"So spill, Hardy. What are you up to, that's got you working so late at night?" She picked up a stack of papers and leafed through them. "...List of pawn shops, list of antiques collectors, list of museums... You're looking for something."
For once, he avoided reminding her about client confidentiality. Even when they were young, he'd always trusted Nancy with the details of his cases... which was good, since he'd always had a hard time keeping secrets from her as well. "It's actually a pretty fun case." he said with a grin. "It reminds me of the stuff we used to get into when we were kids. The client is a woman whose grandfather died a few weeks ago, and his massive collection of ancient art was sold off to various dealers. The client swears there was an updated version of the will that would have provided her daughter with tuition to art school, but the new will was never filed, and she couldn't find it."
Her eyes were positively alight now. "A missing will? You're kidding." She looked at the stack of papers she still held. "So you think it was hidden in one of the pieces from his art collection, and you're trying to track them all down?"
"Close," Frank said. "I think it was hidden in a piece, a specific piece." He rifled through the file folder in front of him, pulled out a full-page photograph, and handed it to her. "This one."
"A puzzle box." Nancy breathed, staring at the photograph of the ornate wooden box. "It looks Japanese... it must be very old."
Frank nodded. He'd been just as enraptured by the beautiful puzzle box when he'd first seen it. "It was the granddaughter's favorite piece, and it was left to her in the will. He taught her how to open the box; apparently it was a game with them. But she never got a chance to look inside, because right after the bequeathment, the client's ex-husband broke into their apartment looking for money. He must have seen the box, figured it was valuable, and taken it to sell. Of course, he's on the run, so we can't just ask him where it went..."
"Hence, the lists of pawn shops and antiques collectors." Nancy finished, gesturing to the papers. "You've got to find out who he sold it to."
"Done." Frank said. "I traced it to an antiques store outside the city, but it had already been sold. It took a while to convince the store owner to give me his sales records, but, with a little leg work—which, incidentally, I'd just finished when you got here—" He slid a notepad towards her. On the top sheet were several names and addresses, one of which was circled. "I narrowed it down to one. A private collector of Japanese art who lives up in Northport."
"So you're going to plan an elaborate heist to sneak into his house and get the will?" Nancy teased.
Frank grinned. "That's plan B. Plan A is to call him in the morning, during normal business hours, and just ask if he'll let us take a look at the box."
Nancy rolled her eyes, "Well that sounds like less fun."
"Tell you what, if we need someone to rappel into his house from the ceiling I'll call you." Frank promised. "Although you'll probably have to fight Joe for the job."
Nancy laughed, and Frank found himself just watching her. They talked all the time, especially since she'd moved to Bayport, but it had been forever since they'd discussed the specifics of a case together, since she'd wanted to talk about anything having to do with mysteries at all.
For a moment, he let himself fall into a fantasy he'd had many times: that she would quit her job at the cafe and come work with him and Joe, get her own desk across from his and collaborate with them on their cases, just like she used to do. He could definitely get used to seeing her face first thing when he came into the office, to watching her eyes light up as she made some connection or uncovered some important fact...
Nancy studied the puzzle box photo a moment longer before looking over at him. "Looks like some fine detective work, Hardy."
He swore he felt the old, familiar spark when her eyes met his, and it set his heart racing again. Suddenly his mind was filled with more personal fantasies. He tried to ignore the way she was leaning—practically sitting—on his desk, one of her heels propped up on the handle of his bottom drawer, bare knee temptingly exposed... "Thanks, Drew." he returned the expected answer, but there was something low and rough in his voice.
Forget seeing her first thing when he walked into the office—he wanted to see her first thing when he woke up.
It hadn't always been easy, all these months, to give her space when he knew he was in love with her, but he had done it. Until tonight. Tonight, something was different.
He turned his chair then and stood up, so that he was standing directly in front of her. He leaned in close and gently took the papers from her hands, laying them back on the desk with one hand, not moving his body an inch. Even in the dark, he could see the flush that spread over her face. He remembered how she'd looked when he'd kissed her six months ago, vulnerable, unsure.
Now she looked fiery, confident... everything about her that he'd fallen in love with.
He heard her breath hitch. Then she tilted her chin up, closing the space between them until her lips met his.
The heat of the kiss was unbelievable. He'd never experienced anything like it. Not touching her was no longer an option, and he slid his hands over her hips, pulling her against him. She gasped a little, and her hands fluttered over his chest and locked around his neck. He poured his feelings for her into the kiss, and he could feel her responding in kind, matching him movement for movement.
He didn't know how long they kissed for before his logical brain regained control and he tried to pull back. But her arms were still looped around his neck, and she didn't let him go far. She rested her forehead against his, eyes still closed, and said, "Stop thinking that, and kiss me, Hardy."
Frank groaned, pulling his head away but immediately leaning back in to plant a kiss under her ear. "Are you sure?" he whispered.
She was beaming as he brushed light kisses down her neck. "Frank. Don't I seem sure?" she asked. Then her eyes opened and met his again. "Aren't you?"
If there was any doubt in her expression, he erased it with two words. "So sure." he murmured huskily. She sighed blissfully as he kissed her again, and this time, he didn't pull back. Kissing her with no barriers between them, no guilt, no doubts, felt even more amazing than he'd thought it would.
For a time, time ceased to exist, until reality snapped them both back in the form of a car alarm going off down the street. Breathing heavily, they separated, glancing out the window. They looked at each other and laughed.
Frank sighed and sank down in his chair. He pulled Nancy down in his lap, not ready to let go of her just yet. She leaned down and picked up a few of the papers that had fallen off the desk during their passionate embrace. "I guess I distracted you from your work, huh?" she said, leaning into him.
"Definitely." he agreed breathlessly, running his hand up and down her arm. "Of course, I really was about to go home..." he said suggestively, then groaned, letting his forehead fall onto her shoulder. "I can't believe I let Joe live with me. What a stupid thing to do."
Nancy laughed. Then she stopped suddenly. "Frank."
There was a note of urgency in her voice, and Frank looked up, a pang of fear shooting through him. "What is it?" If she told him this was all a mistake...
But she leaned in, her mouth nearly touching his ear. "Jill's visiting her parents for the weekend." she said slowly, dragging the sentence out for maximum emphasis. "I have the apartment all to myself."
"Then what are we still doing here?" he said, even as relief washed through him. God, I love this girl.
She must have read that thought too, because she smiled at him radiantly and pressed another kiss to his lips. She didn't even break the connection as she climbed off his lap, towing him to his feet by one hand.
He reached over with his other hand and switched off his desk lamp, and they left the office together, shutting the door behind them.
A/N: Thanks again to all my readers for taking this ride with me! Just remember, it's your last chance to review... I would love to know what you thought!