A/N: I know it's late, but I just got into the Dirty Sexy Money craze. Too bad they've canceled it; it made for great television. I hope ABC shows the missing three episodes! Nick and Karen are my guilty pleasure. What lacks in real life I make up for in imagination. Hope you like it!

Giving Up and Giving In

--

Tripp notices something is amiss. Nick is still punctual, still meticulous. He goes through Patrick's scandal diligently and makes it seem as though Patrick was the victim of a very cruel game, played by very cruel mongrels with money. He's still thoughtful when Juliet comes home and bakes him a god-awful batch of Caribbean mango cookies, as a thank you for allowing Jeremy to narrowly escape jail time once again.

He's lost his wit, his sharpness; the glimmer in his eye when Tripp tells him to buy another yacht or sell another building. His suits are Armani and Hugo Boss, his wristwatch Patek Philippe, his shoes Prada and sun glasses Tom Ford. Tripp knows Nick's lost himself. From a cunning young lawyer, the son of Dutch George no less, Nick had disappeared into the Darling name, assimilated himself into the Darling brand. Tripp was going to name Nick his successor anyway, but he wasn't going to make him lose his soul on the way.

"You should take some time off," he proposes, and Nick stares at him in disbelief. The market is crashing and Tripp Darling wanted him to go somewhere.

"Are you firing me?" Nick asked warily.

"Don't be ridiculous," Tripp laughs. "Take the jet; go to Italy, to our little place there?" Nick had to smirk at the description. "Take a week or two. The past months have been taxing, to say the least."

Nick continues to stare at him. What are you going to do without me? His eyes seemed to convey.

"I'm a grown man. I can take care of myself." Tripp smiles warmly, and gives him an almost fatherly pat. "Now go before I change my mind."

Nick does not argue further.

--

Nick arrives at the villa and the warm Italian air greets him. He sets down his bags on the floor and a maid scurries to collect them. He walks out on the patio, the smell of the sea reminding him of the many summers he spent here. He is greeted by the sight of a woman, in a yellow sundress, sprawled on one of the couches, with a glass of grappa in one hand and her sunglasses in the other.

"Maria—" she falters, and turns around when no one answers her. Her smile drops when she sees Nick George looking at her, his hands in his pockets.

"Daddy sent you to get me?" she asks, taking another sip of her wine.

Nick sits beside her and wondered if Tripp had another intention; he's grown accustomed to thinking like him, could he have missed something? "I'm not sure," he answers honestly, and he takes the glass from her dainty fingers and drinks. The warmth of the liquid scorches his throat.

He was so tired of fighting.

He lies next to Karen and lets memory and grappa take control of him. They laugh at the many summers they've spent here, the time when Brian almost drowned in the ocean or when they played hide and seek and couldn't find each other for one whole day. When Nick had finally found Karen, watching the view in one of the guest rooms, she rewarded him with their first ever kiss.

A little later, when the wine was gone and the sun had turned orange, they walk along the beach. Her hand was in his but it wasn't in any way romantic—she was drunk, and so was he, and if they didn't hold on to each other they would both stumble and fall. The spray of the sea was refreshing and the sand on their feet was coarse. They were silent.

Finally she gives in and collapses on the sand, taking Nick with her. The brush of her silky hair and the flash of that mischievous grin as they fell together on the ground was more magnificent that the play of the light on the water, Nick thinks. She was beautiful and broken, broken by four, almost five, marriages, her family's callousness and the boy whom she would love forever. It takes him her touch to realize that he was broken too, broken by his father's death, his divorce and from hiding behind calculated words and stolen glances.

"Karen," he whispers into her hair, and she looks at him with blissful eyes. "Will you marry me?"

She smiles sadly and he knows he's hurt her too many times. "You're just drunk," she dismisses.

He quells her fears by leaning into her and kissing her gently. When she tries to pull away he pulls her closer and kisses her harder and it takes a while before she breathes into his ear, "yes."

--

Two weeks later they return from Italy, and Nick is immediately called into some stock market trouble Tripp had gotten himself into. Karen wonders if the time they spent together was only a dream. They go about their usual ways; Karen buys another collection from Barney's and another dozen from Magnolia and Nick sorts the ledgers from the deeds and evades another tabloid attack on Patrick's burgeoning romance with a socialite who looks strangely like Carmelita.

She's used to this.

She hears the doors open and shut one night in her room and she hopes it's not her mother, again, asking her to come to another East Hampton soiree. Instead it's Nick, and she looks up at him, her hair in a messy ponytail and her body hidden in one of his law school sweaters that got mixed up in the laundry. He smiles at the way she looks. He puts a black velvet box in front of her.

"What's this?" she asks.

"It's a ring," he answers, "your ring."

She opens the box and inside is a modest engagement ring. The diamond wasn't too elaborate, the silver wasn't too intricate, but it was perfect. It was perfect because it came from him. He leans down to kiss her and tears sting her eyes. He puts it on her finger and kisses it, feeling the cold of the metal, the warmth of her fingers and the dream that he'd been waiting for ever since he was six years old.

"I'll see you tomorrow," he says, caressing her face. She doesn't let go of his tie.

"Stay with me?" she requests, a silly grin on her face. "Nicky."

He smiles. He always loved obliging her.

--