TITLE: And Just For This Moment (As Long As You're Mine)
PAIRING: Richard/Caroline
SPOILERS: "Caroline and the Reception" (3x01)

*****

"Richard, you're gonna be okay," Caroline spouted off instinctively as she followed her assistant -- the man currently in possession of her heart -- out into the hall. "Trust me, I've been there."

When Richard turned from staring at the closed elevator doors, the doors his new wife had just left through, his face was filled with skepticism, though his voice was soft... sad. "When?"

Caroline, for a moment, hated that she'd sorted out her feelings for him, hated that she realized she had fallen in love with him. Now, everything about him captivated her, moreso than it had before. His eyes, boring into her and reading her deepest secrets; the wide-set line of his lush, beautifully-curved lips; even the look of skepticism on his face.

He tripped her up now that she knew how she felt. She finally answered his question. "Just... before." 'Before' meaning, in her mind, no more than twenty-four hours ago. With him. "It doesn't matter." It did to her.

Richard's answering blink was slow, as if he was letting her words sink in, and he slowly nodded, those unruly waves of blond bouncing along with the movement as he whispered, "Thanks."

Then he did something that shocked her and thrilled her all at once. Richard, never one to accept affection let alone actively seek it, was stepping toward her, wrapping her in his arms. Caroline, suddenly overwhelmed by the love she felt for this man, momentarily let her arms hang suspended in the air. Then, the feeling of being in his arms -- a feeling that was so familiar and so foreign at the same time -- finally sunk in and she wrapped her arms around him in turn, one around his back while the other cupped the back of his head, fingers tangling in the thick hair at the nape of his neck.

Now was typically when Richard would tense up and step away; make a sarcastic comment or step on a nonexistent bug just to escape the heaviness of the moment. But not tonight. Tonight Richard held her close and continued to hold her, sighing against her and even tightening his arms around her. Just for this moment, it felt as if he were hers. And she his.

Caroline rested her head on his shoulder, face turned away, and closed her eyes, wondering just how Julia could leave someone as sweet and docile as Richard in the blink of an eye.

Then, her thoughts inevitably turned to the question that had been on her mind since she met Julia -- what, aside from the obvious beauty, did Richard ever see in her? For the seventy-two hours she'd known Julia, already Caroline could tell that she was no prize, extremely high-maintenance and materialistic. She never would've pegged Richard as someone who would go after a woman like that. Del, maybe (definitely)... but not Richard.

She was drawn out of her thoughts when she felt Richard turn his face into her hair. She smiled and let out a soft sigh, trying to remind herself not to enjoy the moment too much; Richard was upset and just needed a friend.

A friend. That's all she would ever be to him. Just a friend. He'd never know how she felt about him thanks to Julia's interception. Caroline waited too long to see what was right in front of her this whole time... and now it was too late. She knew she'd never have enough courage to tell him how she felt again. Leaving it in a message on his machine was hard enough. The idea of doing it in person was downright terrifying. So friendship was all they would ever have.

A tear slipped down her cheek, and Caroline held tighter to him.

"I need to go home," she heard Richard murmur after what felt like another hour of just holding each other. His hand rubbed gently up and down her back, and Caroline fought the shiver.

"Okay." She made herself pull away first, and ducked her head from his view until she had composed herself. She touched his arm gently. "Want some company?" Now was when he would shy away from her -- shut down. It never failed.

"Thank you," he said for the second time, surprising her for the second time as he squeezed her hand and nodded in agreement.

Caroline wasted no time. She immediately went back into her apartment and pulled Annie inside, explaining what was going on. Annie nodded her understanding and promised to take over what was left of this poor excuse for a reception. Then, she and Richard went downstairs.

As she raised her arm to hail a cab, Richard touched her shoulder. "Actually, I'd rather walk if that's okay with you."

"Sure." Her stomach flopped with the notion that she'd be going on a moonlit walk with Richard back to his apartment (as a friend, she forced herself to remember). The chilly May nighttime air helped her to rein it in.

They walked in silence for awhile, Caroline torn between not knowing what to say and resolving to just silently support Richard. When she shivered for the third time, Richard stopped in his tracks and held his coat out to her. Caroline reflexively stepped into it, slipping her arms into the sleeves and smiling her gratitude at Richard. He just barely twitched a smile in return and shoved his hands in his pockets, picking up his stride again.

Caroline fell into step beside him and they continued on their way. For another six blocks they were silent. Caroline wanted to somehow offer more support, to take his hand and assure him he'd be okay. She wished her motives could be that pure and simple, though. There were plenty of other reasons she wanted to hold Richard's hand.

How could Julia do this to him? She didn't understand.

"Typical Julia," he said suddenly, startling Caroline with the idea that he could possibly read her thoughts.

"What?"

"Money trumps love every time with Julia. And every time, I question myself -- what did I see in her? I mean, we're nothing alike."

"Neither are you and I," Caroline responded without thinking, and nearly blushed.

"That's different."

She nodded her agreement, hoping to cover her Freudian slip. "Well, right. We're friends."

His answer was slightly hesitant. "...Yes. And, Julia and I--"

"Yeah." She didn't want him to go much farther than that.

Richard spent the rest of the walk describing the last time he'd been left by Julia -- something that mirrored the first day Caroline met him practically down to the last detail, including the moonlit walk. For a moment, it was like being back at the beginning. Just for this moment, it was as if nothing had changed since they'd met.

"Sincere amore," he sighed, though his tone was laced with bitterness. The iciness of it speared Caroline's heart. "What a crock."

"Richard, don't say that. That's not you." That had always been his ideal kind of love -- hell, it made Caroline completely rethink her idea of true love in the blink of an eye.

"Well... maybe it is now." They were at his building and going in through the busted front door. Caroline always felt strange walking through the halls and stairwells of his building -- a feeling she only knew to describe as "icky." She always hated that he lived here. The building was decrepit, it stunk, and the unnamed critters and bugs scattering every which way made Caroline's flesh crawl. She always longed for a shower anytime she visited Richard.

But still, she followed him up the three flights of stairs to his floor. Now she would follow him just about anywhere. "So maybe you didn't have sincere amore with Julia. That doesn't mean your sincere amore isn't out there. Maybe you just haven't found the right girl yet." As the words left her lips, they sounded familiar, as if she'd heard them before... but spoken to her, about not finding the right guy.

Maybe they sounded familiar to Richard, too. It made him stop and turn to her, study her. She furrowed her brows. "What?"

He shook his head. "Nothing." He then unlocked his apartment door and went inside, pausing to assess his surroundings. From the look on his face, he seemed to have come to the conclusion that all traces of Julia were gone. She really had left him. For a trust fund. Caroline hated her guts for causing even more irreparable damage to Richard's heavily-bruised soul.

Richard sighed, finishing his slow turn looking around the apartment, meeting Caroline's eyes. "Thanks again for walking with me. You didn't have to do that."

"Richard, I'm always here for you." Caroline struggled to keep her voice even, struggled to keep her love for him out of her tone. She tried for a little humor and added, "Whether you like it or not."

A brief chuckle escaped him, and she was pleased she brought him at least a sliver of happiness. Then he turned his back on her slowly, settling his gaze on a small folded piece of paper sitting on his table. He reached for it at the same time Caroline slipped his coat off her shoulders and draped it over a nearby chair.

"It's from Julia," he told her without turning around.

Caroline's heart flopped again, for entirely different reasons. Julia wouldn't mention the message... would she? She shifted her weight from one foot to the other, her pumps suddenly unbelievably uncomfortable, as the apartment grew eerily silent. She could hear her heart pounding in her ears. She could hear Richard breathing. Why wasn't he saying anything? What was in the letter? "Richard?"

His spine straightened and he tensed. She saw the paper in his hand start to shake minutely. Oh, God. "Richard..."

He still wasn't responding. He was just staring down at the letter as if it held all the horrible and terrifying secrets of the universe in its contents. His voice was low... shaky... when he spoke. "Julia said that, lastnight... you left me a message. About us."

Caroline, about to shift her weight back to her other foot, faltered and nearly stumbled as her heart leapt into her throat. "She, uh... she didn't mention specifics, did she?"

Richard still hadn't turned around as he told her lowly, "I got the gist of it." He took a breath. "Caroline..."

"Richard, I am so sorry!" she exclaimed, without really knowing why she was apologizing. Tears started to well in her eyes without her conscious consent. "I had no idea you were going to get married to Julia, I really didn't! And I... I didn't mean to make things awkward between us. Oh God, Richard, please tell me things won't be awkward between us now!"

"You have no idea..."

Her heart shattered into a million pieces, and her chin dropped to her chest. Without thinking, her hand found Richard's back, needing the connection before he would sever ties to her forever.

But to her surprise, he kept going... still with his back turned, still with his voice low. She had to strain to hear it. "You have no idea... how long I've been waiting to hear those words from you."

"What?" She took a step closer, her hand still on his back, his warmth almost burning her skin. Was he talking about the apology?

She watched the back of his head as it dipped, and she sensed his eyes were closed without seeing him. "For three years, Caroline..." he trailed off momentarily and Caroline got the impression that he was composing himself. "For three years, I have been helplessly... hopelessly... in love with you."

Caroline gasped softly.

Richard continued. "And for three years, I have been just waiting for this moment. Truth be told, I didn't think it would ever come."

She choked back a sob, and gripped the back of his dress shirt in her hand. "Richard..."

He sighed, and the silence now was deafening.

Caroline couldn't take it anymore and she cried out, "Richard, please look at me!"

He did. She dropped her hand and he turned around. They stared at each other just like they had that morning. Only this time Richard didn't blurt out that he'd gotten married. No, this time Richard smiled. He smiled, and took two steps toward her, his hands sliding against her waist as he swooped down and captured her lips.

A sob immediately escaped Caroline's lips without her conscious consent, and her heart soared. Richard's arms wound around her, pulled her against him, and she slid her hands up his arms. The kiss intensified immediately, the three-years-worth of tension bubbling to the surface. Within moments, their hands started to roam; Richard's slid across her hips and up her sides while hers wound around his neck and ventured into his hair.

When his thumbs brushed the sides of her breasts through her dress, she gasped and shivered, breaking the kiss.

"I'm sorry," he apologized breathlessly, eyes closed and forehead leaning on hers. "I just... have wanted you for so long..."

"You don't need to apologize, Richard," she whispered. "I want this from you." She pulled back just far enough to incite him to meet her eyes. When he did, she smiled. "I want you to touch me."

His surprise was evident in the way his eyebrows flicked upward questioningly. "Are you sure? It's fast, I mean... maybe we could--"

"Slow down?" Caroline almost laughed. "Sure, we could slow down. Maybe try dating first, but Richard... it's been two years." She chuckled, feeling lighter than air as Richard's thumbs gently stroked her hip bones in lazy circles. "I don't know about you, but I'm pretty close to the end of my rope. I may have only just realized I've had these feelings a couple days ago, but I feel like I've loved you forever."

Richard's smile in return was fleeting as he captured her lips again, this time more aggressively while his hands gripped her waist, pulling her flush against him.

And they didn't leave his apartment for the next two days.


FIN