[A/N: This is another oldie I found dwelling in my computer archives. Try to forgive this angst-appaloosa, and know that I'm working on happier stories. Also, there are several drastic changes from the storyline of the show; consider them artistic revisions taken for the sake of the story.]
DISCLAIMER: I do not own Niles or CC from "The Nanny."
The door to the roof of the building burst open suddenly and she came staggering out of it, gasping, sobbing. A lace-trimmed handkerchief was crumpled in her quivering hand, forgotten. She walked awkwardly to the edge of the roof, leaning against the concrete fixture. She looked down upon the city, so quiet from this height. The lights from the cars below looked like little pinpricks of hope, slowly moving to a better existence, a better life.
This wasn't what she wanted. Why was it so hard for her to finally admit it? In a few minutes, she was going to promise to love, honor, and obey a man she didn't. Accepting his proposal was so much easier than admitting she didn't want to marry him. Saying yes was far easier than saying no; it had always been so for her. But now her fear of conflict, of honesty was threatening to ruin her very sanity and she knew she had to do something.
But why had he shown up? Yes, she'd sent him an invitation, but she had felt quite certain in the knowledge that he wouldn't actually come.
She'd snuck from her dressing room through the little walkway to the door that led to the actual hall, full of hundreds of people she didn't recognize. Her blank eyes had swept through the room, picking out a person here or there that she knew. But then her vision had settled on one figure in particular and her eyes were suddenly more full of life and fire than they'd been in the past year.
Then she'd run. Regardless of her white satin ballroom gown. Regardless of her fully made-up face. Regardless of her hair that had easily taken three hours to do. Regardless of the fact that in a few minutes, she was set to marry another man.
The tears had come unexpectedly. She'd long since acknowledged the fact that her heart just didn't function correctly anymore. She didn't feel as she used to. She didn't laugh deeply as she once had. She didn't even get angry anymore. That, above all else, told her that something within her had irrevocably changed.
But somehow, seeing him had opened the floodgates to her heart and she was shocked to realize that it had been working all along. Her heart was still warm, beating strongly, full of feeling.
But she was feeling things she ought not to feel. She'd gotten over him. She'd moved on. Exactly what she'd moved on to, she didn't know, but the fact remained that she no longer felt anything for him. Right?
It had always been so with him. She never knew what to make of him. He was always the one thing in her life that didn't make sense, and yet it all fit. She knew she felt something powerful for him, something more intense than anything she'd ever felt before. But it frightened her. She was so horribly scared of losing him that she'd ended up pushing him away.
She was frightened of losing him, and yet she'd taken him for granted. She was so used to him being there. Too used to him always being there. She'd assumed he always would be, and one day she woke up and was terribly aware that he wasn't anymore.
Confusion. That was the best word to explain what she'd always felt when he had been around. But just as the confusion started dwindling away and firm knowledge and conviction had taken its place, he was tired of it all. So he'd left.
That's when her heart had stopped working. She remembered it now. That had been the precise moment when her heart had gone into its hiding place. At the time, she had been convinced that the heartache, the pain, the suffering she was feeling wasn't worth anything. She wasn't going to open herself up to anyone else again and allow herself to be so vulnerable in the hands of someone else.
She laughed bitterly, her hysterical tears already a distant memory. At the time? Who was she trying to kid? She still felt that way. Luckily, she'd found someone who was so emotionally unavailable that he couldn't tell that her heart wasn't in anything she did.
"Lucky," she breathed, her voice coming out in a fog in front of her. She vaguely noticed the freezing temperature. "I sure am lucky. And so damn happy, too."
"Aren't you?" an all-too-familiar British voice from behind her asked. She froze, and not because it was the middle of December. Her fingers gripped the edge of the wall that was there to ensure that no one would jump off of the roof. Right now, that didn't seem like such a horrible fate. She momentarily felt that greeting death would be far easier than meeting the person standing a few feet away from her. Her large engagement ring winked at her in the moonlight. It seemed to mock her.
"Am I?" she asked, her voice much quieter and meeker than she would have preferred. She wanted him to think she was stronger than before, better than before. But was she?
"The way I look at it, you are," he said casually, as though they'd seen each other yesterday. He was always able to look at situations lightly and logically, another thing that annoyed her. He'd always annoyed her so very much and yet…and yet why couldn't she face him?
He seemed to be waiting for a sarcastic response from her. When no reply was forthcoming, he barreled on. "You're very lucky. You're about to marry into one of the richest families in the city, and if you don't mind my pointing it out, he's quite a looker. You'd make beautiful children."
Her stomach lurched and she flinched. He hadn't said that to make friendly conversation; that was meant to jump-start a blast from the past. When they'd been together, a few years ago, they'd joked numerous times about how their children wouldn't be very attractive. She'd said that their child would get his crooked smile and he'd joked that their child would get her caustic personality.
He stared at her shoulders, left bare due to her strapless gown. God, she was beautiful. He missed her so much. The past few years without her had only managed to prove to him that the old adage "out of sight, out of mind" wasn't true at all. His stubbornness had prevented him from picking up the phone and calling her. When he'd received the wedding invitation in the mail, it was the final nail in the coffin. He'd envisaged this as the perfect opportunity to prove to himself and to her and to everybody else that he was over her, as she was evidently over him.
But something was off, something was different. She was different. Why wasn't she fighting back? The one thing she'd always been able to do well, among other things, of course, was argue. She could do verbal battle so well that he'd told her many times that she ought to be a lawyer. He'd imagined that his words would have provoked her into another one of their infamous altercations. He'd yell, she'd yell, and they'd both walk away angry and content in their hatred for one another. It would have been so easy if she'd just yelled at him.
But the fight seemed to have left her. This was highly disconcerting. Her anger was one thing he could always count on and now that he couldn't…
"Come now, what is this?" he asked with more bravado than he actually felt. He didn't think seeing her again would affect him this much. Then again, she'd always had more of an effect on him than she ever knew. "The girl who always has something to say is finally speechless?"
"Don't give me that," she snapped, finally feeling the spark of anger that had eluded her for so long.
He smiled slightly, happy to see his old lover back in his midst. She had yet to turn around and face him, but he'd never minded her back view.
"Why did you come?" she asked weakly, the short-lived fire in her voice extinguishing.
"Several months ago, I received an invitation," he explained. "I RSVP'd yes and, wouldn't you know it, here I am."
"I see you haven't lost your gift of eloquent sarcasm," she replied bitingly.
He smirked. "I see you still haven't turned around to face me."
She winced again. He knew her so well, almost too well. He knew her better than anyone else ever had, and worst of all, he knew it, too. Being in his presence had caused her to experience more emotions than she had in the past three years. Part of her loved to be back in this thrall, experiencing a kaleidoscope of feelings every moment. But another part of her remembered how utterly exhausting it had been some days. She didn't know if she had the strength to face him.
"I can't marry him," she said, her voice cracking with emotion. The lump in her throat had swelled to twice its size and now impeded her speech. A tiny sob escaped and she covered her mouth quickly.
Her raw display of emotion seemed to weaken his resolve. "Don't cry." He watched as her shoulders shook with her tears and he fought with himself. If he touched her again, it would be the end of him. He would no longer be able to deny what was invariably the truth: he was still hopelessly in love with her. Just glimpsing her soft ivory skin was making him melt.
She finally spun around to face him and he nearly gasped. Though tears were streaming down her face and her makeup was smudged, she still looked like an angel. The wedding gown she wore perfectly outlined her body, clinging to her curves. After three years of not seeing her in person, only in memory, he thought she'd become even more beautiful, though he didn't think it possible.
"I can't marry him," she repeated shakily, absentmindedly smoothing the torso and skirt of her gown. As her hands ran over the crystal-encrusted brocade of the bodice, she finally noticed her motions and glanced down. The tears ceased slowly with a few still pooling on her cheeks. "I didn't even want this dress. His mother took me shopping for it and didn't listen to any of my suggestions. Nobody…no one listens to me anymore. And I can't even stand up for myself."
"Do you love him?" he asked, both wanting and fearing the answer.
She shook her head weakly, despondently. "I don't love him. I-" She broke off suddenly. His eyes snapped to hers. She'd been about to say "I love you," but she couldn't open that Pandora's box.
"You what?" he asked.
"I can't," she replied. "I can't do this. This is ridiculous. I made a decision and now I have to abide by it. I'm going to marry him."
He looked at her disgustedly. "Fine. Do whatever you want."
His reaction surprised her. She paused and looked at him. "Fine? You want me to just marry him?"
"No!" he exclaimed. "But what can I do about that? Did I want you to take me for granted? Did I want you to give in to the ghosts of your past and push me away? No! But Christ, what do you want me to do? I can't force you to do anything, that much is obvious. I've given up on trying to understand the labyrinth of confusion that is your mind."
His words stung but she knew he was being honest.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. His eyes widened in surprise. "Sorry" was a word that didn't generally escape her heavenly lips and to hear it now, in this context, was shocking to him. "I'm sorry for ruining everything." She stepped forward and made to walk past him but he reached out and grabbed her arm, halting her movements.
This first skin-to-skin touch that they hadn't experienced in years floored them. There was so much emotion in that simple contact that she wrenched her arm away, rubbing her skin as though it burned.
He made a snap decision. He disregarded the fact that she was wearing a wedding gown, ready to marry another man. He disregarded the fact that he simultaneously loved, hated, and resented her in that very moment. He disregarded everything but them: right there, right then.
He reached out, cupped her face in his hands, and tenderly kissed her.
She knew she should have pulled away. She knew she should have pushed him away instead of running her hands up his arms and squeezing him closer. She knew she should have slapped him instead of sighing softly when he lightly ran his thumb down her spine, causing waves of goosebumps to wash over her.
But then she remembered that she'd never been able to help herself where he was concerned, and the ever-present streak of rebelliousness that had been quelled over the last three years shone brightly within her.
They pulled away from the kiss at the same time, looking at each other in silence. She broke the gaze only when she realized it was snowing. Snowflakes fell onto her eyelashes as though ornamenting the beauty within.
Somewhere below, the string quartet began playing an indistinguishable melody. She knew that the bridesmaids were lining up to walk down the aisle. Somebody was probably walking to her dressing room right now to alert her of the beginning of the ceremony.
"Niles…" She looked into his eyes that were attempting to bore into her very soul. Her heart was swelling with love for him, but she also felt something else: that skulking vulnerability, lurking in the dark shadows, waiting to pounce on her when she was least prepared. But she knew what she had to do.
"I…I have to go," she said hurriedly. "Satin doesn't do well in the snow."
"Let's get you inside, then," he suggested. "There's something you'll be wanting to tell everybody, I assume." She nodded confirmation. She went past him and began to walk towards the door.
"Wait, you've dropped something," he said, reaching forward for her handkerchief. When he turned around, she was gone. He sighed, knowing it would be fruitless to go after her.
"Goodbye, CC." He held the handkerchief up to his nose, breathing in the seductive scent of her perfume. He walked back into the building, took the elevator to the lobby, and left.
"There you are!" the wedding coordinator cried, thrusting the lavish bouquet into her hands. "Ready to get married?"
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, feeling her heart slowly, reluctantly retreat into hiding. "Ready as I'll ever be."
The lavish, double mahogany doors opened and she began her march down the aisle, sealing her fate with every step she took.