DISCLAIMER: I own nothing.
[A/N: You have in your browser window the hopefully anticipated sequel to my other story, "8 Days." Two years have passed since the events in that story, obviously, and that puts us somewhere in the sixth season. For the purposes of this story, I have meddled with a few of the happenings in the show: Fran and Max are married but not yet pregnant; let's say CC never went to The Place; and though the time of this story's setting would put us right around the time Niles and CC finally, finally got together, that isn't so in my story. Now let it begin…]
Two Years Later
CC pushed open the wrought-iron door and entered the Sheffield mansion, automatically glancing around and, once she didn't see anyone—not that she'd been looking for anyone in particular—she hung her lightweight jacket in the entryway closet. The sumptuous decorations, slightly overdone in CC's opinion when she paused to give it her opinion, were ignored by the blonde socialite as she ambled through the foyer and living room to enter the office.
In hindsight, CC should have known that Maxwell sitting up straight and giving her a winning smile as soon as she entered the office was a bad omen. He'd never ignored her, per se, but her presence never occupied much of her business partner's attention for longer than a passing greeting.
As it was with the slightly oblivious Babcock, she merely returned Maxwell's smile and propped her leather bag against the loveseat on the floor. She moved immediately to the file cabinet and began rifling through it to find an actor's file.
"How are you today, CC?" Maxwell asked.
CC tugged the file folder out of the drawer and shut the drawer with her shoulder, the resounding clang filling the office. She turned to her business partner, puzzled. While his strange behavior when she'd first entered the office had slid by her notice, she could not ignore this. Any other person may have been able to get away with the nonchalant attempt to start a conversation, but not Maxwell Sheffield and not to CC Babcock.
"What is it?" she asked, sitting down gracefully on the loveseat and setting the folder in her lap.
"What do you mean?" asked Maxwell, looking slightly alarmed at how quickly his business associate had cottoned on to him.
For a few moments, CC allowed herself to feel abundantly relieved that Maxwell had never given in to her halfhearted attempts at his attention. Then she replied, "You either want something from me or you want me to do something for you."
"She still won't give up, sir," came Niles' voice from the entryway as he bustled in with a tray of tea.
"What?" Maxwell asked his butler confusedly, and it was only out of respect borne from years of knowing him that CC didn't roll her eyes at Maxwell's stupidity.
Most would have been shocked and, indeed, most were when they learned that CC never truly had feelings for Maxwell. She'd wondered, years ago, but only in the fleeting way that most women wondered about the men in their lives. Maxwell had been an idea and represented all CC should have wanted and yet didn't. Her mother would have loved him as a son-in-law and as such, CC knew that she would have grown to hate him. Maxwell had been perfect for her soft-spoken friend Sara, and CC suspected that it was only out of protectiveness of her closest friend's memory that CC had balked against the thought of Nanny Fine for so long. She'd seemed such a poor replacement.
Regardless, in times like these, CC knew that she never could have tolerated Maxwell. He was not intellectually lacking but there was an obtuseness in him that she found unattractive. She needed someone with more spark, more of an edge, someone who could throw her off balance and reel her back in.
As she stood to replace the actor's file, Niles turned to exit the office once more. The two walked into each other, the rim of the serving tray knocking into CC's elbow. Her gray pencil skirt prohibited much movement from her legs and she was bumped off balance. Just as her brain flashed her an image of her skull cracking into the side of the filing cabinet, Niles' strong arm swung around and caught her around her waist, pulling her back onto her feet.
CC merely glared at Niles and continued walking proudly to the filing cabinet. As she pulled open the drawer and ignored the swoop in her stomach as Niles' arm had been wrapped around her, she wondered if she'd ever find exactly what she was looking for in a man.
Maxwell had resumed looking over the set list, apparently waiting until CC had taken her seat again before attempting conversation. "As much as I regret you believing I'd only want something from you if I were trying to start a conversation, this time, I do have a favor to ask of you."
CC bit back a petulant "Told you so" remark and nodded as though allowing him to continue.
"Well, as you know, it's nearly summer," Maxwell began. "And I can't help remembering how much fun we had in Sagaponack two years ago…"
Ever the stoic socialite, CC gave no outward appearance that Maxwell mentioning their vacation had any effect on her. Those looking closely, however, would notice that CC's slim fingers had slightly gripped the edge of another file folder she'd retrieved from the cabinet and her eyes narrowed nearly imperceptibly.
But CC couldn't blame Maxwell. He didn't know. Surprisingly enough, Fran had never mentioned what she knew of their vacation in the Hamptons again, not to Niles, CC, or anyone else. When they'd first returned from the trip, CC had entertained thoughts of questioning Fran's motives of keeping it a secret, but that had gone against her practice of outwardly pretending as though the entire thing had never happened. Healthy it wasn't, but it was the only way she could face Niles everyday and it seemed it was the only way he could face her as well.
"And?" CC asked, forcing herself out of her reverie.
"Well, I was thinking of surprising Fran with a little trip," Maxwell said. "There isn't much we can do now that everything is set with our new production and they're just rehearsing everyday. There are scripts to read, of course, but I don't see the harm in taking a few days off to relax at the beach."
"Are you asking if you can use our beach house?" asked CC. Max nodded. "I'll call Father. I'm sure he won't mind if you and Nanny Fine and the kids stay for a few days, if no one else is renting out the rooms right now."
"CC, I think you've misunderstood me. I'd like for you to come as well," Max told her kindly.
"Oh, no, Maxwell, I couldn't."
This time, CC couldn't blame Maxwell's inherent thick headedness, though she often wondered how dull people were for never noticing what went on between the butler and the blonde.
"You know I like to supervise the rehearsals from time to time," CC said. "And…you and the wife should have some vacation time alone."
"Now, CC, the director is more than capable of handling the rehearsals. You deserve a vacation, too. And truth be told, it wouldn't feel right to use your beach house without you there."
"It's my father's," CC said weakly, knowing that Maxwell would likely take it as a personal insult if CC didn't accompany them.
"It's your family's," Maxwell corrected. "No, CC, if we are to use your beach house, I insist you come along. Imagine the seafood dinners Niles can make again!"
CC's stomach clenched uncomfortably at the thought of being in that house, on that beach, with him again. It had been strangely easy to return to the daily grind of her life in New York: show up to work, trade insults with the butler, go home, repeat. The familiar surroundings made it easy to fall into a routine dance with him again and though sometimes they faltered in the movements—he'd glance at her too long, she'd make one too many trips to the kitchen during the day—ultimately the dual sidestepping of their increasingly complicated relationship remained their customary movement.
And it wasn't as though he could read her mind and follow where it wandered during particularly boring days on the job. He couldn't venture into her dreams and see where her subconscious resided. He couldn't know how difficult it was for her to decipher her emotions and how easy she found it to pack it all away in a neat compartment in her brain. It was reassuring thoughts like these that allowed CC Babcock to go about her everyday and pretend that things never fazed her.
"Let me call my father to see when it's available," CC said with a sigh.
Niles stood sentry in the kitchen that day, as he usually did, even when he had nothing to cook or clean in the place. Most of the family congregated in the area and Niles found something comforting in the room. The simplicity of the decorations, compared to the lavish look of the rest of the house, made him feel at home in a place that was otherwise clearly not his.
That, and his other usual hangout, the office, was no longer the barb-trading place it once was.
While he had been able to cast aside his memories of what had happened (during the daylight hours, at least), he had not been able to eschew the guilt or longing they created. He was able to be in CC's presence for longer now than when they'd first arrived back in Manhattan, but he was only able to throw a few insults or pranks in her direction before he found it necessary to be alone and find something else to occupy his time.
Try as he might, he couldn't prevent the self-flogging his conscience subjected him to occasionally. He'd revisited his and CC's conversation in her penthouse innumerable times, each time arriving at the conclusion that he'd royally screwed up any chance they might have had. CC Babcock was an impenetrable fortress of a woman, and she'd allowed him entry, for lack of a better term, and he'd messed it up. Now, he feared, the gates were up, the guards stood watch, and CC was the ice queen protected by self-built walls once more.
And yet Niles couldn't help a small flare of hope whenever he'd remembered her words: "Maybe someday, but…not right now." Even as he thought it, however, Niles knew how pathetic he seemed, waiting for a woman who might never again give him the chance he didn't even fully deserve.
The door swung open and Niles looked over hopefully, his face falling slightly when he saw it was Fran. While he found it difficult sometimes to be in CC's presence, he found it was easier when she initiated it by visiting the kitchen during the day. The woman could only drink so many bottles of water per day, though, and so their time together was disappointingly limited.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Sheffield," Niles greeted.
"Hiya, Niles," Fran said with a smile. "Has Max told you about the vacation plans?"
At "vacation," Niles' ears perked up in much the same manner as Chester's when someone mentioned going for a walk. Visions of unfettered access to the television, snifters of brandy, and complete silence in the manse danced around his head.
"No, Mrs. Sheffield. Where are you going?" Niles asked, hoping for a ten-day cruise or a two-week excursion in Fiji.
"Ya mean we," Fran corrected. She glanced at him, almost curiously, before plucking a grape from the bowl on the counter. "We're going to the Hamptons to stay in Miss Babcock's beach house again next week."
Television and hard liquor were replaced by sunsets over the ocean and Miss Babcock in a bikini while Niles smiled to himself. Seemed to be a fair trade, to him.