Author's note: This has been on my mind for a while now, but it is only now that I realized I could write it. Why? Because I lost my father on Friday, May 13th. So this is a catharsis of some sort...It takes place between BS1 and BS2. Since we know BS1 took place in Autumn (most likely September, since in the comic illustrated by Dave Gibbons, Nico mentions her nightmare about her father's death returns "as every summer ends" and since I know what Paris looks like in September) and BS2 took place at the end of Spring/beginning of Summer (just look at Lobineau's clothing) and I assume George and Nico spent some time together before he needed to go back to the States for a period of 6 months, I've set this one-shot in December. See? I'm being logical. And geeky, but that's nothing new when it comes to Broken Sword. As usual, please feel free to point out remaining typos/mistakes. Except for the French sentences. I'm French. I know how to write in French. Enjoy your reading and please feel free to hit that review button. Oh, and I don't own Broken Sword and blah, blah, blah.
Nicole Collard exited her editor's office with a small smile gracing her lips. The very second she closed the door behind her, she was hundred per cent sure he started reciting his entire catalogue of the most colorful swear words imaginable -which, for French people, was definitely saying something. Not that she blamed him, but she certainly didn't pity him either. For once, she figured luck was on her side. She had been on the verge of getting fired from La Liberté when the phone in her editor's office had providentially rung. Another freelance reporter had apparently messed up a scoop and since nobody else was actually available to pick up the pieces, well, her boss had, although reluctantly, changed his mind about getting rid of her at the last second.
Nico allowed herself a small chuckle upon seeing her colleague and friend, Candice, looking up at her anxiously, obviously waiting for her to deliver the bad news. All Nico did instead was to give Candice a thumbs up, and the redhead woman immediately beamed in response. After glancing up at the clock on the wall and acknowledging the day was coming to an end, Nico took a quick look through one of the room's windows.
Winter was slowly but surely settling in Paris, and Christmas was getting closer. She smiled. Christmas was a time of the year she especially disliked for she usually spent it on her own, but this year would be different. This year, she wasn't going to be alone and woe betide him who would even think about preventing her from enjoying it. But before she could do that, she reminded herself whilst wrapping a white scarf around her neck, she still had to buy a gift for her companion. Her smile automatically broadened at the thought and she did nothing to stop it. It felt good.
"So, are you finally going to tell me what his name is?" Candice's voice piped up behind her, barely bothering to hide the smirk in it.
"I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about."
"Mais bien sûr. I'm talking about a certain someone who's been occupying your thoughts and most probably your heart for the past two months."
"You're crazy, Candice."
"Maybe I am. But trust me, Nico, you don't fool me for a second. You've been smiling a lot more lately. You care about leaving the office on time instead of spending the night here working. For God's sake, I've even heard you humming a song today! Do you know how long it has actually been since I last heard you humming?"
Nico shook her head, her eyes growing wide. Were her feelings really showing that obviously?
"Three damn years, Nico! And," Candice added with a bright smile, "It's good to see you happy again. Now, for the last time, what is his name?"
Nico felt a small blush rise to her cheeks, and she smiled in defeat. "George. George Stobbart."
"Doesn't sound French."
"No. He's American."
"Sans blague? You've fallen in love with an American? Now that would be a first!"
"Why are you saying that?"
"Well, it's just hard to picture you with an American guy for some reason."
"Not all Americans eat hamburgers for breakfast or love guns, Candice. You've got to stop thinking about stereotypes. George's a nice guy, really. He's been learning how to speak French, you know. He even knows Latin."
"I'm impressed. Do you have a picture?"
Nico laughed good-heartedly at her friend's insatiable curiosity and reached in her handbag to find the photograph she'd taken of George two months ago, just after the Café de la Chandelle Verte had been bombed, and handed it over to Candice. After a moment of silence, the redhead woman's smile broadened in appreciation.
"And a good-looking American, at that! Nice catch, Nico. He's got the most gorgeous eyes. If he was still available-
"For your own welfare, you'd better not finish that sentence."
It was spoken menacingly, but Candice knew there was no real threat. She still decided to shut her mouth, not wanting to ruin her friend's good mood. Both women finished putting on their respective coats and couldn't prevent a shiver from running down their spine as they exited the building together and the winter wind greeted them properly. They started walking, rubbing their hands together in an attempt to warm them up and fogging up the air with their respective breaths. The silence between them felt comfortable, but Nico knew it wasn't going to last.
"So, how did he manage to win your heart?"
"Candice, you're impossible, I hope you know that."
"Absolument. Mais ça ne répond pas à ma question."
"He…played by the rules."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Nico smiled to herself, recalling the exact moment she'd first told George that their cooperation on the Templars' case was 'strictly professional'. Safe for a few personal questions about her private life, he'd never broken his part of the deal. He hadn't tried anything to seduce her up until that stolen kiss in the train on their way to Stirling, and by then it had already been too late for her to protest convincingly. She had already fallen in love with him. Slowly, gradually, inevitably, she had fallen into her own trap and, in retrospect, she wouldn't have it any other way.
"Nevermind that, Candice." Nico finally replied with a twinkle in her eye. "You've asked enough questions anyway."
"Oh, come on!"
"Nope. Besides, I have to go the other way now. See you tomorrow?"
The redhead woman smiled, stepping forward to hug her young colleague tightly. "I'll be there. Say hello to him from me."
"He doesn't even know you."
"Who cares?" Candice quipped, a hint of amusement showing in her voice as she swiftly walked away. "Oh, and, Nico?"
"It's good to see you happy. Really."
Nico let her lips curve upwards in a soft, gentle expression. Closing her eyes for a moment as the cold wind blew softly on her face, making her black bangs fly around her cheeks, she felt at peace with herself. She hoped it wouldn't take her too long to get home. She wanted to have some time to herself so she could get ready for the date George and she had planned.
She would never admit it out loud, but Candice was right. It felt good being in love again.
All thoughts about what dress she was going to wear that night went out of Nico's head when she spotted George sitting rather miserably on top of the staircase that led to her floor. He was wearing his usual blue jeans and a scarlet sweater that contrasted strongly with his blonde hair and deep blue eyes. He also wore a long, elegant black coat that she'd never seen before, and the fact that he'd kept it on whilst being inside the building unsettled her a little for some reason. He wasn't looking at her. His gaze was fixed on the tiles of the floor. She wasn't even sure he'd actually seen her yet.
She felt her heartbeat accelerate.
The suitcase that was set on the ground beside him didn't do much to reassure her, either.
She quickly climbed up the remaining couple of stairs, calling out his name. His head jerked up, confirming that he hadn't noticed her presence up until now, which was really odd for someone she knew for a fact was very perceptive. He looked up at her, and only then did she see his eyes; small, terribly tired and bloodshot.
He'd been crying. Her heart seemed to leap in her throat as her brain registered the information. George – the man who could make a sarcastic comment when being about to die- had been crying. The man she loved had been crying.
He stood up slowly and she let her handbag drop to the ground as she ran into his arms. She wrapped her own around his waist and suddenly realized he was trembling against her. Reluctantly, she forced him to loosen his hold on her for a moment and raised a hand to cup his cheek.
"George, what's wrong?"
He tried to reply, tried to form words, but the only thing that came out of his throat was a strangled sound. She could see his Adam apple rise every time he swallowed nervously.
"George, please answer me. I can't help you if you don't tell me what's wrong. What happened?"
He buried his face in her shoulder, and she instinctively began rubbing his back in what she hoped were soothing motions. There was an interminable moment of silence before George finally replied in a whisper.
"It's my Dad…He's dying."
Nico's eyes went wide. Oh, how she could relate to that pain. Sighing against him, she rose on her toes to place several kisses on his cheek. She could think of no words. She knew words were useless. Instead, she kept rocking him in her arms, knowing there would be no date tonight. Looking above his shoulder, her eyes fell upon George's suitcase again and suddenly her brain processed another piece of information.
George was going back to the United States of America. He was going to leave France. He was going to leave Paris. He was going to leave her. And there was nothing she could do to stop him because she would have done the same in his place.
Her heart felt so heavy all of a sudden. She wanted him to stay with her, but she had no right to ask him such a thing. Why was it that every time life was starting to be good for her, something bad just had to happen and ruin it? It wasn't fair.
Saving her anger, sorrow and frustration for later because George needed her right now, she asked him the only fair question she could think of.
"When does your plane leave?"
"In four hours."
She let his reply sink in with difficulty. Four hours. Four tiny hours and then he'd be gone for God only knew how long.
"Roissy Charles de Gaulle."
"Okay. We need to get you there quickly. I'm going to call a cab."
For the life of her, Nico couldn't remember the last time she'd hated a voice over that much.
"Mesdames, mesdemoiselles, messieurs, les passagers du vol Air France 346 à destination de New-York sont priés de passer en salle d'embarquement Porte 11. Ladies and gentlemen, Air France Flight 346 to New-York City is now ready for boarding at Gate 11."
Several passengers began moving, but neither George nor Nico did. They wanted –needed- to wait until the very last moment. George looked down at the woman he was holding in his arms, taking advantage of the fact she was keeping her eyes closed as her head rested on his chest. He felt horrible leaving her like that but it wasn't like he had any choice. He'd already promised he would write to her as often as possible.
"Tu vas me manquer…" She whispered quietly against his sweater.
"I'm gonna miss you, too, Nico…Promise you'll stay away from creepy-looking clowns?"
She chuckled, but he could hear the tears in her laughter. So, he lifted her chin and bent down until his lips crashed on hers. And then the next few moments were a blur. Love turned into passion, passion turned into despair, and despair turned into love again. Nico wrapped her arms around George's neck, pulling him closer. She felt his hands around her, holding her up as they made up for stupid, lost time, tenderly pressing every inch of their respective bodies together as if they were memorizing how it felt. Their lips never stopped dancing until the need for air became too strong to be resisted. George pulled pack, resting his forehead against Nico's, his eyes refusing to leave hers.
"I love you," he said abruptly.
Nico felt her heart stop. "What?"
He tilted his head and regarded her, the odd smile back on his lips if only for a moment. A smile that she recognized as tender, beautiful, and heartrendingly real. "You heard me the first time."
She had no breath, no words. It was one thing to have the life kissed out of her, and to kiss it back in return. But it was another thing completely to hear him tell her…that. She opened her mouth, not sure what to say, and then decided to solve the problem by stepping forward and sealing his lips with hers again.
And it was only when the voice over announced that the boarding would soon be over that George reluctantly withdrew himself from Nico's arms. And it was only then that she gathered the will and strength to tell him the three words he wanted to hear, those he needed to hear, those she needed to say.
"You make sure to call me when you get there, okay George? I don't care about the time difference."
He picked up his suitcase and turned his back on her, slowly walking away. She stayed behind, staring at him as the security officer checked his passport. When everything seemed to be in order, George turned round one last time, smiled…and threw something at her.
She caught it easily and deftly.
She looked down and smiled.
It was the clown's nose.