Title: Miracle on 75th Street
Author: Rina (Searider Falcon)
Pairing: Niles/C.C. Babcock
Disclaimer: The Nanny and its characters are all the property of Sony Pictures, High School Sweethearts, and Sternin & Fraser's Ink, Inc. I make no profit from writing and sharing this story.
A/N:Written for the 2012 Niles/CC Advent Calendar.
Relief flooded over Grace Sheffield upon seeing the lights and skyscrapers of New York City come into view. As the car weaved through streets still busy even at this late hour and the neighborhoods started to become more familiar the nearer they drew to Manhattan, the hours of trepidation and anxiety-fueled adrenaline caught up to her at last and she sank back against her seat.
Soon they'd be home and this ordeal officially would be over.
She couldn't remember ever being happier to see the comforting facade of the townhouse when they pulled onto East 75th Street and parked the car just down the street from their front steps.
Maxwell Sheffield seemed to feel the same as he turned to his daughter and smiled while he tucked her hair behind her ear, his way of reassuring them both. He turned then to address his business partner.
"C.C., we're back...C.C.?"
He received a none too soft snore in response and Grace bit her lip to hold back a giggle. She liked C.C. Babcock best in these sort of moments, when she was no longer the termagant that intimidated her as a young child and who now simply exasperated her as a teenager.
Her father was about to attempt rousing Miss Babcock from her catnap again when he spotted Fran sitting out on the front steps of the mansion, apparently deep in prayer with what appeared to be a nun. He left the car with no further thoughts to anything else but comforting his distressed wife, and Grace rushed out of the car after him.
After a heartfelt reunion on the front steps with Fran and then Sylvia, they hustled into the warmth of the townhouse where everyone greeted them with more hugs and an outpouring of relief. Maggie even offered her the sweater that she'd tried to take on the trip.
"It's okay, I just would like to borrow it occasionally."
Her sister appeared to like that even better.
"I think we can work something out," she told her as she hugged her once more.
As her sister let go of her, Niles held his arms wide for a bear hug, which Grace immediately accepted. "Miss Grace, I can't tell you how glad I am to see you right now."
"Me too, Niles."
"So, where's the abominable snowman?" he asked when he released her. "Did you return her to her lair?"
Much like Daddy and Fran exchanged endearing words of affection to express their love, Niles and Miss Babcock seemed to find snappy barbs and comebacks a crucial element to their own odd relationship. Grace grinned just as much at familiar, teasing insult toward the irascible producer as she did to see the blatant concern that clouded his eyes. He feared and worried for Miss Babcock just as much as he did for Daddy and herself.
Perhaps even more so, judging by the anxious way he looked right now.
And if Miss Babcock's little slip earlier was any indication, those feelings just might be reciprocal.
"She's still in the backseat asleep. Daddy couldn't get her to wake up."
Niles heaved an over-dramatic sigh but the tension in his face and shoulders relaxed as he marched to the closet to retrieve his coat. "I suppose that leaves me to drag her bloated carcass into the house, doesn't it?"
Grace sent him a reproachful look but knew her expression lacked any authority with the smile she tried to conceal twitching at her lips. She walked over to the front door to open it for him and reached out to hold his elbow when he passed by.
"Niles...I think she missed you too."
The butler turned to look back at her for a moment, and Grace didn't know quite how to define the way his face changed, something like hope tempered with the discouraged acceptance of a reality he must believe could never be overcome. With a shake of his head, he slipped through the doorway out into the cold night.
Niles hustled out of the house, not wanting to think too much on Miss Grace's observation lest he start believing in the impossible. While he and Miss Babcock seemed to be on decidedly friendlier and even sometimes downright flirty terms as of late, and though she made it clear that she felt just as much disappointment over being called away on business as he did to see her go, he doubted that his favorite hellcat wasted much of her time thinking of him during her ordeal. Not in the all-consuming way he had while she was missing, he was sure.
Quietly, so as not to startle the slumbering beast, he opened the car door and leaned in to look at Miss Babcock. Arms crossed, head tilted back, and her mouth slightly open as a small snore emanated from those red lips, she posed a rather unflattering picture.
Under normal circumstances, the sight of her prone like this might have had him scrambling for a camera and then rushing to the nearest one-hour photo kiosk to develop his latest blackmail material.
Tonight, though, he only felt the tight band of fear that gripped his heart all evening finally loosen its hold.
"Miss Babcock?" He gave her shoulder a gentle shake.
"C'mon, Bertha, you can't sleep in here all night like a boxcar hobo."
Her brow scrunched up in consternation and she grunted again, but still she did not wake.
"I guess I really am going to have to carry you in," he whispered.
Carefully as could be managed, he slipped one arm underneath her legs while, with the other hand, he guided her left arm around his neck before wrapping his own arm securely around her back and lifting her from the backseat.
She hummed in her sleep as she snuggled her face into his neck and for a moment Niles forgot how to breath.
Too many pranks, putdowns, and years of frustrated, conflicted emotions, but underneath all that, his attraction to this scintillating siren remained and grew with each passing day. While he somewhat managed to maintain a cool facade earlier, after many long, unbearable hours of gut-churning fear and worry for her and the Sheffields, it crumbled until he wasn't emotionally equipped anymore to continuing holding up a front with his usual denials, not even in the private recesses of his own mind.
It was probably a good thing she was fast asleep right now, he thought.
She stirred as he slowly shuffled along the sidewalk, mindful not to slip with Miss Babcock held securely in his arms.
"Niles..." she whispered, her breath tickling at his jaw. "Am I home?"
He held her tighter to him, his lips brushing against her temple as he responded. "Close enough, baby, close enough."
Her lips curved into a soft smile and she curled into him as she relaxed, her right arm reaching up to wrap around his neck before she dozed off again.
He paused a moment in their slow journey to the house to gaze at her in wonder.
Maybe the youngest Sheffield wasn't so far off the mark after all?
It really was a night for miracles.
C.C. tried to remember the last time someone carried her like this and realized she had no idea how long it'd been.
Through the cloud of exhaustion that blanketed her, she was dimly aware of Niles bringing her into the Sheffield home. The warmth of the living room replaced the icy wind that bit at her cheeks. With her face burrowed into his neck, she felt more than heard him ask Grace to run ahead and tend to the guest room for him.
Niles was being exceptionally and usually sweet right now. Were she more awake, it would have disturbed her. Not in possession of the stamina required to struggle with it at the moment, however, instead she relished it.
"Alright, Miss Babcock," he said as they reached the landing and turned the corner that led to the guest room. "I had Miss Grace put down some fresh straw in the barn stall for you."
She popped one eye open and stuck out her tongue.
The low rumble of his chuckle warmed her all over in a way that had little to do with the mansion's heating system. With a yawn, she tried to pull herself out of her lethargy, blinking rapidly as they entered the dim room.
C.C. missed being held the moment he placed her on the bed. A flood of affection filled her, though, as he set about trying to make her more comfortable and refused to allow her to help in any way beyond kicking off her shoes. He lifted the fur hat from her head and tossed it on the nearby dresser, then unfastened the cloak she still wore. Draping it over the edge of the bed, he sat down beside her and started to make quick work of the button on her jacket.
She closed her eyes as thoughts of him unbuttoning her jacket for less altruistic reasons filled her mind.
She felt too weary to fight the attraction this evening, not like she often did. And really, it didn't take a highly-educated therapist to deduce why she spent the entire length of their ordeal thinking only of this man and their many missed opportunities. She hadn't done a good job of that anyway. Hell, Grace Sheffield saw clear through her bah humbug attitude regarding the trip even before the accident, for heaven's sake, and she was only, like, what? Nine years old or so?
Niles eased the jacket over her shoulders arms and then reached around to run his fingers through her hair, leaning in to her as he did. She drew an inaudible gasp as her eyes flicked upward and she licked her lips. Was he...?
No, she realized, his focus wasn't on her face but just beyond her shoulder as he gave a gentle tug to the tie that held her hair into a low ponytail.
A small sliver of disappointment sliced her, but it was softened by a sense of appreciation that he would think to loosen her hair for her in order to make her more comfortable before going to sleep.
Finished freeing her hair from its confines, Niles sat back and asked, "Do you want to change, Miss Babcock?"
The mere idea of putting forth that much effort when she was already halfway the bed exhausted her even further. She was pretty sure her bag was still in the car anyway.
"Oh, Niles, you know perfectly well I don't shed my skin until the spring."
He grinned at her. "I think that's my line."
"You were slacking off from the job. Just like always."
He gave her a mock sour look.
"Look, I just want to sleep. I don't care what I'm wearing."
Niles raised a brow at her but faltered a moment before starting to respond, ready to zing her with some naughty comment about how she was used to it or something, she imagined.
She lifted a figure to his lips to stop him. "You're too slow on the uptake this evening."
"I depleted all my mental resources on fretting over three wayward wanderers, I'm afraid." He took her hand in his and gave it a squeeze before guiding her to rest against the pillows.
Her heart fluttered at the implication. She didn't know how to respond to that.
"Goodnight, Miss Babcock."
As he started to raise the covers to tuck her in, though, she knew she didn't want him to go yet. Her hand shot out and clutched the lapel of his coat.
"You want me to stay with you for awhile?"
She nodded. "Yeah."
He turned away to fetch the desk chair.
He glanced back at her. "Hmm?"
Quite nervous all of a sudden as she pulled down the covers on the right side of her bed. "I want you to stay with me."
He turned back around at that to look at her, shock and hesitation evident in his expression as the full weight of her request sank in.
To be fair, this wasn't really their style. She couldn't entirely blame him for questioning her intent and sincerity given their track record.
She still huffed in frustration all the same.
"Niles, I'm too damned tired to screw around with our usual mind games right now. Just get over here and hold me, alright?" she said, exasperation straining her voice.
Leave it to Niles to find reassurance in her snapping at him. The uncertain look on his face melted away, his lips curving into an affectionate smile.
Her heart pounded as he toed out of his loafers. He shed his coat, suit jacket, and tie and padded around to the other side of the bed, gazing at her in wonder as he peeled back the covers.
She knew he wanted to be certain that his wasn't just another setup to a particularly cruel prank. Trying to convey in her eyes whatever it was he needed to feel more secure, she patted the mattress bedside her in encouragement.
He slid between the covers and they both rolled to face each other.
"We're together for the holiday after all," she murmured.
He gave her one of his rare genuine smiles and reached out to stroke her cheek. She clutched his hand in her own as she leaned forward to press her lips to his, a brief greeting and goodnight.
He responded with a few lingering kisses of his own that left her dizzy and breathless before rolling them both over so that she rested against his chest.
As she draped her left arm across him, he wrapped his arms tight around her as they settled in for the night.
Earlier, her business partner had marveled over how miraculous it was that they'd managed to make their limited resources stretch for several hours until their rescue. While even C.C. couldn't deny just how fortunate they were, she knew that this moment right here might be the real miracle of the evening.
Whatever tomorrow brought her way, she was being given a second chance.