Secrets
by Eric McCann
circa September 1998


"Nick!" Natalie picked up her pace and caught up with
her blonde-haired vampire.

"Hey Nat!" Nick stopped and gave her a quick squeeze as
she caught up with him. "Where are you headed tonight?"

"Just finishing up a little shopping, since I have the
night off. You?"

Nick rolled his eyes and sighed. "I'm bringing Schank back
his souvlaki.. tripple wrapped." Noting Natalie's look, he
added, "I lost a bet."

Nat laughed. "I *told* you he'd end up wearing that
rediculous hawaiian shirt into work. Which means you owe
*me* as well, mister." She gave him a sly look. "I'll tell you
how you can pay up later."

He always worried when she got ideas on "paying up" on things
like this. He usually enjoyed it, true, but there were
exceptions. He hoped she didn't have anything like the hula
outfit From last Halloween in mind for him again.

"Don't worry, Nick, I'll be nice. This time."

Nick decided it was time to (gracefully) make his exit, before
she got any ideas going. "If I don't get this back before it gets
cold, even Schanke won't eat it - and I'll have to deal with that
souvlaki stand again." He gave her another quick squeeze and took
off towards the caddy.

Nat sighed. "See you later, too. What's that? Oh, I love you too."
She continued on her way, wondering yet again if they were ever
going to actually *have* a relationship. Things got going
so *well* sometimes, then they seemed to come to a screeching halt.
//Nope, I'm not going to start thinking that way again. He's just
in a rush.// She continued on her way - she had to finish before
the stores closed. Being a night person definately had its
disadvantages at times.

====A few days later

Nat came into the station, having finished the reports on the
Land autopsy early. She turned the corner - and stopped. Nick
was talking to that new blonde - What was her name? Julie? - and
had just leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.

She turned, before anyone really had a chance to see her, and stormed
back down the hallway. //The hell with the reports. They arent
expecting them for another two hours at least anyway.// She was
*fuming* at this point. //Nick, screwing around on *me?* That
explains a lot...//

She was so upset, she hadn't been watching where she was going, and
ran headlong into Schanke.

"Natalie? Oh, I'm sorry - here, lemme help..."

"No, Don, it's my fault, I wasn't watching where I was going." She
picked herself, and the report, off of the floor. "Here, here's your
report. I've gotta run."

"Does Nick know you're here?"

Natalie turned and kept going. "I could care less." Schanke stared at
her rapidly retreating back, and shook his head.
//
"Hey, Nick, what'd you do to Natalie?"

"Natalie?" Nick was confused. "What do you mean, what did I do? What's
wrong?"

"I was hoping you could tell me. I just ran into her in the hall,
and boy, was she steamed at you."

"At me? She was here?" Now he was really confused. "I haven't seen her
since last night."

"Well, I don't know, pardner, but whatever it is..."

//

Nick drove home that morning, distracted. It wasn't just the brutal
murder on his mind. He was wondering what Natalie was upset about.
He played that last night over in his mind. Sure, he spilled a little
of her latest shake on her new carpet. OK, and he tripped over Sydney
once. But she'd had to deal with that before. He was so deep in thought
that he didn't realize he'd run two red lights and had a squad following
him, insisting he pull over.

He did, and got out his license and his badge. Officer Wilkins walked
up. "Hey Nick, what's up? You just ran through two red lights, and I
flashed you for another mile past that!"

He sheepishly handed over his ID. "Sorry, Julie. Just a lot on my
mind tonight."

She looked at him "Yeah, I heard about the kid. Rough one, huh?"

He nodded. "And on top of it, Nat's mad at me for some reason."

"Oh, that reminds me..." She handed back his ID, and got a package
out of her car. "Hope it fits, Nick."

Nick accepted the package gratefully. "Me too. I don't know if I can
wait until Valentines' day to find out, though." He smiled, and
reached around to put the package in back - then gave Julie a quick squeeze
through the window. "Thanks."

"Just be careful getting home tonite, 'kay?"

"You've got it." With that, he started his car and drove to the loft.

//

When he got to the loft, he heard someone inside.

"Nat?"

She turned toward him, eyes blazing, but ringed with red. "Faith. Hmph.
No wonder you never tell me you love me."

Nick definately got the feeling he had missed something. "Natalie..."

"Don't even start, Nick." She removed the locket he had given her last
year at valentine's day. Opening the gilded cover, she looked inside
one last time. Running her fingers over the glass protecting the
pictures, she pulled one out and snapped it shut. "And I was fool enough to
believe you. To believe in US." Rising from the couch, she stormed to the door,
and flung the locket at Nick on her way past. "Here you go, Romeo. Hope she
gets a little more out of it than I did."

The locket hit Nick in the chest, and he felt as though someone had just
driven a stake through where it made contact. A hurt, confused "Nat..."
was all he could get out before the door slammed shut.


*click* This is Knight, I'm either in bed or incommunicado. *beep*
"Yo, Nick, what's up? The captain's going nuts right now, pard, where
are you? We've got some leads to..."
*click* "Yeah, Schank, I'm here." Nick groaned, and looked at the empty
bottles next to the couch. "I'm not doing so hot, sorry." He held the
phone away from his ear as the captain yelled in the background. "Skank,
tell the cap to calm down, I'm coming in.... No, right now being skinned
alive sounds like an improvement. Be there in a few. *click*"

He was, yet again, lost in a world of his own, driving through Toronto's
darkened streets on the way to the precinct. This time, there was no
LaCroix on the radio, no flashbacks to previous lives. Just -
nothingness. He tried not to think, because when he did, Natalie was all
he could think about. He wondered what he had done to hurt her. Just as things
seemed to be getting better for him, too. He'd so looked forward to
introducing her to Julie, who had become a cop just because of her
"uncle Nicky" and was just transferred to Toronto.
Now...

He thought about her parents. She had been his secret in Chicago -
after the fire, he was the closest thing she had left to family for
months until her aunt had stepped forward. He'd left her then, a
beautiful 17 year old, full of life, and she had made herself a promise
to become a police officer, and make him proud of her.

He sighed, and noticed he had passed the station. He went around the
block and found a place to park.

//

Grace knew something was wrong. Nat wasn't normally this sloppy.

"C'mon, Grace, help me with the next stiff."

"Nat!"

"Grace,they're dead. They don't care how politically correct I am. Now,
give me a hand." Natalie stood there, at the end of the gurney, waiting
not all that patiently for Grace's assistance.

Once the body was moved and prepped, Grace stopped Natalie. "What's
wrong? Did you and Nick get into a fight."

"None of your damn business, OK?" Grace was taken aback by Natalie's
demeanor. Nat looked up, and shook her head. "I'm sorry, Grace, I
didn't mean to snap at you. Let's just say Nick is not my favourite subject to
talk about right now."

Grace shook her head. "Natalie, we're friends, aren't we? And when a
friend of mine gets hurt, I end up making it my business to either
make it right, or help. Besides, you're not concentrating, and won't be
able to do a good job until you get this off your chest." Natalie
started to protest, but was cut off. "He's not going anyware, and besides, it's
time for our dinner break. Come on. My treat." Natalie could see it
was no use arguing once her friend had set her mind on this. She
covered the body back up, got her purse, and they went on their way.

She told Grace about how things had been going lately ("at a standstill"
was her term for it,] and how she saw everything leading up to that
kiss in the office with "blondie." "Men. It doesn't matter if they're
eight years old, or eight hund... eighty."

"A kiss? Oh.. Where?"

She stopped to think about it... "He hugged her and gave her a kiss on
the forehead. She's only about an inch or so shorter than I am. What
difference does it make?"

Grace stopped to think about it. "Maybe you're taking it wrong? After
all, you said she was only, what, twenty two or so? Could they know each
other from somewhere? She sounds a bit young for him."

//Doesn't everyone,// thought Nat. "Well, I really doubt it." She
sighed again. "Maybe he's just getting tired of me. Maybe I should have just
accepted being 'like a sister' to him, and left it at that."

Grace looked at her. "He might be upset if I say anything, but he did
have big plans for you, Nat."

"Yeah. Dinner." Grace looked at her. //I *didn't* just say that out
loud, did I?//
"Uh, nothing, Grace. I just mean, that's about what we do now. Have
dinner, watch a movie or two. Maybe he just needs to break the routine.
Maybe I do."
She looked over at her friend. "What do you mean, big plans?"

Grace insisted she knew nothing else about it, no matter how much
Natalie pried and prodded. By the end of dinner, Natalie had been having
so much fun justbugging Grace about it, they were both laughing, and she was
in a much better mood - though she still hurt about Nick, she had to admit
Grace was right. Talking about it with a friend really did help.


Nick hadn't been able to get in touch with Natalie for far too long.
The cadavers were warmer to him than she had been the other night. Schanke had been
making any neccessary visits to the coroner's office since he came out from
that visit.She wouldn't tell him what was upsetting her, and it was driving him
crazy. She had made it quite clear that she didnt' want him around right now.

"Maybe she just needs a little space."

"Skank, any more space and we'd be in different galaxies."

Don looked to his partner. Nick was hurting bad, and there wasn't
anything he could think of to do to help him out. And Valentines' day being so
close couldn't be helping. He knew Nick had had plans made - he always had some
little suprise for her, as Myra reminded him all too often. The ride back to
the station was quiet.

"Hey Nick, seeya tomorrow, OK?"

"Yeah, Schanke."

"Nick - whatever it is, I know you two will work it out."

Nick looked at his partner, knowing he only meant to help. "Thanks. I
just wish I knew what it is we needed *to* work out."

Nick headed back to the Caddy to go home. He drove by the coroner's
building slowing, then speeding back up. //Why can't I just go in there and talk to
her?// He went around to the side, and parked the car. Nick sat there, staring at the
building for five or ten minutes, then started the car and cursed himself. He never
had gotten the nerve to really tell her how he felt, and now he was paying for it.
He sped to the loft, flew in, and went to the refrigerator. He whipped it open,
pulled out a bottle and ripped the cork out, then stopped himself. It wouldn't help
to start sliding back now, of all times. He rounded up a new cork, put it in the
bottle, and started looking for one of her "prescribed" meals.

As he started to work down one of Natalie's protein shakes, and was
staring with doubt at the nearly-raw cheeseburger, he remembered - they were supposed
to pick up the final results on a few cases. Nat hadn't been to the precinct
much lately, and he was pretty much banned from the coroner's building by Nat.
Schank wouldn't be home yet, and was already beat from the night. Then he remembered...

//
"Toronto police, front desk."

"Detective Knight here, is Julie Southington in yet?"

"No - wait, there she is. OFFICER SOUTHINGTON, PHONE!"

Nick rubbed his ear. A moment later, Julie was on the phone. "Officer
Southington
here."

"Julie?"

"Hey, Uncle Nick. What's up?"

"Not much. Would you do me a favor? I forgot to pick up the reports
from the coroner's office - could you get them and leave them on my desk? The
sun's nearly up, and..."

"Don't worry. They want me over there anyway, to view one of the
autopsies. Gross. But, I guess it has to be done. I can get over there a little early, if
it's ok with the sergeant..."

"Thanks. I owe ya one."

"Forget it, Nick. I've got to go report in. Love ya, Unc!"

"You too, Julie. Thanks again."

Nick put down the phone, glad he'd gotten that taken care of, and went
over to try to enjoy his meal. Halfway through, he sat bolt upright -

JULIE WAS GOING TO THE CORONER'S BUILDING.
NATALIE IS STILL THERE.
JULIE WANTED TO MEET NATALIE.
THIS COULD BE `NOT A GOOD THING.`

The klew had hit him just a little too late - he called the precinct
again, and learned she had already gone. "Oh, no..."

//

Julie met Grace, who was getting ready to leave. "Hi, I'm officer
Southington. Do you have some reports for me?"

"Yes, we do - just a moment." Grace went to the door of the coroner's
office -
"Natalie, officer Southington's here to pick up the reports."
"Send him in. Her in. Whatever."

"Go on in. Don't mind her, she's had a rough few days."

"No problem, and thanks."

She walked in, and saw Nat signing off on the last few reports. She
recognized her from the pictures in her uncle's loft. "Natalie? Natalie Lambert?"
Nat started lifting her head. "Uncle Nick's told me so much about you! I'm glad he
sent me here for those reports now!"

When Nat saw who was over - and heard Nick's name - she jumped up and
started after a very confused Julie. "I'll just bet he has. Sent you over because
he's too much of a... " She stopped for a second. "Wait a minute. Did you say
*uncle* Nick?"

Julie, who had backed into a corner to defend herself from the obviously
insane coroner, nodded. "Yeah... he's not really my uncle, but he helped raise
me after my parents died, before my aunt came back from Europe." Had she
said too much?

Natalie's face just fell. "Oh, no..." She looked up at Julie. "I'm
sorry I started after you like that... I saw... and I... well... Is Nick still at the
station?"

Julie relaxed a little. "No, he went home. He has some sort of
condition... but from what he told me, I guess you knew that already."

Natalie paused. //Condition. How much does she really know?// "Yeah.
Uh... Look, I've got to take care of some things... Would you do me a favor? I know
it's a strange thing to ask after trying to attack you before, but..."

Bear with me on this one... I'm mixing this with the valentine's day
song challenge... and I have *no* idea how it'll turn out...
Just trust me... Save the rotten fruit throwing 'til the end.
Disclaimers in part 1.



Julie came into the loft just a few minutes before Nick woke up.
Neither of them had to work today, fortunately, but Nick still woke up in a lousy
mood. Here it was, Valentine's day, and Nat still wasn't speaking to him. He
gave a pathetic sigh, and looked at the locket he had given her last
year. He'd had the glass replaced - he just hoped he'd be able to give it back.

"Uncle Nick?

He looked over at Julie. She had to leave tomorrow, to get some
specialized training at the university in Ontario, and he'd promised her an all-out
night on the town. He had planned on having Nat halp out, but that just
didn't seem to be in the cards for him at this point.

"Are you ready, Julie? Did you decide where you wanted to go?"

She got her coat. "Ready as I'll ever be. There's this club I've heard
of from the others in my class, and I'd like to check it out."

"Which one?" //PLEASE don't let it be the Raven,// he added to himself.

"Something like Crossroads, I think they called it." Nick sighed a sigh
of relief. "I know the one you're talking about. I didn't know you
liked that sort of music."

"Yeah, well, not everyone is into bands that just mumble and whine about
their lives while playing the same chord over and over. Let's go."

//

They parked the car and went in. The club was relatively new, but not
packed. Then again, the night was still young. The band onstage was
doing some Crosby, Stills, and Nash since most of the patrons were still
interested in eating right now. They found a table, and Julie ordered a drink, and
a steak. Nick - not wanting to make her uncomfortable - looked desperately for
french fries, but they didn't have any, so he ordered the next best thing. "Baked
potato. Plain."
He looked over, hoping she didn't think it too strange when he smothered
it with catsup. WHile they were eating, he looked over - and caught his
breath. A few tables over, a woman sat with her back to him, and for a fleeting
moment, he could have sworn it was Natalie. But her companion returned - a dark
haired man in his mid- twenties, whom Nick thought he'd seen in the station at one point. He
sighed, and returned to picking at his potato as the band started into
their dance numbers.

"I think I see someone from my class here... Would you excuse me for
just a minute, Uncle Nick?"

"Sure, Julie, go ahead."

He picked at his potato some more, and just as the band finished their
second piece, someone was standing beside him. "Was it someone you
knew?" he asked, without looking up. The band was saying something about
a special request.

"Yes, I knew him, and I want him back." Nick nearly jumped out of his
seat -

"Nat?"

"Hi, Nick."

"Natalie..." He didn't know what to say. There she stood, in this
beautiful blue dress, with the earrings he had given her last christmas...
"You look very nice."

"Thanks."

"Nat, look... I honestly don't know what happened... Whatever it is,
please, let me make it up..."

"Nick, I'm sorry." Nick's heart sank. Natalie saw his expression, and
hurried to explain. "No, no, not that, I'm sorry that I snapped at you. I saw
you kiss Julie there in the station, and I didn't know... I mean, I saw it and
assumed - well, and ... what I thought, hurt."

"Natalie..." he started, and the band launched into their song.

"Nick - I was wrong... can you forgive me?"

"Natalie, I could never hurt you." He listened to the words
of the song...

*I was standing, all alone against the world outside.
You were searching for a place to hide
Lost and lonely, now you've given me the will to survive.
When we're hungry, love will keep us alive.*

"Appropriate song, hmm?"

"It'd better be... I asked them for it."

He looked up, suprised, and saw the little smile on her face.
Looking over at Julie, he saw the gleam in her eye, and she waved
at him, while dancing with the guy from her class. He could not
believe this - he'd been set up.He stood up, and embraced Natalie.
"Happy Valentine's day, indeed...Shall we dance, my lady?"

*Don't you worry, sometimes you've just gotta let it ride.
The world is changing, right before your eyes.
Now I've found you, there's no more emptiness inside.
When we're hungry, love will keep us alive.*

He buried his head in her hair. She was back, his Natalie was
back... and he felt nearly whole again.

*I would die for you,
climb the highest mountain.
Baby, there's nothing I wouldn't do.*

"I love you, Natalie." he whispered in her ear, a tear running down
his cheek.

*Now I've found you, there's no more emptiness inside.
When we're hungry, love will keep us alive.*

"I love you, Nick." He could see a tear running down her cheek as well.
He leaned down to kiss her, and they danced, while the solo went on-
he holding her close, her head pressed against his shoulder...

*I would die for yoy,
climb the highest mountain
Baby, there's nothing I wouldn't do.*

He fished the locket back out of his pocket, and placed it in her hand.
They'd go to get a new picture for it tonight.

*I was standing, all alnone agianst the world outside
You were searching for a place to hide.
Lost and lonely, now you've given me the will to survive
When we're hungry, love will keep us alive.*

<>