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By request of brightknightie (who probably thought I'd forgotten about it!), in response to this meme post.

This one dates to December 1993. I'll refrain from further excuses. *wry g* This and my other fic, FK and otherwise, are archived on my site.

Well, better late than never...but I guess it doesn't matter, since Susan's Christmas challenge was met anyway. :-)

One thing about only having gotten around to coding about half of my fic to put up on my own site: fkfanfic.com has everything archived exactly as I posted it to FKFIC-L, including the little notes I put at the tops of the emails, which were way more informal than any actual author's note I would archive with something. In this case, I had actually semi-forgotten that the piece was written in response to a specific challenge. I have a vague memory of susanmgarrett setting a particular number of Christmas-themed stories to be posted within a certain period of time. Which this one wasn't -- hey, look, Val taking longer to write a story than intended, imagine that! *wry g* -- but it didn't matter, because I seem to recall the challenge having been met several times over.

Fair warning: I set out in the direction of unmitigated schmaltz, but somewhere along the way it got mitigated, taking a bittersweet twist I did not expect...maybe unmitigated schmaltz just isn't in my repertoire.

And after fourteen-plus years, some things never change. Although the above is possibly a suspect claim from someone who was singing "In My Own Little Corner" at Cinderella rehearsals every night at the time.

TO DRIVE THE COLD WINTER AWAY

FK fandom was my "titles from songs" phase (and it took me long enough to even notice the pattern). In this case, the title track of Loreena McKennitt's Yule album. It's really just the title that fits.

"Knight. Out." Stonetree stood by Nick's desk, implacable as his name.

"Captain, I've--"

"Worked the last two Christmas Eves, and Christmas too," the captain finished for him.

I pretty much assume Nick works all major holidays unless directly ordered otherwise, both so a colleague can be home with family and because it gives him an excuse to turn down invitations.

"Out. Go home. Take Schanke up on Myra's dinner invitation. I don't care. Just leave those papers where they are, get yourself out the door, and don't show your face in here again until the calendar says December 26. That's an order, Detective."

Off the top of my head, I think this may be the only dialogue I ever wrote for Stonetree. Which isn't surprising, since I've never done much cop-shop-plotty stuff, which is where he fits. I read this paragraph and find myself wishing I'd had a reason to write more, because Gary Farmer's voice and delivery are just such fun.

* * *

Natalie didn't even look up from her computer at his unexpected entrance. "Hi, Nick. What are you doing here?"

"I could ask you the same question."

"I'm not the one Stonetree has banned from work for the next two days."

Mimicking her tone, Nick retorted, "And I'm not the one who's been coughing and sneezing almost as much as she's been breathing for the past week."

Natalie chuckled. "I guess it is kind of a tossup who's the pot and who's the kettle, huh?"

"My question is," Nick said, leaning over the computer monitor, "can anyone tell by looking which one of us is dead?"

"Oh, thanks a lot!" Natalie squawked, interrupting herself with a sneeze and reaching for the near-empty box of Puffs Plus. "Anyway, I can't look like a vampire. I already look like Rudolph."

This whole exchange makes me wince now. Their banter was dorky sometimes, but this is downright forced.

As an afterthought she added, "And you're not dead."

"Didn't think that would get past you," he noted good-naturedly, reaching

That one, however, I still like. That's always been in my head as one of their ongoing ritual disagreements, going, of course, back to when they met.

across her to tap the function keys that would save her file and exit the program.

"Nick!"

Unmoved by the protest, he parked the hard drive and switched off the

Hee! Period piece. And my play into the convention -- which sadly pretty much disappeared after first season, like so many things -- of Nick making a nuisance of himself in Natalie's workspace. I loved those bits. The mixed intent of "take a break already" and "pay attention to meeeee!" was simultaneously endearing and exasperating, and therefore utterly Nick.

computer. "I'm not allowed to work, so I have to make myself useful somehow."

"By policing my health?" she inquired sharply, but Nick was sure he caught a smile flickering at the corners of her mouth.

"Well, I don't think much of the job you're doing at it." Before she could object, he added, "Besides, you're not going to let me go home and and play couch potato in that big loft all by myself on Christmas Eve, are you?"

She's the champion at turning his own arguments back at him for his own benefit. Figured I'd let him try his hand at it for for a change.

"Not if I can help it," she agreed with a sigh. "I guess we could still go to Schanke's; they should be done with dinner, so you shouldn't have too hard a time avoiding food." This last was given pointed emphasis and accompanied by an impish smile.

Nick gets caught without a comeback sometimes. Nat, not so much.

Picking up her coat and holding it out, he chuckled, "Well, I won't argue that Myra has nothing on you in that department. But unless you're really attached to the idea, I might have a better one."

Not that I had a solid idea what it was going to be, IIRC. I'm not exactly a slave to preplanning and outlines now, but I really did take a starting point and go completely spontaneously back then. I remember what that felt like, and my process now is so different.

"Okaaayy..."

* * *

A short while later, Nat was firmly ensconced on Nick's couch, the thick satin comforter from his bed around her shoulders, the Puffs box in easy reach, and a mug of lemon tea with a generous dollop of honey in her hands.

I didn't think while I was writing about which pieces of the whole setup were planned and which he was making up as he went along, though I had a vague idea that it was a mix. Only much later did I start to think "Well, if she's been sick all week, there was probably a kernel of it, and then when Stonetree kicked him out..." These days I'd ponder it all out six ways from Sunday before I finished the above paragraph... and the paragraph would probably look exactly the same when I was done. I won't say one or the other way is better, but the old way was certainly faster...

"Nick, this is ridiculous," she told him for the umptieth time, immediately undermining the statement with a short outburst of coughing. "Bleah. 'Scuse me." Now he had punched the remote to ignite the gas fireplace. "Oh, come on, Nick. I took my Vicks like a good little girl. I do not need all this."

I've repeated myself on this "creating a safe space" thing so many times. I keep thinking "God, I'm a hack, I need to find a new shtick!" But it makes me happy, and a few others seem to like it too. So it probably won't stop any time soon. *g*

I think I keep finding myself going back to the motif because my most beloved characters, the ones who inspire me to fic, share a tendency to cut themselves no slack for the fact that they're living (usually by choice, at least to some extent) in extremely dangerous worlds. They're pretty uniformly smart, resourceful and self-reliant but only human, and dealing constantly with things that would send most humans to hide under the covers whimpering for the rest of their lives. And that's typically a Big Secret, leaving few outlets for dealing with all the craziness.

All of which adds up my looking at them and going "Damn, could she use ONE night of guaranteed away-from-the-craziness, and good luck to the concerned friend who has to talk her into it." Which leads to my getting said friend to do so. And it usually is friend and/or family -- I think this story is actually my only (and only mildly) shippy incarnation. Mostly because I'm just not a shipper by nature, of course. This one snuck up me in canon, in a way that I totally bought, and I was reluctantly still aboard, and still clinging to what I had loved about their friendship all along, when it hit the iceberg and went *glub*.


"Maybe, maybe not. But you're getting it anyway." The twinkle of mischief in his eyes stopped her intended further argument and started her wondering

The things he gets away with by being cute...

just what he was up to now. Snatching up the small box wrapped in gold paper that she had failed to notice on the coffee table--boy, she was in rare form tonight!--he said, "And you also get this. Merry Christmas, Nat."

"But I can't--I mean, your present is at my place." She did not add that she hadn't even wrapped it yet.

"Well, then, Sidney can guard it for me. I'm just being impatient." His grin did not belong on an adult's face, let alone one that had weathered eight centuries.

I probably repeated variations of this in too many fics. But it was just impossible for me not to look at him and go "How can you be that old and be such a little kid?", and I saw Nat thinking the same thing. All. The. Time.

She hadn't reached for the box, and he took her hand and placed his offering in it, setting her empty mug on the coffee table. "Go on, open it."

"You'd think immortality might teach a person patience," Natalie sniffed, picking meticulously at the ribbon and tape until Nick looked ready to implode. "Oh, all right, I'll stop torturing you." Tearing

Because of course it's all about his impatience. Really.

the paper away in one yank, she opened the box to reveal a delicate gold charm bracelet. "Wow. Pretty." And didn't *that* sound intelligent, she chided herself. "This is really nice, Nick. Thank you."

It took me ages to process that both times I had him give her a gift, it was jewelry. Actually, there are a number of echoes of this one that found their way into "Color of the Night" two years later without my thinking about it much. Hack. :-)

She opened the little latch and moved to put it on, but Nick took it and did it for her, kneeling by the couch and not relinquishing her hand. "It does need explaining," he told her, turning the slender chain around her wrist until he found a tiny grinning comedy mask. "This, because you taught me how to laugh again when I had forgotten." His voice was very quiet with a near-imperceptible tremor, and with a shock Nat realised it sounded as if he were about to cry. She had never found out whether he could...

Aaaaand I didn't remember that this thought was recycled when I used it in an entirely different universe a few months ago. At least I was aware of repeating the "safe space" shtick. *facepalm* Hack!

"So where's the tragedy to go with it?" she inquired lightly.

He answered with the most absolute seriousness she had ever heard. "You've had enough of those. I won't willingly bring you any more." Turning to

Ah, the optimism of first season. *wistful sigh*

the next charm, a miniature skeleton key, he explained, "I've given you the key to my home, my secrets, my life...as I was always too afraid to do with any other human soul. And I'll never regret it. In your hands it becomes the key to unlock my prison."

"Nick..." She found nothing at all to say, eyes fixed on the bits of gold that carried such charged meanings.

Next in line was an old-fashioned soda fountain glass, complete with straw. "The milkshake's pretty self-explanatory."

"And very cute."

My memory may be playing tricks, but I think I took ages to figure out what the present would be, but then the individual charms fell into place in my head like that.

A pirate's treasure chest. "Because I can't begin to tell you how precious you are to me."

She didn't even attempt to answer that.

An exquisite little cross, which he held gingerly but without apparent pain. "Did you know I hadn't opened that box in a long, long time before I showed the cross to you? You gave that back to me too."

And the award for "best prop deriving from a questionable guest appearance by a historical figure" goes to... I still kinda go "What were they thinking?" about Joan, but I have to admit some good mileage was had from it. Some of it by me. So I can't exactly complain.

Somehow Natalie found her voice. "No. You won that battle yourself."

"Maybe. But not until I went into it carrying your favour." An anchor. "Hope. I had to relearn this too, from a crazy young woman who reached out in wonder when she should have run away in fear."

Oh, rats, now she was going to cry.

I don't know why, but I always loved that she said "rats."

The last charm was a sun with minuscule wavy rays like the one that hung on his kitchen wall. "This is where I believe you will lead me. This is the light you brought into my world, the brightest I had seen in 560 years--and even then I caught only a flicker."

Some analytical part of Natalie's mind never went off-duty, and near-automatic subtraction supplied her with 1430. He couldn't mean Joan, that was ludicrous! That couldn't be the comparison he was making.

No more ludicrous than that he met her. TWICE. Go with it. ;-)

"I wasn't ready for what she tried to teach me." His voice was faltering again. "And she had no time to make me see it; she had to go fight for her people." Nick clasped her hand tightly in both his own. "I never expected you to come along and fight for me. And I can't understand why you have also been paid in pain."

"Nick, you're not making any sense."

He swallowed hard. "This past year has been so cruel to you; sometimes I wanted so much to just wrap you up in silk and hide you away where nothing could ever hurt you again. But I can't do that, and the world keeps taking pieces out of you."

And she wouldn't let him if he could. Which he knows perfectly well, and has all along.

"Nick, I owe you my life several times over," she reminded him. "What more could I possibly ask?"

He shook his head. "I don't know; you never do. Just answer me this, Nat: when was the last time you really felt safe?"

As soon as the question was asked, she knew she didn't have an answer; but she hesitated anyway. Finally she said, "This isn't a safe world, Nick. You should know that better than anyone."

"Yes, I do. I also know that I've made it a more dangerous one for you."

And this is the crux of it for me. His world, his responsibility. I've been known to groan that he can find a way to blame himself for the rain, but that one's legit.

"Oh, come on, Nick!" she objected sharply. "It is not your fault that Laura Neal ran me off the road, or that I picked the wrong wacko to date or the wrong time to show up at the precinct..."

"And who put you in the line of Chinese Mafia fire?" he interrupted. "Who provided a temptation no one should face, and made you lose Richard twice?" He looked away for a second, then met her eyes again. "And who threatened you that night at the Raven, when you came to help?"

"Nick, that--"

"Oh, I know, I know. I acknowledged. I apologized. You forgave me before I even asked; but that doesn't undo what's already done. I saw the bruises you tried to hide from me, Nat." He turned

This goes back to discussion I had mostly with amilyn after "Feeding the Beast," that it's almost impossible that he didn't bruise her with that grab. He was too close to out of control right then.

her hand over, traced on the inside of her wrist the marks she had worn a few months before from his crushing grip. "But I didn't have to see them. I knew I hurt you, because I *intended* to."

Nat shook her head, insisting, "That doesn't matter now."

"Yes, it does. No, hear me out," he requested when she drew breath to disagree.

Maybe giving him too much credit for recognizing what a mistake it was for her to forgive him too quickly and short-circuit that apology. But maybe not. Not just because he needed to finish it. Letting him finish it, acknowledging the seriousness of the line he crossed, would have meant acknowledging that he is capable of willfully hurting her. Which she was totally not ready to do at that point, or for a long while thereafter.

"I knew you would argue this, but it isn't the point. The point is, peace on earth and good will toward men are out of my league. But if you'll accept it, for this evening I can manage peace within these walls and nothing but good will toward you."

Nick is a such a handy mouthpiece for my corniest sentiments. He can actually get away with saying stuff like that, and we love him for it.

There was silence for a long moment, broken by a brain-rattling sneeze that set them both laughing, which in turn prompted another spurt of coughs. "Well, if you think you can manage the peace part with that going on," Natalie quipped when she had regained her breath.

"Well, Doctor," Nick returned, making sure the comforter was wrapped securely around her, "my recommendation is that the patient sit back, enjoy the movie, and allow herself to be waited on hand and foot, starting with a fresh cup of tea."

"Okay, okay, you win," she chuckled. "So what's playing? I assume we're not raiding the Universal classic monsters vault tonight."

I only recently read brightknightie's "What It's Like", which, among other sterling qualities, postulates a pitch-perfect genesis for their movie-watching. That particular canon-derived trope is nearly impossible to overuse in my book, because it serves multiple purposes so perfectly -- a casual reason to spend time together, without going out where (a) it would be too much like a "real date" for either's comfort, and (b) they would have to be careful what they said and who heard them say it. Not to mention occupying some of those insomniac daylight hours and cutting back a little on the Vampire Cabin Fever power-brooding.

A brief discussion, and they settled on the original Miracle on 34th Street, with the "patient" noting, "Every time this movie came around when I was a kid, Mom always said her Natalie was cuter. Funny, since Dad said that's kind of where they got my name in the first place. According to him, they were just starting to discuss names when West Side Story came out, and they both

This seems horrendously clunky to me, but I had come up with the personal canon of her having been named after Natalie Wood -- for no particular reason, except that people do that sort of thing, and the timing really was right -- some time before, and this popped up as the opportunity to get it out there.

thought the movie was much too sad but the star had a pretty name." Nodding toward the child on the screen, she added, "Of course, she was a little taller in that."

Nick must have caught the slight catch in her voice, for he told her, "You're not required to stop missing them, Nat, no matter how many years go by. Believe me, I know."

I think the presumption of both parents being gone also stems from discussions with amilyn. We spent an appalling amount of time on the phone during and after first season.

"Yeah."

While Nick fiddled in the kitchen at the mostly unfamiliar task of making tea,

It amused me to leave a whole world of potential physical comedy to the reader's imagination there.

Natalie followed "doctor's orders" and settled into the most comfortable spot on the couch and the ever-magical tale of a Kris Kringle who was real in all the ways that mattered, real enough to make a precociously serious, skeptical little girl believe in miracles.

She had to admit she was glad now that she had failed to make Nick stop babying her; the morgue's typical coolness hadn't been particularly welcome this frigid week, but now she felt properly thawed out for a change. Okay, maybe she could let go of the restless drive to do things and let Nick spoil her to his heart's content, at least for a little while.

And of course the deciding factor in accepting the coddling is that it's good for him.

She'd found this very sweet notion of creating a pocket of security amusing at first, a gift she didn't really need. Now that it was taking shape around her, though, it was clear that Nick was right: she

It does happen on occasion...

couldn't recall the last time the demons of the world had seemed so far away, the last time she'd sat down to relax without feeling she ought to be doing something else. As Nick said, the last time she'd really felt safe.

When he returned, she accepted the refill gratefully. "I have to warn you, this is going to make your Christmas present from me look pretty wimpy. Just one more thing to make it complete."

And no, I have no idea what her present to him was. I was glad the story was structured such that we never find out, because I came up completely blank. But I'm sure it was perfect and he loved it. ;-)

"What's that?" he asked, looking around the room to see what gap might have been left.

"Hey, I can't sit still if I don't give you something! A hug will do for now."

He grinned. "I'll accept that. But don't you dare get up."

"Okay, okay." Expecting the usual fleeting contact before he put her back at arm's length, she was

Huh. It surprises me now that I wrote this. I think of them as having been so comfortable first season, and they were, but this isn't inaccurate either. Especially after OtL sparked off the undercurrent of "just friends, really honest and truly we are!"

surprised to find herself held almost as tightly as when the Roger nightmare had ended, when he had been so terrified he would arrive too late and so nearly right. Cool fingers twined in her hair, and it occurred to her that Nick had used the quilt and the tea and the cheery fire to wrap her in a warmth he could not himself supply.

Yet another thought that got echoed in "Color." Haaaaaaack. Though it's kind of fun to see how I've phrased similar ideas at different times.

But since this is one of the lines brightknightie singled out in requesting the commentary, I should perhaps do a bit more than call myself a hack again. *sheepish g* It is the first iteration of it I wrote, and I am pleased with both the deliberate way he went about it and with Nat recognizing that. Nick is nothing if not acutely aware of his shortcomings, large and small. His body temperature is one he can compensate for relatively easily, at least in this situation, enough so that she just now figured out it's what he was doing.

Of the various key differences between vampire and mortal, it's certainly a favorite of mine to play with. Body heat is a huge component of the emotional value of physical contact, one we take for granted but notice immediately when it's not what we expect. When "normal" is different for one person, it opens up a goldmine of nuance, which will play out very differently with different characters. In Nick's mind, of course, it can't be anything but a deficiency.


But someday, she swore to herself anew, he would have it again. "Um, Nick, I really hate to do this," she said a moment later, "but you'd better let go because I'm going to sneeze again."

Because my schmaltz must be mitigated by mundane reality at the very least. If you're not going to have something twitch the moment a little, you'd better be singing. And doing it well.

"And we're missing the movie," he added, handing her a tissue and holding her tea until she finished.

* * *

Having been informed that he was an excellent backrest and thus remained where he was, Nick steeled himself for a string of artfully barbed comments when the elevator door slid aside to reveal Janette, her usual elegant appearance topped off with a sprig of mistletoe perched jauntily in her
upswept hair. He was about to say something, but she put a gloved finger to lips pursed in silent amusement and nodded toward Natalie.

This mental image makes me smile every time. I think she would be giggling if it weren't utterly beneath her.

Absorbed in the film, he had no idea when she had fallen asleep. And she wasn't just dozing; she was worry-be-damned, visions-of-sugarplums, all-but-dead-weight out.

Overwork + sick + cold meds + comfy gooby-protective-vampire backrest = foregone conclusion. Also, I am a hack. (Who wishes our culture had siesta. I am convinced that much in modern life would be improved by grownups being expected to take naps. This is perhaps more evident in the aggregate of my fic output than it really ought to be.) I am still pleased with the description, though.

He answered Janette's expression with a grin of his own, shrugging and then pointing to the TV remote in a wordless request to shut it off. While she did so, he carefully shifted Nat's head from his shoulder and settled her on the couch, glad she had at least chosen to wear comfortable sweats to the near-deserted coroner's office today.

Which we actually only saw in "Dying to Know You," when I strongly suspect she got bounced out of bed to deal with the high-profile case and threw on whatever was closest. But if nobody's around, why not?

Janette followed him upstairs so their conversation would not disturb her, saying as soon as the door was shut, "And I expected you to be all alone, moping as usual." Wrinkling her nose, she added, "She smells of medicine. Does she doctor the living too?"

"Just me, usually." It was lightly spoken, but he knew she sensed his thoughts too well to miss the implicit dare to tell him he was not included among the living.

Even though he said it himself earlier, albeit (mostly) jokingly.

"She has a cold, and she's been working too hard as usual. I guess it caught up with her."

"Hm. I would have thought she was made of sterner stuff."

"I wouldn't advise you to test that," Nick returned.

Clucking her tongue, Janette chided, "When will you run out of pedestals, mon amour? She's only a human woman

Deliberate echo of her line about Sylvaine Rocher, of course. And very much part of my running thing at the time about Nick and his pedestals, in meta as well as fic. He had said straight out that he considered humanity to be a "state of grace," and one of the things I keyed into very early on was how much he had invested in Natalie embodying that. I was pondering it before we saw that she was far from the first to be placed in that position, and that it tended not to end well. Janette understands that more clearly than anyone, certainly including Nick.

--and a foolhardy, stubborn, unpredictable one at that."

Something in her tone, or perhaps in the mind behind it, got Nick's attention.

The other line brightknightie asked about specifically. Given the limitations of the medium, the show did a surprisingly good job with the nature and subtleties of their "connection," including fairly consistent differences in ability among the trio. LaCroix used it as another tool to manipulate his "children," and was the one we saw project clear thoughts expressed as voiceover, to both Nick and Janette on separate occasions (though the latter was in "Stranger Than Fiction," which of course hadn't happened yet when I wrote this). Nick's calling to Janette in "Cherry Blossoms" was presented the same way, but my impression of that was more that she picked up on the emotional content and location rather than necessarily the words we heard, and mostly because she's better at picking up -- specifically on Nick -- over distance. Nick, bless him, is not so much with the fine control on anything, whether whammying a mortal or communicating through the "connection." The power is there, but he's kind of a klutz with it on more than one occasion.

And it makes sense to me that perception is an area of weakness for him. My thought process here was that he can pick up on her when she's right there, and only vaguely. So he's really not sure where he's getting the cue from that she's saying more about Nat than just the words. But he is getting it, and it's accurate.


"You really respect her, don't you?"

That earned a glare, and she seemed about to snap at him, then changed her mind. "I didn't come here to argue with you, Nicholas.

Apparently I hadn't yet started typing it without the 'h' to indicate the French pronunciation. I'd forgotten that.

It's Christmas, and the idea was good cheer. But it would do you both an injustice to expect things of her that she cannot give, cannot be. I don't like seeing you repeat your mistakes."

"I'm not going to," he assured her positively. "Not that one. Not ever again."

I was thinking specifically of Sylvaine again, but it's not necessary to parse it that way. And it's too much of a blind spot for him to be able to keep this promise. He's made the exact same mistake all too recently with Monica, for instance, just not so severely that she didn't survive his disappointment. It would be nice to blame that on the starving and bingeing, but there are too many other triggers that can blindside him and disrupt his stability at pretty much any time. When you're the person he's leaning on for a lot of that stability, the results are never fun.

She gave him a long, measuring look. "No, perhaps not." Then her teasing manner returned, and she gave him a melodramatic pout, conspicuously adjusting the mistletoe in her hair.

I never get tired of watching her shifting masks. Nick knows her as well as anyone can, which is to say exactly as much as she allows him to and no more. We get tantalizing little glimpses of what's really going on in there, and then *poof* she's all seamless glamour and glib again.

"Why is she here, anyway? Shouldn't she be spending Christmas with her family like a normal mortal?"

"They don't all have that option, Janette," he reminded her quietly. "She used to do Christmas with her brother. This year his wife went to her parents' in Windsor; Nat was invited but she said she felt like an interloper."

The pout deepened. "Isn't she?"

"Come on, Janette, was I supposed to let her barricade herself in her damn lab?" he asked, exasperated. "I didn't even know you were going to come over!"

"Was I supposed to let you barricade yourself in your precious concrete box?" Janette shot back. "And by the way, Nicky, must I remind you it's bad luck to defy tradition concerning things like mistletoe?"

For a moment Nick just stared at her. Finally they both laughed, and he told her, "It's a good thing we can't get whiplash, because the way you change subjects I'd be in serious trouble."

Clunky line, but not inaccurate. She does love keeping him a certain amount of off-balance.

Pulling her close to fulfil the request, he added, "But it's worth it to hear you laugh."

"Worth looking like a fool? But you do it so well..."

Seven hundred sixty-five years, and she had lost not an ounce of her power to make his head spin. In these moments, he could not deny that truth: a part of him would always belong to her, would answer her call even if--when!--he found his miracle and left the darkness behind forever. He wasn't sure whether or not he hoped she knew that.

I'm still quite pleased with this paragraph. For how I see the two of them, it pretty much says it all.

At last breaking the kiss, she slanted coquette's eyes up at him, and as ever he wished that he could erase the sorrow she could never entirely mask in their blue depths. "Well, obviously I had no need to worry about you, so I think I will seek out a more festive atmosphere. Joyeux Noël, Nicholas."

"Janette, wait." She stopped at the door and turned to face him, but he wasn't sure what he wanted to say. "I didn't mean to...if you want I can..."

He knows there's pain in there. He doesn't understand it and she seldom lets him near it, but he's Nick, and the urge to fix it will always be there.

She smiled, shaking her head. "No. I understand what you have tried to do here, the illusion you have created. There was a time when you gave such gifts to me. It's a little magic, I think; don't break it by leaving her alone. There's too little magic in the world already."

There's a fine line between the things he does that make absolutely no sense to Janette, and the things that make him Nick, things she'd never actually want him to lose. I couldn't explain where that line is, but in my head it's consistent, and I know which side of the line something falls on when I see it. And even the stuff that truly drives her up a wall, the "why do you WANT this???" stuff... Even as she's arguing how much easier his life would be, I think she knows how much poorer it would render hers.

And then she was gone, leaving Nick completely at a loss. Would she never cease to surprise him? "Probably not," he answered himself. He did not delude himself that it was ever likely to happen again; Janette, too, had given a Christmas gift tonight, one he knew had cost much more than his. He would have to find a way to let her know it was appreciated, without offending her by actually mentioning it. Briefly he wondered if he'd ever fathom that particular quirk...

Soundlessly he padded downstairs, toward the refrigerator and the meal he had put off until Natalie could not observe it. It wouldn't have been the first time she'd seen him drink his dinner, but tonight he had avoided the graphic reminder of what he was.

Nick glanced at her as he passed the couch, then stopped short. She hadn't moved an inch, still sound asleep as any carefree child, and covered snugly by the comforter exactly as he had left her.

But tucked into her wayward curls was a little sprig of mistletoe. "Oh, Janette," he murmured, too softly for Nat to hear even if she had been awake.

They come and go. Janette doesn't begrudge; she never has. From her angle, he's making it needlessly complicated, and this struck me as a suitably light way to say so.

I do think she knows this one is different, and she's both intrigued and a bit worried by that. But she also has a very clear understanding that it doesn't really take anything away from her. For all the show's shortcomings, they never reduced her to the indignity of petty jealousy.


* * *

Halfway across town, Janette sat in her darkened office at the Raven, staring at the untouched glass before her, the atmosphere anything but festive. She did not have to actively reach out to touch Nick's mind when a rush of tenderness flooded from him, spilling along their bond to fill a little of the empty space inside her. It did not matter, she tried to tell herself, that it welled up for another, evoked by the innocence that he so treasured and that she had lost long before his birth. This was what made him Nicholas, what made her incapable of counting any debt against him, what he alone of all their kind had kept alive inside him no matter how the shadows sought to smother it. It was enough, she tried to tell herself, to drink of the warm overflow; there was no need to envy Natalie her place as its focus. It was only because he couldn't truly protect the frail mortal woman, not from illness or tragedy or time; while she herself needed no such protection.

She wasn't fooling herself for an instant, but she would face the sun before admitting it. "Soyez heureux,

I don't know why I used the vous form here. Maybe because it was a toast, rather than a comment directly addressed to him. Certainly he's a tu.

Nicholas," she said to the air, raising her glass. "Be happy." Downing the wine-laced blood in a few gulps, she did not seek Nick's thoughts more closely, unaware that her assumption was quite mistaken.

That her wish was granted.

I've never been satisfied with that closing line. Not then, not now. These days, I would have tweaked it a couple dozen times before posting the story. I think it probably gets across what I want it to -- i.e. her "wish" being that Nick would feel that way about her again, when of course the truth is he never really stops. She has her own unique pedestal in his world even though she's none of the things he idolizes in mortals. But there's no precedent in the story for that being an actual wish, and that bugs.

Comments

( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
brightknightie
May. 25th, 2008 04:52 am (UTC)
"simultaneously endearing and exasperating, and therefore utterly Nick" (Part 1)
This is a delight to read. Thank you! No, I never thought you forgot, but yes, I did notice I'd been waiting for a bit. ;-) My LJ post about my "A Little Salsa Picante" commentary that you requested is here.

>"because I seem to recall the challenge having been met several times over."

Trivia? According to the preface in the Forever Knight Before Christmas zine (~love~), the challenge was met for all characters except Lacroix. Susan set the challenge that she would match character by character, putting up her Nick Christmas story as soon as someone else posted a Nick Christmas story (Scottie's memorable "Flowers in the Night," for example), but no one else posted a Lacroix Christmas story that year. Susan eventually posted her "Angel Crossing" anyway -- and, in my opinion, "Angel Crossing" is one of the most outstanding pieces in her outstanding body of FK work.

>"Their banter was dorky sometimes, but this is downright forced."

It could be smoother and more inspired -- from all these years' vantage! -- but it's not out of character. The mood is right, the interaction is right. (Damning with faint praise, it's better than some of the banter between them in "Be My Valentine," imo.)

>"one of their ongoing ritual disagreements"

As you note, you have Nick tell Natalie he's dead, and Janette that he's alive. He's mildly daring both of them to contradict him, to claim him for their worlds. He's also holding that space in the middle, that only he, in canon, ever occupies (I wrote a poem about that once; but I digress ~g~). He is of both worlds and neither. This story gets that pivotal teeter-totter into that matched pair of ritualized disagreements.

[To Be Continued due to Reply Size Limits]

Edited at 2008-05-25 04:53 am (UTC)
wiliqueen
May. 25th, 2008 07:38 pm (UTC)
Re: "simultaneously endearing and exasperating, and therefore utterly Nick" (Part 1)
My LJ post about my "A Little Salsa Picante" commentary that you requested

Which I completely forgot to go back and comment upon after I read it. Oops. *blush*

According to the preface in the Forever Knight Before Christmas zine (~love~), the challenge was met for all characters except Lacroix.

Really? Wow, I had no idea. And had, obviously, forgotten exactly what form the challenge took.
brightknightie
May. 26th, 2008 07:28 am (UTC)
Re: "simultaneously endearing and exasperating, and therefore utterly Nick" (Part 1)
>"Really? Wow, I had no idea. And had, obviously, forgotten exactly what form the challenge took."

By the time I found the fandom, it would have been unthinkable that Lacroix would have gone unrepresented. But the challenge was before "Killer Instinct," and I like to imagine that everyone found the idea of Lacroix-Christmas daunting.
brightknightie
May. 25th, 2008 04:56 am (UTC)
"simultaneously endearing and exasperating, and therefore utterly Nick" (Part 2)
>"I'm not exactly a slave to preplanning and outlines now, but I really did take a starting point and go completely spontaneously back then. I remember what that felt like, and my process now is so different."

When I took a look at my '97 post-LK Tracy novella a few months ago, I was blown away by the casual intricacy of the canon references. I would claim I'm pretty much still mistress of all I survey when it comes to FK canon ;-) but I remember it all flowing straight from my back-brain then, so smoothly, so instinctively . . . I wonder if it was because I was that much more intimate with the characters, or because I was just that much younger, and life was different in many ways . . .

>"But it makes me happy, and a few others seem to like it too."

"Safe space" is a trope that works for me, too. Whether from the perspective of the giver or the recipient, letting someone else be "the adult" for even a little while, shoulder all the burdens, guard the door . . . And of course it's an important part of FK -- not at all hack-work -- in that Nick's personality and training to that end is likely badly frustrated during periods in Lacroix's company. Nick cannot protect himself from Lacroix, and he fails to protect others from Lacroix, no matter how hard he tries. But he keeps trying.

(Another thought here is that your story adequately remembers, in nursing Natalie, that Natalie is an MD. I have an aversion to stories that hurt/comfort MD characters without acknowledging the role reversal.)

>"But it was just impossible for me not to look at him and go "How can you be that old and be such a little kid?", and I saw Nat thinking the same thing. All. The. Time."

"Such an eternal boy!" Janette exclaims in "The Fix." Yup. Whatever it is, it's one of the things that makes him different from all the other vampires, one of the things, I think, that attracted Janette and Lacroix in the first place -- a near relation of what lets him dream against all odds, all voices, all hands.

And of course it's also just GWD having that grin in his arsenal. ;-)

>"It took me ages to process that both times I had him give her a gift, it was jewelry."

I had not noticed that. Of course the one gift he gives her in canon -- besides flowers and a card in both "Only the Lonely" and "My Boyfriend is a Vampire" -- is perfume and a rose across her keyboard ("Dance by the Light of the Moon," isn't it?). He does seem to go in for the flowers, and the symbolism of the daisies as little suns is not lost on him, so I wonder whether I can legitimately read that early rose as a quiet Fleur reference (the rose thing may have been entirely in Lacroix's head to start, but after eight centuries of that obsession, Nick couldn't have helped but pick up the symbolism).

Hmmmmm. Actually, I need to look something up and get back to you on the subject of Nick giving Natalie jewelry.

>"And the award for "best prop deriving from a questionable guest appearance by a historical figure" goes to..."

Retire the jersey. No one is ever matching them in that division!

>"it's almost impossible that he didn't bruise her with that grab. He was too close to out of control right then."

I had not thought of that! But of course that's right. Unless Natalie just doesn't bruise easily, and her jacket bunched up in just the right way, she would have had a bruise after "Feeding the Beast" and it would have been ugly for about two weeks, and continued fading for weeks more. Nick never sees her sleeveless, but . . .

Oh, joy! A new-to-me FK thought! Yowza! Seriously. :-) Someone should write a story.

[To Be Continued Again because of Size Limits]
wiliqueen
May. 25th, 2008 07:42 pm (UTC)
Re: "simultaneously endearing and exasperating, and therefore utterly Nick" (Part 2)
Oh, joy! A new-to-me FK thought! Yowza! Seriously. :-)

Wow. It's such old news to me, and I freaked about it so much at the time, that it's hard to imagine it being a new thought! I don't know how many times I played back just the stuff in the Raven, of course.
brightknightie
May. 26th, 2008 08:03 am (UTC)
Re: "simultaneously endearing and exasperating, and therefore utterly Nick" (Part 2)
>"It's such old news to me, and I freaked about it so much at the time, that it's hard to imagine it being a new thought!"

By the time I joined the list, first season was discussed primarily in terms of how to integrate third season into existing canon. First season was rarely discussed on its own. You can probably lob new-to-me first-season thoughts for hours!

Mmmmmmmm. New-to-me first-season thoughts... ;-)

I want to discuss that bruise and its implications more, but now that I've received my ficathon assignment, I think I'd better take it to my own journal, locked, as it could very well become the answer to my recipient's request.
wiliqueen
May. 26th, 2008 12:36 pm (UTC)
Re: "simultaneously endearing and exasperating, and therefore utterly Nick" (Part 2)
You can probably lob new-to-me first-season thoughts for hours!

I should pull out my early issues of The Raven and copy them for you. The list discussion had a great deal more volume, of course, but a lot of it ended up distilled into the letterzine. It's been a while since I looked back at them, but I have done so at least once since the series ended. It's fun -- and a bit sobering, in some ways -- to see how I thought of things at or near the beginning. I really did feel a bit like Cassandra (the mythological one) later on, with ample reason.

Edited at 2008-05-26 12:36 pm (UTC)
amilyn
Aug. 2nd, 2008 03:59 am (UTC)
Re: The Raven
Easier? I could email the files to her; I still have them all on my computer. *smile*

What do you think? Send them all and let us make a schedule for reading? I like that plan. Then we can all discuss...in LJ, in email...however works best. :-)
brightknightie
May. 25th, 2008 04:59 am (UTC)
"simultaneously endearing and exasperating, and therefore utterly Nick" (Part 3)
>"Maybe giving him too much credit for recognizing what a mistake it was for her to forgive him too quickly and short-circuit that apology. But maybe not."

Archetypal Nick is not as dense as third-season-influenced Nick. Archetypal Nick has learned things through his years, and not just how to drive a gas guzzler. He is more than he was when it all began. I think he should be capable of, just as you depict him here, recognizing the need for repentance, apology, learning and growth, and making an opportunity for it.

When Nick is drawn down too far -- in some depictions, not yours -- all the other characters are impoverished, too. Natalie, Janette, Lacroix, Schanke, Stonetree, and all the rest respect and love and obsess over him for good reason. They're not misguided.

>"would have meant acknowledging that he is capable of willfully hurting her. Which she was totally not ready to do at that point, or for a long while thereafter."

Is she ever? "My Boyfriend is a Vampire," maybe? ~sigh~ I always want to tackle that moment when she walks away, but canon fails me there as nowhere else short of "Last Knight." Or worse, in a peculiar way. I've never been able to write an answer to the "Card Challenge," because I want to divert it, not explain it.

>"Nick is a such a handy mouthpiece for my corniest sentiments. He can actually get away with saying stuff like that, and we love him for it."

Yup. :-) By justice and will, he can speak as if from any century through which he has lived. And he's so sincere.

(I wonder if it's a kind of defense built against Lacroix, actually, that corniness. There are places in Nick's identity that Lacroix won't go -- he may smash them, but he won't linger in them -- and I think that's part of how and why Nick has so much sincerity, in a life that calls for so many lies. This is part of himself that he knows always for his own, never Lacroix's.)

>"I only recently read brightknightie's "What It's Like", which, among other sterling qualities, postulates a pitch-perfect genesis for their movie-watching."

Oh, thank you! And yes, recurring movie nights are rightfully the strongest fanon in FK.

>"I think the presumption of both parents being gone also stems from discussions with amilyn."

I think Marian G.'s "Natalie Lambert: Vampire Coroner" series is the only post-"I Will Repay" fanfiction I ever saw positing that Natalie's parents were not both dead. Another extremely strong piece of fanon, long before "Dead of Night."

>"And no, I have no idea what her present to him was. I was glad the story was structured such that we never find out, because I came up completely blank. But I'm sure it was perfect and he loved it. ;-)"

Well, considering the pillbox she gives him in "Be My Valentine," she thinks hard about what would be a good gift, anyway. She's not a gift card kind of gal, thank goodness, for all her microwave meals.

(Speaking of which, BMV Problem #472: When the microwave beeps, it's been waaaaaay longer than the three minutes needed to cook the meal, given that Natalie must have put it in before she went downstairs for the rest of her groceries before chatting with Nick, no?)

[To Be Continued Yet Again because of Reply Size Limits]
wiliqueen
May. 25th, 2008 07:47 pm (UTC)
Re: "simultaneously endearing and exasperating, and therefore utterly Nick" (Part 3)
I've never been able to write an answer to the "Card Challenge," because I want to divert it, not explain it.

Yeah, I feel much the same way. MBiaV had my jaw on the floor with things being said that I never thought would be, and then it all felt like a big cheat with the ending of the ep. :-/

When the microwave beeps, it's been waaaaaay longer than the three minutes needed to cook the meal,

I seem to recall thinking something to that effect at the time, now that you mention it. If only there were space to actually worry about that sort of problem in that ep... *rueful chuckle*
brightknightie
May. 26th, 2008 08:11 am (UTC)
MBiaV
>"Yeah, I feel much the same way. MBiaV had my jaw on the floor with things being said that I never thought would be, and then it all felt like a big cheat with the ending of the ep."

The first time I saw "My Boyfriend is a Vampire" (out of order, on USA, not yet in the fandom), I thought, right up until that card, that it must be a two-parter.

One of the most potent Convenient Plot Devices I've ever seen. I hope they burned it after filming, lest someone unleash its terrible power again.
brightknightie
May. 25th, 2008 05:03 am (UTC)
"simultaneously endearing and exasperating, and therefore utterly Nick" (Part 4)
>"how much he had invested in Natalie embodying that. I was pondering it before we saw that she was far from the first to be placed in that position, and that it tended not to end well. ... When you're the person he's leaning on for a lot of that stability, the results are never fun."

The women I always think would make the best matches for him -- outside Natalie and Janette, whom we shall omit from this comparison as being quite In Their Own Class -- are those he fails to boost onto high pedestals, for whatever reason, the women who are as wounded as he is, in their own ways, and who fight it the same way he does, with creativity and mission. Emily Weiss, author. Marian Blackwing, painter. Erica, playwright. With these characters, so very much Written For Him, he doesn't lean on them any more than he makes sure they lean on him, and it all comes with the potential for a beautiful equality . . . until canon dispenses with the woman by the end of the episode.

I keep trying to build an Alyssa who mirrors that. He married her, after all, so I keep thinking she should fit the paradigm of the women I think were best for him, not of Sylvaine . . .

>"The power is there, but he's kind of a klutz with it on more than one occasion."

Many good stories in the reasons why. There are things Lacroix simply chose not to teach him (cf. UTV), of course. And then there are the effects of his self-disgust on his abilities, and of abstaining from human blood (cf. DK2), and of not practicing. And then there's whatever visualization is necessary to employ the abilities; are Nick's internal metaphors what make his abilities work differently than those of other vampires? Is he wielding a psychic broadsword where Janette uses a needle?

>"He's made the exact same mistake all too recently with Monica,"

I can't remember reading anyone link Sylvaine and Monica. Of course that's right on!

>"Even as she's arguing how much easier his life would be, I think she knows how much poorer it would render hers."

I've developed a great fondness in recent years for the tag of "A Fate Worse Than Death," in which Janette comes very close to saying this. From Nick's response, she'd never said it in so many words before, that she supports his quest, not because she believes in it, but because she believes in him.

I went all over IB for a while when I realized what was happening there. :-)

>"For all the show's shortcomings, they never reduced her to the indignity of petty jealousy."

Even in its dregs, FK was wonderfully mature that way.

A few months back, havocthecat disagreed with my contention that first-season FK deserved to be counted as an outstanding environment for female characters (her stance was that third-season is so wretched that it spoils everything else; of course, she had the flu at the time, I should note). But I still think FK overall is a wonderful place to play/watch/be a female character.

>"I've never been satisfied with that closing line."

It turns out that I was not interpreting it as you meant it. I had been interpreting it to match her "wish" to him of "Be happy," matching her earlier wish of "Joyeux Noel." Hmmm.

Thank you very much for this guided tour through "To Drive the Cold Winter Away"! It has been a lot of fun. And thank you again for sharing the story, then and now.

[Done! Really! Hmmm. Was I supposed to post this in my own journal, because it was too big? she wonders now, too late...]
wiliqueen
May. 25th, 2008 07:51 pm (UTC)
Re: "simultaneously endearing and exasperating, and therefore utterly Nick" (Part 4)
With these characters, so very much Written For Him, he doesn't lean on them any more than he makes sure they lean on him, and it all comes with the potential for a beautiful equality . . . until canon dispenses with the woman by the end of the episode.

Wow. This is an excellent point.

I keep trying to build an Alyssa who mirrors that.

I'd be curious to see that if it bears fruit!

I've developed a great fondness in recent years for the tag of "A Fate Worse Than Death," in which Janette comes very close to saying this.

Yes! The barriers between them are at their lowest there, if not completely down. It's such a lovely moment.

I had been interpreting it to match her "wish" to him of "Be happy,"

Which makes sense to, and there may have been a whiff of it in there. But it wasn't what I had in mind. It's funny, because it seemed to me at the time like it should be very clear, and it was only on rereading later that I went "Wow, people probably aren't getting that at all."
brightknightie
May. 26th, 2008 08:19 am (UTC)
Re: "simultaneously endearing and exasperating, and therefore utterly Nick" (Part 4)
>"Wow. This is an excellent point."

Thank you! I'm delighted that you like it. (When I'm feeling snarky, I think of it as my Gwen Stacey Theory of FK. But mostly it just makes me want to spin alternate universes in which Marian and Erika live, and Emily keeps or gets back her memories.)
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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