THE USUAL SUSPECTS, ER, STUFF: Nick, Nat, Schanke, Stonetree, and Sydney do not (alas) belong to me. They are the inspired creations of James Parriott and Barney Cohen and are owned by Sony/Tristar. No copyright infringement is intended, and no money will be received by me for their use. They will be returned shortly, alive and well.
by Nancy Braman
Scene 1: The Precinct
Detective Nick Knight was not happy. It wasn't just having to duck mistletoe and the female officers who hovered hopefully nearby, or the obvious amusement of his captain every time Nick stood to the left or right of a filing cabinet to avoid the strategically placed greenery or sidled carefully through a doorway. ("We should've strung it right across the doorway," one officer said to her partner.) It wasn't Don and Myra Schanke's invitation for Christmas night; he'd gone the two previous years and had enjoyed himself, and if he slipped a little something else into his wineglass, only Nat had known. No, this was something that came up every year, usually on Christmas Eve. Avoiding someone was particularly difficult when that someone happened to be your very persistent partner. At least it's a quiet night, he thought, in the Caddy there'd be no escape.
Nick moved over to the window (after checking carefully for suspended greenery) and stared out, considering his partner. Against all odds, the vampire and the garlic-loving mortal had become friends as well as partners. The Schankes had accepted Nick with his eccentricities and treated him like a member of the family. Jenny even asked him for help with her homework. Nick smiled at the thought: if Jenny only knew just why Uncle Nick was such a "history buff"! Don Schanke had a heart as big as all outdoors, but he had no idea that his partner was a vampire. Therefore, he expected Nick to share his enjoyment of certain things, especially at this time of year, ordinary, everyday things, like--
"Waiting for your partner, Knight?" came the voice of Captain Joe Stonetree. He had noticed Knight staring out the window.
"Um, not really, Cap; just taking a break."
"Hmm. He's down in Vice; they've got a case they think is connected to one he worked on a few years back, so he's going over the files with them. He'll be back later with the box he came in with--if there's anything left when Vice gets through with it."
Stonetree raised his eyebrows slightly at Nick's less than enthusiastic tone. He had a pretty good idea of the reason for it. "Why not try it this year?" He started to walk away. "They say miracles can happen at Christmas," he added as an afterthought.
Nick stared after his captain for a moment. Miracles? I could use one or two of those, he thought. He shook his head and headed back to his desk.
At the end of the shift, Schanke still hadn't reappeared, and Nick guiltily breathed a sigh of relief as he put on his coat and headed out into the hallway--and walked straight into his partner.
"Merry Christmas, partner! Looks like I got here just in time."
"Schanke, it's almost sunrise. Merry Christmas to you, too, but I have to get going. I'll see you tonight, okay?"
"This won't take long, I'll drive you home in the trunk if I have to. C'mon Nick, try it this year. Please?" He held out the box.
"No way, Schank." Nick moved to step around his partner, who promptly moved in the same direction.
"For Jenny? She helped with it this year, she'd be thrilled." That'll get him, he'd walk over hot coals for that kid of mine, thought Schanke.
But Nick just shook his head and moved in the other direction. So did his partner.
"Man-oh-man, Myra'll have my head if I don't talk you into it. She'll ask; she always does. You wanna sit across the desk from a headless man?... Besides, it won't kill you, you know."
Several unseasonably uncharitable responses passed through Nick's mind, and he briefly considered whammying Schanke. But he heard footsteps coming from both directions and knew there wouldn't be enough time to get the words out, coherently, anyway. He wasn't going to be able to get out of it this year, not if he wanted to keep Don Schanke as a friend--and he did, very much. He reached for the box, offering up a silent prayer to anyone who might be listening that he could manage this without giving himself away...
Scene 2: Nat's apartment
Doctor Natalie Lambert, Toronto coroner, was not happy. She had hoped Nick would drop by the morgue after shift, at least to wish her a merry Christmas and maybe-- But Nat stopped that thought dead in its tracks. Fantasizing about her dearest wishes was fun while it lasted, but it always ended with a depressing return to reality.
"Merry Christmas, Sydney," said Nat to the large grey cat weaving in and out around her feet. "Guess it's just you and me, kid."
"Why do you think Nick didn't stop in?" Sydney blinked, and Nat continued, "At least we're going to Don and Myra's together this year, so maybe--"
"Oh, hungry, are we? Well, let's see if Santa left a special treat for you."
Nat sat on the floor stroking Sydney as he ate, thinking that it would be at least as nice to be stroking Nick's hair, when there was a knock on her door. Wondering who would be arriving at this hour, she got up and went to answer it.
"Nick! The sun's coming up! What are you doing here?"
Without a word, Nick stepped into Nat's living room, picked her up, swung her around, and soundly kissed her before setting her down again.
"Merry Christmas, Nat!" he said, with more enthusiasm than Nat had ever heard him display for this holiday. "And Merry Christmas to you, too, Syd." Nick picked up the cat, who began to purr as if he knew what was coming. Maybe he did.
"Stay right there a sec." Nat hurried over to the window and closed the heavy drapes against the rising sun. Then she was hit by a belated realization. Turning around, she bumped into Nick, who, still holding Sydney, had followed her and was pulling the drapes open again with his free hand. She touched his face.
"You're warm...you're mortal! But how...who..." The normally articulate coroner was too stunned to speak.
"I am, and I think it's 'who, what, where, when, why'--in some order." Nick smiled his best melt-your-heart smile.
For a long moment they stood there in front of the window gazing at each other by the light of the rising sun, each admiring how the other looked in the early morning sunlight. Then Nat broke the silence.
"Nick, how did this happen? The last blood tests showed no change, and..."
Nick set Sydney down on an armchair, where he settled down, paws tucked under himself, and watched the proceedings with interest. If all went well, he would soon have two people to look after, and to look after him.
"It's amazing, the cure was right under our noses, has been for ages."
"Nick! Would you PLEASE explain what the heck you're talking about?"
"It was Schanke's doing, Nat. He had no idea, of course..." Nick laughed softly, remembering the dumbfounded look on his partner's face as Nick grabbed him in a big bear hug, promised to pay for his souvlaki all next week, and wished him and his family the merriest Christmas they had ever had in their lives.
Recalled to the present moment, Nick took Nat's hands in his. Nat caught her breath at the look in his eyes.
"Nat, I've waited so long to say this. I love you with all my heart. Will you marry me?"
Nat, with tears of happiness in her eyes, nodded. This was the best Christmas present she had ever received. They sealed their engagement with a kiss.
Sydney, purring his approval, settled down to sleep. All was well.
"I love you, Nick, and yes, I'll marry you," Nat said when they finally came up for air. Then she remembered something. "But only," she added, trying to sound stern while smiling, "if you explain how you crossed back--right now!"
So, grinning from ear to ear, Nick explained: