Natalie rushed over to Nick as soon as he arrived at the precinct. She looked weary and disheveled and immediately latched onto him as if he were a life preserver. “Nick, thank God you’re here! They’ve arrested Chance! I’ve tried to reason with them, but they won’t–”
“I know, Nat. I know,” he said, steadying her with his arm. In her frantic state, he feared she would collapse at any moment– or, quite possibly, explode. “Schanke called me earlier. I got here as soon as I could.”
“Oh, yes, Schanke. That exasperating partner of yours,” Nat said cryptically.
Nick raised his eyebrows. “Have a falling out with my partner, as well, Nat?” His voice was sarcastic. He could have said worse, however. After the last night, when she reamed him out about something he was sure he hadn’t done, he felt betrayed by her. He shouldn’t have cared. But this was Nat–his Nat–and no matter how things were now, he was sure they would get better.
“Falling out? No. It was more like a difference of opinion,” she replied, going off into a long, rambling tirade about how every time she tried to explain to Schanke how decent and honest Chance was, he made things more difficult by criticizing her. “He told me I should get better taste in men!” she concluded indignantly.
At this, Nick’s lips split into a wry grin. “I’m sure Schanke was just trying to look out for you, Nat. You have a habit of falling in with some pretty unscrupulous characters, after all.”
“Like you, Nick?” she snapped.
“Well, no. That’s not who I was thinking of,” Nick replied, his voice losing its edge and growing thoughtful. Their eyes met in understanding, and Nat said no more.
“How is Chance holding up?” Nick asked, suddenly feeling the need to bring the conversation back to the problem at hand.
“Amazingly well. He hasn’t complained once.” Nat looked up at Nick pleadingly, “How are we going to get him out of this?” She’d unconsciously taken his hand, squeezing it tightly. She seemed so helpless, so dependent on him. Nick felt the remainder of his bitterness dwindling away. What replaced it was hope. If he saved Chance, then maybe Nat would forgive him.
“I’ll figure something out,” he told her, kissing her forehead out of habit. She let him for that same reason.
Nick left her seated at his desk, looking both hopeful and nervous. Grabbing his partner and yanking him into an empty room, he said, “Schanke, we need to talk.” His voice took on a hypnotic resonance as he began to tell Schanke that Chance had not stolen the Caddy and had merely been returning it to him. “The Caddy was abandoned when Chance found it,” Nick concluded.
“Abandoned,” Schanke echoed blankly.
Nick smiled at his partner and clapped him on the shoulder. As an after thought, he added, “Oh, and Schanke… go apologize to Natalie for all the rude things you said to her tonight. It really upset her.” Schanke nodded slowly and headed for Nick’s desk.
Still smiling, Nick watched his partner approach the coroner, then made his way into Amanda Cohen’s office.
Nick found Chance in a holding cell, sitting on a lonely cot with a far away expression on his face.
“Hey, Chance,” he said awkwardly.
The photographer turned to face him. “Hey.”
Nick dangled the keys in front of the bars. “Ready to go?” he asked, a smile on his face. Chance sprang to his feet.
“How’d you do it?” he asked. “Nat’s been trying all day to get me released.”
“Sometimes hypnotic suggestion can be a very useful talent,” Nick told him, opened the cell to allow Chance his freedom. “Now, come on! We have one very distraught lady on our hands upstairs.”
Before they left the holding area, Chance stopped Nick. Placing a hand on the vampire’s shoulder, he began to speak. “Nick…” he paused, unsure of how to broach the subject. “About Delia…how is she?”
Their eyes met, and Nick shook his head sadly. “She told us what you did for her, Chance,” Nick told him. “I never…” Now Nick paused awkwardly, searching for the right words. “I never really knew my sister very well, and now it is too late. Thanks to you, though, I at least know she wasn’t just another cold heart. It gives me hope for myself.”
“I’m glad I could do that much, then,” Chance told Nick quietly.
“Chance!” Nat squealed as she threw herself shamelessly into his arms. What did it matter if the entire precinct saw them? Most knew they were an item now anyway. They hugged and then separated, both smiling. “Thank you, Nick,” said Nat, surprising him with a hug as well– brief though it was.
Natalie and Chance left the precinct together, with Nick following them from a distance.
“Nat!” he called after her from the top of the stairs. “Nat!” he repeated when at first she didn’t stop or seem to have heard him. When she did stop at last and turn in his direction, he all but flew down the stairs to her side. “Nat, I was wondering…” he began, pulling her away from Chance’s side, “about that hug…does that mean I’m forgiven?” He gave her his best little boy smile, the one that usually melted her heart.
Nat fixed him with an unreadable stare. Now that the crisis had passed, her anger at him had returned. “I haven’t decided yet,” she told him, jerking out of his grip and returning to Chance.
They left, and Nick gazed longingly after them. For a moment, he felt as if his effort on Chance’s behalf had been wasted, but an annoying little voice in the back of his mind reminded him that, in spite of himself, he couldn’t help but like the guy.
“Nat… we need to talk.”
Natalie lifted her eyes to his with a sad smile. It wasn’t difficult to figure out what she and Chance needed to talk about. She nodded. “I know.”
Chance reached out to brush a curl away from her eyes, marveling once again at how her hair seemed to mingle the best elements of red, brown, and gold.
“You have come to mean so much to me over the past few weeks, Nat, that I can hardly believe it.” He smiled–that infectious smile that she couldn’t help but return. “But I’m not a part of your world, just a gypsy wandering through it. I can’t stay here any more than you can leave it. I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever be back, and I won’t ask you to hang on to such a slim hope. Who knows what might happen to you while I’m gone? You could meet someone else, or Nick might suddenly realize what a treasure he’s been taking for granted these past few years.”
Nat laughed curtly. “Like that will ever happen.”
“Hey, stranger things have happened, and I think I’ve seen most of them.” Then he sobered again. “It’s your choice, Nat. If you want to stay together, just say the word, and I’m yours as long as you want me. If not…just consider me a friend from afar to be called upon whenever and for however long you need me.”
The question was not unexpected, but Nat hadn’t anticipated how hard it would be to answer. The choice should be easy, when considering the dramatic difference in the way the two men had treated her. She realized, however, with a flood of shame that her involvement with Chance had begun as nothing more than a way of getting back at Nick for the pain he’d caused her. That game had nearly cost the photographer his life, and even now, standing here on the verge of heartbreak over his impending departure, she couldn’t say for certain that her motives were any purer.
She dropped her eyes before he could read that realization in them. “I’m sorry, Chance.”
The last spark of hope faded from his eyes. With her silent consent, he bent down to give her one last fleeting kiss on the lips. “Promise you’ll call if ever you need me?”
Nat nodded, as there was nothing more to say. He turned towards the gate, and Nat watched him disappear though it, hoping she hadn’t made a mistake in letting him go.
End Note: Once Upon a Time, Deb and I were going to write a sequel to this. It was called “Second Chances” and it would’ve involved Chance returning to Toronto after the events of “Last Knight.” I don’t remember the details of how we were going to make it happen, but the story would’ve ended with a recovering Nat realizing that her relationship with Nick wasn’t healthy, and choosing to leave with Chance. So in case anyone was wondering, yes, Chance and Nat got their happy ending. It just never quite got written down. 😉