Character(s): Nick, Natalie, Schanke, Janette
Prompt: A light-hearted date that isn't a date, set sometime between first and second season.
Word Count: 2,595
Beta: bethynyc, with her usual grace and efficiency.
Disclaimer: Forever Knight is owned by Barney Cohen and James D. Parriott and various production companies. No infringement is intended hereby and no profit will be had.
Summary: Nick makes it up to Nat for missing her birthday.
When Nick Knight, homicide detective and eight-hundred-year old vampire, came on shift Tuesday night, he was assailed by the smell of sugar coming from his partner's desk. This was not an unusual thing; after all, Schanke had yet to meet a pastry he didn't like. Over the course of their partnership, Nick had grown used to it, and had become adept at dodging Schanke's attempts to share. Sugar, at least, was something Nick didn't miss; although he had encountered "sweet salt" during the Crusades, it had still been mostly a luxury in his home. He did occasionally miss honey, though.
No, it wasn't the presence of the pastry that surprised Nick, it was that when the call from the morgue came in, Schanke grabbed the paper bag and brought it along, putting it carefully on the car seat between them.
"What's in the bag, Schank?" Nick asked.
"Cupcakes," Schanke answered. "Myra made them for Jenny to take to school and I thought Natalie might like some."
Nick shook his head. "Schanke, how long do you intend to do this?"
"Until she forgives me."
"Schank. You didn't mean anything by it. Natalie forgave you a long time ago."
"You're not married, Nick. You don't know women like I do. Trust me on this one."
"If you say so, Schank." Privately, Nick wondered if Myra was still holding a missed birthday or anniversary or chance comment about her weight over her husband's head. He rather doubted it; he suspected the guilt was all in Schanke's mind.
At the Coroner's building they were greeted by a booming, majestic, bass-heavy music. Natalie was sitting before her computer, eyes closed, in an attitude of blissful attention.
"I didn't know you were such a music-lover, Nat," Nick said, trying to pitch his voice so as not to startle her.
Her eyes snapped open and she immediately shut the tape player off, blushing slightly. Schanke probably couldn't even see the rising blood, but Nick was more attuned to such things.
"It's Grace's," Natalie said quickly, referring to one of the other morgue employees. "Ever since her husband took her to see Phantom of the Opera for her birthday, she's had the tape playing. I've gotten so I kind of like it."
"Oh, Phantom," Schanke said dismissively, plopping the bag of cupcakes on Natalie's desk. "Myra's been bugging me to take her to that for months. As if I want to spend my night off watching a murderer chase a girl around a stage and sing about it for two hours." He snorted his disbelief.
"Oh, but Schanke," Natalie protested, "it's so romantic. Eternal love, and all that." She glanced quickly at Nick as she said it, then as quickly away again. Nick pretended not to notice.
"Yeah, nothing as romantic as a homicidal stalker," Schanke said. "Help me out here, Nick. You don't think it's romantic, do you?"
"I'm a guy, Schanke. I'm not exactly the target audience."
Schanke shook his head. "Nobody gets it."
"Maybe you should just buy the tickets for Myra and Jenny, then," Nick suggested.
"Oh, no," Schanke said gloomily. "That won't be good enough. I suppose I should just get them and get it over with."
"It can't be that bad, Schank; look how popular it is," Natalie said. "Besides, Grace reports that Colm Wilkinson is hot. No doubt Myra'd love that."
"Hot?" Schanke said. "Do you think that excuses his actions?"
Nick exchanged amused glances with Natalie, but Schanke noticed and checked his rant.
"Oh, very funny, you two, but honestly? What is it with the whole 'bad boy' thing? I just don't get it."
"Well, you're not a woman, Schank," Natalie said. "Some women like a hint of danger." She looked archly at Nick. "Now, take our fine detective here. Relatively good-looking, a man of action, and he has a gun. Definitely dangerous."
"Hey!" Nick raised his hands in protest. "Don't get me in the middle of this."
Natalie laughed and mercifully changed the subject. "What's in the bag, Schank?"
When it came to missed birthdays, Nick felt plenty of guilt of his own. After all, if he hadn't missed Nat's birthday, would she have been driven into the arms of the charming -- but ever so homicidal -- Roger Jameson? His own behavior during that episode had been less than stellar. Yes, his suspicions of Jameson had been grounded, and he'd saved Natalie's life, but those suspicions were not based on the finely-honed instincts of a homicide detective, or even on the senses of a centuries-old vampire, but on simple, ugly jealousy. He'd done the unforgivable by breaking into Nat's apartment. And what had he been hoping to accomplish? Nat wasn't his in any sense of the word. They were friends, nothing more. And if Jameson had been a genuine chance for Nat to have a nice, normal romance, then what? He would have ruined it for her, that's what.
It had been weeks ago, but he still felt the sting of guilt, and looked for ways to make it up to her. Which is why he was on the telephone one morning setting up a surprise for her, instead of sleeping.
"Nick!" Natalie greeted him with surprise when he showed up at the morgue. "To what do I owe the honor?"
Wordlessly, he held a slim envelope out to her.
She did, and fanned the tickets out in her hand. "Phantom! Oh, Nick!"
"Happy belated birthday, Nat." He ducked his head. "I really did forget, and then...well, with everything else, I never really got a chance to make it up to you."
"I'd say you made it up to me in rather a spectacular fashion," Natalie answered, "what with the whole saving my life thing. You didn't have to do this."
"Oh, really? Maybe I can get a refund on those, then. That'll save me a few bucks. Or maybe I should give them to Schanke and make him take Myra, instead."
Natalie snatched her hand back. "Oh, no you don't, Detective. Besides, I want to see you dressed up."
Nick smiled. "I hope you don't have any ideas about tuxedos or anything like that. I don't think modern theater-goers get that fancy."
"Be still my heart," Natalie said, resting her right hand above the organ in question. "No, I'll settle for a suit. And maybe a shave," she teased, tweaking his chin.
He grinned. "We'll see."
The doorbell rang just as Natalie was wondering if she should sit down and risk getting cat fur on her dress. "It's me, Nat," Nick called through the door.
She opened it to find Nick's arms full of roses. Red, white, pink, yellow, peach; he must have bought six or seven bouquets. She laughed in delight. "Nick! What did you do, rob a flower shop?"
"What would you do if I said yes?"
She stepped back so he could come in. "It wouldn't do me any good to call the cops, so...get a vase? Or three?"
"Eminently sensible suggestion," he replied, and headed in the general direction of the table, though Natalie wasn't certain he could see it through all those flowers. He gently laid the wax paper-wrapped bundles down, then turned to look at her. He smiled in appreciation.
"You look lovely, Nat." She had chosen a dark blue velvet dress with spaghetti straps and a matching velvet wrap. Although the evening was still warm enough, she might need the wrap in the theatre. A delicate silver chain glimmered at her throat. She had decided to wear her hair loose, feeling that an up-do would make it look like she was trying too hard.
She blushed slightly and ducked into the kitchen. "So do you," she called over her shoulder. "You shaved!"
Nick laughed. "Your birthday treat, Nat. Your wish is my command."
She found two vases under the sink and pulled an old crockery pitcher out of a cupboard. If only that were true, she thought. "Be careful," she said aloud, as she walked back to the table. "I might take you up on that."
The Pantages Theater was gorgeous. It had originally been built as a vaudeville and motion picture house in the early twentieth century, but in 1930 after a major scandal involving the original owner, the theater was sold and renamed the Imperial. It continued solely as a cinema for the next forty-two years. In the Seventies, it was closed and remodeled into a multiplex, destroying the Gilded Age opulence of the interior and replacing it with disco kitsch. It endured that indignity until 1988 when new owners closed it as a cinema, and began an extensive remodeling project that used the original Pantages decor to restore the building to its former glory and reopen it as a live-theater venue. Phantom of the Opera was the first stage show to play at the renamed Pantages Theater since the 1920s.
As they walked into the lobby from the Victoria Street entrance, even Nick was impressed by the soaring lobby with its grand staircase and fountain. Natalie was enchanted. "Oh, this is every bit as gorgeous as Grace said."
"They certainly knew how to impress back in the day," Nick agreed.
Natalie looked at him. "Have you been here before?" she asked quietly.
Nick shook his head. "Not here, no. But...other places. " For a moment, he paused, lost in thought, but that couldn't last with the crowds around them, all focused on finding their seats. He offered Natalie his arm. "Shall we?" He led Natalie toward the staircase and they climbed upward.
But Nick didn't lead Natalie to the balcony seats that she clearly expected. Instead, they were conducted by a smiling usher to a private box with an exceptional view of the stage. There would be no hats or tall people's heads in the way here. Nick was thrilled by Natalie's exclamation of pleasure as she took her seat.
The proscenium was draped in black fabric, which seemed a bit unusual, but Nick put it out of his mind, because Natalie was people-watching, and giggling at what some folks deemed proper theatre attire. There was the usual tottering about on spiked heels with tight black dresses and pearls -- it being Friday night, there was actually quite a lot of that -- but there were also ripped jeans and flannel, and everything in between.
The lights dimmed, the curtains opened to reveal a chandelier lying on the stage, and the show began. Even Nick was startled when the overture began, lightning flashed, the draperies were whisked off the golden angels decorating the proscenium, and the chandelier started to rise with a jerk. Natalie settled back into her seat, rapt, as audience and cast were swept into the past.
Nick was surprised to find himself just as caught up in the show as Natalie. He had read Gaston Leroux's novel when it was first published and been mildly amused by it, and, of course, it was obvious even from the beginning that the young lovers would end up together at the end, it was just a question, really, of what would happen to the Phantom himself, and how many others would perish along the way.
And, then, around the time that Messrs. André and Firmin were expressing their outrage at "O. G." for his expectation of a "large retainer," Nick began to feel the weight of eyes upon him. At first, he dismissed the feeling; after all, there were certain to be bored significant others in the audience watching the people around them, and their box was visible in the stage lights. Whoever it was would shortly lose interest. But the feeling intensified, until, as Carlotta shrieked out her divahood -- and how talented must that singer be to sound so awful, and yet be so well-controlled -- Nick realized that somewhere in the audience, another vampire was watching him. The feeling reminded him of being under the heavy-lidded, predatory gaze of his maker Lacroix. But Lacroix was dead....
He glanced around, and the feeling abruptly vanished, as if the watcher had made his point and was willing to let Nick enjoy the rest of the show. He turned back to the stage, and allowed himself to sink back into the story until with a skirl from the orchestra, the chandelier "crashed" onto the stage and the houselights came up.
For a long moment, Natalie didn't stir, then she blinked and sighed. "Grace was right. Wow. What do you think?"
"It's quite good."
Natalie pretended shock. "Quite good? Quite good? Is that the best you can say, Mr. Jaded I've-Seen-It-All-Before?"
"Okay, okay. I like it. A lot. But Schanke's gonna hate it."
"Ain't that the truth." Natalie laughed. "I can't wait until Myra manages to drag him here. And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go take advantage of the intermission." Nick, remembering his manners, stood as she did. She eased herself into the crowd and disappeared in the direction of the restrooms.
"So, Nicolas, are you enjoying yourself with your little doctor friend?" Janette's voice was followed by Janette's self; she offered Nick her hand and he touched his lips to the back of it.
"I didn't expect to see you here, Janette. I didn't think musical theatre was your thing."
"We all have our little secrets," Janette answered. Nick felt himself relax a bit as she slid into Natalie's chair. Here, then, was the source of the eyes which he had felt upon him during the first act. "Besides, how can one resist a show which includes a song called 'Music of the Night?'"
"They have done a reasonably good job of reproducing l'Opéra, n'est-ce pas?"
"Yes," Nick answered. "I am pleasantly surprised."
"What was her name?" Janette asked, "Sophie? Celeste?"
"Sabine," Nick replied. "And as I recall, his name was Edouard."
Janette sighed. "Ah, yes, Edouard. What a charming young man he was. I had forgotten his name." She rose and Nick rose with her. "But now if you'll pardon me, Nicolas, I must return to my escort."
"Escort?" Nick said lightly. "Should I be jealous?"
Janette's gaze was unsettling for a moment, before she smiled, and shook her head. "A very old friend," she answered. "Say hello to Dr. Lambert for me."
Nick caught Janette's hand and kissed her cheek. "Be good, Janette."
"Always, Nicolas," she purred.
The houselights were dimming to warn of the imminent beginning of the second act when Natalie returned. She slid into her seat with a murmured, "Women!" just as the entre'act began.
They were transported back to nineteenth-century Paris...
...and then the show was over. Natalie shook herself, and was on her feet to applaud Colm Wilkinson's performance along with everyone else. Nick was drawn to his own feet by her enthusiasm, even though he had heard better tenors in his time, nor was he certain he entirely liked Wilkinson's interpretation. Nevertheless, it had been an engaging show.
Natalie's eyes shone as she turned to him, and for a second, she was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen, even more so than Janette for whose sake he had forsaken his mortality. The moment passed, and she was just his friend Nat again. "That was wonderful, Nick. Thank you so much! You have my permission to miss my birthday every year if this is going to be the result!"
Nick laughed. "I'll see what I can do." He offered her his arm and escorted her from the theatre.