Beta-Readers: barely_bean and havocthecat
Prompt: Nick/Natalie, romantic dine a deux, and everything goes wrong (but it works out in the end)
Length: 1,135 words
Summary: "Health food makes me sick." (Calvin Trillin) Not long after meeting Nick, Natalie starts her campaign to get Nick to eat food by making him dinner.
Notes: Thanks to my betas, and endless thanks to brightknightie for handholding and story planning. *endless hearts*
Natalie set the table with excruciating care: her mother's wedding china, her grandmother's silver, the wine goblets she'd gotten as a welcome-to-adulthood present the day she’d finished medical school. Three tapered candles sat in a low candelabra in the middle of the table--she'd discarded white as too matrimonial and red as too vampirical, and gone with a dark green that was hopefully neutral.
Then she tried on outfits for forty-five minutes until she picked a dress in a heather green that complemented the candles and the potted fern she moved next to the table, to give the dining area even more ambience.
The amount of time she spent pondering the music selection didn’t even bear mentioning.
"I'm overthinking this," she said to Sydney, who was following her around the apartment, meowing occasionally in confusion. "Do you think he'll know I'm overthinking this?"
Sydney did a comforting lap around her ankles and went off to sniff at the oven.
"Exactly," Natalie said, and then spent another half-hour picking out the right pair of shoes.
She opened the door at 7:30 on the dot. "Nice timing," she said.
Nick looked vaguely sheepish behind his bouquet of yellow chrysanthemums. "Thank you?"
Natalie raised an eyebrow. "How long did you wait outside before you rang the bell?"
"Only a few minutes," Nick said, and Natalie hadn't known him that long, but she was pretty sure that was a giant lie.
"Hm. Thank you," she said, and plucked the flowers out of his right hand. His left tried to twitch backwards, but she reached out and took the bottle of blood too. "I'll just take care of this, too, shall I?"
Nick looked even more sheepish.
"Come on in," Natalie said. She hurried off to the kitchen to bury the bottle in the trash can, and to fill a vase for the flowers.
When she came back, Nick was still standing in the middle of her living room, looking about him. She looked around, trying to see it from his point of view--did the bright colors and casual clutter look comfortable and homey to him, or were they signs of the smallness of the human mind, fixating on the everyday instead of whatever bigger, immortal picture he could see?
From the door to the hallway, where he was half-hidden while he looked at the new visitor, Sydney mewed softly.
He came to you for help, she reminded herself, and stepped forward with a smile. "Drink?" she asked, offering a glass.
Nick took the glass, looked down at what was clearly not blood, and looked back up.
"Wine," she said firmly.
"Right." He held the glass slightly away from himself, and his smile was forced. "Wine."
Her heart sank a little more, but she held up her glass and forced a smile of her own. "A toast? To your new job, Detective Knight?"
Nick made a visible effort to regain some enthusiasm. "To a lovely dinner with a lovely woman," he said, and Natalie tried not to blush. He tapped his glass against hers, then steeled himself and took a healthy drink. Natalie stepped back as Nick's face contorted, but he swallowed it and said, in a slightly higher voice, "Delicious."
Natalie just shook her head. "Have a seat."
It took another deep breath and a silent pep talk, but Natalie managed to load the plates and carry them out to the table as if it were any other dinner. Nick was sitting as instructed, keeping an eye on Sydney, who had inched forward to check him out from just out of reach.
"That's almost a vote of confidence," Natalie said, setting the plate in front of Nick.
"Really?" He managed a real smile this time, which only faded slightly as he looked down at his plate.
Natalie had put a lot more thought into this first human meal than she planned to admit: steak, medium rare, stewed tomatoes, and a rice pilaf recipe she'd found out of desperation. What kind of starch do you feed someone who's undead? Her plate carefully contained exactly the same food in exactly the same portions.
She set her plate down and pulled out the chair across from Nick. He did one of his peculiar whoosh movements and was suddenly behind her, pushing her chair in.
"How very...chivalrous of you," she said, fighting back a smile.
He eyed her warily.
She pointed at his chair, and he blurred back into it.
Natalie looked down at her plate, making careful work of cutting her steak. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Nick copying her movements, his hands graceful if slow.
He speared a piece of meat with his fork and started to lift it to his mouth. He paused halfway, looking almost panicked. "Natalie, I just don't--"
"Hey." She pointed her own fork at him. "I explained all of this to you this afternoon. The dependence on blood--"
"I know, I know. I was listening." From the look on Nick's face, he might as well be holding a slice of dynamite. "For the most part."
"This will help. And more importantly, it will not kill you."
"So you think."
Natalie's temper flared. "Nick, eat the damn meat."
He gave her a startled look and popped the meat in his mouth. His face contorted as he worked on chewing it, and Natalie edged forward on her seat, willing him to swallow.
"Well?" she asked brightly.
He groped for his wineglass, took a drink, and made a new and interesting face. "Fantastic."
Natalie couldn't help it; she burst into laughter.
"What?" he asked, but he was giggling too.
She shook her head. "What am I going to do with you?"
"Save me?" he said. Some of the humor faded from his expression. "Please?"
She reached across the table and picked up his fork, snagging another piece of steak with it and handing it across to him. "Eat."
His hand covered hers briefly as he took the fork from her. "Whatever you say."
Nick ate obediently if reluctantly for the rest of the meal, managing to down at least a few bites of every dish.
"See?" Natalie said as she walked him to the door. "No harm done."
"I might even try it again some time."
She laughed and opened the door for him; Nick stopped and reached out to take her hands.
"Yes?" She wondered if he could hear how her heart rate jumped when he touched her.
He stayed silent for a moment, his thumbs rubbing light circles on the backs of her hands. Then he leaned forward to kiss her cheek. "Thank you," he said. "Thank you for everything."
Natalie closed the door behind him and leaned her forehead against it. "I am in so much trouble," she said softly.