part iii

He turned toward her as she slowed to a stop beside him. She looked down at her friend, prepared for anything but what she came face to face with.

You were all by yourself
Staring up at a dark gray sky

“Nick?” she whispered, her voice catching in her throat as she sank down to her knees next to him. “You’re.. crying?”

Nick turned away from her, not knowing what had prompted him to turn to her at that moment. Something had alerted him; something about her told him she was there. He’d sensed it possibly from the moment she stepped out of the house. He was that aware of her.

A shudder coursed through him and she noticed it, immediately placing a hand on his shoulder. “Nicky, what’s wrong?”

Nicky. She’d been the only person to get away with calling him that to his face without getting a dirty look. It had always sounded right coming from her, although he never could understand why that was. Until now.

He shook his head, knowing his voice would fail him. She sighed, and he felt her shift to sit in front of him, blocking his view of the ocean, the sky, everything around him, with her persona. She was all he could see then, and the warmth in her eyes melted him, the caring in her concerned expression tempting him to pull her into his arms.

“I... don’t know what’s been going on,” she said honestly, her eyes searching his as she spoke. “But you know you can talk to me, Nick. I’ll always listen. I’ll always believe you. You know that... right?”

His head cocked to the side slightly as he read her like the open book she’d always been to him. She was genuinely concerned for him, and he damned himself to hell for being the cause of her worries.

“Yeah,” he finally managed to say. “I know, San.”

“Do you?” she pressed, her hands falling into his suddenly, her touch sending a wave of electricity and warmth through his entire body. “Do you really?”

His gaze locked with hers, and then he knew.

“I know,” he replied softly. “Now I do.”

She looked at him, confused by his answer. “You... didn’t know before? Nick, what’s going on with you? You’re scaring me.”

He wiped at his eyes, then brought his hand back down to hers, grasping them both in his and watching her. “This is crazy,” he told her. “It’s crazy, and it scares the hell out of me, San. I always knew you’d be there no matter what, but now, right this second, I know you will still be around after this.”

“After what? Nick.. this is really creepy. Please tell me what’s happening. Why are you crying?”

“I’m in love with you.”

Her eyes widened, the air escaping her lungs in a sudden gasp. He’d expected that. He’d also expected her to turn and walk, if not run, away. She didn’t do that, though.

She didn’t even let go of his hands.

Sandra looked at him, into his eyes, trying to find a trace of humor, a trace of another classic Carter prank... but found nothing.

He was serious. He loved her. He was in love with her.

“When?” she asked, her voice barely audible now over the oncoming thunder. “How?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I swear I don’t. Maybe it was always there... but it hit me - and it hit me hard - last week.”

Understanding flooded her senses. So that explained it. “Why avoid me?”

“I didn’t want to lose you.”

“Lose me?”

“I was afriad,” he began. “Still am, actually... that if you found out, and things went wrong, my best friend would leave me. If I.. was honest with you, that you wouldn’t understand, and I’d have ruined everything. I didn’t want to lose that.”

The tears rolled down his cheeks again, and she could do nothing but watch as his words filled her mind. It was all so.. shocking. She’d never expected this, but as she sat there, watching him, she felt it. The power of his confession, and the awakening of her own feelings. The little, inexplicable ‘something’ inside her she’d been living with for the longest time finally had a name, finally had a home. In her best friend’s eyes, in every tear he’d shed in fear of losing what they both cherished so strongly.

It was then that I realized
That forever was in your eyes
The moment I saw you cry

Without words, she let go of his hands and threw her arms around him, nearly knocking him back with the force. They held eachother in silence for long, peaceful moments, each accepting the understanding, trust, and love of the other.

She held onto him tightly, wanting to ease his fears. She knew he still had them; she did, too, to be honest, but it was a risk she was more than willing to take. He shuddered against her then, his hold on her tightening as well, and her heart nearly burst with the need to make everything, every fear, every doubt, simply disappear.

I wanted to hold you
I wanted to make it go away
I wanted to make your everything all right...

“I’ll always be here,” she whispered against his shoulder. “With you. Never forget that, Nicky. Ever.”

When they pulled apart and got to their feet, Sandra had another question ready for him.

“Where did you hide this?” she asked, looking up into his blue eyes. “Why wasn’t I able to find it in you, Nick?”

So he’d succeeded in masking his feelings. With a soft smile, he took her hand and placed it over his heart.

“In a place no one would find,” he whispered. “I guarded this with my life, San. No one would have ever thought to look there. Except you,” he added, “Which was why I... distanced myself from you.”

In places no one would find
All your feelings so deep inside
It was then that I realized
That forever was in your eyes

Her smile matched his then, and she knew this moment would forever be engraved in her memory. The time, the place, every emotion she went through in the short moments she’d been out there with him. Alone, underneath storm clouds, caught up in gusts of cold wind; the only two people in existence then, as far as they were concerned. It was there that they’d created another memory.

I'll always remember
It was late afternoon...
In places no one would find

The rain fell, pelting them both gently at first, then stronger as the wind blew against them. She looked up into the sky, the rain mixing with her sudden tears, and smiled. When she looked at Nick, his eyes were closed, face upturned toward the sky as well.

“You love me?” she asked.

He looked back down at her and nodded sheepishly. “I love you.” He drew a slow breath before continuing. “And you?”

“Oh, I love me, too.”

He tackled her to the soggy, wet sand, reveling in her shrieks of laughter as they wrestled eachother against the sand. They came to a stop when lightning struck, illuminating the skies, causing them both to jump in surprise. He had her pinned down under his weight, her now wet hair clinging to the sides of her face, mixing with the sand.

“That wasn’t fair,” he pointed out, brushing wet strands away from her face.

“And hiding this from me was?” she grinned, reaching up and taking him by surprise when she brought his face downs to hers and kissed him, opening up to him in a way she never even imagined she’d be able to do. “I love you, Nick.”

[part ii | index]