Written for: Nancy Drew Yuletide 2015
Fandom: Nancy Drew, post-Files (slightly AU) canon
Pairing/Characters: Nancy Drew/Ned Nickerson, Edith/James Nickerson
Word Count: 5500
Summary/Prompt: This is actually written for two prompts, one of which is a spoiler; the other is Nancy/James bonding. Nancy isn't looking forward to spending another Christmas without Ned.
Disclaimer: Not mine, don't sue.
Warnings: Adult situations and a little language.
The drive out isn't so bad, although the sky overhead was ominous before the sun went down, and Nancy has no doubt that snow will be falling again on her trip back. She has the radio tuned to a station playing nothing but Christmas carols, and she's determined to be cheerful. Her gently-jingling Christmas sweater only underscores it. She can't really think about the alternative.
It's four days away from Christmas and Ned won't be spending it with her.
She knows he wants to; she knows this isn't his choice, although it's hard to stop herself from blaming him. This will be the third Christmas since they've been married, and she would gladly trade any other one, but, God...
She shakes her head sharply, focusing on the road in front of her instead of her nearly paralyzing grief. She grieves the time apart. She feels it all, feels it like a child staring through the schoolhouse window from her desk, aching for the indolence and joy of summer, despairing as it only seems to recede into the distance. Sometimes it feels like he'll never come home. Sometimes it feels like their life together will just become stolen weekends, blissful visits—but each one ends with her clinging to him, her heart breaking for want of him.
Any modicum of independence she felt... she can't imagine what that was like, anymore.
On the outside, her life is almost exactly as it was before their marriage. She still lives at her father's house most of the time. She still investigates cases, although she's been working on her criminal justice degree too, and that's cut down on her time.
And, of course, there's this.
She pulls into the church parking lot and recognizes several of the sedans and mini-vans; most of them are marked with bumper stickers praising one or some branches of the armed forces. An evergreen wreath wrapped with a red velvet bow, snow clinging to a few of its needles, hangs on the fellowship hall door.
As soon as Nancy opens her car door, she can feel the icy needles of newly-falling snow on her face, and rushes to pull on her gloves and zip her coat. The lasagna Hannah helped her prepare is still warm, she's pleased to find, and she grins at Robin when the other woman holds the door open for her.
The hall isn't crowded—theirs is a relatively small group—but it's loud with laughter and happy voices. Nancy places her lasagna at the main-course end of the table and exchanges waves with Sarah and Madelyn-Grace, who are setting up chairs for the dining area. Sarah, a transplant from California, had asked Nancy for help dealing with a corrupt business owner who had put her own company in jeopardy. Madelyn-Grace, whose big, elaborate hairstyles and honeyed drawl betray her own roots, came to Nancy when her niece ran away from home with her troubled alcoholic boyfriend.
All of them—mostly women, but a few men too—are in the same boat Nancy's in, and every time she comes to a meeting she's glad she made the decision to join. All of them are military spouses. Most come from the base about twenty miles away. Nancy's trip isn't the longest, but it nearly is.
Some of them knew going in. Nancy didn't. Oh, Ned had talked about his older cousin's enlisting with a note of envy in his voice; he had always idolized Terry. Ned's father, grandfather, and uncles served, even though they didn't make a career of it.
Ned has no intention of making a career of it, and for that she's glad. She just lives in fear of those calls she never wants to receive: that he won't be coming home, that he's been broken by a debilitating injury, that he's decided to reenlist. They've always said they don't want to control each other's lives, and she meant it, she did, but everything has changed. When he told her that he was going into the service, that he'd understand if she wanted to take a break or decide not to be exclusive anymore, she had been able to see it in his face. He had been convinced that if they were apart, it would only be a matter of time, but she would find someone else. Their history had taught him that.
Instead, they had both been surprised when she had suggested that they make their relationship official and permanent instead of dissolving it. She had been surprised to hear the words in her own voice—but, somehow, it had been the least surprising thing in the world. She's loved him since she's known him, and it feels like her heart has belonged to him all her life, even when they hadn't yet met. She can't imagine anyone so perfect for her. She can't imagine anyone else as her husband, even with all this terrible distance between them.
She wants him home. She wants him beside her so badly that she can taste the bitterness on her tongue, feel it tight in her joints. Her arms ache for him. She misses the warmth of his skin against hers, his smile, his breath against her earlobe.
On the outside, nothing's changed. She has her own smile in place, her own greeting hug for her closer friends in the group. Nancy remembers names and relationships easily, and it's child's play to ask about children and family members in those casual, catch-up conversations. When she's back home, she spends time with her father and Hannah, her in-laws, Bess and George. Nothing's changed.
But the man who has become the heart of her life is gone, and she aches for him, because everything has changed.
She's just putting her purse and coat in the corner of the nursery with everyone else's, while Michael and Janna watch the two wide-eyed toddlers under their care, when she feels her phone vibrating. She slides it out of the interior pocket and her eyes widen when she sees that familiar dark hair and easy grin.
"Honey!" She's answered the phone as fast as she can; she doesn't know how much time he has, how clear the connection will be, why he could possibly be calling.
"Nan, baby. Good news. I'll be pulling in at Union Station tomorrow morning."
"What?" Tears are rising in her eyes. "Chicago?"
"Yeah, sweetheart. I'm coming home for Christmas." She can hear the smile in his voice. "I wasn't sure if my CO was going to pull through, or I would've called you earlier..."
"Oh my God..." Nancy manages to walk out of the nursery before she releases an overjoyed cry. "I can't believe it! I can't wait to see you. I don't think I'll sleep at all tonight."
"Just like Christmas Eve, huh? Although it practically will be by the time I get there..."
"Times a hundred. Oh, Ned. Seriously, this is a miracle. I love you. I love you so much."
"I love you too, hon. My—my mom's calling me, too. Can I call you back?"
"I'll call you when I'm on the way back after dinner, if that's okay?"
"Sounds great. Love you."
The gray cloud that has overshadowed the whole day for her is lifted, after that, and she hears none of the mournful notes in any of the Christmas carols they sing, only the joy. Nothing can hurt her or touch her as she grins at the other spouses and compliments the dishes they brought to the potluck, as she half-listens to the speaker's talk about blessings and sacrifice. Everyone who sees her face knows the news that put that expression on it. She's walking on air.
Ned is coming home. Even now, he's coming home, and her impatience and longing for him only seems to grow by the second.
Nancy spends half the trip home on the phone with Edith, who asks her to come over so they can start planning the Christmas meal; Nancy has slept over there so often that she has her own drawers in the dresser, clothes and toiletries. She's almost coming out of her skin with impatience by the time she calls Ned back.
"I can't believe you're so close to me. Any way I could make it to a stop and kidnap you?"
Ned chuckles. "It's already late. I don't want you driving while you're tired. Just one more sleep and we'll be together again."
Nancy sighs. "I think I have to be dreaming. I wanted you to be home so bad..."
"Me too, babe. I think I'll actually be able to stay until right after New Year's. Won't that be something."
She nods. "And... the other thing..."
"Why don't we talk about that in person."
Her heart sinks a little, but she recovers quickly. He's on the way to her. That's worth more than she ever dreamed.
Edith is surrounded by cookbooks and loose-leaf recipes, a shopping list at her right hand, when Nancy walks in. They spend an hour deciding on the menu and making notes, and Nancy sees the same joy in Edith and James's face as she feels. He's coming home. Oh, the celebration is wonderful every year, the time spent with Ned's grandparents, but it's all different now, because he'll be with them. He'll be where he belongs, for the first time since their courthouse wedding.
That night Nancy slowly prepares for bed, brushes her teeth, combs her hair, sets her alarm. She wants to be in Chicago early for Ned's arrival, and Ned's father will be accompanying her. She hates that the bed is empty and cold, as she pulls the sheet and comforters back to slip beneath, but tomorrow night... oh, tomorrow night her husband will share it with her.
She thinks she won't sleep a wink, and has her tablet beside the bed, ready to lull her back into some relaxed state, but three minutes into the word-search game her eyes are crossing and slow to open after every blink. She sighs and puts out the light, snuggling down under the covers, on her side and facing his pillow.
He'll be home. She's counted every minute, every hour of the months since she last saw him and felt his arms around her. For the past week she's been trying to find the words, and now the moment is almost here. All her anxiety and fear has faded. All she feels is peace. In the morning, her own Christmas will be here.
She rests her palm over her belly and closes her eyes, already knowing she will dream of him.
Nancy wakes twenty minutes before her alarm is set to go off, and feels instantly awake and happy. He's coming home. She told her father last night, and he made her promise that she and Ned will at least come over for a few visits, but he understands. When she's with Ned, their time together is too precious to waste, and she's too jealous to share it. She's willing to stay at Ned's parents' house because she knows his parents miss him as much as she does, but she needs to be with him.
She picks out her clothes for the day carefully: a comfortable, flattering pair of jeans, a cowlnecked teal sweater that brings out the blue in her eyes. Her wedding ring is in its customary place on her left hand as she slides the posts for a pair of small gold hoops through her earlobes. Once her gray boots are zipped, she heads downstairs.
Edith is practically humming with the same energy Nancy feels, but she's spending it on cooking. Already Nancy sees French toast casserole, sausage balls, and the supplies for bread dough on the counter. The delicious aroma of freshly-brewed coffee makes Nancy temporarily lightheaded with desire, but she opts for orange juice instead.
They leave Edith to her feverish preparations, knowing full well that she wants to accompany them, but she's already stressed about all the plans for her only child's homecoming. James takes the wheel of his car and Nancy buckles into the passenger seat, shivering as the air conditioning begins to practically roar through the vents.
"It's hard to believe he's almost here." James shakes his head, checking both ways before he negotiates a turn. "It really is a Christmas miracle."
Nancy nods. "I'm just so glad he was able to come. It hasn't been the same without him."
"Yeah." James glances over at her. "And you're feeling better? You look better. Your color looks right again."
"Yeah. Thanks," she tells him. "I've been feeling a lot better lately. And—thank you. For letting me stay with you guys, even while Ned isn't here. It means a lot to me."
"It means a lot to us that you accepted the invitation," he replies. "You're our daughter-in-law, the daughter Edie always wanted to have. We both love having you around."
Nancy pats her purse, making sure she put her cell phone inside, and is just turning when James speaks again. "You know, since I thought we wouldn't be seeing him—I hate to admit it, but I don't have his gift yet. Maybe you and I could sneak out and buy him something before Christmas?"
The prospect of not being around Ned during his leave makes Nancy's stomach somersault and sink, but she smiles. "That sounds great. As long as we make it quick."
James chuckles. "You're thinking of Edie. I try to finish my shopping trips as fast as possible. And always ask for a gift receipt."
Nancy doesn't have the same problem her father-in-law does. Months ago she was buying little gifts for her friends and family; Bess and George eagerly unwrapped all the little bundles and packages Nancy gave them over dinner the previous weekend, and Nancy had loved all her friends' gifts too. Bess gave her a set of beauty samples and a bottle of a very nice perfume Nancy had fallen in love with the last time they had been at the mall, the same perfume Nancy's wearing now. George gave Nancy a nice digital wrist pedometer, and the next book in a series both of them were reading, and Nancy immediately promised to loan it to her once she had finished it.
"It's hard to believe he'll be here for more than just a few days this time," Nancy murmurs, looking over at her father-in-law again. "I'm sure he'll want to see his friends, and Terry..."
"Maybe after Christmas we could head down to Fox Lake?" He glances over at her. "If that sounds good to you two. Just spend some time together again, after he's been able to visit everyone."
Nancy smiles. "That sounds perfect," she murmurs.
As soon as they arrive, Nancy is impatient and eager to make it into the station, but Ned's train isn't scheduled to arrive for another forty-five minutes. Half a block from the station, she spots an upscale menswear store, and James is willing to look around, promising her that it won't take long.
The store is all polished, rich wood and brass, and it smells like leather and musk. A tall, handsome man who could easily be a model approaches them with a dimpled grin and immediate offer of assistance, and James follows his lead to the heavy wool winter coats.
Nancy lingers behind, looking at displays of socks and ties, feeling the soft warmth of cashmere and silk blends under her fingertips. After is a time she can hardly imagine; after, when his outfits won't be fatigues and uniforms. He'll be dressed like the chiseled, faceless mannequins in the store, and this will be behind him. He's promised. He's promised her.
She also knows they want him in officer school, and that he hasn't made up his mind about it yet—or maybe he has, and he just hasn't told her because he knows she won't be happy. They want him to move up the ranks, to go back for his bachelor's degree and then come back in, leading and gaining experience. Making a career of it. Deployments, postings, living in base accommodations while he's overseas...
Her fingers flex. No. She prays that what she fears won't come true. She prays he won't break his promise to her.
True to his word, James selects a fine wool-blend overcoat in brown, lined in silk and sumptuous to the touch. The cashier makes quick work of the gift wrapping, and they're back at the car, stowing it in the trunk, with ten minutes to spare.
Ned's train pulls in three minutes behind schedule, and she feels every second of it. She doesn't know how he's dressed, what he'll look like—
But it's like her heart feels him before her eyes find him. Their eyes lock through the crowd and she waves, and they shoulder through the crowd toward each other, her eyes already filling with tears. His dark hair has been finger-combed, she can tell, and his dark eyes are warm and shining as they stay focused on hers. She's wanted this for so long, to be with him again for so long, that she can barely breathe.
"Oh my God—"
"Ned," she gasps out, putting her arms around him and holding him tight, and he hugs her and lifts her off the ground. He's always been strong, fit and muscular, but he's even more so now. "Ned..."
"I love you, baby."
"I love you too," she gasps, still clinging to him. She doesn't want to let him go. She never wants to let him go, never again.
She blinks another pair of tears down her cheeks and brushes her lips against his ear, speaking only to him. "I'm pregnant."
Ned moves back to look into her face. His dark eyes were already shining; she sees a tear streak down when they widen. "What? You... we..."
She nods and smiles, sniffling. "Yeah," she whispers.
Ned nods in his father's direction, and Nancy shakes her head. "No one else," she tells him. "Only us."
"Nan... oh, sweetheart. Dad, come here," Ned says, and hugs both of them hard. "Oh my God. Oh, Nan... I can't believe it. I..."
She and Ned talked about it, when they were first married. He didn't want to miss his child's infancy and developing months and years, and their agreement had been that they would start trying after his service was over.
She hadn't intended to get pregnant, and she hopes he knows that, that he'll understand. She's always been so careful with her birth control. She's not sure how exactly it failed, but they knew going in that it wasn't foolproof.
And her disbelief, followed by her false certainty that her continuing to take birth control pills in the two weeks after she had apparently conceived would probably result in a miscarriage, had kept her from telling anyone. She incredulously read the results of the pregnancy test by herself. She scheduled her first obstetrician appointments herself. She waited for the first trimester to pass, certain that miracles could not happen so easily, that something would go wrong.
But nothing has. She's in her fourth month now. The worst uncertainty is over.
And she's finally been able to give him the news she's been so reluctant to share over the phone or over some grainy Skype call. She had been sure she would have to—but it would have driven Ned crazy, to know she was pregnant and he was half a world away. It would have broken his heart to find out she was pregnant, and then to be told something had gone wrong. Against all the odds, against everything, their baby is growing and strong in her womb.
He's home with her, even if it's only for a little while, and everything is okay again.
"I just... well, I'm pregnant," she tells her father-in-law. They're all flushed and Ned's arms are around their shoulders, with the traffic streaming around them.
James grins. "Oh, if that isn't the best news. Come here," he says, wrapping them both in a hug again. "That's just wonderful. Hey, if we get any more lucky we should try a lottery ticket. I already feel like I've won the jackpot."
"But you don't seem all that surprised," Ned comments, hefting his bag as they begin the trek out to the car.
"Your mom suspected," James murmurs with a wink. "Although she'll be delighted she was right this time. Nan, all you have to do is sneeze or cough around her and she's practically ready to start knitting little booties."
In the back seat of Ned's father's car, Ned holds her hands and gazes into her face, wonder still written on his own. "Since last time?"
She nods. "I'm almost fifteen weeks," she murmurs. "Counting from my last period."
"How? I mean..." He shrugs a little, still searching her face.
"The usual way," she murmurs, with a small grin. "I don't know. I guess we're in that lucky one-percent. I didn't mean for it to happen..."
He shakes his head. "But it's a miracle," he murmurs. "I don't understand it either, but it's a miracle."
"It is," she whispers.
"Really? It's really true?"
He doesn't seem to be angry or upset, only awestricken, and she grins. "Yeah, really," she whispers. "You're gonna be a dad, Ned."
He shakes his head. "I can't believe it," he whispers. "Oh my God. You were gonna tell me, weren't you? Why'd you wait so long?"
"I didn't know how to tell you—that way," she shrugs a little. "I wanted to see your face. I wanted to feel your arms around me when I told you. But I thought it would probably make a nice Christmas gift, even if I couldn't have that." She smiles, searching his eyes. "Surprise."
He raises her hands to his lips and kisses them, his gaze still locked to hers. "I love you, Nan. I love you so much."
"I love you too, honey. I'm sorry I didn't tell you until now..."
"It's okay. I'm glad... I'm glad it was now. So last month, when you were tracking down that murderer..."
"Yeah," she says, and glances down. "I was really careful. I promise. I knew how much might be at stake."
He strokes his fingers down her cheek. "Our baby," he whispers. "Oh, Nan..."
Ned's mother wraps him in a long, tearful hug as soon as he steps foot inside the house, and he holds her for a long time, his eyes closed, Christmas music playing from the kitchen. Then he looks down into her face and gives her a smile.
"Nan just told me that we're going to have a baby."
Edith dissolves into happy tears again, hugging both of them fiercely. "My heart can't take all this," she chastises them, but she's smiling. "Oh, a darling little one next Christmas. Ned, you have to be home for that. You have to. I'll call everyone up to the President if that's what it takes to get you home."
Ned glances between the three of them. "That's, actually... I talked to my CO, and it looks like in three months, I'll be out."
"For good?" Nancy's the first to say it, hardly able to believe her ears, hardly daring to hope.
He nods. "I know they really want me to go to officer school, but I have too much on hold back here. I have a wife... and now, I have a baby on the way. I'm glad I did this—I wanted you to be proud of me, all of you. I wanted to be proud of myself. And I am. But it's time to come home."
That provokes another round of tears, especially from Nancy. It's more than she let herself dream, that it would be so soon. It's not soon enough—only if he had announced that he was home for good, right now, would she have been selfishly satisfied—but he'll be back before their baby is born. That's worth so, so much to her.
Late that afternoon, Ned kisses her goodbye and heads to town to meet up with Mike and Howie and Paul, and Nancy helps Edith roll out sugar cookie dough and then decorate the cookies once they're out of the oven and cool. Ned will spend all day Christmas Eve and Christmas with his parents and Nancy and the rest of his family, but he only has so much time, and though they miss him fiercely, none of them demands he stay.
"Do you know when the baby is due, sweetheart?"
Nancy glances up, a smile lighting her face as she looks at her mother-in-law. She hasn't been able to talk about it for so long that it still feels like a secret, and she and Ned will break the news to her father and Hannah tomorrow, in person. "July," she says softly. "It feels so far away."
"I'm so happy for the two of you. And for me, too. You know I've always hoped you two would give me some sweet grandbabies to spoil and play with."
Nancy nods. "I just couldn't tell you until I told Ned," she murmurs. "It just didn't seem right for someone else to be the first to know. I'm sorry."
Edith waves off her concern. "I understand, sweetheart. And I'm so glad the timing worked out this way. I think that even if he hadn't been ready to come home... well, this news would have done it. And I'm glad. I'm proud of him; I've always been proud of him. But that doesn't mean I'm not terrified for him every minute we're apart. That's something that will never stop. As soon as you hold that baby in your arms..."
Nancy doesn't stifle the impulse to gently stroke her belly through her sweater, the way she has since she found out this was real. "As soon as he does," she murmurs.
Ned comes in just after eleven o'clock, yawning hugely as he bolts the front door behind him with one hand, unzipping his coat with the other. His parents have already gone to bed, but Nancy's on the couch, wearing red and green-plaid flannel pajamas and her robe and slippers. She drifted off a few times waiting for him, but she knew that if she fell asleep in his bed, he would likely just cuddle up to her without waking her, and she needs to see him tonight. She needs to talk to him and hold him.
"Did you have a good time?"
"I did, but baby, you should be in bed," he tells her quietly. "You need to rest..."
Then she sees him sniff and glance toward the kitchen, and she smiles. "Grab a few cookies and some milk. I'll meet you upstairs?"
He nods, and Nancy turns off the Christmas tree's lights before she slowly takes the stairs up to Ned's bedroom. The whole house was already decorated for the holiday, but Edith put up a train set and a miniature ice-skating pond with tiny figures dancing in loops on its surface, that afternoon. The house smells like sugar and cinnamon and pine, like home and warmth and comfort. With Ned there, it feels like the last piece is in place, like they're complete again. Their family, the family her marriage and their love gave her.
Her teeth are freshly brushed, her flannel pants folded on the dresser, and she's between the sheets when Ned comes in. He offers her a cookie and she shakes her head; he finishes the cookies and milk, then takes off his shoes and heads to the bathroom.
Ned comes to bed naked, moving toward her with a happy sigh, and she cuddles against him, his knee sliding between hers, their arms around each other.
"We made a baby," he whispers. "I feel like I'm dreaming."
She dissolves into quiet, happy laughter, muffling herself against him. "We did," she agrees. "And you're here with me. This has to be a dream. I've missed you so damn much, Ned..."
"I've missed you too." He kisses her cheek. "I miss you every morning and every night. Every time my heart beats. Sweetheart... oh, Nan, I can't believe you waited for me. You could have been with anyone... and to have this with you..."
She strokes his cheek with her palm. "You're the love of my life," she whispers, her eyes pricking with tears. "No matter what. It's been hell without you, but it's worth it to have you here. Baby, I'm sorry, I know this wasn't what we planned..."
"But it's all worked out. Better than I'd imagined. Better than I'd ever dreamed." His lips brush against hers, his voice soft as a secret. "We'll be together again, forever. Us and our baby."
His palm cups the slight curve of her belly, and Nancy's throat is thick with tears. His skin against hers, his nakedness, the warmth of him against her...
She doesn't know who moves first, but then his lips are against hers, and it's like all of her constricts with longing. His tongue slides into her mouth and she combs her fingers through his dark hair.
She can count the number of nights they've spent together like this; she treasures each one, tried her best to memorize each one. But it all fades and blurs into joy, the heel of his hand beneath the hem of her shirt, his fingers making quick work of the buttons, the delicious shudder that slides down her spine as he hooks his thumbs in the band of her panties and begins to push them down. She wants him too; she wants him as close as he can be, skin to skin, his body inside hers. Loving her.
They tangle together, stroking and caressing each other, their lips meeting in long sweet kisses punctuated by gasps and sighs. He groans softly when he first cups her breasts and finds them more full in his palms. He's gentle when he fondles her nipples, and then she bites his lower lip and he tugs them, and her hips buck under his.
He nuzzles against her neck, brushing his lips against her throat, as his hand slides between her open legs. She draws her heels back, her hands on his shoulders, tracing his shoulder blades. Memorizing him all over again, to relive on cold nights when she's alone and missing him more than she could ever say.
He fondles and strokes her until she's grinding against his hand, until she's shivering with delight as his lips brush over her sensitive nipples. He finds her warm and slick and moves onto his knees, gazing down at her with such desire and need burning in his dark eyes. And she welcomes him, drawing him down to her, holding herself still as he begins to move inside her. The frisson of nervousness that she's always felt passes quickly, and his thumb glances over her clit as he slowly works his full length inside her.
He is hers, and she has always been his. Always. Her husband. It's easy to envy those women who sleep beside their husbands every night, who are able to share their days and lives in person instead of through a long-distance wire. But none of them has Ned, and she wouldn't trade him. Not for anything.
They gaze into each other's eyes as he moves inside her, in firm, deep strokes, until she's shuddering. Her lips are parted as she gasps for breath, encouraging him, praising him, telling him softly how she's missed this even as her body shows him.
He brings her to the cusp of her climax and leaves her shaking as he brings her to orgasm, her hips jolting under his, her skin flushed, her heart speeding. He's gentle with her, and after he's ridden her through it, when he's spent himself deep inside her with a groan of pleasure, he relaxes onto her—but he's careful to keep from pressing down on her belly.
"I love you," he murmurs. "Oh my God, I love you."
"I love you too," she whispers, and when he moves onto his side she rolls with him. The room is cool but she's glowing from their exertions, and she craves the feel of his skin against hers. Her leg just naturally fits between his. It just feels right to tuck her head under his chin, her lips against his breastbone.
Then he cups his palm over her belly and kisses the crown of her head. "I can't wait to meet him. Nan, this... this is the most incredible Christmas present ever. I love you."
"I love you," she whispers, and kisses his chest. "And I can't wait for you to meet him either."