The Big Surprise
By Judith Freudenthal
2002

Nick entered the morgue immediately noticing Natalie was busy, her back to him.

"Hi Nick. I just set out my latest protein shake for you"

"How'd you know I'd enter when I did?" He said as she turned to face him.

"I just had a hunch. What can I do for you?"

"Nothing really. I just came by to see if you wanted to watch some videos later."

"That'd be great. Now drink up. I have to finish this. It should only take a minute or two. I expect that mug to be partially empty when I finish here."

Nick saw two mugs on her desk. Both looked about the same. He picked one at random, hoping he chose the right one.

He hesitantly took a sip, and then another, and another… before long he finished off the mug.

Natalie turned around as he set the mug down. She was quite surprised to see it empty. A little annoyed too.

"Nick, that was my coffee. I can't believe you drank it all."

"I'm sorry, Nat. I'll get you another one," Nick said, feeling guilty.

"That's okay. I meant I was surprised. You usually can't tolerate anything other than blood or a couple French fries. That's the protein shake," Natalie said as she pointed to the other mug.

Nick knew he had to try it. He took a sip and forced it down. After two more sips he set the mug down.

"That bad, eh?" she said in response to his expression. "I thought I was on the right track this time. Oh well, I guess it is back to the drawing board."

"I'll be right back," Nick said before he left.

Nick entered Buckstars and was quickly overwhelmed by the menu. There were so many choices. He was not sure what to start with, so he figured he would pick Natalie's favorite flavor. He knew Grace would like a cup so he bought her one too.

Nick returned with three large coffees. He gave one to Grace, and took the other two into Natalie's office. Grace was a little surprised. She knew Natalie didn't drink quite that much unless it was late in a busy double shift, or earlier on if she had pulled a double the last shift and was pulling another double shift. Grace wondered if Nick had taken up drinking coffee.

"Why two? You didn't have to."

"I know how you are without your coffee," he teased.

She gave him one of her "not funny" looks and happily accepted the coffee from him.

"You're not drinking?"

She watched him sip it and then set it down.

"It needs to cool a moment." She was curious if this cup was not agreeing with him. "Not good?"

"Too hot."

"Rule number one, always make sure it's not too hot or it will burn, literally."

"You couldn't have warned me sooner?"

"How was I to know you'd take up the habit, and that it would burn you?"

"Good points."

They talked while they waited for their coffee to cool. Both quickly downed their cups as soon as it was drinkable.

"So, does this mean I won't have to look under the sink for the coffee? You do know that is not the best place to store it."

"Okay. Where should I store it?"

"How about the cabinet? Where most people store it."

"Okay."

That night Nick headed for the grocery store while Natalie finished up a few things. They had planned to leave together but some last minute test results came in and were needed in court in the morning. She promised she would be there as soon as she could. He wanted to stay but the sun would be up soon and he did not want to leave his car in the parking lot all day, also her trunk was a bit small and often partially full of emergency supplies in case of a breakdown or medical emergency.

Nick grabbed a small basket and headed for the coffee aisle. He had been in this store a few times with Natalie when she had done some pre- movie junk food or dinner purchasing.

He found the coffee aisle and did not know what to get. Beans, ground coffee, finely ground, or instant, but then which instant. Which flavor? He noticed that the beans had to be ground and was not ready to deal with it, so he looked over the various ground varieties. He remembered seeing a blue bag once when Natalie was making it and looked for something similar on the shelves. When he found it he grabbed a brick of it, wondering if it was supposed to be so solid.

He picked up a few snack items he knew Natalie liked and headed for the express lane.

When he arrived home, he headed straight for the kitchen. He pulled out the coffeemaker and carefully followed the directions on the back of the coffee bag, wishing he had paid more attention the last time Natalie had made a pot.

Natalie entered, a little surprised to smell fresh brewed coffee. Her favorite brand too.

Nick approached with a cup and waited while she set her purse on the table. Shortly her jacket was slung over the chair. She immediately slipped out of her heels, enjoying the relief it provided. She happily took the mug he held out.

"Thanks," she said, noticing a second mug.

"Pure coffee," he said noticing her curiosity. "Why didn't you ever share this with me?"

"I guess I didn't think of it. You had so much trouble tolerating anything I tried to feed you, either in liquid or solid form," she wondered if she should warn him about another effect of coffee. "If you drink too much, too late in the day, it can give you problems sleeping."

"How?"

"The caffeine can keep you awake or make you toss and turn all night, or in our case, all day."

"Thanks for the warning."

Natalie noticed a small collection of snack foods on the counter, and looked in the fridge, a little surprised to see something that resembled a decent dinner. She looked at Nick with a raised eyebrow.

"I figured while I was getting some coffee, I might as well pick up dinner and snacks for you."

"Thank you. That was really sweet of you," Natalie said as she opened the smallish package of cooked shrimp. She rinsed them off before tossing them onto a plate. She had never tried shrimp and coffee, but was willing to give it a shot.

Natalie ate her dinner while they watched the movie. She only had one cup of coffee while she noticed Nick have at least two. She did not say anything. She had warned him and that was all she was going to do.

The next evening Nick reported for work. He headed straight for the coffeepot, where he saw Tracy. She gave him an odd look as he filled up a Styrofoam cup.

"What?"

"I've never seen you drink coffee before."

"I'd never tried it before last night. It's good."

Tracy took her filled mug and headed for her desk, Nick right behind her.

When her coffee had cooled enough to drink, she sipped it watching Nick do the same.

Later that night Nick stopped by the morgue to see Natalie. He also had a few reports to pick up.

"Hi, Nick," Natalie said as she handed him a mug full of coffee and protein shake. She wondered if it would make her latest concoction easier to swallow. "Don't worry, it's cool enough to drink." She'd seen the slight hesitation as he had brought the mug up to his lips.

Nick took a large sip and swallowed. "What's in it?"

"I thought maybe I could mix the coffee and protein shake. I guess not. Oh well, it was worth a try."

She took the mug from him and dumped the contents down the drain and set it in the sink.

She picked up the small present off her desk and handed it to him. He eagerly opened it, curious to see what was inside. He pulled a coffee mug free from its tissue paper nest. He noticed the colorful, yet not too bright design on the mug, reminding him of one of his paintings.

"Every coffee drinker needs his own mug," she said upon seeing his confusion.

"Thanks," Nick said with a grin.

"You're welcome," she said returning the grin. "Was there another reason you came by?"

"Yes. I need…"

"The test results for the Peterson case, right?"

"Yes."

Natalie picked up the top folder from the small pile on her desk and handed it to Nick.

"Thanks. I'll see you later," he said before leaving. He made sure he had a secure hold on the handle of his new mug as well as on the report as he headed out to the car.

Back at the precinct, Nick entered and headed for the coffee pot. He filled up his mug and headed for his desk.

Over the course of the night he had at least three cups, most of which were bought while he and Tracy were out conducting interviews and chasing down leads.

By the time they got back to the precinct Nick was more cheerful than usual, surprising Tracy.

The next evening, Nick had a couple of mugs worth of a different flavored coffee before heading out for his shift. He mixed the blood with it. It affected the taste but it was still tolerable.

Upon arriving at the precinct he filled up his mug.

Tracy still found her partner's coffee consumption amusing. She hoped she had not been this bad when she had first discovered it.

A week passed with Nick's coffee consumption growing each day. The more he drank the more cheerful he was. Tracy and Natalie found it amusing at first, then it began to get on their nerves, Tracy especially as she spent more time with him than Natalie, at least during their shift. Nick brought in a different flavored coffee for them to try each night. Sometimes he stopped o ff on the way back from an interview to try a new flavor. Sometimes he brought Nat his newest discovery when he went to see her for a report or test result.

Nick's coworkers noticed the change and were not sure what to make of it. They hoped it meant Nick would not be so intense. They knew he was drinking coffee, but were surprised to see such a reaction. Then they remembered Nick's numerous food allergies and wondered if was some sort of reaction he was having.

The next night Nick arrived at work and was quite caffeinated. On a vampire physiology it had the effect of making him rather hyper and perky. More so than on a mortal, who would have to drink double the amount Nick did to have a similar reaction.

Tracy was beginning to miss him the way he'd been. Sure, she had complained about his being too moody. She actually regretted wanting to see what it would be like if he lightened up. The more hyper and perky Nick became the more Tracy hoped she had not been like that, fearing she had been.

"Nick, why don't you see if Natalie has the Stricke test results. Okay?"

"Sure," Nick said as he finished off his mug full. He knew it would give him a chance to grab another cup or two. He loved the energy it gave him. He felt great. He wondered what flavor to try next.

Meanwhile at the Coroner's Office, Natalie turned around to find a most unexpected and unwanted visitor.

"Lacroix, what brings you here?"

"What have you done to my son?" he asked quite annoyed, trying to keep his temper under control.

"Nothing. He drank from the wrong mug. Who'd have thought he'd become addicted to coffee."

"He is not addicted. He's just showing his usual overindulgence. This happens every time he finds something new he likes."

"That's not so. I've seen him like a great number of things without becoming addicted to them."

"Is addiction the reason your kind doesn't drink coffee, tea, or similar things?"

Lacroix just glared at her. Natalie knew that was her answer. That caffeinated drinks did cause addiction. A fascinating theory that she'd have to explore at a later date. "Only to those who don't know or aren't strong enough to resist."

He turned to leave. "I want you to cut him off. No more coffee." With that he disappeared.

A few minutes later Nick entered Natalie's office. She saw the Buckstar cup in each hand and wondered which flavor it was this time. If this kept up, there would be no flavor or combination left untried.

"Hi, Nat. How are you doing?" Nick said too cheerfully.

"Okay. What brings you here?" Natalie suspected Tracy had sent him over to get rid of him for a short time.

"I thought I'd bring you some coffee. This chocolate almond is wonderful."

"Thanks. Just out of curiosity… how many cups have you had today?" She asked as she took the offered coffee.

"Three or four?"

Natalie knew Nick had to stop drinking it before he drove everyone nuts. She hated how it fell right into Lacroix's request. She hoped she could hold out on telling him he had to quit for at least a night, maybe two. Mainly out of spite to that ancient control freak.

"I need a blood sample."

"Okay," Nick said.

Natalie filled an extra test tube to make sure she had enough to work with both now and in the near future as she would not be able to get more once he had stopped drinking coffee.

Natalie had wondered what Nick would be like if he lightened up. Now she wanted the old Nick back. He was not perfect, but at least he was not so annoyingly cheerful, hyper, and, surprisingly, irritatingly perky. He seemed more like his partner every day.

Tracy showed up to claim her partner.

"We have to go. There's been a homicide."

"Can we get some coffee on the way?" Nick asked.

Tracy gave him a glare that should have scared him, but he either did not notice or did not care.

The two of them left, leaving Natalie behind to complete her paperwork. She had to admit she did feel a little sorry for Tracy. She knew Tracy was getting a dose of what she had been like when she was first paired up with Nick, and she had felt sorry for Nick then.

Nick had stopped for coffee on the way over. Tracy could not do anything to prevent it as Nick was driving.

On the way back to the precinct Tracy and Nick stopped for something quick to eat.

"No coffee, Nick!" Tracy vehemently said.

"Just one cup?"

"No. You've had enough. More than enough, actually."

Nick ignored her and ordered himself the largest size they had.

A couple hours later, Tracy entered Natalie's office.

"Nat, you have to make him stop. He's driving me nuts. He's driving everyone nuts."

"I know. Can you last one more night?"

"Natalie."

"Please."

"Okay. One more night. That's all."

"Okay."

The next night Tracy avoided Nick as much as possible. He was even more caffeineated than the night before.

Natalie entered and saw Nick at the coffeepot. She walked over to him and took the pot out of one hand, then the mug out of the other.

"Nick, we need to talk. But not here."

"Okay. Can we get some coffee while we're out?"

"We'll see," Natalie said as she led him out of the room.

Reese entered just as they were leaving. "Natalie, can I see you for a moment?"

"Sure."

Reese and Natalie walked out of hearing range, or what Reese thought was Nick's hearing range.

"Natalie, you have to get him to stop drinking coffee. It's driving me and everyone else crazy."

"That's what I was going to discuss with him."

"Great. Thanks."

Nick was back over at the coffeepot, too distracted to have eavesdropped.

"Nick, we have to talk," Natalie said as she pulled him away and escorted him out of the precinct.

They headed for the loft as Natalie wanted somewhere isolated to break the bad news to him.

Once inside, Nick headed over to the coffeepot where he was preparing to start a new pot. He was a little depressed because he had run out of new flavors to try and had to content himself with trying to figure out which one was his favorite.

"Stop. We have to talk first." Natalie led him over to the couch and sat next to him. "Nick, you have to stop drinking. You're too hyper. It's driving everyone nuts."

"Not even one cup?" Nick said, almost begging.

"Not right now. Maybe once your body has had time to detox." She noticed him start to say something and held up her hand to cut him off. "I know you detox really quickly. But this is different. I think that you need to take a couple weeks off cold turkey. Then we'll try you with just one cup a night. If you can't handle it then I'll have to cut you off completely." Natalie said. She would really miss having coffee with him, especially here. She knew it was best for him that way. She also knew the withdrawal would NOT be pleasant.

"Do you want me to stay with you?" She wasn't sure if she wanted to be around as he came down.

"No. I don't know how I'll react. I don't want to accidentally hurt you."

"Okay. Promise me that you won't consume any coffee."

"I promise."

Natalie was not sure what to believe. She knew he could do it, but would he do it? She realized she had done all she could.

Nick boxed up the coffee, filters, and coffeepot. Natalie encouraged him as he went, but was careful not to influence him. He handed her the cardboard box, which she took.

"You can do it," she said encouragingly

"Thanks for the vote of confidence."

Natalie left, taking the box with her.

She returned to the precinct to give them the good news. She saw a lot of relieved faces.

Next she returned to her office and told Grace, who was also relieved. They would miss all the coffee Nick brought, but at the same time it had become more than they could drink, and they had been forced to either share or trash it.

Nick was fine for the first hour. Then the caffeine fix started to wear off. He searched the cupboards for any instant coffee or coffee bags he might have missed. No luck. He saw Natalie's dark chocolate and knew she would stake him if he ate it.

He tried to play the piano with no luck. He turned on the television and searched all the channels. It did not help. He even tried to paint, which briefly helped.

The more the caffeine fled his system the more edgy he became. He started pacing. It got him no where.

He flew up to the window and sat on the ledge staring out at the end of the night. Soon it would be time for the shutters to activate.

He quickly grew restless and tried painting again. He was only marginally more successful this time. After he grew bored, he switched to the piano, again. This time playing worked. He just let his mood come out in the music.

Shortly after the shutters covered the windows, he began to tire. A few minutes later he was more tired than he had been in a long time. He fell asleep on the couch.

The next night he returned to work, stopping by the Coroner's Office first. Natalie noticed he was back to his normal self.

"Thank you, Nat," Nick said as he kissed her on the cheek.

"I see it worked out. Good for you!" She rewarded him with an embrace.

Nick left a few minutes later, and headed for the precinct. Once inside he headed straight for his desk.

"Are things back to normal?" Tracy asked, sensing they were.

"Yes." A small part of him had enjoyed showing Tracy what she had been like when she had been paired up with him. And how she sometimes still acted.

"Was I ever that bad?" Tracy asked, having recognized some of her own traits in him.

"Almost," Nick said.

"Thank you for putting up with me. For helping me become a better detective."

"You're welcome. But, you did most of the work. I just supplied a little guidance."

"You didn't judge me or try to protect me. You let me stand on my own, and sometimes fall flat on my face."

"You said you wanted to be your own person, so I gave you the chance. Thank you for putting up with me for the last few days."

The end

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