|On the Edge of Everything
Author: enigma731 PM
What he has not considered, what he should have seen all along, he realizes now, was Audrey's refusal to let him fight. A post-finale fic to get us through hiatus.Rated: Fiction T - English - Hurt/Comfort/Romance - Nathan W. & Audrey P. - Chapters: 3 - Words: 8,594 - Reviews: 45 - Favs: 22 - Follows: 53 - Updated: 02-20-13 - Published: 01-17-13 - id: 8918414
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
TITLE: On the Edge of Everything (2/?)
SUMMARY: What he has not considered, what he should have seen all along, he realizes now, was Audrey's refusal to let him fight. A post-finale fic to get us through hiatus.
WARNING: Season 3 finale spoilers.
NOTE: Huge thanks to scarlotti for another fabulous beta job!
The sensation of falling lasts for an inordinately long span of time. So long that Duke actually has time to wonder whether he has somehow missed his chance to follow Audrey into the Barn entirely, whether instead he might be hurtling into some paradoxical void of shimmering light. Whether jumping blindly at Nathan's command might, in fact, have been a terrible mistake.
This thought is followed immediately by the certainty that whatever he has done is a mistake, whether he ends up in the Barn or not.
It feels like being on a rollercoaster whose cars have come loose from the track, flung into freefall. He is awash in adrenaline. Instinct tells him to scream, but he can find neither voice nor breath, as if somehow he has also lost control of his body.
And then, just as suddenly, the interminable fall ends. Duke collides with something semi-soft, the force of the impact bending his knees back over his head in an insane parody of a yoga pose. Dust instantly fills the air around him, and he coughs as he untangles himself, mentally scanning for possible damage. Hands and feet, check. Legs still working, check. Vision also working, he thinks, as his eyes adjust to the murky half-light of the Barn.
He has landed in a pile of hay, Duke realizes. And his nose is evidently still working as well, because the place smells overpoweringly of horse shit.
He gets to his feet as soon as he is relatively certain that they will hold him, that the headlong rush of motion has, in fact, stopped. In the sudden absence of movement, the solidness of the ground is a shock beneath him, and Duke reaches for the nearby wall to steady himself as a wave of dizziness hits him.
He has spent the past several hours trying to picture the inside of this thing—building seems decidedly the wrong word—but has not once imagined that it might be so very mundane. The Barn, it seems, really is a barn. A creepy, mysterious, inter-time-space-whatever barn, but a barn, nonetheless. With actual interdimensional livestock inside of it, judging by the smell and the muffled shuffling of hooves somewhere off in the shadows.
"Audrey!" calls Duke, and is only marginally surprised to hear his own voice echoing back from the darkness, belying a much larger space than he can currently see. The Barn looked small enough from the outside, but he has learned better than to trust appearances in Haven.
"Audrey!" he tries again, louder. Pushing off of the wall, Duke takes a few cautious steps into the shadows which obscure the rest of the space. Another rustling of movement comes from what sounds like the far corner, and suddenly he wishes he'd had the presence of mind to hold onto his gun, realizing how very blind he is in here, realizing that Arla or Jordan or even worse could be just out of sight.
"Damn it, Audrey, where are you?" Now he's being stupid, practically asking to get attacked by giving away his position in the dark. He might even be endangering Audrey right now, if whoever else is here is holding her hostage.
Taking his cell phone from his pocket, he jabs roughly at the keypad to take it off of standby. No service, of course, but the screen still works, which means he can use it as a crude flashlight. Holding it out in front of him illuminates about one foot at a time, and he makes his way forward accordingly.
He counts out nearly a hundred yards before his knees collide with something solid, and he comes to an abrupt stop as his heart leaps into his throat. Waiting for some sort of trap to be sprung, Duke takes one breath, two.
Raising the scant light of his phone again, he realizes that the barrier in front of him is a wooden stall door. There is more hay on the other side of it, and a few feet away, a horse stands switching its tail indifferently, its eyes glowing an unsettling yellow-green as they reflect the light. There are at least three other stalls, he realizes, but still no sign of Audrey, or any of the other human occupants who ought to be here.
Another ghost of movement from the shadows is all the warning he gets before something tangles with his feet, and Duke nearly loses his balance yet again. Casting the light downward, he half expects to see spectral chains holding him in place, or even that root-creature he'd run into with Audrey what feels like eons ago. Instead, he sees the inky black form of a cat winding itself around his ankles. Its coat looks like steel wool, its body nearly skeletal, ribs standing out visibly as it rolls its head back to caress the leg of his pants, making a guttural purr which might as well be a death cry.
"What the hell do you want?" Duke asks the cat, though he lacks the conviction to make it an actual command.
He shifts his right foot slightly, and the animal disengages itself, stepping gracefully to the edge of his light before looking back over its shoulder at him. A clear invitation to follow.
"What are you supposed to be, my spirit animal guide?" He regards it uncertainly, unable to shake the feeling that this is a trap, that he must keep his wits about him in this place. And yet he is left without much choice; he needs to find Audrey, and at the moment, this is the only direction he has.
The meteor shower stops sometime during the night.
Nathan is holed up in his office, crouched over an ancient two-way radio Stan has dug out of storage. He's lost track of how much time he has spent trying to make it operational, but it refuses to do anything for him besides jump from one static-obscured frequency to another. He has no idea whether the thing is broken in the first place, or if the meteor storm has somehow rendered the connection useless. His hands seem clumsier than usual as he struggles with the brittle copper wire going into the tuner; his injured left arm must be swelling, he thinks, because his fingers won't behave correctly.
Nathan wishes paradoxically that Duke were here; knowing with an odd certainty that he would have been able to make the radio work. In the midst of this crisis, he misses Duke and Audrey on a level far more fundamental than the grief his adrenaline is keeping tenuously in check. A year ago he'd prided himself on his autonomy, had made his life on keeping the rest of the world at bay, never allowing himself to need anyone else. Only now does he realize how profoundly he has come to depend on Audrey's partnership, and even his volatile alliance with Duke. Without them now, he feels utterly incapacitated, buffeted about by the town's needs.
"Chief," says Stan, from the doorway.
Nathan looks up, startled. Dwight disappeared hours ago under the guise of attempting to restore some amount of emergency power. None of the other officers have returned to the station, and now the building feels as though it is full of ghosts, the room illuminated only by a few battery operated lanterns.
"News?" he asks, assuming there must be something to report.
"No," says Stan, the look on his face unreadable. "But listen."
Nathan puts the radio down and pauses, listening. The first thing he feels is a rush of annoyance, because there is nothing to hear. And then, a moment later, he is struck by the significance of the silence. There is nothing to hear. No screaming rush of meteors entering the atmosphere, no roaring of fresh impacts, no crashes of new destruction. He scarcely dares to breathe as he looks at his watch, willing the stillness to stretch from one minute into another, then a third.
"Almost half an hour," says Stan. "Didn't want to interrupt you until I was sure."
Standing carefully, Nathan makes his way to the nearest window, pulling up the blinds. Outside, the town is an alien landscape of ruin, visible in patches illuminated by the orange glow of half a dozen dying fires. The darkened sky looks unnaturally heavy with smoke and airborne debris, but there is no sign of meteors or anything else breaking through it. Another glance at his watch tells him that hours have passed since he and Dwight made their pass through the town, and suddenly he cannot bear to be still any longer.
"Stay here," says Nathan, letting the blinds drop back into place and making his way toward the door without waiting for Stan to answer.
Nathan pauses, turning back over his shoulder.
"Where are you going?"
It isn't fair to Stan, Nathan realizes, leaving him here yet again to simply wait out whatever is about to happen. Stan has a wife of his own, and he must be worried, must want to get out of here and see whether anything of his home is still standing, now that the meteors have stopped. Yet he has not mounted any sort of protest, has been stolid and patient as ever.
Truthfully, Nathan has no idea whether he ought to feel relieved or unnerved by the sudden quiet outside. They have no way to know whether the meteors have really stopped, or why they have, if it's actually the case. Chaos could break loose again at any moment, meteors or worse. And yet all he can think is that something must have happened. Something in the Barn. Something to do with Audrey. He needs to be in motion, in search of any kind of clue, no matter how futile.
"Survey the damage," says Nathan, because he doesn't think he'd be able to verbalize the truth even if he was willing to tell Stan. "People can't call in. Have to be on the lookout for emergencies ourselves."
"On foot?" asks Stan incredulously.
"If I find anyone out in a patrol car, I'll send them this way." It's an evasion, but it seems to serve its purpose, because Stan says nothing further. It's another testament to his loyalty, his willingness to sacrifice his own personal concerns. Nathan makes a mental note to find some way of thanking him later.
Outside, the air is so thick with smoke that the smell alone seems to catch in his throat. There is no sign of Dwight, or anyone else for that matter, and he wonders whether he ought to simply start going door to door looking for anyone who might be hurt or trapped, whether he ought to start yelling to anyone who might be able to hear. But the idea of discovering just how devastating this disaster has been is utterly overwhelming; he is afraid that if he were to call out now, he would be answered by hundreds of desperate pleas for help, far more than he could ever hope to manage. He is in no position to dig anyone out of the rubble, he thinks, looking at his left hand again in the darkness. He attempts to curl it into a fist, and realizes that his fingers will only bend about half an inch. It ought to be alarming, but in the face of everything else, it is simply another fact, another complication. In the years since his affliction returned, Nathan has learned to separate his body from his emotions, view it as simply another tool for getting the job done, like his gun or his truck.
He tells himself that his first order of business ought to be finding the other officers, determining whether any of the missing patrol cars are still operational. He needs to organize his people if they are to mount any sort of large-scale rescue operation.
He ought to be working toward the center of the town, but instead finds himself drawn out in the direction of the Gull. Somehow it feels as though the answers might be there, or at least some measure of solace in the midst of the broken town; if he's honest with himself, the Gull has begun to feel more like a home than any place he has actually lived.
Another hour has slipped away by the time he makes it to the familiar road leading up to the deck, and the faint blue glow of the coming dawn is starting to bleed through the curtain of smoke on the horizon. It seems almost surreal, that the sun will rise again, that the world has not ceased to turn. For a while, during the night, Nathan realizes that he'd begun to hope for the end of everything.
The silhouette of the Gull stands skeletal against the backlit clouds of smoke, jagged and ruined. The dawn grows lighter, stretching into day as he draws closer. In the pale light, he can see the meteor which has done the damage, resting atop the remains of what once was Duke's bar. It is smaller than some of the others, but still large enough to have flattened the building. The fire which accompanied it into the atmosphere has long since gone out, but the cooled ashes still give testament to its presence here. Kneeling in the wreckage, Nathan recognizes the broken shell of Audrey's piano, the fire-eaten upholstery of her couch. The fragments of her things, blackened and scattered here amongst the stray table legs, the gleaming shards of a hundred shattered wine glasses.
Something inside of him breaks; he's been building a desperate wall of rationality around his true emotions, clinging to Dwight's insistence that the town's needs must come first. Now he finds himself overwhelmed by a rush of anger at the injustice of it all, at his own inability to do anything that might actually matter. A serving dish rests in the debris a few inches away, and Nathan seizes it with his good hand, throwing it at the meteor and watching it explode into a hundred fresh shards. He repeats the motion with two more dishes and a still-full bottle of beer before he sees the picture frame.
His hand shakes badly as he lifts it into the light, carefully blowing away a thin layer of ash. The glass is marred by a long, snaking crack down its length, but he can still make out the image of himself, Audrey, and Duke, seated at the bar and smiling as if they had already jointly conquered the world. He looks at it for a long moment, drawing in the ache of nostalgia.
Nathan sets it carefully to one side as it occurs to him that no one else is going to save Audrey's things if he does not do it, and suddenly this task seems more crucial than anything else. She is going to need these pieces of her life if she does, by some miracle, come back to Haven in twenty seven years. He digs into the pile of debris faster and faster, heedless of the glass that bites into his hands even as he sees the wet rivulets of his own blood.
Overhead, big, bloated raindrops begin to fall, raising tiny clouds of ash as they make their first impacts. The water is cloudy and gray with the smoke, as if the sky is shedding tears of its own.
Nathan digs until everything is saturated with the rain, a sodden mess of muddy ash and splintered wood. He's built a pile of stained clothing over the picture frame, found Audrey's old FBI badge, and a couple of her dog-eared vampire novels, soaked through in the downpour. He's nearly exhausted enough to give up when the glint of polished metal catches his eye, and he plunges his good hand into the rubble one last time.
Immediately he recognizes the chain and pendant, turning it over in his palm to run his thumb reflexively over the initials LR. But there is something else tangled up in the chain now too, attached to it for safekeeping. He rolls the thin gold band of the ring between his thumb and forefinger, realization hitting him hard as he catches sight of the three pale stones, cut into the shape of diamonds. Instinctively his hand goes to the chain around his own neck, cupping both rings together in his palm, like echoes frozen in time.
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