A/N As I've previously stated, I own nothing of Monk, except my wish they had ended it with Monk and Natalie working their way towards each other. I believe there is no one else that could understand the other like they understood each other! (Post-End A/N Shipper Story)

Adrian Monk left Dr. Bell's office feeling disheveled and anxious. Wasn't Dr. Bell supposed to make him feel calm and …sheveled? He shook his head at his own ridiculous thoughts and walked to the bench in the park where he'd agreed to meet Molly. They were having a quick lunch at the Park Cafe before he had a meeting at the police station regarding his upcoming testimony in the trial of a case he'd helped close, and she had to get back to her desk at the paper. He loved that he got to see her regularly. Trudy would be so proud of her. Was proud of her, he knew in his heart. Adrian would have been her step-father if life had been different. As it was, he felt the same pride that he would have felt, whether or not it was his right to feel it. The same pride he'd felt for Julie Teeger and her many accomplishments all these years.

He missed Julie; she was away on a semester abroad in Paris. He missed her teasing and her laughter. He missed her smile and her messy tornadic blowing through Natalie's house when she came home for a visit from Berkeley. It made him so deeply pleased that she'd ventured off on her own. Scared and proud. He hadn't realized until relatively recently that he did actually yearn to be a father. A dad. A daddy. Particularly to a little girl. In his own way, he'd loved Benjy, Julie, and now Molly the way a father would, looking out for them, doling out advice when called for, and he knew that the three of them loved and respected him greatly. But "almost parenthood" wasn't the same as being the flesh and blood parent of another human.

In his near-death experiences when he saw Trudy, his visions almost always had that same conversation they'd often had in life. The one that revolved around them being childless, and in those visions, sometimes a little girl with curly black hair would pop into the vision or the dream or the fantasy - whatever it was, and Adrian's heart would pound with want and longing. Even when he'd been dying from the poison that had led him to solve Trudy's murder, the little girl had been there coloring his life's regrets and the dreams he hadn't fulfilled. At first, when he thought back on those few days, he believed that the vision was Molly as a little girl, then he realized it wasn't. She'd looked nothing like Molly—even the pictures he'd seen from her early childhood. This vision was a whole new person. She did look familiar, but Adrian was sure it was just his mind playing tricks on him.

As he now watched some small children fling sand at one another in the nearby sandbox, he tilted his head to his shoulder. Other children whirled on a merry go round, he was sure they would "v" eventually, and he watched, and he wondered. Could he create one of those little beings? Care for it? Love it? He thought about his experience with Tommy Grazer, and the old feeling of love welled inside of him, right next to the feelings of inadequacy and fear. Obviously, he physically could create one, although he'd need an exceptional partner for that particular adventure.

He'd finally gotten the nerve to discuss it with Dr. Bell today, and this is why he was overcome with anxiety. What Dr. Bell had forced him to confront was more than he'd wanted to look at today or maybe ever. Dr. Neven-The-Palindrome-Story-For-Every-Occasion-Bell had forced him to admit his feelings. His unsorted, uncategorized, raw, and complex emotions. He'd finally moved on with his life. He'd had two good years since closing Trudy's case and meeting Molly. He was making great strides in his recovery of the person he'd been before Trudy's murder… then Dr. Bell just had to probe him as if he were some alien scientist descended from space. Adrian was surprised he didn't have shiny probes to physically use on him beyond the terrifying words. Word. Just one word. Love. No. Two words. Love and Natalie.

His feelings for Natalie had been an itch, an ache, an imaginative pining for a while. A long while. For the most part, he just couldn't wrap his mind around how on Earth he had fallen in love again. He was aware that callow young men fell in and out of love frequently. Indiscriminately giving their hearts and bodies to a variety of women. His first college roommate had been the sort with a new "one and only" every three months or so. He did not imagine himself to be the kind of man who could give himself like that more than once in a lifetime. Wanting to give himself like that more than the one time. Until it happened. Getting beyond the anguish of Trudy's murder and closing the case was one thing, but falling in love was a whole other thing. He had believed himself to be a one-woman man. He had poured his entire being into loving one person for so long that he couldn't see outside of that corner he'd painted himself into. Until one day, the metaphoric paint dried, and he looked at Natalie in just the right way, in just the right moment, and his heart hit his throat and then his stomach, and he realized without any doubt that for just the second time in his life he'd fallen in love. He was finally able to leave his unpainted corner, and he longed to start his life with a new color, one that was bright and exciting. He finally knew what he wanted, but he also knew it would be impossible for someone like Natalie Teeger, bold, brave, effervescent Natalie Teeger, to want him in return. Wasn't it? Now he was often preoccupied with thoughts of Natalie—not as his assistant, not as a friend, not even as a female friend, but as a woman, a desirable, beautiful woman. It was exciting, mortifying, and unnerving all at once.

He needed a new train of thought before Molly caught him thinking those thoughts again. She'd almost gotten him to admit it the last time they'd had dinner, and he really didn't feel like having that conversation over a short lunch. She had noted his facial expression and the fact that he was kind of "spacing out," as she put it. A thing he seldom did. She rooted in his psyche until he was very uncomfortable and finally actually got angry with her—another thing he never did. But, he knew she knew something was up. Something new and different. Women had intuition. And they used it. Frequently. On him. Trudy had done it. His mother had done it. Trudy's mother, Marcia, had done it. Marge Johnson did it. Sharona did it. TK did it. Natalie definitely did it—all the time! Even Julie did it. And now Molly did it too. He scrubbed his hands over his face; he wasn't going to be able to continue to hide his feelings. Not with that many intuitive people around him—and Leland! Oh, he forgot about Leland's probing questions and sly remarks over the years. They hadn't meant anything to Adrian until he realized exactly what he was feeling himself. Then every oblique remark and insinuation came tumbling back into his mind—in order. Clearly, his feelings were there before he even recognized them, but Leland had sensed it. Had Natalie? How embarrassing. He felt like a middle-schooler with a crush. Was this Sherry Judd all over again?

Suddenly there was a movement to his left, and Leland sat beside him. "Hey, Monk."

"Leland?" Monk hated unexpected changes of plans. A sense of foreboding covered him in goose flesh. Another thing he detested, the flesh of other creatures—even humans—except one. "Where's Molly?"

"She's fine. She's with Natalie."

Now dread added itself to the foreboding. "Where's Natalie, Leland?"

"She's at the hospital with her folks, Monk."

Adrian shot to his feet in a flurry of words, "Is she okay? I need to go. I have to see her."

Leland grabbed his jacket and pulled him back before he ran off helter-skelter. "That's why I'm here, Molly sent me. Natalie's fine. Her parents were driving to their club for a round of golf. Her father had a heart attack, and the car crashed. So, on top of the heart attack, there were some injuries. A few are very severe. "

"Okay. Let's go. You can tell me the rest on the way."


They stopped at Monk's apartment, and Leland had never seen him move so quickly. Then they went to Natalie's house, and he moved pretty quickly there too. Monk knew this wasn't just for the afternoon. This would require a long-term visit, so he packed a lot for them both, steeling his nerves as he got to Natalie's unmentionables. Although he did take a moment to run his fingers over the soft, elegant, alluring laces and silks, the more chaste, yet still inviting, butter-soft cottons and imagined Natalie wearing them. He stopped what he thought was weird voyeurism and chastised himself. In his inexperience, Adrian didn't realize that it was perfectly harmless, perfectly normal fantasizing. He packed what he deemed would be enough for a week and left Natalie's bedroom.

On the ride to Monterey, Monk was lost in thought. Despite Natalie's sometimes fractious relationship with Bobby and Peggy Davenport, he knew she loved them deep down. Losing one or both of them like this would devastate her. He listened to Leland tell him that Molly had been at her desk when Natalie called, knowing Adrian was unreachable in a session with Dr. Bell, and Molly was meeting him afterward. Molly couldn't let Natalie be by herself for that long, so she called Leland and sped down there. Since Julie was in France, Molly was as close to a child as either of them had at that moment. Leland continued, "Molly said Natalie didn't sound good, and all she wanted was you."

Adrian looked up with surprise, "Me?"

"Yes, you… you dope."

"Why would she want me?"

"Because she loves you and needs your support."

"Sh-she loves me?"

"I would have thought with all of the brain cells in your head you'd have figured it out by now, but clearly you need it spelled out for you. Natalie Teeger loves you. And not just as a friend, Monk. She has been in love with you at least since I pretended to kill you back with the whole Sheriff Rollins crap. I knew it then." He paused for a head shake. "I've almost told you outright half-a-dozen times, but I figured it wasn't my place. But that woman…. That beautiful woman is a saint. And she needs you right now. Probably more than anyone has ever needed you. So you'd better stand up for her. This will be traumatic and agonizing for her - especially if one or both of them die. You have to put yourself second for a change, Monk. Natalie has to be your only concern. Not germs or fear of whatever may be your phobia of the moment. I'm telling you this because I think you love her too, and I don't want to see you lose her because you couldn't be the man she needs you to be. I know you can be that man. You have to be her strength right now. You have to be her rock—like she's always been for you."

That was a very long speech for the usually taciturn Stottlemeyer. Monk swallowed the lump in his throat. Not certain which item on that impossibly long list of new ideas he needed to respond to first. "She loves me? Are you sure?"

"To put it in terms even you can understand, about ninety-nine point nine percent."

"That's pretty sure." Monk looked astonished. Leland smirked at him from the driver's seat. "She needs me?"

"She does. She really does."

"I love her, Leland," Monk choked out the admission. "I'll do whatever it takes to help her. I swear." Leland nodded as he concentrated on the road. Inwardly, he was cheering. Inwardly, Adrian was freaking out in advance over the hospital, the germs, Natalie's tears, the possible death of Bobby or Peggy or both, Julie's tears, the overall fear of the unknown. So he figured he'd get a head start and get the freak-out well out of the way so he could do what Leland said—stand up. Be the man Natalie needed. Be the strong one.

The drive flashed by in a blur of trees, introspection, and deliberation. All Adrian wanted was to let Natalie know he was there for her without necessarily dragging the "L" word into the equation at this point. He thought it through, and over and back, and decided this wasn't the best time to discuss his emotions. It was more the time to focus outward, on others, and not on his issues and feelings, no less trying to figure out what Natalie's feelings might or might not be. That was tremendous progress for Adrian Monk, even he knew it. He was prone to blurt things out haphazardly when he had a lot on his mind, or something came bubbling to the surface, and he didn't know how to control the emotions. Today, it was necessary to concentrate only on Natalie and her parents. He'd made up his mind how it would go, and he would stick to his plan.

They left the car in a spot designated for police, and Leland threw his placard in the windshield, almost daring anyone to say he was out of his jurisdiction. They inquired after the Davenports at the front desk and were directed to the surgical floor. That didn't make either man feel any better—it had been several hours since the accident, and they still hadn't left the surgical floor. Adrian and Leland looked at each other with worried expressions in the elevator's mirrored wall as Leland pushed the button. All usual thoughts of "elevator deathtrap" were gone from Adrian's head as he wanted to get to Natalie as quickly as possible. The only thing his mind was chanting was, "Natalie," over and over again. After an eternity or possibly just a minute, the elevator doors opened, and they searched for the waiting area. A nurse pointed as Adrian glimpsed Molly carrying two cups of coffee in the direction they were headed.

"Molly!" She turned at the sound of Adrian's voice.

"Oh, thank God you're here! Natalie is …well, I've never seen her like this. She's coming undone." She tossed her head for them to follow her, and she walked away.

"See! Like when you were poisoned two years ago," Leland said in an undertone as he elbowed Adrian in the ribs as they began to walk. "She only gets like this when people she loves are sick, dying, in danger, or dead."

"Shhh!" Adrian hissed.

Adrian was not prepared for what he found in the waiting room. Natalie's brilliant green eyes were dull. Full of the pain that only fear could instill. Her skin was ashen, and she was sitting hunched into herself, not in her usual casual and relaxed manner. It was disconcerting in a mere sixteen hours since he'd last laid eyes on her, she was an entirely different person.

Molly said, "Natalie?" and tried to hand her the coffee she was holding out.

She didn't respond. So Adrian tried. "Natalie, I'm here," in his gentle baritone.

Her eyes flew to his face. He tentatively held out his arms as he would have expected her to do for him, and she stood quickly and launched herself into them. "I knew you'd come. Thank goodness you're here." She pressed herself to him. He held her tightly, allowing her curves to fit to his body as if she was half of who he was to begin with. As he expected and had prepared himself for, a fresh onslaught of tears followed. He held her even more tightly and murmured words to her that he would never recall, despite his astounding memory. Words of comfort, words of support, words of solace. A collection of noises that really meant nothing but were soothing to Natalie's battered psyche. He held onto her and walked her back to the couch where she'd been sitting when they walked in. Leland smiled and nodded his head at Adrian over Natalie's head, as did Molly.

"What are the doctors saying, Natalie," Adrian asked when at last her sobbing had subsided. She reached for a tissue and her coffee. He bravely ignored his dampened shirt and just held on to her, lending her his warmth and strength.

She sniffed and replied, "All the two doctors can say is it is touch and go for each of them. It might be hours before we know anything."

Leland asked, "What was the surgical plan for each of them?"

She swallowed hard. "So far, my father has had a coronary angioplasty … it's a procedure used to widen narrowed coronary arteries." Both men nodded at her. "The angioplasty part means they used a balloon to stretch open a narrowed artery. They placed a stent afterward. He also has a head injury. They're performing a craniotomy to relieve the pressure on his brain, which is swollen. As for my mother, she had a ruptured spleen, one kidney was bruised, she also had serious head trauma. She was immediately put on a ventilator when she arrived, even before the splenectomy." Natalie collapsed against Adrian after the recitation.

"What about Jonathan and Julie?" Leland asked.

"Jonathan is in Malaysia. Some deal with a new tube manufacturer for a new toothpaste." Adrian nodded seriously. Toothpaste was the family business; it was pretty serious. Bobby would want Jonathan to close his deal. "Julie had an exam today. Now she's probably asleep. I will call later when it's morning there. I set a reminder on my phone."

"I'll remind you, too," Adrian murmured.

"Thank you." She gave him the first smile she'd had on her face in hours.

"Tell me what else I can do for you, Natalie. Please, let me do something."

She laid a hand on the arm that was wrapped carefully around her. "This. This is it. Don't leave me."

"I hadn't planned on it. I went to our houses and packed enough for at least a week for both of us."

She craned her neck to look up at him with bewildered wonder. "You did?"

"I did," he said with a bit of pride in his ability to do something she didn't even know she needed. Something she didn't think he could even do.

"Thank you," she whispered, her eyes welling with fresh tears.

"No, Natalie, don't. Save the tears for the important things. I'm here for you. Just like you've spent the last eight years being there for me every single day." That just made the tears trickle faster.

She leaned further into him and tucked herself under his chin and further into his heart. It felt so natural to hold her and comfort her, even though it was a complete one-eighty from just the day before when she had quieted his nerves about the upcoming trial in which he had to testify as a primary witness. Had that been less than twenty-four hours ago? Yes. They had made a simple dinner together, as they often did these days. With both of them alone now, they preferred to eat together. It kept loneliness and the thoughts that accompanied loneliness at bay. They spent most of every day together. Except for nights, and that was when he missed the company, her specific company most, he understood. They really did need each other, he realized. They made each other whole. Could Leland be right? Could she love him? When he looked down, he saw that Natalie had fallen asleep against his chest, and he was exhilarated by the fact that he made her feel safe enough to relax a little so she could rest. He had a feeling she would need it.


Roughly an hour and a half later, a doctor walked towards Adrian and Natalie. Leland was facing the windows on the telephone with TK, and Molly had left to drive back to San Francisco and her work responsibilities only after making Adrian promise to call her regularly and ask for her help if he needed it. Adrian was sitting comfortably with Natalie's head pillowed on his lap. He'd eased her down earlier and shed his jacket to place it over her like a blanket. He was reading a magazine and stroking her hair absently.

"Davenport family?" Asked the doctor.

"Yes, that's us, well that's her," Adrian replied. He shook Natalie's shoulder and whispered in her ear, "Natalie, sweetheart, can you get up? A doctor is here." The endearment slipped out but went unnoticed by both of them.

Natalie, woken with such care, forgot for one glorious second where she was, and all she knew was she was warm and surrounded by the scent of… Adrian Monk. She woke quickly and realized her head was in his lap, and she was covered by his jacket. She'd have to focus on those facts later. Now she had to pay attention to the grim facts of her parents' situation.

For twenty minutes, the doctor, Dr. Walsh, detailed her father's condition and outlined a treatment plan.

Adrian fearfully asked, "Can you bottom line this for her? What is Mr. Davenport's prognosis?" Natalie smiled up at him with relief, took his hand, and squeezed it in a silent thank you.

The doctor sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, "Honestly, we just don't know, Mr. Monk, Ms. Teeger. Only time will tell. We need the brain swelling to recede. We'll know more in 48 hours or so. Please try to hang in there."

They nodded as the obviously exhausted doctor turned to leave. Over his shoulder, he said, "Don't give up hope."

"Funny thing, that word 'hope.'" Natalie said sadly to Adrian. "You've always said that, and I've never believed you."

Adrian turned to look at her and said, "No, Natalie, I was wrong. Terribly wrong about that. You were right all along. Look at all of the hope and joy you've given me. You were right to feel that way all the time! You've filled me with hope, and I'm so much better for it. Now's the time you need to keep hope in your heart." Natalie looked at him with surprise, her eyes swimming with the tears of the day and also with the words he'd just said to her. They did fill her with a different kind of hope despite the situation. She leaned in and hugged him then.

"Thank you, Adrian," she murmured against his shoulder.

"You're welcome, Natalie. Always." Meaning she was welcome for more than just the words. He wanted her nestled in his arms forever as he felt her warmth against his chest. A few minutes later, he said, "I'm going to get you something to eat. You have to keep up your strength." She simply disengaged from him and nodded her assent. "I'll be right back. I promise."

True to his word, he practically ran to the hospital cafeteria, gathered two bottles of water, a very red apple for himself, and a container of yogurt with fruit on the bottom, peach, her favorite. Something light and easy to eat, no heavy sandwiches or big meals right now. He remembered how difficult it was to swallow—after Trudy. He mentally blocked the thought out of his head and returned to the present and to Natalie. She smiled softly when she saw what he'd brought her.

"Thank you, Adrian. This is great. Just what I need right now." He was pleased with himself for choosing correctly and meeting her unspoken wishes with his own knowledge of her needs and likes. It made him feel powerful. It made him feel like the man he wanted to be for her. It also made him happy that he was able to make her smile, if just a little. They ate silently except for the crunch of Adrian's apple and the snick of Natalie's plastic spoon on the yogurt cup.

As they finished tidying their space and throwing away their trash, another doctor entered quietly. "Ms. Teeger?"

"Yes." She answered.

"I'm Doctor Seton, your mother's surgeon." He stuck out his hand, and Natalie shook it automatically, robotically.

"Natalie, may I call you Natalie?'


"Natalie, we've done everything we can for your mom. She coded twice on the operating table, we got her back, but she is in a very fragile state right now. Her prognosis is about 40/60."

"In which direction?" Adrian asked as Natalie sagged against him, and he put an arm around her shoulders. Not being a gambler and not in the state of mind to realize convention should have told him the positive number should be first and the negative number second.

"Forty for, sixty against," the doctor said somberly.

Adrian pulled Natalie closer as she began to weep silently. "Thank you, Dr. Seton." Adrian led Natalie to sit again. The doctor continued, "I recommend the two of you go home and get some rest. Nothing is going to happen for the rest of the day. They are both heavily sedated, and there is no possibility that either one of your parents will wake up tonight. But when they do, you're going to need to be strong and alert. You need to rest now, Natalie. So get a good night's sleep. I will prescribe something for you if you think it will help."

Adrian and Natalie said in unison, "No pills, thanks." Adrian smiled a little and squeezed her shoulders. They were similar in that respect. Eschewing chemicals to make the world okay. In fact, he didn't think he'd ever seen her take anything stronger than acetaminophen or ibuprofen. And, of course, her "adult tic tacs." The memory made him smile a little. She leaned in a little closer to him at that moment. Finally, the doctor left them alone.

"You think you're ready to go to your parents' house?"

"I guess. It will be weird without my mother running things."

"Well, now's your chance to be in charge and to do it your way." He raised a hand to her hair and stroked it gently.

She nodded her head in rueful agreement. Her mother did rule with an overbearing attitude, although on the whole, the staff respected her parents, she knew. He kept an arm around her, trying to be her rock. Her partner. They walked to her car. When they got there, she took note of the luggage in the back. Leland had graciously transferred the bags before leaving them earlier in the day. "You really packed for both of us?"



"With all the courage I had." He winced a little but then smiled bashfully at her.

She laughed delightedly, looking forward to seeing what was in her suitcase. She had her emergency "go bag" in the car, just in case. Natalie was nothing if not prepared. He looked at her, happy when he heard her tinkling laugh. It filled him with warmth and the hope that she might be able to get through this with little emotional damage. He grasped her hand—the one holding the car keys and asked, "May I drive?"

"If you want to, that would be great. Do you remember the way… well, that's a dumb question, of course, you do. You're better than my GPS." Her eyes, although tired and red, had regained a tiny bit of their usual sparkle. His heart jumped a little.

"I won't let you down."

"You never do," she responded and laid her hand on his cheek momentarily before turning towards the passenger seat of her own car. They drove the short distance in silence, Adrian concentrating on the road. Although he'd been driving again for a while with Natalie by his side, this was quite different. His co-pilot was lost in thought. When he stopped at a stop sign, he glanced over at her; her face was expressionless, a rare and scary sight. The animation and life that usually colored Natalie's beautiful face were missing, and it was devastating to see.

They pulled into the sweeping driveway, and Jonas, the chauffeur, was there to help them with the car, and Manny, the majordomo, was there to supervise their bags being taken… somewhere in the vast depths of the house by one of the other members of the staff. Natalie graciously thanked both men and walked with Adrian up the front steps to the imposing doors of the stone mansion. Adrian often visited the stately home with Natalie. Still, for some reason, he was never able to reconcile the sensible, funny, compassionate woman he knew with a person who had been raised in this kind of wealth and privilege. He guided her with a hand that hovered near the small of her back, and the door flew open. Penelope, the head housekeeper, was there awaiting them. She looked as though she'd been crying most of the day as well. Peggy may have been a demanding woman, but she did inspire loyalty. The Davenports paid and treated their staff well. They were hired and simply—well, stayed, seemingly forever. Penelope had been with the Davenports for most of Natalie's life; she'd begun as kitchen staff and worked all the way up to the position of head of housekeeping. Now, she took one look at Natalie, and all Penelope saw was the little girl she used to babysit and held out her arms. Natalie went into them willingly, gratefully. Sobbing ensued. Monk hadn't been ready for Penny's tears. He stood silently, awkwardly, while the women had their cry right there in the foyer.

"Miss Natalie," Penny said, sniffing her tears away, "What are we going to do?"

"Well, Pen, we're going to do what we always do in this house. We're going to soldier on." Natalie visibly got herself together and squared her shoulders. Monk smiled inwardly. She sounded just like Peggy. A gentler, quieter version, of course.

They entered the house and settled in the living room. The rest of the staff gathered around Natalie, and by extension, Monk. He squirmed at the size of the crowd but held his discomfort inside except for a slight shrug of his shoulders and involuntarily moved closer to Natalie. He listened as Natalie explained to the staff exactly what was happening and asked that they get two rooms ready for them. A few looks passed amongst the assembled people—looks Monk couldn't interpret and that Natalie didn't see, but he'd think more about later.

"Already taken care of, Miss. We put you in the green room and Mr. Monk in the blue room next door," Manny said quickly.

"Thank you, Manny," Natalie smiled.

"Dinner will be ready in half an hour if you want to freshen up or have a drink," he smiled kindly at them. He was used to the Davenports dressing for dinner and before-dinner cocktails. He didn't realize this wouldn't be the norm with Natalie in charge.

"If it's alright, we'll eat in the breakfast room. We're just going to be casual tonight."

"Whatever you wish, Miss Natalie!" He nodded at someone, and presumably that staff member scurried to the dining room to unset the formal table and set the more casual breakfast room table.

This was unfamiliar territory for Adrian Monk. Yes, Natalie helped him daily, so he had "staff," but he primarily cooked for himself, he and Natalie sometimes cooked together, and of course, he cleaned for himself. This modern-day fairy tale that she had grown up in was beyond his understanding, but somehow he was now swept up in it too. To have this many people waiting on him, around him at all times, was definitely going to be an adjustment. And what exactly were the looks that passed between the staff at the mention of two rooms? Of course, they would need two rooms. What did these people think was going on between him and Natalie? Did they all have intuition also? Adrian followed Natalie up the stairs to the guest wing, and she turned to face him when they reached the right doors.

"Knock when you're ready to go back down, okay?"

"Yes. Sure. Natalie?"

She turned back to him expectantly, "Yes?"

He hesitated. "Nothing. I'll see you in a few minutes." A smile flitted across his face, and he entered the stillness of the blue room. Elegantly appointed but homey at the same time. The sheets were pristine, thousand-thread count cotton, if he wasn't mistaken. The towels were fluffy and blindingly white. The adjoining bathroom was as clean as his at home, he saw as he inspected every inch. He also saw his bags had been unpacked for him. That made him slightly uncomfortable, but he'd deal. He had no choice.

He quickly showered and changed into a pair of jeans and a sweater. He'd adopted more casual wear in the last twelve months or so, allowing both Julie and Natalie to take over his wardrobe shopping at times. The brick-red sweater he was wearing now was Natalie's favorite of his newer clothes. She said it made his eyes look more lively, and his skin against it was perfect. He added more casual shoes to the outfit instead of the dress shoes he wore for work. He was as ready as he would ever be.

He exited his room and knocked softly on her door. "Come in." He heard her say from within. He opened the door, and she was wearing the soft fleecy sweatpants he liked, the scoop-necked long-sleeved t-shirt in green—his favorite—that matched her eyes, and a pair of sneakers. All of which he'd packed.

Catching his satisfied expression, she said, "What you packed was perfect—you know me so well! I wanted extra comfy clothes right now. You did really well with the packing, Mr. Monk. I'm impressed."

"Considering I've now packed your toiletries, undergarments, and other personal things, can we please dispense with the 'Mr. Monk,' once and for all. Please just use my first name all the time. You used it at the hospital, and it just felt natural."

Again, Natalie nodded, just too overcome with emotions she couldn't —or wouldn't dare—name or speak. So instead, she crossed to him and just hugged him. Her hair was damp too, and he breathed in the scent of her shampoo, a vanilla bean that always reminded him of birthday cake. He slid his hands over her back and then reached for her hand.

"Let's go," he tugged at her hand gently.



Dinner, while not silent, was punctuated by long stretches of silence. They spoke about Adrian's upcoming testimony that he'd now go over via phone with the DA. He told her he wouldn't leave her for a meeting like that. Once again, she put her hand over his with deep gratitude. She told him she would call Jonathan and Julie after dinner. So at eight o'clock, she placed the call to Jonathan in Malaysia. It was noon there. Her brother was packing before she could finish her first few sentences. He would be home as soon as the company plane could carry him. The deal had gone smoothly, and their father would be thrilled when he woke up, Jonathan said adamantly, not if he woke. When. Jonathan emphasized that point several times. It was a seventeen-hour flight, so they probably wouldn't see him until the day after tomorrow. Nine o'clock came and went; they settled in the media room for some television and dessert. Each had a big bowl of ice cream set in front of them that neither would ever finish. Natalie had vanilla fudge swirl and Adrian coffee.

Natalie would never guess how Penelope managed to have all the things they each liked and needed stocked in the pantry and refrigerator by the time they got there. She was just that good at her job. Having noted Adrian's favorite brands on their many other visits, Penelope had laid in a supply of Sierra Springs and other delightful surprises. She knew about his preferences for breakfast. He'd be coddled here, Natalie thought with happiness. He deserved a little coddling; he was being so good to her. So strong. They sampled each other's ice cream and pronounced them both yummy. After bringing their dirty dishes to the kitchen and being admonished for it by the staff there, they retreated to Natalie's room to wait out the time difference. At ten o'clock, Natalie called Julie. It was seven in the morning Paris time.

As Adrian had predicted, Julie burst into tears. He took over the conversation when Natalie herself faltered. This was why Adrian was here, after all, to shoulder the things that were too difficult for Natalie to bear. He took the phone, and as delicately as he could, he calmed Julie to the point that all he heard was sniffles. Some from thousands of miles away and some from right next to him. He reached for Natalie and put an arm around her as he spoke softly into the phone. His tender baritone voice explained the details of both Bobby and Peggy's conditions and what would happen from here. "Your mother and I don't think you should leave Paris yet, Julie. Let's wait until later on tomorrow to see how things are progressing." He stopped talking to listen to a torrent of arguments from this young woman he loved, who he knew was in as much pain as her mother. Except she was alone. This broke his heart more than a little.

"Julie, I promise you, we will call you no matter what time it is if anything changes. Otherwise, we will call you first thing again tomorrow. So try to stay hopeful…" he stopped to listen again.

"Of course, you can call anytime. We're staying at your grandparents' house, so we're close to the hospital. We both have our cell phones. Yes, and the chargers. We're going to get some sleep now. Go to class, do your internship. Be positive. We'll talk more later." He was handling her well like her father would have, Natalie thought.

"Yes, we love you too. Both of us. Yes. Of course. Bye."

"Adrian!" Natalie said dramatically.

"What?" His eyebrows flew up, and he grew concerned that he had done the wrong thing. Even though the conversation had been much as they'd discussed at dinner. Except that it had been Natalie who was going to do the talking.

"You. You were so wonderful with Julie. So calm, kind, gentle. So fatherly. Thank you."

"Oh, Natalie. Thank you. Thank you for allowing me to help you. Allowing me to be here for you as you have done for me for so long."

Natalie simply sighed and leaned in closer to him. He relaxed in her nearness in a way he hadn't been comfortable about someone being close to him physically in almost a decade and a half. Natalie was already close to him mentally. Closer he believed than anyone, ever. Adrian knew he shouldn't compare them, the situations were vastly different, but Trudy had kept secrets from him, Natalie never had. She told him everything in the way that best friends often do, and he reciprocated. He knew her deepest secret - the one about Mitch, plus a few other things she'd told him over the years. Also, her worries over being a bad mother popped up occasionally, and she shared those. Of course, he'd told her about his terrible childhood, his bad birthdays, and she'd tried everything in her power to give him happy memories that, if they couldn't fix the past, then replaced the bad memories with good ones. She had done those kinds of things for him time and again until even he had lost count of the good things Natalie had done for him. Maybe this was the time for them after all.

Natalie turned her face up to his then, and she kissed him. Her lips were on his. Not a peck, but also not a seduction. "Adrian. You are so amazing sometimes. I don't think you even realize how strong and wonderful you are when I really need you. When I am helpless, you are capable. When I am weak, you are powerful. When I am scared, you are soothing and confident. I needed you so much today, and there you were." She paused for a moment and took a deep breath. "I love you, Adrian. Not as in 'you're my best friend,' which you definitely are, but as in I'm in love with you, and I have been for quite a long time." She looked him in the eye nervously but with the love that had always been in her heart. This could destroy everything, or it could become everything.

Adrian was shattered and rebuilt in a split second. All of his wishes and all of his heart's deepest desires would come true if he could simply respond to her words. Instead, he froze momentarily, his shyness and his normal fear making him unsure. But the day's bravery and emotional strength were still with him. He moved a hand up to caress her cheek. "Natalie, I love you, too."

She smiled despite the pain and anguish of the day and placed her hands on his chest. A stream of heat ran through him and a river of love. He captured her chin and raised her face an inch or two, and then placed his lips on hers. This kiss was nothing like the previous one. This kiss had the heat and fire the last kiss was missing. Time stopped for Adrian for a moment, like he was in the eye of a hurricane. Everything was quiet and surreal. The only things he could feel were the emotions careening inside of him, his heart beating furiously, and Natalie's heart beating against his chest because he'd hauled her up against him tightly as the kiss deepened.

Natalie sighed as the kiss ended, and she reached up to twirl the raven curls at the nape of his neck in her fingers. She smirked at him and said quietly, "Wow, you're really good at that."

He chuckled and replied, "No, I think I'm just learning on the job."

She shook her head at his self-deprecating words. "What a time for this to happen!" She exclaimed.

"What do you mean?" he asked worriedly.

"I've been keeping these feelings inside for so long and looking for a time, the right time to maybe, possibly explore them with you. Unfortunately, now doesn't seem to be the ideal moment in my life to begin our romance."

He backed away from her. "Does that mean you want to forget about… about what just happened? What we said to each other?"

"No way. I said it wasn't ideal, not that I didn't want it at all. We'll cope, just like we always have. Through thick and thin—together. We'll have plenty of time after we get through this particular crisis for romance. But I still want you right here with me, by my side, mister!"

"There is literally nowhere else on Earth I'd rather be, Natalie. Forever. Through the good times, through the not-so-good times. It doesn't matter. My love for you isn't going to change. It may get stronger, but it is never going away."

Natalie felt her heart explode with happiness, and she drew him closer to her and kissed him again. Wild with the joyful knowledge that her heart was home at last, in the care of someone who wouldn't break it or abuse it.

Adrian stole a look at the clock over Natalie's shoulder. "It's getting late," he murmured as he kissed her neck. Daring to linger behind her ear and reveling in the exquisite sounds he was eliciting from her. He pulled back to look at her and said, "Natalie, it's getting really late."

"I don't care. Don't leave me." How could he resist those eyes? They were spectacular. The green of the walls, the carpet, and her shirt added to the depth of their color and the shine of the emotions he found laid bare in them.

"Do you really think we should… now… here?" He was thinking of the distinct lack of privacy they had here.

"No, I don't think our first time should be here, but I would love it if you held me while we slept. Do you think we could do that? I want to wake up with your arms around me."

He let out a breath he hadn't even known he was holding. Even though he did want to make love with Natalie, he wanted to take this slowly and possibly wait until they were adjusted to the idea of the admission of their feelings before they embarked on that part of their relationship. Maybe wait until they were alone without so many curious eyes watching their every move and hearing every noise… he blushed at his own thoughts. "Alright, I'll go change and come back."

She noted the sudden color in his cheeks. "If you feel more comfortable, I can come to you."

"Anywhere you are is where I feel comfortable, Natalie." He slipped out the door, and Natalie leaned her back against it, not believing this day wasn't a product of a fever dream. She reached up and touched her kiss-swollen lips and knew it was very real. Very, very real.

She changed into her nightclothes, again perfectly chosen by Adrian, and turned on the television. She used the bathroom, brushed her teeth, and climbed under the quilt and between the cool sheets. Adrian knocked, and Natalie responded, "Come in, Adrian."

He walked in, and she looked at him in his familiar PJs and robe and felt a sense of home that only he could provide for her. She smiled and turned to pull back the comforter and top sheet for him. He removed his robe and hung it over the hook on the door in the bathroom. Then he slid into the bed with her as if they'd shared a bed forever. It was true they'd fallen asleep together in some weird places… in cars on stakeouts, on one of their couches at one of their homes, at the station, in that bank vault for a while. But never deliberately. Never with the intention of being together like they had now. He turned on his side, crooked his arm, and propped his head on his hand. He reached and pushed a little hair behind her ear. Natalie held her breath as Adrian touched her. She'd dreamed of sweet moments like this for so long, she couldn't believe this was happening to her. It was like a story she was telling herself. A bedtime story, a comforting story to help her sleep. A minute later, he moved closer, and his arms were around her, and his lips sought hers. The kiss began tentatively but grew in passion and intensity. Naturally, Adrian's hand moved to the back of Natalie's head, unwilling to stop kissing her, then he moved to her shoulder and caressed her arm with whisper-soft brushes of his fingertips. The kissing grew more intense.

Then Adrian did a thing that Natalie would never have imagined him doing without her help, without a bit of guidance, at least. He moved his hand from her arm and cupped her breast gently over her pajama top. He ran his thumb over her suddenly stiffened nipple as she gasped against his mouth in surprise and delight. "I have wanted to touch you for so long, Natalie," he said quietly against her lips, "Is this alright?" She could barely choke out a yes, and a nod. He moved to kiss her forehead and her eyelids as she closed her eyes in pleasure from his touch, and then he kissed each cheek before returning to her lips.

"Natalie," Adrian sighed deeply. "I love you. So much." She smiled in the dark, and he felt it against his mouth. "I can't believe this is happening."

"Me either. It's like a wonderful dream. I feel so safe and so happy. So blissfully in love with you, now that I finally said it to you out loud." His hand continued to move over her body as she spoke, making coherent thoughts or sentences nearly impossible. Her last lucid thought was, If this wish could come true, perhaps her parents would be alright too. They continued kissing and caressing, and things were beginning to get more and more heated and intoxicating. Pajamas and undergarments were discarded piece by piece as they threw caution and their earlier worries about privacy to the wind. Their earlier thoughts about waiting were forgotten. These two people knew one another better than any two lovers on Earth probably ever had were able to adjust to their new dynamic with fluid speed. Natalie reached between them to touch Adrian intimately for the first time. His instinct was to withdraw, but he fought through it. Wanting her to touch him, wanting to be touched by her. He strained towards her hand as his hands sought all of the secrets her body held as well. A day that started so ordinarily had become so extraordinary, it was hard to believe. He said her name softly in her ear, and she didn't stop her tender caresses but simply murmured "Hmmm?" against his neck.

"Are you sure? Are you okay?"

"Yes, never more sure, and I am more than okay. I need you."

"Then let me love you, Natalie. Let me make love to you, now, and let me love you forever."

She positioned herself more comfortably and guided him to her. Their joining was exquisitely beautiful and fulfilling for both of them. The feeling of completeness they each achieved in that first moment was evidenced by the smile that wreathed Adrian's face and the look of awe on Natalie's. It was like they had invented sex. Or that sex had been invented for them. Although he knew that idea was ridiculous, clearly they were not the inventors, but Adrian felt it nonetheless, that and the glory of love found and returned as they moved together. Natalie felt fulfilled in every sense of the word. Physically, emotionally, and perhaps most importantly, she finally felt complete. He was the part of her that had always been there in her heart but had finally found his place inside her body and in her life. When they were finally lying in a tangle of sweaty limbs and sheets, letting their breathing return to normal, a feeling of peace descended over Adrian that he hadn't experienced in so many years he had forgotten how satisfied his body could feel and how clear his mind could become; Natalie felt a sense of love and security she'd needed to make it through not only this difficult day but the rest of her life.

"Saying I love you doesn't really seem to express how I feel about you, my love," she said, "but until better words are invented, I guess they will have to do."

He smiled into her eyes. "I think you just showed me how you feel, so I'm okay with a simple I love you. I love you too, sweetheart, and I -" he was interrupted by the ringing of Natalie's phone on the nightstand. The sound was startling and jarred them both from their dazed cloud of love.

Natalie frowned as she untangled herself from Adrian's warm embrace. He watched as she reached for the phone—entranced by her nude silhouette in the moonlight but concerned by the phone ringing at this hour. She turned on the light on the bedside table, a small puddle of light formed on the nightstand and the surrounding area.

"Hello?" her voice was raspy. She hadn't spoken in more than a whisper for the last couple of hours. "Yes." Terse. "Yes." Tense. "No! No…no…no…" wailing now. She dropped the phone on the bed and lunged into Adrian's waiting arms.

He picked up the phone. "Hello?"

"Hello? Mr. Monk?"

"Yes." He was echoing Natalie.

"This is Dr. Seton. I'm so, so sorry. Mrs. Davenport passed away a short while ago." Dear God, he and Natalie had been making love while her mother was dying. This was going to make her guilt huge and unbearable. His own guilt was already skyrocketing.

"Mr. Monk?"

"Yes, sorry. I'm here."

"We can go over the details in the morning. I just wanted to alert you right away."

"Thank you, Dr. Seton."

"Please tell Natalie I'm very sorry for her loss, and we did everything we could. I'll see you in the morning."

The call ended, he tossed the phone onto the nightstand. Adrian pulled a naked Natalie against him, sobbing. He was still naked as well. No matter what they had just shared, that was a lot for him. So he pulled the blankets and sheets up around them and tucked her tightly against his chest. He held her and stroked her wavy blonde hair. "I know, sweetheart, I know." He rocked her gently as she sobbed. He kissed the top of her head and soothed her with soft murmurs and constant touches and squeezes.

When at last there were no more tears, and her sobs had turned to hiccuping and heaving breaths that were uneven and worrisome, Adrian pulled her up and off the bed and into the bathroom. He ran the shower water until it ran warm, and he drew her into the shower with him and held her as the water sluiced over their bodies, joining them in another new way. Soap made thick lathery bubbles as he glided his hands along every inch of her skin. This wasn't a sexual act for him. It was, however, an act of deep and abiding love. As he cleaned both of their bodies, he felt he was preparing them for what came next. Whatever that might be.

Adrian also shed tears while they stood in the shower under the warm water. Tears for the death of a woman who had meant something to him. Yes, she was difficult sometimes, but she had come to like and respect him over the years and he, her. They'd had a mutual love for Julie and Natalie, although the last went unsaid between them, they'd also had a mutual love of old music and old movies. Adrian also shed tears for Natalie's anguish and pain. When someone you loved was hurting, you hurt too. He knew this intellectually but hadn't felt it for a long time. Trudy had been such a happy, positive person. He rarely saw her sad. Certainly not like this. So his tears for Natalie were a new expression of love for him. He'd never felt like this before. This desire to help her make things better for her. Yet, he knew things would not be better for a very long time.

Finally, he shut the water off and forgot the modesty and embarrassment that usually accompanied his nudity or anyone else's nudity. He simply took Natalie by the hand, and he gently dried her with one of the oversized towels from the wire rack by the shower door. He wrapped her in her robe from the back of the door. He quickly dried himself and also wrapped himself in his robe, and led her back to bed. In all this time, not a word was spoken between them, not a sound was made. He just ministered to her broken heart gently and lovingly as she tried to come to terms with her emotions. Adrian gathered their pajamas and underwear from where they'd been strewn in the heat of passion and dressed, then he dressed Natalie. She allowed it. Like a child, she allowed Adrian to take charge and tend to her. He tucked her into the bed and snapped off the lamp by the bedside. He turned towards the door.

Natalie managed, through her swollen eyes and pain, to realize Adrian was leaving. "Where are you going?" She asked him more sharply than she'd intended. Her voice was harsh with the disuse of the last two hours and the crying she'd done.

He looked at her warily. "I thought you might want some privacy. Some time to process," he said nervously. Afraid to make a mistake either way.

She responded, "I do, But I don't want to do that away from you. I don't need privacy from you. I need you, Adrian. Through the good and through the bad."

"You're sure?"


He shed his robe and returned to the nest they had made love in just hours earlier. He drew his lover into his arms, and she relaxed against his warmth and into his strength.

"Thank you," she whispered into his pajama-covered chest.

"For what?" he kissed the top of her damp head over and over.

"For being here in my hour of need. For handling all of this with incredible grace and strength and love. If we hadn't just said I love you for the first time and made love, I would have known anyway, just by the things you've done and said today. But I'm so glad we shared that before we got the news."

"You are?"

"Yes. I hope you understand it was the most real thing that's happened to me in a very long time, and I'm glad it happened so that you didn't think it was a reaction to my sadness. Making love was only about how I feel about you, and I know we said we were going to wait, but I couldn't contain myself, and I'm glad we didn't. I love you, Adrian, and I hope you felt it. I will love you forever."

"I felt it. I want to give you everything, Natalie."

"I don't need everything. Or anything other than you."

He hugged her. Her words were magical. Even in her own most challenging moments, she knew how to reach the deepest part of his heart. Finally, they fell asleep, holding tightly to one another. Tomorrow would be for more difficult emotions, but tonight was for the new love they would share for the rest of their lives and for the new life they had created.

For in that first intimate connection, Adrian's deepest yearning had come to its fruition. Margaret "Emmie" Monk would be born exactly on her due date ten months hence, named for her late maternal grandmother, but with her own nickname. A precious, precocious little girl who had her father's unruly dark curls, her mother's transcendent green eyes, and her grandmother's ability to command a room wherever she went. Emmie would become a balm to her grandfather's broken heart. Although it was not his fault, his guilt over his part in Peggy's death would never subside. Emmie would be the sibling Julie had wished for since she'd been a child herself. To Natalie, Emmie would be the best gift Adrian would ever give her, along with her brother, who came two years later. To Adrian, his little girl was his pride and joy, as well as every fear he'd ever had rolled into one. His love, the love he once thought he'd never feel again, had expanded and stretched in so many ways. All he knew was he was happier than he'd ever been, and that had been worth every tear he'd ever shed to bring him to this day.