A/N: Monk and Natalie get into a jam and they are whisked off to a safe house (no cabin this time, folks). What will they discover there? M/N Shipper fic. I own nothing about Monk... except my AN-loving heart!

Adrian and Natalie sat, bewildered, on the reasonably comfortable couch. They were told to wait, so they were waiting. Silently. Both frightened. Well, Natalie was frightened; Adrian was angry and upset that his work, their work, had put them in this dangerous predicament. Again. He was also frightened, of course. Through the unevenly spaced slats of the blinds that covered the window nearest them, he could see the bruised color of twilight staining the sky. There was no telling how long they'd have to stay here. Without the comforts of home, the soft sheets he loved, the books he loved, his favorite toothbrush, pictures of Trudy that comforted him. A man came in and threw two sizable black duffle bags on the floor.

Natalie rose, and he watched her limp towards the bags. She unzipped one and then the other. She quietly sighed as she began to pull things out of the bags.

"Our clothes and personal stuff." Monk decided to worry about wrinkles and germs later. And how did their clothes and "personal stuff" come to be in those bags? Another worry. He could do nothing about any of that right now except fret about everything, which was too overwhelming. He needed to choose one thing to concentrate on only. He chose Natalie.

Natalie stood, then turned to the wall unit. More limping. The limp was his fault, in a way. She'd damaged her knee while they were running from the suspects in their most recent godforsaken case, one in which he'd gotten them embroiled. They'd found the files they'd been after, but they'd gotten caught just as they were slipping away. As they ran, she took a hard fall. He'd grabbed her, put an arm under hers and around her body, and lifted her, and they ran like they were in a potato sack race, right into a police car that whisked them here on the Captain's orders. Thankfully, Leland had gotten wind of what he and Natalie had going on in their private consulting business and sent someone to rescue them. Natalie flicked on the stereo and found some soothing classical music. He didn't realize how on edge he was until the music made him unclench his teeth, fists, and shoulders. "That's better," she said as she turned and looked carefully at him, gauging his mood, and then returned to the couch. After she sat, she pulled at the lever on the side of the sofa, and a footrest swung out forcefully—surprising them both.

"Ouch!" she exclaimed, grabbing the sore knee.

To Natalie's surprise, Monk was extraordinarily solicitous. "Oh, Natalie! Let me go get you some ice!" Monk quickly made his way into the nicely appointed kitchen. He found clean dish towels in a drawer and ice in the freezer and made her a compress. He was back in just a few minutes.

"Thank you, Mr. Monk."

He sighed. "I think we will be roommates for a while, Natalie. Not to mention, it's been eight years… Maybe we can just simplify everything, and you could just call me 'Adrian?'"

She looked at him suspiciously. What was the catch? "Alright, Adrian."

He smiled a small, tight smile, still feeling niggling guilt about her knee. "I saw some snacks in the kitchen. Are you hungry?"

"Sure! Whatever you find is fine. You know what I like. And maybe some iced tea?"

He knew what she liked. Maybe as well as she knew what he liked, he never stopped to think about how close they truly were until moments like these occurred. Their interdependence had deepened and widened over the last couple of years since Julie had gone off to college. They were rarely without each other these days. So this forced togetherness of the safe house wasn't an unusual arrangement, except that they weren't together in one of their homes. He puttered around the unfamiliar kitchen, clanging glasses, ice cubes, and bowls as he brought out some snacks on a tray that he'd found on the top of the refrigerator.

Natalie, meanwhile, had quickly tired of the music and found an old movie on television. She'd spread a blanket across her lap. He could still see the protrusion of the ice pack on her knee. He settled the tray of cheeses, crackers, pitted olives, berries, nuts, and tall glasses of ice tea on the coffee table in front of them. Adrian pulled it within easy reach and watched with fascination as the tabletop unexpectedly pulled up towards them.

"That's interesting." Admiring the ingenuity of the design.

"Definitely, and ooo! What a feast! I wonder who stocked this place?"

"Someone with fine tastes," he replied with a smile. Hoping they had not set it up for a mobster or some other wealthy criminal. He looked at the television. It had the "picture freezer" symbol on it. "What's on?"

"The 39 Steps!" Natalie responded with enthusiasm. She loved Hitchcock. This one was from 1935. Adrian knew it was one of Hitchcock's British films. He liked Hitchcock's films too.

As in other Hitchcock films, the main character unintentionally finds himself caught up in international intrigue. While on the run, he embroils the female lead in his quest to discover who the villains are and what information they are after. The woman, Pamela, is not a willing participant in this mystery which partners her with a stranger. However, circumstances force them to work together to stay alive. In many ways, it echoed the situation in which Natalie and Adrian found themselves at the moment. Adrian rolled the irony through his mind and settled in to enjoy the film. They had nothing but time at the moment, and he thought to enjoy the time he'd get to spend with Natalie without other distractions.

Adrian looked over at Natalies' face, which was awash in the glow from the television screen. A while ago, he realized how much he liked their time together, without work or other people distracting them. Even in this bizarre situation, one of a thousand bizarre situations they'd found themselves in over the years, Adrian couldn't help but notice her soft profile, pretty eyes, and engrossed expression. He spent a moment admiring her beauty without her notice. Any time she glimpsed him regarding her in any manner other than his typical aversion for other humans, she blushed and teased her way into another subject.

For the last eighteen months, he'd begun noticing small things that eventually added up to a big thing. Natalie's shapely legs. The bitty crinkle in her nose when she laughed. The way her amused eyes twinkled like stars. He'd always thought her beautiful. But the observation had been a practical, clinical one. She was a blonde, symmetrical, trim woman with the greenest eyes he'd ever seen. By all standard measures of beauty, she was beautiful.

In the beginning, his thoughts about Natalie never went beyond what she did for him and sometimes what she made him do. How she could convince him to do the things she convinced him to do with a wink, a smile, the stare… oh goodness, the stare. Steel encased in emerald fire. One look, and he'd jump to do what she insisted he do, try, taste, anything. In truth, her strength had frightened him on occasion. Then he began to lean on that strength. Then, his fear and dependence turned into profound trust and friendship. Natalie had become his true North in every way that mattered, and he knew he couldn't live without her. She taught him how to live again after Trudy. Sharona had gotten him to exist without Trudy, but he didn't live until he met Natalie and Julie. Experience had taught him pain makes your world very small. Natalie had helped ease the pain and enlarge and expand his world in a multitude of ways.

The phone on the sofa table rang, startling them both. Natalie's cell phone was in a protective Faraday bag, incapable of making or receiving calls at the moment. This way, no one could track them using her phone. Adrian answered the phone on the second ring.

"Hello?" He asked cautiously, holding the receiver about three inches from his head while Natalie paused the movie and watched him curiously.

"Hiya Monk," Adrian visibly relaxed.

"Hi, Leland. We're here—Natalie and me. We're having a snack and a drink. What's going on?"

"You're drinking, Monk? It must have been terrifying."

"Iced tea, Leland."

"Oh," he replied, disappointed but not surprised. "Okay, well, we've got one suspect in custody, and we've got him in interrogation right now. We're hoping to get the whereabouts of the other three now. So we'll get you home as soon as we can. Just sit tight. It might take a day or two."

Adrian lifted a finger to his brow, and Natalie knew his motion portended something that would not be good. "Okay, I'll tell Natalie."



"What?" Natalie questioned.

"They have one guy, but they're still looking for the others. So it might take a day or two."

"Oh. Well, alright. At least we have some idea."

"There's plenty of food and stuff here for us, so now we just need to keep ourselves occupied and entertained."

The look that Natalie gave him after that remark sent a shiver of excitement and abject fear down his spine. It was a look he'd never seen her direct at him before, but one that instinct and ancient memory recognized. As quickly as the expression came to her features, it melted into her friendly, sunny smile, and she nodded and took the movie off of pause. As Adrian tried to concentrate on the film, he couldn't get that coy but sexy expression that Natalie had shown him out of his mind. What did it mean? Was it a joke? As he was only just coming to terms with his blooming physical attraction to Natalie and still trying to deny that his heart had wanted her to be his for years, it was a shock that it might be possible that she could feel the same.

He knew the very second his feelings had begun. It was the day Dr. Scott had nearly killed him when he'd gone to the hospital for a bloody nose. Natalie had saved him from a lethal dose of tetracycline. His adoration for her brain and bravery had only grown since the moment she'd turned off the IV that dripped the deadly drug into his arm. But he was sure if looked at objectively, that was the moment his feelings for his beautiful assistant had changed, and his second full-time job, the one of hiding those feelings, had begun. She spent every moment with him in the hospital after that and even sent Julie to stay with her parents. He'd never felt so loved, so protected, or so coddled, and Natalie had done her fair share of platonic loving, protecting, and codding in those first few years. He knew she was indeed his best friend, confidante, and the woman he loved. How on Earth would he survive a few days in this kind of proximity? No time away from her smile, her scent? The waves of feeling were relentless as the ocean as it stood. This situation would be tricky.

The film continued, and he watched as Pamela actively tried to escape the questionable Hannay. Yet there was an underlying attraction between them that was never clearer than the night they spent handcuffed together in a private room at an inn. It was a pretty sexy scene for its time, and despite their lack of trust, the attraction between the two is clear. Were his longtime feelings as evident? Adrian hoped not.

The film finally ended, and Natalie said, "Let's scare up some dinner. Something light?" She carefully lowered the footrest, having learned from pulling it up, got to her feet, and walked into the kitchen, the limp less pronounced. Natalie washed her hands and looked in the cabinets and the refrigerator. Finally, she called out to Adrian, "How about some homemade pizza?"

"Really? You can do that?" He asked as he walked into the kitchen, astonished at her seemingly limitless talents.

"Sure, it's not that difficult. When you have a kid and a limited take-out budget, you learn all kinds of stuff. Plus, there's this gorgeous pizza oven I'd like to use! I'll teach you! You can be the pupil tonight." He smiled at her and went to search out cutting boards and toppings.

He ignored the mushrooms and sundried tomatoes in the produce drawer unequivocally. Mushrooms were number ten on his list of phobias and sundried tomatoes… he just didn't get them. You take all the good stuff out of a tomato, and then you have a dense, chewy, not very attractive thing. Good thing Natalie agreed with him. Instead, he found pepperoni and some suntan peppers, along with a piece of superb mozzarella cheese. He grated, chopped, and sliced while Natalie measured and mixed.

They worked together silently, side by side for a while, Natalie directing Adrian as she showed him how to knead the dough. Despite his initial distaste for touching the shaggy and lumpy dough, he felt pleased when it ended up smooth and slightly tacky to the touch. Natalie determined they should make individual pizzas, and their personal styles shined right through. Natalie spread her sauce in a circular pattern; he did his in stripes. Natalie spread her cheese in random handfuls of sprinkles, and Adrian weighed and measured his precisely. With the pepperoni and peppers, Natalie scattered hers haphazardly. Adrian, of course, measured and placed his pepperoni in a precise pattern, then the peppers. Natalie giggled through much of the pizza prep, cajoling and gently teasing Adrian along the way. Adian took the good-natured teasing well. He understood she wasn't trying to hurt him, just move him along and push him beyond his OCD and the other issues that held him back. Adrian simply smiled at the teasing and hip-checked her with an unusual amount of joie de vive. He realized that she had a way of making him feel relaxed, young, and happy.

She appeared so strong. This was one thing Adrian admired about her. One of the things he found to… love about her. And she really was very strong. He didn't think, though, not for one second, that there wasn't a mountain of loss that constantly swam through her bloodstream, the same as his. He often caught the depth of her sorrow when she put down her relentless cheer. Her eyes occasionally filled with the deepest troughs of memory and regret. The "what ifs" and the "why me" which accompanied the loss of a spouse—the half-life lived for a long while after were evident in those moments. Yet, she was the one that always remembered that life could ultimately be a tapestry of color, sound, and movement. She also knew and constantly reminded him no one gets out of life without some taint of black woven through the beauty. Yet, she had picked up the threads of her torn life and kept weaving and pushing the black away until it wove out to the edges. She'd also woven her way into his tapestry and made him part of hers. It amazed him how intertwined they'd become over the years without him realizing it or trying to stop it from happening.

The pizzas went into the brick pizza oven where Natalie had laid a fire. After reading the directions she'd found in the drawer of manuals, she poured more iced tea for Adrian and found a bottle of white wine and poured herself a healthy-sized glass. She lifted her glass to him.

"Here's to us, Adrian. For getting into and out of trouble more times than any two people in San Francisco! Life is never dull when we're together!"

Adrian raised his glass and clinked it gently against hers. "To us. May our luck continue to hold!"

Her eyes smiled at him over the rim of her glass as she sipped her wine. Flustered and trying desperately to hide it, he turned and looked for the plates and utensils to set the small table in the other room. His mind screamed, "Escape! Escape!" over and over like a klaxon, so he did. At least for a few minutes. Sadly, he couldn't even walk outside to escape his desperately beating heart, whirling thoughts, or her smile in their current situation. He turned to go retrieve napkins for the table, and he bumped right into Natalie, who was coming through the door with the napkins and their glasses. Liquid sloshed perilously close to the lips of both glasses in Natalie's delicate hands.

"Oops!" Natalie giggled but sobered when she saw the panicked look on Adrian's face. "What? What is it? Is this a red alert situation?" They had practice drills for so-called red alerts.

"It's n-nothing."

"Not nothing. You look like you're freaking out about something." Natalie put the glasses and napkins down and took hold of his upper arms. "Adrian, look at me."

He looked everywhere but at her, and finally, his eyes landed on their feet which were only inches apart.

"Adrian… what's wrong?" Natalie asked softly.

"Nothing's wrong per se. It's just that I got a little—" he was interrupted by the timer in the kitchen. Saved by the bell, literally.

"Hold that thought," Natalie said and walked back into the kitchen. She expertly wielded the pizza peel as though she'd been operating a pizza parlor for the last eight years instead of being an assistant to a private investigator. He watched as Natalie lifted the edges of each pizza, inspected the undersides of the crusts, and moved them around in the oven. She then reset the timer. "Okay. They need a few more minutes. So what were you saying?"

"Nothing, it wasn't important."

"Yes, it was, Adrian. You were clearly frazzled by something."

Just my own confusing feelings and my guilty and betraying heart, he thought. "No, really, I'm fine, just feeling a little claustrophobic, I guess."

"I understand." She rubbed small circles on one of his shoulder blades. He could feel the heat of her hand through his shirt. "Even though you like being indoors, the thought of not being able to go outside when you want is a little scary. I'm sort of feeling it too. That's why I was trying to occupy us with making dinner. I'm sorry it didn't work." She frowned. The little line that formed between her eyebrows suddenly fascinated Adrian, and he desperately wanted to reach out and smooth it away.

"No, it worked. It was …uh, fun. Really. I just have a lot on my mind. The case, this place, missing home. And, you know, all my usual stuff." Natalie nodded, but having known him for so many years, it didn't look "usual" to her. She held her tongue. One thing she knew about Adrian Monk, when he wanted or needed to tell her, it would all come tumbling out like an avalanche. The timer dinged again, and this time, Natalie proclaimed the pizzas were ready.

She took the pizzas from the oven to the cutting boards and allowed Adrian to precisely cut them into ten relatively small but equal parts and then brought them to the table.

She hid her smile when he said, "Delicious. You can taste the evenness." Just like the symmetry of square tomatoes, she supposed. His interesting worldview always made her smile. Who else on Earth would ever think of a thing like being able to taste evenness or symmetry, no less say it out loud? Did he realize how silly he sounded sometimes? She believed he did because occasionally his comments were punctuated with a wry smile or that expression of his that she loved most—a slight, mischievous grin as if he was around ten years old. It made him appear young and carefree. She loved those moments when they were able to laugh and joke together. Since he had found the truth of Trudy's murder and discovered Molly, those moments happened more frequently. Her heart was already so charmed by him that no silly statement would ever change that, and lately, it was becoming more difficult to hide and suppress her feelings. Natalie watched Adrian eat his perfect pizza creation. He was a complex, unusual, brilliant, handsome, sweet, stubborn, and loveable man. The things that had made him irascible in their early years together, his selfish self-absorption, and his single-minded obsession with Trudy's murder, had faded away over time. Since the case's resolution, he was far more generous, kind, and less self-involved. He looked outward and saw others and realized they had feelings too. Their business partnership had evolved so much, and their personal relationship had developed as well. They spent so much time together, more than they did with any other people in their lives. Natalie chewed thoughtfully, but swallowing became problematic when she considered her deeply hidden feelings. She tried to think of a safe topic to bring up, and suddenly a thought popped into her head.

Between bites of deliciously spiced pizza, she said, "I spoke to my cousin Theresa the day before yesterday."

"Hmm?" he replied, savoring the sauce and the pepperoni. "What did Theresa have to say?"

"Well, she mentioned we haven't been to see Shelby, Abner, Billy, Callie, and Darlie in a while. She thinks Shelby, in particular, misses you."

A smile crept across his face as he thought of the days when Shelby had lived with him and given birth in his living room. What a revelation that had been for him. He'd shed another phobia with Natalie's persistent urging and then when she smartly took two steps away and let him struggle with navigating his relationship with Shelby on his own. He had grown to love the Polish Lowland Sheepdog and her four puppies but knew he couldn't give them the life they deserved. An echo of Tommy Grazer. The dogs had a healthy, happy life on Natalie's cousin's estate. Luckily, he was able to visit the dogs as often as he liked. Theresa and her family were generous in that way. Their youngest child, Anne Marie, was eleven already, Monk realized. She'd only been eight when he'd met her at the family reunion to which Natalie had dragged him. He'd envied her that day, not for the first time either. As fractious as they could be, her family was far more than he'd ever had or experienced. Beneath the uneven discord, there was love and connection. And a huge extended family. It was a fun day. He coveted that connection as much as he coveted Natalie.

"Adrian?" Natalie had watched as memory and emotion and something else she couldn't name informed his facial expressions as he sat silently, lost in reverie. His eyes were unfocused as he stared through her instead of looking at her. Then, finally, she repeated his name, and he snapped out of the daze. "Where did you go?"

"To a very happy place."

"Where was this happy place? Who was there?"

Adrian, so wrapped up in dogs and families and want, let one word slip out unguarded, "You." His voice was soft, and his face was wreathed in an angelic smile.

Natalie's mouth dropped open before she could stop it. "What did you say?" she whispered.

Adrian realized he'd made a drastic mistake. "Um. Natalie. What I meant was, of course, you were there. You're always there. Right where you belong." Oh god, did that make it worse?

Natalie furrowed her brow. That little line reappeared. Adrian gave in to his desire this time and reached out to smooth the line away. She simply blinked at him in surprise. His hand moved to her cheek, and his thumb caressed it with a gentle, tender motion. "Adrian?" She whispered with a ragged breath and a gaze as clear a green as a perfect Irish hillside.

"Yes?" he whispered back, and in an act that proved to be among the bravest of his life, he leaned in to kiss her right on the lips.

He lingered in the delightful feel of her lips against his and slanted his head so he could get closer to her. He felt her hands against his chest, and then he felt them suddenly bunch in his shirt and pull him even closer. He fought every negative thought, compulsion, and feeling in his head and led with every positive feeling in his heart to stay in the moment. At last, the kiss ended, and instead of questioning him, Natalie sighed his name breathlessly. "Adrian… that was … that was amazing. Are you okay?"

He nodded with a smile on his handsome face and asked, "Are you?"

She nodded seriously, "What just happened?"

"I'd hoped you could tell. I can't keep this half-life going any longer, Natalie. I need to tell you something."

Hope filled her from her toes to the roots of her hair. "What do you want to tell me?"

"I love you, Natalie." Her eyes turned to emerald pools, and tears ran down her cheeks. "Okay, I'm sorry. Forget I said anything. I take it back…" he went to push away from the table and run out of the room, but she caught him by the back of his slacks before he could.

"Don't you dare go anywhere and don't even think of taking it back!" Natalie stood next to him and turned him around. She wrapped her thin, strong arms around his waist, looked into his soulful brown eyes, and said, "I love you, Adrian, and I have for years."

"You do? You have?" he stuttered as hope swelled in him too. He blinked in confusion and joy. He understood her words but couldn't believe they were real. "Are you sure?" He tilted his head toward one shoulder.

"Yes. Perfectly, one hundred percent sure."

"But why? I mean, I know why I love you. You're good and kind, beautiful and giving, clever and resilient. I am none of those things."

"Oh, Adrian, if you could only see yourself objectively. You are good, smart, handsome and unexpectedly brave and kind, and above all else, loveable. We all have issues and qualities that make us difficult sometimes. The key is finding the people that can handle those facets of your personality and love you anyway."

"You don't have any negative qualities."

"That is not true, but I'm not going to list them for you. I think I'd rather have you see me in a purely positive light, at least for now." Natalie smiled for him and swiped at her tear-stained cheeks. She moved closer to him and tilted her head so she could kiss him again. It was a faster kiss, but it was filled with feeling. "I do love you, and let me tell you when it began for me, and then I want to hear how it began for you…."

She led him back to the couch, and they talked deep into the night. It was the start of a conversation that would continue for the rest of their lives.