Seasons by SLynn
Rating: PG-13 by default
Fandom: Heroes
Season: One/AU after Fallout
Characters/Ships: Nathan, Peter/Claire
Disclaimer: Not mine. Well, not all mine.

Notes: I honestly have no idea where this came from. It wasn't in my first, second, third or fourth drafts. It just happened.

Summary: Nathan struggles to find his place during their first year in Maine. Post-'Revelations'.

"Sometimes our fate resembles a fruit tree in winter. Who would think that those branches would turn green again and blossom, but we hope it, we know it."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Late Winter

"Looks like spring."

Lauren looked up from her cup of coffee and out the window. The backyard was covered in slight patches of snow and the sky was a perfect, cloudless blue.

"I guess," she returned as Nathan sat down across from her.

Nathan watched her for a moment longer, the quiet of the morning finally getting to him. All of their mornings were so quiet now; all of their days as well. It was almost too drastic a change.

"But it might be too early," Nathan continued on his own train of thought. "It's been awhile since I've seen the seasons change. It could just be a lull."

Lauren either wasn't listening or had no reply to give.

"It's strange, isn't it?" he asked, waiting for an answer he knew wouldn't come. "Living like this. In a real house in the middle of nowhere. Waiting on the weather to change."

"The hotel wasn't bad," she added mildly.

"But still," he said, eagerly catching hold of her response. "It was just a hotel. These houses, they could be homes again."

"It beat the subway," Lauren said quietly, stirring her coffee and refusing to meet his eyes.

"You're not happy here," Nathan stated factually after a moment's pause. They'd been here for at least a month and besides himself, Lauren was the only one who didn't appear to be taking to the place.

"I'm…" she began, trailing off with half a smile and a shrug. "I'm happy we're safe."

"But?" he prodded, leaning forward and studying her face.

"But," she went on, finally looking his way, "I thought we'd stay in Boston."

Nathan sat back in surprise.

"You wanted to stay?"

"I know," she said, shaking her head and going quickly to the sink to wash her cup. "It's not… It was never reasonable. If anyone is still looking, they'd be looking there but after the Republic and the Order, I guess I was just looking forward to something familiar again."

Nathan turned in his chair to get a better look at her, and it struck him how young she really was; how young she had to have been when it had begun.

"You've never been away from home before," he said.

Lauren screwed up her face at him.

"It's natural enough," Nathan continued, oblivious to her irritation over the remark. "You're homesick."

"I'm not a child," she said firmly.

"I'm not…" he started to say, finally realizing how this all sounded to her, but it was too late. She was already heading for the door.

"It's fine," she said briskly, leaving without looking back.

Nathan sighed, still shaking his head over it as Peter walked into the kitchen.

"Morning, Pete," Nathan said.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Nathan returned easily, not at all surprised at how easily he'd been read. "I'm just making friends and influencing people, as usual."

Peter looked at his brother for a moment before smiling.


"How'd you know?" Nathan asked back at him.

"I passed her on the stairs."

"Yes, well, I think I offended her."

"I'm sure it's nothing," Peter said, joining him at the table. "She's just a bit…"

Peter trailed off with a shrug. He was never quite sure what Lauren was.

"She's unhappy," Nathan returned. "And I just made her even unhappier. That's what I'm best at. It's what I do."

"We're all still adjusting," Peter said, trying his best to smooth things over.

Nathan nodded solemnly, but couldn't completely agree. They were not all still adjusting. Most everyone had done that already. It was only a few of them, a very few, that seemed to have a problem with their surroundings.

"How's Claire?" Nathan asked.

"Better," Peter said after a pause. "She seems better today. I wish there was more I could do for her."

"She misses Parkman," Nathan returned. "There's nothing you can do."

"You know," Peter said, clearly hesitant, "it might help if you tried to talk to her."

"She doesn't want to talk to me," Nathan immediately dismissed.

"You don't know that."

"I can't take his place," Nathan said resolutely, getting to his feet to leave. "She wouldn't want me to and I'm not up to the attempt. That I do know. You need to realize it, too."

They'd found this place way out in the middle of nowhere, with some help from Anthony and a lot more from Hiro, and it seemed as good as any for a new start. It was comfortable enough, if not strangely deserted. There were four or five homes within half a mile of one another, and ten miles from a similarly empty town where they were able to pick up some initial supplies. The two homes nearest the main were the ones they decided to tackle first; the only ones they needed for now.

Despite the spaciousness of the main house, they all felt crowded. It, being their first shelter, had already been cleaned, but everyone was feeling the need to have their own space again. Three houses would be plenty to start with, once they were made livable. With that, the farmland and small orchard, the two barns and five sheds, there was a lot to do. But because it was winter the only thing they could really concentrate on was the houses, and so they each broke off on their separate details during the day in order to get it done.

It was the unmistakable sounds of Bizet that drew Nathan into the room some weeks into the project. He hadn't expected to find her there, and he hadn't meant to stay, but it was irresistible. Nathan hadn't heard music, hadn't heard beautiful music, in such a long time. It was a melancholy reminder of happier times.

Lauren must have felt the same, staring as she did at the record player perched on the small table beside her in the tiny sitting room. Unaware of the time slipping past, ignoring the scratches and jumps of the faulty record, they listened in complete silence to the first side, lost in thought.

"The second is just as good," Nathan said when it had ended. "Better even."

Lauren looked up sharply, her eyes darting quickly about the room. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and he pretended he hadn't noticed she'd been crying.

"Have you heard it before?" Nathan asked, and without waiting for permission, entered the room and turned the record for her.

"Yes," she said, when she could speak again, nodding along with her own answer. "My mother was always… Yes, I've heard it."

Nathan sat easily in the chair opposite hers.

"It's an awful copy," he said, but with a smile. "Where did you find it?"

"They were in the attic," Lauren answered, pulling a box to rest between them. "I'm supposed to be cleaning it out, but I found them and…"

"Well, the dust isn't going anywhere," Nathan replied, leaning forward and flipping through the collection eagerly.

"I really should be getting back to work," Lauren worried, giving the record player another long glance. "I just… It's not like it won't be here either. It can wait. There's so much to do. I shouldn't be wasting…"

"Tchaikovsky," Nathan interrupted, taking a record from the box. "Now this we have to listen to."

"Is it…" Lauren began to ask, her face momentarily lit up with excitement, before ultimately fading away.

"Do you like classical?"

"Not really," she admitted, "but I thought it might be 'The Nutcracker'."

"Ah," he said, as if that explained it all. "Sorry. It's only concertos. But it might be in here if we take a look."

"No," Lauren said. "It's fine. Like I said, I don't really even like… it's just…"

"Memories," he finished for her.

"Memories," she repeated fondly.

For a moment he thought she was done, but the smile remained on her face.

"I used to dance," she continued. "Ballet. My school put on the Nutcracker every Christmas and I always wanted to be the sugar plum fairy."

Nathan imitated the smile spread wide across her face as Lauren held the memory for a moment in her mind.

"And were you?"

"Oh, no," Lauren laughed. "God, no. I was… I was awful. Two left feet… born without grace. Never got on toe and I barely kept in step half the time. They always put me in with the mice and shuffled me to the back."

Nathan laughed with her, same as he'd smiled.

"I'm sure you were an excellent mouse," he offered. "And dancer."

"No," she said with a steady shake of her head. "I really wasn't. I just didn't have the talent for it, that all went to…"

The smile slid right off her face, replaced with the stoic gaze that he'd grown to associate with her; the timid and reserved qualities he was beginning to learn masked a larger pain.

"I really have to get back to work," she said quietly as she stood and exited the room.

Nathan watched her go before leaning forward and shutting the player off with a snap.

The dinner, the following week, was meant to be a celebration. It was finally moving day as everything was as in place as they could make it considering the weather; the snow really was horrendous. For the most part everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, but it was impossible that distinct groups wouldn't form even though their numbers were so small.

Claire had been doing marginally better. She was still sad, but was making an effort, and just having something useful to do had helped her a lot. Nathan and Claire were still not speaking to one another, and not for a lack of Peter trying. Claire just didn't seem to want to have anything to do with him, and Nathan, having heard enough to know how she felt, didn't seem eager to hear any more. The result being that while Claire's spirits had improved, Nathan's had declined.

"I'm worried about you," Peter said quietly, standing with him at the railing on the back porch well away from the rest of the group.

"Why's that?" Nathan returned indifferently.

"You should be inside," Peter said, not backing down yet.

"And do what? Make small talk? Join the party?"


"This is great," Nathan went on, staring off into the night. "It is, Peter. You've done a hell of a job. But I know I'll never really be a part of it."

"Nobody is still angry with you."

"They should be."

"You made a mistake."

Nathan laughed and clapped his brother on the shoulder with a fake smile plastered on his face.

"That's a good one," he said, still grinning. "A mistake."

Peter dropped his head wearily.

"I destroyed millions of lives and you call it a mistake," Nathan continued, sobering up as he spoke. "Bit of an understatement, don't you think?"

"Don't do this. Please, Nathan," Peter practically begged. "I've got enough…"

"What am I supposed to do?" Nathan asked completely serious. "Forget it happened? Forget that this is my fault? Do you think I can do that? Is that who you think I am?"

"Of course not."

Nathan nodded, oddly comforted by the fact.

"There's no forgiveness in this. And I shouldn't forget it," he added to himself. "Ever."

In the days following, Nathan noticed that Lauren, alone with her coffee, was still a regular occurrence. Most mornings, despite the fact that she no longer lived in the main house, and now shared a house across the way with Hiro and Mohinder, Nathan could count on her being the first one in the kitchen. Sitting and staring out into nothing and ignoring most everything and everyone that came her way; usually.

"Do you think the summers will be warm?" she asked one morning as he'd crept into the room.

"I'm not sure," Nathan answered, unsure if she was really asking him or just talking to herself. "I was certainly wrong about the start of spring. I wouldn't even know what to guess."

"I hope they are," Lauren returned. "I'm tired of the snow."

"Well," Nathan shrugged as he took a seat across from her, "we are in Maine."

"So you're saying I should get used to it."

Nathan lifted his eyes, afraid he'd somehow did it again, but was relieved to see a hint of a smile play across her features.

"It's just an idea," he said.

"So what should I do then?" she asked, still playing along. "How does one prepare for a perpetual winter?"

"I don't know what you can do," he said with mock-sincerity, "but I plan on growing a beard."

"A beard?" she asked with a bit of a giggle.

"Yes," Nathan said firmly, as if it was the most logical thing in the world. "We almost live in the mountains among the trees, on a farm with a river and everything that could possible declare itself as outdoorsman-like. A beard seems called for. Besides, there's no point in shaving any more. It's practically pre-ordained."

"You'd look funny with a beard," Lauren said, fighting hard against the laughter that wanted desperately to escape from inside.

"You think so?"

"Yes," she said with a solemn nod.

"I'll take your advice into consideration," Nathan continued, still maintaining his composure, but inwardly thrilled she'd played along so well. "I wouldn't want to look foolish, but can't make any promises. We may run out of razors."

Lauren smiled his way briefly before turning off again into her own world.

Nathan hadn't felt so good in quite a time.

Here and there Nathan found he often ran into Lauren, and those encounters never failed to make him just a little bit happier than he felt he had any right to be. He still wasn't at ease with everyone, was still certain that no one really wanted him there, but Lauren did seem different. She was quiet, which he liked, and when he could prevail upon her to speak, she was often cheeky, which he really liked. Nathan only wished it was as easy to get along with Claire as it was to get along with Lauren.

"Is it just us tonight?" Nathan asked, coming into the living room, surprised to find only Claire.

She only looked up at him reproachfully and returned to her attempt at sewing a stray button back into place.

Nathan paused for a moment, until he was sure that no answer would be forthcoming, before taking up a book and sitting down to an evening of uncomfortable silence.

"I thought you were supposed to use a thimble," Nathan mumbled just loud enough to be heard.

"I don't need a thimble," Claire said briskly, not bothering to lift her eyes this time.

"I didn't realize you were such an expert sewer."

"No," she retorted. "I just have thick skin."

Nathan bit back his reply, something about genetics, and tried to focus strictly on his book, but it was hard to do. Peter had been right, he usually was. Nathan should be trying harder to be there for Claire. It was definitely too little, and extremely late, and they may never be truly friendly, but they should at least be cordial. And they weren't, and it was Nathan's fault. He should put forth more of an effort as he'd been more to blame.

"So," Nathan said as he shut his book, leaning down with elbows to knees, "do you think…"

"I'm not really in the mood to talk," Claire said quickly, shifting her body in the opposite direction, away from him.

"My mistake," he said, leaning back again. "I just thought it might be easier, for all of us, if we could at least appear to be on speaking terms, Claire."

"Peter's not here," she returned. "No one is. We don't need to appear anything right now."

"Fair enough," Nathan said as he picked his book back up, but he was too angry to read.


Nathan looked up quickly, catching Claire examining her finger almost horrorstruck.


"Nothing," she said quickly, curling her fingers into the palm of her hand.

"Are you bleeding?" Nathan asked, getting up and re-depositing himself next to her on the sofa. "You are. Claire, when…what…"

"I don't know," she said plaintively, shaking her head but not pulling away when he took hold of her hand to see for himself. "It's just a scratch… It's not…"

"How long has this been happening?" he asked seriously as he looked at her hand which was amazingly still dripping blood.

"It's nothing," Claire said as she pulled free. "It's not serious."

"Claire, if your power…"

"It's nothing," she snapped, her work falling to the floor as she got quickly to her feet.

"Fine," Nathan said with a nod and a relaxed look on his face. "It's nothing. When Peter gets back we'll all sit down --"

"You're not telling Peter," Claire snapped. "You're not telling anyone."

"Alright," Nathan said evenly, as if he was negotiating with her. "I'll consider that, if you tell me the truth. All of it, Claire."

Claire looked at him, clearly surprised by his tone. Maybe surprised at herself as she sat back down and rolled up the sleeve of her shirt exposing a three inch scratch just healed over.

"I did it yesterday," she said as she pushed the shirt back into place. "Ripped right through the shirt and I bled like… I bled like a normal person. I've felt different since Matt… We'd talked about it, more than once, and I think maybe… maybe I just don't want to do it anymore."

Nathan met her eyes and saw the turmoil behind them. She was frightened. Claire had been nearly immortal for close to six years, and now this.

"It's probably temporary, right?" she asked.

"Probably," he agreed.

"So you won't tell him?"

"I won't," Nathan said with a crisp nod. "But you should. He'd want to know, Claire."

"He's got enough going on right now," Claire said dismissively.

"That's true," Nathan admitted, "but it doesn't mean he wouldn't want to know."

"I'll tell him," Claire said. "Eventually. If I even need to. It's probably just…"

She trailed off, her eyes beginning to tear. Nathan tentatively put a hand on her shoulder in a gesture of support, one she shrugged off completely.

"It's shock," Claire said, getting to her feet again and crossing the room.

"I don't think shock lasts this long, Claire."

"I'm handling it," she said firmly, almost daring him to contradict her.

"If that's what you want."

Claire nodded, but it was hesitant, giving Nathan the impression that she'd expected more resistance. He could imagine, between Peter and Matt, resistance was the norm.

"I'm going to… I'm going to bed," Claire finally finished. "Goodnight, Nathan."

"Goodnight," he returned, watching as she walked quickly out of the room.

Nathan dropped his head back on the sofa and contemplated what to do next. On one hand, Peter should know. If only because he was the de facto leader, he should know. More importantly it was something he'd want to know. Peter would want to help, would want to do something, and that was probably why Claire hadn't said anything to him yet. She wanted this problem to be her own. It was comforting and familiar, how stubborn she was; as if it was something inherited and not learned.

Deciding he wouldn't say anything, a decision Nathan suspected was the wrong one, ending up being easy to do. In reality, there was nothing Peter could do for Claire, even if he did know. And Nathan had never had Claire's confidence, and despite this one not exactly being given freely, he'd take what he could. If he told her secret now, she'd never trust him again. And Nathan really wanted that trust.

The next day as he was heading into the kitchen, Nathan walked in and unintentionally interrupted Mohinder and Lauren, speaking in voices just low enough to be heard. He tried not to eavesdrop, but found himself naturally turning towards the conversation.

"I'm sure it's normal," he was saying. "Every evolution involves an adjustment period."

"How long?" she asked, and Nathan noticed her eyes looked frightened.

"I can't say," Mohinder said with a shrug. "It would depend entirely on what exactly they did to you. How far they pushed your power forward. From what I've seen from others, it was meant to happen naturally, when you're ready… I'm sorry there's nothing I can do for you. Have you talked with Hiro? With Peter? They've both gone through similar adjustments."

"Hiro says I just need to practice but what if I can't --"

Lauren stopped abruptly and blushed as she caught Nathan's eyes with her own. Mohinder followed the movement and nodded at Nathan with a tight smile.

"I'm sorry," Nathan said after a pause. "I was just…"

"Perhaps you can help," Mohinder said quickly.

Nathan was very willing, but Lauren's reaction was enough.

"I don't know much about it, to be honest," Nathan returned. "I was never subjected to what Lauren has been through and nothing about what I do has changed."

"Really?" Mohinder questioned, quite certain Nathan's powers had changed even if he wasn't aware of it.

"It's alright," Lauren said with a shake of her head, eager to escape this conversation. "I was just curious. I don't need help."

"Lauren," Mohinder began, facing her again but interrupted by the loud bang of the front door.

"What if this doesn't work?" Peter could be heard asking from the foyer.

"It should," Micah was saying as he entered the kitchen with a laptop in his hands.

"But if it doesn't?"

"Peter," Micah sighed wearily. "It will. You just have to concentrate and stop freaking out about it."

"What's going on?" Nathan asked, watching as Micah started up the computer and motioned Peter to sit down in front of it.

Mohinder and Nathan both moved to stand behind Peter, as Lauren slid silently out of the room.

"It's that damn list," Peter said, shaking his head and staring at the screen. "I can't get it out of my head."

"That's where you've been keeping the list? In your head?" Mohinder asked, shaken. "Peter, that's… that's…"

"How?" Nathan asked sharply.

"How is the easy part," Micah said dismissively. "Your brain can store infinite amounts of data."

"Let's not worry about how it's in there, let's get it out again," Peter said as he continued to stare at the computer and bite his thumb. "I'm starting to think about people I don't even know and call up information I shouldn't know about people I do."

"Okay," Micah said. "Just concentrate for a minute. You said when it happened you'd wanted to remove it and were touching the machine."

"Yeah," Peter said, shutting his eyes and putting his hands on the keyboard.

"Now," Micah continued, "think about the information. Picture it in your head, picture it as a file, and tell it where to go. Guide it."

For a moment there was nothing. Then the screen flickered a few times and list was there, on the screen before them. Peter opened his eyes and exhaled deeply.

"Goodbye Wisconsin cat-lady."

"What?" Micah asked.

"Nothing," Peter said, shutting his eyes again and rubbing his forehead. "God, that hurt."

"But is it gone?"

"Yeah," Peter answered, opening his eyes once more and staring at the screen. "It's gone. Thanks, Micah."

"So," Mohinder said, staring at the list now himself. "What do we do with it? Should we keep it or…"

"I don't know," Peter said honestly, sitting back and furrowing his brow. "Nathan, what do you think?"

"If we can keep it safe," he said, "it could be useful."

"I can lock this down pretty easily," Micah added. "It'll be safe as long as we are."

"There's a lot of personal information in there," Peter said, almost embarrassed. "Pictures and things. Stuff worth holding on to, but also…"

"Peter," Micah said, drawing his focus back to the list. "Are you sure you got all of it out of your head?"

"Yeah, why?"

"Lauren's not on here," Micah said, scrolling through the main list. "Maybe you missed some…"

"No," Peter said quickly, shutting the laptop. "I didn't. She was never on it. The list wasn't as complete as we'd thought."

Micah and Mohinder both seemed satisfied with the answer, but Nathan knew Peter better than that. Peter had never been as good of a liar as he was.

"Micah," Peter continued, turning to obstruct his face from Nathan's view, acutely aware of the scrutiny. "Could you lock this down? Do whatever you can to it. We can all decide later about what we'll do with it."

"Sure," Micah agreed, taking the laptop and heading back to the house he and his dad shared.

"I have some things to look into," Mohinder said soon after. "I'll see you both later."

Peter said goodbye, and Nathan waited.

"What?" Peter finally snapped at him.

"Why isn't she on the list?"

"How should I know," Peter answered, standing quickly and crossing the room.


"Does it really matter?"

"Yes," Nathan said, louder than he'd intended to. "It does, Peter. People kept off the list were done so with a reason; to hide them."

"You suddenly know an awful lot about it."

"I never saw it myself," Nathan said tersely. "But, I know how they worked. Secrecy and lies and…"

"What are you saying?" Peter asked with a laugh. "Weren't you the one who told me how ridiculous it was to suspect Lauren as the mole in the colony? She was too young, remember? Hell, she busted me out of Primatech. Do you think…"

"I'm not accusing…" Nathan said, growing visibly frustrated. "I don't think she's done anything wrong. From what I can tell, she's a sweet girl, and I know she's not involved in any of this, but there has to be a reason she's not there. They wouldn't just omit her."

Peter stared at him, arms across his chest for a long beat before Nathan finally realized that Peter wasn't looking at him, but past him.

"It's alright," Lauren said, addressing Peter as Nathan turned to her. "You can tell him. I… I was the one that kind of insisted that everyone know about Mohinder. It's only fair…"

"Lauren," Peter said kindly, "you don't have to say anything. It's no one's business but your own."

"No," Lauren said, shaking her head. "It's okay. I'm okay with him knowing. With everyone…" Lauren paused before turning to Nathan, but not quite looking him in the eyes. "I'm not on the list, on the main list at least. Hahn told us there were three. One for natural triggers and those they evolved unnaturally. A second for those who had potential to evolve and who began to after New York. And a third… a third that was just myself and Jenny Yi. Not even me, actually. Ainsley Crammer. That's who I was before… That's my real name."

Peter had dropped his chin to his chest as Nathan continued to watch Lauren with a stony silence.

"That's it," she finished, her eyes darting between them. "That wasn't so bad. It's out there now. It's done."

Lauren nodded stiffly and then left, neither of the brothers moving nor speaking until they'd heard the front door shut.

"Peter," Nathan started to say, but was actually silenced by the look he got in return.

"You couldn't just take my word for it?" Peter snapped.

"It's not that," Nathan said, his voice quiet but sincere. "I only wanted you to be certain…"

"I'm certain that I can trust every person here," Peter said, completely irate. "And I need you to trust me that if I'm keeping something from you, or from anyone, it's for the right reasons. No one needed to know that, Nathan. That was nobody's business but hers."

"I didn't know, Peter," Nathan said, his temper beginning to get the best of him as well. "I'm only trying to help."

"I don't need your help," Peter said bitterly as he stormed out of the room.

Nathan let him go; talking wouldn't do either of them any good at this point. As he'd expected, by that night, Peter was back to normal and acting as if they'd never even fought in the first place. That's how he was. Nathan wasn't sure if Peter was better at forgetting or forgiving, he'd never asked; he wasn't sure he wanted to know.

What was obvious after a few days was that Lauren had done neither. Nathan had never seen her so silent and she'd begun to hurry out of the room when either he or Peter entered it. Peter's only response when this would happen was to stare in Nathan's direction, causing Nathan to rethink his whole theory on Peter's capacity for forgiveness, before realizing that Peter only wanted him to set it right. Which was fair, Nathan guessed. He'd been the one to upset her; he should be the one to smooth things over.

Finding her to do so didn't prove difficult, only amusing.

"What's this?" he asked as he approached her out in the field near the main house.

"I needed something to do," she finished without lifting her head.

"And this was the best you could come up with?"

"It needed to be done, so I'm doing it," Lauren said a bit defensively.

"Yes," Nathan agreed. "It does need to be done, but are you really the right person for the job?"

"What's that mean?" she asked, winded even, as she set the axe to her side.

"Nothing, I'd just assume that there were more capable…"

"I'm plenty capable, thanks," Lauren said with just a trace of irritation as she resumed her work. Swinging just a bit wildly and missing the wood, not for the first time.

Nathan watched her take a few more swings, wondering where she even got the strength to lift the weight, it being obvious she'd been at it for some time.

"You don't have to stay here."

"Nonsense," Nathan said quickly. "Someone should stand by in case you take off an arm or some other appendage."

Lauren's mouth twitched as she fought off a smile.

"I'm not that bad."

"You're not that good, either."

"I told you," she said, the lightness that had peaked through momentarily, gone from her voice, "I needed something to do."

"I see," Nathan said, and as he scrutinized her face, he realized she'd been crying. "Mind if I take over?" he asked. "I could use the practice."

Lauren put the axe down and nodded. He half expected her to head off directly, but instead she walked over and sat heavily on the nearest stump.

"Here," he said, taking off and handing her his jacket. "Put that on. You look cold."

"You really like telling people what to do, don't you?" she returned.

"I do," he said, motioning once more for her to comply.

Lauren stared at him for a moment before finally pulling her arms through the long sleeves of his coat.

"So," Nathan said after he'd taken his first swing, "is there any particular reason you're out here punishing yourself with manual labor?"

When she didn't answer immediately, Nathan assumed she wouldn't. It would hardly be the first time she'd just never answered a question he'd asked. He'd grown to expect it from her, but, after a few more swings, she finally spoke up.

"I'm frustrated," she admitted. "This seemed like as good of a thing as any for that. Right?"

"It is oddly satisfying," he admitted.

They lapsed back into an easy silence, only interrupted by the steady crack of the axe.

"I'm also scared."

Nathan stopped only for a moment before continuing on with what he had been doing.

"Why's that?"

"I'm scared that I don't know what I'm becoming and I'm frustrated that I can't control it."

Nathan put the axe down and took a seat, waiting for her to continue.

"I've had so little control and whatever they did made it worse. This thing I do, it feels like it controls me and I hate that. It makes me think that maybe… maybe that's why I was on that last list. That maybe I'm going to become…"

"You're not going to become like Jenny Yi," Nathan interrupted, almost angry with her. "That's not possible. Jenny Yi was an unstable psychopath. There are warning signs, Lauren, and you have none of them."

"But you don't know if she was like that before," Lauren argued, still disturbed by the thought. "That list means she wasn't meant to evolve, and neither was I. Maybe it made her unstable. Maybe…"

"You're being ridiculous," Nathan said dismissively. "The list was just a classification. It could have easily been drawn up any number of ways. The two of you have absolutely nothing in common. Nothing."

"We were both on that list."

"Which means nothing," Nathan objected. "They only used it to track us. Forget the damn list. If it was really a list of would-be killers, Gabriel Gray would have been on the top of it."

"I suppose you're right," Lauren said uneasily after a lengthy pause.

"Of course I am," Nathan returned as he stood up again, so self-assured that Lauren laughed.

"So I'm being stupid?"

"Not stupid," Nathan said, taking another swing. "Just not smart."

Lauren stayed and watched as Nathan continued to chop firewood, contented with the silence for some time.

"So," he asked, pausing to take a break; sitting and finding himself more worn than he'd like to admit. "Is that it?"

Lauren looked at him and shrugged.

"Is there anything else you're dying to ask about? Worried about? Anything at all?"

"No," she said, shaking her head slightly.

"Oh," he said, sounding surprised.

"Why?" she asked, also surprised.

"I just thought you were still here because you weren't done yet," Nathan answered, feeling a bit foolish.

"Do you want me to go?" she asked, starting to get to her feet.

"No," he said quickly. Too quickly. "No," he repeated. "I like having an audience."

Lauren smiled and sat back down again, tucking her feet up underneath her.

"I kind of guessed that about you."

"Really?" he returned. "What else have you been guessing about me?"

But Lauren wouldn't say. She only continued to smile, turning her head off towards the trees that surrounded them. Nathan smiled as well, resuming work.

"I think spring is almost here," she said after another lengthy pause.

Nathan thought so too.