Seasons by SLynn
Rating: PG-13 by default
Season: One/AU after Fallout
Characters/Ships: Nathan, Peter/Claire
Disclaimer: Not mine. Well, not all mine.
Notes: It is done. Thank you Tripp3235 for all the help. Thank you reviewers. Thank you readers. Enjoy!
Summary: Nathan struggles to find his place during their first year in Maine. Post-'Revelations'.
"No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn."
"Weren't you at least going to say goodbye?"
The moonlight made it just bright enough for Nathan to see the look of mild contempt she cast at him over her shoulder as she continued to button up her shirt.
"I didn't think I needed to," she finally said as she resumed facing the wall.
"And that makes it okay?" Nathan asked, sitting upright so that the sheets slid down to his waist.
"I'm not sure if anything makes this okay," Lauren returned.
Nathan couldn't pretend he didn't know what she'd meant by that, so instead he chose to remain silent. For three weeks now they'd been sneaking off and falling into bed with each other whenever and wherever possible. Tonight it was at the fourth, still unoccupied, house; Ben and Rebecca having chosen to live with D.L. and Micah. It had begun accidentally and continued because Nathan had been too weak to stop himself.
"Really, Nathan," Lauren said, fully dressed as she sat down on the edge of the bed to pull on her shoes. "What are we doing here? What is this?"
"It's sex, Lauren," Nathan said, strangely perturbed by her question. "There's nothing wrong…"
"I know there's nothing wrong with it," she snapped in a fashion that made him think she wasn't being completely truthful. "And that's not what I meant."
"Then why don't you just tell me what you mean," he sighed.
"I meant is this just sex," Lauren clarified, raising her voice as she spoke. "Is that all this is to you?"
"It's not just sex," he began, "it's really good…"
"Damn it, Nathan," Lauren interrupted. "You know that's not... Please, stop playing these ridiculous word games of yours and just talk to me. That's all I want. One straight answer from you. Just one."
"You want a straight answer," Nathan said harshly, getting up now and pulling on his own clothes. "I'll give you an answer. You know what this is? It's a mistake. There. I answered you."
"Great," she nearly spit out, her back still to him.
"You know, I don't know what you expect from me," Nathan continued, growing angrier with each passing word. "It's just sex. It's about physical attraction and biological need. That's it. Am I supposed to bare my soul to you because of it? Am I supposed to wake up a different person? You can't really have expected this to change anything."
"Don't try to turn this on me," Lauren returned getting quickly to her feet. "The only thing I've ever asked from you was for you to be truthful, and you can't even do that. You can't just tell me…"
"What do you want me to tell you? That we're going to live happily ever after? Lauren, look around you. It isn't going to happen! You're always looking for reassurances that I can't give you. I can't meet your expectations."
"The only thing I'm looking for is someone to connect with, Nathan. I'm not asking you to say that this is forever; I just want you to say something. Anything, Nathan. I want to know that it's at least for today. Is that too hard for you? Is that asking too much?"
"Yes!" he yelled. "Why can't this just be what it is without us having to define everything?"
"Because I'm not a whore!"
Nathan, visibly stunned by the remark, turned a few small circles around the room as they both tried to compose themselves again.
"I don't think that," he finally said softly.
"But that's what this is like," she said, her voice not more than a whisper, but full of emotion. "I've been with men like you before, Nathan, and I swore... I can't keep doing this if it means nothing to you. I have to have some respect for myself."
"Men like me?" he repeated coldly. "I see. So, you can't respect yourself if you keep sleeping with me."
"That's not how…"
"I understood you fine."
"No," she said, shaking her head and moving towards him, truly apologetic. "No, you don't... I only meant…"
"I'm so sorry," he said with biting sarcasm. "If that's the problem, we can fix it easy enough. Set you up with a real nice guy. There are still plenty left hanging around. You had one lined up before --"
Lauren didn't let him finish. She slapped him hard enough to turn his head and leave a mark. Nathan knew, even before the words were out of his mouth that that was how it would be; that even a vague reference would be too much.
She was out the door and halfway down the hallway before he even realized she'd gone. Nathan, jogging quickly after her, called out to her, but she wouldn't stop. Lauren slipped on the last few steps, but even that wouldn't slow her and she wouldn't look back. Nathan followed her as far as the porch, but not further; watching until he saw her go into her own house just across the road before going back inside; the cold air of the night doing nothing to restore his calm.
Nathan quickly finished getting dressed before returning, still angry, back to his own house a few minutes later. Slamming the door shut behind him as he walked inside, he was startled to find Peter sitting at the bottom of the steps, apparently waiting for him.
"Not now," Nathan practically growled, moving past him and into the living room.
He'd just crossed the threshold when he felt Peter shove him from behind.
"What?" Nathan snapped at him, completely unprepared for how enraged Peter had become.
"You had no right to keep this from me," Peter yelled.
"Keep what from you?" Nathan asked with a raised voice, half-worried he had gone around the bend.
"Don't play dumb," Peter continued to yell. "She already told me. I already know."
"Peter, I don't know what you're talking about," Nathan returned sharply.
"Did she tell you she was sick, too? Did you just decide I didn't need to know?"
"Claire," Nathan said as it suddenly dawned on him. "Oh, God, is she…"
Nathan fell backwards, rattled and dazed as it dawned on him that Peter had hit him square in the jaw.
Nathan was still shaking his head to clear it when D.L. ran into the room, looking grim as he pulled Peter out of it.
"Just go outside," D.L. ordered, practically pushing the other man out the door. "Take a walk or something, Peter. Cool down."
"What's happened?" Nathan asked as soon as the door had shut, still rubbing his jaw. "Is Claire…"
"She's fine," D.L. assured him. "Bethany is upstairs with her."
"Okay," Nathan said, clearly skeptical.
"She's sick," D.L. continued. "She had some cramping and…"
"And?" Nathan asked, moving to him with an alarming speed. "And what?"
"Bethany's worried about the baby."
"Worried but…" Nathan started to ask, but couldn't continue.
"She said we need to just wait and see," D.L. answered, clearly doubtful about the outcome.
Nathan nodded briskly before heading up the steps, only vaguely aware of D.L. calling him back. It didn't deter him. Nathan continued straight to the room Claire and Peter shared, only knocking briefly before edging the door open.
Bethany looked up sharply but relaxed upon seeing him, motioning him forward.
"How is she?"
"Sleeping," Bethany answered. "Did they tell you?"
"How bad is it really?"
"Peter said she collapsed after dinner," she answered. "Her fever is still pretty high, but it's come down. There wasn't any spotting, only cramps, so… I wish I was a real doctor. I think she and the baby will be fine, but that's…"
Bethany trailed off, shaking her head with a sad smile.
"Why don't you let me stay" Nathan said, indicating her chair by the bed.
"Sure," Bethany said, getting to her feet. "Just, come get me if you need anything or if she seems worse."
Nathan nodded, taking her spot and settling in for a long night. Half an hour later Peter crept into the room and took a seat on the opposite side of the bed without saying a word to him. It was easy to see he was still angry, but less so than before.
"She asked me not to tell you," Nathan said after a lengthy pause.
"Since when have you cared so much about what she asks?"
"That's unfair," Nathan said in a low voice.
Nathan chose silence, returning his eyes to Claire's still sleeping form.
"You're not going to deny it?" Peter asked, still glaring at him.
"Peter, if you want to fight with me, fine; we'll fight," Nathan returned with an icy indifference. "But I'm not doing this here. Or now. Do you understand?"
"Yeah," Peter said with a curt nod. "I understand. I understand a lot of things. Like how you just can't get over yourself, Nathan. I understand that. And Claire, she's doing this to herself. It's guilt. It's all guilt and self-pity in here. And it's not just here, there's nowhere…"
"…I can get away from it. No one will just stop and…"
"…I can't make it stop or shut it up. It's all day and night now. All the time. It's everywhere and it's pulling my head apart. It's pulling me apart."
Nathan couldn't take it anymore. He moved, probably faster than he'd ever done, over to Peter and half-dragged him out of the room and into the bathroom next door.
"What are you doing?" Peter asked, once they were there; struggling as Nathan turned on the sink and held Peter's face to the running water. "What are you doing? Get off."
"You're bleeding," Nathan said tersely, finally catching Peter's attention.
He looked up into the mirror before covering his nose with his hand.
Nathan waited, sitting on the edge of the bathtub, as Peter cleaned up.
"How long?" Nathan asked as Peter twisted a towel in his hands.
"It's been on and off."
"For how long?" Nathan asked again, louder now.
"About a year."
"Peter," Nathan snapped, unable to hold back his initial shock.
"I know… I know I should have…" Peter said apologetically.
"You should have told someone," Nathan agreed. And then, sensing his rebuttal, added, "And it's not the same. Claire's problem just isn't. Her power is nothing like yours. It's no where near as dangerous, and you know it."
"I do," Peter reluctantly admitted, "but I really thought I could handle it. I thought… At first I thought it was that stupid list leaking information into my head, and then I knew it wasn't and I still…"
"Do you know what it is?"
Peter nodded uneasily. "It's Matt. It's… It's whatever he does now. However his power evolved… I picked it up and it's like a damn virus. It's not just thoughts now; it's emotions and memories; it's feelings. And the stronger they are, the worse it is. It happens all the time and I don't know how to shut it off."
"And you can't exactly ask him how he does it either," Nathan said in a low voice, truly concerned for his brother.
"No," Peter agreed, a note of anxiety in his voice. "Or talk to Claire. Not about this. She's just started to let go. If I brought him up again, I'm afraid it would bring that all back to her."
"You could have talked to me, Pete."
"I didn't… You've got enough to deal with," Peter shrugged.
"I never have so much that I can't help you."
"No offense, Nathan, but you do," Peter argued. "Right now, you do. You're… you're the worst one here. Being in your head is…"
Peter trailed off; both embarrassed by what he'd said that for a long moment neither could look at the other.
Peter was already shaking his head before saying, "No."
"You two don't need me as your go-between and you can't be afraid to say things that the other may find unpleasant. She didn't want to tell you about her problem because of how you might react and you're doing the same damn thing. That's not going to work. Not for long."
"I don't want to upset her. I don't want her thinking that I'm going to leave her too because I can't handle this."
"Do you love her?"
"Of course I do…"
"Good," Nathan said, quickly cutting him off to continue. "Then you need to rely on her. That's all there is to it. Through good and bad and everything in between."
"It feels like I've forgotten how to be a person," Peter sighed. "Everything that's happened..."
"All of that's going to look easy compared to what's to come," Nathan said.
"What if…" Peter began fearfully, unable to complete the thought aloud.
"I don't know," Nathan said, shaking his head. "You'll get through it. You'll have to. Together.
Peter nodded uneasily, letting it sink in for a moment, before quietly saying, "I'm sorry I hit you."
"It's fine," Nathan said, even managing a smile.
"No, it's… I'm going to get control over this. I am."
"I know you will."
They both stood to go, Nathan clapping Peter on the shoulder as he led the way back to the room.
"Why don't I give you two some privacy," Nathan suggested.
"Thanks," Peter returned, stopping Nathan and hugging him before he got too far.
Nathan watched the door shut on them, but he didn't feel he could sleep. So, instead of going to his own room, he went back downstairs to the living room to wait out the rest of the night. The next thing he knew the front door banged open, ushering in daylight and the sound of familiar voices.
"You could have woken me," Mohinder was saying, quite perturbed.
"I tried," Bethany argued. "D.L. tried. We all tried. You were out cold. You're here now, so…"
"But nothing," Bethany said, ending it. Catching Nathan's eyes on her, she smiled before addressing him. "How did she sleep?"
Nathan stood up and suppressed a yawn. "Good, last I checked."
"Let's go up then," Mohinder said, tentatively taking the steps; his leg still sore and not fully recovered.
"How's Peter?" Bethany asked, climbing the steps slowly to await an answer.
"Better," Nathan said.
She gave him a smile, and Nathan watched their progress up the steps before retreating to the kitchen. Before he'd even finished making the coffee, the sound of the front door opening again could be heard from the foyer.
Nathan cast a glance over his shoulder as Lauren entered the kitchen, stopping in her tracks just inside the door.
"I…" she stammered, momentarily stunned. "I just found out… D.L. said Claire was sick. How is she?"
Nathan kept his back to her for a moment, needing a moment, before replying, "She's fine. At least, we think she is."
Lauren, clearly conflicted, continued to hang in the doorway, neither in nor out of the room with him. Nathan, collected once more, faced her fully and, despite the realization that they were both still in the clothes they'd been wearing last night, gestured to the coffee as he took a seat at the table. She paused only briefly before pouring her own cup and sitting across from him expectantly.
"I didn't do that, did I?"
It only took a second for him to recollect. Rubbing his chin he smiled, "No. You're hardly the only person here who's deserved to take a swing at me."
"I shouldn't have hit you," Lauren returned, staring down into her cup. "I'm sorry about that."
"No," he countered. "You were completely justified. I was entirely out of line."
"I meant the rest though," Lauren continued. "I can't keep doing this, Nathan. It's not… it's not healthy, for either of us."
Nathan knew it was true, and that it was time to stop playing games and just admit it. "About that…"
"No," Lauren interrupted, back on her feet. "There's nothing left to say."
"There's plenty left to say, Lauren."
"There really isn't," she said, backing up and out of the room. "I know how you feel; or rather, I know how you don't feel. I don't want to keep going over how stupid I've been and… and that's it."
"That's not it," Nathan said, on his feet now, closing the distance between them with hurried steps. "Lauren, you… you've got this wrong. It's not…"
"How have I got this wrong?" Lauren asked, with a bitter laugh as they both moved into the foyer. "How could I possibly have gotten it wrong? You told me you were tired of my expectations. That's pretty clear, Nathan."
"I didn't mean it."
"It felt like you did," Lauren said, shaking her head with a false smile on her face. "And that's fine. It really is. My mistake."
Before Nathan could rebuff her claims, their attention was caught by the sound of quick footsteps coming down the steps.
"Nathan," Peter said as soon as he'd caught sight of him, momentarily overlooking Lauren. "She's okay. She's really okay. Claire and the baby. I heard the heartbeat. It's… it's amazing. You've got to come up. She wants to talk to you."
"Give us a minute," Nathan said, his eyes moving back to Lauren.
Peter's eyes fell on her as well, his smile fading as it dawned on him what was going on.
"No," she said, forcing her smile to remain in place, her eyes shifting between the two of them without ever making contact. "You should go. We're done here anyway. It's great, Peter. It's great. Tell Claire I'll come by later, okay?"
They both watched as she hurried out the door, unable to stop her by any protests or proclamations.
"Nathan," Peter started, still halfway down the steps.
"Don't," he interrupted. "Just, don't. I don't need you telling me what I've done wrong now. I know."
Peter looked at him for a long moment before nodding briefly and heading back up stairs. Nathan took a minute longer, taking a deep breath or two to steady his emotions, before going up after him, looking to be made happy if only for a moment.
Claire really was better. Whether her powers finally just kicked in on their own, or if Claire had willed them to work again, they didn't know. No one cared. It was a relief either way. Both Mohinder and Bethany were insistent that she take it easy for a few days, but by the end of that first night it was clear there would be no relapse.
The next few weeks Nathan watched as Peter seemed to improve as well. He was still a bit irritable, but nothing like he'd been previously. He hadn't come out and told Nathan that he'd finally confessed what was wrong to Claire, but only because he didn't have to. It was obvious. The two of them were closer than ever, and if Nathan had thought himself uneasy as their go-between, he found it was better than being their shadow.
He wasn't bitter about it, only a little sad; not that he'd tell them. This delayed honeymoon period they were now living in was well deserved, for each. If only it wasn't so hard to live with, Nathan felt he could be happier for them. As it was, he couldn't even escape it, and their closeness was grating because he had nothing similar in his life now, and no chance for it in the future. Nathan had wrecked that chance, likely his last, for good. Lauren wouldn't come near him.
At about this time Hiro, who had resumed his scouting missions earlier in the month, returned. He'd made a fairly expansive trip, traveling as far south as Boston, and well north into Canada.
"So it's definite?" Peter asked Hiro across the dining room table as they all sat down to eat.
"I would say so," he answered. "It isn't large now, only twenty or thirty people, but they've moved into our old place and look as if they plan on staying."
"Did you contact them at all?" D.L. questioned.
"No," Hiro said, shaking his head animatedly. "No. I don't think they'll be a problem for us, but I didn't want to take the chance. There were too many of them."
"Any like us?" Claire asked, a phrase so common that, even though Mohinder and Bethany weren't actually included in it, they were considered so by everyone present.
"A few that I saw," Hiro returned. "Very few. I'm not sure how many of us are left. It used to be that we were everywhere, but I'm afraid Yi did too good of a job purging the population."
"What about the Order?" Nathan asked, knowing he would have to; no one else would bring it up around him. "The Republic?"
"The Order is rebuilding," Hiro said evenly. "From what I gather a man named Fuller is running things, but many people have fled. The Republic seems completely dead. I think that's what's pushing people north. There was some kind of influx from the Republic not long ago that has strained resources."
"I'll poke around their old systems tonight," Micah offered. "See if they've rebuilt that yet."
Peter nodded before asking, "Do you think we should be worried yet, Hiro?"
"Not of the Order," he answered. "I think we may have more problems from the Commonwealth."
"Where have I heard that before?" D.L. asked.
"Probably from me," Ben provided with a shake of his head. "The Commonwealth is the reformed Canadian government. It has been mostly benevolent, but…"
Ben shrugged, not sure how to describe it.
"It's kind of cult-like," Bethany provided.
"How so?" Mohinder asked.
But Bethany just shut her mouth tightly and shook her head, not willing to give any further information.
"Women are, um…" Ben said, blushing deeply as he spoke, "communal."
"You can't be serious," Claire said sharply.
"Haven't you noticed that we're not as many as we used to be?" Bethany asked back to her.
Claire shared a puzzled look with Lauren, before looking around the table; it finally striking her that there was nearly twice as many men as women. Nathan noticed that Rebecca began to shift uneasily in her chair, prompting Ben to lock eyes with Peter in a silent plea to end this discussion.
"How close are they to us?" Peter asked, trying to wrap it up, but still needing to know.
"Not close enough for us to be alarmed," Hiro returned. "But we should stay alert."
"Okay," Peter said with enough finality to stop at least three questions before they could be asked.
The rest of dinner went by uneasily. No one talked much, and they'd all waited until Rebecca and Micah had gone to bed, the latter protesting rather loudly, before recommencing the previous conversation.
"Where's Hiro?" Peter asked, looking around; surprised to find him gone.
"He stepped outside with Lauren," Claire answered. "Said they'd be a minute and to start without them."
Nathan couldn't help himself, turning his head in the direction Claire had indicated; just catching sight of the door shutting the two of them outside of the house.
"Okay," Peter nodded before turning to Ben. "What can you tell us?"
"Not much that hasn't been said already," he answered. "There are parts that are completely free of Commonwealth influence and others that aren't. Most of it, like the Order, is concentrated on the east coast. It's all ran by a man named McKellar. He stepped up after Famine swept the country. Decided the only way to stop him was to breed up as many normal people as he could."
"Stop who?" Peter asked, sensing he lost something there.
"Famine," Bethany repeated.
Peter looked at Nathan, who shrugged, having no idea what they were talking about.
"You've never heard of Famine?" Ben asked incredulously.
"We know what a famine is, but…" Mohinder began.
"No," Bethany interrupted quickly. "Not a what. Famine is a he. It's a person."
"And his name is Famine?" Peter questioned, not believing this could be real.
"Come on, Pete," Nathan said dryly. "You know you've always wanted a cool superhero name."
"Unreal," Peter said, shaking his head and trying hard to suppress a laugh.
"He's very real," Bethany said. "And dangerous. Or he was. Supposedly McKellar killed him, or had him killed; either way, after that he took over."
Nathan looked up as Lauren and Hiro returned into the living room, quietly taking their seats; Hiro nearest the rest of the group and Lauren off in a corner.
"McKellar hates those of us with powers," Ben continued. "He finds us threatening, and with people like Famine and Sylar, it was hard to argue. But his methods…"
"Have either of you seen this firsthand?" D.L. asked uneasily; too aware of what had been suggested earlier, and both Bethany and Rebecca's reaction to it.
"Yeah," Ben provided. "I've seen it. They don't have any way to weed us out of the regular population so they take a wait and see approach. You can turn in your neighbors, if you spot them at it, but if you're wrong and they don't have powers…"
"It's like brain washing," Bethany continued. "There's all this propaganda and false information about what's been done or what will be done; false threats and accusations. The news is very strictly controlled and completely dominated by the Commonwealth. The military is everywhere, in every major city. Smaller towns and communes still exist outside of their control, but they're mostly to the west. It wasn't until the last year or so I was travelling that I'd even seen…"
Bethany trailed off easily, clearly not wanting to say more.
"What…" Claire started to ask, unsure how to phrase it.
"At a certain age all the women in a town are required to register with the Commonwealth office," Ben answered, getting what she needed to hear. "Every town has a magistrate that resides over it, like a mayor I guess, and once a month all the women over a certain age, who aren't already pregnant, are required to come in and… and well, it's like a lottery system among the men in town. The women are still free to live with their families and with their husbands, but they are also required to have a certain number of children. If they don't… Well, there are guidelines but the town's magistrate ultimately has the final say."
"That's repulsive," Claire said, covering her eyes with her hands.
"Birth rates are lower than they were," Ben continued. "And, Bethany was right. There just aren't as many women around these parts, largely because of the Commonwealth. They got out while they could."
"What are the basic guidelines?" Peter asked.
"Women over the age of fifty are exempt," he answered. "As are women who've already had five children. The first time I'd come across a town under magistrate rule was when I'd met Rebecca. The family she was with were claiming her as their own, to bring them up to five. They didn't know who Rebecca's real family was and those things are getting harder to prove. They'd told the magistrate in town she was twelve, because their own, real daughter, was also ten. When I found that out, and that Rebecca was being forced to sign up, I took her out of there."
"At twelve?" D.L. said disbelievingly. "They thought she was twelve and still?"
"She was really only ten and those people knew it," Ben said angrily. "They didn't care as long as it wasn't their daughter."
"Most towns the age is sixteen," Bethany answered. "Some it isn't until the women are twenty-one. But, it varies."
No one spoke for a long time, silently letting the information sink in; the next big threat they knew that they'd eventually have to deal with, but not now. Hiro assured them, again, that the Commonwealth wasn't close enough to be a danger. It was only something they should be aware of and be wary of.
Nathan stayed downstairs, hoping that Lauren might stay as well, as the night went on. He was surprised when, as the room slowly cleared, she didn't leave. Lauren had taken to leaving whenever the first few usually called it a night. Tonight, however, she hung back in the same corner she'd occupied since she'd entered the room, occasionally glancing down at a small book she held in her hands.
Finally, they were alone and Nathan, despite having so much he wanted to say to her, couldn't bring himself to get near enough to try. He stayed focused on his book, uncertain to what he'd even read, but continuing on relentlessly until the sound of footsteps caught his attention.
But, instead of leaving, as he thought she must be doing, Lauren had only moved and taken a seat beside him.
"I wanted to say thank you," Lauren said once he'd met her eyes.
"You don't…" she started, sighing heavily and shaking her head. "Don't pretend, okay? Hiro already told me the truth. He told me you asked him to go by my old house and look for this. You gave him the address off the list… So, thank you."
Nathan looked down with renewed interest at the book she held and smiled faintly. He'd almost forgotten. Hiro had left before their last falling out; he'd thought it would be a nice surprise. Nathan liked to think he'd have asked regardless of their situation, but couldn't be that sure of himself.
"He was able to find something?" he asked quietly.
Lauren smiled and nodded, turning it over in her hands once more.
"Would you like to see?" she asked after considering it for a moment.
She held the book out for him to take. Nathan was sure she'd meant it, but hesitated to begin. Finally, unable to take her gaze, he opened the small photo book and smiled at a picture of a young girl that had become the woman beside him.
"The book was my mother's," Lauren said, leaning in to see it as well. "That's me and my family."
"How old were you there?"
"Oh," she sighed uncertainly. "I think I was fourteen. Lauren was eight and Taylor only six. It's the last formal picture we took before my father died."
"I'm sorry," he said automatically, momentarily forgetting that now everyone in this photo was only a memory for her.
"It's alright," she returned automatically, having probably gotten that response more than once.
Nathan turned the page and caught Lauren's smile widen. There were lots of pictures, mostly family shots of recitals and graduations; lots of them only of the three girls in the family. It all appeared ideal in the way only a photo can.
"That's my mother, again," she said, pointing to one in particular shot. "She remarried about four years later, just after I'd graduated from high school. I gave her too hard of a time about it; Paul wasn't a bad guy. He just wasn't my father."
"Is that you?" Nathan asked, not sure if he was right or not.
"Yeah," Lauren said, clearly embarrassed. "I'm not sure what you'd call that… a phase? I was kind of a brat and, um… the hair and the make-up was my passive resistance to the wedding."
"That would have never flown with my mother," Nathan said, laughing now fondly. "She'd have dragged you out back and washed you up herself. She did actually kick someone out of the church at my own wedding for daring to wear white."
Lauren laughed along with him for a moment before her eyes misted over. "Not my mother. I thought for sure that she'd take one look at me and refuse to let me walk as a bridesmaid. But instead she only smiled and told me I looked beautiful. I felt so stupid."
"You were young," Nathan said defensively, putting his arm around her and pulling her close. "And you were probably pretty angry. No one wants to see a parent replaced."
"I was awful," Lauren said, shaking her head. "Just awful. To her. To Paul. To everyone. They only wanted to help me and the more they tried the harder I pushed them away. It's almost kind of funny."
"What is?" Nathan asked.
"I mean, come on," Lauren shrugged. "I build walls. I have my whole life. I'm much more comfortable keeping people outside than I am ever letting them in, because when I do they either leave me or…"
"They disappoint you," Nathan finished.
"Yeah," she agreed, staring into his eyes. "They do. It's just easier."
"It is easier," he said, bringing his hand to the back of her neck and contemplating his next move.
Lauren tensed up under his touch, shutting the book and setting it aside; her eyes moving away from his uneasily.
"I've never been good with people," Nathan said, stopping first to clear his throat. "I know how to get what I want. I know how to convince and connive and finesse them, but beyond that… beyond that I've always been a bit lost. I was always good at my job, but as a husband I was a disaster. As a father I did better, but only because I wasn't around as much as I should have been. My own father left it to my mother to raise us and I did the same. The things that should have been important to me weren't because I had ambitions, and responsibilities, and plans. My parents had raised me to succeed and that was exactly what I was going to do. No matter the cost."
She took his hand and squeezed it as he paused, collecting his thoughts.
"When this all started," he continued, "when it all first started, I didn't want to believe it could be true. I would have never admitted it was happening if it hadn't been for Peter. Peter is the only person in my life who, no matter how many times I have failed him has never stopped… He's impossible that way. You can't shake him; he just won't let you."
Nathan stopped, studying her face. Looking for what, he didn't know. He only looked. And so she encouraged him with a smile, and that was it. It was decided. Nathan could tell her.
"It had been Peter's idea and I was never comfortable with it," he admitted. "Maybe I didn't like it because it was his idea, and not mine, or maybe because I felt that it wasn't our responsibility. The risk seemed… no, the risk was too great. Not just lives, I was never worried about lives the way I should have been… there were other risks. Exposure and condemnation; that's what worried me most. That's why I delayed and postponed and tried any way I could to get him to see reason, my reason, and… and I put myself out of the way, hoping he wouldn't go through with it and knowing, eventually, he would have to."
He stopped again and shook his head, squeezing her hand this time.
"I wasn't there and I should have been. I'd promised him. If nothing else I promised him I would, but I wasn't. I didn't have to be in D.C. that day, but I chose to and when I found out… when I saw the news I was shocked and I was angry. I'd never been so angry before in my life and it was really my own fault. I should have never left. I should have known my own brother well enough to realize he couldn't back down from this. We're alike that way, if nothing else. When we think we're right, we can't back down. But, instead of blaming myself, I blamed everyone else. It was easier to think it was their fault, that they'd somehow tricked Peter or manipulated him into going after that monster; that they had propped him up and hidden behind him, but I was the one that ran away."
"You couldn't have known that all of this…"
"I knew enough," Nathan interrupted, but not harshly. "I knew what Sylar was and I knew what Peter was capable of. That was enough. It should have been enough to tell me… but I wouldn't hear it. I thought I was right; I knew it. And when I'm right…"
"That's why you went along," Lauren said quietly.
"Yes," Nathan answered, nodding briskly and looking at her hand still wrapped around his. "That's it's exactly. I was right and they were wrong, and someone had to pay. Someone had to be held responsible and when I could finally get back into New York… They'd sent in someone as soon as they could to look for my boys; for my family. Even then it was six months… six months had gone by and neither Heidi nor I thought… They found them, as we'd expected, and they also found a letter. Everyone had been accounted for except Peter. And that was it; that was the proof. After that it was easy to believe what I was told; the lies I was fed. They'd let him sacrifice himself and didn't even bother… I wish I'd never seen that letter."
"Nathan," she started to say, but didn't know how to continue.
"I wasn't lying when I told you that I wouldn't do it again. I wouldn't. If I could, I'd do it all differently," he said sincerely. "But I can't change what's happened. I can't go back… I showed that I had no faith, no confidence in the one person who has always had faith and confidence in me. You think it's funny that you build walls, but I've always felt above it all; detached."
"Do you still feel that way?"
"Sometimes. Sometimes I do and other times… It's easier pretending to be above it all."
"I don't want to spend the rest of my life hiding, Nathan," Lauren said flatly, her emotions just in check. "I don't want to pretend that what I'm feeling isn't real. I don't want to be afraid of telling people how… I've taken too much for granted and if I have learned anything from all of this it's that there's no time to waste. I don't want to waste my time, and I don't think I am."
"Am I wasting my time with you?" she asked.
"If I said yes…"
"I wouldn't believe you."
"Because I'm a liar?" he asked.
"Because you're a good liar."
"I am not an easy person to get along with."
"I know that," she said, laughing even as a few tears slid down her face.
"I'm distant and mean. I expect too much. I'm unreasonable and demanding; I am often detached."
"No, you're not," she said, shaking her head. "You pretend to be, but you're not."
"I will disappoint you," he tried instead. "I won't mean to do it, Lauren, but I will. I will disappoint you."
"I've been disappointed before," she argued, wiping her face. "I bounce back pretty well from it."
"I have nothing to offer you."
"I'm not asking for anything."
Nathan smiled at her, and having run out of excuses moved closer and gently pressed his lips to hers; both his hands now moving freely in her hair as she drew closer, deepening their kiss. If she could hear the worst of him, and still be here beside him, then there really wasn't much more he could say.
When they broke apart, she looked up at him with a giddy sort of laugh and said, "I missed that."
"But," Lauren said, pulling back slightly before he could kiss her again, "I meant it… I did mean what I said. I can't just… Nathan, this has to mean something to you. It just can't be about what it's been about."
"Not even a little bit?"
"Maybe a little bit," she said, blushing as he gave her another quick kiss. "I just… I need more than that."
"I can't promise you nightly confessions," Nathan said, becoming more serious, "but I can try. I can certainly try harder than I have been. For you. I can do that for you."
"I don't need you to do anything special," she returned. "I just need you. Don't detach yourself from me and I won't hide myself from you."
"Okay," he said, nodding his head and feeling elated.
"Okay," she said with a smile that Nathan echoed, moving in again to kiss her; stopped only as she turned her head. "But we should probably take this a little slower. You know, to be certain."
"Oh," Nathan said surprised, if not a little disappointed. "If that's what you want. Sure. We can do that."
"I'm joking," she said, laughing before kissing him passionately.
"That wasn't really funny," he said back at her, in-between kisses.
"You're jealous you didn't think of it first."
"A little," he admitted, grinning at her mischievously.
"Come on," she said, getting to her feet and tugging on his hand. "You can get back at me upstairs."
"Now this had better not be a joke," he returned, sounding completely serious as he let her lead the way.
"It's not," she smiled, stopping at the top of the stairs as she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him again.
"Good," he said, smiling also as they broke a part; his arm tight around her waist as they made it the rest of the way to his room. Hesitating once they were there and fixing her with a much more serious look. "Are you sure that this is what you want? That I'm…"
"I'm sure," she said earnestly.
"I really could end up hurting you," he admitted. "Disappointing you. That wasn't a lie. I'm good at that."
"I'm willing to risk it," Lauren said, still sincere. "I'd rather risk it. I'm tired of being alone. Aren't you?"
"I am. But I have to wonder why you'd want me? Why me?"
"If you don't know already than I can't help you with that," Lauren answered, her tone turning playful.
"I guess that will do," Nathan said, oddly relieved by her sentiment and her unwillingness to divulge it. Neither of them was ready to admit more, and that was fine for now. They both had their problems; their own demons, many of which might never be fully exorcised. But together, none of those problems seemed as big as they had seemed when alone.
It was the first time in a long time that the future felt full of promise. It was the first time that Nathan felt like these feelings and regrets he'd been living with for so long could be overcome. He hadn't been looking for it, or expecting it, but he'd found the way to forgiveness. Nathan found that he could eventually forgive himself, even if he could never forget. That like winter, this too would pass into spring.