Title: Her Keeper
Author: Erin (erinm_)
Characters, Pairing: Stephen, Natalie and a random cab driver (mention of Eva, Miles, Frank and Jill Anastazio)
Rating: G
Summary: Stephen sees Natalie home.
Warning: post-Survivor. Can be read as a follow-up to Fragile Strength or as a seperate entity. *Written for Round 7 of prompt_in_a_box on LiveJournal. Prompt #6: But you touch me for a little while and all my fragile strength is gone. (Gravity, Sara Bareilles)
Disclaimer: The original characters belongs to NBC and their respective actors.

Natalie and Stephen sat on the park bench for about five more minutes before heading back inside; Natalie wanted to see the recent reports on Jill's condition before returning to Baltimore. The plane ride back took just over an hour and, since they had no luggage, getting out of the airport was fairly easy.

Stephen hailed a cab and held the door open for Natalie. Getting in behind her, he nodded to the driver. "Seventeenth, please."

Natalie shook her head. "Stephen, I've got work to do," she began.

Stephen shook his head in protest. "You need some sleep, Natalie. Don't make me pull a 'doctor's orders' call..."

She sighed heavily and turned to the driver. "Seventeenth and Clark, please." The driver nodded and pulled away from the curb.

Twenty minutes later, the cab pulled up in front of Natalie's building. Stephen stepped out and held out a hand to help Natalie out, then leaned in and overpaid the driver. As he pushed the door shut, Natalie stared at him.

"I'm a big girl, Stephen. I can make it upstairs on my own."

"I know you can," he began, leading Natalie to the stairs. "And I have every faith in your abilities. But," he paused as she pulled her keys from her jacket pocket. "-I'm not sure about your ability to follow orders," he ended with a forced smile. Natalie rolled her eyes and pushed the door open.

Stephen had only been to Natalie's apartment once before - she had tricked Frank and himself into helping her move in. 'Okay, not so much "tricked" as "won the bet,"' he thought with a huff. It looked different than the last time, probably because everything was unpacked.

Natalie took off her jacket and hung it on the corner of one of the chairs at the dining room table then moved to the bookshelf and turned back to Stephen, who simply turned her around, placed a hand on either shoulder and pushed her toward the bedroom. They moved to the right side of the bed and Stephen stopped, then turned Natalie to face him.

She gave him an obstinate look and he gently pushed her to the bed and pointed to the pillow. "Sleep, or don't sleep," he said sternly. "I don't care. Just lie down and close your eyes." Natalie, knowing there was no point arguing, gave him a mock salute, kicked her books off and lay down with a huff. Glaring at Stephen, she waved him out of her room and started at the ceiling.

Within two minutes, she was out.

-*-

Stephen moved back into the living room and took Natalie's jacket from the chair. Moving over to the hook behind the door, he noticed a collection of small, framed photos hanging on the wall in a random pattern. Everyone in the pictures was a member of the team, some group shots and some single subjects. Miles and Frank laughing at something, Eva striking a pose, Stephen focused on a stack of folders in the library, Natalie and her microscopes...

He smiled, remembering that afternoon and how Miles and Eva had turned a rather stress-filled day into an afternoon break. It was a good day. They needed more days like that with the work they did. Stephen pulled himself away from the photos on the wall and moved over to the bookshelf on the other side of the door and reached for the most interesting book on the shelf at eye-level.

He would stay until he was sure she was asleep, knowing she hadn't slept the day before, after he'd ordered her to. Granted, he thought as he sat down on the couch, he really wasn't one to talk. He'd only slept about four hours every five days.

He and Natalie were becoming far too much alike.

For a moment, as he flipped the textbook open, he wondered what the status of her social life was. Sighing as he glanced down at the medical textbook, he began huffing at comments here and there, noticing that one of the pictures was actually upside down. As he started the section on recognizing the symptoms of frostbite, Stephen's chin began to drop to his chest. Jerking up, Stephen tried to blink away sleep and reread the paragraph.

Within four sentences, Stephen Connor was asleep.

-*-

It was dark when Natalie finally woke up and her first thought was that she needed something for a headache. Padding toward the kitchen, she stopped just before the doorway and slowly turned toward the couch. She smiled at the sight of Stephen, asleep, and returned to her room. Grabbing the blanket off the end of the bed and her pillow, Natalie returned to the living room.

She pulled the book from his grasp and closed it before setting the book down on the coffee table. She tossed the pillow to the opposite side of the couch and shook out the blanket. As she directed him to the right, Stephen sighed. He stirred slightly as she removed his shoes, but Natalie simply covered him with the blanket and lightly ran a hand across his face.

He twitched slightly as Natalie whispered: "Go back to sleep." Stephen let out a light breath and turned his face into the pillow. Natalie smiled, straightened and adjusted the blanket slightly before moving back to the kitchen. It was a little odd that her boss was sleeping on her couch, but Natalie was just glad to have proof that Stephen Connor could physically sleep.

-*-

Stephen stirred about an hour later, keeping his eyes closed as long as possible and trying to place that scent. It reminded him of the outdoors, a park? Was it a flower? No, it was definitely from New York, but he spent the whole time at the hospital. Frank had done the field work and Natalie had- Natalie. That was it. Sitting on the bench after she tried not to cry. Her hair.

He smiled slightly as his eyes opened, his face buried in her pillow. Pulling away, he had to look around for a moment to get his bearings. Pushing the blanket away, Stephen sat up and reached for his shoes before standing up. He could hear a clicking sound coming from the direction of Natalie's kitchen. She was sitting on a bar stool at the counter, working on a laptop.

Knowing she was in a zone, Stephen leaned against the door jamb and took a moment to simply watch her. Natalie, of course, knew he was there, but pretended not to notice. Finishing the sentence she was working on, she never even looked up from the screen. "You know your face will freeze like that." Stephen blinked and straightened as she turned with a smirk. "Coffee? Tea?"

"Water would be great," he said with a forced smile. Natalie turned back to her computer and smiled again before pushing up from the stool. She moved over to a cupboard, opened the door and pulled out a glass, then turned and pulled a water jug from the fridge. "You just can't leave work and work, huh?" he asked, motioning to the stool and laptop setup.

Natalie made a face and handed him the glass. "Speak for yourself," she said with a raised eyebrow as he took the glass from her. He glanced at the report she was working on but refocused on her when she turned back toward another cupboard. It was too late to eat anything, but she hadn't eaten since Eva showed up yesterday morning with donuts from the cafeteria.

Stephen took another drink and watched as Natalie went through the motions, watching her assess the contents of each shelf, running possible combinations of ingredients and completely over thinking the process. "Natalie," he said quietly, wondering if she even remembered he was there.

"Natalie," he called again, just a bit louder. "Doctor Durant!" Natalie jumped and looked up to Stephen, confused for half a second at the sight of her boss in her kitchen.

"Stephen," she said slowly.

"I don't want to see you at work tomorrow," he stated, never looking away. Natalie snorted lightly and pushed the cupboard door shut.

"I'll take a day off when you do, Stephen," she said with rolled eyes and moved back to the laptop.

"Okay," Stephen said simply. Natalie looked up to him with narrowed eyes. "Tomorrow."

"Yeah, right," she laughed, reaching for Stephen's forehead. "Like you'd not show up for work."

"Not tomorrow," he said, ignoring the fact that she was trying to find a temperature.

"Well, if you aren't there, how will you know I'm not there?" And, if she wasn't there, how would she know he hadn't shown up? It was a fair question.

"Because you'll be with me," he responded. Natalie blinked and tilted her head slightly. "All day," he nodded.

Stephen Conner had just knocked Natalie Durant out of her bubble.