The only time he can get an erection is in his sleep, so he's used to waking up with a woody. Nathan cherishes the moment, even as it begins to subside. Something in his dreams, even when he can't remember them, overrides the numbness, the lack of stimulus, and zings right to the center of his brain. His doctors had long, complicated explanations for it, but what it boiled down to was that sex was all in his head. When he dreams about women, when memory brings back for a moment those fleeting instants of sheer bliss, back when his dick was functional, it's like an itch deep inside that he can't scratch, an internal fire that no water can touch. He can still sometimes remember what it felt like to come, what it felt like to feel a woman around him, feel that tight, hot wet stretch that led to paradise. But the older he gets, the tougher it is to recall those sensations.
Talk about your mind fuck.
He swings his legs out of bed, puts his feet on the floor. Belatedly, he remembers that the floor might be cold or wet or ankle deep in broken glass, or otherwise bad for his feet, so he lifts them up and searches for wool socks. His naked body is covered with small scars, fading bruises, scratches. A dozen times a week he bleeds, from bumps and scrapes ordinary people can avoid automatically, contacts others swing away from, step past without thinking. He used to try to get through a day without hurting himself, but it was too damn much trouble. Now he just tries to make sure he goes to bed with the same number of fingers and toes he got up with.
In the bathroom, he uses a thermometer to make sure his shaving water is not hot enough to scald him, and then scrapes off the beard with extreme care. Every day he has to decide between the electric razor that doesn't do a very good job, and the razor blades that give him a close shave and a closer chance at cutting his own jugular before he knows it. Common sense would have him throwing his razor away, but with the razor comes the scented soap, and he's just pussy enough, longs just enough for that moment of engagement with the world, that he will risk his neck, literally, to be able to smell shaving soap. The electric gel just isn't the same as good old fashioned bay rum and Old Spice. After checking the temperature of the shower water, he stands under it for a good long time; he can't feel the temperature or the water, but he can sense his muscles relaxing.
His clothes are well worn, almost nothing new. He still remembers the day he wore a new shirt to work, unaware that a collar pin had been left in. He lost a lot of blood before one of his colleagues noticed it soaking through his jacket. His father yelled at him a lot that week; Nathan didn't mind, he knew it was the old man's way of expressing panic. Now he examines his clothes carefully under a strong light every day, looking for the stray bit of broken glass that might have dropped into a crease, or a burr that would chafe him raw before he knew it. In the pocket of his heavy jacket, he finds a flower petal. It's from the bouquet he bought for Audrey when they met. He's not sure why he kept it―the scent has long since faded beyond recall―but it's sort of a good luck charm so he carefully straightens it out and puts it back.
The indoor/outdoor thermometer and the barometer remind him that the forecast is for rainy and cold, so he shrugs into the heavy coat. The weight on his shoulders is a welcome sensation; at least gravity still works for him. Gun, check. Cell phone, check. Badge, check. Wallet, check. First aid kit, check. Good to go. He heads for the truck, watching his feet, hoping he's not raising any blisters.
Audrey's waiting at the diner where he usually picks her up. She smiles when he comes in, and he feels the tingle. He hasn't felt a tingle for any reason, any woman, in years, until the day she casually gave him a peck on the cheek which he could feel. Which means he would do pretty much anything on earth to keep her around. But he's careful, so careful, not to let her know. She's a butterfly, a dragonfly, something fleeting and fragile and normal in his world. And if he lets her know, spooks her or weirds her out, she'll be gone in a flash and his world will go back to being gray and dull and numb. Which is when he will finally stick his nine millimeter in his mouth and pull the trigger. He wonders if he would feel that.
"Hey," she says, greeting him with that smile. She hands him a takeout coffee cup, tucks the take-out bag under one arm. "Caramel espresso, right?" When he doesn't take it, she looks at him, then nods thoughtfully. "Oh. Yeah. Sorry, forgot." She takes a sip from it, gauging the temperature, then hands it to him. "It's okay, not hot enough to burn."
He takes the cup from her, careful to hold it by the insulating sleeve. "Thanks." He follows her out to the truck, aware when he sips his coffee that her lips have been on the rim. It's cute that she just can't seem to ever remember what he drinks, but can remember the tiniest details of a case. "Harbor?" he says.
She nods and fastens her seat belt. As he pulls out of the parking lot, she opens the file folder. "You really think this guy saw a mermaid?"
"Mer-man," he says, keeping his face straight. He can smell her shampoo-tangerine, with an undertone of lilac. Heady, feminine, enticing-and something, some undertone he can't put a name to that is driving him crazy. "Joe says it looked like a half-man, half-fish."
"Too bad for you," she quips. "Maybe she'd be a Siren, and sing you into bed."
Does he know what that teasing does to him? He thinks not. It's not that he is in love with her. He's not sure he can be in love with anyone. He's aware that any other normal heterosexual male―and probably quite a few females―would be driven insane by her cool, sexy beauty, that rare smile, those sparkling eyes. He knows better than to use words like "perky" around or about her―he values his scalp―but the flavor of that word comes to mind.
At the harbor, they check out the department's boat, a thirty footer that was once a lobster trawler. Since he's been piloting this cove all his life, and Audrey doesn't know port from starboard, he drives. The day is sunny, and he imagines the sun would be warm on his skin-on her skin-as he takes them a few miles out into the more or less middle of the water. The engine is loud, unmuffled, so they don't talk. But he's aware of her blonde hair blowing in the wind, getting in her eyes, and he wishes he could reach over and shift that strand of hair off her forehead. Instead, he kills the engine and drops anchor, feeling the rock and sway of the boat in the swells coming in from the north Atlantic.
"'Bout here," he says laconically.
She's checking a small device. "Yeah, same GPS coordinates he gave us at the hospital." He thinks he's hiding his expression, but he should have known better. She catches it. "What? You don't believe him?"
"I just think that when I hear hoofbeats, I should think horses, not zebras," he says. He locks down the console, turns to look out over the sun-dappled bay. "Guy loses lobsters, I think 'poaching'. He thinks 'supernatural entity'."
"But this is Haven," she says, smiling. "I can believe in a mermaid."
"Mer-man," he says, then sees the twinkle in her eye. She's teasing him again. It gives him a funny feeling under his heart. He thinks she's getting under his skin, then mentally winces at the phrasing. Will he ever get used to this?
They take turns at the binoculars, scanning the water. "Not many boats out," she says.
"Most of the fishermen are done for the day, and it's too early for pleasure boating. I told you we should have gotten an earlier start."
"Done for the day? When do those guys go to work? Dawn?"
"More like four in the morning," he says. "Which is why the pancake house is open 24 hours a day."
"Four. In the morning." She shudders. "My heart doesn't even beat at that hour."
The corner of his mouth curls up, but he says nothing. Let her chatter, it makes him feel warmer.
Despite the wind, the scudding clouds, the bright day, it's still a stakeout and it's still boring. They chat in a leisurely way about this and that-she does most of the talking, he does most of the listening. He learns a little more about her time at Quantico; underneath, he hears loneliness and isolation and throwing herself into hard work, and he gets that. She asks him endless questions: why does the streetlight on Second Street not work after midnight? Why does everyone in town treat Silas Garnier like a Jonah? Is there any way to get decent pizza after seven o'clock? He can answer those questions, but the deeper ones, the ones about his father and Duke and the library lady and the antiques dealer-no, he won't answer those.
"Have you heard from Jess?" she asks, out of nowhere.
It hurts only a little to hear that. Mostly around his middle, where his stomach clenches like a fist. Nathan tries to remember what Jess's lips felt like on his, but he couldn't feel them then and he can't feel them now. "No," he says shortly. A man would have gotten the message and backed off, but not Audrey. He should know better than to hope she will.
"Maybe you should call her," Audrey says.
He lowers the binoculars, turns to face her. "Why? She's the one who left."
"Men," she sighs dramatically. "That doesn't mean anything. She wants you to call her."
"Then she should call me."
"This is childish."
"Yes, it is." He shuts the hell up.
She doesn't. "I think you should. You know you want to. Why torture yourself?"
Change the subject. He glances down at her. Her hands are clutching the coffee cup, white-knuckled. What was bothering her? "You mad at me? I owe you money or something?"
She looks at him over the rim of the cup. "No. Just … " She leans forward and sets the cup down. "Forget it."
He shrugs and lets the silence seep in. He likes that about her, that she's okay with silence now and then, when she winds down. Although now it feels a little…charged. Like the air before a thunderstorm. He wonders if it's a female thing. He doesn't have a lot of experience when it comes to women. He is, he thinks with a bitter smile, the last word in insensitive.
"I had a dream last night," she says abruptly. "You were in it."
"I get that a lot."
She punches his arm, the one not holding the hot coffee. "Egotist. This is important, I think."
He makes himself sound nonchalant. "Important? A dream?"
"Yeah. You were … you were drowning. But you weren't in water. And you kept shouting her name."
"My … the woman in the Colorado Kid photo. Lucy."
"You don't know that was her name," he says reasonably. "All you have is the word of a nut case to link her to that name."
She shrugs, and her shoulders remain hunched. She doesn't meet his eyes. "It feels right. You know? You know how sometimes something just feels like it's right?"
"No, actually, I don't."
At his tone, she looks over, and he sees when she realizes what she'd said. "Oh. Damn. No, I didn't mean it that way. I meant intuition, you know, the flash of subconscious understanding?"
He shrugs and looked away. He hunches his own shoulders against the chill breeze. He doesn't want to talk about intuition. Or feelings of any kind. "This some kind of new-fangled Bureau technique? Investigation by dream? 'Cause if it is, I'd like to go home and go to bed, where I can dream about beer."
She blows her breath out in an exasperated sigh. "Sure. Right. I'll bet you don't dream at all. You feel nothing, you don't go by intuition. Nothing touches you, right?"
He feels the anger rising in him, and this time doesn't bother to rein it in. "Yeah, I dream. I dream a lot. It's the only time I can feel."
She stares at him. "In dreams? You can feel in dreams?"
"Yeah. I did have normal skin once. I used to be able to feel like other people―hot, cold, wet, dry. "
"And it comes back to you when you sleep."
"Yeah." For some reason, it hurts to be saying this, and for that reason, he feels like being brutally honest. "Yeah, I feel stuff in dreams I can't in real life. Like cold water, or a hot fire, or the memory of a kiss. Like a hard-on. The only time I get one is in my fucking sleep."
He watches her expression, daring her to flinch. She meets his gaze levelly. "It's a wonder you ever let yourself wake up, then."
He holds her gaze, then his grin breaks through. "Dammit, Parker."
"Are you punishing me for the intuition remark?"
"No," he says, watching the humor in her eyes.
"For dreaming about you, then."
"Oh, if I punished every woman in Haven who dreamed about me―"
"Then for telling you about it."
"Bingo," he says. He looks down at her, and feels something go all soft in his middle. "What did it mean? To you."
"Don't be coy."
She slurps coffee. He thinks it 's funny that someone so cool and reserved slurps coffee like a truck driver. "I don't know yet. Drowning can be a metaphor for so many things."
"Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar," he says, staring out over the water, unseeing.
A larger swell than usual raised the boat, drops it. He staggers and she sways, and they wind up side by side, clutching the rail. His hand is next to hers. Dear God, he feels it. Her skin. Soft against his, a little cold from the breeze. Undeniably, inescapably, he can feel her touch. He wants to back away but he can't make himself. As it is, he practically has his nose in her hair.
"Lemongrass," he says, before he thinks about it. That's the missing undertone in her shampoo. Then he knows he's blushing, even though he can't feel the heat in his own face.
She pulls back, shuffling her feet to keep a conversational distance, nicely gauged. "Beg pardon?"
"Nothing. How much longer do you want to do this?"
"Do … this?"
He sweeps a hand. "This. Sitting around on a boat until we freeze to death."
She lifts her shoulders, lets them drop. "As long as it takes," she says. "You got any better ideas?"
"If it's a … part fish, maybe we should go fishing."
That fleeting glimpse of a smile, the twinkle in her eye punch at him like a boxer taking a left hook. "What should we use for bait for a mer-man? An iPod?"
He eyes the take-out sack.
She catches his look, shakes her head. "Oh, no. No, no, no. I absolutely refuse-stop! Put that back!" She lunges for him, but he's already pulled the hamburgers out of the sack. He lifts them high, over her head, and she throws herself against him, reaching for the burgers. "That's my lunch! Mavis made it special-"
But he can't breathe. She's all up against him, head to toe, her hand on his arm where it sticks out of his sleeve and he can feel it, he can feel her hand on his skin. The shock of it goes through him like a thunderbolt and he's motionless, frozen. It's not a fluke, not a one-time thing, not a delusion. He can feel Audrey.
He releases her, slumps down onto the engine housing. She grabs the bag away, and then stares at him as he drops his head into his hands, shaking.
He shakes his head. Confusion, surprise, hope all war in him. It's not possible. It's not possible. And if it is-why her? Why now?
"I feel you," he whispers. Maybe she doesn't hear.
Her hand on his hair, and he feels the warmth of her palm. He can't stop shaking. It's hard to breathe.
"Nathan? What's wrong? Are you sick?" She kneels in front of him, her face anxious, clouded.
"I can feel you," he says, his voice hoarse with wonder.
She looks even more confused. "You what?"
He has to know. If it costs him everything, if she hates him forever, he has to know. He gathers his courage, raises his hands, and cups her face. Her skin is soft under his, he can feel it, the warmth of it and the silky smooth of it. She says nothing, but he hears her breath catch as he lowers his face to hers.
At the last minute, he almost chickens out, backs away, saves what's left of their professional relationship. But he has to know. So he lowers his mouth to hers, and she does not resist.
Oh, dear glorious God, he feels her lips. Sweet and soft under his, warm and inviting, enough to drown a man and drive him mad. She tastes like coffee and woman and toothpaste, and he wants it to go on forever. The new of it, the surprise of it, zings through him like he remembers from a long, long time ago. Even if she shoves him overboard for kissing her, he doesn't regret it. It has been so long, forever-
Her hands touch his face, slide behind his head. And then he loses all ability to think at all, because her mouth is opening under his and her tongue is against his and it's sweeter than ever, warm and wet and inviting, welcoming. His heart hammers in his chest and he can smell and taste and feel...
She breaks from him first, gasping for breath. Her hands slide up to his jaw, his cheek. "What...what was that all about?"
Nathan gathers himself, blinks to clear his head. He keeps his hands on her face, reluctant to lose this precious, precious contact. "I don't know why, but I can … I can feel you."
Her eyes, so blue and intelligent, open wide. "Seriously?" She glides a finger down his cheek. He closes his eyes, turns his face into her palm, kisses it. "I thought..."
"Yeah. Me, too," he breathes into her hand. "All these years, I couldn't feel anything. Not cold, not pain, not … not even Jess. And then..."
She is so close he can feel the rise and fall of her breathing. He feels dizzy and has to brace himself against the rise and fall of the boat.
"You couldn't even feel Jess? I thought...you said..."
Her blush is adorable. And for some reason, it frees him. He feels naked, but in a good way, knowing she is listening, accepting, hearing him. "Oh, we almost made it work, but it took a lot of … well, I had to use my imagination, mostly. And we didn't actually get to...well."
And thinking about Jess and having Audrey pretty much in his arms leads his brain-or his dick-to an obvious leap, and suddenly he feels a tightening in his groin he hasn't felt in years. At least, not while awake. He shudders as goosebumps race over his skin.
She takes his hand, lays it on the rail beside them. "Can you feel that? The metal?"
He shakes his head. She puts his hand on the binoculars around her neck. "That?"
Tentatively, she takes his hand in hers (so warm) and lays it on her shoulder. "Can you feel my coat?"
He shakes his head again.
Her eyes lock on his, and the blue darkens as her irises widen, as her subliminal senses pick up something, maybe that male/female vibe that he must be broadcasting to the galaxy right now. She puts his hand on her cheek. "Only this?"
"Only my … skin?"
He can't speak. They are reaching the same conclusions, and he can't make words any more. He can only hope that, as usual, she can read his mind. And then he hopes she can't, because if she does, she will push him overboard.
Audrey locks her gaze on his, and slides his hand from her cheek to her neck. "Here?"
From her neck, downward into the open collar of her shirt, warm and smooth under his hand. "Here?"
He moans and closes his eyes. "Audrey..." It's a whisper and a shout and a moan. He can't ask her. He won't ask her. But his hand trembles on her skin and his groin is catching fire and there's a roaring sound in his head.
A zipper sound, and she pulls his hand lower, into her shirt, unbuttoning it as she goes. "Here?" she says softly, and there is a note, an undertone he has never heard before. "You can feel this?"
Oh, yes. Sweet, smooth, soft. All the words he can think of, about skin, come to mind but they aren't enough. The back of his fingers feel lace-her bra. He swallows, his mouth too dry to answer.
Then she drops his hand, and he's both relieved and profoundly disappointed. Of course, this has ruined everything. She'll hate him now, be repulsed, be embarrassed or reticent, it will never be the same between them, he's such a goddam fool-
He feels it when she takes his hand, tugs at him. He damn near brains himself on the cabin door when she pulls him through it, but ducks at the last second. Is she...is it possible...his head whirls, he can't think, so he gives up and just goes with it.
The interior of the fore-cabin is quieter than the blustery deck when she slams the door behind them. Otherwise, it's not much more comfortable. Between the wheel and the instruments and the radio and assorted tackle, there's not much room for two. But when Audrey reaches up and pulls him down into a kiss, he's got all the room in the world.
Lost, drowned, sinking fast, he revels in her taste, the glide of tongue, the soft sounds she makes in the back of her throat. Her hands cup his ears, and his skin feels electric where she touches. They slide down, trailing fire down his neck, and he shudders. She moans into his kiss and he can't help it, both arms go around her and crush, he wants to feel her, melt into her right through their clothes.
He feels her tugging on his jacket and it takes him a moment to know what that means. It's like someone lit a fire in his head. He breaks the kiss, his eyes pop open, and like an idiot he almost backs away in sheer astonishment. Can she really be-?
"How far does this go?" she's saying, and he catches the edge in her voice-fear? Surprise? Or-beyond all hope-arousal? "Let's find out."
All he can say is, "Yes."
It should be cold in the cabin, he didn't turn on the heater, but he can't feel anything but her hands. He lets her do what she wills. She shoves his jacket off, then pulls at his sweater. He lifts his arms and she tugs it over his head. The T-shirt underneath goes just as fast, and then he's bare to the waist. Why isn't he feeling self-conscious? Since he went numb so many years ago, he's been terribly body-conscious, especially about the scars and the-
She puts her hands on his chest, and his knees go weak. Her hands are warm, her touch is tender. "Can you feel this, Nathan?"
He nods, beyond speech. She slides her hands up to his shoulder, down his arms. It's like coming home after a long absence, to feel human skin on his again. He sees her eyes go wide when she sees the bruises, the scars. And then he stops breathing altogether when she leans forward and puts her lips to a scar in the hollow of his collarbone.
"What-?" she whispers against his skin, and he feels her lips moving like butterfly wings against him.
"I don't remember," he whispers back.
She touches a scar at his waist, raises her eyebrows. "Fishing accident," he says, straight-faced.
She laughs, leans in to kiss him and he raises his hands to her glorious hair, spilling over his hands like silk, tangling in his fingers. With her mouth on his, he slides his hands down her face, her neck, into her open shirt. She shrugs off her jacket, then her shirt, then she's open to his hands, his palms skimming all over her torso. He can't imagine anything more beautiful than the feel of her in his hands. He rests a hand between her breasts, the lace of her bra teasing his skin, feeling her heart beat against his hands.
Her hands are in his hair now, her kisses sliding along his jaw, her chest rising and falling against his hands.
"Feel me," she whispers. "Feel me, Nathan." She pushes against him and he stumbles, catches himself, lowers them both to the floor. She comes to rest straddling his thighs, her hands on his jaw. "Feel my skin against yours." Her voice is harsh, fierce like the fighter she is.
It dawns on Nathan that she might have been wanting this for awhile. That idea lights whole new fireworks in his chest.
She reaches behind her and does that thing with her fingers men can't do, and her bra falls off into his lap and her breasts are spilling forward into his eager hands. His thumbs come alive as they sweep across her nipples, feeling them rise and tighten, feeling the little shiver that goes through her. The thought comes I made her shiver and it shocks through him, a sudden spike of lust more powerful than he can remember, ever.
I made her shiver.
He can do better than that, he thinks. He makes himself slow down, closes his eyes so he can focus on his hands, his fingers, the pads sliding across that creamy skin. He finds a raised mole, smiles when he touches her ribs and she flinches (ticklish!). He draws a finger up slowly between her breasts, savoring her little shiver. She's making little sounds in the back of her throat, wordless, urgent noises, but he takes his time. He pulls her close, rubs his cheek along her shoulder. The feel of that creamy, satin skin against his face is miraculous. His hands slide behind her, pull her against his chest, and when her breasts flatten against it the blood leaves his brain entirely. His cock springs to life with long-dead urgency, pounding the message through his whole body: take her take her take her.
She leans back into his hands, arching her back, which raises her breasts. He lowers his head, skims his lips across a nipple. His entire body reacts when it tightens further against his tongue, and he tastes her-Audrey. She tastes like sunshine and woman and life itself. A thousand words of gratitude strangle in his throat as she pushes herself into his mouth, begging for more. He nips and nuzzles, licks and sucks, glorying in the taste and feel and warmth of her. She's frantically squirming in his arms, shedding shirt and bra and all and any inhibitions.
He pauses, aware that her breathing is harsh and ragged. This is not just his moment, he reminds himself. It's hers, too. He looks up, meets blue eyes gone soft and dreamy, sexy as hell. "Audrey?" he mouths against her lips. "You okay with this?"
"I can feel you," she whispers back. "Can you feel me?"
"Oh, God..." He clutches her against him, gratitude and lust and something tenderer than both cascading through him. He buries his face between her breasts, where it is safe and warm and sweet. "God."
She wraps her arms around his head, bends hers down to whisper. "Then touch all of me." He pulls back but she cups his face. "All of me, Nathan!" Again her blue gaze is stormy, demanding.
He releases her and she slides off his lap, fumbles with her belt and trousers. He can't take his eyes off her, watching skin being revealed (lace! of course she wears lace panties) and then the darker blonde curls below and soon she is completely naked, kneeling there on the floor of this old, smelly boat, as fresh as spring, warm and waiting for him.
She glances down at his lap, raises an eyebrows.
Suddenly Nathan is terrifically shy. He feels like he's fifteen years old again, getting a sudden woody in the boys' locker room because someone mentioned Nicole and he thought of her breasts. This time he can feel the heat of his own skin, knows the blush is climbing his chest to his neck, his face.
Go slow, he tells himself. She wants you-miraculous as it may seem-and she's waiting. Go slow.
So he gets to his knees, a little shakily, and unbuckles his belt. Her eyes don't leave his as he sheds the boots, the jeans. Even when he drops his underwear and stands before her with a raging erection, her eyes are on his face, a little smile at the corner of her mouth. She reaches up, catches his hand, tugs.
And he kneels, facing her, and her mouth comes against his. Her arms go behind his neck and lock, and he leans into her. Their bodies fall together, skin to skin, mouth and chest and stomach and groin, naked and hot. Never in the many years of his affliction, not in dream or memory, can he recall so intense a sensation. Not even when he and Hannah Driscoll got naked and watched meteors, has he felt this exposed, this vulnerable. This trusting.
Audrey wriggles a little, her breath coming fast, and his cock is caught up against her soft, tender skin. He can't breathe, he fists his hands in her hair, pulls her head back, and slides kisses along her neck, and hardly even realizes his pelvis is doing a slow, rocking grind against hers.
Until she pushes him, and he rocks backwards away from her, and catches her against him to cushion the fall. And there they are, lying on the cold, unyielding wooden deck of the boat, with her spread out over him like a living blanket. Fire sparkles along his skin, everywhere it meets hers. He's about to burst, but he doesn't move. At this moment, so close and yet so new, he can't make the last move.
She leans down, presses down on him, open and wet, and he can do nothing but thrust upward, seeking her.
She leans down to kiss him, her hair brushing his face. "Yes..."
"All of you..."
"Yes." She wriggles, positions herself, and then he gasps as she slides down on him.
Hot. Superbly beautifully hot and wet and girl and tight. He wants to close his eyes so that all he senses is her skin, her self around him, but he can't bear not to see those magic eyes, going wide, that smile spreading across her face. Then she leans upward, rocking on him, and his hands cup her breasts so soft so heavy so marvelous. Miraculous.
She rides him slow and deep, leaning back to give his hands a chance at her breasts, her eyes closed. He realizes with a little shock that she is enjoying him, that he is giving her pleasure, and this just inflames him further. His thumbs tease her nipples, then he slides his hands down slowly and deliberately, along her torso, sliding across her beautiful hips, down between and below and under, until she gasps when he finds her there.
His touch is as soft, as gentle as he can make it. This part, he remembers. Oh, how he remembers. He holds his breath, stroking, exploring, feeling her response along nerve and bone and muscle and skin. She echoes his thrusts, and the soft sounds their bodies make together is a music he has not heard, or even dreamed of, in years. He resonates with her, tuned into her, her reaction mirroring his own, until she gasps and cries out and tightens hard around him, and he finally surrenders and is gone, gone, gone, a brilliant soft explosion both familiar and strange, forgotten but intimately well-known.
She sighs, a little soft murmur that goes through him head to toe, and collapses into his arms. He winds them around her sweet little body and folds her to him, rolling, still inside her, until they are lying side by side and their sweat is cooling on their bodies.
She opens her eyes, and he wonders why he never before appreciated that color. Maybe he never saw it before.
He knows what she means: why her? He does what he's been longing to do-he tucks a stray lock of hair behind her ear, reveling in the feel of hair and skin against his knuckles. "Why not you?"
"You wanted to know-back when we were dealing with Lily and Ray and that whole music business..." She breaks off, closing her eyes. He kisses each one open again. "You wanted to know if I would fix you. Are you?"
Her blue eyes open, and he looks deep into them. He feels warm all over, he feels her arms around him, he feels her against him even as he softens. He knows they will do this again, knows it in his bones.
"I don't know," he says. "I don't know why I was... am … the way I am. I only know that I'm not … numb … with you." He closes his eyes, drops his head to her shoulder. "Not with you. I don't know but … I think..."
He freezes, shocked at himself. What is he saying? About to say?
"What?" Her hand on his cheek, tender and accepting again. "You think what?"
Nathan takes a deep breath. Years of pain, of humiliation, of hunger and loss and grief fall away from him. He feels new, alive. He is a real boy again. He stares into her eyes, rolls forward to rest his forehead against hers. "I think I love you, Audrey. I think that's why I can feel you, and only you." He takes another deep breath, catches his courage for one final plunge. "And I hope it means...that you love me."
Her mouth against his, warm and smiling, says, "Yes."