This is just a little one-shot written as a result of the trailer for next week's episode, "Resurfacing". Obviously, I have not seen the episode yet, so after it airs, this fic will likely seem odd ;) Enjoy! And be sure to let me know what you think!
"I touched him…" Audrey breathed in shocked disbelief after the ghost had pulled free of her grasp and raced from the home. The temporary insanity brought on by the knowledge that she was able to touch a ghost left her stunned speechless.
But a moment after she had made that declaration, the slamming of the front door snapped her out of it. She turned toward the sound, surprised to find that her partner was no longer standing in the middle of the warzone of a living room.
"Nathan?" Audrey called worriedly. No response came, and so she worked her way through the chaos of furniture and household items to reach the front door. When she pulled it open, it was just in time to watch his Bronco speeding off down the road – the Bronco that they had arrived in together. Her mouth dropped open as he disappeared into the distance. Did he seriously just ditch me in the middle of a scene from Poltergeist?
"Agent Parker?" Called the woman whose living room Audrey was currently standing in.
Audrey was entirely too confused in that moment to correct her. After all, it was 'Officer Parker' now…or 'Detective Parker'. She was not sure of anything other than the fact that she most definitely was not an'Agent' anymore.
"You said you…you 'touched' him?" The woman asked nervously and all Audrey could do was nod slowly in response. "So…how come you can?"
And there it was. Like a punch to the gut or a kick to the teeth, Audrey was hit with the implications. 'How come you can?' She had to reach out and grip the doorframe for support.
If Lucy is my mother…and Lucy was from Haven…and she was Troubled… and Troubles run in families…
It was suddenly difficult to breathe. I'm a freak, Audrey caught herself thinking – for which she immediately chided herself. She had met many Troubled individuals since arriving in Haven, and the majority of them were good people. Besides, she had spent her entire life fascinated by the supernatural – was she really going to freak out about this? But something is wrong with me, she thought as her brows drew together concernedly. Something is wrong with me – and Nathan, of all people, just bolted out the door like a startled jackrabbit when he saw it.
Audrey did her best to maintain her composure in the moment of madness. "I think it would be wise for you to stay with a relative or friend until we get this sorted out, ma'am," she advised the shaken woman. She continued speaking as if everything was under control, despite the woman's attempts to ask a million questions that she could not possibly answer. "I'm going to head back to the station to…" Find my damned partner and wring his neck for bailing on me. "…discuss options and decide on the best way to proceed with the investigation. You have my number; just call me if anything else happens."
Of course, that was before she walked out the front door and realized that her cell phone was in Nathan's truck.
"Perfect," she breathed before setting out in a daze.
It was a long walk back to the station. A long, confusing, lonely walk during which she spent half of her time cursing Nathan under her breath, and half feeling inconceivably hurt by his abandonment. As an orphan who had spent her life bouncing around the system, she was used to being abandoned. But coming from Nathan, it cut so much deeper. She had trusted him and he had rejected her. He had turned her away because something was wrong with her.
She spent nearly an hour during that walk trying to stave off those thoughts. The rational, adult side of her insisted that there was something else going on. I mean, come on, this was Nathan – he would be the last person to turn his back on someone that developed a weird Haven-y ability or affliction. But the little girl in her that had spent her entire childhood wanting to be a part of a family, wanting someone to care about her, felt wounded and lost.
She did not say a word to anyone as she entered the Nathan-less station. She simply stalked straight to her desk, picked up the phone, and dialed.
"So…you can touch ghosts?" Duke asked for the tenth time as she climbed up into his truck, seemingly continuing right where he had left off in their phone conversation when she had called for a ride.
"Yes, Duke. I can touch freaking ghosts." Audrey stated angrily and slammed his door.
"And when Nathan saw it…he just took off?" Duke pressed with a look of absolute disbelief on his face. Amusingly (or at least, it would have been amusing to her any other time), Duke was far more skeptical about her insistence that Nathan had bailed on her than he was about the ghost-touching thing.
"Yes. How many times am I going to tell you 'yes' before you believe me?" Audrey asked in frustration as she fastened her seatbelt. "Now, if you'd be so kind as to take me to his apartment so that I can shoot him, I'd really appreciate it."
Duke stared at her incredulously for a long moment before he could get his mind to process what he was hearing. "And he really didn't say anything to you before he just drove away?" He asked in puzzlement.
"Duke!" Audrey shouted impatiently.
"All right, crazy cop-lady with the gun! We're going!" Duke cried and held up his hands in surrender before putting it in drive and pulling out onto the road.
As Audrey sank back heavily against his passenger seat, Duke sat in silence pondering Nathan's actions. They had known one another just about their entire lives. It was not an exaggeration when he said that Nathan had not changed. Duke knew damned well that there was more going on than what Audrey was telling him. Judging by her obvious bewilderment, he also knew that she was not deliberately holding something back. She was just as in the dark about what was going through Nathan's mind as he was.
Letting out a long sigh, Duke ran a hand down his face roughly and tugged on his goatee – a nervous habit he often fell back on when trying to think things through. Nathan had been acting strange – well, stranger than Nathan usually did – lately, but nothing short of the world imploding would have caused the Nathan that Duke knew to abandon Audrey like that. He thought back on their recent conversations, searching for any hint or clue he could find for why Audrey's supernatural touchiness would have triggered such an uncharacteristic reaction.
Touch…touch… He could hear Nathan telling him something recently about touch.
"Let's say a guy – like me, can't feel anything –
meets a woman, discovers he can feel her touch.
Seems like fate, doesn't it?"
"But Jess left you, anyways…which is sad…but it's not fate."
"Oh, shit…" Duke breathed. His jaw fell open as he recalled the look on Nathan's face during that conversation. Had it been…hope? Vulnerability? Then he recalled the absolute certainty Nathan had that the chameleon was not really Audrey – the look that had been on his face when they found Audrey alive… "Oh, shit." Duke groaned, louder this time. He felt impossibly stupid for not seeing this sooner.
After all of these years waiting for a chance to make amends with his once best friend, he had missed the timid, hesitant offer that Nathan had made for him to do exactly that. Nathan had been trying, albeit as vaguely as possible, to get Duke's advice and understanding about what was going on. And Duke had been blind to what his former friend had been trying to make him see. Duke had assumed, as anyone else would, that Nathan had been talking about Jess. But Nathan must have hoped, given all the years they had spent practically joined at the hip as kids and teens, that Duke would have been able to read the truth in his eyes.
Duke felt sick as it hit him – Nathan had reached out. That grudge-holding stubborn bastard he used to call a best friend had finally reached out to him, and Duke had let him down. Again. His stomach began locking up with regret.
"Hey – why are you slowing down?" Audrey asked impatiently.
"You've gotta get to Nathan." Duke stated resolutely, though still dazed by the epiphany that he had just been struck with.
"Oh, really – you think?" She cried sarcastically. "So – I repeat – why are you slowing down?"
"He's not at his apartment," Duke assured and promptly made an unannounced U-turn in the middle of the intersection.
"What?" She demanded as she braced herself for the turn. "How could you possibly know that?"
"Because I know Nathan," he answered tersely and jammed on the accelerator.
"Great! Now you're gonna start with the monotone short responses, too?" She shouted as she threw her hands up in exasperation. "If he's not at his apartment, where is he?"
"His house." Duke ground out, now getting just as impatient as Audrey was. He had a million thoughts running through his mind regarding Nathan in that moment, and her screeching in his ear from the passenger seat was not helping things.
"His house? His house? What 'house'? Since when does Nathan have a house?" She demanded.
"His family's house! The house he lived in until…!" Duke began angrily, but stopped and shook his head, forcing himself to calm down before he said too much. "…until he moved, okay? His Dad doesn't live there, either. That's where you'll find Nathan. Trust me."
Audrey studied the expression on Duke's face suspiciously. "You were going to say something else just then," she declared in a calm manner that Duke instantly recognized as her interrogation tone. "What were you going to say?"
Duke gave a short, irritated laugh, but said nothing.
"What happened between you and Nathan?" Audrey pressed, and knew that she had struck a nerve by the way Duke went rigid. "I mean, you two were obviously good friends at some point, so what…?"
"Audrey," he groaned and gripped the steering wheel with both hands. "Just trust me on this," he pleaded.
"Okay…but I'm gonna tell you my theory," she stated and watched carefully for the reactions her words would trigger. "Nathan trusted you with something, didn't he?" She asked in a softer tone.
Her brows drew together as she studied the way Duke's jaw began flexing rhythmically. He was grinding his teeth. In response to her words, he was subconsciously making an effort to keep his mouth shut.
Apparently, the first part of her theory was entirely accurate, so she went on. "And you slipped up…or got angry with him…or thought you were helping… but whatever your reasoning was, you told someone else what he had confided in you, right? That's why…"
"That's enough." Duke warned and took his eyes off the road long enough to shoot her a glare. "If you want answers about anything, ask Nathan. In case you hadn't noticed, he's not exactly a believer of 'sharing is caring'."
"You keep quiet about everything that has to do with him now, don't you? Even the small stuff," she observed. "You're trying to prove to him that you're trustworthy, aren't you? You're still trying to get him to forgive you for what happened."
Duke groaned again and went right back to grinding his teeth.
Even with as stressful as the day had been thus far, even with the fact that she had no idea what was going on with her partner, Audrey could not help the smile that spread across her lips. For the first time, she fully grasped just how much Duke cared for Nathan. "You looovveee him," she teased.
Duke let slip a short outburst of laughter, quickly managed to stop, and shook his head. "Please, shut up."
Seeing that he was suppressing a smile, she grinned. "Duke looovveees Nathan. Aww, he's your BFF! That is just the sweetest thing!"
"And this is why I don't talk to cops," Duke declared. "We're here," he said and quickly pulled over in front of a large, cheerless looking home. "Thankfully, that means you can get out of my truck now."
Audrey rolled her eyes and smirked before turning her attention to the house and its wildly overgrown lawn. "Geesh, how long has it been since anyone's lived here?"
When she looked over at Duke for a response, he merely arched a brow that told her he was not saying a word on the subject. "Your tin man's truck is parked in the drive. Have a nice day," he said instead.
"You're not coming in?" She asked with a knowing smile.
Duke growled in annoyance and reached across her to open her door. "Nathan's not thrilled with having me around when he's in a good mood."
Audrey watched as he sat back in his seat. She noted the concerned glances he kept sneaking up at the house. "Hey, Duke," she began softly and waited for him to look her in the eyes. "I'll make sure Nathan knows that I couldn't get you to talk."
Duke suppressed a smile as he turned away from her and stared down at his steering wheel. After a moment, he gave a soft laugh and nodded. "Thanks," he said weakly. Clearing his throat and masking any hint of emotion, he pointed up at the house. "There's usually a key under the empty flower pot at the end of the porch. If it's not there, then he really doesn't want company. The lock is easy enough to pick, though. And if you can't get it, there's a window out back with a broken latch."
Audrey opened her mouth to speak, but quickly pressed her lips together to prevent the obvious questions from tumbling out. Why did Duke know so many ways to get into Nathan's house? Why did he know where the key was? When had he been welcome here?
Noticing her effort to curb her inquisitive nature, Duke smirked. "There was a time in my life…when this was a second better home for me. Nathan's not the only one who's run here at one point or another over the years," he confessed. His eyes wandered back up to the house and he gave a pained smile. "And the funny thing is Nathan has always left that key there, right where they used to leave it for me when we were kids." He laughed softly at that and shook his head. "Not that he'd ever admit to it, but I think he's always left it there for me."
Seeing the sadness in his eyes, Audrey frowned and reached out to squeeze his hand. "Whatever happened between you two, he'll forgive you one day," she assured.
"Yeah, well…" Duke laughed and cleared his throat again as he sat up straight in his seat and put on a smile that failed to reach his eyes. "For now, you've got your own issues with him."
"Yeah…" Audrey agreed worriedly. "Wish me luck?"
"Good luck. You'll need it," Duke offered as she climbed out and closed the door. "And Audrey…?" He waited for her to turn back to face him. "If…you know…if you need any help with him…or if he…" He dazed out for a moment, hating that he knew damned well that Nathan would never ask for him. "It's just that he can get pretty out of it when something sets him off, so…"
Audrey smiled warmly at him. "I'll call you if we need help. Thank you, Duke. I appreciate it."
Duke nodded and, reluctantly, put it in drive.
Well, well…the things you learn, she thought to herself as she watched him wave and drive off.
Left alone again, her eyes wandered up to the front of the foreboding house. After taking a deep breath to steady herself, she started up the front steps. The key was gone from its hiding place, unfortunately, but she was somewhat happy about that fact. It meant that Nathan would not know Duke had told her where to look for one. She found his assurance that the lock was easy to pick was accurate, and within a matter of moments, she was stepping inside.
The air was heavy with dust and there was barely any light to be found. Moving slowly and giving her eyes a chance to adjust, she ventured further into the house. "All right, Wuornos, what the hell is going on?" She demanded furiously and waited for the annoyed – but amazed – laugh that came in response. She had been fishing for it, a hint of where in the massive home he was hiding.
"You're breaking and entering, Parker." Nathan advised dryly as she approached, but he never looked up at her.
"No – I'm 'jimmying the lock' and entering," she fired back. "File a report about it in the morning if I haven't killed you by then." She paused at the entry to the living room, looking around in vain for a light switch to brighten the dungeon-like mood of the place.
Nathan let out a choppy, defeated sigh and shook his head. He had known that she would eventually find him. There really was no way to hide from Audrey Parker when she put her mind to something. What he had failed to anticipate, however, was how quickly she would be standing in front of him demanding answers. He had been under the mistaken belief that it would take her until at least the following morning. Instead, she had tracked him down inside of two hours and he was currently in no shape to be having this – or any – discussion.
"You shouldn't be here," he insisted in a hoarse voice. "You should go."
"Oh, really? I 'should go'? Well, fat freaking chance of that happening!" She declared angrily.
It surprised her how quickly the lump in her throat had formed. It was already on the rise and making it difficult to swallow. She had not planned on the storm of emotion that was suddenly raging inside of her, or the tightness in her chest, either. But this was Nathan. He was her friend. He was the first person that she had ever cared for so deeply and she felt as if he was pushing her away. The idea that he did not want to be near her broke her heart. The thought of no longer hearing his voice or seeing his half smile in the mornings left her positively panic-stricken.
All too late, she realized how emotionally ill equipped she was to be dealing with so much…emotion. She was angry, sad, scared, and confused and – before she could stop herself – she was shouting at him. The sound of the helplessness and hurt in her voice in that moment was foreign to her ears.
"I'm not going anywhere until I get some answers! Is this about me being able to touch that kid? Because if it is, I thought for sure that you would be the last person to shut me out for it! Didn't you think I might have been a bit rattled by that little revelation? Didn't you think I might need to talk about it? Didn't you think I might need you right then? I mean, you just left me there! You seriously just took off and left me standing in a room with God knows what going on without any backup. What kind of a partner does that, huh? Nathan? Hey! Look at me! NATHAN!"
Oh my God, did I just stamp my foot? She wondered in abject mortification.
Any other time of any other day, the uncharacteristic vulnerability that Audrey was currently displaying would have brought Nathan running. Unfortunately, he was in no condition to offer even his own brand of awkward, brief words of comfort.
Slowly, grudgingly, he dragged his eyes up from the floor and met her gaze.
Audrey winced at the sight of him. It was so jarring that she took a reflexive step backward. She had never seen him this far gone – not even when he went nuts and she had to taser him. His eyes were red and puffy. His eyelashes were still wet with tears. He looked to have downed the contents of the empty bottle…make that bottles that were strewn across the floor beside the couch. The more she stared at him, the more things she realized that she had failed to perceive during her tirade. His knuckles were swollen and bloody. The place looked like a one-man wrecking ball had swept through. Judging by the condition of the walls, he had used his fists to redecorate. And the look on his face, the emotion in his eyes, it conveyed the pure, unadulterated anguish that he was experiencing over something.
The flaring of temper that had brought Audrey through a locked door and charging into his living room instantly fizzled out. Before she knew it, she had crossed the room and crouched down in front of him. "Jesus, Nathan…what's wrong? What happened?" She asked softly as she studied his expression with wide, worried eyes. Now that she was so close, he refused to look at her.
"Get out, Audrey." He urged, though it was far too weak to be considered a demand.
"Hey…it's okay. Whatever it is, it's okay, you can tell me," she assured. But when she reached out to hold his hand, she realized just how bad the situation was.
"Don't." He warned in a much stronger voice.
She froze hearing the fury in his tone. He recoiled from her touch as a look of disgust passed over his features.
"Just…just don't, okay?" He managed weakly. "Please, just leave me alone."
Audrey frowned and tried not to tear up at his words and reaction to her. How could Nathan respond in such a way to her being…different? She could not wrap her mind around this. It just did not fit with everything she knew about him. Hell, he had initially backed off Jess because she was not different.
After a long moment of silence, Audrey set her jaw determinedly and locked up her emotions, deciding that there was definitely something missing, something about this that she was not seeing.
"I can't do that, Nathan. I know you're about as inexperienced at this friend stuff as I am, but I'm afraid that's not what friends do," she declared matter-of-factly. "The way I hear it, friends don't just stumble upon friends on a bender like this and act like it never happened." She sighed and gauged by the way his eyes kept rolling closed as he breathed heavily that talking to him now would be useless. "Okay," she announced as she stood and clapped her hands together. "First things first, we gotta sobe' you up, buddy. Go ahead and lie down or I'm going to have to touch you. And we wouldn't want you catching Audrey-cooties, now would we?"
Nathan groaned at her misinterpretation of the problem, but knowing better than to try to explain anything, he managed to crawl up the length of the couch and rest his head on one of the cushions.
"You know, this is the first time I've been able to use a guy's hope that I wouldn't touch him as a way to get him to cooperate," she mused and watched as a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth in response. Just seeing it was enough to relieve some of the tension in her shoulders. "Get some sleep, dumbass," she said softly. "I'll wait till after you're sober to grill you."
By the time she had finished making a sweep of the downstairs and poured out every ounce of alcohol that she could find, Nathan had passed out. She knew damned well that there were likely other bottles hidden around the house. So, for the first few hours that he was asleep, she busied herself with continuing the search and cleaning up the impressive amount of destruction that he had caused.
It startled her to see the amount of cobwebs on some holes in the walls upstairs. Apparently, this was a regular occurrence in Nathan's life, going back a few decades. Duke had been dead on in his assurance that Nathan would come here. Whenever he lost control, this house was evidently his first stop.
She found what must have been Nathan's childhood bedroom upstairs, and smiled at several pictures on the walls and dresser of Duke and Nathan together as kids. "That's double-trouble if I've ever seen it," she laughed upon seeing their ill-behaved smiles. As she resisted the urge to straighten one of the frames on the wall, she was stunned to note that someone (either Nathan or Duke) had recently dusted a couple of them off. Biting her bottom lip at the sentiment of the simple act, she decided to make it her personal mission to get the two men back to the friendship they once shared.
On the desk, she found pictures of Nathan with his father – and it astonished her to see how close they had been at one point. Once upon a time, Nathan and the Chief had apparently smiled and laughed together, went fishing and camping together.
Audrey's brow arched as she realized that she was seeing a pattern. The bedroom was a sort of freeze-frame of a point in Nathan's life when there had been happiness, friendship, and close bonds. She realized as she moved through the upstairs rooms that something had changed soon after this point in his life, everything had gone downhill from here. She found pictures of Nathan and his father with a woman that she assumed must have been his mother, and evidence of a woman having lived in the house. She was starting to get further confirmation of her hunch that his mother had died when he was young.
His parents' bedroom looked as if a bomb had gone off at its center, though dust and cobwebs made it clear that the damage had not happened recently. All of the rage that had been unleashed in the room was directed at Chief Wuornos. The only items that were not broken in the room had obviously belonged to Nathan's mother. Dresses were still hanging undisturbed, preserved in plastic, in the closet. Upon seeing them, Audrey closed her eyes and desperately tried to prevent her mind from reaching the realization of why – but it was no use. His mother's dresses were in bags because Nathan relied so heavily on his sense of smell. Were she to unzip those bags, she would undoubtedly catch the faint scent of his mother's perfume.
Audrey closed the door to that room with a better understanding of her partner. However Nathan's mother had died, he had obviously blamed his father for it. She knew now that the death of Nathan's mother had been at least a major part of the break in his life. How that tied into his condition, she could only speculate. Had he lost the ability to feel before his mother passed? Had she been the only one to help him through it? Or had his condition started afterward – another Trouble-related affliction brought on by stress?
She focused on the task of cleaning, though she was careful not to disturb so much as a particle of dust in the bedrooms. Those places were obviously off limits. When she could not find anything else to sweep, mop, dust, or straighten in the rest of the house, she took Nathan's Bronco out to the diner to pick up something for him to eat.
In response to the quizzical looks she got for driving his truck, she told the nosy residents of Haven that Nathan was sick and she was helping to take care of him. Given the way gossip spread, she figured by morning everyone in Haven and the surrounding townships would hear that she and Nathan were shacking up together. The thought amused her, as she could only imagine the stammering and blushing that such rumors would earn from Nathan. A grin formed on her face as she considered asking the Teagues brothers to print her up a prank newspaper with a headline along the lines of "PARKER & WUORNOS:Undercover or Under Covers?" She quickly decided to include a photo that Julia had taken of them without warning a week earlier. With the startled expressions that had been on both of their faces in the picture, it would be a perfect addition to her prank.
Standing at the diner counter, she tried to figure out what to order. She knew (from a few binges of her own over the years) that when he woke up, after getting sick for god only knew how long, he would need to eat and drink water like it was going out of style. Not knowing exactly what would agree with a person's stomach after they had consumed that much whiskey, she had ordered several options for him.
Upon returning to his house, she filled his refrigerator with an overabundance of Styrofoam containers, their contents ranging from simple sandwiches to all out meals. She had a niggling suspicion that he would choose the pancakes, though. Long after the sun had set, Audrey sighed to herself and settled down in one of the living room chairs. She spent more time staring at her sleeping partner than she figured a sane person should.
How did this monosyllabic, bullheaded, small-town guy manage to turn my world upside down, she wondered? There had been a time – recently, in fact – when she would have fought off being saddled with a partner. She would have reported a stunt like the one he pulled earlier to assure her solo status.
And if a partner went on a drinking binge, she would most definitely not have cleaned their house for them, or waited until they were sleeping so that she could cover them with a blanket and sneak a kiss on their forehead. Nathan had murmured when she did it, which she attributed to that super-sniffer of his catching the scent of her hair or something, and she had guiltily scampered away from the scene of the crime.
She had fallen asleep in the chair, curled up in a position that was not conducive to a good night's sleep. Having Nathan's peaceful face as the last thing that she saw before falling asleep was oddly comforting.
When she finally opened her eyes, a few hours had already flown by. Early morning sunlight was filtering in through the curtains and she snuggled closer to the Nathan-scented blanket that had somehow come to be wrapped around her. It took her a moment to realize where she was. When she spotted the empty couch in front of her, however, it all came rushing back.
"Eh, shit!" She breathed as she gracelessly rolled off the chair and all but tripped over herself trying to get to her feet.
"Relax, Parker," Nathan called from the next room and she froze guiltily.
"I'm relaxed. Who's not relaxed?" She answered before turning and smiling at him sheepishly.
Nathan, who was now bright-eyed and sitting at the dining room table, gave her an incredulous look. "The former FBI agent that thought her prisoner had escaped," he observed before returning his attention to – surprise, surprise – the container of pancakes.
She laughed at that and shuffled sleepily in to take a seat next to him. Remembering his sudden no-touching rule, she pulled the chair back a few feet before sitting. She noted that he was wearing a fresh change of clothes, and recalled that he always kept an overnight bag in the Bronco 'just in case an investigation got messy' (which she now realized was likely code for him coming here). His hair looked damp, which she decided was a damned good sign. He was sober enough to have gotten a shower and started in on breakfast.
"How are you feeling?" She asked softly.
"Like a jackass for thinking you wouldn't kick down the door as fast as you did," he offered before taking a bite.
"You underestimated my tenacity? Shame on you, Wuornos. But I'll have you know, I didn't kick anything. I may have picked a lock, but I did not kick a door," she corrected with a smile. "How's your head fee…?" She trailed off as realization hit. He was entirely too awake and functional. Her mouth dropped open. "Son of a bitch…" she whispered, to which Nathan merely arched a brow and smirked over at her knowingly. "You don't have to deal with the worst parts of a hangover, do you?"
Nathan hid his smile behind a cup of coffee. "I have no idea what you're talking about, Parker."
"That's so not fair," she declared. "After the shit you pulled on me, your head…your hands…hell, your whole body should be hurting!"
He let out a short, forced laugh at that, but said nothing.
"You do realize, since you're sober now, your ass is grass," she said as she leaned an elbow on the table. Cradling her head in her hand, she studied the way Nathan's features tensed at the reminder.
"Can it wait till after pancakes?" He asked hopefully.
If that damnably adorable corner of his mouth had not turned upward slightly, and if those blue eyes had not glittered just so in the sunlight when he glanced over at her, she would have refused his request for a stay of execution.
"Fine." Audrey sighed dramatically. "But no dragging this out just because it's your last meal, bub."
"Deal," Nathan agreed.
To his credit, he did not try to prolong the meal. Whether that was due to him following their agreement or the fact that he had never met a pancake that he didn't like, she was not sure. Once he was finished, he closed the container, let out a sigh, and sank back in his chair.
"Okay, you can start screaming now," he stated somberly.
Audrey opened her mouth to do just that, but realized in annoyance that she was no longer as angry as she had been the night before. Damn it.
"I want you to tell me what's going on with you, Nathan." She said quietly instead and tried in vain to keep the sadness from her eyes. "We were supposed to be friends, but now you don't want to be around me. So if you don't want us to be friends or partners or anything anymore – I think I deserve at least an explanation."
Nathan closed his eyes and clasped his hands together so tightly that she feared he might be breaking his own bones. "Audrey…" he breathed remorsefully and shook his head. "It's not that. It's not…"
He could not find the words. For the life of him, he could never find the damned words. So, after taking a steadying breath, he turned toward her and did the last thing he should have done. He reached out and touched her face.
And Audrey, bless her heart, stared up at him in abject bewilderment – but did not move a muscle to retreat from his touch. Instantly, the pleasure of the contact rolled through his otherwise dead nerves. He tried not to tremble as her warmth seeped into him. He could feel the softness of her skin, the coolness of her hair as it brushed against his fingertips.
Swallowing hard, he managed to force out in a hoarse whisper, "I can…feel this."
Of all the expressions that Audrey had, Nathan decided that her perplexed expression was the most endearing. The graceful arch of her brows, the creases that formed in her forehead, and the way her eyes narrowed on him were impossibly sweet.
"What do you mean?" She asked, afraid to believe that she had heard him correctly. While searching his tearful eyes, she caught herself leaning into his touch ever so slightly.
Nathan fought to keep his emotions in check. "I can feel you," he confessed. "Just you, nothing else."
Seeing the way his hand was shaking as he reluctantly withdrew it from her cheek, Audrey's brows drew together thoughtfully. "Since when?" She asked, but immediately began piecing it together in her mind. Suddenly, all of his recent weirdness made sense. He had been acting like a goofball for weeks…following her around, shaking her hand all the damned time, helping her in and out of the truck and up and down embankments… She had assumed it was just Nathan's awkward attempt at trying to figure out what them being 'friends' was supposed to entail.
"Since Jess left," he answered quietly.
"Since I kissed your cheek," Audrey added knowingly, though she immediately cursed herself for how quickly she had said it. Thankfully, he was too involved in his current confession-session to shoot her one of his quizzical looks. The last thing she wanted was for Nathan to realize how truly significant that little act of affection had been for her. It had taken all of her courage to accomplish and she had spent days obsessing over it afterward. Audrey was not a 'toucher'. She was not the type of person to hug acquaintances or feel comfortable even sitting closely with them. It was not as if her life had involved a lot of physical contact.
Nathan was different, though, than the thousands of people that she had met in her years. He was the first person that she had ever felt this way about – as if she could trust him, as if she wanted him to trust her. The sight of him standing there so heartbroken after Jess left had done strange things to her. It had twisted up her insides. It had made it difficult to breathe properly. She had ached to comfort him, to be the type of person who could just hug and touch without it feeling awkward or forced. The only thing that had made her inability to touch seem less regrettable had been the knowledge that he would not have felt it, anyway.
Hell of a pair they made, huh? Audrey and Nathan – the 'can't touch' and the 'can't feel'.
But still, she had needed to do…something that day. She had needed to show him that, even though she was not very good at offering comfort, she was willing to make the effort where he was concerned. At first, the thought of stretching up on tiptoes and pressing her lips to his warm cheek had seemed more difficult than a month of dealing with the Troubles. But once her lips were against his skin, it had suddenly been difficult to accept that she had to pull away. She had found herself wanting to wrap her arms around him and give him the proper hug that he needed right then. It had startled her, sent her running just as quickly as she had came…
"I don't know if I could feel you before that or not," Nathan continued in a rough, exhausted tone, drawing her back from her thoughts. "I don't know if it was always that way and we had managed to work together that long without ever making contact, or if something changed that day. I don't know why I can feel you when I can't feel a bullet. But yesterday…when I saw that you could…" he trailed off, finding it incredibly difficult to voice the terror in his mind.
Audrey stared at him in confusion for a moment, at first not understanding what had happened in that living room that would have caused him to react so horribly. "Oh God," she finally whispered and closed her eyes. "Nathan…" she breathed sympathetically, realizing the leap that his thoughts must have taken.
"He's dead, Audrey. That little boy is a ghost and you can touch him. What does that mean about me? What…?" His voice broke and he winced as he tried to force the words out. "What am I?" He asked as he pressed his numb hand to his numb chest and fought back a sob.
People had given him countless different looks over the years when the subject of his condition was broached – pity, fear, curiosity, distrust – but the look of absolute compassion and understanding that he found in Audrey's eyes right then was something altogether unfamiliar to him. Staring into her eyes was making this somehow simultaneously more and less painful. Those eyes urged him on silently, assured him that, whatever he was feeling, he was welcome to put words to the questions of his heart.
Before he could stop himself, his mouth was moving again. Much like the day when he had confessed his inability to feel Jess and the fears that had gripped him, he was astounded by how easily he could open up to Audrey. "What the hell is wrong with me? What if I'm dead, too? What if I've been dead all along and – I don't know – someone stuffed me or something? What if that's why I can't feel anything?"
Audrey sighed and shook her head before reaching out and pressing her palm against his chest. Nathan's body went rigid at her touch. She knew that, in that moment, he counted each time that he could feel her as further evidence of something terrible.
"Thump, thump, thump, Nathan." She said with smirk and waited for him to look into her eyes with confusion evident in his features. "Last I heard, zombies didn't have heartbeats," she offered.
Nathan frowned at the undeniable simplicity of her logic and shifted awkwardly under her widening smile.
"And I've never heard of a zombie who gives off body heat like a damned radiator, either," she teased as she pressed her hand to the side of his neck.
His features tensed and breath caught in his throat. Watching his lips parting slightly in response to the skin on skin contact, she had to resist the urge to put this conversation on hold so that she could pounce on him and give him a hug. She felt more than a little honored to know that she was the only person – hell, the only thing in the world that Nathan could feel. For right now, though, she needed to focus on convincing the poor guy that he was not the living dead.
"You're a hell of a lot warmer than me, and you know damned well that I'm alive," she advised as ever so slightly, his muscles began relaxing beneath her hand. "Plus, I've seen you bleed dozens of times since we met. See?" She said, lifting his bloodied knuckles for an inspection. It made her smile to feel the way his grip tightened instinctively when their hands met. She refused to let go unless he did first, which resulted in them sitting there together, holding hands as she quelled his fears. "No sand there, right? No sand when you were shot in the shoulder, or when you sliced your palm open a few weeks back. So, unless you've been keeping quiet about your midnight cravings for blood or human brains…"
Despite himself, the corner of Nathan's mouth turned upward in a hint of a smile.
"I'd say there's a more reasonable explanation for why you can feel me. Who knows? Maybe I'm like – I don't know – the 'anti-Trouble' or something," she offered with a shrug.
Nathan sank back against his chair and stared up at the ceiling as he considered her words. Despite his brooding mask, a whirlwind of hope was kicking up inside of him suddenly. He could pretend not to notice that he was still holding onto her hand, but it was actually the focus of his concentration in that moment. He wished there was a way to make her understand how amazing such a small thing was for him. Feeling her warmth was more overwhelming to him than any drug could ever hope to be. He tried with all of his will not to wonder about the one thing any man in his position would wonder, but there was no use. His mind was taking the predetermined path of a man that had not felt a woman's touch – let alone any other touch – in several years. Somehow, he managed to keep those thoughts under wraps, though, as Audrey continued talking to him.
"And maybe it would help if you stopped thinking of your whole 'can't feel pain' thing as a curse, and started seeing it more like a gift," she offered. Nathan shot her an incredulous look in response, so she added, "All right, maybe it's like a really terrible gift that you wish you could return, but that was given with good intentions. I mean, you've gotta admit, there are some plus sides to your condition. Not a lot of people can take a bullet and just keep on walking. You're like the terminator!" She declared with a laugh. "Though, I think the terminator was typically more talkative than you…" She arched a brow as she considered it.
"I'm not like the terminator." Nathan assured indignantly.
"You're right – that was a five-word sentence. 'Come with me if you want to live' is eight words," she pointed out and laughed when he rolled his eyes. "So…is it too soon to start ripping on you about how badly you overreacted?" She taunted with a grin.
The smile that had been tugging so hard at the corner of his mouth finally won out. After a moment, he tried to hide it. He rolled his head to the side and squinted over at her in feigned annoyance. "Give it an hour. Too soon to gloat," he advised in his normal dry, raspy, smart-assed tone.
"Well, well, well – welcome back, Wuornos!" She joked as she shoved his shoulder. "I was wondering where my monosyllabic partner disappeared to. Does this mean you're ready?"
"Ready for…?" He asked suspiciously, noting the grin on her face as she stood.
"For us to hug it out," she laughed. "This was, after all, the first time I wanted to kick your ass up around your ears. That's one-half of a fight, in my book. So, given that this was our first half-fight …" It was also the first time that she had dealt with the terror of nearly losing the only person in the world that she had ever called a 'friend'. She had her own selfish motives for wanting a hug right then. She was in need of some serious Nathan-y reassurance. "And since you just hit me with the revelation that you'll actually be able to feel how awkward I am about giving hugs…"
Nathan tried not to look too eager as he climbed to his feet beside her. "Why are you awkward about giving hugs?" He asked curiously, and used every ounce of his self-control to wait for a solid invitation to touch her.
Audrey shrugged sheepishly. "You could say I'm a bit rusty," she offered with a laugh as she averted her eyes.
He recognized her tone and posture in that moment – it was the same feigned unaffectedness that she wore whenever the subject of her upbringing was broached. He studied her with sympathetic understanding. Audrey was a woman that had spent her life with no friends, no family, and no one to hug. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that she must be every bit as starved for the comfort of physical contact as he was.
"That makes two of us," he offered as he gave a rare smile.
"Too bad you'll feel it if I stomp on your feet, huh?" She joked nervously.
Tilting his head to the side and watching the way she was suddenly fidgeting, he realized that she really was awkward about this. Extremely awkward. It made his smile widen further. Waiting for her to make the first move here was no longer an option, so he steadied his nerves, stepped forward, and wrapped his arms around her back.
At first, she was rigid. He waited for her to relax slightly before pulling her body flush with his. The little sigh she gave in response was the most adorable thing that he had ever heard. Slowly, she brought her arms up around him and laid her head on his chest.
Nathan's mouth hung open slightly in awe as she snuggled closer to him, as if trying to burrow further under his arms. The feeling of her against him was intoxicating, but he tried his best not to sway on his feet. He could feel the warmth of her through his shirt, feel her heart beating against his stomach, and feel the little circles that she was drawing on his back with her fingertips. Cautiously, he gave in to the urge to rest his cheek on the top of her head. Her hair was even softer than he had imagined it would be. He reveled in being so close to the scent of her shampoo and conditioner. She had a wonderful scent that he always recognized from a distance as Audrey.
There was a sense of safety in his embrace that was wholly new and unfamiliar to Audrey. She closed her eyes at the wonderful sensation of being wrapped up in his arms. He was warm and she was thankful that the clothes from his truck were clean – otherwise she would not have been able to happily huff away on the combined scents of his soap and cologne. The unanticipated plus side to a man with a super-sensitive nose: his taste in fragrances was fantastic. She wondered whether this was what all hugs were supposed to feel like – or if Nathan was an expert-hugger and had been lying his ass off about being rusty. Either way, getting a hug from Nathan had just surpassed chocolate, wine, and all other forms of artificial comfort that she had experienced in her life.
Her muffled voice against his chest drew Nathan's attention, making him realize that, at some point, his eyes must have rolled closed.
"I could get used to this. We should cancel all plans for the rest of the day," she joked as she nuzzled closer. "You know, for someone who's supposed to be rusty, you give one hell of a hug, Wuornos."
Nathan chuckled and rubbed her back as she let out a contented sigh. "Likewise," he offered with a smile.
Neither of them knew how long they stood there, enjoying one another's embrace – but as fate ever enjoyed screwing with them, her cell phone finally rang to remind them that the world was still going on beyond the front door. Audrey let out a long, thoroughly disappointed groan. Nathan somehow managed to keep his own at bay.
"Seriously?" She whined before reluctantly unwrapping herself from her partner.
"Duty calls?" He asked glumly as she looked down at her phone.
"Yeah, and I'm honestly considering blocking 'Duty's number," she replied dryly. "But at least you're fully functional now – means I won't have to call Duke again for a taxi service."
Nathan closed his eyes and took a slow, irritated breath. "That's how you found me."
"Yeah, but you should know, despite my awesome interrogation skills, I couldn't get him to tell me anything other than where I might find you. Actually," she trailed off as she replayed her conversation with Duke. After a moment, she gave an astonished laugh. "That little pain in the ass…" she breathed in realization.
"What makes you say that?" Nathan asked curiously, before adding with an arched brow, "Aside from it being true?"
"Duke must have figured it out! I told him that you had taken off when you saw me touch a ghost – which he didn't believe at all, by the way," she began.
"Why's that so hard to believe? This is Haven," Nathan offered – mainly because he wanted to be contrary to whatever Duke had said.
"No, he totally believed that I could touch a ghost. But when I said that you had taken off and left me there because of it, suddenly he was questioning my sanity," she said with a smirk.
Nathan's brows drew together at that, but he fought to keep all hints of his inner contemplation from his features. So what if Duke knew him well enough to realize that there was another reason for him bolting? It did not change things.
After a moment, Audrey shook her head in wide-eyed disbelief. "But when he was driving me to your apartment, out of nowhere he said, 'oh shit,' turned the car around, and headed straight for this place. I don't know how, but he managed to figure out what was going on with you way before I did."
"Is that so?" Nathan asked, pretending to be unimpressed by her assertion.
"That is so. And he got all kinds of snippy with me for grilling him about you, just so you know," she informed him as she crossed her arms over her chest. "I started in on him about why you two don't get along and what the deal was with this house – you'd have thought I'd asked him what he was hauling in his ship's hull or something. Apparently, I'm to direct any and all questions about those subjects to you."
"Hmm," was all the response that Nathan gave as they walked out the door, but Audrey smiled to herself knowing that she had gotten through to him at least somewhat.
Well, what d'ya think? Comments? Feedback? Should I never again try my hand at Haven fanfic? Or did you love it?
The standard rule of reading fanfiction applies: "If you READ it, FEED it." :)
Your feedback, after all, is my writing fuel. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!