Copyright Notice: Seriously, you're gonna go after me for a Haven fic? It's really not that lucrative of a property to begin with. It's like the Mediterranean Avenue of TV shows. Heck, you should be bloody pleased someone actually is interested enough in it to write lousy fiction about it.
Musical Accompaniment: None, actually. Haven has no songs yet. Weird.
In a memory he doesn't even remember having, Nathan is nine, and Duke Crocker is torturing him.
Torturing is a bit of a strong word. What is really happening is just the most recent chapter in the ongoing covert war the two of them had been engaged in for the past few months. It's not torture if it's warfare. It's not torture if your victim fights back.
Nathan scrabbles in the dust where he's landed, searching for something to grab and use as a weapon. Feeling nothing (of course) coming to hand, he gets ahold of himself and drowns his momentary panic in logic and a deep breath. 'Remember,' his inner monologue chides at him, 'You can't do it like that.' His eyes sweep the edge of the parking lot, the brick wall of the hardware store, the rusted trash cans and corresponding pile of rubbish.
He leaps to his feet – or at least, he would have leapt to his feet, if this had been one of those cop shows on TV, or if he had been a character in one of his comic books. As it is, his sneakers slip on loose gravel and he goes to his knees again once before gaining his feet and sprinting to the trash heap. He reaches the brown glass beer bottle and grips it like a club, just in time to turn at bay, his back to the wall, literally.
Duke has taken his merry old time catching up with him. It's almost like he wants to give Nathan the chance to arm himself. Stupid, really, since the odds are already in Nathan's favor, him being the bigger of the two and Duke, for once, not being backed by his regular band of misfit followers. He's smiling, though, like he's in the middle of the world's most entertaining game. It's always been a game to Duke Crocker,
"Don't come any closer," Nathan warns, trying (and failing) to make his voice sound deeper than it actually is. It's only half bluff, Nathan's not entirely sure he can take Duke in a fair fight, but he knows he can give back good enough to put both of them in the hospital. He knows that if he ever gets Duke pinned between his knees and beneath his fists that he won't stop punching until he does.
"I don't intend to," Duke responds. He casually flips a rock into the air one handed and catches it again. It's a good sized rock, broken on one end so that it crests into a fairly threatening edge. Nathan wonders idly if it's what Duke had tossed at him to start all this or a new projectile. Regardless, his seemingly flippant actions are as much a threat as Nathan's words had been. Duke had played shortstop on their little league team. Nathan had been catcher, back before his parents had taken him out so that he wouldn't get himself hurt. Duke could throw, Nathan knew, even if he could no longer remember what it felt like to be on the receiving end of one of his more forceful tosses.
"Don't," he says, and it's not pleading. It's not, damn it, even though he's got nothing to back it up with. His bottle is no threat against Duke's ranged attacks. He's got nowhere to run; no one to run to even if he could manage an escape. His mind flashes to a picture in his school history book, of a well dressed officer with a sword facing off against a brown coated rebel hoisting a rifle.
Yeah, you know how that one ends.
"Don't," he says again, and this time it sounds like pleading even to his own ears. But he's already thinking ahead, already planning for the worst. If (no when) he throws it, close your eyes, because you can't let him hurt those. Then go for him. Go for him right away while he doesn't have a weapon. Go straight for the lower body and throw him off balance. Get him down (prone the Chief would say) and use your weight to keep him there. Keep him there and…and then what?
Nathan pauses in the middle of his own imaginings. What should he do next? Try to kill him? Beat him to a bloody pulp? Make certain he never ever decides to throw rocks at the poor painless kid again? For all his anger, for all his frustration, he doesn't want to hurt Duke.
He doesn't want to hurt anyone.
While he's lost in this somewhat surprising thought, Duke throws. He remembers to blink, or at least his body, working on instincts he cannot comprehend, blinks for him. It also raises his arm defensively, and without his conscious control. Something from little league must still remain buried deep within him, because he hears the connection with his makeshift bat that he cannot see or feel. He hears the tinkling of shattered glass. And just before he opens his eyes, he hears Duke's muttered, "Shit."
When his eyes blink open, Duke looks as shocked as he sounds. The bottle is gone, save for the smooth neck still grasped in Nathan's palm. He opens his fist and lets it fall. Curiously, it doesn't break against the pavement. Nathan wonders for a moment about the physics involved in that, before a thick droplet of blood lands next to it with a (to him) audible splat.
"Shit, Nathan." Nathan raises his eyes. Duke looks scared. He must be scared if he's using Nathan's name like that; the way he used to.
In a memory even older and more forgotten than this one, he and Duke are friends. They ride bikes and catch minnows and run around Duke's dad's boat like it's their own personal pirate ship. That was before the Troubles came. Nathan's not quite old enough to understand the Troubles, but he understands how worried his parents are about them. Hell, everyone's parents are worried; and Duke and he are at the age where they're beginning to recognize their parents' fears and prejudices, and adopt them as their own. The Chief hates the reverend, so Nathan does too. Duke's dad hates Troubled folk, so Duke falls in line. They don't really think about it - don't analyze the situation the way they might in a few years, as questioning young adults - they just do what they think they're supposed to. For Duke, that means torturing Nathan for being different.
Or whatever it is he's been doing. It's not really torture. It's not like Nathan feels it when he bleeds.
There's a lot of little cuts on Nathan's hand and forearm, and one big one running in an arc from the back of his knuckles up and over his wrist. That's the wound that caused the blood droplet. Nathan grabs for the free hem of his t-shirt, then thinks better of it. He doesn't want his mother knowing about this, doesn't want her to have to soak yet another piece of his clothing in cold water until she can get the dark brown stains out. Besides, Duke's not looking at his hand.
Nathan reaches up his untouched left hand and rubs it against his face. It comes away bloody. Duke gasps, and Nathan knows it's because whatever blood there was there to begin with has now been smeared all over by his actions. He needs a mirror, not that he really wants to see. He knows he has to, that much has been drilled into him. If you think you might be hurt, you must assess the damage to determine what needs to be done.
"I need a mirror," he explains stupidly. Duke looks like he's just spoken in another language. "I need..." he fumbles for a moment, not knowing what it is he really needs right then; only that it's been a long time coming, and he is beginning to lose hope that it ever will. "I…"
"What's going on here?"
The voice is not familiar. Neither is the girl. No, not a girl, a woman, but not old. Her hair is brown and straight, her dress pretty, and her look just as confused as the one plastered on Duke's face. It occurs to him to be embarrassed. She's pretty; he's covered in blood. She doesn't give him the chance.
"Oh, my God!" she exclaims. "You're covered in blood."
Nathan skips over embarrassed and heads straight to mortified. Most kids his age would be too busy being in pain to worry about what they looked like to someone else. Nathan's just lucky that way.
"Oh…oh, hell." She rips open the battered brown leather bag slung over her arm and rummages around inside, never taking her eyes off Nathan. Pulling a wad of folded up tissues out from it, she advances towards him, holding them out in front of herself like a shield. He takes them from her, somewhat bewildered by her actions. Laying several in each hand, he presses them to his face. "Duke, what in the - Oh, no!" She continues, "No don't do that! There's still glass there! Here, come over here-" he stumbles forward as he's propelled by a shove to his back- "Come over here where there's light."
He pulls the now red tinged tissues from his face to see the strange woman sitting herself on the curve of the metal bike rack next to the store front, and tugging him down by his shirt to sit next to her. "Here, I've got more!" She takes the used Kleenex from him and tosses them in a wad upon the ground. "Did you get any in your eyes?" she asks, peering into them, as if she expected to see a large hunk of brown glass sticking out of one iris. "God, I hope not."
Nathan blinks at her. Surprised and amused, and just a little bit in shock from the whole affair. "Who are you?" he asks, somewhat belatedly.
"She's my babysitter," comes the belligerent answer. Duke, making his presence known by being an ass. He usually does. He's stayed close beside them, but nowhere near close enough to get any of the blood on him. "What the hell were you doing with that bottle anyways?"
Nathan throws him a murderous look.
"Duke, be quiet," the woman instructs with a dark voice, and miracle of miracles, he shuts up. "Okay," she says, scrutinizing Nathan's cheeks. Then, again, "Okay." She sounds like she's trying to calm herself, and not him. "All right. The ones on your face aren't that bad. They're just scratches. Looks like you've been trying to shave and aren't very good at it yet, that's all." She continues wiping at his face with the tissues, wadding some up against the open wounds, and stopping occasionally to pick tiny pieces of glass from his skin. She works slowly, dabbing with a tissue to keep the blood from smearing further. He figures she's making an effort to be gentle. He thinks to tell her not to bother - that he can't feel it anyways - but keeps quiet. Her eyes are intense at her work, and Nathan feels incomprehensively scrutinized and small. Eventually, after what seems a decade, she leans back and admires her clean-up job. "Yeah, that's okay, but it's your hand that's gonna be the problem."
He's been holding it away from their bodies, away from their clothes and her bright skin. He doesn't want to dirty either. She places the remaining tissues against it, and they're almost immediately saturated. "Hmmm," she mutters, and searches through her big brown purse again. Finding nothing, she pauses in the midst of her actions and stares off into space, looking lost. The look transforms her features, changes her from something warm and comforting to a store front mannequin. Without knowing why, Nathan's heart drops in his chest. Feeling foolish and tender and strangely compelled, he reaches for her, touches his free hand to her bare arm, and feels.
He pulls back almost immediately, knocking her purse half out of her hands with the force of his startlement. She catches it before it can fall, and snaps her vacant gaze to him. There's purpose there again now, and recognition. Whatever his touch has done to her it's broken her out of her momentary reverie.
What it's done to him is turn his whole world topsy-turvy.
She reaches up without hesitation and unties the decorative scarf from around her neck. It's patterned with flowers, a mess of green and yellow and purple. She wraps it around his hand and the tissues both, her actions smooth and calculated. Still, her fingers can't help from brushing against his own as she weaves it about his limb in a practiced manner and pulls it taut against his palm. Her touch is warm, soft, like shafts of sunlight dancing ephemeral against his skin. He gasps at the very strangeness of it; her touch and the situation in general. She purses her lips and makes a pitying noise behind them. Her brown eyes appraise him, soft as a beagle's, and concerned. She thinks she's hurt him, and she has. His wounds flare to life under the brief sweep of her fingertips, and he yearns for it. The pain and the pressure. The in-your-face, plain-as-day, realness of it all.
She continues to wrap his hand, eyes fixed on his face. "You gonna tell me what happened?"
"No," he grumbles and turns away from her. Somehow, he can't look her in the eyes when he's avoiding her question like that. His gaze instead falls on Duke, who is hunched over not far away, dragging one sneaker clad toe in the dust. He's also avoiding her attention. His eyes flick briefly to meet Nathan's and there's surprise in them; surprise that Nathan wouldn't play the narc. Nathan may be a lot of things, but he's no tattletale.
"Look, I'm not asking you to be a tattletale," she states, showing that she possesses the knack so many adults seemed to have of reading his mind. "But this is probably going to need stitches and-"
"No," he croaks out, his eyes darting back to hers. "No it's fine." Her look says she clearly doesn't believe him. "It…it doesn't hurt, okay?" He swallows hard, and fights the urge of habit which makes him want to bite at his lower lip in frustration (a dangerous habit, he's already bitten through his lip that way twice). "I get this sort of thing all the time," he finishes somewhat lamely. It's not exactly an admission likely to change the mind of someone who wants him to seek medical attention.
Still, she seems to understand that there's something he more afraid of than getting a scar. Her mouth quirks, showing her disquiet, as she turns her attentions back to the scarf. She twists and folds it into a bow, holding everything securely in place. Her fingers flutter through the draping silk ends like she's playing a harp. Nathan's eyes follow them, fascinated. He wants them to be touching him again, and not the makeshift bandage. He wants to see if he's just been imagining things, or if he really is cured. To his dismay, she pulls away.
Shifting aside a bit on the rack, she gazes sideways at him. "Where's your mom?"
He admires the pretty bow she's made with the scarf, skillfully avoiding her eyes again. "At home," he responds soberly.
"And your dad?"
Instinctively, he raises his head and turns it to look down the street. Yes, his dad is still there. Still arguing with someone standing outside the station. The other man is familiar, but Nathan doesn't know his name. It's not one of the cops, he knows them all. Whoever it is, the discussion seems to be getting heated. The Chief has backed the man up against his truck, and stands with hands on his hips, in what Nathan has come to think of as his 'no nonsense' pose. "He's busy," Nathan answers, looking up at her again. She follows the direction of his former glance and sees the two men. Her eyebrows scrunch together with concentration.
"But if he's here, why would he-"
"He's busy," Nathan reiterates, putting emphasis on the latter word. He doesn't know how else to explain it to her. The Chief was busy. The Chief was important and not to be interrupted. The Chief was possibly the only thing holding this town together as it cracked at the seams. And besides, Nathan could never imagine himself running to the Chief about something like this. The Chief had enough on his mind.
"Look, I should probably go," Nathan says, standing up from the bike rack and preemptively ending the conversation before it could get even more uncomfortable. For a second, she is looking upwards into his face and a wave of vertigo washes over him. He sees himself towering over her, staring down into her eyes, and it feels right. It's as though, for just a moment, he's not a nine year old kid and she's not some thirty-something babysitter. Time has bent, the universes collided and they're the same age.
If he hadn't been convinced before that she is magic, he is now.
"Whoa," she says, her eyes going wide. "Did you-"
"I…" he interrupts before she can say any more, but has no idea where his thought is going to finish. "I gotta go." He turns on his heels and starts away, then almost trips and falls to his knees again. She's grasped him by the elbow, preventing his forward motion and sending a jolt of surprising sensation running like wildfire up forgotten nerves in his arm. It's so strange, he can't feel the clothes on his back or the ground beneath his feet, or even the press of air against skin on either side of where her fingers hold him in place, but her hand is like a brand against his flesh. Not hot or painful, just a sense of presence with more gravity than the pull of the earth itself. He feels the distinct curve of each finger where it digs into him, feels the slight prick of manicured nails. He fools himself that he can pick out the individual ridges of her fingerprints, but that's just silly. He'd need some sort of superpower to be able to do that, and of all the powers present and active in this town, his is probably the least super among them.
"Wait," she says, breathless. He twists back over his shoulder to see that she has stood up from her perch on the bike stand to reach him. Whatever spell was cast over them before is gone now. She is older again, taller, and Nathan senses the inherent authority to her figure, where for a moment she had seemed almost a…friend? Did adults even have friends? Not the kind where you traded off dinner dates or met at the bar for a few drinks; he knew about those, they were boring and didn't count. Real friends, he means. The kind you had impossible adventures with, and that you could always trust to have your back. The kind where you knew you would rather be with them than with anyone else in the whole wide world. It seemed impossible. Adults were such an unknown quantity, such a mystery within an enigma. Heck, he wasn't even sure girls had friends like that, and even if they did, none would ever want to be friends with Nathan.
No one wants a friend they can't ever touch.
Her hand drops his arm, leaving it…not cold, but…nothing, and shifts to his shoulder. It rests there, weightless and ghostlike. Apparently, whatever magic she works can't pass through the light cotton of his shirt. "Duke wants to apologize," she explains. Nathan can't prevent his eyebrows from reaching for the stratosphere. Duke Crocker apologize? He glances Duke's way and sees that he's equally out of the loop. "Come on," she says, reaching her free hand in Duke's direction, "You two need to make up."
Nathan almost laughs, but before he can, and with a look like he has no idea what's compelling him to do it, Duke approaches the woman and lets her beckoning palm descend upon his shoulder. Apparently, her sorcery works on others as well. She smiles at Duke, showing her approval, before turning again to Nathan. "Now, what's your name?"
For some reason, this question catches him off guard. It's something you expect to get on first meeting with someone, not after you've already formed a relationship. For all that he's been aware of this woman's existence for less than ten minutes, Nathan already feels like the question is inappropriate. Like she should already know his name; know him. Like somehow she's always known him and, crazy as it sounds, he's always known her.
"His name's Nathan Wournos," Duke interjects for both of them. Nathan flashes him a dark look and gets a "like I care what you think" head toss in response.
"Wournos," she says in a calculating manner, "Like the chief of police Wuornos?" She again glances up the street where the strange man is now getting into his truck, apparently cowed into submission by the Chief's bear-like presence. She returns her attention to Duke, "You're picking fights with the son of the chief of police?" Duke nods and she rolls her eyes. "Oh, that's just genius."
Duke points accusingly at Nathan, redirecting her withering gaze away from himself, "He was gonna hit me with a bottle!"
"Mmmmhhmmm," she hums, "And now you boys are gonna shake hands and be friends, again, right? Before anyone else has to hear about this? Like the chief?" Duke has the presence of mind to look concerned at her words. He shouldn't be. Nathan doubts the Chief would do anything about it. Boys will be boys and they can work it out on their own. He had bigger fish to fry. Haven was chock full of big fish. Must come from being a seaside town. "Or your dad, Duke?" she continues. Duke's eyes go wide.
Still, he hesitates. He's looking at Nathan as if he's searching for something missing in his face. As though, cast in the shadow of his minder, Duke suddenly remembers that behind the cleaned up blood and the nearly motionless cast of features, there was a Nathan that used to wrestle and run and laugh. A Nathan that hasn't come around to play in a long time. Tentatively, his eyes never leaving the woman, he reaches his hand forward until it hovers before Nathan like a disembodied limb. After a moment's consideration, Nathan takes it. He's disappointed to feel nothing. He had thought perhaps, with the woman as close as she was, maybe he'd be able to feel something else. Even the rough clasp of Duke Crocker's grudgingly given handshake would have been welcome. They pump hands together once, in a desultory manner, and drop their grips as soon as they feel it prudent.
"There now," she says, her voice dry and sarcastic, "That wasn't so hard was it?"
Duke shoots a glare at Nathan, before cracking a wickedly familiar smile, and ducking out from beneath the woman's hand with a jerk of his shoulder. He takes off in the opposite direction, his feet seeming barely to touch the ground as he sprints to relative safety. "Duke!" the woman calls after him exasperatedly. She drops her hand from Nathan's shoulder and retreats in his footsteps, making considerably less headway in her low heels.
For the moment, Nathan is left alone.
He's always alone these days, even when he's in school surrounded by the other kids. Even when he's at home with his parents, eating pancakes at the breakfast table or watching the evening news from the comfort of the living room carpet, he's alone. He can't feel the carpet, and though he can taste the pancakes, he can't help to make them (stoves being declared 'too risky' by his mother). When it came down to it, it was better this way. It had gotten to the point where he didn't want to touch people, or have them touch him, because at least then he could pretend that he wasn't missing anything. At least then he didn't have to think about how he should be feeling something, some sort of basic connection with his fellow man, and didn't. It was like a mosquito bite (from what he remembered of them anyways), if you just ignored it, didn't worry at it or give it attention, eventually it would stop itching and go away. Afterwards, you wouldn't even remember it was there in the first place.
The woman disappears around a corner, running out of his line of sight and out of his life. Nathan can't swear to it, but it seems that the world is a little darker, a little grayer, now that she's no longer in it.
Turning his back on the woman and the gray world and the uncertain future, he trudges up the street to where the Chief is standing. He's looking at the latest copy of the Herald on display at the corner newsstand, but turns around at Nathan's approach. "Where have you been?" he asks, disappointment clear in his inflection.
His father's disappointment is an old war wound to Nathan by now. It doesn't hurt and unlike most things that don't hurt Nathan, it won't even leave a scar. "I was…" What exactly had he been doing? It's hard to say, it seems like a lot happened in a very short time, and yet in reality, not much occurred at all. "I was with Duke," he finishes, knowing the Chief will be suspicious about that, since he knows quite well how the two of them have been at each other's throats.
"I saw you talking with that new woman."
Moms and teachers might have eyes in the backs of their heads, but sometimes it seems like the Chief has eyes and ears in the very rocks of Haven itself.
There's no point in lying to the Chief, he always knows. "Yeah," Nathan admits, raising his bandaged hand for inspection. Blood is soaking into the fabric now, adding dark red to the swirl of other colors within it. "She gave me this."
The Chief looks critically at the blood spattered scarf, at the nicks and cuts running up Nathan's arm and covering his face. His own face darkens. Nathan is not afraid of the Chief, not in the traditional way, that is. He'd never raised a hand to Nathan, not like Duke's dad did to his own son, and he'd rarely even ever raised his voice. But Nathan could always tell when he was angry. He seemed to rumble with internal pressure. Like there was something boiling just beneath the surface of his otherwise impassive features, just waiting to break open. It was tension without an appreciable cause, and not visible to the naked eye. A hint of menace, like the smell of ozone in the air on the rising edge of a storm front. Nathan can sense it now, and something deep inside him quails. "You been fighting?" the Chief asks pointedly.
"Yes," Nathan answers timidly, and waits for the cracks to open up and swallow him.
The Chief snorts, shakes his head, and rests his palms against his hips. The no nonsense pose. "I don't want you bothering that young lady, now, you hear me?"
Taken aback by what seems a complete reversal of topic, Nathan nods dumbly in assent. The Chief raises his eyes from Nathan's face and stares off down the street to where the woman had disappeared from view. He nods silently to himself, then turns back to Nathan. With a wave of one hand towards his car he says, "Come on, I'll drive you home."
Nathan clambers into the passenger seat, taking care to check that nothing would get caught in the door before slamming it closed behind him. The Chief enters the driver's side and settles himself behind the wheel. As he is turning the ignition, Nathan finds the courage to ask him, "Why?"
When the engine catches; the Chief turns his steely gaze on his son. "Why what?"
"Why shouldn't I talk to that lady?" She had seemed nice enough. Hadn't seemed threatening at all. Hadn't even turned him and Duke in to the Chief, when she easily could have. Nathan knew there were 'bad' people, and that it was dangerous to talk to them, but she hadn't seemed the bad person type. She had seemed, well, rather magic and beautiful and impossible.
"Because she's important," the Chief answers dismissively, putting the car in drive.
Alone in the passenger seat, Nathan adds the unspoken coda: 'And you're not.'