I'm almost finished "Lessons in Hypothermia" but I felt like this needed to be out there. It takes place after Audrey Parker's Day Off. They're not mine, of course. :)
It takes every last bit of his willpower, but when Audrey disappears up the stairs to her apartment – leaving him alone in the bar with Duke and Chris – Nathan gives her an hour. He huddles up with Duke at the opposite end of the bar from Chris and most of The Gull's Wednesday night denizens, and he nurses a pint of lager, makes small talk, and keeps a keen eye on the wall clock just over Duke's head.
As soon as the big hand makes it around one full time, he nods to the smuggler, studiously ignores the glare he can feel Chris giving him as he passes by, and makes his way up those same stairs to the apartment above The Gull.
"Audrey?" he calls out, keeping his voice low. There's the constant murmur of conversation below him. He'd have a hell of time living above that kind of noise, but he's learned over the last few months that Audrey is capable of ignoring any number of things.
"Back here," she says. Her voice sounds small, ragged. Broken.
He follows the porch around the corner of the building, finds her facing the dusky horizon with a heavy sweater – which looks suspiciously like something Duke would wear – wrapped around her shoulders. He thinks about how small she looks, drowning in layers of wool, and he feels something tight pull in his chest. It's a feeling he's experienced more often recently; a feeling he's unwilling to name or give reason to, for fear of what it might mean.
Audrey doesn't turn to look at him, just keeps her gaze forward. Her jaw is set, the strong line sharp against the dim light of evening. Her shoulders, though, have sagged since he last saw her – hard to do, considering how frail she'd looked on the deck downstairs. He keeps a short distance between them, waits for her to invite him into her space.
"Audrey," he says again, this time without the questioning lilt. Finally, after another silent moment, she turns her face to him. Her eyes are red and puffy, her cheeks stained with the tracks of salty tears. She blinks watery blue eyes and the corners of her mouth turn downward. He says nothing, takes the unspoken invitation, and comes to stand beside her, his shoulder touching hers.
"Been a hell of a long day," he says. She laughs, just once and without any mirth. "Beer?" he asks.
She sniffs, swipes at her face with the sleeve of her oversized sweater. "I was thinking Johnny Walker and Patsy Cline, actually."
A part of him has always suspected that he and Audrey might be made for each other, in some strange cosmic way. Which is why he smirks, reaches into the left pocket of his elderly flak jacket, and produces the small bottle of scotch Duke slipped him on his way out of the bar. He holds it out, shakes it side to side, and is more than a little relieved when Audrey's mouth quirks upwards in the start of a smile. He's happy to see, too, that even though it's small, it reaches her eyes.
"And Patsy?" she asks. He reaches into the other pocket, produces a worn CD case. This elicits a small bubble of laughter from her. "You carry her around with you?"
He shrugs. "You never know when an emergency might pop up." He motions over his shoulder to where her French doors stand open, the kitchen visible through them. "You get the glasses and I'll put Patsy on."
She takes the bottle from him and stands on her tippy toes, brushes a feather-light kiss against his cheek. He somehow manages to keep from staggering back, to keep from wrapping an arm around her and holding on as tight as he possibly can.
"You're a good man, Nathan," she whispers into his ear.
"Don't give me too much credit," he says, one arm traitorously coming up to keep her close. "My plan is to get you drunk enough so you don't cry anymore."
She leans back and gives him a lopsided smile, one he's never seen before. "And here I thought you were going to get me drunk and take advantage of me."
He's thankful for the dimness – it keeps her from noticing the blush that creeps up his cheeks. He grins. "Well, only if you promise to stop crying."
She laughs a little and he releases his hold on her waist. She motions inside. "One step at a time, Wurnous," she says.