"Do I really have to stay?" Sydney asked the nurse who was currently tending to her.

"It's precautionary," she answered. "You didn't need stitches, but you took a couple of decent blows to the head. I promise it won't be so bad."

Sydney sighed. Every good thing she had today felt almost meaningless. "I was supposed to be somewhere…" She closed her eyes and attempted to rest as she was slid into a narrow tube.

"Love…" Joe had said the word at least a half dozen times since entering the waiting room. "I had an inkling of something, but…"

Nathan's head was in his heads. "I just want to take her home." He was with Sydney in the back of the ambulance and while she was in the emergency room. He was caked in sand, mud, and dried blood and refused to leave the building. A male nurse who had heard about what happened took him where he could shower and gave him a clean pair of scrubs to wear while Susan ran home for a clean set of clothes. He ran his fingers through his damp hair, frustrated and somewhat scared.

"Nathan, this is all at the board's insistence, you know that. They just want to be sure she's all right. Her insurance isn't going to get billed, the district is taking care of everything…"

"They should." Nathan shook his head. "Do you know how excited she was this afternoon? How happy? Between the job offer and moving in this weekend…"

"Moving in?"

"Mister Gardner?" A middle-aged woman approached him, a kind smile on her face. "You can go back now, she's all done."

"Give her my best, Nathan," Joe said, patting his shoulder.

"I will." Nathan nearly jogged down the hall and when he crossed through the threshold to her room, Sydney's arms were stretched out to him. He went to her, carefully taking her into his arms. "Baby are you…" He sighed.

"They locked him up, right?" Nathan nodded in response. "Then I'm fine. I want to go home. Why do I have to stay?"

"Truth?"

"Always, please."

"The district has to cover their asses." He brushed her hair away from her eyes. "I'm so sorry…"

Sydney shook her head and stopped him immediately. "Nathan, nobody could have known he'd show up there. You got him away from me before he could try anything…worse. I just wish his crappy aim would've made him hit the wall instead of my head."

"Me too." She yawned, her body exhausted.

"You can drift off, Syd, it's okay."

"You should go get some rest too."

He pressed a soft kiss to her forehead. "I'm not leaving your side."

The following evening, Sydney and Nathan were home. The nurse told Nathan that Sydney's hair could be washed to remove any traces of dried blood, but that it had to be done carefully. He drew a bath for her and did just that. Warm water soothed Sydney's aching muscles and she let her eyes close.

"Syd, baby, you okay?"

His fingers softly massaging her scalp felt wonderful and it she had almost fallen asleep. She opened her eyes. "I'm okay, promise."

"Almost done, then we can get you into bed and…" He stopped, Sydney's smile puzzling him. "What?"

"Mother hen," she giggled.

"Am not," he said softly, knowing full well he was.

"I can't wait to get into bed. I can't believe you spent the night on that horrible chair."

"I told you I wasn't leaving." Nathan rinsed her hair and helped her to stand in the tub. He used the showerhead to rinse the soap from her body, then wrapped her in a towel. He only spoke after he lifted her up over the side. "Syd, I am a 'mother hen' and I am going to worry about you. You've been through something traumatic and…"

"I'd be worried if you didn't worry about me…I just…I really don't want it to be 'a thing.' Does that make any sense at all?"

"Of course it does, sweetheart." He took her hand and they walked to the bedroom. Sydney sat on the edge of the bed as Nathan went to the drawer that held some of her things. He helped her to slide a thin, pink tank top over her head and matching panties up her thighs before she crawled beneath the covers.

"Come here and worry some more," she said sweetly. Nathan stripped to his boxers and slid in beside her, taking her into his arms. A thought struck her suddenly. "Baby, how are your hands?"

A small chuckle left Nathan's lips. "Beating a wooden dummy for as long as I have must've toughened them up a little."

Sydney cuddled closer to him. "Another thing for me to thank Sifu Wes…" She drifted to sleep before she could finish her thought and Nathan was right behind her.

A few hours passed before Nathan woke. Sydney was still in his arms, but trembling and softly crying in her sleep. He kissed her shoulder and ran his hand along her arm, just grazing her skin. "Sydney, honey, wake up. You're okay…"

Sydney's breath caught and her heart was racing. "Nathan?"

"I'm here, baby…I'll always be here." He knew how he sounded, but it was true and what she needed. She turned her body and faced him. He wiped away her tears and stroked her cheek with his thumb. "Take a breath…"

"I think…I think it might be a thing," she whispered. "For a little while anyway."

"Nobody's ever touching you again, baby, I swear on my life. You're here now and…" Sydney's lips pressed against his, interrupting him. "Syd…" She kissed him again. "Sydney…"

"I'm safest with you. Make the nightmare fade away…" Her lips found his chest as her hands moved along his back.

"You were just in the hospital…"

"Head's just a little sore…" She kissed him a third time, her tongue caressing his. "…we can go slow…gentle…" The room was dark, but he knew she was looking him in the eye. "I need you…I need something good."

Nathan wasn't sure why, but he understood and felt the same way. He let his lips wander her neck, every kiss delicate and slow. He heard her breathing change when he moved to the swell of her breasts, peeking over the tank top he'd dressed her in earlier. It made sense now, the craving for pure intimacy. Sydney and Nathan both knew that something far worse could have happened to her and Nathan made her feel safer than anyone else in the world. It seemed natural for her to want him to be as close to her as possible.

"I love you, Sydney," he breathed, his fingers grazing her stomach. Wanting to be certain she hadn't changed her mind, he asked, "Baby, are you sure?"

"Yes…" Her hand tugged at him as she rolled onto her back. Nathan followed her, carefully placing his body between her legs. "…and I love you too." She closed her eyes and relaxed into his touch. They'd made love dozens of times. They'd been rough, playful, and deeply intimate with one another, but this was something completely new. His mouth returned to hers, soft and warm, his kisses deep. Her fingers tangled in his hair, silently asking him to stay where he was, to kiss her until dawn…but he pulled away. She felt his nose nuzzle against her ear, his eyelashes cross her cheek, and his hands explore her body as though he'd never touched her before.

"Can I undress you?" he whispered.

"Please," she answered, her voice soft and calm. Each movement he made was measured; the intention was to make sure he didn't hurt her, but Sydney found it to be rather arousing…as did Nathan. She felt him remove his boxers and sighed when he pressed his unclothed body to hers, but he was holding himself back. She put her hands on his back and pushed down slowly. "You won't hurt me." His weight on her only made her feel safer.

Nathan relaxed against Sydney and continued his tender affections. He gently took her arm and kissed along the inside of her wrist, a place he knew could be sensitive to his touch. She mewed beneath him and he smiled. No more words were spoken as their lips met again and Nathan delicately slid within her. They stayed as they were, sharing air, unmoving, for quite some time. Only when Sydney stirred beneath him did Nathan's hips begin to move. Her breath guided his movements, it was all he needed, and the feeling of closeness between them was an unexpected pleasure for both. Nathan felt Sydney's legs tighten around him and knew she was close. He whispered his love for her in her ear and she softly cried out into the darkness, Nathan joining her a moment later.

Sydney held him where he was, not wanting to part from him yet. Her nightmare had faded, but something new had crept into her mind; a thought that brought a different set of tears to her eyes. She stroked his back and kissed his lips, smiling as she did so. Nathan felt the change in her, but didn't have to ask what she was thinking.

"We're home."

***The End***

Author's Note: I have enough ideas to keep going with this couple. Should I? I know this was long, but I like to build up the characters and the relationship. I don't like having people meet, say I love you, and get married within a few chapters. I like the development and taking things slow. Questions? Comments? A want for more?