Spoilers: Through 2.01

Warnings: Post canon character death

Author's Notes: Written for my hc_bingo prompts "grief", "orphans" & "family".

I have like a thousand and one things I'm writing and I realized I haven't actually posted anything in ages, so have a challenge fic! I actually started this ages ago, before s3 aired, and decided to finish it because it fit the challenge so well. All references to Audrey's fate were speculation at the time, so not counting them as spoilers.

Song is "Answer" by Sarah McLachlan.

i will be the answer, at the end of the line
i will be there for you while you take the time
in the burning of uncertainty
i will be your solid ground
i will hold the balance if you can't look down


He finds her sitting back out on the rocky shore, where they'd met her doppelganger… god, had it really only been a day ago? She's still wearing the same brown jacket, clearly hasn't been back to her hotel. Not that he'd gone home, either.

He navigates carefully across the rocks, glad for the full moon that night. It glints off stone, off water, off Audrey's blonde hair. (Off tears on her cheeks, but they can ignore that.) She looks up with a little smile as he approaches, greets wryly, "I knew you'd find me here." She wipes at her cheeks as he sits beside her, not even trying to hide it from him. He figures that should mean something.

She stares back out at the ocean, eyes blank, oddly silent for a few minutes. Finally, he asks, "Where's… uh…" He has no idea what to call her, this other Audrey. Somehow using that name feels like a betrayal.

"Last I saw her, she was at Duke's," Audrey states in a carefully steady voice. "Her Agent Howard was talking to her."

"Her Agent Howard?" The words slip out before he can think, and she flinches like he'd thrown them at her.

"He sure as hell wasn't mine."

He has no idea what to say to that, no idea what to say to any of this. They sit in silence for awhile, staring out at the ocean, until she suddenly asks, "Your father?"

"Which one?" Again he speaks before he can stop himself, feels his chest suddenly constrict around a darkness he doesn't understand. He hears Audrey sigh a little, and her voice softens. She only says "Nathan", but it's enough.

"Buried," he states. His voice cracks, and he can feel her eyes on him. "Duke helped." He can't help smirking a little at that. At the way Audrey's eyebrows raise. But any lightness drains from her quickly as she pokes at the rocks by her feet, fingering a jagged crack in one, a dark pit in another. "I'm sorry I wasn't there," she tells the stones. They click in answer against each other.

He can't help reaching out to touch her hand, halting its movement. Relishing the softness of her skin, the warmth of it. He just sits there for a moment, eyes closed, feeling. Audrey stills, seems to realize what he's doing and lets him take his time.

Finally, he murmurs, "You're here now." He opens his eyes and she glances at him, her lips curving into something vaguely resembling a smile.

He doesn't let go of her hand.

"For how long?" she asks, voice strangely dull. Flat. His fingers tighten all on their own, almost painfully, and he has a sudden irrational need to hold on forever. To physically tie her here, to make sure she never just… disappears.

The thought of losing her like that makes him nauseous.

He wants to make a joke, wants to say something, anything to lighten her mood (and his) but the words just won't come.

"You can't go." He doesn't think his brain has any control over his mouth tonight. Audrey looks at him, brow furrowed slightly. Nathan withdraws his hold, runs his hands across his face wearily. "My mom died when I was ten," he states, hears the slightest hitch in her breath like she wants to say something, then silence. "Then it was just me and the Chief, and he…" He laughs shortly, a grinding in his throat that makes Audrey wince a little. "As much as we didn't get along, he… he was my dad." His voice breaks.

Audrey leans against him, her body a shock of warmth against his side, and suddenly he can breathe again. "You're… the closest thing I have to family, Audrey." He swallows hard around a lump in his throat. "I can't lose you too."

He feels her arm slide around his lower back, her head rest against his shoulder. "Same here," she murmurs. "I've never had family, or… Audrey Parker hasn't." She pauses when her voice trembles a little, and he wraps an arm tightly around her shoulders. She shudders.

"I've never had a home until I came here," she continues softly. "Until I met you." It makes him unbearably sad, just thinking about it. That a woman so vibrant and caring as Audrey could live her life so alone.

(He'll never think of her as anything but Audrey.)

"I don't want to leave." Her voice is tiny, a whisper so quiet he wonders if he imagined it. But when he glances down at her there are fresh tears on her cheeks that she's wiping at angrily with her free hand. He kisses the top of her head, tightens his arm around her, lets himself just enjoy the feel of her, her warm weight against him.

"I won't let you," he promises. "Who else is gonna keep Duke in line for me?" She laughs, raw and choked and shaking, and Nathan wonders that she's not in as many pieces as his father. Wonders how she's holding herself together in the face of this insanity when just thinking about her reality makes his head spin.

They sit in silence for a long time as he tries to infuse her with warmth, to bring some semblance of stability to this insanity. Even just for now, just this one moment, as he holds her in the darkness and lets the rest of the world fade away.

"Thank you." Her soft voice breaks the silence and he blinks, glances down in question. "You believed in me," she continues. "Even after what I told you about Lucy, after…" She trails off, eyes far away, and Nathan has the sudden, disturbing sense that he could lose her in this moment. That without something to ground her, she'd just… disappear. Fade.

It makes him sick.

"Always will," he manages to answer. Another silence, but this one hurts his ears, crawls into his stomach and turns it into knots.

"Do you really think…" Her voice is an octave too high and it tears at his ears. "Do you really think I let your father die?"

Nathan's not sure he's ever regretted any words as much as he does those.

"No." The word is garbled around a lump in his throat, strangled and nearly incomprehensible. "Audrey, no." She won't look at him, stares intently at the rocks she's started to finger again. Nathan can see her trembling, can't stop himself from grabbing both her hands tightly.

"Audrey," he says again, almost pleading. When she finally looks at him her eyes are red, mouth drawn in a thin line, a vulnerable expression on her face he's never seen. God, what had he done? "Audrey," he murmurs, one last time. "I was in shock. From Max, the chief…" Her breath hitches with his. "You did everything you could. I know that. You know that."

She doesn't answer him, just looks away, and a strange terror hits him flat across the chest. "Hey." He tugs her hands gently, turning her toward him. "I'm sorry." Her gaze flicks back to his, face softening. His words echo in his head, shattering something

Sorry for what he'd said. Sorry that he'd pushed her away, when she'd finally tried to talk to him. Sorry that she'd just lost her identity, that there's a stranger walking around with her memories, that he has no idea how to help her.

"I'm sorry," he whispers again. For so many things he doesn't even know where to begin, "It was my fault, not yours. If I'd just… just listened to him, if I hadn't made his life so stressful and miserable maybe he could've held on, maybe you could've helped him-"

"Stop." Her voice is gentler than he's ever heard it, fingers just as soft as she pulls them from his, reaches up brush at his cheek. (Is he crying?) "Nathan, it was no one's fault. We're all doing what we can." He closes his eyes, unwilling to let her see just how deeply her touch affects him. She freezes, and he expects her to pull away. But she doesn't, just slowly trails her fingertips up his cheek, gently grips the back of his neck and pulls him forward to rest her forehead against his.

Nathan's fairly certain he's forgotten how to breathe.

She exhales softly, a warm puff of air that tickles his skin as she murmurs, "We got one good thing out of today." He can't help the smile that splits his face, the giddy warmth that floods through his body at her closeness, at the first touch he's felt in years. And then she has her arms around him, gently guides his head to her shoulder and god, her fingers are in his hair and he makes a sound embarrassingly close to a whine, buried in her shirt. He feels her smile, feels the muscles in her cheek move against his, but she says nothing. Just holds him lightly against her, a reassuring warmth that finally drives off the despair that has weighed heavy on his chest for days.

It's more than just her touch, although that's intoxicating enough to drive all sense from his brain. No, it's… it's her. Audrey Parker – his Audrey Parker. His Audrey, who somehow in the face of her own dissolving world manages to hold him together, to ground him. Keep him from flying into as many pieces as his father. Audrey, who has never been big on physical affection – hell, he doesn't think he's seen her hug a single person since he's known her – but does this for him, because she knows how much he needs it.

(He thinks maybe, she might need it too.)

So he wraps his own arms hesitantly around her waist, marvels at the fleeting sensation in his arm where it brushes a bared patch of skin on her back. He's not sure he'll ever get used to this; he's not sure he wants to.

When she pulls back he immediately mourns her loss, but she doesn't move far. She remains huddled by his side, pressed into him (for warmth, he knows she'd say), and resumes clicking rocks in random patterns. Earlier, it might've annoyed him. Now, her touch is enough to drown out the frenetic noises.

"How long do you think we could stay here, before someone noticed we were gone?" She tries for lightness, but there's a serious undertone that makes him ache.

He shrugs. "Duke might notice his best customer missing." Audrey elbows him and he grunts in surprise, then grins. But that fades when she doesn't look up, just stares down at her rocks with a blonde curtain over her face. "Few hours, at least," he finally answers gently. She nods, almost absently, but he can feel the tension running through her as she exhales sharply.

"Can we just…" Her voice fades and he's struck again with that nameless terror, that she might suddenly just disappear.

"Yeah," he rumbles, and answer to her unasked question. Wraps an arm around her shoulders again to pull her closer (for warmth, he knows he'd say). Whispers, almost to himself, "We can stay."


if it takes my whole life
i won't break, i won't bend
it will all be worth it, worth it in the end

cause i can only tell you what i know
that i need you in my life
when the stars have all gone out
you'll still be burning so bright

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