A little Christmas present for the fandom – because we need it!
Nathan hears the song the day after Halloween, and it's like rubbing salt in the wound. He's always loved Christmas, but he has no expectations this year. To hear some woman croon that she'll be home for Christmas, when he'd give anything to hear Parker sing that to him, is almost too much to bear.
The Troubles have been gone nearly six months, and Duke and Audrey with them. He's coping surprisingly well. He thinks she might be proud of him, and that makes him get up every morning. He'd fallen apart every other time she'd left, and she'd never been pleased. She wanted him to live, and even though he's skeptical that he'll ever move on, he keeps putting one foot in front of the other. As the town begins to heal, he does too.
He goes back to the station, becomes Chief of Police again. He watches Aaron sometimes, and those days always cheer him. The boy will have a good life now. Audrey would be glad to know that.
People leave casseroles on his porch daily. It's almost funny, that the town that was ready to crucify him is now concerned whether he's eating.
But the damned song reminds him of everything he and Audrey didn't get to have. Somehow in all the years they've known each other they'd never gotten to celebrate Christmas. She'd always been gone – or someone else. She had told him of that Christmas in July that he couldn't remember, and he'd admitted that his enthusiasm was real. Garland had been a softie about Christmas, and his mother had adored it, and the holiday had yielded some of the happiest moments of his childhood.
He'd wanted to show her a proper Haven Christmas – one where the Troubles didn't taint the festivities. In their last months together, where they'd been truly together even as their world fell apart, he'd imagined it might even be possible. She'd bundle up in the fuzzy boots he'd given her and he'd drag her out to the tree lighting and the Christmas pageant, then take her to see MacMillan's light display. Afterwards there would be hot chocolate and making out under the mistletoe, and he'd tease her about the contents of the presents under the tree. One would contain his mother's ring, and he'd finally make the long overdue proposal that was constantly on his mind ever since the Sandman got to it first.
Instead he'd be alone – again. And Parker, who deserved more than anyone to put down roots and finally know the love of a family and the comfort of tradition, was stuck in a fortress for all eternity with a projection of Vince Teagues and her potentially reformed homicidal father.
It doesn't just hurt that she is gone. He worries about her. Croatoan had won, after all. He'd gotten his daughter back.
The day after Thanksgiving, Paige arrives.
When he sees her he nearly forgets to breathe, and the burning in his chest is so unexpected, and he wants to laugh and cry and crush her to him and kiss her until she remembers, but he does none of these things. He stutters through their encounter, the parallels to their first meeting not lost on him, especially when she slams his fingers in the car door and this time it hurts. But he catches the way she checks him out, and he knows by now how Audrey flirts, and he's filled with that heady sense of hope that only she can instill in him.
And then he sees James in the backseat.
His breath is gone again, and he doesn't understand how it is possible, but he loves the child the second he lays eyes on him.
They take things slowly. Nathan's constantly paranoid about coming on too strong. He is a stranger to her, who's taken an instant liking to her son, and he's terrified of doing anything that would put distance between them. And she's just had a baby, and even though she's sketchy on the details of who she thinks James's father is, he figures she might need space to work that out.
He still misses Audrey. Sometimes they're at the diner, sharing a plate of pancakes, and he really wishes she would lean forward and tell him she could go for a cupcake from Rosemary's or a lobster roll right then. Paige is Audrey in the ways that matter, the way that Sarah was. All her strength of character is there – her sass and kindness and compassion. But they no longer have any shared experiences. He misses the memories – of jokes over case files and drinks at the Gull and stolen weekends at his father's cabin. The first time she'd told him she loved him, and their first night together, and the way his skin had blazed to life the first time she'd kissed him on the cheek.
That's selfish of him, and he knows it. Paige is unburdened in a way Parker never was, not even when she first came to town. Her life hasn't been filled with abandonment. She does not expect that every good thing will be taken from her. Has not shouldered the burden of protecting an entire town. She does not remember all the horrors she has seen, has no deaths on her conscience, does not see the terrible moment when she told Duke they loved him as Nathan straggled him to death whenever she closes her eyes. He is glad of that.
There is a thrill in falling in love all over again. A wonder in the way her hand in his sends tingles down his arm simply because of how he feels about her, not because she's the only thing he can feel.
Her return is certainly a gift, even if it wasn't exactly the gift he'd have asked for.
November was unseasonably warm, but it snows halfway through December, and Nathan buys her a heavy coat and fuzzy boots and they take James to the Christmas pageant on Christmas Eve. Her delight is infectious, and he brushes snowflakes from her hair when they go back to his house afterwards, and the evening is nearly perfect.
She's still staying at the bed and breakfast and doesn't have room for a tree there, so she helps him decorate his. James is fascinated by the lights, and stares fixedly at it as he babbles, reaching one chubby arm towards the twinkling. Paige laughs as she places the balls with intense concentration, and Nathan stares so long she notices. He stutters an apology and turns to place the star on the tree, but later he catches her staring at him.
The song plays again on the radio, but this time he is not so bitter.
It's late by the time they finish, full of hot chocolate and cookies that Gloria had brought him. He sees Paige try to hide a yawn, and truth be told he doesn't look forward to the drive across town.
"You could stay here for the night," he offers. Her eyebrows raise, and he blushes. He hadn't meant to sound forward.
"I have a spare room," he clarifies. "I could make pancakes in the morning. No one should wake up alone on Christmas."
Paige tilts her head. "Who do you see when you look at me?" she asks.
Nathan freezes. He never intended to be so obvious. He'd decided the day he met Paige that this time had to be different. He couldn't waste their time together trying to make her into Audrey.
But he couldn't deny what Audrey had meant to him either.
"Sometimes you remind me of someone I used to know."
"She must have been a fool to let you go." Paige's voice is low and fond, and Nathan swallows, trying to calm his pounding heart. She is beautiful in her own right, dark hair glinting in the glow of the tree and the fire, pale skin flushed against her red sweater. Parker had rarely worn colors, but Paige's wardrobe is vibrant.
"She had to leave."
"There must have been some other way."
His throat is dry. He wants to tell her that she is the other way.
He wants to kiss her.
Instead he clears his throat. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."
"You didn't." Her smirk is so Parker. The tension breaks.
"I'll get you something to sleep in."
He still has drawers filled with Parker's clothes, but he's not about to explain why, so he digs out sweats and a t-shirt. A lump forms in his throat when she walks out of the bathroom in his clothes, but he commits the sight to memory and tells her goodnight. Filled with a sudden boldness, he kisses her on the cheek before he goes.
It's impossible to sleep with her under his roof, but it's a nice kind of buzz. He imagines that he would have felt this way after Audrey first kissed him, if he'd been able to notice his physical reaction. He's thrilled and a little nervous, and that's the same.
It's after midnight when he hears James's cry. He expects that Paige will quiet him quickly, but after a minute of racket he gets up and creeps into the spare bedroom. James is wailing in his car seat but Paige is fast asleep. It's odd – Audrey was always a light sleeper and he thought mothers were supposed to be attuned to such things. But he can hear her quiet breathing, so he scoops up James and brings him into the living room.
He hushes the baby as he paces about the room, and it doesn't take him long to settle. The child is a marvel, and Nathan skims his finger across his soft skin, tracing the cheekbones that Nathan can't help but think are familiar from years looking in a mirror.
"Hey buddy," he croons, and the baby seems to focus on the sound of his voice.
"Can I tell you a secret?" he whispers. James reaches out to catch the hand that lingers by his face, and Nathan's heart melts. His chest is not big enough to contain all the love he feels for this boy.
"I think I'm your daddy." It's so freeing to say it aloud. The past month he has thought it every time he has seen the child, but he has kept the secret locked inside.
"I don't know how, exactly. But your mama – she's a smart lady. She found a way to come back to me. And I promise to take care of the both of you. You'll always have a father. And even if the world doesn't know that it's by blood, I'll always choose to be your father."
"Won't it be better if the world knows?"
The voice startles him and he freezes. Paige is standing there in the doorway, wearing the Haven PD t-shirt Parker always stole from him.
"Paige." He does not know how he's going to explain this.
She shakes her head. "Try again, partner."
"Audrey?" he breathes. Time slows, but she nods and the next word spills from his lips instinctively. "Parker?"
He starts towards her, and then realizes his hands are full of baby and flounders. She laughs as she comes towards him, and then frames his face and rises on her toes to kiss him.
It feels like victory – like the shadow the Troubles have cast over their lives is finally lifted. She tastes just as he remembered, and his heart swells and mends.
She rests her forehead against his after she pulls away, and then presses herself against his shoulder. James is still in between them, somewhat awkwardly.
"I dreamt of you. And me. And when I woke up and heard you talking to James – it all came rushing back."
"I was afraid you were gone for good this time."
She reaches up and trails her fingers across his face. He closes his eyes to savor the sensation.
"Paige had a good life – aside from not really knowing where her baby came from. It was comfortable being her. But there was something that wasn't quite right. You know what I mean?"
He thinks of the Audrey copy, in that diner outside of Haven. "Yeah. I do."
She takes James from his arms and settles on the couch. He sits beside her and she curls into him, her head in the crook of his neck. He wraps his arm around her and breathes her in.
"You had a baby," he says after a few moments, because he can't think of a more delicate way to bring it up.
"I was pregnant when I went into the Barn. But I didn't know. Things were so bad I figured that's why I felt awful and was off my cycle. By the time I realized Vince had already discovered I could go back if I was willing to accept another persona. He couldn't override that programing from the original Barn." She reaches up and brushes his hair across his forehead. He can tell that she's nervous. "I could have come back sooner but I wanted to hold our son. Just once."
He can not fault her for that. He looks between them both, his family, and none of his past hurts hold any sway.
"You're home now."
"I came home for Christmas. Just like that song."
Eight months ago he would have blamed a Trouble. It's too much of a coincidence. She doesn't know how that song has dogged him. But now he comes to another conclusion.
They were both due a Christmas miracle.