A/N: Canon up through 3.11, basically. My hobbies include yelling about Rethaniel and pretending that the end of season 3 doesn't exist.
Nathaniel's on his way back to the office when he sees her standing at the curb, waiting for the light to change.
Nearly dropping his salad container, he squeezes his eyes shut and pinches himself to check if he's hallucinating. After all, he's been working nonstop for three days and hasn't eaten since god-knows-when; maybe this is all just a product of low blood sugar and his fevered imagination.
But when Nathaniel opens his eyes again, she's still standing there, and the traffic light is flashing green.
Against his better judgment, he rushes over and taps her on the shoulder. "Rebecca?"
She whips around, her eyes going impossibly wide as she gapes at him. "Nathaniel?"
He drinks her in— pink blouse, gray skirt, hair done up in a bun at the nape of her neck. She looks older, more weathered, but steady, her cheeks flushed, a familiar glint in her eyes; for a moment, it feels like no time has passed at all.
"What are you doing here? It's been…" Nathaniel trails off. How long has it been?
"I'm meeting with a client," Rebecca says. "We have a ton of business all over LA, actually. I'm not usually the one who makes the trip, but everyone is really swamped with cases back at home, so...here I am!"
"Glad to hear the firm is doing well," he chokes out. After all this time, she still manages to leave him at a complete loss.
They lapse into awkward silence.
Rebecca glances at her watch. "Um, I should probably get going soon, but it was so nice to see you! We should catch up."
"Yeah, definitely." He surveys their surroundings, and lands on the Starbucks across the street. "Do you want coffee? Oh, um, or I could buy you a pastrami, the deli two blocks over is supposed to be—"
She laughs. "As tempting as that offer is, I really need to get going. But we should totally get dinner tonight— I should be done by eight."
"Yeah, sure. I'll text you."
"Awesome. It's a date!" Rebecca declares, flashing him a brilliant smile as the lights shift.
"Well, this is me. See you soon!" She turns to step onto the crosswalk, giving him a little wave over her shoulder.
Exhaling shakily, he watches as she disappears into the distance, lost among the skyscrapers and traffic. What the fuck just happened?
Back in the safety of his office, Nathaniel does the math. The last time they saw each other was more than two and a half years ago, at his father's funeral, just days before he sold his Whitefeather shares and moved back to LA to take over the firm.
Rebecca had insisted on making an appearance. "I'm the senior partner," she argued, when he immediately refused. "It's only right."
Nathaniel eventually agreed. Arguing with her was pointless, and besides, Mona was in London for work— he could use the extra company. A friendly face.
Eight months later, and you're still doing this?
So they drove down to his mother's house the next day, the silence hanging heavy and uninterrupted between them. Gripping the wheel tightly with both hands, Nathaniel tried not to look at her, afraid of what he might find, of what she'd see.
He hated how desperate he was for her pity.
After making the rounds at the reception, Nathaniel snuck up to his childhood bedroom, sinking down to the foot of his bed. Sitting there, staring blankly at the posters on the wall, the trophies lining his shelves, he finally understood what all this meant. Why he was here.
He'd held himself together all week, all day, still believing that his father would walk through the door any minute and tell him to get back in the pool.
God, you're so pathetic.
Someone was knocking on his door. "Hey? Are you in there?" Rebecca.
Nathaniel rubbed at his eyes. "Yeah, come on in."
The door creaked softly as she slipped inside, her shoulder brushing his as she sat down beside him, practically radiating warmth. "Your speech was really beautiful," she said softly.
Nathaniel nodded stiffly. He'd already forgotten what he'd said— all he could remember was glancing over the sea of black to find her sitting in the the last row, anchoring him to reality.
His hands were shaking. Rebecca laced their fingers together, squeezed tight. "It doesn't have to feel okay right now," she whispered. "You don't have to be so strong."
He swallowed back a gulp. "I just...I never thought—"
She leaned into his shoulder, a lifeline. "I know."
(They didn't talk about it in the morning, or the car ride back, or any time after.)
That was the last time he saw Rebecca Bunch.
Nathaniel meets Rebecca at a bar a few blocks away. It's upscale and intimate, but not too upscale and intimate, and they serve an excellent scotch.
"It's so good to see you," Rebecca gushes, post-awkward hug. Much to his surprise, she'd arrived early and managed to snag them stools by the counter. "You need to tell me everything."
Nathaniel orders his drink. She's sitting so goddamn close to him; it's all he can do to hide how flustered he is. "There's not much to tell," he says. "I'm sure your life is much more exciting."
She smirks. "What, you're not driving around in your Ferrari and going to strip clubs all night?"
He laughs drily. "That wouldn't look too good for the firm."
"Aw, you're no fun." Rebecca pouts, batting him playfully on the arm.
Goosebumps. Three years later, and she still gives him goddamn goosebumps.
He's staring at her like an idiot, but thankfully, Rebecca seems blissfully unaware. "So I looked this place up on Yelp, and I read that the fries here are amazing." She pauses. "Oh wait— do you still not eat solid food?"
Just like that, they're back to their old rhythm, sitting pressed together at the bar, easily trading quips and insults back and forth, catching up on each other's lives. It all feels so familiar that he has to keep reminding himself that this isn't a date— that they're just old two friends getting together, having a platonic, casual chat. Nothing more.
It's pathetic, the hold she has over him even now, after years of building up his defenses and trying not to think about her stupid green eyes and stupid laugh and how she may have broken his heart forever.
Turns out it was all for nothing. All it took was one chance run-in, and boom, he's as stupid for her now as he ever was back then, throwing masquerade balls and trying to whisk her off to Rome, pretending like nothing was wrong.
Nathaniel's on his third drink, feeling loose and warm and tingly, when it suddenly occurs to him. "How's Darryl?"
Rebecca sighs. "Oh, he's great. Still super dorky, but literally the best dad ever. He tried to name his daughter Hebecca, but thankfully Paula managed to talk him out of it— her name is Ruth."
Ruth. "How is she?" he asks carefully, tracing the rim of his glass.
She shrugs. "Good, I guess? He brings her to the office sometimes; it's only semi-weird."
It's still impossible for Nathaniel to fathom that Rebecca Bunch has biological offspring walking around— that she's a mother, in the most technical sense of the word. "Does she look like you?"
"Not really, I don't think." She hesitates. "I just...really don't want her to be like me. It's easier to pretend like she isn't half my DNA. I mean, it's not like my family has a history of robust mental health."
"DNA isn't everything," Nathaniel tells her gently. "For one, her dad isn't human garbage. That's gotta count for something."
"Well, she's already about a hundred times more athletic than me," she concedes. "But she sings, like, all the time."
"Gee, wonder where she got that from."
Rebecca pokes him in the shoulder. "I'll have you know, Darryl's favorite movie is Mary Poppins." She pauses. "Hey...how come you never visit? WhiJo misses you."
Nathaniel raises an eyebrow at her. "He told you that?" He talks to WhiJo on the phone occasionally, and they did get beers when WhiJo was visiting LA a few months back, but they've mostly lost touch over the years.
"Well, no, but it's obvious. I know what he's like when he's pining."
He coughs delicately into his fist. "It's just...you know. Work is crazy."
"Tell me about it," she grumbles. "Wait, oh my God, I can't believe I forgot to ask: how's Mona?"
Nathaniel feels the dread pool up in his stomach. He should have known that this would come up; Rebecca's an Instagram fiend, and he and Mona hadn't been the most private couple.
"We, um...we broke up."
It feels weird to say it out loud. He's been living in the bare bones of their old apartment since she moved out, trying to ignore her shampoo and conditioner bottles lining the shower wall, the smell of her perfume on his pillow. Her engagement ring at the bottom of his sock drawer, tucked back in its little velvet box.
The breakup was only three weeks ago, but it feels as fuzzy and distant as a dream.
"Shit, I'm so sorry," Rebecca breathes out, putting her hand on top of his.
Nathaniel swirls his glass, staring pointedly at the countertop. "Don't be."
Do you even want to marry me? Mona had asked him, on the fifth consecutive night he'd come home past midnight, pretending to be working late, half-drunk from the three scotches he nursed in his office and barely trying to hide it.
When Nathaniel hadn't been able to muster up a satisfactory reply, she packed her duffel bag and stormed out, leaving her ring on the kitchen table they'd picked out together.
He hated himself for not begging her to stay. For feeling relieved when he heard the door slam shut behind her.
Rebecca's still shaking her head. "God, are you sure you're okay?"
"I am now," Nathaniel says, before he can think better of it.
You were always thinking about her, weren't you? Mona had said, when she came back to collect her things three days later. She didn't even sound angry, just tired and resigned, her unstraightened hair hanging limply in her face.
Nathaniel snaps back to reality when Rebecca exhales shakily, her eyes meeting his. He's struck by how badly he wants her, here in this dimly lit bar, lost in the hum of conversation surrounding them. Try as he might, he can't even blame it on the alcohol.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" she asks him, worrying at her lip.
"Are you seeing anybody?" Nathaniel counters.
Rebecca shakes her head, smirking faintly. "Just enjoying the pursuit. You know how it is."
"Funny, I'm not really about that anymore." At least, he doesn't want to be. During those blissful two weeks after she squirrel-jumped in his arms, Nathaniel thought he could be happy with this forever— her cocooned in his bed, wearing his Stanford t-shirt. Completely his.
Yeah, right. Like she was ever yours.
Rebecca laughs. "I mean, you did just get out of an engagement…"
"Not really by my choice."
The bartender stops in front of them. "Last call, guys."
Nathaniel gives Rebecca a meaningful look. She wets her lips, glancing up and down his body. "Your place or mine?"
Something deep inside of him flares up, hungry and wanting.
They go to his place, obviously; she's staying at a two-star hotel and he's the one with the tempurpedic mattress and a fully stocked minibar.
Rebecca's tearing off his clothes before the door is fully closed, tugging at his hair and pulling down, hard, sealing her lips to his.
"Wait," Nathaniel gasps into her mouth. He's such an idiot; how could he have forgotten to ask? "Are you sure that this is— I mean, your therapy thing—"
"As much as I love your commitment to consent—" his breath hitches when she nips at his collarbone "—trust me, it's totally fine. I can make my own decisions." Rebecca pops open the last button on his shirt, and shoves him onto his bed, crawling on top of him.
For some reason, he just won't stop talking. "You know, I read something about unhealthy patterns—"
She straddles his hips, grabbing his face with both of her hands. "Shut up and kiss me."
So he does.
I was willing to take whatever you'd give me, Nathaniel thinks at her, his hands resting at the nape of her neck, fingers winding into her hair. I wished I could fix you, make it all go away.
I was ready to give up everything for you, if you'd let me.
"Did Mona end your engagement because of me?" Rebecca whispers, once they're finished and she's nestled into his side, warm and solid and curled up around him.
It was more so the idea of her, Nathaniel knew— the space she occupied in his mind.
He shrugs, and pointedly looks away. "I guess...I don't know."
"Do you regret it?" she asks. "You know...us. For eight months—"
"I don't know," Nathaniel says, surprising himself with his honesty. "I wanted to move on. I wanted to want a life with her. It just...wasn't that easy."
He wanted marriage to be more than a convenient transaction, like it was for his parents, sitting on opposite sides of the dinner table, perfunctory kisses on the cheek when there was an audience to impress. He thought he could have that with Mona— beautiful, successful, perfect-on-paper Mona, who gave him a million chances, who kept forgiving him until she couldn't.
Rebecca buries her face in his shoulder, kisses the mole there. "Sorry for fucking up your life plan," she murmurs, her voice muffled.
It was worth it, he thinks privately. "I should really sue you for damages," Nathaniel jokes, carding a hand through her damp locks. "Maybe bankrupt you."
She swats his arm. "I'll have you know, my finances are completely in order. I could probably survive a lawsuit or two."
He props himself up onto his elbow, and smirks. "Is that a challenge?"
Rebecca mirrors him, leans in so that their noses are almost touching. "What do you think?"
The two of them like this, it reminds him too much of trysts in the supply closet and secret late-night texts. Hours of pillow talk in her bed when Mona was away, coming up with excuses to stay the night.
If that's what you want, I'll forget about everything else and everyone else. For you.
Nathaniel sits up, leaning back against the headboard. "Can I ask you something?"
She raises an eyebrow at him. "Yeah?"
"When I told you I wanted us to be together, you just…well, you never gave me an answer," Nathaniel rambles. "And then there was all the shit with my dad, and selling the firm, and we just never—"
She flops back onto the pillows, heaving a sigh.
Way to fuck everything up, Nathaniel. "It's fine if you don't—"
"I went to your apartment the next day," Rebecca blurts out, staring up at the ceiling. "I was literally about to ring the doorbell, I wanted to so, so badly— but I...I started panicking. So I ran away. 'Cause, you know, unhealthy patterns."
He freezes, running the gamut of human emotions. She loved you. She wanted you to be together. She left.
Rebecca's still talking. "Believe me, it was killing me on the inside. I wanted to deserve you—"
"You did," Nathaniel says thickly, picking at a loose thread on the pillowcase. You still do.
"—but I wasn't ready," she finishes, finally, finally turning to look at him. "I needed to work on myself first."
He meets her gaze. "Are you ready now?"
Rebecca smiles glumly up at him, taking his hand. "I want to be."
Nathaniel is deeply disoriented when he wakes up and she isn't in bed with him. He's starting to think that she really was a hallucination when Rebecca steps out of the bathroom already dressed, pocketing her phone.
"Morning, sleepyhead," she teases, perching on the edge of the bed. "I was starting to worry you'd never wake up."
He sits up, yawning and stretching his arms above his head. "Wow, you really have changed."
"Yep, it's a completely new me," Rebecca laughs. "Still not a morning person, though— Paula was just calling me. I'm supposed to be heading back soon."
As they sit there, in companionable silence, Nathaniel realizes that he's waiting for her to tell him that this was a mistake, that this should never happen again. He stares and stares at her, trying to memorize her disheveled curls, the silhouette of her in the early morning light.
When I'm around you, I stop thinking about myself and I think about you.
"This isn't it, right?" Nathaniel asks, trying not to sound as pathetic as he feels.
She hesitates; her phone dings before she can reply. "My Uber's here. Walk me downstairs?"
Rebecca's halfway inside the car when she pauses. "Hector and Heather are getting married next month," she blurts out.
He cocks his head to the side. "Yeah, I heard about that." According to WhiJo, Valencia had offered to plan the wedding for free just to keep them from eloping.
"Would you maybe want to come with me?" She looks so nervous; he really shouldn't find it as adorable as he does. "I could use a plus-one."
As hard as he tries to play it cool, Nathaniel can't help but grin. "Sounds good. Text me the details."
"I'll do you one better," Rebecca says, giggling. "How about I add it to your Google calendar?"
He shakes his head. "Now you're just talking dirty."
Nathaniel catches her hand when she moves to shove his shoulder, brushes a kiss to her knuckles. "Don't be a stranger," he murmurs, and she nods, leaning her head against his shoulder.
They stay like that for a while, until the Uber driver clears his throat and they reluctantly pull apart. "See you later, sequoia," Rebecca says, squeezing his hand one last time before slipping into the car.
"You too, Bunch," he manages, just before she closes the door and the car peels away from the curb.
Nathaniel's always been a planner, but watching her recede into the distance, he thinks he's finally made peace with the unknown.