- one –
They kiss in the shadow of the Barn as the sky falls around them. Terror claws at her, demanding like her hands on his back. All their fighting to escape her fate has been in vain. The cycle will claim her again – and again and again and again – and she does not know how to do this anymore without him by her side.
As soon as her lips leave his her heart shatters.
They have spent so long trying to prevent this very moment that she never told him the most important truth of all.
She knows she has to do it now. It isn't fair to him, isn't right that he should only hear this now and then watch her disappear, but she cannot let Audrey Parker die without telling Nathan Wuornos that she loves him.
She presses a hand against his heart, which seems surprisingly steady. Hers is throbbing.
He cuts her off. "Don't say it. This isn't goodbye. I'll die before I let you go."
That's exactly what she's been afraid of all this time.
Duke is just a few feet behind her. She wonders if he could hold Nathan off if she passes him the gun she has in her back pocket. He would try for her, she's nearly certain. But she doesn't want her last action toward Nathan to be a betrayal, and she can't stand the thought of seeing the desolation she feels mirrored on his face. Why can't he just kiss her again and then let her go?
"I have to go in there," she says slowly, trying to sound placating, but her soul is bleeding. "Haven will be destroyed if I don't. I can't let that happen. Even for us."
"I know. That's why I'm going with you."
The mirage his words conjure is so sweet she wants to run toward it, no matter the hellfire she'll pass through on the way. It would not be so bad to lose twenty-seven years – again and again – just as long as he was there with her. They can rewrite the mystery, make it the couple that always appears to help the Troubled, and disappears when the Hunter comes. And maybe, together, one day they'll fix the Troubles for good and live out the rest of their lives in hard-earned normalcy.
Except he is not a template waiting to be rewritten. All his memories are his own. He had a family who loved him and friends and co-workers who were not really someone else's and a life that was not meant to be erased. He might not survive whatever the Barn would do to him. Even if he did, the sacrifice would be too great.
"You can't give up your life for me, Nathan."
"Without you, there's nothing here worth staying for."
"You have your job. Duke." She tries to come up with another example and fails. His life has seemed to revolve around her these past few months.
"Do you honestly think I'd choose Duke over you?" he scoffs.
"I can't let you do this," she whispers, tears streaming down her face.
He reaches out to brush them away. She did not expect him to be so composed. "My father never recovered after he lost my mother. I've seen what I'll become without you. I don't want to be that bitter, lonely man."
"It's not the same. Your mother died."
"Exactly. The Chief couldn't follow her. But you're not going to die, Audrey. In twenty-seven years you come out of that Barn. Your memories may be gone, but you're still you. And you don't have to go through that alone."
"We don't know what will happen if you go in there."
He cradles her head, his long fingers warm against her face, steady as the world crashes around them. "That's a risk I'm willing to take. I promised you that whatever happened you wouldn't have to face it alone. Let me keep that promise."
Part of her wants to fight tooth and nail to give him a long, normal life, because that's what he deserves. But it isn't what he wants. And he has taught her that love is a two way street. She has made her choice – she must go into the Barn. And if his choice is to follow her, then she has to respect that.
And oh, how the rest of her wants to.
"Okay," she whispers. "Come with me."
He presses a kiss to her forehead and she feels some of the adrenaline drain from her. She is utterly exhausted, emotionally and physically, and she feels her legs begin to quake. One of his arms drops to her waist to steady her. "It's going to be all right," he says against her skin, and for the first time in days she thinks that it might be.
She can hear the crash of meteors signifying her selfishness. Haven is burning, and it is her fault. They have lingered too long. "I need to say goodbye."
She steps out of his grasp and crosses to Duke. From his awkward expression she knows he has heard what has transpired. "I'm sorry," she says as she launches herself into his arms. There is no more time to dance around what is acceptable now that she is dating Nathan. She loves this man, though in a very different way, and she would miss him like crazy if she could only remember that he is gone. "The two of you were supposed to take care of each other."
His arms come around her gently. "It's better this way. He'd be insufferable without you."
When she pulls away he adds, "You take care of him, all right?" She manages to smile because she always knew deep down her guys cared about each other.
"Of course. Can you do me a favor?"
He is so earnest it's unnerving. "Duke Crocker, helping a cop." They have come such a long way.
"Only the pretty ones."
She rolls her eyes, because she knows he's not nearly as much of a cad as he pretends to be. "I left a video for myself in my desk at the Gull. When I come back, can you see that I watch it when I'm ready?"
"There are two letters in the glove compartment of my truck," Nathan says. "One for me. One for Audrey. See that we get those too?" He fishes the keys out of his pocket and tosses them to Duke.
Audrey spins toward him with wide eyes. "How long have you been planning this?"
"Since we found out about the Barn."
"Nathan, I—" she tries to tell him again, overwhelmed by his love and foresight, but he presses a finger to her lips.
"Tell me when we come out of the Barn," he says, and she recognizes it for the challenge it is. She must remember her love for him even if she forgets everything else, because she needs to tell him and he will not let her until they face whatever is coming.
It would not be such a bad fate, she decides, to spend decades rediscovering that love.
"I wonder if Nathan'll get a free makeover too. I always thought he'd look fetching as a blond," Duke teases.
Audrey chokes on a laugh, and she hears Nathan chuckle softly beside her. She hopes Duke won't have lost his sense of humor by the time they return.
"Thank you," she tells him softly, meaning it in more ways than she can articulate. He tries to smile back at her, and she forgives the way it looks more like a grimace.
She is pleased but not shocked when Nathan's clap on the back turns into an awkward half hug. She glances away to give them some privacy so neither man will have to admit that it happened.
When she turns back Nathan is standing beside her. Her knees and insides are quivering but he looks impeccably calm.
"Together?" he asks, lips upturned in a half smile that makes her heart flip even now.
"Together," she promises.
Hand in hand, they walk into the Barn.
And maybe, I'll find out
The way to make it back someday
To watch you, to guide you
Through the darkest of your days
If a great wave shall fall
It'd fall upon us all
Well I hope there's someone out there
Who can bring me back to you
If I could, then I would
I'll go wherever you will go
Way up high or down low
I'll go wherever you will go
Wherever You Will Go, The Calling
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