Something was wrong.
That much was clear even if everything else was a blur through the rush of returning memories. Just a moment ago Audrey Parker had walked into the Barn, leaving Haven behind. Just a moment ago Lexi DeWitt had made a leap of faith to return. Now Lexi was still there and so was the Guard, with their guns and their attitude.
At least Nathan was kneeling beside her, coaxing her back to consciousness. Somehow he'd acquired a haircut and a strange sense of calm. Last she'd seen him he'd been nearly hysterical. Now he was so steady it was freaking her out.
"You made it."
"Hi," she whispered, unsure what else to say when they had such a large, hostile audience. Was that why he hadn't pounced on her yet? They'd never been good at getting on the same page about that kind of stuff, but she'd kissed him pretty thoroughly last time she saw him and she figured now was the proper time for a fierce embrace at least.
Instead he turned from her, back toward the Guard – toward Jordan – and returned with a gun.
It took everything within her not to recoil when he grabbed her hand and molded it to the trigger, nudging the barrel under his jacket.
"The Troubles haven't ended. I know what Howard told you. Killing me's the only way now."
Her blood froze like a Trouble, but her soul screamed. She wouldn't. She couldn't.
Then he was finally kissing her but it felt like goodbye and tasted like despair and Lexi was wondering about the handsome stranger who clearly loved whoever she had been and everything was wrong.
When he pulled away his hand tightened over hers, and she was afraid he'd force her to pull the trigger.
"Please. Please, Audrey." She couldn't understand why he'd want her to. This wasn't a show for the Guard. He was begging her to kill him, and he wanted her to listen.
Audrey had always been quick on her feet. There was no way to reason with Nathan with the Guard all around them. No way to take out the Guard without unacceptable casualties. But Lexi was still in her head, equal parts fascinated and spooked by the drama unfolding around her.
That was easy enough to channel. "I'm not killing anyone. Certainly not someone I've never met before." The southwestern brogue sounded strange in her own ears, but it flowed off her tongue effortlessly. "And who's Audrey? My name is Lexi."
There was something heart wrenching in how quickly Nathan's devastation faded to resignation, as if he was used to everything good crumbling from his grasp, but at least he was distracted enough for her to drop the gun.
She let the ensuing ruckus unfold around her, trying to gain her bearings as she hid behind Lexi's apprehension of the unknown. Strangely it was Dwight who diffused the situation, sending the disgruntled Guard away with an assurance that justice would be done as soon as they could make Audrey remember. There was something chilling in his tone, but his demeanor softened as soon as Jordon slunk away after them.
"I'll do my best to keep them contained. You take care of her. Try to trigger her memory."
"She's right here," she sassed, unable to contain herself. Duke smiled, but Nathan remained stone-faced as the cleaner retreated.
Nathan had barely looked at her since she declared she wasn't Audrey, but the unfamiliar woman with the short dark hair was staring and doing a poor job of hiding it.
"We should get her home," Nathan said. All Audrey wanted to do was kiss the exhaustion out of his voice.
"Bout that." Duke scrunched up his face. "Jennifer's kind of been living above the Gull."
"I can bunk with you," the stranger offered, and Audrey caught the way Nathan's lips quirked upward, just for a second. Duke's eyes widened, and Audrey had to keep herself from smirking. "I mean, just for the night, and then you can find me another place. Cause Audrey – Lexi – should stay somewhere familiar. In case it helps her remember. It helped me channel the Barn. Least I think it did."
"Fine with me. Long as Prince Charming here shows me my new place." She jerked her head towards Nathan, who recoiled at the nickname as if she'd struck him. Duke smirked but the way he studied her made Audrey wonder if he didn't suspect something.
She waited in the Bronco with Nathan as Jennifer cleared out her stuff, the tension so thick it nearly choked her. "I'm sorry for scaring you back there. Haven's a complicated place. There's a lot I could tell you that wouldn't make much sense. You're a lot like a woman I used to know."
She knew Lexi would have some choice words at that, and she should say them to keep up the ruse. But she didn't have the strength. Nathan's devastation was too disarming. All she wanted was for Duke and Jennifer to leave so she could get him truly alone and figure out what the hell was going on here.
When she finally followed him up to her apartment he was rambling on about her living arrangements even though getting him to talk about something besides a case was usually like pulling teeth. She stopped in the doorway and waited for him to notice she had paused.
When he finally turned he must have known something was up from the look on her face. "What?"
"How did you think I could kill you?" she asked, dropping Lexi's voice.
But he didn't notice. "You don't have to worry about that right now."
"I don't have to worry? Like hell! After everything I did for months trying to keep you safe and then the minute I come back you think I'm going to put a bullet in your chest because that's what the Guard wants. I didn't know you were such an idiot."
He froze, eyes comically wide, but once he blinked again they were filled with such tangible yearning that for a few seconds she forgot to breath. "Audrey?" he whispered.
"Idiot," she repeated. But she could deny him no longer. She started toward him and he met her halfway just as their reunion should have gone, his arms wrapped tight around her trembling form as he dropped his head against her shoulder and just breathed. He was shaking too, his breath moist and raspy against her neck, and her hands searched for bare skin to convince him this was real in a way only she could.
He only ruined it when he reached for the gun that was no longer in his holster.
"Stop it," she hissed, grabbing his wrist. "I took the gun when we were in your truck. And if you think you're going to try that every time you see me you've got another thing coming."
He didn't pull away, just stared down at their hands. "You don't understand."
She loosened her grip, skimming her thumb across his soft skin until she heard his breath catch. "You're right. I don't. And I know that I need to." She raised her other hand to his face, gently exploring the sharp rise of his cheekbones, the stubble sprouting on his chin, the warm tears caught in the hollows under his eyes, the expanse of his forehead, and finally the softness of his lips. He stood silent and still under her attention, but his eyes fluttered closed as he savored it like a four course meal.
"Audrey," he finally breathed, reverent as a prayer.
"I don't want to hear the truth. Not right now. I just want you."
His eyes opened and found hers, and she could read the question in them.
"You gonna make me spell it out?" she teased.
He swallowed, realized his voice was gone, and then cleared his throat. "Don't think this is a good idea."
"Probably not. But I don't care." She was tired of sacrificing everything she wanted for the greater good. That was Audrey's M.O., but Lexi took what she wanted, whether it was her ex's wallet or the number of a cute guy at the bar. And right now she wanted to sex up the brooding stud in front of her until he forgot whatever made him so sad.
"I spent months living with an expiration date, thinking I was going to just disappear. Then I spent God knows how long as some lonely, purposeless barmaid. But apparently that isn't half as bad as whatever made you think me killing you is a good plan. I know we're both going to have to face that. But right now I just want to feel cherished. I want to take away the pain behind your eyes. I want to make you feel everything you never should have lost in the first place."
He swallowed again. "We shouldn't."
Audrey alone might have been deterred. But Lexi was more comfortable in her own skin than Audrey had ever been. Seduction was a tool of her trade, and Audrey borrowed a few tricks as she slid her body slowly against his, her lips trailing up his neck. "Forget what the town wants," she purred as he seemed to melt against her. Part of her recognized this wasn't fair to him; that he might be physically incapable of resisting her after being deprived of sensation for so long. But it hadn't been fair when he'd expected her to kill him, and this would be a far pleasanter punishment than most she could fathom. "What do you want?"
He hesitated, and for a moment she was afraid he was too far gone for her to reach him.
But then he wrenched himself away and his long hands were framing her face and he was kissing her and she was finally home.
She'd thought the first time they would make love would be tender, tentative, but this was more like a thunderstorm, the passion engulfing them quick and sudden, a violent clashing of sound and light that ended in an eerie calm.
When her mind cleared and her heart stopped pounding she rolled back on top of him, pressing as much of her skin against his as she could manage, from her forehead to her toes. This is what William had meant, about true love that made her ache. She peered down at him, their eyes just centimeters away. "Let's try this again," she whispered. "Hi."
"Hi," he echoed. His eyes were bright, as if his body could not deny the wonder of what had just happened even if his mind might try to.
"Told you we'd feel better after that."
Just as she'd hoped, he couldn't remain stoic. "Yeah." There was a spark in his voice, and his lip twitched upward. She grinned down at him, and he got closer to a real smile.
"This is weird." He reached up to coil a chestnut curl around his finger. "Color looks nice on you, though."
"Nice?" she asked, disgruntled. They'd finally had sex, and she had all of Lexi's sultriness, and she was still just nice?
"Hot," he conceded, voice delightfully low.
"That's better." She nuzzled her nose against his, but pulled back when she felt the unexpected press of metal against flesh. "I have a nose ring," she whined.
He chuckled. "That will take some getting used to. The Chief definitely wouldn't approve."
It had been a joke, but mention of the Chief made it impossible to keep the world at bay. Knowing it was time to face reality, she slid off him but she didn't go far, laying her head on his chest. His arm came around to hold her to him, sticky and warm and safe. "How long have I been gone?"
"Seven months," he answered.
"What happened while I was away?"
"You first?" he pleaded.
So she told him about Lexi and the bar, and how a mysterious stranger helped her shatter the illusion and escape. How her memories had returned the moment she woke to his hand on her face and her name on his lips.
In turn he told her about the shootout and its aftermath. The devastation in Haven and the wave of Troubles that followed. Duke's reemergence in Boston, finding Jennifer there, and the voices she heard from within the Barn. How Howard's words birthed the only plan he could think of.
"One. Jeremiah Howard. Thirteen years old. Killed by a meteor when he was playing basketball with his father. Two. Emma Caldwell. Went blind and fell down the stairs, breaking her neck. Three. Eli Green. Four. Patrick Denver. Both attacked by seagulls." The litany of gruesome deaths continued until Audrey couldn't take it anymore.
"Stop." She reached out and grabbed his arm, but he didn't even pause.
"Fourteen. Sally Marigold. Incinerated."
"I get it. You're trying to make me feel guilty."
"You don't know anything about guilt!" he snarled, pulling away from her. "I couldn't let you go, and seventeen people died because of my selfishness. Horrible, unnatural deaths that were all my fault. I see them every time I close my eyes, and wherever I go the survivors remind me what I've done. I need to set this right. I need to keep anyone else from dying. Killing me is the kindest thing you could do for me, and if you love me at all—"
"If I didn't we wouldn't be in this mess," she snapped, unable to listen to his self-pity.
He froze. The most important truth of her life, and she hated that this was how she'd told him.
The stared at each other, neither sure how to move forward. She'd derailed his train of thought, but now she wasn't sure what to say either.
"I can't," she finally uttered, the finality of that resonating in her soul. "You couldn't let go of me when I went into the Barn. I can't let go of you now."
And she couldn't. There was a cold logic to his plan she just couldn't abide. It didn't matter what Howard said or who had been hurt. Now that she had him, she wasn't letting him go.
"I can't go on like this."
"We'll find another way." When he turned from her she pulled him back. "We will," she swore. "There's gotta be something in the Archives that can help us. Maybe if we can figure out how and when the Troubles started, we can come up with another way to stop them. It's not like Howard was particularly trustworthy. He told me I could keep looking for another way to avoid the Barn. Well now I'm going to keep looking."
"The Guard won't let you."
"They will if they think I'm Lexi. They need her to fall in love with you, so they'll give us space. She's still in my head. It'll be easy to pretend. You just have to really sell it, that I'm not back and you're trying to get close to Lexi."
He studied her until he abandoned the endeavor with a longsuffering sigh. "I spent months thinking that I'd killed all three of you. And then you came back and I thought it wasn't you."
"I'm sorry. I had to. I couldn't talk to you with the Guard there. And I couldn't shoot you. But I'm here now. You're not alone anymore."
He closed his eyes, but she could still see the tears glistening underneath them. He'd always been her well of strength, no matter how bad things got. Her love had left him dry and empty.
"Everything hurt. But I couldn't feel any of it."
She'd change that if it was the last thing she did. She threaded a hand through his hair, running her fingers across his scalp. The response he made was low and keening, his whole body seeking hers even though he didn't open his eyes. She obliged, her other hand finding his shoulder and tracing a deliberate pattern downward.
"This is my fault. The Barn is my punishment. I should never have let you get in the middle."
"I loved you too much to let you stop it."
That had been the problem exactly. In the name of protection they'd spent too long fighting each other to take on the world.
If the first time they made love was like a thunderstorm, the second time was a cleansing rain. She brought his dormant body back to life inch by inch and he proved his adoration with the beautiful words he whispered in her ear as his hands wrote symphonies across her body. She'd never held such power over another person. She'd never wanted so badly to please someone.
He was avid under her hands, but when it was over he was still sad.
"This will only make it harder for the both of us," he whispered, his nose against her shoulder.
She wanted to find his shirt on the floor, claim it for her own, curl up in his arms and stay there till morning. Instead she sat up and pulled away from him, wrapping the sheet around herself to remove temptation.
She was never allowed any luxuries.
"Get up. Get dressed," she demanded.
Everything within her wanted to reach out to him, but she didn't. "You don't have anything to apologize for. But you've been up here too long. The Guard'll get suspicious. You need to go downstairs. Have some drinks. Cause a public spectacle. Then come back tomorrow."
"You really think you can pull this off?" he asked as she watched him dress, lamenting every inch of covered skin.
"Long as you don't give me away." She fell into Lexi's cadence almost without effort.
"She's still in there, huh?"
"Yeah." It was a little unnerving, sharing headspace with someone else's personality, but here in Haven she had three instances of unnerving every day before breakfast.
"She's not gonna … take over … is she?"
"William said on the other side of the door I'd be whoever I most wanted to be. Long as you're here, I want to be Audrey Parker."
And if he wasn't – she hoped that was a switch she could flip. Because she'd never survive Haven without him. But maybe Lexi could manage it.
"I just need some time. I'll figure this out. And if I can't – next time you ask me to pull the trigger, I'll do it."
She waited until the door shut behind him and she could no longer hear his footsteps on the deck before she let herself cry.
I don't think for a minute this is the way the show's going to pan out, but a girl can dream – and then write that dream down.
*This* is exactly why I'd hoped to finish The Return before the premiere. Because I'm well overdue a chapter – real life is kicking my ass – but then this little plot bunny took hold and I had to get it out before the next episode airs.
I've actually got a few more chapters in mind as other characters discover the ruse, but I'm not sure if they'll get written. Some encouraging feedback would probably help.
Can I just say, despite all the angst, how much I am loving this season.