DEDICATION: Many many thanks Rebecca for looking this over, correcting the mistakes, and sharing her thoughts. Thanks!
DISCLAIMER: My story. My thoughts. My ideas. Hence, not yours.
SUMMARY: Upon first glance, nothing is as it seems. So take a second, harder look.
PAIRING: We'll see.
NOTES: This strange little story has had many forms. It went through an mpreg stage.That's right. Mpreg. But it wasn't my fault. This chick tried to turn it into that, but it wasn't working for me. It also went through a menage ‡ trois stage... This is the stage I couldn't shake, and hence, that is why I stuck with it.
MORE NOTES: I showed this to my mom and she couldn't get past the opening scene. :P
"What thou lovest well remains,
all the rest is dross."
- Ezra Pound
On Nathan's right is Rachel, a thin whisper of a nightgown all that is separating their bare skin. Her small frame is is curled against the curve of his shoulder, long brown hair pillowed against her cheek. One leg wrapped around Nathan's beneath the comforter, one hand slipped into his in the midst of her dreams.
On Nathan's left is Ben. Nathan is cradling him in his left arm, Ben's cheek scraping against the bare white of Nathan's left shoulder. Ben's fingers are entwined with Nathan's, their wedding bands catching the glare of the full moon looming outside the bedroom window.
Nathan stirs in his sleep, slightly, gravitating toward the warmth of Rachel, but
Ben pulls him back to the middle.
As he always does.
Daylight breaks, casting icicles of light into his eyes. Nathan presses a white forearm over his wounded eyes and groans.
A blast of cold air sends an icy finger running down his spine, and Nathan curls into a ball but that does not make the heat come.
The previously occupied bed is now empty, and the only remnants of last night are two dips in the mattress. The one to his left long and straight, and the other is curved like a crescent moon.
Nathan rolls onto one side and gazes at the broken face of the alarm clock.
He grunts in dismay. "7:30. Slept in, again." Nathan kicks off the comforters and pads down the hall in his stockinged feet. The smell of of bacon wafts through the air, and he follows it to the kitchen.
Rachel is over the stove, pushing bacon and sausage links around in a pan, one hand resting on her hip.
Nathan steps up behind her and loops an arm around her waist. "Good morning, sweetheart," he mumbles into the base of her neck, giving her a squeeze.
Rachel sets aside the plastic spatula and turns into his embrace, brushing his mussed brown hair off of his forehead. "Morning, hon. Breakfast will be ready in a few minutes. Go wake up the girls for school."
Nathan smiles, and wonders how he can continue to find new ways to fall in love with that woman every day. "Ok." Nathan gives her an affectionate peck on the cheek. "Where did Ben go?"
"I don't know," Rachel sighs, turning her attention back to the stovetop, the spell broken. "I think he's taking a shower."
" 'kay," Nathan says, kissing her cheek again before heading back up the stairs to his daughters' bedrooms.
Leah is already up, staring at the clothes cluttering her closet, spilling out onto the carpeted floor.
"Good morning, angel." Nathan leans against the door frame.
"Morning, Dad." Leah flicks her eyes over him briefly, before tugging a sweater off a hanger. "I can't decide what to wear."
"Just wear what you had on yesterday," Nathan suggests.
"But Da-ad," she whines, in the special way that all children know how to whine. "I can't wear the same outfit more than two days in a row."
"Well, then pick something else." Nathan ambles into the center of the room and tousles her long brown hair.
She sighs. "You just don't understand, Dad." Leah sighs again, tossing the sweater onto her bed alongside a pair of blue jeans. "I'll be fine."
"All right. I'm going to go see if your sisters are up." Nathan cuffs her shoulder before heading down the hall to the room that the younger girls, Abby and Sophie, share.
Ben is sitting by Sophie's bedside, just staring. His dark gaze is held firmly in place by little Sophie's golden curls. And Nathan wonders if he should be concerned.
"Ben?" Nathan touches Ben's shoulder lightly, with the tips of his fingers.
Ben looks up at Nathan and smiles. "Mornin', glory."
Nathan smiles. No pretenses are needed between the two of them, not anymore. "You ok?"
"Mm, I'm fine. I'm...just thinking."
Ben shakes his head. "Not this time."
Ben looks back at Sophie, her head resting on her pillow, her thumb resting near her slightly parted lips. "Yeah."
Nathan tightens his hand around Ben's shoulder. "I'm sorry, Ben."
"I know, Nate. It's not your fault... It's not anyone's fault, really." Ben sighed.
"But it is my fault, Ben - "
Ben gets to his feet and presses an index finger against Nathan's unevenly scarred lips. "Shhh, Nate... Enough..." Ben sniffs the air, and a smile tugs at the corners of his lips. "Breakfast's probably ready, anyway."
Nathan wakes up from his afternoon nap and rolls himself off of the couch, yawning and stretching. The entire house is silent; no, the house is hollow.
Nathan, in slippered feet, pads into the kitchen. Dirty dishes clutter the sink, and Nathan wonders why Rachel hadn't bothered to clean up after she made breakfast that morning.
A pile of newspapers are stacked by the door, and Nathan toes them, before shuffling up the stairs.
He lingers in the doorway of Leah's bedroom.
A thin blanket of dust coats everything.
"That girl needs to clean her room when she gets home," he muses to himself, walking over to her vanity and running his index finger over her mirror.
After flicking the dust off of his fingertip, he goes to his bedroom to get dressed, half expecting Rachel to be back in bed. But she's not there. In fact, it looks like the bed hasn't been used in years.
Nathan quickly changes into a sweatshirt and a pair of jeans before making the bed, hastily, and slipping his feet into his sneakers.
He sits on the end of the bed and tugs on the hem of the shabby, faded quilt.
We just got this stupid quilt not even a month ago. How could it be in such poor shape already, Nathan wonders to himself, puzzled and growing faintly annoyed. I should put in a call to the manufacturer...
He abandons the quilt and heads downstairs to make himself something for lunch.
He opens the throws open the fridge doors and is surprised to see that it's almost completely empty. Save for a carton of eggs and a 2 liter bottle of club soda, there is nothing worth eating in the fridge.
Nathan sighs, and makes a mental note to give Rachel a shopping list when she gets home from wherever she is.
A hand settles on his shoulder and tightens its grip.
Nathan looks up sharply.
"Is that the last of everything?" Nathan dropped what he hoped were the last of their things into the trunk of his Land Rover, hands poised over the hatch.
"No, wait, Daddy! That's not everything!" Leah came running, her skis tucked under her arm. "You almost forgot my skis!"
"Sorry, sweetie." Nathan grinned, taking Leah's child-sized skis and putting them in the back with the rest of their things. "Now is that everything?"
Rachel put Abby and Sophie in their booster seats, next to Ben and Lisa and their twins. "Sorry it's a bit crowded back there," Rachel laughed, reaching out to ruffle Jack's dark curls.
Lisa laughed, flipping her long brown hair out of her face. "Oh, Rachel, we're used to cramped quarters by now!" She patted her growing midsection and grinned.
"And if we weren't already," Ben chimed in, "we would have to get used to it quick." He held little Maggie on his lap, cradled into the crook of his elbow, dozing off peacefully.
Leah sat in the way back, but she didn't mind. She had Magee, the family's shar pei, to keep her company. Magee was as much family as Ben and Lisa were, as far as Leah was concerned.
Nathan got behind the wheel and turned the key in the ignition. "Go on, girls," he called out to his young daughters. "Wave good bye to the house. That's the last time you'll see it for a long time."
Abby turned in her seat and waved a chubby little hand out the window. "Good bye, house! Good bye!"
The hand squeezed his shoulder tightly, and Nathan glanced up.
"Ben?" Nathan stumbled to his feet. "Is everything ok?"
Ben's face was a hollow mask of the jovial, smiling Irishman to whom Nathan had long become accustomed. "I think you know, Nathan."
The hand squeezes his shoulder tightly, and Nathan glances up.
"Ben?" Nathan gets to his feet. "Is everything ok?"
Ben's face is a hollow mask of the jovial, smiling Irishman to whom Nathan has long become accustomed. "I think you know, Nathan."
"No... You're confusing me." Nathan shakes his head, letting out a tight, nervous laugh.
"You know, Nathan." Ben's voice sounds like a faint echo of a lost memory, so distant. So far away. "You know."
Nathan shivers, and feels the gooseflesh raise on his arms. "I don't... I..."
Ben reaches for him, flickering like the wavering flame of a candle. "You do. You just have to remember." Ben brushes his fingertips over Nathan's temples and draws him close. "Do you?"
He closes his eyes. Images dart behind his eyelids. Something stirs deep within him, and he finally opens his eyes. "Yes. I remember everything."
Ben drops his hands from the sides of Nathan's face, lets his arms hang limply at his at his sides. "What do you remember, Nathan?"
"We were on our way to the cabin... Up north. All nine of us... Me, Rachel, the girls... You, Lisa and the twins..."
"For a ski trip."
"A ski trip," Nathan echoes.
Ben says nothing, but nods to Nathan to continue.
"I don't know how it happened... All I remember is spinning. It felt like I was spinning into eternity... And the white. I remember the white. Then..." He trails off.
"Then?" Ben prompts.
"The black. I recall the blackness. And when I opened my eyes, I was home." Nathan stares down at his hands, at the thick scars running up and down his bared arms. "You and Rachel, Sophie and Leah were with me... Abby and the twins were gone... Lisa was gone... Even Magee was gone."
Ben reaches out and touches a fingertip to the thick scar bisecting his face, running down its length. "Why were they gone?"
"They didn't survive?"
Rachel slips her hand into Nathan's and squeezes it. "They did survive. We didn't."