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the sound of birds and sun on my skin

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'Nathan.' Gabriel says softly, and Nathan turns to him. He's lying on the floor, looking up, and Nathan realises that he hasn't protected him at all. Jessica's bullets have deflected and hit him everywhere, and then Nathan's calling for Arran, screaming his name and telling Gabriel to heal because he has to, because he can't do it without him. There's so much blood and Nathan feels like he can't breathe and he needs Gabriel to heal and he needs Arran here now and suddenly Arran is with them and he's telling Nathan that he should be able to get the bullets out. 'You'll be OK,' Nathan says, and he doesn't know who he's trying to convince but it doesn't matter because Gabriel can't die on him and then Arran's pulling out a bullet but he says he thinks there's one more and Nathan is so terrified that they're running out of time but then Arran pulls out the other one and he's crying with relief and telling Gabriel he loves him. They've got to get out and they need to take Gabriel somewhere safe and Nathan is shaking because Gabriel still might die and Arran and Adele are pulling them both up and Arran says something to him but the sounds don't register as words and then--


Gabriel's hand twitches where their fingers are interlocked, and Nathan knows that he's waking up.


"I'm here. It's OK, you're safe now," Nathan says, and it's so good to hear his voice. If relief was visible, Nathan thinks his would probably be blinding.

Gabriel turns his head to look at him from where he's lying on the grass, eyes half-open, and Nathan sees that they're glinting again, full and bright and gold. Gabriel manages to look beautiful even now, and Nathan can't quite believe that he's actually made it.

"You've been away a long time," Gabriel says slowly. "Were you lost?"

Nathan doesn't know whether he wants to laugh or cry, and he has to swallow the lump in his throat. He remembers how stupid he thought Gabriel's idea was when he first suggested it, but now he clings onto the words like they're a lifeline.

"I was wounded, not lost." Nathan tells him, and if his voice cracks at the end Gabriel doesn't show that he notices.

"I love you," Nathan says when Gabriel falls quiet, abrupt and fast so he doesn't have any time to change his mind or take it back.

Nathan knows he's said it before but he's pretty sure Gabriel couldn't understand him, and Nathan was so, so scared it was going to be the last chance he got to say it and he wishes- well, he wishes a lot of things. Those things don't matter any more because Gabriel is alive and he can say it to him now. Nathan's going to tell him over and over again until he's sure Gabriel knows it and he's going to carry on telling him after that until his lungs give out. Gabriel smiles, and it's not his usual wide grin but it's understandable. He's been hurt so badly (and Nathan feels a pang of guilt, thinking about that, because he knows it's his fault), but the smile is something and it makes Nathan's heart burst.

"I know," Gabriel tells him, and then Nathan is smiling back because this is all he wants: for Gabriel to know that he loves him and that he's sorry, even if he's bad at saying that too.

"Good." Nathan says, and Gabriel holds his hand tighter and, fuck, Nathan is so glad that he's alive.

"I should find Arran," Nathan says, looking around, "but I don't want to leave you."

"Please don't." Gabriel asks, and Nathan remembers just how scared Gabriel was of losing him too. He never wants to be afraid of losing Gabriel again, and he doesn't think he'll have to be now that the war seems like it's coming to an end.

"I won't," he says softly, and it's a promise he means permanently, and he hopes that Gabriel understands. "How are you feeling?"

"Not as bad as I could be, all things considered." Gabriel smiles, and it's just like him to try to make Nathan feel better, even though he's the one with bullet holes.

"Can you heal?" Nathan asks, and he watches the look of concentration on Gabriel's face as he tries to make it work.

"Only a little. It'll get better."

"He got two bullets out of you - Arran did, I mean. You've got a couple of flesh wounds too but those have healed, mostly. You'll have to drive the poison out of you."

Nathan puts his hand into his pocket and pulls out the bullets, small and green, and drops them onto the grass beside Gabriel.

"Do you want me to talk to you?' Nathan asks, echoing the question Gabriel asked him after he woke up from being shot by Donna.
Gabriel nods. "Tell me what happened."

"OK," Nathan says. "Everything was going to plan, at the start. I found Wallend and I destroyed all the bottles that made the Hunters invisible. Then I went to find Soul and he had this potion... he called it the blue. I don't know what the fuck it was, but it made me want to listen to him. It was like he could control me. He wanted me to get into a cage with Annalise and I was going to do it but she... she said your name and it was like, for a second I knew what I had to do. We, me and my animal me, we killed Soul. I was going to say you probably know what happened next but I don't know if you remember any of it."

He pauses, checking to see if Gabriel has any reaction.

He shakes his head, his eyebrows creased. "I don't think so. Not much, at least."

"So, it was complete chaos but nothing could touch me, and then I found you, and you'd been shot but it was going to be OK. Then Jessica came and- fuck-" Nathan stops, realising that he's started crying, his voice choking on his words.

"I killed her. But the bullets all hit you because I was fucking invincible and I had no idea what to do. You almost died and I couldn't do anything."

He looks at Gabriel and sees that there are tears in his eyes too, and it makes him feel even worse.

"Hey, it's OK." Gabriel says. "I'm alive. It's not your fault, Nathan, you did what you had to do. You're a hero."

Nathan rubs his hand across his face, hoping to wipe away his tears, and suppresses a laugh.

"I don't think most people will see it that way."

"Well I do," Gabriel tells him.

Nathan remembers how Annalise called him a hero, once. He's found the idea laughable ever since she betrayed him but this is different because Gabriel knows him. He believes in him more than anyone else ever has and he knows that Gabriel means it and, fuck, he feels like the luckiest person in the world and he doesn't think he deserves any of it.

"I love you," he says again, quieter this time.

"I love you too." Gabriel replies. "Tell me all about where we're going to live."

"There's a river and trees and gentle hills..."