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After The Fire

Guest TelephotoMarigold

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Story Title: After the fire

Type of story: One shot

Main Characters: Nicole Franklin, Aden Jefferies, Alf Stewart, and Geoff Campbell.

BTTB Rating: A (SC)

Genre: Drama, Angst and Romance.

Does story include spoilers: No

Any warnings: Some reference to physical scaring. (References events in episodes 5001 and 5002.)

Summary: It has been four years since the fire in the diner and when they hear that Martha’s farm has been sold to new owners it spurs some of the residents of Summer Bay into startling confessions but who is the new owner? And what does this mean for them?

The night of the diner fire lives changed in Summer Bay. Leah became scared to leave her house and in coping with her fear she met her new husband. She runs a store now, needing a change from the diner. Charlie and Angelo broke up but soon they were back together again. Their path was not smooth it took three more break up before they found their way down the aisle. Ruby followed her impetuous heart from relationship to relationship before Xavier captured her heart finally and married her. She has a child now and whilst she looked into the merits of recycling nappies eventually tiredness made her go for disposable ones. She promises herself that her daughter will make up the difference by being the one to save the planet. Irene sold her share of the diner and took a world cruise. She met someone and married him before he found out she wasn’t as rich as he thought. In the end it didn’t matter because he was rich enough for both of them. Colleen moved in with her Lancie and made him as miserable as his wife did. Somehow they muddle along. Alf remained in Summer Bay and watched people come and go. He helped some by listening to their problems as he taught them to fish. Aden and Nic were an item and then they faded and although they had a past they get along ok in their house. Aden working at the bait shop and Nic muddling through working in the diner. Each of them waits for something. Maybe Nic is waiting until her Dad comes home, he is eligible for parole next year and Aden seems so alone, missing Belle and missing something else he never knew he would miss. Time has been kind to them in the three years since the diner fire because they never knew the pain, they never knew the loneliness or bitterness of being alone or being forgotten.

“Have you heard?” Nic asked Aden when he walked through the door not even giving him time to get his coat off.

He gave her a look and raised his eyebrow before speaking,“What exactly?”

“Someone bought Martha’s farm.” She said excitedly, as though she was announcing that some famous singer was starting their world tour by having a concert in Summer Bay.

“And why are we excited by that?” he asked her in a slightly sarcastic tone.

She looked at him and her face fell. He sighed thinking how easy it was to make her look disappointed these days like the town was draining her of her life energy. He cursed under his breath and saw her sigh and turn away.

“Nic.” He murmured.

“Yeah, you are right its silly to get excited about new people moving into the Bay. It’s not like anything really changes around here.” She told him in a flat voice. Empty. Devoid.

He wanted to say something, anything to take the sad look of her face. But instead he walked past her and into the kitchen to fetch himself a beer. He opened it and threw the top at the bin and watched as it missed and hit the floor.

Nic scurried over to it and bent down to pick it up. Never the first to develop domestic skills, her automatic movements to clean up after him disturbed him on levels he didn't even know he had.

“Leave it.” he snapped out unable to bear how much she'd changed suddenly.

She straightened and looked at him before defiantly bending and picking up the top to place in the bin. He moved then and walked over to her grabbing her hand to take it from her. She clung to it closing her fingers over the metal cap. She felt the sharp edges cut into her fingers as she kept it from him the single metal cap becoming symbolic for something else between them.

“Nicole.” He gasped out as she struggled.

She held her fist tight as she struggled until blood dripped from her hand and fell in splotches to the tiled floor below her bare feet. He looked at her then stepping back away, hair tied back in a simple ponytail, no make up and bare feet. No nail polish on her nails or even toe nails. Her legs covered by baggy jeans that were old and cheap. She wore an old t-shirt and he realised what had made him so mad at her all of a sudden.

“That’s Geoff’s t-shirt!” He exclaimed as Nic dropped the bottle cap and looked at him in horror, “Nic.” Aden gasped out feeling a strange hurt. Like it was a sign of rejection, and watching, as she shook her head and walked away from him, he felt rejection sting a bit more, “You think he’s coming back?” Aden shouted after her. “Don’t you?”

She turned then and looked at him, her eyes dead, her face drawn and hollow. Even her skin seemed devoid of it's usual glow.

“No Geoff is gone.” She told him. “Remember he was burnt in the fire, he was left scarred and unattractive to us. He never wants to see any of us again. Especially after what we did.”

“I remember.” Aden said. “I saw what was left of his face. He was scared but that was just the outside.”

Nic looked at him before nodding, “Sometimes what is outside matters more than you think it does.”

He walked over to her and dragged her by the arm to the mirror at the bottom of the stairs and made her stand in front of it. “Is that the reason you do this?” he asked her. “Look at yourself Nicole,” He said scathingly, “You are a mess, clinging to Geoff when he has been gone five years.”

She looked at her reflection and down at herself, seeming to take in the changes in herself, the baggy clothes, the faded t-****. “I flinched,” She said finally, “When I saw him I flinched'”

He stepped back and looked into the mirror, their eyes meeting and fusing as he waited for her to talk.

“But it wasn’t because he was ugly,” She murmured. “It was because he was hurt so much. My beautiful Geoff covered with scars and consumed by pain.”

“He sent us away Nic, before leaving the Bay. Not just you but all of us,” Aden told her. “And I didn’t handle it so well seeing him disfigured. I don’t think any of us did, not really.”

Nic nodded and gave a wry smile, “But this was Geoff we should have been there for him,” she protested. “I should have been there for him.”

“He wouldn’t let us.” Aden said quietly.

She shook her head, “I could have tried harder,” She murmured. “I should have done anything to stop him leaving.”

He shook his head, mirroring her gesture of a minute earlier and folding his arms across his chest.

She came back to the present and he watched as she gave herself a frown in the mirror before turning away from him and stepping up the stairs, with dainty steps. He was forced to watch her, knowing nothing he could say would get through to her and ease the guilt she had for not being with the man she obviously still loved. He'd never guessed in all this time why she'd still lived in Summer Bay and why she settled for a job in the diner when she could have gone and done anything. Now it was clear. She was punishing herself. Punishing herself and waiting. Just in case Geoff came back one day. He turned away from the mirror and moved back into the kitchen reclaiming his beer and drinking it down in one. He didn't know what to say or do to make this better. To make this bearable.

“Hello.” Alf called out collecting the box of groceries from his ute and walking over to the front door. Martha had told him to make sure that he looked in on the place and when he saw Leah about to come out with the delivery he took it as a sign.


Alf heard replied and thought he recognised the voice. He moved forward and opened the screen door placing the box on the floor. “I bought your groceries,” He announced.

“Thanks leave them there.”

“I was asked to look in on the place.” Alf explained. “It used to belong to my granddaughter.”

“I know.” The voice replied before the door finally opened. “Hello Alf.”

“Strike me flaming Nora!” Alf exclaimed.

Geoff laughed, “I’ve been called a lot of things over the years but never Nora.” He told the older man.

“I’m gob-smacked,” Alf replied shaking his hand enthusiastically.

“That’s good but can I have my hand back now,” Geoff asked him, “Come on in for a beer,” He said picking up the box and limping into the house.

“So what did the Doc’s manage to do to help you?” Alf asked him.

Geoff lifted his hand to his face the skin still puckered and scared but the angry redness was gone from the skin now, he lowered the hand to his leg rubbing his thigh absent-mindedly.

“Not a lot really. Some days I forget I’m like this and think I’m still my old self and then I catch a glance in the mirror or catch sight of my reflection somewhere and it comes back to me,” He said quietly.

“Must be tough.” Alf commented as his eyes met with Geoff’s and his face was neutral.

“It is,” Geoff said remembering how it was like in hospital just after the fire when people visited him. “But I survived the fire so I must be grateful.”

Alf nodded and accepted the beer that Geoff offered him, “So what are your plans for the place?” he asked.

Geoff shrugged, “I don’t know yet. I think I might carry on with Martha’s crops for the time being. Not up to looking after animals yet, still trying to work back my fitness. I still have physio on my leg.”

Alf gave him a look before nodding once,“Planning to come into town and see everyone?” he asked eventually.

Geoff immediately shook his head, following it with, "No!”

“Then I suppose I’ll have to be your delivery man,” Alf said with a grin.

“And there is something else,” Geoff told him after a long minute.

“You want me to keep it quiet that you are here?” Alf asked him and saw Geoff nod slowly.

“It’s just that its easier that way.”

Alf gave him and look, “You still have friends in the Bay,” He said quietly before placing the empty bottle on the side. “You might want to see them,” he suggested.

“No," Geoff said, “There is no one I want to see.”

“Not even Nic?” Alf asked finally and saw the expression change on the other man's undamaged side of his face.

“No,” Geoff repeated before he moved restlessly on his good leg and rubbed once more at his thigh.

Alf gave him a grin as he stood up, “I’ll get going. Same time next week?” he asked watching the other man closely.

“Yes please. I’ll phone the order in,” Geoff confirmed and walked slowly to the door showing Alf out and into the glaring sun. He watched the other man drive away and moved to the field out the back. Picking up the long handled hoe he began to weed the vegetables he’d already planted. He forgot to put on his hat and the burning sun beat down on his head. He didn’t notice someone watching him from the driveway that was coming down from the road.

Working steadily he went down the rows until he gave a small moan when a familiar pain eclipsed him as he began to get the first signs of a migraine attack. He flinched when the evening sun flickered across his face and moved clumsily indoors knocking off a bottle from the table inside the door flinching again as the sound of breaking glass rattled echoing through his brain. He slipped and would have fallen but someone's hands held him upright.

“What is it?” Nic asked her voice full of concern.

Geoff looked at her, thinking for a moment that he was hallucinating, “Head,” he gasped out, “Pills bathroom,” He added gritting his teeth.

Nic walked with him to the bedroom and let his sink to the bed. She left him there as she ran to the bathroom and fetched his pills. Taking them to him she watched as he took them gulping down the glass of water thirstily.

“You stupid man,” She told him, “What were you thinking working like that in this heat?”

He lifted his hand and caught hold of her wrist his grip weak, “Get out,” he told her.

She looked at him, with a neutral expression on her face, unable to disguise the hurt look in her eyes, “Ok,” she agreed.

He groaned again and fell onto the bed quickly closing his eyes against the light that was making him scream silently with agony. She watched him as he fell into an uneasy sleep before sighing and slipping off her shoes and laying next to him on the bed. Within minutes she also fell asleep. She sighed when he rolled over in the bed and threw his arm over her. Outside the sky grew dark as the two people slept on. When she awoke he was looking at her the pale silver moonlight coming through the window cast silver shadows onto her face.

“I told you to go,” He said his voice bitter.

“I was concerned for you,” She told him her eyes travelling over his face.

“Yes I’m still scared,” He said bitterly, “At least you can look at me now without flinching.”

She gasped at his cruel words, “I flinched because you were hurt you stupid man. Because we could have lost you.” Nic gave a small moan and tried to get up but he caught hold of her arms moving rapidly pinning her under him.

“Nic.” He said feeling a sudden urgent desire. It had been a lonely four years and he told himself that that was all it was.

She looked at him and blinked back furious tears before she felt his lips on hers. “Geoff,” She moaned as he moved and touched her.

Pushing up her plain t-shirt and ran his hand over her flesh, “Don’t stop me,” He begged her his voice husky with desire.

Nic looked at him and reached for him and pulling off his shirt she pressed kisses down his chest. She eased back and peered into his eyes before lifting her hands to his face. He flinched as he felt her soft hand against the puckered scars on his face and then she kissed him. First the un-scared half and then the scared half before her lips touched his. Moving her hands to her waist she undid her jeans and wriggled out of them, her movements somehow seductive.

He sighed and then gasped when he felt her open his jeans, “Nic.”

“This is because I want you,” She was telling him, “I need you,” She added in a whisper.

He gasped again before he made love to her feeling more in those moments than he had in the four years before that. She curled around him, holding him to her and he felt her cling to him as she reached her peak. He'd doubted that he'd even be with a woman again, but here he was and it was Nic of all people. His heart had never gotten over her.

When they awoke again it was dawn, the sky already painted with hues of colour. They lay wrapped in each other’s arms and he heard her give a contented sigh like she was happy to be with him, but soon she would open her eyes and see his scarred face. Then she would flinch away from him, he predicted. Again.

“Nic what did you come here for?” he asked his tone once again bitter.

She sighed again as looked around the bedroom for something to put on. Finally finding his shirt, she put her arms in the sleeves and buttoned it up, her fingers shaking. Then she climbed out of the bed, out of his bed. He sat up and caught hold of her arm.

“Nic,” He said softly recoiling as she glared at him.

“I came here because I needed something ok,” she told him angrily, “I didn’t know it was you here, that you'd bought this place, I just needed to be somewhere where I didn’t,” she stopped.

“Didn’t what?” he asked.

“Didn’t miss you,” She shouted.

He laughed then and saw her glaring once more. Catching hold of her arms he pulled her to him and reached for the buttons of his shirt, undoing the last few, he redid them correctly pulling the tails down when he finished before he looked up into her eyes.

“I missed you too,” He said, “I hated you but at the same time, I missed you, even if you do keep stealing my clothes and you can’t do up the buttons properly.”

"You hated me," She said slowly before she looked up into his eyes, “And now?” she asked him.

“Now?” he replied, “Now I know what brought me home; not the farm, or the Bay but you. It was you. You called me home when I was lost, when I was alone and scared and needing something.”

Nic smiled before a single tear ran down her face and words appeared to hover on her lips as she looked at him. He looked over at her before standing up and reaching for his boxer shorts and pulling them on. He strode over the dresser and pulled out a clean T-shirt pulling it over his head before turning to her.

“Breakfast?” He asked as though he did this type of thing all the time. Had people over, or even girls over.

She gave him a quick nod and accepted the hand he held out to her. He smiled then and knew that his too serious look must have softened because she ran into his arms and pressed herself against him feeling his heart beat against hers and the words she bit back a moment ago rushed out.

“I love you Geoff,” She told him.

“I love you too Nicole Franklin,” He replied.

Aden woke slowly, although his alarm had gone off ages before and he'd decided that today he wasn't going to get up early and he wasn't going to go to his job in the bait shop. No today he was going to do something different. Dressing he moved down the stairs and into the kitchen. Nic hadn't come home and he was surprised. Maybe she'd realised just who had brought Martha's farm and had gone to see Geoff. He should have told her himself but he hadn't been able to find the words, not after their fight last week when he'd finally realised why she was still in the Bay. He thought that maybe it was because of the promise she'd once made to Belle to take care of him but no, she'd been waiting for something. For him, Geoff.

And he, well now it was time for him to do something. He had no idea what, but after the fire comes cleansing and now the shoots of new growth could appear. He just had to see what the new growth would yield for him.


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