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Some Nights I Always Win

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"So what's on the menu?" Audrey asks, popping open the lid of a cooler she's just deposited on the beach. She pokes around the ice and tupperware curiously.

"Well I wanted to give you a traditional New England clam bake," Duke drawls. "But Mr. Buzzkill over there isn't a big seafood fan, so I thought we'd stick to kebabs."

Nathan has the good grace to look embarrassed, settling his own cooler down in the sand. "I just don't like it very much," he mutters.

"And I feel that makes you a bad representative of our seaside town," Duke says earnestly, "But I also like to be in the police chief's good graces."

"Does that mean you brought Ulrey's?" Nathan asks hopefully, naming Haven's only local beer. It's less a brewery and more Hank Ulrey's well-known hobby he runs out of his barn, but it's been a staple of Haven beach parties for two decades now.

Duke grins. "Check the little cooler."

Duke sends Audrey and Nathan off to gather firewood while he gets the food unpacked from the truck. Of course they could have done hot dogs and marshmallows over the fire with less fuss, but Duke prides himself on setting a slightly nicer spread than that, and he's used the Gull's stores to provide for tonight's meal.

The sun is low and golden, edging towards red, but it's summer, so it seems to hang on the horizon behind them for a long time, an arrested moment in late afternoon. Nathan breathes in deeply. He likes the ripples of orange sunlight on the water, the salt smell, and the soft murmur of waves on the sand. He reaches without thinking for Audrey's hand, finds it by touch, and marvels at the action. He looks over to find her smiling at him, and sliding her phone into her pocket.

"Is Audrey Parker actually setting aside work for once?" he teases, but he's smiling. Of course she was thinking about work. She wouldn't be Audrey, otherwise.

She grins at him. "Depends on how long you can keep me entertained, Wournos."

He squeezes her hand, then releases it to stoop and pick up some kindling from beyond the waterline. "I had in mind a quiet sort of evening," he admits. "But Duke may have something different planned."

She grabs some branches of her own. "Quiet's okay too," she tells him, and they walk back to Duke in silence, shoulders bumping occasionally as their feet slide in the sand.

Duke's waiting for them, food unpacked and ready for the fire, and he builds it carefully, knocking Nathan's helping hands out of the way until Nathan scowls and sits down in the sand with his beer.

"So what, do we build sandcastles or something?" Audrey jokes, excavating holes in the sand with her bare feet.

"Typically we just get kind of drunk and eat too much," Duke tells her. "And then we end the night with skinny-dipping."

"We don't," Nathan assures her. He toes sand into the hole Audrey's made, and when she wiggles her toes, he can't feel the sand around his feet, but he can feel the grit of it where their skin touches, and it's a little scratchy and completely amazing.

"Why would you tell her that?" Duke asks. "It could have been the start of a great new tradition." He finishes arranging the kebabs and settles down in the sand with his legs stretched out next to Nathan's. Audrey kicks at his leg and he grabs her behind the knee, making her shriek and kick even harder, shouting with laughter.

"Are you ticklish?" Duke asks delightly, leaning over to grab her again, fingers closing on her bare leg while she flails at him ineffectually.

"You'll spill the beers!" Audrey yells warningly, and at that Duke lets go.

"I'm remembering this," he promises. Nathan looks on, taking a sip from his beer to hide a sudden twinge of jealousy. Audrey looks over at him, still grinning, and seems to understand instantly, because she pushes a pile of sand towards him, toes meeting his again in the sand. He leans back, elbows in the sand, and while dinner cooks a fat tower grows in the sand between them as all three of them slowly nudge piles of sand at each other.

Duke serves the food, the Gull's nicest offerings on the gas station's cheapest paper plates. When it's all gone they burn the wooden skewers along with the paper plates and break out the bag of marshmallows. Audrey repeatedly catches hers on fire only to curse, blow it out, and try again. Nathan finds the quiet corner of the fire and toasts his slowly, turning it to watch it puff up golden brown on all sides. He's watching it so carefully he doesn't notice Duke, who slides in at the last second, neatly skewering Nathan's marshmallow and stealing half of it, popping it into his mouth and wearing his most annoying grin.

"How did you even do that?" Audrey laughs as Nathan huffs, "What are we, nine?"

Duke cracks himself up and offers Nathan another marshmallow from the bag, holding it out as a peace offering. Nathan takes it with a frown.

He takes just as much care with the next one, and this time when it's toasted all over, puffed up evenly and surface just starting to crack and Duke swoops in with his stick, Nathan yanks it away in time. When he looks back on it later, he can't even say what prompted his next move. Maybe it was watching Duke and Audrey goofing around earlier. Maybe it was just Duke's juvenile behavior rubbing off on him. He doesn't know, but after he swings the stick out of Duke's reach, he pulls the marshmallow off with his fingers, and then lurches back over, smearing it across Duke's cheek.

"Holy crap, you did not just do that!" Duke exclaims, jerking back with wide eyes.

"Uh ohhhh," Audrey sings dramatically.

Nathan blinks. "Truce?" he offers hopefully.

Duke narrows his eyes, but after a second he leans back, relaxing. "Actually I respect the defense move. But your marshmallows will never be safe," he adds ominously. Audrey hands him a napkin and a bottle of water and, at his request, a fresh bottle of beer. 

He holds the beer up. "To a night off with friends," he says simply.

Audrey leans forward, clinking her bottle against his. "Hear, hear," she approves.

Nathan toasts Audrey, and then reaches out to clink his bottle with Duke, top and bottom. "Hear, hear," he repeats. Then he smiles, looking down at the sand. "C'mere," he says, settling his bottle into the sand and gesturing Duke closer.

Duke leans back warily. "What?" he asks.

Nathan tries unsuccessfully not to smile too broadly. "You still have marshmallow in your hair," he admits. Audrey laughs and Duke whines, but slides closer.

Nathan picks bits of fluff out of Duke's hair, and Audrey resumes shifting sand, feet occasionally brushing against Nathan's. The fire hisses and pops, and at some point, the moon comes up over the water. It's a long time before they head home again.