It started with the bruises. Not to say that Nathan went around worrying about unexplained bruises on his body- if he started doing that, he’d be from here to Christmas at it -but these were odd. Fanning out from his lower back to his sides, they were a uniform size. He gingerly pressed a fingertip into one. It nearly fit.
He couldn’t go to his father, the Chief, always the Chief, this was a business matter, not a personal one. It had to be something to do with the Troubles. Things like this always were.
Going to Audrey first was a mistake. He knew as soon as she carefully touched a bruise, forcing him to hide a wince, and said, “Maybe a spider laid its eggs in there!” She sounded oddly cheerful about the prospect.
“You don’t actually believe that.”
“No, but now when we find out what it is, you’ll think ‘I’m sure glad a spider didn’t lay any eggs in there.’ We should cut one open and take a peek inside, just to be sure.”
“You just want to dissect me,” he said miserably, “You’ve always wanted to.”
“You can’t prove that.”
Audrey convinced him to see Julia, since it was a medical thing. The doctor last time had thought it was a medical thing too. Nathan wondered how many goes it would take to pronounce the wording of this diagnosis, the one that really meant ‘extra special Troubled’. It wouldn’t have been too bad if it were Eleanor, who understood and neither gave nor took any bullshit. Julia had been away too long and forgotten how bad it got in Haven.
“Detective Wuornos, you should sit down. I have some bad news about your condition,” she paused, “I’m afraid I have to tell you that spiders have laid their eggs in your back.” Nathan stared at the two women. To her credit, Audrey held a straight face for an entire five seconds, before snorting like a pig and doubling over with laughter.
“I’m sorry!” she wheezed. “I couldn’t help it. I texted her while you were busy being worried.”
“They’re just bruises, Nathan. That’s all they are,” said Julia. “There’s nothing strange about them. If it would set your mind at ease, you could find out what caused them. Maybe there’s something hard in the back of your chair? You wouldn’t necessarily notice. In fact, you almost certainly wouldn’t.”
“We looked already.”
“It wouldn’t be something with lots of bumps. These marks were all made at different times. You’re only looking for one thing, but it hits you a lot.”
Nathan sighed as Audrey lifted the back of his shirt. “Do we really have to do this?” he was suddenly less fussed about finding out what was causing this than just getting out of there.
“Doesn’t he always have bruises?” asked Vince.
“Apparently these are weird bruises,” said Audrey.
“Oh, weird bruises! Clearly you’ve come to the right place. Vince knows all about weird bruises,” said Dave.
“I’m a badass!” Vince said happily.
“This was a terrible idea,” said Nathan. “And I blame you, Audrey, I hope you know that. Don’t let her dissect me!” he called out to the brothers. “I can see a glint in her eye.”
“You wouldn’t feel a thing!” she said back. “Not after I removed the nerves, anyway.”
“Go see the Chief,” said Dave, while Vince continued to poke and prod. “You know you have to, you’re just putting it off. It’s him or Duke, and you can afford the Chief’s price better.”
“You were our last stop before we got that desperate,” said Audrey.
“She means our first stop after the doctor,” Nathan amended.
“Small town!” Audrey began to laugh.
“If he says ‘don’t freak out over bruises, son, makes you look weak,’ we’re leaving,” said Nathan.
Audrey sighed. “I’m sure he won’t. Fairly sure. You don’t really think he will, do you?”
“What have you done to him this time?” asked the Chief at the now familiar pulling of Nathan’s shirt half over his head, “and was it in the line of duty or is this what you two think passes for an announcement in your little world?”
“They just appeared,” said Audrey, “we don’t know what they are. If they’re something else.”
The Chief’s face fell. “No. It doesn’t happen like that. I’ve seen it enough times. He’s got his Trouble already. Look at him, for Christ’s sake! He’s the picture of health,” he clapped Nathan on the shoulder hard enough to make anyone else yelp. “Maybe a little too healthy, to tell you the truth.”
“I don’t think that’s how it works, Chief,” said Nathan.
“Don’t contradict your father, son.”
Audrey had a hand over Nathan’s mouth before it was half open and began to physically drag him out of the room. “We’ll just, uh, go follow another lead.”
“You mark my words,” the Chief’s voice followed them out of the building, “if he’s already got something, and this isn’t happening to anyone else, it ain’t the Troubles. For once.”
Duke didn’t bother to touch him. Duke just leaned back in his chair, sipped his beer, and said, “Maybe there’s wings in there. Everyone could be right and you could be an angel after all.”
“Duke,” Audrey warned.
“I’ll help,” Duke grinned at them. “But first you’re going to apologise for the dog.”
“I’m not going to apologise for the dog,” snapped Nathan. “First, no one even believed it happened anyway and you made it all up. Second, even if it did happen you could never prove it was me. Third, it was revenge for the tacks, so I don’t have to apologise.”
“I apologised for the tacks!”
“Dog?” asked Audrey.
“You don’t want to hear about the tacks?”
“Already heard. Nathan’s a maudlin drunk,” she patted his arm.
Nathan gave a small smile and cleared his throat. “One summer, there was a rabies scare a few towns over. The chief got called in to help with the clear up. He ended up bringing home the head of the poor dog who got caught up it all for testing by the local veterinarian.”
“Caught up?” Duke interrupted. “It ate people, Nathan! Some kid a few grades below us…”
“I’m pretty sure it didn’t. The Chief said he died of heatstroke.”
“Tell that to the good people of Castle Rock…”
“Did you know Duke is scared of dogs?”
“I am now.”
“He got bit the year before. Those rabies shots were nasty, weren’t they?”
“If I could find a way to blame you for that, I would. Do you want my help or not?”
“Fine, I’m sorry I made you do battle with Old Yeller. Old Yeller’s lifeless, harmless head, even. I could get a tattoo,” said Nathan, turning around to face Audrey. “A little round one with a maze. Do you think that would make him be nicer to me in future?” Audrey patted his hand sympathetically.
“Doubtful,” muttered Duke, and poked him hard in the back of the ribs. Nathan yelped, whirled and caught Duke’s finger.
“What the hell was that for? That hurt.” Several emotions passed over Nathan’s face. He grabbed both their hands and entwined his fingers in theirs, then swung both arms experimentally. “Do you need a brain and Duke needs a heart?” asked Audrey.
“What are you doing, you psycho?” Duke tried to pull away, but Nathan held him firm.
“I could always feel Audrey’s touch, but now I can feel yours too.” Audrey leaned around his head at Duke and rolled her eyes.
“Aren’t we lucky?” she said. “And as your partner, you’re supposed to tell me things like that, you know.”
“I was gonna…” Nathan protested.
“Eventually? Hey, maybe it’s not Duke-“
“Wait, why can’t I be Troubled too? Everyone else is.”
She ignored him and carried on, “Have you ever tried touching things while I’m touching you?”
“Why would I want to feel anything else while you’re touching me?” he looked honestly surprised.
“Okay, this is definitely where I leave,” said Duke. He looked as shocked as Nathan just had when Nathan kissed him. His wide eyes found Audrey, pleading her to do something.
“I didn’t see that coming either,” she replied, stifling a laugh, and let go of Nathan’s hand.
“Hey, it’s gone. Why is it gone?” he asked.
“Can it stay gone?” said Duke.
Audrey waved at them. “I let go. It’s me. I’m the… conduit. I think you can feel other things when I touch you, you just haven’t noticed.” Nathan kissed her.
“Well that’s… it’s not better,” said Duke. “Now I just feel left out.” Nathan snickered and dragged Duke closer, then unzipped his pants. “I didn’t mean…”
“Yes you did,” said Audrey, and kissed him.
“This was not how I expected today to go. You know that, right?” said Duke.
“Aren’t we lucky?” said Nathan. Duke gaped at them.
“If I’d known this was what it took to shut him up, I’d have suggested it ages ago,” Audrey managed to twist Duke’s shirt over his head without too much ripping and popping of seams.
“Uh, you guys,” began Duke. Audrey and Nathan both stopped what they were doing, “you guys still have all your clothes on,” he said, more firmly.
“That can be changed,” Nathan grinned at them and yanked Audrey’s top off.
“The view is better, anyway,” Duke dipped his head to kiss the top of Audrey’s breasts. Audrey grabbed Nathan and manoeuvred him between herself and Duke. “Hey, I had dibs on those!” Nathan began to play with a nipple, then turned his head and smiled beatifically at Duke. Duke glared and kissed him as hard as he could, then nuzzled his neck when Nathan entered Audrey. Audrey ran a hand down Duke’s side and started to jack him off before he could complain about being left out again.
Duke was the last to fall asleep. Before he did so, he reached over and touched the place where he had earlier poked Nathan. It was starting to form a bruise, joining its brothers from all the other times Nathan had pissed him off recently.