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Duke walks into Nathan's office, and his face is as bleak as Nathan's ever seen it. His pause in the doorway and the terrible uncertainty that crosses his expression is enough to tell Nathan this is bad. A couple of faltering steps further and Duke leans forward and plants both his palms on Nathan's desk, swallows, and says, "Jordan's in the morgue. Nathan--"

In that moment, he's wondering what's wrong with Duke, so what bursts onto his lips is, "What the hell is she doing--?" Jordan left. She told Vince and Dwight, and they had to tell him, but her leaving was a relief. She had been a constant reminder of his guilt and an enemy he couldn't fight, not to mention the fact she demanded his head on a plate almost every time she opened her mouth. So as he stares up at Duke, Nathan only wants to know why she's back, let alone butting in on police business again.

Duke cuts him off. "No, man, she's in the -- she's dead, Nathan. They found the body this morning. Shit, I'm sorry." He's reaching out even as Nathan rises from his chair. Nathan can see how hard the grip on his shoulder is from the way Duke's arm is tensed. Then as he's rounding the desk, both Duke's hands find their way to his shoulders.

"No." Nathan gets an arm in the way to lever out of the hug. "I need to see her, Duke."

"You really don't."

"Damn it!" He's seen a hundred dead bodies. It won't be the first time one of them wasn't a stranger. "Get off me. I'm seeing her." Until he's seen her it won't be real. It's the only way he can begin to process this.

Duke spreads his hands and steps back, resigned.

"How did you--?" Nathan falters. Obviously Dwight or Lucassi or one of the officers ambushed Duke and asked him to be the one to deliver the news. After the way Duke threw the Guard around, then threw himself between their guns and Nathan, on that first day Lexie came to Haven, just about all the town knows about the relationship between them. Nathan shakes his head and lunges out of the door. Duke makes a noise of protest and chases on his heels.

In the act of seeing, Nathan wants to prove that this isn't true. He knows Jordan better than any of these people; has had the intimate access to her body that no-one else physically can. He's still hoping to find something, to spot some detail to prove it isn't her, even as he's standing over the corpse that lies naked and pale on one of Lucassi's trolleys. But he can't. He rests his hand over her heart and strokes hair back from her forehead, and can't do any more because she died hating him, and even this is probably too intrusive.

The abdominal wound that killed her is horrific. She's been slit from belly to sternum.

Nathan covers his face with his hand and steps back. He turns and leans over an empty trolley on his other side. For a moment he has to grope for balance, arms fumbling, legs seeming like his feet somehow managed to miss the floor.

"She..." He half turns his head over his shoulder just as Lucassi finishes a quick nip forward to cover Jordan up. Nathan sees Lucassi's fingers slide over her unprotected skin without incident and the world blurs with watery smudges, proving the existence of tears that do not sting. He averts his head again momentarily, then pulls himself together and swings back. He needs to be a cop, and Duke is standing there looking like he doesn't know what the hell to do, and something tells Nathan he still hasn't heard the whole of this yet. "Who did this?"

"No-one knows," Lucassi says, apologetically. "She was found in a ditch off the road to Camden, on the outskirts of town."

"She was," Nathan begins hoarsely, and internally curses himself as his voice disappears from a near-whisper into nothing. "She was leaving Haven."

"It looks like she begun to," Lucassi agrees.

Yesterday Vince said that Jordan decided to leave to start a new life elsewhere, and that it was the best thing for her.

"I'm going to find whoever did this," Nathan promises. His voice cracks. He stopped liking Jordan the moment she put a gun to a kid's head, but the ache for her, the connection he had with her, he couldn't turn off as easily. There were a lot of complications bound up in their few weeks together. He didn't love her like he loved Audrey, or maybe -- he eyes Duke and averts his thoughts from going there -- but she needed him and he maybe needed to be needed, at that point in time. Like Audrey with him, he was the only one who could get past her curse, and that was powerful. But while he knew he did a terrible thing in leaving her, she had done terrible things, too.

He's seen enough of her work with the Guard, helping the police fight the Troubles, to know Ginger Danvers was an act of desperation; still, her attempts to kill him, either directly or by proxy, made it hard to give her his sympathies or improve his judgement of her character.

Dead, she doesn't even get to look peaceful. The story of violence on her body makes him want to throw up. Shadows encroach on the edges of his vision.

"Nathan?!" Duke yelps, startled and indignant, as Nathan dashes out of the door. He only just makes it to the men's room in time.

Afterwards, he sits in the stall, lid down and door open, while Duke paces by the urinals outside. Nathan wipes tissue paper over his face slowly, methodically, because he can't tell if he still has vomit clinging to him by feel, and he doesn't think his legs are up to carrying him to a mirror. His limbs are shaking, and he can see the gleam of sweat on his skin. That was -- he had a few episodes like that, right after leaving Haven, came back to his senses wedged in the corner of a rest room or on the ground. Back then, he thought he'd killed Duke, killed Audrey, and doomed the town he was meant to protect. Only the last part of that may still be true, but now, apparently, on top of the other people who've died since that day because the Troubles did not leave Haven, he's also killed Jordan.

Unless somehow this could be a regular violent homicide. In Haven.

"Duke," he says. His voice is all over the place. "Talk to me."

"Wade's missing," Duke says. "He stole my truck. I never caught up to him last night."

And it's worse.

***

Dwight is not going to assign Jordan McKee's murder to Nathan because he'll be handling it himself. Nathan is unable to offer any practical argument to that, since it seems categorically proven that he can't handle Jordan McKee's murder. Duke and Lucassi weren't the only witnesses to that show. The town has been waiting for him to fall apart since he didn't die and Audrey wasn't Audrey. He's here a prisoner, more or less, working off his penance to Haven by continuing to fight the Troubles. That's his price for continuing to breathe.

Dwight's head is ducked down toward his papers, but all the same, he watches Nathan keenly from the other side of the Chief's desk. Dwight is also shattered by this, but in a quieter, undramatic way that lets him keep plodding forward. He's angry, but holds a tight lid on it. Jordan might've been closer to him, if it wasn't for her Trouble, and Nathan has the subtle impression he's never quite been in Dwight's good books after the way things ended between himself and Jordan.

Duke hovers at Nathan's back like his protector. It's the unpleasant truth that he probably needs one. His first few weeks back in Haven went badly. This one's been worse.

"Wade Crocker," Nathan manages to get out. "He was last seen stabbing a Troubled person in the gut. Now this happens to Jordan--"

"Who Wade was hanging around with," Duke puts in, sounding like he doesn't want to. "Jesus!" Duke's expulsion is full of anger aimed at himself, and he clutches his hands to his head. "I swear, I swear -- I was going to stop him. It doesn't matter that he's my brother. I'd have -- I didn't like Jordan, but she did not deserve this." His eyes almost meet Nathan's but jerk fearfully away.

They are both in trouble, but it isn't Duke's fault. "It's my fault." Nathan can't feel sick, but there are other cues, subtler physical reactions, and it gets so far this time he even tastes it in the back of his throat. He fights it down. It hadn't happened in nearly six months, and it's a one-off that it happened again today. He can keep fighting it down. Considering his body can't feel, he's damned if he'll be physically incapable of handling his own guilt. "I could have caught up to Wade and arrested him right there. I should have."

"It was me who asked you not to," Duke says.

"And I made that call," Nathan snaps, then tries to rein back his temper. His checks on himself are spiralling off all over the place. He's just trying to focus on Dwight right now. "Duke's a civilian. Wade's his brother, of course he was going to give him the benefit of the doubt. I'm the one who should have known better."

"You're the one who's--" Pain in Duke's face, and the end of that sentence isn't helpful. Dwight shakes his head curtly before Duke can finish protesting that they're sleeping together, underlining just what a fuck-up this is. "I should suspend you," Dwight says to Nathan. "I can't suspend you. This is your life on the line. The moment you aren't materially helping to rein in the Troubles, you're a dead man." He casts a grim gaze over them both in turn. "The Guard can't know about this. If they realise you let Wade go..."

"I know," Nathan says tightly.

"They'll come after Duke, too. If more Troubled start dying they might do that anyway." Dwight rolls his head, scratches his neck and pulls a pained face. "Look. You need to do better than this. I know Lexie is... a distraction." By which he means that he's freaked out by Lexie, too; perhaps not so much as either of them, but Dwight was also Audrey's friend. "Seriously, you guys." He holds out his hands.

It's plaintive. Begging both of them not to force him to have a part in their deaths. He's already confirmed his intent to hide this from the Guard. Nathan nods. Duke says, "Jesus, man, I know, and I'm sorry."

"If you see Wade, you don't call Nathan," Dwight grits, "You call me. I'm handling this. You two need to take Lexie and deal with the flooding incidents in town."

"I want to help find Jordan's killer," Nathan says, clinging to a last vestige of stubbornness.

"I doubt it," Dwight says. "Aside from how you're still shaky and I've seen you turn green at least twice in the last ten minutes, if Wade Crocker is the culprit, that could leave you behind a gun pointed at his kin." Dwight jabs his finger at Duke. "There's a reason personal involvement takes people off cases. I thought the two of you had already demonstrated that adequately today."

Nathan and Duke exchange a wary glance. It might feel like they were back at school, hauled up before the principal, but this is a little more serious than a schoolboy prank.

"Besides," Dwight adds wearily. "Who do you think Jordan would rather have on this case, Nathan? Do you think it would mean anything for justice to come from you, now?"

That, above all else, is something Nathan cannot argue with.

***

Lexie DeWitt has the same radiant core as Audrey, and Sarah, and still somehow manages to get on Nathan's last nerve. She's new to this, but she's good at this, even if she isn't an officer of the law or an investigative journalist or -- Nathan's not entirely sure how Sarah's role as a nurse helped her to resolve Troubles, but it's evident it did. There must have been things she had to learn, too.

Whether the Barn and any hope for the Troubles to leave Haven ever again is gone or not, Lexie DeWitt remains, and she is the Troubles-solver of generation after generation in Haven. They made the arrangement that Nathan would reintroduce her to the role, letting her shadow his cases. They've let her resume Audrey's identity on paper. Told the folks who aren't in the know that she's Audrey with memory loss.

Because Duke's worried about Nathan, apparently, Duke is shadowing them both.

When he first returned to Haven P.D., Nathan had wanted Duke at his side; even tried to fix him up as an official consultant. Duke had kind of blown that off, something Nathan couldn't claim not to still be a little bit irritated about, and he isn't sure how he feels about Duke deciding to take up the role now they have someone who used to be Audrey back and Duke's presence also allows him to spend more time with her.

Because Lexie DeWitt, Nathan can't help but notice, is a hell of a lot more Duke's type of date than Nathan's.

Than Nathan is.

It would be a ridiculous accusation, if it weren't Audrey in there, or whatever of her is now left, and if he didn't know all too well how both he and Duke felt about Audrey.

It's been his headache for more than the past week, with the sort of force that lets him know he's got a headache even if he can't feel the pain. But the insane mess of it barely bothers him today, compared to what else is pressing down on his mind, compared to the recurring image of Jordan's dead body.

About an hour later, they're standing beside a thin stream running down the edge of Main Street with Nathan not really seeing it, even though his eyes are open. Lexie pokes him in the face and asks, "What's up, Detective Wu-O-RO-nos? Not getting enough loving from your smoking hot boyfriend over there?" Duke paces and fidgets on the sidewalk. "Don't tell my sexual fantasies that you two have had a falling out?" She pouts at him.

"We're fine," Nathan mutters, temper short. She is so unlike Audrey.

Then again, he looks at Duke and couldn't say what he'd be doing if he had Audrey back now. Nothing, his brain then reminds him with a prod. Nothing. Fucking Duke for these past weeks has saved his life. Probably in more ways than one, but prominently because the Guard considered but discarded the idea of trying to push Lexie back into love with him. With Nathan Wuornos highly Out, these days, with his equally cursed, equally reviled lover, it seemed a laughable idea. So they wait, now, for Lexie to integrate herself into Haven and fall for some other poor sucker.

Another damn good reason he should keep her well clear of Duke.

"So, we have water," she says, splashing her toes in the stream. "Water, water everywhere." She quirks a grin back at them.

"And not a drop to drink," Duke fills in obligingly. "Say, Nathan, we know someone who does water. You remember Jordan's friend, the lady with the--" He points at his open mouth, then winces.

"We don't know where she lives." With cursing fading to resignation, Nathan calls Dwight. Dwight calls the Guard, then calls him back, briefly, with an address. "Do I need to tell you to play this carefully?" he asks, sternly, before he rings off.

"Someone's in ol' Sasquatch's bad books," Lexie observes, ear pressed close, overhearing. She looks between the two men. "Is something going on?"

Lexie knows that Jordan is dead, but doesn't know fully what that means. They never filled her in on Nathan and Jordan's history, and it's possible now that they never will. Lexie only knows Jordan as the crazy woman who tried to shoot 'Cheekbones' a bunch of times. So it's fully understandable that she isn't grasping the reason for the grim mood. They will have to cover the fact Wade is a suspect, sooner or later, because she was there at the hardware store and might unknowingly tell someone they'd prefer didn't know.

Nathan exchanges a glance with Duke, who clears his throat awkwardly and then sums it up as briefly as only Duke can. "My brother Wade might've killed Jordan because we managed to let him escape yesterday. If the Guard find out, Nathan and I are toast, so, you know--" He waves his fingers before his mouth in a gesture for silence.

Lexie gives a little whistle, but wrinkles her nose and opts not to weigh in, apart from, "Sucks to be you," then correcting it to, "Sucks to be Jordan. That chick had way too much of a gun fetish, but dude. Not cool."

"Definitely not cool," Duke agrees.

They walk back to Nathan's Bronco truck. The route to Valerie Smeaton's house tracks the course of the river back up to its source. Nathan can see it, there at the side of the road: gone for a while on a few bends, steep steps and hills, then back again alongside them. His heart sinks a bit as he pulls up into the drive outside the address Dwight gave him. The deluge is coming through the open front door and down the steps, disappearing along the side of the patio through a tangle of well-watered garden.

"What is this?" Duke poses in a low voice.

"She's heard the news about Jordan." Nathan sits and just holds his hands on the wheel, waiting for the impetus to get out and go forth. He can't handle this, can't handle someone else's grief.

It wasn't his plan or any predicted outcome of the day that he should spend his afternoon watching Lexie try to talk down a Troubled woman crying a river of grief for a dead friend. Duke made an earnest effort to help but took himself off to brood outside in the truck after Valerie slapped him. Nathan's sure Duke didn't intend to come off as hitting on her, with Nathan and Lexie right there, but the woman has the kind of looks that make it hard not to. At least, she does in the breaks between jetting water like two hosepipes out of the corner of each eye.

Lexie hugs Valerie, finally silent and cried out, while Nathan offers a small pat on the shoulders of both women, doling out comfort he can't feel -- not even Lexie, through her jacket. Then he ventures outside to Duke.

Duke perches on the hood of the Bronco with his knees wide. He looks drawn and fed up. "This has been hell of a day," he says. "It's near enough five o'clock. You think Dwight will turn us in to the Guard if we clock off early?" He holds out his hand, and when Nathan steps within reach, curls his fingers into Nathan's shirt and tugs him in. He hooks his thumbs into either side of Nathan's belt.

"...Probably not," Nathan concedes. In the circumstances, he doesn't feel good about the prospect of burying his guilt over Jordan in sex, but he gets the sense Duke needs comfort right now. Duke, who wanted to believe his brother was salvageable, but all signs now point to him being wrong.

Nathan cups Duke's jaw with his hands and kisses him carefully. It makes him feel a bit better, anyway, as he draws back and breaks the intense contact with Duke's warm brown eyes. Duke's hands move at his waist, tugging idly at his shirt, caressing the sides of his ribs through it. Just because he can't feel it, Duke keeps claiming, that's no reason not to do it. Nathan backs off a bit as he spies Lexie coming down from Valerie Smeaton's damp front steps.

Threads of depression tangle his thoughts again, intruding upon the solace of warm companionship. He supposes all the Troubled tears will eventually find their way to the sea.

"Is that professional behaviour from Haven's finest?" Lexie teases, slapping Nathan on the butt as she closes with them. He jumps from the sound more than anything else.

"Yes, it is," Duke asserts, mulishly, sliding off the hood.

"Now you I'd believe could have done it professionally," she returns gleefully.

Which is ironic, since of the three of them, Nathan's pretty sure he's the only one who's ever actually taken money for sex.

That night, which Duke doesn't know about and never will, still haunts him. The smack of fists on Nathan's flesh had a sense of rightness, in his months on the run. This wasn't so different, and when the offer was made... what did it matter, if his body didn't feel?

Call it stupid and reckless and any number of things. The man who paid him to do that was an ass, and even back then Nathan clung to enough survival instincts that he hadn't repeated the experience. But somehow, in that night of violent use, he'd felt -- in himself if not his body -- the resurrection of arousal and drive that he'd thought long lost to the numbness of his curse.

Duke wouldn't thank him to hear it, but he wouldn't be with Duke now, without it.

***

They drop off Lexie at the Grey Gull on the way to Duke's boat. Lexie and Jennifer are very different, but seem to be managing to share Audrey's old apartment in something like harmony. It's an odd situation, because Audrey was there first, but Lexie doesn't remember it, so in a way now it's Jennifer's apartment, for the weeks that passed before no-longer-Audrey's return.

Lexie tips her head at them in a rather severe manner and gives them a little wave goodbye, and Nathan cannot tell at all what she might be thinking.

"God," says Duke, falling back in his seat as soon as she's out of sight, a sprawl of long limbs finally let loose of a constraining tension. It's like neither of them can relax while she's around. Less dramatic for Nathan, since he can't feel tension, can't feel relaxed, though he's aware his body knows some difference between the two in its fashion. "Just take me the fuck home."

"Am I staying?" Nathan asks carefully. It's a contentious subject, since Duke sort of kicked him out and they sort of tried to break the habit but keep failing anyway.

"Fuck, yes," says Duke. Then he grimaces and double-takes. "Shit. Only... Wade might come back." He shakes his head. "Hell with Dwight. If Wade comes back and we have to take him -- it's my home. And you're my boyfriend. Dwight can't blame us for that."

In truth, Nathan has had a few slightly weird moments with Wade over the last few days in particular, when they've run into each other aboard the Cape Rouge. Nathan's there often enough that Wade's been staying at B&Bs in town, opting not to keep company with his brother's male lover. Although Wade is halfway to being a drunk, and there have been a few times he was asked to leave wherever he was staying. So Nathan and Wade have seen more of each other than either of them would like.

"It would be pretty stupid of him to come back," Nathan says.

"Well, you don't know." Duke sounds uncertain. "I wouldn't put it past him to turn up wanting me to take care of my bro--" He stops and swallows, and says with vehemence, "I wish I didn't believe that he was the one who killed Jordan."

Nathan clutches his hands on the steering wheel to stave off the taste in his mouth and the wobble in his vision. He'd start the car, but he can't risk driving if one of these fits -- or whatever they are -- manages to take him again. The wheel creaks audibly and Duke frowns at it.

"You're all right now, aren't you? I'd have said more earlier, when, um, at the morgue with Jordan's... body." His voice goes a bit hoarse as he tries to joke. "Remember, I'm supposed to be the squeamish guy. Don't step on my toes."

"It's not that," Nathan says. He breathes. The edges of his vision return to their usual clarity. He turns the key in the engine. "I'll be alright."

He takes them back to the Cape Rouge. Wade isn't there, which he figures is something they can both be glad about. Duke entrusts his kitchen to Nathan while he goes around changing the locks and adding new padlocks he picked up at lunchtime, and a few more bolts to some of the interior doors. They've had the Guard to worry about, so the Rouge has slowly turned into a fortress. Duke does not know that Nathan never took equivalent measures with his own home. He probably should take some action on that, if only to avoid the inevitable explosion of Duke finding out he didn't.

He chops Mediterranean vegetables for pasta, which is the one meal he thinks he can reliably produce without Duke's guidance, or a microwave or cans, and tries not to think about a knife approximately this size and shape slicing through Jordan's flesh.

He's been aware for a while of a cessation of Duke's bustling, when he's not-really-surprised by arms sliding around him from behind. He has ears even if he didn't feel the touch land. "I love watching you being domestic. It's like the most fucked up thing in the universe," Duke says in his ear, and he hears the smack of a kiss planted on his jaw, tipping his head. "Where are we?"

Nathan gives him a brief rundown. Duke declares that he's horrible at being domestic and chases him off. Nathan grabs an unrefrigerated beer and sits at the table, watching Duke, thinking about Lexie even though he normally tries hard not to, because it's easier than thinking about Jordan. How can she be so different? More different than Sarah, and than their admittedly vague impressions of Lucy, he's sure. How can she not remember them? It was six months, not twenty seven years, and she was in the Barn not three minutes before he fired those shots. It can't have used up all her love for him in three minutes; in six months?

He can't feel and she wasn't touching him, but he felt the moment when Lexie refused to kill a stranger as a shock that went through his whole body.

"Here." Duke puts a plate in front of him. "For the Philistine who drinks beer with pasta."

"Thanks," Nathan says wryly, "considering I did most of the work."

"I barely saved this," Duke asserts. "Stick to what you're good at. Shooting people. Arresting people. Other many and myriad ways of ruining peoples' days. Stuff like that." It's said lightly, but all the same it's far too close, right now, and there's a moment then they both look at each other and acknowledge the tension that's there before they fall on the food. They eat quickly and in silence. Despite his bitching, Duke doesn't bother to open any wine.

They leave the dirty plates and pans.

Duke falls on Nathan as soon as his fork clicks down on an empty plate, after watching with wolfish intensity through his last several bites of the meal. Duke pulls him up from his chair, tugging at his clothes, hands sliding inside Nathan's jeans, and walks him back out of the kitchen and on to the bedroom.

"Fuck, come on," Duke's hands catch Nathan's face, dragging down his cheeks, and he plants a kiss that would probably feel more like being mauled. They're not even properly through the bedroom door yet. His voice is a whisper, a hiss. Nathan has never heard him sound quite like it. "I need you so bad right now I can't think about anything else."

It's disconcerting. It's also not usually Duke who's this single-minded, and maybe there's a lesson there, but because of that, it's not like Nathan has any space to protest.

It should be easy not to think about Jordan as they tear each other's clothes off. After all, they're two such different relationships. Jordan was a knot of her need and his duty and both their agendas, as well as his own subconscious kicking him in the pants over the staggering reversal of being the magical cure for someone else's ailment.

No agendas, no duty, and no magic, Duke was the indulgence that kept him sane, although probably the reverse can't be said. All this relationship has done for Duke is put his life in danger. Nathan cares about that, although he couldn't care less about how much their sleeping together pisses off the Guard. He was ready to die for Haven, but he doesn't want to be a sacrificial offering if it means loving Lexie. Make her fall in love with you, Vince had said... and abruptly that parallel to Jordan is an explosion in his head. He rolls away from Duke to sit on the edge of the bed, and sinks his teeth into his knuckles.

"Nathan?" Duke says cautiously. A hand whispers as it ruffles Nathan's hair and there's movement in his peripheral vision.

"It's Jordan," Nathan admits reluctantly. "Just... give me a minute." He gets up and goes to the bathroom to splash water on his face, rinses his mouth out and cleans his teeth so Duke won't get to share the unpleasant taste. Because he wouldn't put it past today to throw that at them as well, he also undresses the rest of the way and checks himself thoroughly in the mirror for any little scrapes that might set off Duke's curse.

When he goes back, Duke is sitting in the centre of the bed waiting for him. He's half afraid Duke will want to talk, but it seems talk is the last thing on Duke's mind, at least until his lunge across the bed is aborted with his fingertips touched to Nathan's hip, and his expression clouds. "Nate... You're up for this, right?" His eyes dip downward. "Even if you're not, eh, up for this. I mean, we can fix that, same way we usually do."

Duke fingers gleam slick with lube, his face disappointed and anxious. Right now, Nathan doesn't feel the least sensual or desirable, and the kind of physical exorcism he needs for his sins is one he'd be afraid to ask Duke to give him. But he can see that Duke needs him, and there's no hesitation in him as he responds, "Yeah," and climbs up on the edge of the bed, reaching out to catch Duke's elbow, hug that hand in against his hip in reassurance.

"Oh, God." If Duke catches that Nathan's heart isn't really in this, it's lost amid all the other pressures on him. He slips his other arm around Nathan's shoulder and encourages Nathan on top of him, rolling back and curling knees up around his hips. Duke moves to kiss him, and at the same time slides a hand down between their bodies. "At least for tonight, we can make this better."

Jordan's dead. They can't ever make that better. Nathan's worse than useless... He shouldn't even be with Duke now. Lexie, Audrey... With Duke, he can't save Haven...

Duke grumbles at him and he looks down to verify his cock remains limp and unresponsive despite the heavy stimulation of all the handling.

"Sorry," Nathan mumbles. He really doesn't know if he can get there tonight, but he moves against Duke and tries. They've given up before, but tonight feels different, Duke's need an imperative. The pressure doesn't help. Ten minutes more of fruitless effort and they're both becoming frustrated by his uncooperative body. Nathan didn't want to do it this way, tonight. He's too close to the edge, it feels dangerous to push now. But he still wants it. He still gets breathless and hears his stressed heartbeat pick up a different rhythm even thinking it. "Sorry, but you'll need to--"

Usually, this stage meets some argument from Duke. Today, it's a grunt of frustrated acknowledgement and a nudge to roll over so Duke can climb on top. A hand between Nathan's shoulders shoves his face into the sheets. He focuses on the sag and groan of the mattress, the sink of his body into its depths, as Duke crawls over him to retrieve the lube from the nightstand again, letting his body weight pin Nathan while he's doing it.

It's no secret between them any more that sometimes the only way to set Nathan off is treatment which closer resembles abuse. Duke doesn't like it, incredulous and what the hell? about it at best, but over the weeks he managed to absorb the facts and incorporate them, in his own way. Usually that involves more smart insults than physical damage.

Nathan grasps from the sounds and the way his body moves against the mattress that Duke's fingers are inside him. He tries to push backwards onto them, reassurance that he's in this, but Duke's other hand still lies somewhere in the middle of his back. With his face buried in the covers all Nathan can really tell is there's a lot of weight being applied to keep him down. "Stop squirming," Duke pants, and the weight adjusts, the lack of time accorded the preparation speaking of his ongoing distraction. It's not like Duke, who complains and wheedles and tries anything to get out of having to do this. "I'm gonna give you some of what you want, alright?" The smack of a kiss sounds against what Nathan judges by ear to be the back of his shoulder. "I know I don't always do... the things you really want me to do. I'll do better, I promise." Nathan's knees are spread wider, then Duke sinks in.

His hand gropes beneath Nathan again. "Come on, you useless, nerveless--"

"Duke..." There's no sly humour behind the barb, and uneasiness slides through Nathan -- but his protest is reduced to muffled noise as a hand clamps hard enough over his mouth to silence him. He gave up most of his leverage willingly already, and tries to compensate his balance so he can shove the hand away, but Duke seizes the arm he's trying to brace on and twists it back. His other arm gets caught beneath him at a bad angle as his body shifts, weight falling on his knees, shoulder, face.

"This is for Jordan," Duke hisses, sending sparks through Nathan's brain. It's only just really dawning on him how much this isn't what he wants tonight at all as Duke starts to fuck him roughly. The angle twists the arm covering his mouth all the tighter. "You fucking used her, right? Used her to help Audrey. That disgusts me. You should be ashamed of yourself."

Nathan makes a fierce sound and bucks underneath him, but that's all he can do. The noise didn't even much resemble stop. The hand on his mouth isn't new -- ironically it's one of the safest things they discovered that works, giving him no retaliation, no recourse but to absorb Duke's insults, but leaving no physical damage.

Not today, he thinks wildly, Not Jordan! and he struggles more fiercely. Duke fails to find anything different in his movements than usual, and they never talked about this possibility. The grip on him only tightens further.

Duke's accusations are too real, and Nathan doesn't want to add to them by getting off like this. There's too much of this that isn't punishment.

"So yeah," Duke grunts. "Now -- I'm gonna -- use you. So suck it up, Nathan." He's not usually this much into the role, and he's been treating Nathan's body with a roughness that's uncharacteristic, unnecessary in conjunction with the muffling hand. Nathan still feels the small changes that are all he has to work with of arousal. He knows that, in spite of everything, because of everything, he's almost there.

Then, the weight lifts off him, the hands release him, and Nathan cries out in dual surprise and denial as he's hauled over and up by Duke, who's holding himself in a tight grip at the base, face strained and breathing harsh with both the effort he's been expending and the effort of stopping. Duke's other hand is on Nathan's shoulder.

"What the hell are you doing?" Nathan demands, flooded by anger mixed with relief that Duke stopped. He bunches his hands into fists and feels like planting one in Duke's face as he searches it for explanation.

"Switch," Duke pants. "You... This time... you do it to me."

Nathan gapes at him.

Duke makes a noise of strained impatience. He's sweating. "This thing you do. This 'expiate-my-guilt-with-violent-sex' crap. I want to try it."

"What?" Nathan can't even wrap his head around that request. Physically, he could do it, now -- hard as hell, when he glances down at his erection -- and yet...

Duke lets go of his arm and rolls back. "I should've stopped Wade. Hell, I shouldn't have gone after Wade. It should have been you, or -- or Dwight, from the start, not his fucking brother! How do you not get this? I screwed up and Jordan's dead! You liked her... maybe loved her, though God knows why, but I do not believe that Nathan Wuornos screws that woman just to infiltrate the Guard, whatever you convinced yourself of. This is my fault, not yours. This time, that makes it my turn."

"Duke," Nathan starts to growl in protest.

"I need this. I need to try." Duke curls his mouth into a grin that's more desperation than anything else. The lack of his usual humour tonight is unsettling. His face turns softer with affection and pain, as he says, "It should be me."

Is he seriously trying to one-up Nathan in the arena of their respective guilt?

Nathan definitely isn't convinced that Duke's in his right mind just now. Duke never got off on pain. Not his own, and not dishing it out, or parts of this relationship would be a whole lot more satisfying.

Nathan crawls between Duke's sprawled legs and presses a hand down on his chest, stilling the distraction of his agitated movements. "I don't even know if I'm hearing this right... You want me to fuck you hard?" He manages to keep the question level. "You want me to hurt you?"

Duke nods, pulling on him. "Yeah. Come on. Tonight I am fucking game."

Nathan takes a shaky breath. He reminds himself of all the times that he has ploughed his fist into Duke's face in the past; that hurting Duke would hardly be a new thing, that he actively wanted to do that much bare minutes ago. Maybe... if Duke wants to try this... maybe he'll take to it the way Nathan did? If Nathan can finally show him; if they can share that...

He leans right over Duke and goes for a kiss first, using all his nerveless force, knowing he's all hard edges, everything Duke usually complains about.

Some part of him doesn't want to, but Duke has said "I don't want to" more than once since they ended up in bed together, and after all the times he's coaxed and goaded Duke to step beyond his better judgement, Nathan can't say it.

Maybe he isn't in his right mind, either. His head is still reeling from Duke's focused dominance and his own arousal and there's a strong buzz in his ears that he can't shake.

"We should talk about this." Nathan stops and pulls back.

Duke gives an incredulous little bark of mirth. "Fucking do it," he hisses. His eyes pin Nathan's with accusation, and Nathan reaches for the lube.

"I did that already," Duke complains, knocking his hand away. Considering their intentions, it strikes Nathan that more preparation couldn't hurt... then again, maybe that's Duke's point.

"Damn it, Duke," Nathan growls. "All right, I get it. Just let me..." He climbs on top. His arms are shaking as he tries to brace them. Being not entirely in control of his movements doesn't make it easy to try and gauge this -- if he makes his touches a fraction too rough, but not enough to truly damage... He wonders if Duke plays this same game of increments with him, and that's not a thought he likes: it spurs him on to ease Duke's leg back and penetrate without properly giving time to adjust. The sound Duke makes beneath him is not a good one, but he's not yelling stop, and his mouth is uncovered. Nathan pauses a moment too long, and Duke grits, "Nathan, God damn it, all those times I..."

Nathan feels dazed that he's said it.

He leans his weight forward, bends Duke's body under him, scrapes his fingernails over well-defined muscles and the ridges of ribs. There's no cause to be careful about drawing Duke's blood. "Oh, fuck," hisses Duke, and must have tensed up, because everything sort of intensifies for Nathan, the singing at the back of his brain becoming more focused. His body likes what he's doing even if he's conflicted.

"I'm sor--"

"Don't bother," Duke says raggedly, seizing Nathan's face. "This is your game, right? Think you'd be better at it. Why not just go for it, this time, when it's what you're always trying to get away with anyway?" Air whistles through his teeth with obvious pain: Nathan's flare of indignation makes his movements faster and harder before he's able to hold himself back. Duke wants to goad him... but it's working. He has never deliberately tried to hurt Duke in bed, but if that's what Duke thinks of him anyway... If this is what the infuriating bastard wants anyway... "That's -- more -- like -- it." Duke's hands slide lower to grind into Nathan's neck and shoulders. "You should be angry with me. I fucking killed Jordan. You compromised on police work because I asked you to."

Nathan's breath hitches and shadows gather again at the edges of his thoughts with the mention of her name. "Dwight thinks we're idiots," he says, forcing his head up. He is angry about that, because even if he knew Dwight already considered he'd fucked up at the Barn and damned Haven, same as everyone else thought, Dwight at least hadn't thought he was incompetent.

"You're getting it. So now, you have to punish me." He makes an absolutely awful sound as Nathan rams into him a final time, then explodes into curses as Nathan's phone rings. "You have got to be fucking kidding me!" Duke shouts over the shrill sound as Nathan pulls out and rolls away. "For fuck's sake, Nate!"

Nathan lunges off the bed and scrambles for the pile of clothes he ditched by the door. Duke sits up and discovers the realities of the situation as he tries to put weight on his ass and sprawls sideways instead with a distressed mewl. Nathan doesn't have any attention to spare. His phone's screen says Dwight. He raises it to his ear. "Yeah?"

He expects it to be something about Wade, which will probably mean this isn't the last crazy stunt he'll have from Duke, but Dwight says, "I'm at the morgue. You need to be here now. It's, well, it's Jordan. And Lucassi's going crazy."

"Trouble?" Nathan asks.

"...I'd say that." Dwight sounds very blank, and strained, and desperate in an I-don't-know-what-to-do sort of way. Nathan isn't sure if he's being appealed to as the one person who might have more experience solving Troubles short of Audrey Parker, or as the former chief of police, or some combination, but it's an appeal either way. He's heard Dwight sound stretched, but never quite like this.

"I'll be there," Nathan promises, already grabbing for his pants. Duke is cursing him at length in the background, but it's anyone's guess which infringement he's being cursed for.

"Bastard," Duke gasps as he gets off the phone.

Nathan rolls his head and scowls back. His mind is clearing as if called back by the phone's chirp and he grits irritably, "Why don't you just get drunk and call it quits after the hangover, like usual? Jesus, Duke, he's your brother. Lexie's not a cop, she didn't know what we should rightly be doing either. It was on me to say 'no', and I didn't. Let me field this one." It can join all the rest, and at this point, he'll barely even notice the extra weight.

***

The journey to the morgue is mostly silent but for the odd hiss and exclamation from Duke when he shifts in his seat. "Everything hurts, you dick," he tells Nathan as they get out of the Bronco.

Nathan glares back. He's not carrying that one. He's barely started untangling in his own head just how fucked up all of that was. He's pretty sure it is something else that's his fault, but it's more incredulity that guilt that he feels rising in him. He leans closer in to Duke to supply the reminder, "Just think if you hadn't been saved by the bell."

There's a discussion they need to have about this, maybe. Talking's not his thing. But either way, it's not going to happen now. He gives Duke's posture an assessing once-over as they disembark and concludes that he's moving like a guy who's been fucked too hard in the ass. Add to that the fact Nathan's still straining at his jeans and due to the vagaries of his affliction could be for a while, and they are probably not going to have much dignity in this encounter with Dwight, either. But the way Dwight spoke on the phone won't allow him to blow this off or wait on something so ridiculous as his damn erection.

He asks Duke, "Feel any better about Wade?"

"No," Duke responds with resentment. "Your crazy coping mechanism sucks. You suck." He casts his eye balefully toward the morgue building. "Your job sucks."

It's more penance than vocation, now. Nathan pulls on his bulky Haven P.D. overcoat from the back of the truck in the hopes it'll go some way to hiding the tent in his jeans. He's aware of Duke trying to iron out the telltale hitches in his pained walk as they cross to the front steps and climb them in the glow of the streetlights, but his compensations make him slow. He makes an extra effort and bolts up to catch Nathan before he can go through the door, and pulls him aside.

"What was that for?" Nathan asks, when Duke finally breaks off the ambushing kiss. He stares incredulously as Duke shuffles. "Was that an apology?"

"Well," Duke hazards. "It might be an apology for the fact I'm now too sore to have sex with you for about the next week."

Nathan groans, and now he's cross with Duke for a repercussion that hadn't occurred to him before. "And now I wish I'd taken more advantage of it while I had the chance," he chews out sourly, but he squeezes and pats Duke's shoulder as he steers him through the doors.

"Yeah, one chance," Duke emphasizes as they walk down the corridor, his steps still careful, but his tone trying to make light of what it seems he's also beginning to accept was a mistake. "Single. Sole. Only. That means no more. Nada. You failed to get your head in the game. You answered your fucking phone! Your loss."

Nathan can easily live with the loss of Duke begging him to hurt him ever again.

He forgets about all of that in the instant they walk into the morgue, because Dwight is standing looking helpless with his arms by his sides and big shoulders sagging, Lucassi has his head in his hands, and Jordan -- Jordan is sitting up.

Her face is a white that still resembles the pallor of death, white as the sheet she's wrapped around herself, as she hugs her arms over her stomach and hunches in a manner that makes her look small, defensive and scared, which he hasn't seen since--

Well, since before the Barn, anyway.

Nathan actually falls back a step, retreating and freezing there. She's alive? But how? Who? He looks from Jordan to Lucassi to Dwight, and Duke entering a step behind him blurts "Jesus Christ!" and gives an exaggerated shudder that might have been funny under other circumstances.

"Crocker," Jordan speaks through her blue lips. It's not some illusion or trick. The resentment in her eyes as they move on to Nathan is real. It's her; sitting up, talking. "Nathan."

"Jordan..." He speaks her name cautiously and moves forward watching her eyes. He thought he saw a change in her the other day, thinks maybe she won't push him away, because shit, she was dead yesterday with a hole big enough to crawl through slit in her gut, and she looks like she needs someone to hold her right now. He's the only one who can.

"Nathan, don't," Dwight says urgently, and too late, because as soon as Nathan takes a hesitant step forward and twitches his arms in the offer, she's stumbling off the trolley and clinging to him.

"Nathan... Nathan, what the fuck happened to me?" she demands next to his ear. Her arm hauls on his neck. The other's still clamped across her stomach, caught between them. Her voice is raw, like she's got the granddaddy of all dry throats. "Fucking Wade Crocker... he cut me..."

A soft groan from Duke at the confirmation. "God damn it, Wade..."

Dwight rounds them to meet Nathan's eyes. He's mouthing something, behind her back, with urgent warning in his expression. Nathan's locked in place by the frantic hug. He looks down at Jordan's dry, blue, cracked lips and raises one hand from her back to touch her face. So it was Wade who did this, but-- "How did this happen? How are you alive?"

"I'm..." Her eyes sink down slowly. There are no tears in them, but there's a terrible void instead. She eases back from him a little and he slides his hands to her arms. She moves the one held over her midriff, just a little, before her face convulses and she sways and clamps it back in place again.

Blood on the sheet marks out a familiar pattern...

The gaping wound is still there.

"We don't think she is," Dwight says. "Her heart's not beating. Her body is at room temperature. She doesn't have any circulation. She isn't breathing." Of course: Nathan can't feel any of those absences.

"I can't do this job any more," mumbles Lucassi, muffled, into his hands where he sits at his desk. "I can't. I just can't. I'm going to... move to Ohio. Maybe I'll take up internet dating. Or get some cats." He moans softly. "I like cats."

"That fucker Wade," Jordan says angrily.

"Wade... disappeared." Nathan is less worried about Wade right now than an undead ex-girlfriend. "We need to know what happened here." He glares at Lucassi. "There must be things we can do for her. Can we... stitch her up?" It sounds insane, but at the same time, it definitely feels like they ought. She can't continue to hunch there holding her insides in. He lets her squirm out of his hold as she apparently realises who she's holding on to, and looks helplessly around the rest of the room. Duke looks sort of green, which is not unexpected. Lucassi looks... useless. Dwight nods.

"Fuck, no," Jordan asserts, shaking her head. Her face is stretched in horror, in protest, lips pulled back and teeth white, lines of strain forming around her eyes. "This is going to get better, right? This is going to heal?" She points at her middle.

Dwight sucks in his lips, looks freaked as hell, and his shoulders rise in what's not quite a shrug. "We... don't know. We don't know what happened. We don't know how it works."

"Then you're useless," she seethes. "Nathan, get the fuck away!" Her temper erupts as he makes an aborted effort to step closer to her again, and this time she dances back from him. "Someone get me some clothes!"

"Get..." Nathan's whole body tenses at the prospect but he forges on anyway, "Lexie." He looks at Duke. "Call her." Scrubs his hand over his face and tries to form coherent thought. Shit. He digs in his pocket for his keys and chucks them at Duke. "No, bring her. Now." Lexie can touch Jordan, isn't the despised ex-flame, and isn't male.

Duke flees the morgue like he's got rockets on his heels.

Nathan tentatively offers out his overcoat.

"Do you think you'd be better lying down?" Dwight tries to suggest, and Jordan flinches incredulously, looking at all the trolleys. The stone-skin bodies are covered by sheets in the corner.

"No, I'm going to fucking stand." She shakes her head, over and over. "I'm not dead. I don't care if... I-- I'm moving. I'm talking. I'm alive." She sounds on the edge of breakdown, and who the hell could blame her? "Crocker's brother's got a world of pain coming for him."

"Yeah," Dwight agrees darkly. "He does. Lucassi."

"She sat up." Lucassi raises both his hands in the air in a gesture of surrender, his head still down. "How am I supposed to run a morgue where the dead sit up?"

"You can do your job," Dwight growls, with growing impatience. "You're a doctor. She needs... fuck, I don't know. Let's call it surgery anyway."

Jordan giggles, causing both Nathan and Dwight to eye her worriedly. She waves the glances off, shaking her head and smiling and looking, to be honest, drunk. "No. I'm just fine!"

Nathan moves closer to Dwight. "She needs something." This close in, he feels like he's looking up and up to Dwight's eye level. "We need to figure this out. Lucassi." His voice is harsh enough to finally make the doctor raise his head. "Write a list of the people who've been in here since she was brought in." He grabs a piece of paperwork from the desk at random and turns it over to a blank side, puts a pen in Lucassi's hand, turns to Dwight again. "Who found the body?"

"Dog walker," Dwight says curtly, nodding. "I'll check and find out who else was around. If someone's bringing people back from the dead, we need to know who. I mean, this is--" He gestures and frowns apologetically to Jordan. "This is under control, but elsewhere, in public? It could cause a mass panic."

"Thanks, boys." Jordan gifts them a wide, freakish smile. In the dark coloured coat, she looks thin and fragile and even paler. In the context of his evening, Nathan finds himself wondering if she ever hid bruises from him while they were dating. She never complained, but there were times they were all over each other, and he doesn't ever remember it being made an issue. Although maybe it's just automatically harder to hold himself back with Duke. Different nature of that relationship, and all. Still, she'd had no human physical contact in years, and it's an awful thought, what possible cost of that contact she might've hidden behind a layer of foundation...

Nathan pulls out his phone. "Duke. Get Lexie to bring a make-up kit. And don't answer the phone while you're driving my car." Duke's swearing at him as he hangs up. Dwight raises eyebrows and Jordan laughs again and slaps her knee with her free hand.

"I sure as hell wouldn't have fucked you if I knew I'd ever be sharing with a Crocker," she says.

"Excuse me." Dwight ducks out of the room, presumably to make calls and set one of the night duty officers onto organising that list.

"No," Jordan amends, looking at her fingers. There's blood under her nails. The nails are white-blue, too. "It's cute in a weird way. Besides, I don't get to feel anyone's touch, but you don't either. I guess it wasn't just that you could feel her, after all." Still staring at her hands, she announces in a dismayed non-sequitur, "I need my gloves."

"In a while," Nathan says. "Right now, I'm here. Lexie's on her way."

"You don't get to touch me again," she warns, like she's reading his mind, and Nathan raises his hands, thinking it's a sign of how thrown she is that she voiced that. Still, she is handling this as well as could be expected from anyone, and all things considered, they are lucky she is handling it well.

Lucassi eases out of his chair and steps hesitantly toward them both, his focus on Jordan. "I believe I've seen you around."

"You've seen everything," Jordan corrects, frowning down at her sheet.

"I... apologise for that, as well as my... inexcusable behaviour when you woke up." He sidles a bit closer. His hands are in blue gloves, and he offers one hesitantly. "Dr Rudy Lucassi. I, ah, I know you're... Jordan McKee." Jordan tips her head and accepts a loose handshake, releasing it again with conscientious haste.

Nathan is reminded that she never really wanted to hurt anyone... Well, except him, and except for the man who activated her Trouble, and there have been moments Nathan harboured a few thoughts about what he might have done to that man, himself.

"I'd like to... run some tests," Lucassi says cautiously. "I'll need to take samples, if that's all right?" He doesn't assume from silence, but carefully awaits a reply. Jordan stares at him mistrustfully from her dark eyes, which seem all the darker amid her bloodless skin, and very slowly nods.

Lucassi's return to relative competence at least gives them something to focus on other than everyone's freaking out. It's possible that Dwight deliberately dallies longer than he needs before returning. By the time he does, Lucassi has persuaded Jordan to lie down on one of the trolleys so he can stitch up her injury, which he treats with as much care as if she were still alive. Nathan stands very consciously between Jordan and her eyeline to the rest of the corpses, and near enough that should she want to grab his hand for comfort, she can.

She doesn't.

When Dwight walks in he pauses and double-takes, and Nathan has never seen the man so unsure of himself as in this situation. What Dwight says, with a studied neutrality when he pulls himself together, is, "You don't feel that?"

Jordan looks down slowly. Lucassi is engaged in a red-daubed jigsaw, needle in hand. "Not... not the way I know I should." Her voice cracks angrily. "I can feel this." Then she touches Nathan, jabbing her fingertip into his arm. It looks hard. "I'm not like him."

"That's good," Dwight says, earning everyone's confusion until he shuffles and adds, "Best of both worlds, right?" He pulls a face and adds more defensively, "I mean to say I'm glad you're not in pain."

"I was," she says, with a tremor at the unwelcome memory. "When he..." She squeezes shut her eyes.

"I am going to have to question you about that," Dwight says. "Take your statement, as it were. We need to make sure Wade Crocker pays, so anything you can tell us that might help."

"Right..." she answers quietly, swallowing.

Dwight says, gruffly, "Nathan?"

Nathan, hardly expecting to get called on in that moment, warily asks, "What?"

With a malicious glint in his eye to indicate Nathan is still nowhere near forgiven for letting Wade Crocker go in the first place, Dwight orders him off on a coffee run like a rookie.

***

It's not the worst thing in the world to be away from there. He figures out that it's not primarily coffee Dwight's thinking of, but that Jordan has already gone through enough in the presence of her worst enemy, and Dwight would rather spare her from reliving Wade's murderous attack in front of him, too. So he takes his time. He also makes his priority upon escaping the morgue a visit the bathroom.

There's a trick of constant self-surveillance that's necessary when you don't know whether or not your body needs to relieve itself, although he primarily wanted the moment of privacy to check that the problem Duke left him with earlier has gone down, so he can stop trying not to shoot covert glances down at his crotch. He rinses his face in the sink, tiredly, and notes grey smudges beneath his eyes. He squints in suspicion at another grey smudge by his lips. Shit. Duke wants to be manhandled and Nathan ends up bruising his own mouth. There's something aggravatingly typical about that.

It's not that big a building, and by the time he's grudgingly finished putting together the coffees -- because even if he figured out Dwight's reasons, he still resents being treated like an errand boy -- he's been aware of the sounds of Lexie and Jennifer's voices and the return of Duke's. All three of them are loud enough to carry, though even Duke can't compete with Lexie's braying mirth at some no-doubt-filthy joke.

"New job?" she turns and quips as he barges through the door with the tray in both hands. She takes a cup without asking.

But she puts it down again on the nearest surface, to focus her interest back on Jordan. Nathan's gratified to at least know he's not being targeted specifically for Lexie's pokes in the face or the other annoying responses to having a physical Trouble which she can automatically surmount. Jordan, being poked, looks not quite sure how to take it.

She has a bandage over her stomach now, which Nathan can see between the edges of his overcoat. The morgue sheet is still wrapped around her waist.

"Guys," rails Jennifer, with that female long-suffering tone of complaint and a lot of hand-flapping action. She shoos Nathan, Duke and Dwight toward the door, then goes back to haul two-handed on Lucassi's shoulder, where he's playing with test tubes. "Not helping. Out." She grabs a coffee from Nathan's tray, and another for Jordan. Can Jordan even drink?

Lamely, the four men shuffle and look at each other in the corridor outside. Nathan holds up his tray. Everyone else takes one of the three remaining cups. He hadn't expected Jennifer. But Duke takes an exploratory sip of the one he picked up, blows on it before taking a longer gulp, then hands it back to Nathan.

"What is Jennifer doing here?"

Duke shrugs. "She thought she could help. I did suggest zombie-sitting might not be the most fun kind of helping."

"Don't call Jordan that," Dwight says.

"What, then?" Duke demands. "She's clinically dead, Dwight."

Dwight turns to Lucassi in search of a more helpful response, but only gets a grim nod. He scowls and swears and turns away from the lot of them to swig on his coffee, clearly pissed off beyond the calm dignity of the image he tries to embody as Police Chief.

"I was dead last year," Nathan points out slowly. "When Moira and Noelle were in town. They brought me back."

"They brought you back breathing," Duke says baldly.

"Still, I'm here. What was done, it stuck. Question is whether that's the case for Jordan, or if we lose her again at sunrise, or when whoever did this takes a walk too far from her, or dies themselves..." He shrugs. He doesn't know what the hell the rules might be. "If she's back long-term, that's a different case than... otherwise."

Duke winces. Dwight, though, gets an intent, pinched sort of look. "You think it could happen? She could stay?"

"We need to find out who did it. And then we need to figure out what the rules are." Nathan's gaze goes to Lucassi. "There is one obvious suspect."

Lucassi shrinks a bit. "Well, I never heard of a Trouble in my family," he says. "We're local to the area from way back, and no-one ever said anything that I know." He pulls a face. "None of them ever dealt regularly with corpses, either, that I know."

"The other guys from the countdown Trouble are still in there, not walking around," Duke points out.

"Could they, uh, could they move?" Dwight asks suddenly. "If their skin hardened, maybe that could mean if they woke up, and were still like that..."

It's a horrible, horrible thought. So much so that Lucassi elbows past Dwight to get back through the door and risks Lexie and Jennifer's wrath. Nathan hears female voices raised in anger and Lucassi's matter-of-fact and increasingly aggravated protests that he's "seen it before" and it's "just anatomy".

A few minutes later, Lucassi returns to report that to the best of his ability to tell, the other dead people are still dead. Everyone breathes easier to some degree.

A while after that, Lexie pokes her head around the door to allow them back in.

Jordan is -- Nathan's amazed to see her looking more or less like herself. She's wearing some of the clothes Lexie bought and insists on dressing in even though she has access to Audrey's entire wardrobe of much more appropriate things. In this case, a tight leather skirt, black pantyhose covering the pallor of her legs, and a black and white striped T-shirt that looks like Jennifer's, the main virtue of which is probably that it covers her from neck to wrists without leaving too much too-pale skin on display. They've even found some leather gloves, though they're mustard-coloured.

Make-up brings the colour back to Jordan's face again, red lips, rose blush on her cheeks, smoky eyes... though it has to be said there's something about her that still doesn't look wholly healthy.

"We did good," Lexie declares, and somehow gets close enough in past Nathan's defences to poke him under his shirt, right in the gut, and draw out an "oof" that amuses her no end.

"Great," agrees Dwight.

What matters most is that they've proven -- to Jordan above all, and surely not a moment too soon for her sanity -- that it's possible for Jordan to look normal and go out in public. What they need to know now is the future ramifications, and it's probably not the best time to get into that at half past midnight.

"So, if there haven't been any more... raisings... yet," Nathan says to Dwight, picking his words carefully.

"Not yet," says Dwight, with a certain tone of neutral foreboding.

"...Right." Nathan grimaces. "Doesn't seem there's much left to be done before the morning. Jordan--" He is very clear on this part, so he swallows and sets his jaw and gets it out "--can't stay in the morgue, or a cell, or at the police station. If she wants to come--" He sees Duke's expression distort with horror.

"With us," Lexie butts in firmly. "She'll come back to the Gull with us."

"Excuse me?" Jordan pulls her familiar sneer out for all of them, full force, and Duke in the background rolls his eyes. Sure, she's got her confidence back. "I have a home. I'm perfectly capable of looking after my--" she stops. Her mouth works. But she can't seem to come up with words, stumped by the incontrovertible fact of the one man who managed to get around her physical defences.

"I don't think you should be alone right now," Dwight tells her apologetically. "We still don't know what happened to you. We can't know what... problems... might crop up."

"I'd really prefer you have someone to keep an eye on you," Lucassi says, earnest and matter-of-fact. "I can pull an all-nighter, if you want to stay here, although I already have all the samples I should need to get results."

Jordan casts a measuring look across to Lexie and curtly tells her, "Okay. Better than sleeping on a slab."

"Are you tired?" Lucassi asks with instant curiosity.

"...Maybe not." She holds her gloved hand to her head. "Shit, I don't even know if I dare sleep, if I wanted to try. Look at me." When she gestures her hands down her body, though, there's no longer anything of her gruesome injuries to see. "That might be the time I never wake up again."

***

"What the hell is going on?" Duke explodes soon as they're safely back in the privacy of Nathan's Bronco. Dwight is going to drop off Jordan, Jennifer and Lexie at the Gull in his patrol car and, frankly, let him. "Is this someone fucking with us? First Jordan's dead, then she's not--" He stops. "Okay, still pretty dead. Just not taking it lying down."

"She remembers Wade killing her," Nathan says. "The fact she's walking around now doesn't make him any less a murderer." He feels... 'better' is a strange way to put it, because he feels terrible; Jordan's situation is a sick knot of horror warring for precedence with what happened with Duke earlier, now they're back together and alone, and in situations like this he can still sort of feel his insides churning. But the blurriness in his vision that he's having to fight is only tiredness. He still got Jordan killed, but it's hard for that to feel so overwhelming when she's still out there hating his guts.

Duke swears the air blue. "Look, I still don't like her, but that poor fucking chick..." He shudders.

Nathan locks his face into whatever neutral position it falls and starts the car. Duke is silent as they drive home.

In the morning, they are going to have to pin down who can raise the dead before Haven gets its own version of the zombie apocalypse, and they are still going to have to find Wade, or someone is. Dwight seemed both distracted and very angry in the events of the night, so Nathan is not too sure which way that's going to go.

It doesn't take long to get Duke back to the Cape Rogue. Nathan is nervous and moving mechanically, figuring they just stay quiet and he'll drive on home and maybe this looks better tomorrow. Duke, seeing he's not getting out of the Bronco, rounds to the driver's side and opens the door, placing a hand on Nathan's arm. "Come back." A jerk of his head indicates the boat looming, its shapes familiar in the darkness, bobbing on the softly vocal waves.

"You want me to stay anyway?" Nathan clarifies with disbelief.

"I already asked you to stay. It's not been rescinded."

So he follows Duke inside, not a whole lot less nervous, until Duke folds him in his arms the second they're behind closed doors. "Sorry." Duke kisses his bruised mouth, then works a path down his throat, loosening his shirt collar, where Nathan pulls Duke's head up again because that's not doing much for him. "I don't want you to hurt me. Hell, I know you don't want to hurt me. I don't even know what I was thinking."

"He's your brother," Nathan says, yet again, his voice low. "It's not easy." And it's not going to be easy, when Wade has to face justice. At least he has faith that Dwight can manage objectivity enough to put Wade in a cell and not in the ground.

The last thing he needs is Duke and Dwight at irreconcilable odds.

He throws that off for the moment, because it's not their only problem, and even if Duke has reneged, the wretched mess that their lovemaking turned into earlier still remains. He needs to say something... He says, very roughly, feeling like he's fighting against something to get the words out, "Duke, if... when there are things you don't want to do in future, you tell me. And you don't have to do them."

Duke blinks back and chokes down a slightly cynical laugh, which does sort of tell Nathan how such protests have gone down in the past. He shakes his head and intensifies his stare, meaning it, and Duke tips his head on one side, examining him curiously. "...Aw, Nathan," he says, shaking it off and snaking an arm around Nathan, audibly patting him somewhere. "I know you need different things. I didn't mean to... I'm used to it, now." But his grin has edges and depths.

Nathan hopes Duke realises that was his blessing to dial it down, because he's pretty much beyond his capacity to communicate anything clearer on this. His tongue seems to have stuck fast in his mouth. But either way, he has to start working on drawing new lines. What he's been asking of Duke...

"Hey..." Duke grasps his elbow, jolting him in that way he has to particularly gain his attention. He keeps the elbow, although the grip looks gentler, as pointless as that is. "Were you trying to... tap out, back there?" He ducks his eyes in closer when Nathan doesn't answer. "Were you? Because I keep replaying parts of that, and--"

"No," Nathan says roughly, and shakes his head. If Duke thinks that, he'll never get him to agree to anything like this again. He'd rather another mistake than risk--

But no, he's giving this up, isn't he? He already decided he should stop, for Duke's sake if not his own. It's the perfect opportunity to redraw that line for good.

...Except there's a difference between saying they can back off now and ruling it out from ever happening again in the future. A need curls deep and stubborn inside him, that won't be given up so lightly.

He decided, Nathan thinks furiously.

But Duke's eyes are lightening and lifting from him, and the moment is gone. Nathan isn't sorry it's gone, either. He's not ready to commit to losing this, which makes him sicker and angrier with his own weakness, but there's nothing he can do about it, now.

"Come back to bed," Duke says, pressing his lips against Nathan's jawline.

They wash up again, and in the bathroom Duke makes a point of taking copious painkillers from the medication cabinet and smearing a generous amount of cream on his sore ass, still cursing Nathan, who opts to ignore it.

It's past 1AM, and Nathan still doesn't really feel like sex, but they need something, an interval to regain their balance. Duke lies on top of the covers with his legs spread while Nathan crouches between them, using his lips and tongue carefully while he works his fingers on the shaft, gently cupping Duke's balls with his other hand. The soft, appreciative noises he draws from his partner are much different from earlier, and it doesn't take long. With some care because teeth and pressure are a bad combination, Nathan wraps his mouth around him finally as Duke comes, taking him in as far as he dares and absorbing the flavour.

"Jesus," says Duke, sprawling back from the more upright position that kept his eyes fixed on the process, folded elbows loosening and his arms taking over the whole length of the pillows. "You have no idea what you look like doing that."

Nathan slides his mouth up with a pop of air, and tentatively licks his lips and wipes the back of his hand over his chin, catching a few dribbles he doesn't actually know are there until he looks at his hand. Duke gives another aroused grunt at either that or the noise, and Nathan crawls up his body, keeping skin against skin but trying not to rest any of his weight down on Duke. Braced over him, he touches Duke's lower lip with his tongue and teases entry to his mouth, though Duke pulls a face at the taste of himself.

Nathan rolls over and slides into place alongside him, with an idle check that they're still touching at hip and calf. He toes Duke's foot, props his head up on his elbow. "Am I forgiven?"

"Man, you were never--" Duke breaks off his somewhat irate protest as he realises he's being goaded. He looks wryly down at his groin. "Okay, right. But now, after earlier, I definitely didn't deserve that performance."

"Never mind." Nathan wraps his lips around the words a bit sourly. "Half the town thinks we don't deserve to be still breathing." He can't do any good by dying for Haven anymore. At least, not that way. "We're still here anyway." He slides his hand over Duke's middle, watching the flesh sink and new shadows form in the geography of skin with his fingertips' pressure. "Screw them all."

"Nah. Take too long." Duke grins. He worms one of his sprawling arms down between their bodies. "Besides, I have my work cut out just keeping up with you." He takes Nathan's shaft in his hand, which isn't wholly interested in the proceedings, and starts up strong, long strokes down its length. Nathan slides his eyes down to watch lazily.

"Probably not going to work," he warns Duke, who rolls a shoulder and keeps going anyway. Nathan pillows his head on that shoulder for a better vantage and continues to watch.

"Are you all right now?" Duke asks after a while, "Because I'm not going to pretend you were earlier. Those... episodes, or whatever you want to call them, have they happened before?"

"Last year," Nathan says reluctantly. "Right after... everything. It's gone off again, now."

"Fuck it, this isn't working." Duke's position adjusts, angling in towards Nathan. Hesitantly, he suggests, "Maybe you should get checked out. You, I don't know, you got shot a bunch of times, the whole town was out for your blood, and you had to go on the run. You might have PTSD or something."

"Lots of people do," Nathan responds wryly, levering a hand between them and pushing Duke back a bit so he can see his face. "Working officers. If I've got it, it's mild, it's manageable, and I'm fine." He leans in, kisses Duke for reassurance. "Fully functional."

Duke snorts. "Which is amazing considering the shit the Guard expect you to keep absorbing... Wait, you looked it up," he accuses. And you didn't tell me is the other accusation hidden underneath.

"I spoke to a psychiatrist my neurologist recommended," Nathan admits, and qualifies, "It could be some other related condition, or none at all. He wasn't willing to diagnose definitively over Skype."

Both psychiatrist and neurologist are in Bangor, and the Guard are not going to let him leave Haven anytime soon.

"But you got advice, right?" Duke's lips move like he wants to swear, but the curses are half-formed, soundless, like even he's reached his limit for today. "...You keep secrets like a freak. When?"

"Last week." Nathan doesn't really want to talk about this. "When Lexie came back and the Guard... When I realised I was going to have to live with it," he sums up, then exasperated, asserts, "I'm a police officer, Duke." Even if it's a punishment duty, now, he gets to walk around with a badge and a gun, and he doesn't have any choice. If he can't remove himself from duty, he should at least try to be fit for duty.

It's one of the reasons the mistake over Wade Crocker eats at him so badly.

"It's all right," Duke says. Having given up on Nathan's stubborn cock, he pulls their bodies together. "I'm glad you made the move to do something about it, okay?" He kicks at the comforter, trying to squirm it within reach to pull over them.

Nathan grunts noncommittally and rolls to get the damn thing. "In the morning," he says, hunkering down again next to Duke, dragging the comforter after him, "It... well, it's not going to look any better, but at least we won't be so damned tired."

Duke laughs at him grimly and reaches over to switch out the lights. "Amen to that."

***

In the morning, Nathan is awoken by the aroma of fresh-brewed coffee wafting under his nose, followed by the clunk of the cup onto the nightstand, before Duke pulls back the covers, crawls on top of him, and plants a kiss by his ear that, contrary to fairy tales, wouldn't have a hope of waking him by itself. "Hey," says Duke, then bounces off the bed again and makes off toward the shower.

It's considerate enough that Nathan can see he's still trying to make amends. He sits up and sips at the coffee, which isn't steaming hot, and it's been weeks since Duke made an error like that, then gets out of bed, does the morning check of his body for injuries in the full-length mirror and pulls his clothes on. He has a space in the corner of Duke's wardrobe, and that's slightly unsettling if he actually pauses and thinks on it.

He raises his voice over the running water, to call to Duke that he's heading home before he goes on to the station, and he'll meet him there. The morning is bright outside, but the sky white-over with cloud. They might get a sea fret, later. Moisture clings to everything in droplets and mists the Bronco's windows and bodywork. Nathan gets behind the wheel and drives home, checks his mail and answering machine, and uses his own shower. They must have stank of sex last night. Dwight must despair.

When he gets to the station, Lexie and Jordan are already there. Jordan looks more herself -- meaning she looks annoyed and like she wishes she could strike him dead with her gaze. Witnessing her distress yesterday clearly did nothing to endear him to her any further, even if he was trying to help. She still wears Lexie's leather skirt and Jennifer's skin-covering skinny T-shirt, and her hair's a smooth, glossy curtain once more instead of the mess that ditch and morgue slab had made of it yesterday. She doesn't look dead, even if she doesn't quite look normal. She's kept the yellow gloves.

Nathan restricts himself to a civil nod in her direction and asks Lexie, "How are things going?"

She cranks an eyebrow at him. "Well, I spent half the night listening to the epic tale of how you suck, so by the way, you suck." He smiles and scowls and nods for her to get on with it, turning the sarcasm up to eleven. "And we cracked a bottle of whiskey that must've been from Duke's private store that did not survive till morning. I'm good, thanks."

Nathan turns to Jordan, who hates him but can still offer a more helpful response: "Still here. No cravings for fresh brains yet. Though it could be the pickings are just too slim to tempt." She smiles a blood red smile, lipstick coating her cold lips to even more ghoulish effect.

Right. Shaking his head, Nathan pushes past them and continues along the corridor to his office, aware of an exchange of elbowing and whispers behind him. They're here early, considering Lexie's claims of how the three women spent the night above the Gull, so they've done well... though he gets the impression Lexie could coast along for a while in a moderately pickled state and no-one would much notice the difference. Then again, he's no-one to talk considering how he spent his winter.

Dr Lucassi, on the other hand, opts to self medicate the opposite way. Waiting in Nathan's office buzzing on energy drinks and caffeine and who-knows what else, he pounces on Nathan the minute he walks in, hyperactive, fascinated, and brandishing sheets of test results. "Detective Wuornos, this is astonishing -- simply astonishing! The potential breakthroughs, the extension of life... though perhaps something of a misnomer, but if only we could figure out the mechanism--"

"We know the mechanism," Nathan rides over him. "What else do we know?"

"Ah. Well..." Lucassi puffs his cheeks out and pulls a face, brings the pages up close to his nose and flicks through them. "Ms McKee will want to be present for this. There you are!" As Jordan walks through the door, he seizes her clothed arm and hurries her to a seat. He does loose his grip fairly quickly, though.

"So what the hell, Doc?" Jordan spreads her gloved hands. "Am I going to last? Am I going to rot?" Her voice cracks on that note, and Nathan can't blame her. "Is this going to end tomorrow?"

"On the contrary, I think," Lucassi says. "The tissue samples I took showed signs of regeneration, even in the short time since your... reawakening. The damage from the knife -- extensive as it is, I'm afraid -- seems to be healing at a somewhat faster than living rate. Even though your body is still not alive, you understand..."

"It's going to fix itself?" Nathan demands.

Jordan holds her hand over her midriff reflexively, wonderingly.

"Barring exacerbation," Lucassi hazards. "It could take weeks."

"But this is someone's Trouble," she contests, cynicism behind her eyes. "I've seen enough of those. That I'm here is the product of someone else's bad day. As soon as anything changes for them..."

"We've had Troubles that carried their own ontological inertia," Nathan says, though he winces, doubting Jordan will appreciate the parallel. "Landon Taylor was stuffed, and he's still going, even though the person who did it was killed."

"Stuffed," Jordan repeats flatly.

"Stuffed?" Lexie asks, her voice full of incredulous glee. "Are we talking teddy-bear or hunting trophy?"

"Sawdust and rags," Nathan says.

"Oh, this town just keeps getting better."

"You think I want to keep going like this?" Jordan demands. "A reanimated corpse that can't touch anyone. Not that anyone would want to."

Landon Taylor had also been a reanimated corpse, though the lack of blood and gore on display had made it easier to gloss over that part. The guy was magically alive, where he shouldn't be, gifted continued existence to take care of his son.

Who does Jordan have to live for? Nathan wonders. He's the one who talked Taylor around, long before Marion Caldwell and Don Keaton and Braer Brock, long before his own continued existence depended on his efficacy in doing so. He desperately wants to find something to offer Jordan, who's meant more to him personally than any of those people. But he can't. He's not even sure how he'd be taking this if he were in Jordan's shoes.

***

Lexie is claimed for the day by Dwight and his investigation of Wade, on account of her rapport with Jordan. All Nathan feels is relief. Dwight takes the ladies out in his patrol car and Nathan remains in his own office. Lexie has Audrey's old desk in there, now, though as far as he can tell the only thing on it that she's touched is a few jars of nail polish and the coffee cups and crumpled candy bar wrappers that haven't yet made it to the bin. That, or she's saving them as ammunition to score the back of his head when it's bowed down working, as she tries to set records for how many she can land before he notices.

It's so much like Duke used to be that he wonders if she got sent back re-engineered to frustrate him. One thing that seems clear is that Audrey Parker is gone, and her replacement doesn't like him. Sometimes in this last week or so, he's looked up from awareness of movement in a corner of his eye, catching sight of a balled-up wrapper bouncing away across the floor, and seen a resentment on her face that stunned him. Lexie doesn't want to be here, trapped in an office with a stuffy stick like him.

Nathan drinks police station coffee without remembering to check its temperature and stares at the two lists, Lucassi's and Stan's, of people who went near Jordan's body yesterday. His vision swims a bit, something that would be queasiness in anyone else, perhaps, but it's not a full-blown attack. Jordan is here. He doesn't know yet if he can be thankful for that -- seems like she isn't -- but it's a sort of reprieve all the same, even if he still thinks he carries as much responsibility for the fact she was killed in the first place as Wade.

Most of the people on Lucassi's list are in the station, so he pins them down and interviews them then and there. Did they touch the body? Did they notice anything? Feel any different afterward? Have they had any deaths in the family? Any other emotional shocks? Officer Darren Gilbert takes exception to the personal nature of those questions coming from him, and slams Nathan into a wall a few times before two of his buddies haul him off. Nathan pulls rank angrily and tells the buddies to get those answers and report back, which they do, and it doesn't seem like Gilbert's the culprit. At least, there are no more pointers toward him than anyone else so far. It's probably for the best, though Nathan's hopes jumped anyway at the overreaction and the prospect of a lead.

Himself, Dwight and Duke they can rule out, Troubled already. Of the rest, one of the officers who was in the morgue and the one who responded to the discovery of the unidentified woman's body are out on patrol. Nathan leaves them messages to see him when they come in. Then there remains only the civilian who found her and a couple of EMTs he'll have to track down.

It's at that point, pulling his jacket on, preparing to leave the station, that he glances at the time and starts to seriously wonder about Duke. He's passed more of the morning already than he thought, and Duke is often late, but with everything that's going on, it's not normal that Duke should be this late.

Nathan already has his cellphone out and ringing as he dashes down the steps and into the street. Fuck. Fuck. All the talk last night about Wade coming back... He left Duke's boat with Duke alone in the shower. All those bolts Duke fixed inside the doors, but he couldn't draw a single one of them on his way out.

He shoves the phone away and checks his gun, breaking into an outright run. Jumps behind the wheel of the Bronco and he doesn't think that the old car has ever made it across town to the marina quicker.

The Cape Rouge is silent. Nathan doesn't even try to call for Duke, he knows something's wrong. With his gun in his hands, he quarters the boat like a crime scene, worry whiting out his thoughts while long practice and police training take over his body. There's really no question about it; if Wade is there, he will have to shoot. Once the Crocker Legacy is activated, Nathan won't stand a chance.

He finds Duke lying in the galley, blood on the side of his head. Nathan places his back to the wall and keeps his weapon raised as he falls to his knees and sets his hand on Duke's face, shoving and slapping at skin he can't feel the temperature of. It's too dark to tell exactly how pale that pallor is. "Duke," he hisses. "Duke, goddamn it."

Duke moans and Nathan's heart just about drops out of his chest. He grabs a shoulder and helps prop Duke up as he rolls onto his elbows and tries to sit. "Wade..." The word blurs on his lips, groggily. "Wade was here."

"I know," Nathan says curtly. "Did he say anything? Is he still here?"

"How the hell would I know?" Duke reaches for Nathan and hauls him into a limpet hug, but Nathan keeps his gaze rigid over Duke's shoulder and shrugs his gun hand quickly free. After a beat, Duke says, "Wade's lost it. He fucking talked about killing Jordan. About the rush.... about the blood... Like he thought I'd approve. And... I don't think she's the only one."

Nathan breaks loose, shoves his backup gun at Duke -- he learned that lesson, eventually, from Audrey, though it took the paranoia of his six month break on the run to get the message home -- and levers himself up to finish his search. It's twenty minutes before he's satisfied Wade's not aboard the boat any more, and Duke's already been yapping on his heels telling him so for the last half of it. At least that means Duke is feeling better.

"All right," Nathan grumbles, and phones the station to tell them they're looking for another body. If not more.

Discovers that they've already found it. "Alma Suggs, poor kid -- blonde, twenties, tattoo on left forearm," Laverne rattles off. "That match what you're looking for, Nathan?"

"Probably." It creeps him the hell out that Wade can get his jollies from any Troubled person's blood, but has again targeted an attractive woman. That's not just the need of addiction; he has a damn preference, and that's serial killer pathology. Which is what Wade is, now, Nathan thinks. He turns to Duke, who apparently reads what he's thinking directly from his face.

"Shit," Duke mutters. "Oh, shit."

Add to the tally another death they could have prevented if they hadn't fucked this up from the start.

Nathan makes it through a moment of disorientation, knowing that Duke has a head injury so he has to keep it together, since he's the damn cop here and he still doesn't wholly trust that the boat is safe, and there's work to do. He hears almost distantly Laverne's voice say, "We shipped her up to Lucassi already," and the world sparks and focuses, becoming crystal clear.

"No," he blurts. Lucassi can't be in contact with any more dead bodies until they're sure he's in the clear for the Walking Dead Trouble. "Lucassi can't take this one." His voice is rough. Why hasn't Dwight been all over this? "Get Lucassi off it, right now. Find another doctor who's qualified to do a police medical exam."

"Nathan, hon," she starts to protest. "The Chief. I mean, Dwight..."

"Do it." They can't have more disenfranchised dead popping up without knowing what this Trouble means. They don't know if what happened to Jordan represents an intolerable cruelty or the potential for a new lease of life. If she can make something of it. If she'll have the chance to. Her track record for starting over is... not good. "I'll talk to Dwight. I'll take responsibility."

Nathan's head spins as he puts away his phone. His hand fumbles and misses his pocket, his eyes not concentrating enough, his muscle-memory shot.

"I suck," Duke bursts out, punching a steel wall. The force of the blow breaks the skin of his knuckles and blood blossoms over them. "I had him here, Nathan!" His eyes are wild. "I fucking had him here! I should have taken him down. I could've. Instead I... what the fuck is wrong with me? I tried to talk to him. Now someone else is dead."

"They were already dead," Nathan states. "Duke, you need to calm down." His own hands are shaking all over the place and he can't do this if Duke is freaking out at the same time. He folds his arms and traps his hands under his armpits, applying pressure. He looks down at Duke's bloodied knuckles: Duke is doing the same, just staring at the blood while it stays on his skin. His own blood won't set off his Trouble. "How's your head?" Nathan retrieves his hands, not much improved. It's never his first instinct to get tactile. Even now, even with this relationship extending into weeks, he still has to think about it to take up Duke's arm and stained hand. He gauges the pressure of comfort by how his fingers compress the thick material of Duke's sleeve.

"Reeling. Who -- who did he kill this time?"

"Alma," Nathan says slowly, reluctantly, though he doesn't think Duke knows her, confirmed by the responding blankness in his face. "She's in the Guard. She has," he swallows, one very bleak thought abruptly descending, "the tattoo. Jesus." He rolls up his sleeve to expose the mark on his own arm. Wade's a preferential killer and it's like-- "They're fucking posting a sign for him."

He doesn't know if Dwight told the Guard about this yet; he might be sitting on it, hoping to deal with it quickly and quietly and spare Nathan the threat of that particular confrontation, but one thing that's very clear is that every member of the Guard -- especially female -- needs to know about this now.

He turns away from Duke, startling him with sudden agitation, and hyper-aware of Duke right there he takes up his phone again. He can't raise Dwight. Vince Teagues isn't exactly his best friend at the moment, but it doesn't seem like he has much choice.

"Nathan," Vince says, with the cross snip that's permanent, these days. "What's--"

"Wade Crocker's Trouble is active." He speaks tightly, watching as Duke's face changes. "You need to tell the others. This isn't Simon, doing the Rev's damn work. He's not even thinking about saving the families, or helping Haven. You need to warn every woman with a Guard tattoo."

"Nathan." There's shock in Vince's voice this time. "Wade is--"

"A Troubled serial killer," Nathan finishes, and really, they had enough with this in Haven last year. "Look, Dwight's not here. I can't reach him. I'm calling this one. We need to bring him in. Alive if possible. I don't want to hear any Guard members claiming he came at them and they had to blow his head off, later, unless that actually happened."

"You don't get to make that call anymore," Vince snaps, and Nathan's heart sinks, but he hangs up because there's really nothing else he can do or say.

Duke opens his mouth, his eyes hard and angry, and Nathan shakes his head, lifting the phone again. There is one other member of the Guard whose number he has; Valerie Smeaton, as of yesterday morning's incident, and Nathan remembers her sleek, pale beauty and decides that of a certainty she needs to know.

Valerie sounds tired on the other end of the line. There's a sigh in her voice as she says, "I'm fine, Nathan."

"Wade Crocker's killing women with a Guard tattoo. You know what he looks like? Stay the hell away from him. If you see him, call me."

"Jordan," she starts, a gasp in her voice.

"Yes," rasps Nathan in confirmation. There's something else that she probably needs to know, but it's a conversation for another time and honestly, probably Jordan's news to tell. He's not even sure if she'll want the rest of her friends to know she's back like this. Probably better to wait until they know she'll have the time for it to be worth the telling. So he says, "I'll be in touch later," and rings off, making a mental note to broach the subject with Jordan.

Now, he can't put off facing Duke any longer.

"Did you seriously just stand in front of me and sell out my brother to the Guard?" Duke says, the heel of his hand slapping Nathan's chest hard enough to rock him on his feet.

Nathan grabs his wrist and steps inside his space. "We already talked about this. We can't do this, Duke. He killed Jordan. If he hit you, no-one else in this town is going to be able to talk him around. The Guard need to know. They're targets."

Duke throws him off and tries to turn away. "Duke," Nathan implores. "I know this is hard, but you know it has to be done. It's one thing to let Dwight keep this quiet and clean it up when it was just Jordan and she was... dead... already." His tongue struggles with the words. He can't make it twist the right way. "That was bad enough for us. But Wade's done it again, and for all we know he'll keep doing it. I had no choice." He reaches after Duke, pinning him between Nathan's own body and the wall and folding him in a too long delayed embrace.

This close in, he's pretty much blind, and doesn't have much to go on to tell him what Duke is doing in response, their cheeks locked together, arms wrapped close. From the noises, Duke fights for a moment before relaxing into him with a groan.

"I need to find Dwight," Nathan says, aware he's overstepped his authority by quite some way, and with the shaky ground he's already standing on, definitely needs to clear this, but not moving all the same. "Now the Guard have been warned, the best thing we can hope for is that one of us catches up to Wade before they do. And no-one else has to die in the meantime."

Duke pulls loose far enough to kiss him needily. Nathan figured it was a toss-up between that and a punch. Duke doesn't say anything, and actually Nathan understands why he'd be this much a mess; that he can't sell out his brother -- needs Nathan to do it for him if they're going to put this to rights at all.

Fear coils inside Nathan at the thought of what it might do to the two of them, though.

He scrapes his hand through Duke's hair, careful to avoid the injury, and presses into the kiss. Then he says, mumbling against Duke's skin, "I have to go back to work. To go find out about Alma. I'd rather you were with me." Nathan's not leaving him here. "Is your head up to that?"

"Yeah." Obvious reluctance drags at the reply. "Shit, Nathan, I know this is -- you don't need this."

"I'm fine." He'll have to be, because Duke isn't. "Hurry up and get your things together."

***

They walk into a morgue in chaos. Again.

Nathan had hoped the doctor on duty would be able to take a look at Duke's head injury, but the examination room is the centre of attention and out of bounds right now. Dwight's in the middle of it, delaying still longer the moment Nathan will be able to unload the responsibility of the decisions he's made. He watches tight-lipped as Dwight bangs on the exam room door, calling through it in his best controlled and yet booming tones.

Nathan shoves through the staff standing around, dispatching several of them back to other duties as they're surely doing nothing useful here. He jerks to a halt at Lexie's side mainly because of the hissing bundle of fur clutched in her arms. "What the hell?"

The cat's got one leg half hanging off and its rib cage caved in, and there's a distinct deadness to its demeanour. Still, it growls at Nathan and announces its displeasure by scratching at Lexie ferociously. She shushes it. She's wearing thick gardening gloves. "Zombie cat," she provides, offering it up to Nathan, who backs off. "Have I mentioned how much I love this town?"

The dead cat blinks at him. Duke catches up and Nathan hears the double take and "Whoa!" at his shoulder. "That's just nasty."

Jordan, standing on the other side of Lexie, glares at them both. She looks deader than earlier. Some of the make-up giving her skin its colour has worn off during the morning. "The hell happened to you, Crocker?"

"My asshole brother. What the hell happened here?"

"Another woman in the morgue came back to life," Lexie says. "I think our Medical Examiner can raise the dead."

Nathan had been rather hoping, practical aspects considered, that it was not Lucassi. A place could be found for all kinds of oddities in Haven, like a cop who couldn't feel and even a police chief who attracts bullets, but one thing they can't very well have is an M.E. who creates zombies. "Alma?"

He can hear the shrieks coming from the other side of the door. He looks at Jordan, abruptly grateful for her comparative stoicism. She looks disturbed and for once doesn't have a nasty jibe ready.

The female screeching from within changes notably in character, and Dwight swings around. It's Duke he grabs at. "Crocker, we need to get through that door now." He has a knife in his hand which he holds up against his palm, his eyebrows eloquent in askance. Duke goes pale but nods. Dwight jerks the tip of the blade then grabs Duke's wrist.

The flare of silver in Duke's eyes is more dangerous than it used to be, since the blood Trouble, since the excess usage in his desperate fight to keep the Guard from killing Nathan anyway when Lexie came back in place of Audrey. Knowing what Wade's turned into, this quickly, makes it all the more alarming. Duke's downward spiral is obviously longer, but a downward spiral nonetheless. All these little uses nudge him slightly further along the descent.

It's also alarming how Duke just reaches out and shoves the door off its hinges with no visible effort. They're up against a killer who can do the same.

Dwight gets past Duke and into the room first. Nathan, half drawing his gun then slamming it back into the holster with an internal curse, follows. Duke, who really shouldn't even be there, hangs at his side, eyes already back to normal.

Alma stands in the centre of the room among the trolleys, gouging great chunks out of herself with a jagged stainless steel blade Nathan recognises from Lucassi's autopsy tools. "Someone tell me how the fuck this is possible!" she shrieks. "What did that creep do to me?!"

She already has a gash in her midriff that's a near match to Jordan's, though tidier, neater -- more practised, Nathan thinks, with an unpleasant resignation.

"Don't." Jordan is behind him too. That pleading, strained word came from her lips.

"Don't tell me what to do!" The second dead woman's eyes blur with tears. "God, that asshole, rubbing against me as he twisted the knife. Fucker got off on that like you wouldn't believe. I bet that freak fucked me after I was..." She sobs and stabs the knife into herself, almost duplicating the original slice.

Jordan freezes, her eyes losing much of the light and life reanimating them, turning flat and dead in an instant, like someone flipped a switch.

"He didn't," Nathan asserts, grabbing Jordan's shoulder. He doesn't know about Alma, but he read the reports on Jordan, steeling himself and having to take half a dozen breaks to get through them. "Wade didn't touch you. Not before and not after."

Dwight lunges straight into -- and past -- the knife, grabbing for the wrist above the weapon. Alma shrieks and throws him off.

For a moment, everyone stands stunned, processing the sight of a five-foot-two woman flinging the giant police chief halfway across the room.

"Holy crap," Duke stutters. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer!"

Alma stares at him, stares at Dwight, who's picking himself up, rolling awkwardly and clutching one shoulder, then distinctly says, "Fuck this." Jordan moves toward her, but not quickly enough, as she raises the knife and draws it so hard across her throat it's damn near decapitation.

Her head sags on her sliced neck and she doesn't die.

Jordan catches her. The thin moan of horror he hears, Nathan realises, is coming from Jordan, because Alma's cut her own windpipe and her mouth just moves silently. A little old blood froths on her lips.

"Do something!" Jordan yells, her expression twisting, almost reaching Alma's levels of hysteria. "Someone do something! Help her!"

Lexie shoves the cat at the nearest surface and surges in to grab Alma's face. "She wants to die..."

"No," Jordan insists. "No, damn it!"

"Alma..." Lexie says slowly, her knuckles whitening with her grip.

And Alma... flops. Boneless. Vacant. Dead.

Lexie releases her grip before she's in danger of pulling the corpse's head off, dancing back, gasping with shock. Her mouth is wide in a cute little 'oh'. It's Audrey's expression, and it half kills Nathan to see it among the black leather and body jewellery. But Lexie has no attention for him, raising her eyes to Jordan. "Oh my God," she says flatly. "I can't be near you."

"You killed her." Jordan sounds aghast, but not quite angry.

"I just -- I'm anti-Troubles, so I thought, if I was touching her and I really concentrated on it..."

Jordan's face pinches.

"She wanted to die." Dwight heaves his big form over to them, moving in obvious pain. "Jordan -- don't take it personally. You're stronger than that."

Jordan just sneers and shakes her head, backing away from them and the twice-dead woman on the floor. Her limbs are shaking and her eyes crawl over the room. It's obvious she's looking for a target. She finds Lucassi. "You. You did this to me."

"I--" Lucassi's nursing cuts on his arms from Alma's knife, as he crawls out from a defensive position half under a desk. "I don't know."

"It's looking like it," Nathan tells him apologetically. "It's... a problem."

"I'll say!" the doctor exclaims.

"Later," Dwight interjects in an explosion of authority, and Nathan probably is guilty of forgetting he isn't Chief anymore, about to deliver the news to Lucassi that yes, this will affect his employment with the Police Department. "We need to get people out of this room. Lucassi, out. You can't be near the dead. Nathan, Lexie, stay. Everyone else out. Sorry, Jordan."

"Get Laverne to send you a patrol car. Take Jordan back to my office at the station," Nathan says to Duke, pressing his phone into Duke's hand. "Lucassi, too." M.E. and resurrectee are still staring at each other with prickly caution and that probably is going to be weird, but there's nothing he can do about it. If Jordan can't be near Lexie... "You might want to think about getting in touch with Valerie."

The morgue, clear, looks a hell of a lot bigger and emptier. Dwight holds his forehead and bares his teeth in a freaked expression, stares at the body on the floor and the trolley it presumably came from, and asks Nathan to hold her head for him so it doesn't fall off.

"Right." Sometimes not feeling what he touches is a bonus. They lift Alma's corpse back onto the trolley.

"I'm sorry," Lexie says shakily, with a nervous little wave of her hand in apology, once they finish laying the body back down.

"It's not your fault," Dwight says. "You did good. Someone had to."

Nathan takes a breath and figures it's the moment to come clean, while no-one else is there. "I gave the order for Lucassi to be replaced. Not soon enough, apparently."

He gets a weary nod back that fully understands the undercurrents; the push and pull of authority between them, the role that was Nathan's, and isn't anymore. "I should've done it yesterday."

The next is worse. "I warned the Guard about Wade Crocker."

He can't really read what crosses Dwight's face. There are a lot of things in there. Panic. Anger. Surprise. Nathan picks up Alma's pale, white arm, lifts it to expose the tattoo. "Wade's cutting his way through women with a Guard tattoo. Duke confirmed it. They needed to know."

"You just put out the call for vigilante justice on your lover's family," Dwight growls. "Damn it, Nathan. Even if you weren't sleeping with Crocker, that's not how I mean to run this town. If they find out the rest, you've put a target on you, a target on Duke..."

"I know that! Right now, we need to find Wade before they find him. That's for starters."

"We need to find him either way, pretty damn urgently," Lexie drawls, stepping between them in a fashion she makes seen casual, but Nathan's slowly starting to get the idea, with little things like this she does, that it isn't. "He's killing these women. Hey, I'd want to know if I was a target." Her eyes are wide and familiar like a slice through his gut as they settle on Nathan in more compassion than the critical judgement he usually gets. "How's Duke doing with this?"

"Alright. Much as could be expected," Nathan mumbles, unsettled.

"We also don't have a medical examiner," Dwight says, scratching his head, looking at the corpse, looking queasily away. They've all seen plenty of bad things before, but Alma made a mess of herself, and she was conscious of being in her wrecked body while doing it. If they're all three still floating from the shock of that, God knows how it's affecting Jordan.

"I, uh, asked Laverne to take care of it."

Dwight rolls his eyes and doesn't even bother saying Damn it, Nathan, again, so Nathan figures they both know the drill already; instead he says, "We -- you two -- need to sort out Lucassi. I suppose at least this Trouble shouldn't be a problem so long as he's not working with dead bodies. Damn. I thought we were clear on this when the other corpses turned out unaffected."

"I've had a thought about that." Lexie raises a finger and struts to the stone-skinned dead, the clack of her leather boots a too-cheerful rhythm on the floor. She lifts a sheet and pulls a face. "See, these guys had been in here over a day already by the time we got Jordan. What if there's a time limit on... how dead they can be. Right? So these were too old by the time Lucassi's Trouble kicked in."

Dwight and Nathan look at each other. It's the kind of crazy making-it-up-on-the-fly rule that Audrey would come up with, that instinctive grasp of the laws of things that shouldn't make logical sense, and don't to anyone else. Dwight crosses the room to press a big hand on her shoulder. There's relief in his face. "I'm glad you're finding your feet again."

"No sweat," she chirps back, curling her Lexie-smile over Audrey's face. She sighs, though, as she looks at the dead cat, a limp bundle of battered fur where she set it down on an empty trolley when she lunged for Alma. Unquestionably dead and gone, now. "Poor kitty." She picks it up again and wraps it in a sheet. "I guess we can only find out who you belong with and give you a decent burial."

It's not a flattering parallel and no doubt not one she'd appreciate, but Nathan can't help thinking of Jordan.

***

Back at the station, Dwight takes Jordan, leaving Nathan with Lexie, Duke and Lucassi. Lucassi's already dealt with the cut on Duke's head using station emergency aid supplies by the time Nathan gets there. They shut themselves in Nathan's office, re-opening it only to admit coffees ordered via Stan.

"So what happened two days ago?" Lexie asks, squeezing the M.E.'s shoulder. Nathan gives him a brief nod behind her back, since Lucassi's still a bit weirded out by the presence of this woman who looks like Audrey and yet acts wholly unlike her. "Troubles are usually brought on by something, right?"

"Not that you don't have kind of a stressful job already," Duke adds, and shrugs and holds his hands up defensively as Lucassi stares back at him in surprise. "By my standards. Wasn't judging."

"No, I suppose Haven is Haven." Lucassi heaves a sigh. "There are always too many dead bodies in this town. But I think the one that was one too many... I do suspect, now, that it was the dead cat. It belonged to my next door neighbour." He lowers his head and laughs at himself softly. Lexie taps her fingernails on his coffee to draw his attention to it and he gratefully takes a gulp. "I backed over it in the drive, and... something just snapped in me. I almost picked up and left everything then and there. But I put the cat in the garage and carried on, and... nothing happened, you understand? It simply never crossed my mind that it could have been a trigger. Later I decided the way I'd felt had just been a blip. We all get bad days. When I found that even the cat was gone, I figured I'd..."

Lucassi trails off into a wry chuckle, self-deprecating, that disappears into a silence that lingers. "I'm embarrassed to admit I simply decided I'd been mistaken. Maybe I hadn't killed it after all. Wishful thinking at its blindest. There's enough wilful blindness in this town, without adding to it, and really no excuse for not making the connection after that young woman, or when you were asking all those questions... But, well, it was a cat... and... you know all the rest." He spreads his hands.

"You didn't realise," Lexie says. "It's okay. Did you want them to come back to life?"

"It was such a shame..." Lucassi flaps, helplessly. "It's always a shame. I don't know exactly how I did it. I didn't really start thinking I did until this last one."

While not absolutely definitive, Lucassi's story gels well enough with everything up to and including the damn cat that Nathan's pretty sure they have the answer.

"Well," Lucassi huffs. "Looks like I'm out of work and job hunting again."

He doesn't sound exactly broken-up about it. Nathan offers him a considering grimace and the doctor shrugs and picks up and guzzles the rest of his coffee. Lexie stays hovering over him as Duke and Nathan turn aside and exchange their own glances.

The only thing that's left is to figure out the rules. The cat's dead. Alma's dead. They need to know where they are with Jordan.

***

It's three o'clock, there's not much of the afternoon left, and it's not like they have a lack of urgent things to do in it. Neither of them have eaten, though. Nor has Lexie -- her and Dwight's distraction of earlier was trying to calm down a suburban street freaking out over a zombie cat, and it didn't leave them much room for lunch. So the three of them head in Nathan's Bronco to the cafe on Main Street for their first stop, to get sandwiches to take out.

"Where's your brother hang out in Haven?" Lexie asks, around a mouthful, twisting an apologetic frown at Duke, as the three of them lean on the car while Nathan wolfs down enough of his sandwich that they can get in and carry on. They still need to decide where they're going. There's an APB out on Wade but Duke keeps emphasizing that Wade is sneaky, and considering the source...

"So far? At the Gull, at the Rouge, with Jordan, and I don't know where she took him apart from the Gull and the Rouge. Just about every B&B in town, at least once."

Nathan says, "Maybe you shouldn't go back to your boat tonight."

"I notice how you don't all worriedly suggest maybe I shouldn't go back to my place tonight." Lexie holds up her hands as they turn to her. "Just sayin'. Equally as much a serial killing asshole haunt according to you."

"Sorry," Nathan offers.

Duke says to him with focus, "I figure the two of us can take Wade."

"Sounds like an invitation to me." Lexie waggles her eyebrows at Nathan. "Someone's getting lucky tonight."

"Sweetheart, you have no idea how lucky he gets every night," Duke cracks back, and although it's gratifying to see the return of Duke's usual cheer, the expression on Lexie's face for a moment is... odd.

Nathan's phone rings. He left Laverne with a message for Dwight, to tell him they don't expect any more walking dead and that Lucassi officially quit, and it's Dwight calling now. Nathan raises the cellphone to his ear and asks, "What's going on?"

"You do know I'm the chief and you're not the chief?" Dwight reiterates patiently.

"If I acknowledge you're better at this job than I ever was, will you tell me what's going on?" Nathan asks, amused despite himself.

There's a brief silence before Dwight grudgingly admits, "It's useful to know there's someone around with the experience to pick up the slack. Don't take that as a jumping-off point for any ideas."

"Don't worry. I know Haven won't accept me back. Your lofty pinnacle is safe." Nathan waits.

A cough that's trying very hard not to be a laugh from the other end of the line. "We're going fishing," Dwight says cryptically. "Me, Jordan, Jordan's friend Valerie. You know, the girl with the... water Trouble." It's a diplomatic way to phrase firehose mouth. "Turns out Wade picked up Alma near the Gull last night. So we're putting Valerie onto it to see if we can get a bite from him tonight."

"Can I do anything?" Nathan asks.

Dwight snorts. "Considering it's beside the point to tell you to watch the Cape Rouge and Crocker... Can you put Lexie on?"

Nathan hands her the phone and doesn't much listen to the conversation that follows, given most of what he can hear is Lexie's wisecracks and "uh-huh". Although he and Duke both look up sharply as she says, "Hey, I bet Jennifer would be game to be bait, too. She doesn't have the tattoo, but Wade's met her, he knows she's Troubled." Duke's face turns sour because he's still got a soft spot for the girl who bust him out of a mental hospital, and he doesn't want Haven to swallow her up and spit her out dead.

Duke mouths and gesticulates, "No," at Lexie, who narrows her eyes and angrily mouths something back that Nathan doesn't quite catch, but imagines is in the ballpark of "Not your choice". Duke, pissed off, shakes his head and meets Nathan's gaze.

So it seems Dwight wants Lexie, who since she lives at the Gull anyway may as well clock off for a few hours now and help out later. "Gee, an excuse to hang around bars and drink," she tells them with a tip of her shoulder and a spark in her eyes. "It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it." Twining her hair around a finger and smiling coyly, she asks Duke, "This is the tab you never, ever call in, right? You and Audrey, bosom buddies..."

Dwight doesn't want Duke involved in the operation, proprietor or not, so after he and Nathan drop Lexie off, they go canvass around town awhile with copies of one of Duke's old photos of Wade. Then they call it a day and return, despite everything, to the Cape Rouge.

In the end, there's more reason to be there than not. Wade may come back, but they want him, after all, and if he comes to them, he doesn't represent the same threat that he does to these women. He didn't try to kill Duke last time and Nathan's not Wade's type, although his blood will still weigh the odds heavily against him if it comes to a fight. Then again, he has a gun and doesn't plan on letting Wade get close enough to draw his blood.

It's quiet back at the boat and Nathan searches it end to end anyway before he'll let Duke start to see about making them dinner. "You're twitchy and paranoid," Duke quips, waving a stainless steel spoon at him, as Nathan sits watchful, his gun on the table in front of him. "I like it."

"Figures you would, with firearms taped under every piece of furniture."

"I am wondering if you're planning to take your gun belt off for bed tonight."

"Well, there's a lock on that door, now," Nathan hazards. He grimaces as he realises what this must look like. "You know, I'm not... planning to shoot Wade, but we can't let him get the drop on us again. The threat needs to be there. I promise I won't shoot unless I have to."

Duke frowns and looks profoundly unhappy. "Nathan, I know... Okay, the thing with Jordan was weird but I know you guys had a... something for a while. You've personal stake in avenging her murder, too, as well as Dwight or the Guard -- or, hell, as Jordan, and how much do I love this town that I get to say things like that? So thanks for backing me up on this."

Nathan swallows. He's drinking orange juice and reaches for it, but just holds the glass in his hand and swirls the contents around as a distraction. "I don't want to lose you over this, so it would probably help if I didn't kill your brother."

Duke ditches the spoon and comes to the table, stepping inside Nathan's spread knees, tipping his chin up with a finger. "Lose me? You were afraid of that?"

Nathan doesn't say anything, but Duke surely knows he's been erratic, these last few days. It's not over yet, though they may have weathered the worst in bringing Duke to admit that they needed to warn the Guard. But Duke grips his face, keeping Nathan staring up at him, and says, "You don't worry about that one, okay? You're not fucking dead on the altar of this twisted town, and if we got past that, we can handle anything."

There's an extent to which Nathan has spent his time since not-dying for Haven still aching with the wish that he could die to take the Troubles away, but it's wearing off. He'd thought waiting to feel again was something worth living for. He'd thought the shining presence and promise of Audrey was -- and now he knows that it's just this, Duke and home-cooked meals and companionship and the promise of their bodies twined together later. It started as a distraction, as -- to be brutally honest, as a miscommunication. But all the things he thought he wanted, then... the violent fuck and easy thrill, to fill his last days with fire, if not feeling... This is better.

He stares up at Duke and nods, and then something hisses and spits in one of the pans on the stove, and Duke curses and leaps away, back into action.

***

They go straight to bed afterwards. The doors are locked and bolted, a minimum of two locks between themselves and the outside. Nathan's gun is on the nightstand and Duke has one under his pillow, as well as behind the headboard, and under the end of the bed, and one tucked down the edge of the wardrobe, all of which he's carefully shown to Nathan. They've even practiced the motions needed to draw those weapons smoothly from their hiding places, sight unseen. They're planning on being ready.

Nathan holds up a small knife taken from what Duke calls his Buffy box, letting his eyebrows do the telling, and places it next to his own gun. Duke pulls a face but the fact is, if Wade gets tanked up on Troubled blood, Duke will need to match him.

With that out of the way, stripping bare and giving himself the usual cursory inspection, Nathan asks, "Are you still too sore for sex?"

"Hell, yes." Duke shudders.

"Then I guess it's me," Nathan says neutrally.

"And don't you just love that." Duke breaks off from undressing, shirt still half on, and backs him against the wall, one hand reaching down to Nathan's genitals and the other pressing on his throat. Nathan experiences enough force in resistance to know both grips are tight, and arousal starts to overtake him fast. "I could almost accuse you of engineering that deliberately."

Nathan gasps and slides a hand under Duke's hand, slowly -- pinning their gazes together while he does it -- and transfers the grip from his throat to the wall. "You don't have to--" He almost doesn't have to say that. For a moment, holding that eye contact, it almost feels like they're inside one another's heads. "Not tonight." Maybe he has to work on making changes that are permanent, but he can still make this decision, for the now. "Doesn't matter if I don't... We can just do whatever."

"God, Nathan." Duke's eyes soften indefinably. A wary caution that Nathan never noticed before, but that may have been there all along, evaporates. Duke keeps the grip of his other hand and mashes a kiss over Nathan's lips. It's passion that imbues his movements with a new frantic force. He curls his free arm around Nathan's waist to walk him backwards to the bed. They fall with Duke on top, as the edge of the bed finds the back of Nathan's knees and he can't compensate. The bed groans in protest. Nathan extricates a knee and gets both hands on Duke, unintentionally hauling on a fistful of cloth that pulls his shirt out of shape.

"Dammit. Let me get that." Duke pauses to plant his elbows and shrug his shirt all the way off.

They're both hard, cocks pressed together in the tangle. Nathan places his palms on Duke's bare chest, pushing the skin and watching it pull and distort under the pressure. Duke wraps hands around his wrists and bucks their lower bodies together harder. "I'd kiss you if I could get near you."

Nathan grins and bends his elbows slowly, carrying Duke's weight down to him.

Duke claims his mouth, then moves on to shove at his throat with deliberately noisy nips and licks as they thrust together. Duke groans at the friction, but rolls clear and scrambles further up the bed, tugging at Nathan to do the same. He grabs for the pot of lube, having to search for it between the pillows, and turns back and pushes Nathan's shoulder. "Roll over."

Nathan rolls onto his side and Duke covers his back, one hand sliding down, guiding a knee up. A sound suggests Duke's slipped at least one finger inside him.

"Are we, um, are we good if Wade walks in now?" The chuckle in Duke's voice is slightly forced. It's a dislocating reminder. Nathan realises that for a moment, they'd both forgotten.

He stretches a hand out experimentally. "Well, I can reach my gun, if that's what you mean."

"Just checking." There's a push Nathan can read through automatic response buried deeper than his unresponsive nerves, and he shoves back onto Duke's hand with an unplanned noise. "Oh. That hit the spot, did it?" Duke does it again, then moves the hand under Nathan's knee to lift it higher. Their shifting weight moves the bed. Duke slides down Nathan's body and guides him over almost onto his face. There's already a warm hum lighting up the back of Nathan's brain as Duke spreads him open and pushes in. "I'm inside you, Nate." His voice comes from just below Nathan's left shoulder, though the commentary's not needed today. His body's as alive as it gets, and communicating pretty well how satisfied it is with the current situation.

"I know," he says, mellowly, and suggests, with mild sarcasm, "Be a man of action, Duke." The first thrust rocks him in response, not especially gentle.

"Ow," says Duke. "I mean, damn, that feels good."

Nathan laughs at him.

"I can't catch a break." With the complaint comes several screams of the bedsprings. "Some day you will feel again, and you are gonna wuss out on so much of this, I fucking swear." He forces a hand into the gap between Nathan's chest and the mattress; does something there, unseen, underneath. "Nipple. You'd be squirming if you could feel that. For the record." Duke snorts and his elbow moves again.

Nathan cranes his head; tries to follow what Duke's doing. "I don't need to feel you." He can't lie and claim that it wouldn't be good to, but he doesn't need it. He blasted away any right he ever had to complain about his Trouble when he shot Agent Howard.

"Yeah, but this is basically phone sex for you, right?" Duke bitches, and gives a thrust that some subconscious part of Nathan's nervous system feels right down to his toes, according to the surge behind his eyelids. "Though that noise sounded pretty real."

"I like it fine," Nathan breathes, a rush spreading through his head. "I don't have many... distractions. Means the little things... magnify. Like this, can't even see. So it's all... focus on the chemical."

"That -- sounds a lot too much like subtlety from you. When we first started, I -- figured you needed it rough -- to get anything out of it." Duke's hitching voice carries a twinge of suspicion and he's moving short and sharp, now.

"Practice," Nathan says. "I think. Mostly, practice... Never really... I mean, I never had chance before. Never really tried. To make something of it."

Before, when there was always, theoretically, an expiration date on the Troubles. Now, thanks to his own actions, it's no longer an acceptable approach to simply wait.

Duke muffles a laugh in his back. "You figure it ever reaches a point when we get bored with this much sex?"

"If it does, there's always the food." Nathan's already smirking into the sheets when he hears the sharp slap of Duke's outrage being delivered to some spot on his skin.

"Right. Make jokes about my cooking. Notice you always do that after dinner, and ensure I forget when the time comes around to feed you again." Duke raises his game with several energetic movements and Nathan doesn't need to be told where his hand slid down to, though Duke tells him all the same. "Got you... right in the palm of my hand. Jesus, you weren't kidding about liking this. Move, Nathan. Come on... Move with me."

Nathan can process enough of the haul back on his hips to match the rhythm. He knows Duke's hand is still clamped on him tight, maybe holding him back. His breathing comes sharp and loud, now. His head is full of snow. Duke's grunts and the slap of their skin together becomes his world, no room left for conversational baiting. Time stretches with them both balanced on the edge.

Then Duke's breathing changes and his rhythm crashes. The subtle changes of release flood through Nathan, too. He rolls his hips back a few more times before the grunt of protest from Duke and the relaxed lethargy that seems to take hold of his limbs convinces him they're both totally spent. Nathan slides a hand behind him, between them, to extricate himself carefully, and Duke pulls enough together to lend a guiding hand on his shoulder as he rolls over. Ensuring neither of them get an elbow in the face or a knee in the balls, or any of the other hazards of him not being able to feel when getting extremely physical at very close quarters.

Duke sprawls an arm over his chest while Nathan stares up at the ceiling, waiting for thought to resume. Duke's breathing catches suddenly. "I'd say it's just as well Wade didn't burst in on us this time." He crawls up, scraping his hand through his hair, awake again, balanced on his haunches and looking around. The position shows off the muscles in his legs to awesome effect, and Nathan traces the nearest with his fingertips, still in a haze, until Duke bats his hand away. "Stop that already, quit sex-maniac mode and come back to being a cop. Or I could leave you here and go check over the boat again, like you planned, on my own."

Nathan winches himself up and observes aloud that they made a real mess of the sheets.

"Yeah. I do more washing than I ever have in my life too, on the flipside." Duke checks his gun. Nathan grabs his, considers that he can't feel the cold anyway, and wonders if it's really necessary to bother with pants as he watches Duke start pulling clothes back on. It looks far too complicated for his brain to handle, right now.

He reluctantly gets up and copies Duke, though, because if he doesn't have the focus to dress himself again, he probably shouldn't be running around with a firearm anyway.

The check of the boat comes up empty. Wade isn't there. Wade makes no show throughout the night, and the three further instances they wake themselves to check the Rouge achieve nothing except to ensure them both a disturbed night's sleep.

***

They finally wake up to daylight, Nathan swearing as a shift in angle of boat or cloud abruptly scores a dazzling beam of light direct into his eyes. Duke groans next to him and protests with a few hard kicks at his feet. Nathan rolls over, buries his face in the pillow and grunts, "Shit." His head feels full of fluff; floating like dust motes in the leftover dazzle from the sunlight. He rolls and cracks his eyes open to grope his phone off the nightstand.

Duke groans some more as he exchanges bleary words with the officer on duty. There's still no word on Wade Crocker, but at least that means Lexie, Dwight and the rest will have made it through their night-time activities unharmed. "No word," he passes on to Duke as he puts the phone back.

"You dick," grunts Duke. "Alarm's not set to go for another twenty minutes."

"Take your twenty minutes." Nathan pulls on his clothes from last night, grabs his gun belt, returns his firearm to it. "I'm going to check over the Rouge, and then I'm going to swing by home. I'll see you at the station with coffee and pastries in an hour and a half. Duke," he adds, slapping at the lump of Duke's feet in the bottom of the bed. "You're gonna need to get up and bolt the door after me."

"Oh, fuck off," groans Duke, but slides out from under the covers and onto the floor with a lack of dignity, from where he almost literally crawls over to do it. Nathan ruffles his hair sarcastically with one hand as he slips out, gun already drawn, and waits and listens for the click of the bolts before he leaves, with a final call back to Duke, who swears at him again.

Searching the Cape Rouge is no more productive than it has been the last six times. Nathan disembarks with frustration, crosses to the Bronco and climbs in. He circles around and comes back to the marina to reassure himself Wade wasn't lurking in wait for him to leave. He's been going around in paranoid circles a whole lot, he feels, in the last twenty-four hours.

Annoyed -- with himself, with Wade, with the whole situation -- he returns home.

The house is big and unsettling, and looks uninviting. That's always true, but in the general twitchiness of the morning he enters with his gun drawn and looks around for sign that anything has been disturbed. He moved back into the old family home of his childhood after dad died. It was too big for one man when Garland Wuornos lived in it, and it's too big for one man now. It's also got a million things wrong with it. Half the fittings wouldn't be out of place in a museum, most of the furniture is the kind of 'antique' people don't treasure or pay money for, and it hasn't been redecorated since about 1986. He meant to fix it, but he's never had time and increasingly suspects he never will. It crosses his mind, as he looks anew at water-damaged wallpaper, yellowed paintwork from years of Garland's cigarettes, and the general mess and disarray of stuff half of which isn't even his own--

He wonders what Duke would think if he just suggested picking up the few boxes of stuff that still matter and carrying them over to the Cape Rouge. It's a life-changing move that would take about half an hour. But it's a conversation for more settled times and Nathan can't quite see any arrangement that works with Duke's lousy shower.

The house is quiet. He puts his gun away and goes back to close the front door and to pick up the mail he left on the doormat. As he's bending down for the letters, he catches movement outside the front door from the corner of his eye and starts to rise.

Too late. Something blurs toward his face and the world blanks out.

***

Head wounds are a weird thing when you can't feel. Nathan has had a few, over the years, and honestly he thinks they're preferable with the splitting pain and explanatory sensations intact. Otherwise it's the double confusion of an inability to process, and of not knowing why.

He struggles towards awareness listening to the sound of running water. His arms are above his head and his position seems weird -- unsteady -- unbalanced. Even before he forces his eyes open, he knows there's no way in hell he fell asleep naturally like this.

It's too bright, everything's glistening and sparkling, far too stark for his un-aching head. After a moment he registers familiar surroundings, but he still can't put it all together. A blond Wade Crocker pokes at his face, wearing an intent, annoyed expression, lips moving, but all Nathan can hear above the sound of the water is a mumble.

Wade reaches up, beyond Nathan, and the sound of water cuts off, then Wade looms closer, slaps his face -- pointless -- and says, louder, "Wuornos. I didn't hit you that hard, so how are you this hard to wake up?"

Nathan blinks back at him, by no means ready to commit anything to speech. Wade is here. Wade is blond, and the new hair he's gotten out of a pharmacy packet looks peculiar against his colouration, makes him look freakish and wild. It also means Wade knows himself to be a wanted man.

Nathan's thoughts finally coalesce into the concept: this is bad. The fury that suddenly floods through him, faced with Wade, takes him by surprise, overpowering and not helpful. All he can think of is Jordan, gutted; Duke, beaten and left. He tries to focus his mind on more important questions, like is he bleeding?

Craning his neck around, pulling at his uncooperative limbs, he establishes that he's been stripped and fastened by his own handcuffs to the bulky old stainless steel shower fixing in his own bathroom. The shower must have been on a while, by the looks of his cold, white skin. He's trembling, faintly. His legs are folded under him, touching the floor but not supporting his weight. He tries to get his balance but Wade hooks a boot around his ankle and drags him off his feet again. Wade's hand pushes against his chest, slamming him back against the wall.

Nathan notices a series of cuts down his right forearm. They're an inch or two long, clotted already, and oddly clean. There's a knife blade bared in Wade's other hand, and that's just great -- he's been using Nathan's unconscious body to provide a minor fix.

"Why the hell are you here?" Nathan growls. Why come after him? He's afraid -- of course he is, he knows what the knife in Wade's hand means and he doesn't want to die. He's only just figured out what living is. It really doesn't make a difference that he won't feel it when the knife goes in... but then, maybe he will; they don't know how quickly the Crocker curse really works, after all, if the effect takes hold before the actual moment of life being snuffed out. Perhaps he will feel again before he dies -- he'll feel, and the first and last thing he feels will be himself, dying.

Something hits him then, but it's a revelation out of its moment. He doesn't even know if he'll ever have chance to raise it with Dwight and Jordan, later.

"I'm not going to kill you," Wade says. He slides his dull eyes over Nathan's form. "I've heard plenty, these last few days, enough to know Duke loves you... I could have done without the details. But I am disappointed in you, Nathan, since we're almost family. I heard you sell me out to the cops."

"You heard?" There is no way that Wade was there on the Rouge and they didn't find him. Sure, there are hidey-holes and secret compartments all over the place, but they're Duke's hidey-holes and secret compartments, and they searched those, and how the hell would Wade even know about them? "You bugged Duke's boat?"

Wade grins. That grin is placid and unhinged and always was, a bit. It's remarkable how little surprise Nathan feels at the speed of Duke's brother's descent. "It's incredibly easy with modern technology. You'd be surprised. And in a town like this, no-one would ever think of it as a possibility."

Haven P.D., as a matter of fact, still has the odd piece of equipment that runs on wind-up, but Nathan scowls anyway at the implication, more annoying than ever for being true.

"Since you spoiled my game, I can't get close to the tattooed people anymore." Wade's finger slides down Nathan's left arm, circling the circle there. "I saw this, enough times I caught you both lovey-dovey and wearing next to nothing. I thought you could help me out until I think of a new plan. I just need a little of your blood. I'm not going to take you away from him." He pauses and flicks the knife over Nathan's pectoral muscle, and breathes shakily as he moves his pressing fingers to overlap the well of blood from the small wound. His eyes flare silver and Nathan's chest compresses, noticeable even to him, with the increase of the strength Wade's putting into that hold.

Nathan can't struggle, pinned between Wade's hand and the wall. As the blood trickles down over Wade's fingers, continuing to feed the reaction, he wishes he could turn the bleeding off. Wade absorbs the flow of red like a junkie, his head held back, his eyes open but sightless with ecstasy. If there was any way to take advantage of it, it would be the perfect moment to move. Wade's distraction is absolute.

Wade gives the cut a deeper companion an inch or so below, drawing the knife along slowly, pressing deep. Nathan stills while he does it, not wanting to make the injury worse. Wade watches this time, curious about the lack of reaction, and confusion draws crinkles between his eyes. "Don't you feel that?"

Nathan's confused a moment, until he realises that everyone was carefully telling Wade nothing... with the exception of Jordan, who has reasons aplenty for avoiding talking about him. He grits his teeth on, "No. That's my Trouble. I can't feel it."

"I guess that explains a few things," Wade says, his voice taking on a more dangerous edge of anger, and presses his hand over the new cut. "It makes sense to me now. You and Duke. All that self-righteous talk, but I bet he's tasted you."

Nathan stares. "That isn't why. Damn it, Wade!" he snaps, as the blood rush runs down this time. He tries to bury his fury because Wade is still Duke's brother. They help the Troubled, and Wade's still that. Maybe he can... all right, he doesn't hold out much hope, but maybe there's still a way to talk him down.

He tries to think what Audrey would do, complicated by the fact she blurs now with Lexie and thinking about Lexie doesn't have the best effect on his thinking brain. "You're letting your Trouble rule you. It doesn't have to be like this. Yes, Wade, Trouble," Nathan emphasizes. "It's been useful to some people. There's a lot of tripping around over the description, but the Crocker Legacy is just a Trouble, like any other, and that means it'll fuck you over if you let it."

Wade's face goes dark and he slashes the knife again, barely looking at what he's doing. Damn. The cuts are marching down the length of Nathan's torso, ever nearer the site where Wade slashed the women. Even if Nathan isn't Wade's type, there's no way he can trust that the established ritual won't take over.

As Wade's eyes finally clear again, Nathan bucks and wrenches at his hands, shoves his feet under him with a burst of effort. They don't want to cooperate. He tries to find balance enough to kick Wade away, but as soon as he lifts his leg his unsteadiness and the slippery floor of the shower wrench him down. His hands jerk on the chain between the cuffs, and the pipework screeches with the penetrating grind of metal against metal, echoed off tile and porcelain, and the shower starts up as the mechanism gets caught between metal links.

Wade slashes the knife across the underside of Nathan's upper arm, where it's strained by the grip of the cuffs. Nathan lunges sideways under the water flow, his hearing almost disappearing beneath the noise of the surge as he takes the dunking, letting his blood wash clear. He's not sure exactly of Wade's thinking with the shower -- cold water to wake him up, to keep him weak? Was it meant to be a form of torture? Or was it simply a method to contain the mess? -- but he'll take what chances he can get. Nathan doesn't believe Wade's insistence about not intending to kill him. He's doubting, now Wade's started, that Wade has the control to stop.

"Wade!" He shouts over the flow of the water anyway. "You don't really want to do this! Think about Duke! Your father... Simon Crocker wanted to use his gift for good!" The words taste sour on Nathan's tongue, spouting Reverend Driscoll's tune, but he figures it's closer to something that might get through to Wade.

"I'm killing the curses," Wade says, with a bland sort of confusion that doesn't much care. "Like I'm supposed to."

"Harmless curses... Controllable curses," Nathan amends, thinking of Jordan... Don't let Wade make a matching pair of them in this, too. "That means you're just killing people." Pretty young women if he can get them, but Nathan figures pointing out that choice is something that could go dangerously awry. Wade's is still a fledgling psychosis, at the moment. As a serial killer, he's not wholly self-aware.

Wade makes a noise of frustration, reaching for Nathan again. Nathan strains his legs, twice-numbed by his awkward hanging position and the chill of the water, unresponsive like they don't belong to him. He manages to lift his body enough for leverage to wraps his hands around the shower faucet. He's thinking to turn up the flow -- make it impossible for Wade to get any more blood from him; let the damn water rinse it all away. Wade, grabbing and annoyed, is soaked by now, and there's water all over the bathroom floor, but Nathan hopes that having a mess to clean up later at least means he'll get a later. His hands are turning, but the water pressure doesn't seem to be increasing. He blinks up, half blinded by the stream, and catches just enough glimpse to tell he's got hold of the gage that controls the temperature instead.

Why the hell not? he thinks, and whams it up to full.

There's a blob of coloured plastic affixed to the dial, in a particular position that means 'danger' because it's one of those showers that goes from cold to scalding over the space of about three millimetres. He had a few extensive but minor scald burns, early on, before he was able to figure out where to put that blob for the benefit of a body that can't feel too hot.

The dial is well over that mark now and Nathan neither feels his skin burning nor cares as the water continues to gush but changes character entirely, hissing and fogging up the air. Wade gives a sharp cry and staggers back, the knife falling from his hand. Metal -- that's metal edging on the handle, and it's become too hot to hold. Nathan takes his turn to hook his ankles around Wade's legs and impede him, making sure he enjoys a good long dunking under the steaming stream before he manages to break free and stumble clear. He bounces off fogged-up tiles and staggers out of the bathroom door.

Nathan risks turning the water off. His feet are supporting him again, the stiffness of all that time in the cold begun to be alleviated, although his skin is red and angry down most of the front of his body. He plants his weight and tries to strain upward to lift the chain between the handcuffs off over the shower head.

He's not quite tall enough and he can't. There's no time for exhaustive experimentation. He briefly yanks on the metal fixing, but it's nearly two inches thick and plastered into the wall, built to last, not budging anywhere without serious tools. Nathan goes for the easier option and yanks his left hand out of joint with swift, brutal motions, misshaping it to slip through the cuffs.

He pulls loose and staggers several feet to the left, where he hits the wall and leans there for balance. The bathroom mirror shows him a shocky white face and a black smudge over his right eyebrow. He supposes at least his face seems to have escaped the hot water. He didn't particularly register trying to protect himself, but it's long been second nature to spare his eyes.

His clothes are in a pile on the floor at his feet. His head reels as he bends down to root through them. He can't say he's shocked to discover his gun has been removed from its holster. Wade's not that stupid. It's probably downstairs somewhere, near where Nathan was first attacked. His phone is here, so he closes the door and leans on it -- there's no lock -- while he makes the call to Laverne to send backup, now. He keeps it brief and low and cuts it off fast.

There are a couple of choices here, but there's not really any serious chance he stays hiding behind this door until backup arrives. Even if it might be the sensible thing to do. They want Wade, and Duke won't be anywhere near his normal self again until his brother's behind bars and under control, and every moment he stays loose, more Troubled lives are in danger.

He picks up Wade's knife and grabs a towel, figuring if he can throw it over Wade's head it will buy him a few seconds, and in the meantime he can pat himself dry.

Wade's not waiting outside the door, which was the biggest concern. It's a clear path across the upstairs hallway and down the staircase, where Wade could be waiting at the bottom. Nathan thinks about the reactions of someone who can feel to being burned and decides he's probably gone to the kitchen, for cold water and ice. Nathan only saw the knife on Wade before, but doesn't feel like betting he didn't go straight to wherever he stashed Nathan's own gun and backup pistol now he knows he's got a fight on his hands.

Nathan goes the other way, away from the stairs, slipping inside dad's old room. Things in there are much as they were, and Garland Wuornos, stubborn, jaded old bastard, must have had his own equivalent to Duke's many 'contingency plans' stashed somewhere.

There's no pistol in the drawer of the nightstand. Nathan starts with Duke's principles, and checks the back of the headboard, then the underside of the bedframe near the spot Garland slept. On a stray inspiration he reaches down the deep gap between the nightstand and the bed and the ancient radiator, and his hand is blocked by an obstruction there. He closes his fingers, blind, and draws out a dusty hunting rifle. Martha, goddamn it. Nathan had wondered what happened to Garland's favourite gun after failing to find it when he catalogued the rest.

He quickly does what checks he can afford to and ditches both knife and towel in favour of curling two hands around the rifle, the left as best he can. He'll only get two shots and it's anyone's guess how well the gun works when it hasn't been maintained in almost a year, but the rifle is a good luck charm and he feels that positivity flood through him, giving him strength. He needs to get to Wade before Wade, too, can regroup. He takes the easy distance from dad's bedroom door to the stairs at a silent run, barefoot, and tackles the stairs as quickly and silently as he reasonably can.

Wade's not waiting for him at the bottom. There's water running in the kitchen, but Nathan can't hear any other sounds, and something tells him that's too convenient.

There's no back door leading outside through the kitchen anymore since a landslide took out a portion of the hill at the back, something like thirty years ago... a coincidence which has struck Nathan, significantly, since Garland's death. Instead, a side door got put in the most westerly wall of the house, out through the sitting room with its overcrowded bookshelves. That's in front of Nathan, now, across the hallway. To his left is the front door. If he'd taken a moment to pull his jeans on, he could have gone outside, covered both exits from the end of the garden. Too late to think of that now -- he'd draw bystanders and have no hope to keep his attention fixed on the task.

Nathan could wish he spent less of his time running around trying to fight in the nude, lately.

He listens. He has the advantage over most people on all senses bar one. He hears the normal sounds of the house, the ones he's used to, the ones Wade isn't. The running faucet he slowly isolates, picks apart, and takes out. Then he focuses on the rest. Ceases his own breathing, though there are other sounds of his body he can't stop.

He decides that Wade is in the kitchen, not at the sink, but behind the door.

"I have a gun, Wade." Nathan raises his voice. "You know you can't get out of there without coming through me. You don't want to do this. Give it up and Duke and I can protect you from the Guard. If you run, chances are they'll catch up with you sooner or later."

No answer.

"Duke still wants to save you," he tries. "I promised him I'd go along. Maybe you heard that, too." Or maybe not. Wade can't have been listening all the time. Nathan observes movement through the crack of the door and gambles a shot, aiming low. Swearing and more frenetic movement informs him he was right about Wade. "You'll be more careful how you move if you want to stay intact, though. Not feeling generous right now."

He has only to keep Wade occupied and pinned down for minutes. It's not that far from the police station to the Wuornos house. His back-up should be arriving any time. He doesn't think Wade will have heard the phone call, though he may realise the phone was left there for Nathan to make it.

"You won't shoot me," Wade says, his voice a silken caress of unwanted intimacy, as if he's inviting Nathan into the fold. "I'm Duke's brother. We share a family bond. You wouldn't risk losing him."

"You can still share a family bond with a limp. I'm doing this for Duke. You've more chance at the end of my gun than a Guard vendetta. You know what that looks like?" Because Nathan does.

Cooperation or sense is too much to ask. Wade squeezes off a few annoyed shots around the door and Nathan only has one shot left, and nowhere near a good enough line of sight to risk using it. He presses back behind a bookshelf, listening to dad's old stuff getting shot up.

There's a crash and movement in the room across the hall. The last of Wade's shots zing off course and take chunks out of the plaster of the wall opposite.

Dwight, Nathan thinks, and lowers Martha. But it's Jordan he sees first, craning around the edge of the door. She spies Nathan and an odd look crosses her face, creasing her brow and distorting her eyebrows, before it settles into something closer to concern.

There's a smaller, subtler sound from the front door to his left, and Lexie opens it a crack, Duke peering over her shoulder. "Nathan--" Lexie's eyebrows do a little jig and her voice breaks off into a surprised 'whoop'. "Looking good."

...He's naked. Nathan grabs for the nearest large enough loose object to cover himself, which is a table lamp. The cord, still plugged in, drags half the contents off the table.

"Real slick," comments Lexie.

"Don't shoot," Duke hisses, more serious business, eying the rifle still dangling in Nathan's hand. "Dwight's here." He shoves Lexie ahead of him to hunch next to Nathan in his hiding spot. She crouches down and he can feel her hair against his thigh. It's not where he wants her to be. It's the first thing he's felt since she last poked him, and it's distracting as hell, and Duke is there.

Duke is not bothering to search for cover, standing in plain view and yelling, "Wade!"

"Idiot," Nathan curses, and Lexie starts up on more or less the same thing at the same moment, and they exchange a startled glance at their rare agreement.

"You here, too, now?" Wade's voice is flat, hollow. Nathan's heard that tone before. It's the sort of voice that precedes suicide-by-cop, but given that Dwight's here, Wade isn't going to go down in a hail of bullets whatever he does. Nathan just hopes Dwight keeps something solid between himself and Wade.

He looks back to the doorway opposite, checking on that, and his sight is filled with Jordan, and the way she braces herself on trembling legs... the look on her face as Wade says, "You can't stop me. I'm meant to do this. I can put down your Troubles for good."

Duke is in her way, but she simply shoves him aside and doesn't seem to notice that he lands with force enough to put a dent in a solid wooden cabinet. "Put down this," she says, lunging onward. She must be between Wade and Dwight because a red hole blossoms on her borrowed T-shirt, marking the position of her heart. She ignores it and keeps going, slamming into the kitchen.

Nathan abruptly realises that Jordan will kill Wade, and charges after her with a shout as the screaming starts. Wade never expected the people he 'saved' to come back to display their opinion of it.

The rifle is still in Nathan's hand, but he shifts his grip to wield it like a club. Lexie's on his heels and he has time enough to grunt the reminder, "Don't touch Jordan."

"I know," she says. "You get Jordan, I'll get Wade."

They're in time to see Wade press Nathan's service pistol against Jordan's side and desperately pull the trigger again as she picks him up by the throat. The gun skitters away after the first impact of his body with a wall. Jordan follows that up by slinging Wade over the counter, dragging him through the crockery and knives on the drainer. "You killed me, Wade? Really? I was your friend!"

Which isn't necessarily true, but Jordan has a habit of mixing up her schemes with too much genuine emotion. Nathan should know.

Wade isn't really in a position to reply. He might be unconscious already. He's definitely bleeding. Lexie grabs for his feet and the two women start an uneven tug of war. Jordan has the sort of strength that doesn't take the limits of muscle, bone and sinew into account. Nathan drops the rifle and wraps both arms around her from behind. "Jordan, stop. Jordan, we've got him. He'll go to jail. You don't need to do anything more."

"You say that!" she yells, kicking and struggling, still hanging on. "You don't have to live like this!" She dislocates Nathan's shoulder with a crack, and slips from his grip even as he's still trying to figure out what the noise was, where the damage is and how to adjust his hold to keep her.

Jordan struggles free from him, but she's relinquished Wade. With a neat bullet hole in her chest and a much less neat one in her side, for a moment she just spreads her arms and looks down at herself in dismay. Lexie's holding the unconscious Wade, who's slipped to the floor, but stops her check of him to stare up with the same awful fixity as Nathan. They both saw Alma.

"Damn it!" Jordan sobs, and lunges forward, her hand reaching for Lexie's bare arm. Dwight surges into the kitchen in time to grab her trailing wrist.

His mouth is already open to expel the anticipated pain.

Nothing happens.

Jordan forgets all about Lexie with Dwight's hand on her and him not screaming on the floor. She stares and starts to tremble. She lifts her free hand to her face, eyes locked to his hold on her wrist. "What is this...?"

Nathan says, roughly because he's holding his shoulder together and half his concentration is taken up wondering what the hell he's supposed to do with it, "It hit me just a while ago. Lucassi had the ability to bring you back. Nothing to say he could beat the Crocker curse to resurrect your Trouble."

"I'm cured," Jordan states incredulously, and even if it's a gift as twisted as hell, Nathan's never seen anything like the wonder on her face as she yanks her yellow glove off with her teeth and softly places her hand on top of Dwight's. "I'm cured."

"For a given value of, you know, 'cured'," mutters Duke, sagging in the kitchen door and looking the worse for wear after his encounter with the furniture. Duke's eyes find Nathan, then find the sagging arm, and his face sets grimly.

Dwight finally moves. "Jordan," he says, king of brevity as usual, and grabs her face and kisses her. She returns the kiss enthusiastically, and neither of them seem to care about gaping bullet wounds or the smearing of the make-up which makes Jordan look not-dead.

There's a click as Lexie locks handcuffs around Wade, which drags Nathan's attention away. "You know," Lexie comments, just as Nathan's registering where her eye level's at, "I'm not saying it for my benefit, but you could probably do something about the naked thing."

***

Duke and Nathan retreat to Nathan's bedroom. It doesn't get slept in much, but he has clothes there. The ones he was wearing are sopping in the puddle of the bathroom floor. "I'd kiss you first, but this is way too distracting." Duke holds Nathan's dislocated arm above and below the elbow, his face slightly green. "All right, shit, damn... okay, so I guess not feeling it, this option's one-up from the Mel Gibson thing... keep still, and..." He raises the arm, face screwed up in concentration, guides it back into the socket, and makes a few experimental changes of angle before it finally glides back into place with a softer 'click'. Duke says, emphatically, "Fucking Jordan."

"How are you feeling?" Nathan asks as Duke moves carefully around the injured arm to push their faces close enough for a brief kiss. Maybe they're both too embarrassed about just watching Dwight really going for it with zombie!Jordan.

"Beat to hell," Duke says, and reiterates, "Fucking Jordan." He goes to the wardrobe and slings clothes Nathan's way almost at random, and Nathan grabs just as randomly and drags them on, being careful of his arm, because he can see there's a certain looseness, an instability there when he applies pressure, which suggests it's waiting to fall right out again. Duke sees it too and offers a hand. "We need to get that strapped up." Which means they're looking at the hospital. Lucassi's gone, and even if he was still hanging around probably wouldn't have the necessary gear. Nathan's not sure his left hand went back quite right, either, so maybe it's just as well.

He nods back glumly. Adrenaline is wearing off now and he's starting to feel lethargic, numb in the head as well as everywhere else.

Duke adds, "Plus, it looks like he played tick-tack-toe on your chest."

None of the cuts are particularly problematic on their own, but there are enough of them that he's probably right. Nathan's skin is nastily reddened, too, in patches he's been trying not to think too much about the extent of.

Duke taps his chin up. "How are you doing, Nathan? Why were you naked, anyway? He catch you in the shower?"

Nathan coughs a laugh. He wants his gun belt, but doesn't want to disturb the bathroom until he's had chance to talk to Dwight. He supposes it might take a while to feel safe again, after this. Meantime, one of Wade's victims is still walking around -- as an animated corpse, granted, but one with the illusion of life, which is going to make charging him with her murder tricky. If they claim she survived his assault, well... Jordan has been an assault victim before, and Nathan has his doubts about putting her through the court processes. They have not yet been able to solidly link Alma Suggs' death to Wade through material evidence, but they do have the kidnapping and assault of a police officer to nail him on. The short of the matter is Nathan's bathroom is a crime scene and there's a good chance they're going to need this, and him, to tie together the case against Wade. Which is not going to be his idea of fun, but still necessary in every way.

He pulls Duke close again and this time goes for the kiss, trying to abolish the shadows and the fear. A reason to live. When he was cuffed up in his own shower with Wade waving a knife in front of him, almost all he could think of were all the reasons he has, now, to live.

"Nate, what's on your mind?" Duke asks, breaking off for breath, and Nathan realises he never answered the question. "You're a million miles away."

The curve of Duke's jaw, faint tang of sweat and citrus scented shower gel, are biggest on Nathan's thoughts. But he says, "Jordan and Dwight."

Duke pulls a face, and Nathan marvels at how it changes the shape of his jaw, and trails the new creases with his tongue. "Now I wish I hadn't asked." He snorts at what Nathan's doing. "You know you don't get any less weird on better acquaintance?" With that critique, he guides Nathan back to his mouth: mostly coffee, and lingering toothpaste. Nathan does have some doubts as to whether he's really processing normally again yet.

Duke actually gets as far as walking them a few steps toward the bed, then stops, with a curse. Taking this further here and now really isn't in the cards. "We never come here," he points out instead, breaking apart and picking up stray items from the floor. Nathan can't claim that it's Wade's doing -- Wade barely touched the place. He's just been messy since he came back. "We've never had sex on that bed. We ought to come back and break it in properly."

Nathan shakes his head. "Might have to wait a few days. Processing. House is a crime scene." He's still putting off the moment he has to explain this in depth.

Downstairs, they can hear from the noises, voices and doors and sudden activity, that an ambulance has arrived for Wade. Possibly for Nathan, too, when he thinks about it. He might not have much longer for his reprieve before he's dragged away.

"Wait," Duke catches. "Garland Wuornos never slept in this bed, did he?"

"Not in this bed," Nathan says wryly.

"Because that would be so, so wrong." Duke shudders. "I'm serious about this place, though. You have a freakin' huge house that needs some TLC. We could fit a bigger bed in here than on the Rouge, and you've got space for one of those giant wall TVs."

"Which would be a real waste of money just to watch the news." Nathan curls his mouth with teasing amusement. "I was thinking more along the lines of getting rid of the place altogether." Even more so, after this morning.

Duke gives him a suspicious look and doesn't respond to what was, Nathan has to admit as he re-examines it, pretty much a veiled proposition. Only, wait... He eyes Duke back with equal suspicion, and after a moment Duke cagily says, "Why don't we, uh, talk about this later? When you're more yourself."

Lexie is calling them from downstairs. Being Lexie, she is loud and unsubtle, telling them both to stop groping each other and come catch a ride back to the station for processing.

Nathan ducks his head out of the door to call a sharp acknowledgement, and turns back to Duke, pushing his head close in, though not for groping purposes, this time. "Lexie's getting the hang of police work too fast. I can't help but wonder if part of her still remembers being Audrey."

That hangs in the air between them, awful and impossible to ignore, like an unexploded bomb.

Duke hazards, carefully, "Audrey used to know things that she didn't remember how she knew. Like how to make that freakin' eternal campfire that put all our scouting skills to shame. It's probably just that."

Nathan nods slowly, but he isn't sure.

They venture out onto the landing. He can see, at the base of the stairs, Jordan and Dwight with their hands clasped between them. Dwight is theoretically in charge of this whole shebang, but as Nathan watches the mill of people, it seems to him that Lexie's the one telling everyone what to do. Dwight is quiet and grim and wholly absorbed in the contact of his big hand with the slimmer hand of Jordan, at his side.

"Funny thing," Duke says sourly, stepping behind Nathan, planting a few audible pats on his back, or possibly butt, to hustle him on, "Jordan got to lose her Trouble after all. Except now when the Troubles end, I'm guessing so does she. Which would be funny, only it's really, really not."

"Dwight doesn't have much luck, either," Nathan agrees. "Still, at least now she has something to... live for."

Duke snorts and qualifies, "For a given value of 'living'," and misses the significance of that altogether.

Or maybe he doesn't, because a few steps further down, his whole demeanour changes, stiff and uncertain, like his body's half turned to stone, taking each step in a lurch, and finally he stops and asks, so very quietly, "What will you do now, if Lexie remembers loving you?"

Nathan doesn't have any answer to give him at all.

 

END