It didn't seem real before. Not until Duke got a third set of dishes for his boat.
Nathan stared at the red tin cup that was offered to him. His hands stopped in the middle of buttoning up his shirt. The cup was unmistakably new. He kept staring for too long.
"What," Duke said, thrusting the cup toward him. No whisky was spilled, but it was a near thing. "Is the china not delicate enough for your exquisite tastes?"
Nathan looked away and resumed buttoning his shirt. "No, thanks," he said. The last thing he needed was to get drunk.
"Suit yourself," Audrey said, swooping in and snatching the cup from Duke. Her tone was caught between amusement and exasperation. The baggy t-shirt she wore had to belong to Duke. It was also the only thing she wore. She leaned against the table, her mussed hair loosely framing that little knowing smile of hers, the one that was equal parts infuriating and endearing. The sight was almost irresistible, even more so because she was calculatingly aware of it.
"You're leaving?" she asked.
Nathan shot her a look. Of course he was leaving.
Duke toasted him. "You're an ass, but I think you know that already," he said, before downing his whisky in one go.
That was Nathan's cue. He grabbed his jacket and pushed past Duke. Duke, with his open shirt and his earthy-musky-fresh scent and that unfriendly but not unwelcome growl in his voice.
Neither of them tried to hold him back.
The hatch fell shut behind Nathan with a loud bang. He stopped for a moment under the thinly clouded sky with its barely visible stars and breathed in deeply.
He carefully didn't ponder what exactly it was that left him more hollow each time, whether it was his continuing inability to withstand the temptation of both of them, or his desperate urge to bolt in the aftermath.
He remembered that it used to be easy.
Actually, that wasn't true.
He remembered that it used to be easy to find excuses.
"He does what?" Duke asked. The last word almost came out as a squeak, and under different circumstances Nathan would have teased him about it. They were crouching, squeezed together, behind the counter in Duke's bar.
"He lowers people's inhibitions," Audrey repeated. "It's like being drunk, minus the stumbling around and running into things. Or the puking."
She turned and peered over the bar to assess the scene.
To Duke's left, Nathan raised himself up on his knees to do the same. "The jury's still out on that last one," he pointed out.
She made a face. "Don't even joke about that. Things would get so very messy."
The bar was in complete chaos. People in various stages of nakedness were dancing about, the jukebox and several singers were intoning at least three different songs at the same time, the bar's stock of desserts was being rapidly consumed, and several couples were engaged in increasingly x-rated things. Not to mention the people escalating into violence with a side order of property damage.
On the plus side, Braddock wasn't in sight anymore.
"I'll call in for backup," Nathan said over Duke's head. "It should be safe now."
Duke was still sitting on the floor between them. "Are we talking acting on secret desires here? Stuff you dream about but would never actually do?"
"You have any 'secret desires' we should worry about, Duke?" Nathan asked.
"No," Duke said.
The lie was so glaringly obvious, Nathan could have spotted it from a mile away. "Right," he said and pulled out his cell to make the call to the station.
"Why am I not surprised that you have hidden depths?" Audrey mused. Her tone turned instantly serious when she added, "Braddock. Over there."
Nathan turned his head and spotted a foot through the window, just as it disappeared from sight. Braddock was climbing the stairs to Audrey's apartment.
It would have been too much to ask for Duke to do as he was told for once. And knowing what he already did at the time, Duke was an idiot to follow them upstairs. Still, he did. Nathan wasn't really surprised. The surprise came later.
Tyler Braddock, the average guy in average clothing with his average job as a bank teller, put as much space between them all as he could in Audrey's living room, saying, "Don't come closer! I can't help it! I don't want to, but I can't help it!"
Audrey's words and soothing voice weren't enough to calm him down. When Nathan took one step too many toward him, Braddock jumped and squeezed his eyes shut.
After that things got a little hazy.
Nathan remembered dropping his gun to the floor at some point. He remembered turning around to the sight of Duke grabbing Audrey by the shoulders and kissing her.
That wasn't right. Something about that picture wasn't right. He had to... do something. And he did. He crossed the distance in three long steps and pulled them apart. He had a little help from Audrey, who was pushing Duke away.
"Duke," she told him. "Stop. You're not..."
Nathan stared at her mouth as she talked, but her words didn't register. It hit him then, just how beautiful Audrey was, how lovely, and spirited, and dedicated, and full of mystery. Nathan couldn't count the times he'd wanted to do what Duke had just done. For the life of him, he couldn't say why he never had.
He put a hand on her cheek, stroking his thumb along her cheekbone, and marveled at the very real feeling of her skin against his. Her eyes flew toward him and grew wide.
He leaned in and kissed her lightly on the lips. The feeling was pure bliss.
"Nathan," she said afterwards, in apology, and took a step back.
Before Nathan could think of following her, like he very much intended to do, he was spun away from her. Hands cupped his face. Duke. It was Duke, who pulled him in and crushed their lips together, who let out a sound like a sigh of relief mixed together with a moan of pleasure. It made something in Nathan's chest twist in an unfamiliar way.
This was wrong, this wasn't anything Nathan had ever thought about before, this was Duke. He lifted his hands to... something, and ended up putting one on Duke's neck and the other on his waist, leaning in further as Duke pulled back.
He navigated on instinct, without any sensory feedback beyond the noises Duke kept making. Had he been clear-headed, he would have worried about angles and force, how it was feeling for the person on the other end, if it was off the mark or hitting the spot.
But then again, if Nathan were clear-headed, he wouldn't be doing this in the first place. He wouldn't be crowding into Duke's space for more.
Because, yes, somehow this was exactly what he wanted right now, to hear Duke make those sounds. And Duke did, when they started kissing in earnest, aggressively like Nathan hadn't done in years, with hands clutching at clothing, teeth clacking together. Over the rush of blood in his ears Nathan couldn't even make out what it was that Audrey yelled at them before she left.
"I promised Braddock that he wasn't going to get prosecuted for murder," Audrey told him later. "The bank robbers killed each other, so why would he be?"
"Okay," Nathan said, staring down at his hands.
"Look," Audrey started, then she seemed to run out of ideas. He sympathized.
One ambulance over, Duke was slapping away the prodding hands of a medic. He met Nathan's eyes for one awkward moment. Thankfully, things hadn't progressed any further than kissing. But, god, Nathan would carry that memory with him for a long time.
"We're good, right?" Audrey asked after a very long silence.
"We're good," Nathan confirmed, and he meant it.
Those first kisses? Braddock made him do it.
Nathan was good at not talking about things. He'd had the very best teacher for more than two decades. Audrey was scary good at it as well. Duke, though, had apparently never in his life attended a lesson on how to keep his mouth shut, which, considering his occupation, was a bit of a surprise.
Because, one late night, Duke sat down opposite him in Rita's Bar and Grill and said, "We need to talk."
Nathan barely looked up from his fries. "I'm off duty and I'm having dinner. Can't this wait?"
"You could invite me to join you," Duke pointed out, like that was a reasonable idea, and took a seat.
"Seems like you already invited yourself," Nathan said dryly as he watched Duke steal his soda and take a sip.
Leaning forward in a move that looked completely casual, Duke put the glass back where he'd found it and said, "Look, about last week..."
Nathan pushed his plate away. He'd suddenly lost his appetite. "We're not talking about this," he said.
It was Duke's laid-back attitude more than anything that made Nathan's blood pressure rise. Nathan had been dreaming about that evening, had been thinking about it on and off for days, and Duke was just sitting there, looking for all the world like they were discussing the weather. Like he'd just shaken off this... this thing exactly the way Nathan wanted to be able to.
"I'm not trying to steal her away from you, okay?" Duke sounded earnest. That tone of voice never failed to get alarm bells ringing in Nathan's head. "And when it comes to you," Duke continued, then hesitated. "I'm not actually..."
The words slipped out before Nathan had the chance to think them through. "Trying to get in my pants?" he finished.
If Nathan had wanted to see Duke's façade crack, well, he got to see it.
"Don't even try to give me that attitude," Duke snapped, eyes narrowing. "You kissed me right back. That wasn't just me. You were as into it as I was. So don't go all high and mighty on me."
Nathan glanced around quickly to see who might be listening in. "Could you possibly yell any louder? I don't think they heard you on the other side of town!"
"Oh, so that's the problem? Afraid they'll call you a fag? Or afraid they'll call it an illicit affair with a criminal?"
"Duke," Nathan said through clenched teeth. "Shut up."
Duke didn't, of course. Duke took a deep breath and continued. "I came here to tell you that you can stop avoiding me. I'm not going to try anything. I'm not going to try anything with Audrey either. Though it would serve you right, to have someone snatch her up from right under your nose. You don't even know how much of an idiot you are."
Nathan opened his mouth for a retort, but Duke pointed a finger at him. "Take it from someone who knows you and occasionally even likes you a little: Nathan, when it comes to Audrey, you are a complete idiot."
With that Duke sat back and crossed his arms.
Nathan studied him for a moment, not sure how they'd gone from trading accusations to handing out dating advice. Finally, he asked, "What do you want, Duke?"
"I want things to go back to the way they were before," Duke said. "I miss my personal law enforcement detail observing my every move, okay? There, I said it. I know we'll never be friends, but I think you're sharp and resourceful and not entirely useless in a crisis. I like that in a man. And no, before you ask, I'm not coming on to you."
Nathan could barely stop the smile that threatened to appear on his face.
"In conclusion," Duke said, "it would be great if we could just pretend that day never happened and go back to being... whatever it was we were before."
"Okay," Nathan said.
"Why do you always have to..." Duke began, getting into the spirit of the argument they weren't having, before stopping himself short. "What?"
"Who's the idiot now?" Nathan said and shook his head. "That's all I wanted in the first place."
Duke blinked. "Oh," he said.
"Yeah, oh," Nathan mocked.
In retaliation, Duke stole his fries.
Nathan let him.
Nathan didn't usually hate the woods. He only hated them in the dark, when it was late, and when his car was out of gas, and his cell without service, and he himself out of patience.
"Who forgets to fill up their tank for a drive up into the woods? How much of an idiot can you be?" he shouted.
"I told you, the gauge said it was three-quarters full!" Duke yelled right back from where he was rummaging in the back of the truck. "I couldn't have known!"
"Guys," Audrey said as she climbed out of the front with her rucksack and closed the door. "Not again. You yell any louder, and our target will hear us from fifty miles away."
She had a point.
Nathan turned to her. "Why did we take him with us again?"
Duke had found a ludicrously bright flashlight which he aimed at Nathan's face. "The correct question would be, 'Why did we force him to play chauffeur for us?' This wasn't my idea, remember?" He added in a truly awful imitation of Nathan's voice, "'Hand over your keys, Duke. Your truck is confiscated for the greater good, Duke, so I can save kittens and puppies and play hero once more.'"
Squinting heavily, Nathan raised a hand to shield his eyes against the light. "If you'd just given me the damn keys we wouldn't be here right now."
"Correction, I wouldn't be here. You'd still have run out of gas."
"And whose fault would that have been?"
"Don't make me shoot you," Audrey shouted from a good distance away. Nathan hadn't realized she'd walked off. Judging by the way Duke was looking around searchingly, he hadn't either. "Come on," she added. "We need to find a spot to spend the night and build a fire. We can't walk back in the dark."
"Great, a night in the woods with Haven's two most reliable monster magnets. What's not to love about that idea?" Duke said to no one in particular as he followed her.
"Doesn't even have a spare can in the truck," Nathan muttered, just loud enough for Duke to hear. He was ignored. He wasn't sure whether that felt like a triumph or not.
It took a while to get the fire going. Finding dry wood wasn't as easy as either of them had thought. Duke turned out to be the most successful of the three of them in regard to survival techniques. After thirty minutes he had a moderately sized fire crackling in a small sink flanked by four trees not far from the road. Nathan sat down with his back against the most comfortable-looking one.
Duke and Audrey settled down right next to him, squeezing him in, with shoulders and legs and knees bumping into his, like that was the normal thing to do with enough space around the fire to comfortably hold half of Haven's police force. There was no need to share body heat or anything like that. It wasn't that cold, or so Nathan thought. They had no reason to sit that close.
"Don't get me wrong, Duke, but I think I love you," Audrey said when Duke produced a bottle of something alcoholic that Nathan couldn't read the label of. He must have found that in the back of the truck as well.
For some reason, Duke didn't immediately throw a witty comeback at Audrey. After a moment of silence that stretched on too long, he cleared his voice and retorted, "That's what they all say."
"Right," Audrey said, frowning slightly. With a shake of her head she handed each of them a small package of cookies.
"Thanks," Nathan said. He himself had brought some water for this trip, because he wasn't without foresight like other people he could mention.
He gave her a bottle, which she opened and took a grateful sip from. Nathan was caught by the sight for a moment, by her skin glowing in the firelight, her throat working as she swallowed, close enough for him to touch, so close that they were touching, in fact. He remembered that day in her living room, when she...
"Hey, what about me?" Duke asked, sounding offended.
Nathan blinked. "What about you?"
"Should I go suck the dew from the leaves? Or I suppose I could just keep this to myself." He hugged the mysterious alcoholic beverage to his chest.
"Don't be mean, Duke," Audrey told him. "Or no more cookies for you."
"Tell that to him!"
"Nathan?" Audrey said in that tone of hers that made it impossible to disobey.
The plastic bottle Nathan threw at Duke in a high arc hit him in the thigh, perilously close to more sensitive parts of his anatomy. "Thanks," Duke said sarcastically. "See if I share anything with you."
"I'm crushed," Nathan said. "I was counting on my share of your... What is it you're bringing to the table again?"
Had Nathan been able to feel pain, he would definitely have felt it when Duke pushed the bottle against his chest with a lot more force than necessary. "Here. Drink. And shut up."
Nathan reached for the bottle just when Duke snatched it back. "On second thought, no. Shouldn't you stay clear-headed? Who are you looking for again?"
"Don't ask," Audrey said.
"It amuses me that you think this line will discourage me."
"No, seriously," Nathan said. He took a bite from a cookie and continued, "Don't ask. We can't tell you."
Duke turned his head and looked at him disbelievingly. "Nathan," he said. "I'm shocked. You, of all people? Chew, swallow, then talk. Who taught you manners?"
Nathan glared at both of them in turn.
"So what," Duke asked, "is this a 'we could tell you, but then we'd have to shoot you' thing?"
"I wish," Audrey said. "We literally can't talk about... our target. I can't even tell you his name. It's his trouble. Two days ago he..." She stopped and made a face.
Nathan indicated her with his thumb. "See? Like that," he told Duke.
"Let me guess," Duke said. "Once he figured out no one could breathe a word about whatever they saw him do, he went on a crime spree."
There was a short silence, punctuated by the crunching noises of three people chewing cookies.
"It worries me that you immediately draw the right conclusion," Audrey finally said.
"Really?" Nathan asked. "I'm not surprised."
"Of course you're not," Duke muttered and opened the bottle. The tone in his voice and his jerky movements suggested he was suddenly angry.
"What?" Nathan asked. "What did I do now?"
Audrey leaned forward to catch a glance at Duke's face. "Duke?"
"I'm not as much of an asshole as you seem to think, Nathan," Duke said and took a swig from the bottle. "You always expect the worst of me, and it pisses me off."
"What? Why?" Nathan asked, genuinely puzzled. They had never been friends, and Duke himself had predeicted they'd never be, so why the hell should Duke care?
"Why do you think?" Duke snapped and drank once more.
"Oh," Audrey said.
It took a moment longer for Nathan to catch on and remember the Braddock incident.
The silence that followed was the kind that sprang from everyone thinking the same thing, and no one being willing or able to lay it out in the open.
"So, do we need to be careful here?" Duke finally asked, and then added for clarification, "About your target?"
Nathan pulled the bottle from his grip. "Not yet," he said.
"He's..." Audrey began, and was forced to stop. She sighed. "Let's just say we would have had to drive at least another hour to get there."
"Just ordinary dangers of the wilderness here," Nathan said and took a drink of what turned out to be godawful cheap vodka.
"Oh joy," Duke said, and Audrey snickered.
They shared the vodka. Nathan didn't watch the others drink, or think about where that bottleneck had been a few moments before he took another swig.
When the bottle was empty, his eyelids were getting heavy. At some point they had stretched out on the forest ground, making themselves more comfortable. He fell asleep to a concerto of deep breathing and the sound of the leaves whispering in the trees.
Nathan slid into consciousness slowly to the feeling of breath grazing his cheek and an arm tightening around his waist. He turned into it, into the warmth, the sensation, pulled Audrey close before he realized what he was doing and who he was doing it with.
"Nathan," she sighed against his lips and kissed him.
It was everything and nothing like his hazy memory of their first kiss. It was the same kind of bliss, but with the razor sharp edge of decision and awareness. It hit him like a physical blow usually couldn't and led his thoughts astray in ways he wouldn't have predicted.
Audrey was different, he thought, not only because she could be felt where others could only be seen and heard. She was amazing. He had daydreamed about her even before she had even touched him, before he had kissed her. And then there had been Duke. Duke was a different story. Duke wasn't nice. He wasn't selfless or honorable or any of the things Audrey was in spades. Duke's kisses had held more questions than answers and, strangely, a promise for more, for something indefinable.
If Nathan were forced to at gunpoint, he couldn't have picked the more exhilarating or shocking of the two memories.
A noise to his left made Nathan pull back reluctantly. Duke. Right. They were in the woods, resting on the forest floor under a tree. Duke was watching them, propped up on one elbow, with a strange expression on his face.
Before Nathan could say anything, Audrey fisted a hand in Duke's shirt.
"Oh, Duke," she said fondly, pulled him in across Nathan's chest and kissed him as well.
The noise Duke made as a result sounded as surprised as Nathan felt, but he recovered quickly and started kissing her back. It happened not twenty inches from Nathan's nose. He could hear their quickening breathing and the soft wet noises as tongues came into play. Their faces were mostly just silhouetted against the glow of the dying fire, but there wasn't much left to the imagination.
The only thing Nathan was feeling, actually sensing, was the pressure of Audrey half-leaning against his ribcage. That, and the view, was apparently enough.
For Nathan more than anyone, sex happened inside his head. The brain was the most important sexual organ, as the doctors never got tired of telling him. The other senses and his imagination could compensate to a degree, they said, and since his physical reaction to stimulation wasn't impaired, he should not deny himself the release. They were right. It worked, but it had never been as easy as they had made it sound. It had never been as easy as it was now. His brain was sending blood rushing where it had no business rushing under these circumstances. The sight shouldn't turn him on as much as it did.
Nathan must have made a noise or a move, he wasn't sure which, but Audrey and Duke surfaced. Duke had a dazed look about him as he licked his lips.
Audrey raised an eyebrow at Nathan's expression. "Come on," she said. "Like you didn't see this coming from a mile away."
Duke chuckled, the sound low and unfamiliar.
"Uh," Nathan said, and then Audrey cupped his cock through his jeans, effectively shutting down rational thought. He raised a hand, he wasn't sure what for, and found that Duke's hand was clutching it. He was still staring at their joined hands and puzzling about the sight when Audrey gave his cock a squeeze. She hummed in satisfaction when Nathan let his head fell back against the tree with a small groan. It had been too long since he'd been able to feel anything like this.
Duke's voice sounded a little strangled when he asked, "You felt that?"
"Her," Nathan answered, struggling to focus. "Just her."
"Oh, god," Duke said. "You can... That's..."
He never elaborated, just crushed his lips to Nathan's like he did that first time, kissing him. Audrey lowered his zipper, and Nathan grabbed blindly for her, found the place where he could slip his hand up her shirt, sliding against soft skin. His other hand was still trapped in Duke's grip.
When Audrey freed Nathan's cock and started stroking it, Duke kept swallowing his moans with kisses.
Between Audrey and Duke, between the sensation and the observation, Nathan felt the pressure building inside him. It was a glorious head rush, like he hadn't experienced in a long time, but somehow it wasn't enough. He pulled his mouth away, panting. "Let me," he said, tugging at one of Audrey's belt loops. "Audrey, let me."
She did. She knelt beside him as he sat up. With Duke's help they worked her trousers open and down a little, until Nathan could slip his hand inside. He could feel her. He could navigate her body by touch. He didn't have to look to know what he was doing. He could kiss her, or lick her neck, or tongue her ear while he was sliding his fingers inside her and rubbing his thumb against her clit. It had been so long that the sensations seemed new and strange and doubly arousing.
Nathan was so focused on her that he had no clue what it was Duke had been doing to his cock since he took over from Audrey. It had to be working, because Nathan could feel his orgasm approaching like a freight train on the fast track, unstoppable.
He pressed an open-mouthed kiss against Audrey's temple. She was trembling in his arms and panting. One of her hands stopped clutching his shirt. Nathan followed its path with his eyes until she buried it in Duke's hair, who was... Duke had his mouth on Nathan's cock. He was sliding his lips down the length as Nathan watched, stunned. Audrey bit his neck then, and this combination sent him over the edge without warning. It wasn't the slow-motion tidal wave he was used to these days, the explosion without heat. As his body seized up, fire spread through him, starting from that one point where her lips touched his skin. It was conclusion and relief and promise all at once.
Things got confusing after that. Nathan was a little dazed anyway, and then Duke's fingers joined his own inside and against Audrey, which Nathan only knew because he looked when the sensations suddenly didn't make sense anymore.
In the end Audrey came with Duke's fingers inside her, and with her hand and Nathan's intertwined on Duke's cock, jerking him off fast and dirty, if somewhat ineffectively. Duke wasn't complaining, though. When her rhythm faltered, Nathan picked it up and paced them. With Audrey panting hotly against his shoulder, and Duke making the kind of noises Nathan had heard once before, that evening in Audrey's living room, he couldn't help but lean in and take Duke's mouth again, kissing him into orgasm and through.
The silence afterward, when they were lying side by side by side on the ground, was deafening and more effective than any cold shower. Nathan stared at the outline of the trees above him as consequences rushed up to meet him.
"Nathan. Stop thinking so loudly," Audrey said. "I can practically hear the wheels turning."
"You're not freaking out, are you?" Duke asked, and he had the gall to sound amused.
It was too much. Nathan gathered what sanity he had left and got to his feet so quickly he felt dizzy for a moment. "I'll wait in the truck," he said and quickly did up his jeans as he walked away.
"Nathan, wait," Audrey called after him.
Duke held her back. "Audrey," Nathan heard him say, "stop. It's no use when he's like this."
Nathan walked up to the road, not looking back. He checked his watch. They wouldn't have to wait much longer.
They started at first light, Nathan a few paces ahead of the other two. The formation was only broken when Audrey sped up her steps just outside town.
"Nathan," she said, and he recognized that tone of voice, the one that preceded meaningful conversation.
"We're not talking about this," Nathan said. "There is nothing to talk about. It was a mistake. It's not going to happen again."
"Why not?" she asked. "We all wanted it, no one was hurt in the process, and we had fun."
"Fun," he repeated. It wasn't supposed to be just about fun. There was supposed to be more to sex than that. He'd never seen the appeal in one-night stands or the concept of friends with benefits. That just wasn't something he did, and he had no idea how he had gotten himself into this whole mess.
"Yes," she said. "Don't tell me you didn't have fun."
"We're not talking about this," he reminded her.
"But..." she started.
"Parker," he snapped, and that effectively cut the conversation short.
It cut their conversations short for days afterwards, actually.
That first time? The vodka made him do it.
The situation with Audrey leveled out after a few strained days at work, but Nathan still caught himself staring at her. He hoped she didn't notice. She didn't try to broach the subject again, even though she looked like she really wanted to a few times.
Duke, at least, was easily avoided. He seemed to be doing his best to stay out of Nathan's way as well, so things were working out nicely in that regard.
Then they lost Lydia Carver to a thunderstorm of her own creation.
"She was only thirteen," Audrey whispered when they loaded the body into the coroner's van.
Nathan lost sight of her after that. There were official things to do. Lydia's parents were waiting for him in the house. He couldn't just leave.
After some deliberation, he cursed silently and pulled out his phone to call Duke.
He found them both a few hours later around the table in her living room. She was nursing a coffee. Duke was sitting next to her, and she was letting him hold her hand. That was perhaps the most surprising part of the entire thing.
"Audrey," Nathan said. "Duke."
"Nathan," Duke returned the somewhat frosty greeting and didn't let go of her hand.
She looked up. "Hey," she said, smiling faintly. "I'm sorry for abandoning you out there. I just couldn't..." Her voice trailed off.
"What's going on?" Nathan asked. It was directed at Duke as much as her.
Audrey stared into her cup.
He exchanged a look with Duke, who shrugged almost imperceptibly.
Nathan sat down in the chair opposite her. "Audrey," he said again.
"That's not even my name!" She slammed the cup down on the table. "That's not who I am. I don't know who I am. I'm a copy at best. I'm my own trouble."
"Audrey," Nathan repeated firmly. "We've been through this. Maybe you started out with a set of stolen memories, but you're your own person now. You're not that other Audrey anymore. You're unique. You're you."
"And we like you just the way you are," Duke said, his voice reassuring.
Nathan's head was still ringing with Duke's casual use of 'we', when Audrey pushed back her chair and started pacing. "That's great. That's wonderful. But what good am I to Haven if I can't save anyone? I'm supposed to help the troubled, that's why I'm here, and I fail over and over again. What am I missing? Is it me? Maybe I would be better at this if I were someone else." She gave a hollow laugh. "Maybe I will wake up tomorrow and be someone else, because the old me wasn't up for the task."
"Audrey," Duke said and grabbed her wrist as she passed by him. "Stop."
Nathan looked at her tight expression and thought once again that, of all of the people in Haven, she had the biggest burden to carry. Everyone else had their problems and their troubles, but at least they knew who they were and where they came from. And none of them were expected to play savior to a whole town. It was too much to ask of one person. He wanted to take this burden away from her so badly he could taste it.
Duke rose and took Audrey into his arms.
If Nathan had kept sitting there, had simply watched Audrey draw comfort from the embrace, things would have turned out differently.
But he didn't. He went over to them and put a hand on her shoulder. The gesture was meant to be reassuring, nothing more.
Somehow, it backfired. Somehow Audrey was suddenly turning around and kissing him, a desperate kiss that took no prisoners. Duke watched them over her shoulder, his mouth too close for Nathan to resist when her lips slid away along his jaw line and down his neck.
Later Nathan couldn't have said how they'd gotten into the bedroom, or who had helped whom out of which pieces of clothing.
He only knew they ended up naked in Audrey's bed, him on his back, Audrey straddling him. She was pinning his wrists to the mattress and kissing him, deep and dirty, tasting a little of salt.
"Come on, Duke, do it already," she was whining, in between kisses, and, "Duke, what the hell is taking so long?"
And then, when Duke complied, her skin slid deliciously against Nathan's cock with every one of Duke's thrusts, and her kisses and noises grew more desperate. By the time Duke was coming with a groan, Nathan was far too close to the edge as well.
Duke plopped down flat on his back next to them, breathing heavily in post-orgasmic bliss. His palm was still sliding in soothing circles over Audrey's back. He turned his head and grinned when he caught Nathan staring.
The distraction was apparently enough for Audrey to pluck another condom from the nightstand drawer without Nathan noticing where exactly things were headed. When she slid down on him, taking him inside her, it was all he could do not to come on the spot. He squeezed his eyes shut and thought of... Goddamnit.
"Nathan," she said. "Look at me."
He did, for one long, still moment, and found naked want and warm affection in her eyes. Then she started to move. He couldn't help but arc his back and meet her every downward slide, letting out hitching breaths and gasps that were almost embarrassingly loud.
"Do you have any idea," Duke suddenly spoke right next to his ear, "how much I want to be able to do this to you? What I would give to make you come undone like this?"
It sent a shudder through Nathan's body, because, yes, he wanted that too.
Then Audrey was kissing him, saying, "I'd pay money to see that."
He shuddered again at the thought of her, watching.
"Next time," she breathed against his lips, moving faster. "Next time."
She hooked a hand behind Duke's neck and pulled him in, kissing him wetly. Duke's mouth went from hers right to Nathan's, and it all blurred into one three-way kiss that didn't seem like it would end anytime soon.
It did, though, when Duke cupped Audrey's breast and tweaked one of her nipples. She keened and came just before Nathan did, crashing and burning in a white-hot high.
Audrey collapsed on top of him and caught her breath. She rolled off of him after a minute and settled into the space between them. Nathan listened to their breathing slowing down and felt rational thought creeping back in. When Duke started to pull the blankets over the three of them, that was Nathan's signal.
He slipped from the bed and picked up his scattered clothes. Duke sighed behind him, which Nathan ignored. He got dressed in Audrey's living room.
She followed him there, pulling the belt of her dressing gown tight as she entered.
"Where are you going?" she asked.
"I've got follow-up to do at the station on... You know," he said. It wasn't even a lie.
"Okay," she said and visibly dismissed the idea of asking him not to leave.
She stepped forward and kissed him, quickly, on the mouth. "Thanks. I needed this. You. Thank you."
He closed his eyes and let himself imagine, just for a few seconds.
"Don't work too late," Duke's voice came from the bedroom doorstep, and the image frayed.
Nathan opened his eyes, gave Duke a polite nod and left.
That second time? The grief made him do it.
Neither Audrey nor Duke tried to talk to him about it, which was good. Duke didn't even try to avoid him anymore, and he got on splendidly with Audrey all of a sudden. Nathan refused to think about how splendidly they might get on when they were alone. His mind was occupied enough with not thinking about what had happened between the three of them.
The thing that went down afterwards, the thing where he spilt secrets like some troubled person had flipped the truth switch inside his head... That really wasn't his fault. He'd taken something of a beating, and the resulting concussion made his head pound in time with his pulse and his thoughts flow slower than honey. He couldn't be held responsible.
"Idiot," Duke was muttering. "Do-gooding, selfless, brainless idiot."
It had seemed like a good idea at the time, identifying himself as Duke Crocker to the hit man looking for one of Duke's shadier business contacts. It really had just been a means to stay in control of the situation, to keep Duke from blurting out anything that would have made a bad situation worse.
It had gotten worse, anyway. So much for that plan.
It was ironic, Nathan supposed, that the thing that had brought him down wasn't one of Haven's many troubles, but an ordinary foreigner with a gun, a job to do, and an extreme affinity for violence.
"When he comes back, I'll tell him whatever he wants to know," Duke said and... Was he running his fingers through Nathan's hair? And, for that matter, was Nathan's head really resting in Duke's lap, or was this, all of this, a hallucination?
"Don't be stupid," Nathan said, slurring the words only a little. "He'll kill us as soon as you do."
"Right. Okay. Then I'll tell him that I'm me. I mean, I'll tell him that you're not me," Duke said and blew out a frustrated sigh. "You know what I mean."
"But you can't... You can't take any more of this. At least one of your ribs is broken. There might be internal bleeding."
"Duke," Nathan said. "It's okay. I'm not feeling anything."
"Maybe you're not," Duke muttered, "but I am."
Nathan floated away on those words, twisting and turning them in his mind, their full meaning eluding his grasp for the time being.
A voice yelling right into his ear brought him a little closer to reality again.
"Stay awake," Duke was shouting at him. "You can still die, even if you don't feel it. So stay the fuck awake."
"Like I'm taking orders from you," Nathan said, blinking his eyes open and trying to focus on Duke's face.
"You should, just this once," Duke told him.
Nathan thought that maybe he actually would, just this once. "Since you asked so nicely."
Stay awake, he reminded himself dutifully, he had to stay awake, but his thoughts kept drifting, and with Duke so close by, of course they would wander there. He went with the images for a while.
"Back in school I used to think about you doing that to me," he finally said, and the sound of his own voice seemed to come from far away.
"What?" Duke asked. "Me doing what?"
"You sucking me off. It was..." Nathan licked his lips. His throat was too dry. "I was pathetic. You and your gang were stealing my lunch money, and I fantasized about you."
"Oh," Duke said, sounding baffled. "That's, uh."
"I know. Pathetic."
"No." Duke's body shook as he gave a laugh. The movement made Nathan even dizzier. "I guess you could say I was sort of... pulling your pigtails back then? That was part of it, I mean. You were hot even as a scrawny teenager. I noticed."
"Oh." Nathan frowned, trying to make sense of this. "Really?"
"It was a shame you were so uptight."
"No. It was a shame you were such a bully."
"Yeah," Duke said, suddenly sounding serious. "I know. I told you I'm sorry about that. I know that doesn't make it okay, but it's something, right?"
"I guess. A small something," Nathan conceded, waving his hand magnanimously.
Duke caught it with one of his own and chuckled as he bent down to press a kiss to Nathan's lips.
It was too good an idea and too much of a comfort as a sentiment to refuse. So Nathan didn't. He kissed back, slow and somewhat clumsy, he suspected, from the physical exertion he wasn't feeling.
The first halfway coherent thought that finally surfaced was Audrey.
"No," Nathan said and pushed Duke away.
Not without Audrey here was the second thing that popped into his head, but he kept that to himself, because it was a very strange thing to think.
"Right," Duke said, straightening up. "Not now. Not when you're..."
"Not now," Nathan confirmed, grateful for the ready-made excuse.
Despite Duke's efforts to keep him awake, he started to drift again, sinking into strange dreams filled with thunderstorms and deserts and the feeling of drowning in sand.
The garden variety criminal and his ordinary gun didn't come back. This was a very good thing. Nathan was pretty sure one of them would have ended up dead during the next visit from their information seeking hostage taker. He thought Duke knew it too.
Instead, Nathan awoke to the sight of Audrey storming in to bust them out of the cellar, apparently after she put a few bullets into the bad guy's chest.
"He's dead?" Duke asked.
"Yes," Audrey confirmed while carefully checking Nathan for injuries and then cupping his cheek for the shortest of moments.
"Good," Duke said with grim satisfaction.
In the ambulance, Nathan didn't meet Duke's eyes all the way to the hospital.
"Still not talking about it, huh?" Duke asked. His hand was closed around Nathan's again.
Nathan saw, but he pretended not to notice.
"Right. Got it," Duke said and didn't let go.
That time that didn't happen? The injuries stopped him from doing it.
The day their combined efforts saved a busload of senior citizens from a trouble-induced car crash, Duke invited them both over to his boat. He called it "a little celebration with drinks and take-away food. Yes, take-away. I wouldn't subject anyone I actually like to my cooking."
There was more to the offer than that, and they all knew it.
"Okay," Audrey said after a moment. "As long as it's not burgers."
"Nathan?" Duke asked.
The thing was, Nathan could handle the situation with either of them, individually. He could understand the what and the why and the how-did-we-get-here of the close-up. It was the full picture he had a problem with.
This, the three of them alone, was a bad idea. The outcome was just predictable enough for Nathan to know that it couldn't end well. He would be better off going home, heating some left-overs and switching on the TV. It would be the safe thing to do, the sane thing to do.
"Let's get Chinese," he said.
They got Chinese, and beer for good measure.
Nathan was somewhat surprised when they arrived at the boat and actually sat down to eat. He carefully didn't ponder why this surprised him.
He had to eat his fried noodles straight from the container, because Duke only owned two plates.
"Do you even have forks?" he asked and flipped the paper box open.
"And deprive you of the genuine cultural chopstick experience? I wouldn't dare," Duke said and pried his own set of chopsticks apart. "Unless they're too complicated for you to handle?"
In truth, they weren't easy to use without him being able to feel them in his hand, but Nathan would eat with just his fingers before admitting to it.
"I keep forgetting why I hardly ever have Chinese," Audrey said thoughtfully, halfway through her first spring roll. "This is awful."
"Try the duck. It's good," Duke said between bites and offered her the container.
Audrey tried it. "Better," she said, "but not by much."
She held it out to Nathan, who scooped up a bit and chewed thoughtfuly. "When you're right, you're right," he told her solemnly.
"You have no taste, no taste at all," Duke said, snatched the box back and proceeded to dig into it.
Nathan very nearly smiled to himself, before remembering that he didn't find Duke that funny or that endearing or that... anything, really.
Then Duke said something about the upcoming biennial spring festival and the many business opportunities presenting themselves during that tourist-rich time. Audrey was immediately interested in the origin of the festival and the events that would be taking place. Since Nathan had worked security during the event before, he had some in-depth knowledge to provide.
It was possibly the most civilized and enjoyable meal Nathan had ever had with Duke involved, and the longest conversation he'd had with Audrey that hadn't revolved around a case.
In the end, Audrey pushed away the rest of her chicken something-or-other, Nathan didn't remember what she'd ordered, and leaned back in her chair. "So," she said.
Duke raised an eyebrow at her.
Audrey rolled her eyes and slid her bare foot up Nathan's calf under the table. Nathan dropped his beer. Duke laughed so hard, Nathan had to shut him up somehow. A kiss was just the most effective method.
And, okay. Yes. Audrey had been right. It was fun.
That night, Audrey made good on her promise. That night she watched as Nathan let Duke fuck him. She watched him come apart under Duke's hands. She kept talking to him, her voice low and rough with arousal, describing to him what he couldn't see himself. Because even face to face with Duke, there were limits to the information his working senses could provide. "Three fingers now, he's got three fingers inside you," she'd say, and, "He's pushing in now. God that's so..." She'd never finish that sentence, just trail off on a moan.
Nathan only sort of felt it when Duke started to fuck him. He was usually aware, to a certain degree, when his center of mass was shifted, or his muscle response changed. It wasn't feeling, exactly. It wasn't even close. But he could also watch Duke move above him, and listen to his harsh breathing. He could hear Audrey's words flow continually and grow increasingly urgent, could watch her slide one hand between her legs and the other to her breasts and bring herself off to the sight of them.
He could only watch and listen, but it was more than enough.
"Is this..." Duke gasped out at one point and his hand searched out Nathan's cock. "Are you..."
"Yeah," Nathan said and dug his fingers into Duke's upper arms. "It's building. Don't stop." He let one hand glide up to Duke's shoulder and down over his chest and flicked a nipple with his thumb.
"I can't... I'm close." Beads of sweat were dropping from Duke's nose, and his face held a look of intense concentration. It was one of the most arousing sights Nathan had ever seen.
"Finish yourself off," Audrey whispered into his ear, close, but not close enough. "Come on, Nathan. Let us see you touch yourself."
He did as asked, replacing Duke's hand on his cock. His strokes were fast and probably too hard, and he kept watching in turns the look on Duke's face and the muscles in Duke's stomach as they flexed rhythmically, and Audrey's hands as she ran them over her own skin.
When the orgasm started to hit, it slammed into him from a several directions and once, hard and cold and delicious, crushing him in between to the point where he had to stop breathing. He was distantly aware of Duke shouting out his own release, and then Audrey kissed him.
It was the first actual, real sensation since she'd slid the sole of her foot against his calf, and it pushed him over another precipice into what felt like zero gravity. He wouldn't admit it later, but he did black out for a few moments.
It wasn't far from a little blacked-out to fully asleep. That was what Nathan told himself, at least, when he woke later that night with Audrey's arm around his waist and Duke's legs tangled with his own. He laid still for a moment, staring at the ceiling, wondering how he got there, and why 'there' didn't feel more uncomfortable.
He tried not to wake them when he disentangled himself, but wasn't successful. Duke followed him from the bedroom. He stopped Nathan's hunt for his shirt with a hand on his chest. "You don't have to leave, you know," he said with an earnest look on his face.
Nathan knocked his hand away. "Really, Duke? Why should I stick around? So I can stumble across one of your secret compartments filled with... I don't know, something illegal, because that is just who you are? And then I'll have to arrest you, because that is who I am. Is that what you want?"
Duke stared at him for a moment. "I want you," he said, "to get over yourself and stop being such an ass. You know what I think? I think you're looking for excuses. Stop it, okay? You wouldn't be here if you didn't want to be here. I know that and you know that. So stop being such a coward and deal with it."
Nathan reminded himself that he really did not want to have this discussion. "Get out of the way," he said in as menacing a voice as he could manage.
"Nice," Duke said. "Dangerous is a very good look for you."
"Fine," Duke snapped and stepped aside. "But get dressed first. People might talk."
He stalked off, probably back to bed. Back to Audrey.
Nathan shook himself and went in search for his shirt.
That time, and all the ones that came after? He didn't have any excuses.
"You realize nothing's changed, right?" Audrey asked and scooped up some cherry pie.
Nathan blinked. "What?"
"You, me, Duke?" she said, like it was obvious, and maneuvered the over-laden fork into her mouth. She sighed happily and started chewing.
Nathan was sure they had just been talking about Manny Harper's copy shop and his suspicious orders of high end paper, toner and ink. After all, they were technically on duty, even if they were currently taking a break at Joe's bakery.
Audrey swallowed and took a quick sip of her coffee. "I know, I know," she said, "we're not talking about this. But you can listen." She paused and looked down at his hands, which were clutching his coffee cup harder than necessary. "That must be scalding. You'll burn yourself."
He let go. His skin was red where it had touched the porcelain. "Thanks," he said.
"Oh, Nathan," she said.
"What?" he asked sharply. That combination of fondness and exasperation was getting more and more irritating every time she aimed it in his direction.
"Look at us," she said. "It's business as usual, and it has been for weeks. Well, as usual as life in Haven can get. On the surface, nothing's changed. You realize that, right?"
"I'm not sure I understand what you're getting at."
She gave a sigh that communicated Don't I know it very clearly. "I'm saying that it works. That it's different and, yes, a little scary, but it doesn't change who we are, or who we are to each other. It's not new, just more than before."
Nathan frowned at her.
"You're lucky that you're cute when you're in denial," Audrey said and squinted at something over Nathan's shoulder.
Nathan was torn between forming a suitable reply and figuring out what she found so interesting. He turned and saw that it was Duke, climbing from his truck a few houses down the street. Another man exited on the passenger side. He was short and almost bald and sported a few prison tattoos. They exchanged a few words and parted ways. Duke spotted Audrey and Nathan sitting at the table outside the bakery and greeted them with a wave of his hand.
Audrey was wrong, Nathan realized. Things had changed. He wanted Duke to come over and join them. Not to keep an eye on him, with the option of punching his lights out later, and not to bend him over the nearest table, either. He wanted him there for the company, just as much as he wanted Audrey close. This was new. And it was scary. Audrey had been right about that at least.
Nathan got his wish. Duke walked over and stopped next to their table. "Hey," he said. "Taking a break?"
"We earned it," Nathan said and took a sip from his coffee.
Audrey stabbed her fork into the pie again and confirmed, "We did."
"I wish I had time for pie," Duke said. "But I need to get going."
"Duke," Audrey asked and looked up at him with her most innocent expression. "Who was that?"
"That." Nathan indicated his head at the man walking away on the sidewalk.
"Oh, that. Just a guy," Duke said and scratched his neck. The move was the most foolproof of Duke's tells.
"A guy," Nathan repeated.
"Business acquaintance," Duke clarified.
"What kind of business?" Audrey asked.
"The legal kind, okay?" Duke said with growing impatience. "Look, isn't there some purse snatcher you need to chase or something? Do you have to harass the law-abiding citizens of Haven during their day-to-day work?"
"Duke," Audrey said seriously.
"Audrey," he answered, equally as serious. "It's okay. It's nothing dangerous. Nothing I can't handle. Stop worrying."
"Now I'm worried," she said at the same time that Nathan said, "Who's worrying?"
"Oh, shut up." Duke shoved his hands in his pockets. "See you tonight at the boat?"
"Yes," she said. "We'll be there at eight."
Nathan didn't confirm, but he didn't object either.
Duke flashed them both a grin, before striding down the sidewalk, climbing into his truck and driving away.
Audrey finished her pie in silence, but with smile on her lips.
Nathan drank his coffee and thought about changes.
Duke didn't look surprised when he opened the hatch to let Nathan back in.
The red cup was still in Audrey's hand, and Audrey was still in Duke's shirt.
Nathan still wasn't sure he wanted to be there.
Audrey was at the table now, looking as inviting as ever. Nathan sat down opposite her and found a tin cup in front of him as if it had been waiting there for him to return. He picked it up and drank its contents down in one go.
"More?" Duke asked and held out the bottle. He was standing close, close enough to touch, and his shirt was still unbuttoned. Nathan couldn't help but run his eyes over the exposed skin. Naturally, they drifted to Duke's crotch in the end. It didn't matter that they'd been through this dance just a few hours before.
Audrey looked at him knowingly over the rim of her own cup. "Go ahead," she said and rested her chin in her hand. "Don't mind me. I'll just be sitting here, drinking my whisky, like it's any regular night."
Nathan swallowed hard as he watched her lick her lips. The move was either an unconscious one or expertly faked. Now he couldn't take his eyes off her.
But Duke could be counted on to be a pushy bastard. Slowly, intentionally, he stepped around the table and leaned down to kiss Audrey, dirty and deep. Just watching them made Nathan's toes curl inside his boots.
Afterwards, Audrey shoved Duke away playfully. He ruffled her hair.
While Duke was advancing on him, Nathan realized he had missed the perfect opportunity to get away clean. If he wanted to. Which he didn't.
Duke came to a stop in front of him and slid a hand into Nathan's hair. It was the same one that had been tangled in Audrey's just a minute ago. The gesture felt intense, close, intimate. Out of habit, Nathan's body tensed and geared up for flight. It was just one moment, but Duke felt it. His grip tightened in Nathan's hair.
"Stay," Duke said.
Nathan's eyes found Audrey. Her smile was warm.
"What are we doing?" Nathan asked, finally voicing the heart of his problem, the thing he just couldn't figure out. "What is this?"
"No idea," Audrey said, her smile morphing into a grin. "But I want to find out. Don't you?"
Nathan tilted his head in question at Duke, who shrugged. "What the lady said."
"Stay?" Audrey asked once more.
They were both looking at him, waiting for an answer. Nathan closed his fingers around Duke's wrist and met Audrey's grin with a smile of his own.
Then he pulled back from Duke and kicked out one of the remaining chairs. "Sit, Duke," he said. "Have a drink with us."
Audrey laughed. The sound was melodic and full of delight and made something in Nathan's chest unclench.
"Nice of you to offer me some of my own booze," Duke said as he sat down, but he was smiling.
"Mr. Generous, that's me." Nathan held out his empty cup.
"Since when?" Audrey asked, eyes twinkling, and Duke said, "I knew there was a reason I like you." He poured them all another drink.
They raised their cups.
"To beginnings," Audrey said, and they drank.