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When he's feeling petty, Duke reminds himself that Audrey never stands Nathan up.

They've been on stakeout, they've been for breakfasts -- fuck, Duke has made them breakfast -- and Audrey always goes if Nathan calls. The one time Duke offers, though, she stands him up, and not only that, but flat-out forgets to call. Because he isn't even worth the brush-off.

Maybe he hasn't quite gotten over it, even though it's been a few weeks, but no one's counting.

"You're starting early," the bartender offers. Norah's on vacation, so Duke hired someone just for a few weeks. The woman is good, professional, so when Duke looks at her, mostly smirk but a little hint of anger, she puts her hands up, palms-out. "Hey," she offers, "I'll pour, just saying."

For that, he gives her a sardonic smile, says, "It's five o'clock somewhere. Technically. In...Iceland, maybe." He might be a time zone off there, but it isn't like she'll know what time zone Reykjavik is in, either.

Usually, Duke drinks bottled beer -- hey, just because it's his restaurant doesn't mean he'll always trust the pipes and the taps, after all, he knows exactly when they were cleaned last -- but today flipping the top off the bottle seems like too much work. And since it's one-thirty on a Thursday and there's a blizzard outside, no one's in here anyway, so sitting at the bar doesn't mean he has to glad-hand his paying customers.

The bartender takes his near-empty glass and slides a full pint into his open hand right as Duke's about to complain, hand soft and chilled on his wrist, just for a moment. He nods to her again, puts a five in the tip jar behind the counter. Feels a weight lift as she goes down to the end of the bar to do...something, instead of try to talk to him again.

She's a good bartender, too good to be working for him especially since he can't remember her name, but that's why he was willing to pay her so well for the last-minute gig. No matter what Nathan might say, Duke knows something about what makes a restaurant and bar great, and it isn't just the food.

His phone buzzes, but Duke doesn't even pull it out of his pocket this time. Sanya had stopped calling after she thought he was getting "overly invested" (because nothing says commitment like ignoring a hot European esthetician for the chance that a police officer might look your way, then realizing, and calling too much to overcompensate), so it was Audrey or--

Well, no one, probably.

Duke drains the glass, stares at it moodily like he had the other two beers that had made up his lunch. This is Nathan levels of pathetic.

"You know," she says, voice conversational, "I've only been here two weeks, so call me crazy, but when you come down here to brood, the general atmosphere of 'people' lures you out of it in two beers. An observation only," she adds, hasty. "For science."

Things have gotten a little bit...softer around the edges. Three beers is nothing, but three beers on an empty stomach and no sleep, that's not nothing. Duke stands, doesn't sway. Says, "I'm heading back," for no particular reason.

She doesn't say anything like "take care" or "be careful" or any shit like that, because she's a good bartender. She does, however, hand him a to-go container from behind the bar, wordless implication of "eat something." Which is also not nothing.

He thanks her, shoves his feet into his boots and stuffs himself into his long winter coat, and makes the unforgiving walk back to the docks.

The snow is thick, but the blowing wind will scour the shore soon enough, Duke knows. This cold snap will break too, though this afternoon his boat is going to be freezing, freezing and damp with all the snow drifts. Maybe he should have covered the boat more carefully.

-

 

When he gets to the boat, Audrey's sitting in her own parka and wind pants, hood up and ridiculously large Sorrells propped up on the crate he uses as a table above deck. Duke stares at her, dumbfounded and cheeks frozen in the wind. The ocean is choppy, noisy, even a bit vicious. If Duke unmoored today, there'd be an outside chance he could run into open water ahead of the storm. There's an outside chance she'd sink, too.

"You've been avoiding me," Audr-- Parker lobs at him.

Duke crosses his arms, feels the sweat and chill slide down the back of his neck. Should have put a hat on. The boards below his feet groan as the water churns. "Not very well," Duke mutters. He ducks away from her, can't even care how it's too obvious, too much a tell. She can beat him at cards, anyway.

Audr-- Parker stands up, puts a mitten on his forearm as Duke reaches for the belowdecks hatch. "Hey," she says, quiet, and that's it, but it's enough.

Duke turns, defeated, spreads his arms wide as snow falls onto his hair and melts. Really looks at her.

She quirks a grin, pleased, and asks, "Permission to come aboard?"

The hatch opens as Duke ducks inside, holds the hatch open for her, too. Yep, the heat's turned low, maybe off altogether. "Damnit," Duke sighs, and crouches down to check the heater. Why'd he leave the Gull's warmth, anyway?

"Duke," Audrey says again.

Right.

Without standing, Duke replies, "I don't know what you want here, Parker." The use of her last name is on purpose, though it seems unlikely she'll recognize that. All work, no play. The heater refuses to cooperate, and Duke spends a painful few minutes poking at it, hoping he won't have to go into the engine room to check the diesel lines, before it chugs back on and warm air starts to fill the cabin.

"Wait," Audrey says from behind him, "Is that a heater? On a boat?"

"It's cheaper than running the engine-- you know what," Duke says, cutting himself off, "yes."

Audrey's perched on one of Duke's folding chairs and hasn't taken her coat or mittens off yet. "It seems pretty cold in here right now," she offers.

Duke stands, walks past Parker without looking her in the eye. There has to be something he can do to avoid her-- oh, perfect. The kettle's half full, so he takes it back to the heater, glaring at it when the cast iron top fails to be hot enough yet to make a difference.

Maybe it would be worth it to start paying to leave the engine on. It's just so expensive.

"You know," Au-- Parker says from right behind him, "I seem to recall it being pretty rare when you didn't have something to say. In fact, I'd call it almost unprecedented."

Despite everything, all the shit that Duke was thinking and all the reasons he was drinking-- okay, not quite before noon, but close -- being presented with Audrey in the flesh, huddled cold on his boat just to talk to him, thaws him out some. He abandons the idea of tea, sits across from her, plunks a bottle of scotch down with a tumbler. Offers the bottle to her, but at the shake of her head, Duke shrugs. "It's the only warmth here right now," he explains, and pours himself a decent drink. "Unless you want to cuddle."

A beat, and Audrey replies, dry, "it's not so bad anymore. I think you got the heat going."

Agent Parker wouldn't be a cuddler, this he knows. "I'm surprised you didn't look at the Gull, first," Duke says. He drinks the scotch, not all at once because that would be a travesty, but not quite sipping it either.

"Your bartender told us you'd left already," Au-- no, Parker explains, and Duke puts the glass down.

All good will he was feeling just a moment ago drains from him, and left in its stead is just more chill. "We." Duke leans back, lets his head fall back, stares at the metal above them. Lets his eyes unfocus. "Right," he says, because, sure. We. Both of you. Right.

"We were worried about you when we hadn't seen you around," Parker offers, soft.

Duke tells the deck above them, "Of course," but this time it's mocking.

"Maybe he doesn't--" she starts to say stubbornly, but suddenly Duke's had enough. He stands up, abandoning the scotch to the table. There has to be some cheap beer in the ice box, and that's sure as shit a better way to spend the evening than getting shit-drunk on expensive liquor. He's in too foul a mood to enjoy it, might as well waste the garbage beer instead.

"Parker," he interrupts, finally staring her down, "what are you doing here? Really."

He wants to say "no bullshit," but knows that Audrey won't be able to resist a line like that coming from his mouth, will have to snap back. Usually the fact that she can keep up with his smart mouth is one of the things he likes best about her. But not this week. Or, not these weeks.

Finally she says, soft but firm, "We need your help."

There. And it only took ten minutes of buttering him up. Of course that's why she's here, because he never sees her unless she needs something. Duke looks at her, really looks, and sees the same woman who pointed a gun at him and drank his coffee all in the space of five minutes. Sees the woman who saved his life, sees the-- her gaze doesn't flinch. Ever. All work, no play.

"No," he blurts out, surprising even himself.

Audrey sighs, stands. Reaches out, and says, "Duke...what happened?"

She wants to help. Duke shies away.

He can't even explain it himself, because the unfamiliar feeling bubbling up is something he's shoved in a box. He can't say it out loud. All he tells her is, "If Detective Wuornos needs a boat for a job that badly, I can recommend several craft in the marina. But then, he knows that." Can't quite bring himself to add, you're the one that doesn't, because Duke's hurting, but he doesn't really want to hurt her back.

Much.

Maybe.

"You aren't even going to hear me out?" Audrey asks. It's her disappointed voice, the one she uses when she thinks he's being either overly difficult or particularly frustrating on purpose. Right now, all it does is scrape fingernails down Duke's spine.

From somewhere, he summons his mask, turns to face her. Unzips his coat. Smirks at her. "I don't think you can afford my rates anymore, Officer Parker," and pretends he doesn't feel the punch when she flinches at her title, drawled out like nothing.

So maybe he was aiming to lash out, a little.

Audrey leaves.

Duke collapses when he can't hear her footsteps above deck anymore, and drops his face in his hands.

So. There's that.

-

 

The next morning brings with it a disgusting ache of a hangover. That's what you get for drinking American shit beer, Crocker, Duke tells himself, and hauls his ass out of bed anyway.

Sometime in the night the lines on the deck froze over, and Duke checks the fuel tank before braving the deck to move lines, thaw the mooring ropes. Near a half-hour in, sweating under his wool sweater and thick coat, feet slippery on the deck but stance sure, Duke nearly laughs.

How's that for a man who's never worked a day in his life? Only a city girl would have no idea how much effort could possibly go into maintaining a boat like this by yourself.

The minute the thought comes all cheer is sapped right out of him, and Duke continues his morning tasks mechanically, fingers numbing to the chill as he clears out the last of the ice.

Usually, a cold snap with snow like this would be reason enough to leave the Cape Rouge in harbor until the weather warms up. Plugging her in and letting the dock's utilities keep them warm is what he should do. Duke wants a job, though, any reason to get out of Haven for a few days. Even a run to Cape Cod and back for something would be good enough, though fuck if Duke can think of an errand to take him down there. Maybe something for the Gull, available only in the luxury of the playground of the wealthy?

Maybe something for himself, fuck the Gull.

Duke's phone rings, and he's so caught up in his thoughts he doesn't check the call display. It's Nathan on the line.

"What crawled up your ass and died?" is Nathan's greeting.

It wasn't a dream, Nathan being nice to him while he was dying. Duke's sure. Pretty sure. Nathan almost admitted that he didn't hate him, too. Duke's sure. Why he gets all the grief, and no one's bothered to call Nathan on the grudge that seems to be goin-- no, that's not fair. Audrey did, he's heard her.

Maybe the grudge is sort of valid. That's also fair.

"Duke?"

"How can I help you, Detective Wuornos?" Duke asks, all pleasant.

He doesn't notice he's gripping the icy railing until his fingers start to sting, strange after them being numb for so long. Duke relaxes his hand, shakes his fingers out.

On the line, Nathan's saying, "Parker's worried about you."

This time, there's no pretense of "we." Duke grins, can feel it turn sour. Ducks back belowdecks."She said that, did she?" Duke asks, still pleasant.

Duke pours hot water into his French press, pulls his laptop out to see what the weather's doing in the gulf. Maybe the Cape's doable. A grunt, and Nathan says, "Yes?"

"She did not."

Another huff, and Nathan tells him, "She said you turned her down. Well, she said we had to find another boat, which means the same thing."

"And this translates to worry...how? Maybe I was busy, Nathan," Duke says, through grinding teeth. Takes a breath in, and out, and puts just enough sneer in it guaranteed to drill into Nathan. "You two might not remember this, but I'm not employed by the Haven police. And if I turned down the one cop I liked, why would I talk to you?"

An angry, "Whatever," is Nathan's only answer, and then, "Why do I even--" followed by the lack of sound that signals dead air. Nathan hung up. Of course he did.

Duke stares at the cell phone in his hand for a moment and wonders why that didn't feel nearly as satisfying as it should.

Drops the phone on the table with a clatter. Checks the weather. Not today, but maybe tomorrow. Fine.

-

 

The Gull will be empty this time of morning, but the diner and pub closer to the lobster docks should be full enough for Duke to get a sense of what's going on. What might be going on. Whether there's maybe a job for him.

As if Haven will ever have a job for him. His email's empty, though, so any desperate port in a storm.

The server pours coffee without asking, even though Duke knows the others get to drink something stronger. Still, he isn't really a fisherman, and so they only tolerate his presence.

Common theme. Duke dumps sugar in the coffee -- too burned for his liking, but you don't say no to the coffee if you want news -- and sits back to listen.

"No, no, I saw it up near Crow's Nest," one older man near the back of the room pipes up.

His companion shsshes him, but the eager tone sets Duke's radar up. He smiles at the server, nice but not flirty because if there's something women in diners don't need, it's more men trying their luck. Especially when they're holding hot beverages. As she pours him another cup he thanks her. She rolls her eyes in return, and something in the gesture makes his chest clench.

Instead of dwelling, he murmurs, "Seems there's a fuss."

She taps her pencil against her order pad. Studies him for a moment. Finally tells him, "There's always some fuss."

Duke nods agreeably: true, true. Tilts his head a little toward the two men at the back. "I'm looking for work, today," he admits to her. "Think I should bother?"

Her gaze goes from bored to sharp immediately. "If you want to chase fairy stories," she tells him. "Otherwise, stay away from those two."

Duke leans back, chews on the inside of his cheek for a minute. "Fairy stories?" he prompts, because, well. This is Haven.

"Fools have been hissing about pots of gold, of all things," the server tells him, keeping her voice low. "But I tell you, the only thing this lot ever finds at the end of a rainbow is puddles, face-down, at the end of a hard night."

"I know that feeling," Duke says, and this time he isn't even dissembling much. Sure, the puddles are metaphorical and the hard night is more of a hard month and the rainbow is more of a dinner date where he got stood up by a cop and ended with a baby he can't ever touch, see--

Chops that line of thinking. Duke turns back to the server, raises an eyebrow. "Still," he coaxes. "Work is work."

"Listen, you seem smarter than this," the server tells him. She leans down, says, "Go up the harbormaster's way, maybe something'll fall out that way. But this lot? They aren't working now. They've got nothing for you."

Duke nods, asks for the bill and leaves a ten for just the coffee. He doesn't follow the two guys out or anything, because he isn't an amateur, even if he isn't a cop. He watches out the window to see if they get into a car or a boat, and feels a slight thrill when he wins the bet against himself as they board one of the little boats moored to the dock.

What he should do is go up the harbormaster's way, check his email again for a real delivery. But the harbormaster dredges up all kinds of no (what do you say to the woman who was Helena, who had your-- who had a child?), and three days to Cape Cod just to pick up a crystal decanter or aged scotch or Russian caviar just seems -- petty.

A waste. He won't taste it, anyway.

Duke ambles out of the diner, makes note of the boat registration, and wonders about the clear sky above the bluff in the distance.

It's stopped snowing, and the docks are slick with slushy water now, instead of ice like last night, so maybe things are warming up.

-

 

The easy way to find out who the two guys are that were talking and what they're up to would be to ask around at the harbormaster's office. But that isn't going to happen, even if she's on maternit--

Duke calls someone who maintains the boat registrations instead, and for a few hundred, finds out that their boat has been going out every morning for a week, circling Crow's Nest point, then coming back around noon.

"And that's a pretty fucking weird fishing pattern, but well--"

"Hey, yeah, thanks buddy," Duke says, all hearty and false cheer. Wouldn't want anyone to wonder exactly what's going on, after all. Not in Haven. No siree.

A shudder goes through him. He isn't on the payroll, and even now, Audrey has him jumping.

Duke ends the call, drumming his fingers on the table. His heater sputters, and he stares at it. It isn't like he really needs to-- but yeah, okay, he needs to.

The weather isn't too bad. Duke radios his course -- doesn't lie, for once, because what the hell, no one is going to come looking for him and it's not like he's doing anything that matters this time. Crow's Nest point is about an hour away, unless he pushes it, and there's no reason to push it. If the fishermen come back at the same time each day, Duke'll have plenty of time to steer along the shore a ways before running into them.

Hopefully he won't. That's the plan.

The wheelhouse is a comfortable temperature, though Duke keeps his coat and gloves on against the draft whistling through. The ocean's choppy but agreeable enough, and it's a smooth ride. Smooth enough he starts to think.

Nathan called. Nathan called, after Duke made Audrey mad and disappointed all at once. That, that was new.

He starts to wish for something else to focus on, and sure enough, sadly enough, it comes in the form of the bobbing little fishing boat drifting close to Crow's Nest point.

Duke radios the boat, but no one answers. He goes on-deck and yells, careful not to get too close to either the other boat or the shore, but hears nothing. He radios again, saying he's going to call for help unless they flare him to leave them the fuck alone, but really. The boat isn't that big, and he can't see anyone at the wheel or at the fishing poles at the back, which means either the boat's been abandoned or--

Getting in for a closer look isn't on the top of Duke's list, but he does it anyway, leaning over the top rail with a pair of binoculars.

Of course, they're dead on deck.

He radios Haven for help, catches the boat with a line. Pulls the boat in, checks to make sure they're dead and he can't do anything to help. Because this week couldn't get worse.

When the local coast guard take his position, the receiving officer sounds odd. Still, Duke's been in Haven long enough that this isn't even strange, and maybe the officer hasn't.

"Sure, we'll send a boat. Thanks, Mr. Crocker."

Definitely not a local. Duke signs off, sits in the wheelhouse of his own trawler, and contemplates opening another beer. But that'll get back to the police when they inevitably question him -- god, let it not be those two, let something go right this time -- and Duke doesn't feel like staring down either Nathan or Audrey with a beer in his hand.

Instead, he starts to shiver, correcting course once and a while as he tows the little boat to meet the coast guard, and watches the sky clear even more, just enough for the mist and cloud near the ground to make a perfect little arc of something offshore.

At least it isn't snowing.

-

 

"So why'd you go out there this morning?"

Duke slouches. His one-hour trip was more like three, but having the Cape Rouge moored back in Haven is itching in all the ways it wasn't, a month ago. Before the Gull. Before meeting Helena, that Friday night in the Gull.

He says to Chief Wuornos, "No real reason."

"Son, you're telling me you wasted a bunch of fuel just to go joyriding?" The chief snorts, and Duke has to shrug, because, fair question.

"I got bored," Duke admits. It's the truth, or a pretty good rendition that doesn't involve explaining his feelings, anyway.

The chief doesn't buy it, because who in their right mind takes a boat out on a freezing January morning just because they got bored? Duke says, "Come on, I radioed it in."

"And why were you there, specifically?"

Having had a lot more experience lately with the younger Wuornos, Duke sometimes forgets that the chief is the cop he met all those years ago on the shore, that terrible day. That he's been that cop ever since. Nathan would be mad by now. The chief's annoyed, sure, but it doesn't matter.

Duke sighs. Says, "I heard they might have found something this morning. Got bored, thought I'd see what it could be."

The chief narrows his eyes, leans back. "Poaching?" he asks. If possible, he sounds even more annoyed.

Duke shrugs. "Don't know." He hesitates. The chief seems to be not entirely without imagination, but fuck if he's going to say anything about the Troubles to anyone but his two cops--

The casual thought makes Duke clam up, freeze even. The chief stares at him, but Duke eventually grits out the tip he got at the diner, which makes the chief leave to make a call.

No one's his. Stop it, Crocker.

He's waved out without any fanfare a minute or two later, and Duke tips his imaginary hat as he leaves. Of course, as he turns back around he nearly runs face-first into Audrey herself, which throws him all off balance again.

From behind her, Nathan says, "What have you done this time?"

Oddly, unlike the dead bodies and the grilling by the chief and nearly pushing Audrey down, it's this that spools Duke from barely holding it together to full-on anger. Still, that doesn't mean he can't fake it enough to brush off these two. "Your job, actually," and his smile this time is just a little insolent, too.

Nathan grits his teeth, like normal, but Audrey just frowns. Potshot taken, Duke escapes into the cold, strides away from the building as fast as he can.

Before the door bangs shut he can hear Audrey asking about him, and the echo of the door follows him down the street, chases him all the way to the Gull.

-

 

The Gull is loud, lunchtime crowd settled in for a cold afternoon, and even though the business is good news for Duke, it's hell on the headache starting. He nearly turns around to leave again, but then pauses; what's the point in running, when there isn't anything wrong?

Instead, he parks himself behind the bar and serves drinks to all the customers with a friendly smile and oodles of charm.

Duke's so good at people that it's automatic, and he finds himself watching his own actions as if through a thin sheet of -- whatever. Detached. That's the word. Whatever, it's better than brooding on the boat.

Maybe. Probably.

The real problem starts when Nathan and Audrey come in. They sit at a table, thank christ, and Duke is working bar. Still, looking at them is painful for a full three seconds.

Norah watches him out of the corner of her eye, making Duke think he isn't, in fact, as opaque as he'd like. "Don't say it," he warns.

She holds her hands up again and wisely goes to ask them for their orders, instead. Duke pours a lemon-water (Nathan, clearly) and ginger ale (Audrey feeling sick, maybe?), doesn't look their way as he does it.

Still, when Norah reaches for the drinks, Duke sighs. Man up, Crocker. "I'll take them," he mutters.

Duke pastes his blandest smile on his face as he walks the few steps to the table. "On the house," he chirps, because nothing angers Nathan more than owing Duke, and nothing confuses Audrey more than kindness.

"I thought you weren't speaking to me," Audrey quips in return.

Duke raises an eyebrow, cool as a cucumber. "Can I get you anything else?" he asks.

"The chief says you found the bodies this morning," Nathan replies. "Anything you want to say about that?"

A beat to catch his breath, but Duke doesn't rise to the bait. If he could bartend in that shithole in Berlin for six months, he can face this. "I told him everything," Duke replies. "Sorry," he adds. It might even be sincere.

Audrey studies him. "You didn't see anything strange at all? No, weather?"

Duke keeps looking at Nathan, because Audrey is...too raw, right now. Nathan might have almost said he didn't hate Duke, but now he isn't dead, well. Too bad, so sad. He says to Nathan, "Nothing."

Nathan's glare could melt steel. He growls, "We're fine, thank you," and picks up his water.

"That's apparent," Duke says. He doesn't mean to, it just pops out, and now both of them are staring at him as if-- Duke feels his face fall, just a little but enough, and so instead of trying for another barb or any more polite conversation, he does what he should have done in the first place, and flees.

-

 

Audrey tries again that evening, but it's going to be a lost cause, because Duke started drinking sometime-- pretty soon after the lunch rush, and it's nearly eight, now.

Even after everything, the sight of her barging into his cabin, letting freezing air in as she opened the hatch (as if she had the right) raises Duke's spirits a little. They kind of plummet again, but he's always been good at ignoring outlying data, so.

"I think I know what's going on," Audrey says with no preamble.

Duke squints at her. "Good evening," he says. "Please sit down," he says. Leans back. "Whatever it is you need, I'm a little busy," he says.

He has his eyes half closed, so misses whatever motion she makes, but her bare hand on his knee startles him enough that he jumps, moves away from her. Audrey takes the opportunity to grab his hand. "Whatever this is, it's about you nearly dying, isn't it?" she says, matter-of-fact and plain.

Duke felt his lungs stop working, felt himself give up. And sure, there've been a few pretty near-misses in the past (that time in the Ukraine, the bar in Manila; the storm off the coast as a child, even). But this had been calm enough, slow enough, that he could feel it as it happened.

Whatever. Maybe it was just time to start freaking out. Still.

"Did the fact that I was avoiding you not give you the hint I didn't want to talk about it?" Duke replies, tired. He rubs his eyes, as if he could will her image to leave him alone.

"You drinking alone doesn't leave me filled with confidence," Audrey tells him.

She leans forward as she says it, as if it's some big revelation. Duke laughs, actually laughs out loud at her. "Come on, Parker, that deduction is so basic they should kick you out of the club."

"What club?" she asks, deceptively mild.

Duke's drunk enough that he sees the questioning, the direction it's going, but mentally says fuck it and takes the opening anyway. "You know," he tells her. "Investigative Anonymous, whatever you and Nathan call it."

"Nathan and I have a club?" Audrey asks, innocent.

In return, Duke pins her with a stare, almost angry, and Audrey shrinks against it. "It isn't like that," she says, quieter.

Already this conversation is tiring him out so much that Duke wants to be anywhere else, thinking about anything other than all the things he can't ever have -- and he slumps back again. A daughter named Jean being only one of the latest in a long list of women that he's never going to get to--

"It's fine, Parker," Duke says, but even he doesn't believe it to hear himself. He tries again, like the brave little toaster; snorts to himself, almost wants to share the joke with Audrey since she'd be the only other one to find it funny. Even if it is on himself.

This is just sad, now. Usually he's a lot more resigned about things he can't have.

Duke forces himself to say, a little more cheerfully, "Like a duck's back, right?"

"Come on," she tries again. "You know I'm-- I'd help," she offers, awkwardly. "I want to."

Quieter, because he really didn't want to hurt her. She's got enough, and really it isn't her fault he's invested this time. Duke says, "I know you do," but he doesn't know what to do with that, and Audrey obviously doesn't either, because she gets up and leaves again.

Duke passes out in the chair, this time.

-

 

The next morning, for no good reason, Duke decides to go throw some lines in the water. At least it gets him off the docks, which froze again overnight.

Sleet falls onto the deck as he motors out, making the deck slick and dangerous. He doesn't head as far out as Crow's Nest point, but does go in that general direction.

He stays out all day and is surprised to find it near dark when he motors back into dock.

-

 

"I'm telling you, something's wrong," Audrey's voice says.

Duke sighs, but facing this head-on is probably the best way to go about it. Nathan's low growl answers, too low for him to make out. "No, I'm not being paranoid-- Duke!" she yells, banging on the hatch.

He opens it, declines to invite them in. The deck is freezing again. January is hitting Haven with everything, this year. "What can I do for Haven's finest?" Duke asks, and if the twist on "finest" is just a little more sharp than usual, well. No one's counting.

"We need to know everything about when you found that boat with the two dead fishermen," Audrey says immediately.

Duke counts to ten. "I told you everything I--"

"Come on, Duke!" and now she's actually mad at him, too.

"A kid died this time," Nathan says from behind her. "Left school yesterday and never made it home. They found him on the baseball field this morning."

Duke inhales. Haven is a terrible place to grow up, he knows this. Exhales, and shakes his head. Nathan looks angry, and this time Duke agrees, even though it feels far away.

Audrey offers, "They think, he seems to have died some time yesterday evening." Pauses. She asks, "Do you recognize him?"

He leans in, even though the picture on her phone is blurry. The kid's eyes are closed, and Duke reels back, knows Audrey took this on the field after the kid died. "For fuck's sake, Parker," he hisses, but dutifully shakes his head, body programmed to answer Audrey even as his mind is still trying to shove away the image of the kid's dead face.

"Are you sure?" Audrey presses. "Think, please."

After a moment, Duke asks, "why do you think I'd know him?"

"He's the nephew of one of your dead lobster poachers, genius," Nathan grates out, jaw clenched. After a moment when Duke says nothing, Nathan adds, "now can you manage to bring your head out of your ass to help?" and Duke, he's had enough.

"How is it that you think I have any-- you know what," and he shakes his head. A little incredulous, even though after all this time, he shouldn't be. "Fine."

Audrey immediately asks, "What happened when you found them?"

"I heard them talking about something that might have been nothing, might have been worth something. I was bored," he tells them, maybe a little forceful. "So I went over to the point they were talking about, since at least a morning on the water was better than sitting here feeling sorry for myself."

Audrey's face melts at this, and Duke grits his teeth. Now, she starts getting it. Nathan of course, nothing. Duke continues, before either of them can speak, "When I got there, the boat was drifting. It was pretty obvious something was wrong. So I called out, managed to get close enough to see them on deck. Called for help, towed the boat in to where the coast guard and police picked it up. Your dad," he says directly to Nathan, "met me on the docks the minute I moored Cape Rouge and asked me all of this. I nearly ran Parker over on the way out of--"

"Okay," Nathan butts in. "We get it."

"Do you?" Duke snarls.

Audrey blinks, and even Duke would be a little taken aback, if he pauses to contemplate his reactions, which right now seems like the least wise option. So instead he says, tries for calm and collected, "Anything else?"

"You didn't see anything else?" Audrey presses again. "Even the least important looking thing, anything, like the weather. It could be--"

"I've lived here long enough to know how important it could be, Parker," Duke says. He misses calm by a mile.

"Hey," Nathan warns. He steps up, beside Audrey, and glares at Duke. Like Nathan does anything else. Maybe if he fell overboard and they had to pull him out, Nathan might show a glimmer of humanity, but--

"Okay, well," Duke says, and claps his hands once. "Thank you for the visit, but it really wasn't the highlight of my day or anything, so if you wouldn't mind seeing yourself off..."

"Are you taking her out again?" Audrey asks slowly. Quiet.

Duke motions at the gangplank, and the two of them step off, giving Duke backward glances the whole way. Duke feels himself shiver. Looks down at his hands and forces them to stop trembling.

Disappears belowdecks.

-

 

He's not taking her out again.

But for a minute it doesn’t seem like a bad idea. This boat got him through a lot, after all. Seems a waste to leave her in dock.

-

 

Instead, he mans up and goes to do some chores on shore -- more heating fuel, loading supplies, shit like that. Arranging delivery for later that day, Duke suddenly feels a hollow tug in his stomach, the easy agreement that sure, he'll be there to sign, yes, the boat's still moored where she should be.

Hightailing it out of there, he slogs through puddles and slush to the Gull, hoping a different familiar place will jog something loose, but he can't bring himself to even step inside.

Instead, Duke makes his way to the high school, stares across the street at the baseball field where they found the kid.

The yellow "do not cross" tape suggests it, anyway. The school itself is hushed, quiet, like everyone is holding their breath -- not a common feeling when you're talking teenagers.

Duke walks away.

His head's cold. He forgot a hat again, and the almost-rain is freezing, soaking wet, sliding into sleet and back again. His boots, weatherproofed for working on the boat, at least keep the water out. No one else is on foot or on the roads. He finds himself back on shore, walking along the waves.

It starts to snow again in earnest. He makes his way through the quickly piling drifts, kicking sand and snow. Finds himself within sight of the lighthouse.

Here, he stops. It's a Sunday afternoon, so Helena isn't in attendance, and even if she were he isn't that desperate.

Probably. Maybe.

Duke usually doesn't have many puzzling motivations, not to himself. But this one is confusing. He's been trying not to think of the lighthouse day too much, because what comes with it is desire to have something else.

He stares out to sea, feels the wind blow achingly cold against his bare face. This is a cruel January, and he laughs. The whistling of the wind and the slapping of the waves against rocks mostly hides the sound.

His phone rings. Because Duke's sometimes a masochist, and the rest of the time people might want to hire him to work for a living, he answers.

It's Nathan, who says to him, "You're a piece of work."

"Good afternoon, officer," Duke replies.

Nathan's angry, but he's graduated to yelling over the phone instead of trying to fry Duke with x-ray vision. "Don't give me that shit, Audrey actually needs you on this one. Where are you--"

"How is your day going, officer?" Duke asks. He continues, conversationally, "Mine's going swell. Thanks for asking. The boat? I've got a project going, actually, she isn't available for hire this week."

It's a lie, but Nathan won't know that. Instead, Duke gets, "What crawled up your ass and died, Crocker?"

"Maybe I did," Duke replies without thinking.

It apparently surprises them both, because there's dead air on the phone. Duke listens to Nathan breathe for a moment, wondering in a vague way what the fuck's going wrong. Then he snaps his phone off.

Turns it off. Goes back to the dock. Gets back on board. Mechanically loads his supplies while the fuel gets dumped into the tanks.

Decides to take her out, on a whim. He lied to Nathan, but Nathan doesn't know that. Maybe those two guys who died were actually onto something. Might as well look.

On the water, up in the wheelhouse, Duke feels more at peace. The sky clears. He takes her all the way to Crow's Nest point, goes in ever-widening circles, eying the sonar casually, just to see if anything bites. Maybe they were looking for a shipwreck? If it was gold.

Still, eventually it gets dark. As Duke starts the trip back to Haven, the mist off the point seems to glitter another faint rainbow at him, out to sea.

-

 

It's hard to avoid Haven's police department when they know where you dock. Duke knows this, and yet he's still surprised when they're both there, staring balefully at the boat as he motors in.

Duke leans down from the top rail, says, "Can I help you?"

Audrey starts with, "You were gone a while."

Hand on his hip, Duke nods. "It is, in fact, dark out. Well done."

"We were worried," Audrey tries, but Duke's about done with this.

He shakes his head, looks at Nathan because Nathan walks away from every gesture he's ever made, any attempt to-- "What," Duke calls out as he climbs the ladder back down to the deck, "does Haven PD not have the budget to hire a boat once and a while?" He faces them, still standing on the dock, and this way he's beneath them, but that's so par for the course Duke doesn't even care. Says right to Nathan, "Doesn't the chief have a pretty nice fishing boat? Won't let you play with it, huh."

Nathan doesn't snap back, though, just says to Audrey, "He seems fine to me."

Duke smirks at them, even if something around the edges of his mouth feels cracked and brittle. Maybe it's the winter air. Audrey says to Nathan, quiet, "Does he? Really?" which suggests that perhaps it's a little more obvious.

Nathan studies him for a minute, and Duke feels himself slowly wilting under the pressure.

Still, he holds.

It's when Nathan tells her, slow, "Maybe not," that Duke throws a hand up, strides off to the belowdecks hatch. Doesn't bother saying goodbye, as he struggles to get it open.

They don't follow him, which is both a relief and a pain in the chest. Audrey does yell at him, "Please, don't take the boat out again!" and he waves at them. Doesn't clarify if it's in acknowledgment or denial.

Duke collapses below. He doesn't know what's going on, only that he's pretty sure he's always going to be facing off against the two of them standing on shore, and him alone.

-

 

That night, there's a storm.

Duke tosses and turns. Usually, wind and rain on the deck doesn't keep him up at all. Haven's in a pretty sheltered part of the coast, after all, and really awful weather is pretty rare. Besides, Duke's a sailor. Sort of a sailor.

Enough of a sailor he can sleep through a storm when he's tied off, anyway.

Still, near sunrise -- the time sunrise is supposed to be -- things are so loud that Duke grumbles, gets dressed, throws off the lines, and starts to steer the Cape Rouge back out to sea. He isn't planning on taking her out far, just past the patch of angry, roiling clouds covering the sunrise.

Just south, back toward Crow's Nest point, he can see patchy lighter sky. The boat can handle a morning of drifting. So can Duke. Just to get some rest.

As he steers her toward better weather, Duke feels smoother, somehow, like the rough edges are all scrubbed away. He watches the thermometer, and obviously out on the water it feels colder, but it's still not much below freezing out here.

It's a beautiful morning when he finally lets her drift. He's far enough out that there's no way she'll hit shore, close enough that the early morning fog and cloud from the rocks is still rolling over the waves, enough he can feel the tendrils seeping over the boat.

Duke is weather-wise enough to feel that the storm's nearly passed, heading away from him, so he drops anchor to keep her steady, and leans back in the wheelhouse. Opens a window.

Doesn't feel like fishing. Doesn't feel like much of anything.

The fog isn't so thick he can't see shore; parts of the sea are clear and easy going, parts are obscured by mist.

Duke looks back toward Haven, sees the faint rainbows that signal the storm's end.

Looks farther south, sees patches of rainbow chasing the horizon. The impulse pushing him to get out of Haven, to run, bleeds out of him as he stares. Thinks about nothing much in particular.

The sky gets lighter, not that fast. Duke watches.

Doesn't look down at his hands. Doesn't notice as he loses feeling in his fingers. Doesn't look at the thermometer, either.

Some minutes pass. A vague feeling of unease shudders through him: was there something he was supposed to be doing?

Outside, the start of the morning seem on pause, time standing still, the sunrise endless, a held breath. He reaches, with difficulty, for the radio. Finds it strange that his hand has difficulty gripping the thing, that he can't feel the chipped plastic against the pads of his fingers.

Holds the radio for a minute. Putting it to his mouth seems herculean, which is a little strange. The question passes.

Radios into Haven harbor, since he didn't tell anyone where he was going, but can't manage to croak out more than direction before his fingers go nerveless and the radio crackles out. Drops the radio.

Leans back. Stares out at the fog and rainbows and sun and rain and wind. Relaxes, some.

Duke curls in on himself, feeling chilled. Cold, finally, way too late. He blinks, slow, and the idea that this isn't entirely natural fights its way through his sluggish thoughts. He grips onto it, wonders why it's important.

Can't remember. Lets it go.

It gets colder. He can't feel his feet or his knees inside his boots, now.

Duke grips onto his own elbows, staring north. Realizes he's waiting.

When the boat chugs through, a ghost in the fog that still hasn't lifted, he can see, squinting, the two figures on deck. Duke lets go.

-

 

Someone's trying to move his arms.

Duke croaks, vaguely annoyed. His arms are fine.

Someone's yelling, and he gets the sense from far away that it's at him. A finger pries an eye open, and Duke cries out -- tries to cry out.

A muffled voice is mumbling, and he gets, "...have to get his clothes off and get him warm until the coast guard arrives."

"Why they aren't here--"

"Nathan, not now--" and Duke realizes, with wonder, that Audrey's the one undressing him, and it took him a minute to figure it out because his limbs are numb, gone, floppy useless weights against a chest that holds his barely beating heart.

Opening his eyes seems important. So he forces it.

Belowdecks.

Nathan and Audrey looming over him.

Somehow, Duke can't mind. "I saw you," he croaks.

Audrey's pulling his pants off now, Duke thinks. Maybe. Probably. She's kind of blurry, far away as she asks him, "You did? When?"

Duke stares up. "On deck, through the fog," he manages to say, finally. Then, right? With the sunrise behind him, the sea calm and the skies full of glittering bows.

"Wait," Nathan demands. Oh, that voice. "You saw us? Not-- you weren't just staring out to sea?"

He doesn't want to answer, because the tone of Nathan's voice is wrong, somehow, too soft and oh, there's his hand on Duke's neck; the only place he can really feel anything. Nathan's palm is warm, even if he's just holding his head up so Audrey can pull off his shirt.

Duke manages to nod, can't really move much. Looks at Nathan for a bit.

He can tell they've stopped moving, are just looking at each other. Audrey's sitting beside him on the bed. Finally she tells him, "The Trouble, it drives people to seek the things they want but can’t get. They get it, and it disappears."

Nathan adds, "Like the guys looking for buried treasure." He snorts, tells Duke, "Pot of gold at the end of the rainbow."

Audrey's voice is strained, her mouth an unhappy slash as she tells Duke, "Their hearts gave out, the coroner said."

Duke's vision is swimming again, a little. He can't feel the sheets, or the rocking of the boat, or -- but he can feel Nathan's palm, and Audrey's arm against his, so he tells them, "This might be it."

Tries to crack a smile to tell them hey, it's okay. He's felt his heart stop once before, knows how this goes. At least both of them are touching him, hot brands of fire against his skin, this time.

-

 

He comes to staring at a hospital bed ceiling. Everything is still cold. Duke can't feel his fingers. His eyes are crusty, and everything is blurry. Either they have him on the good drugs, or he's still out of it, hardcore.

To his left, a sweet voice says, "Thank god."

It's mitigated by a gruffer tone on his left answering, "I don't know that god has anything to do with it."

"If this is heaven," Duke mumbles, "the decor sucks."

He blinks as Audrey's face swims into view, squints. Wishes the lights would turn themselves off. Or at least down. A hand comes up, awkwardly trying to position itself above his eyes. Duke grumbles, irritated, when it's almost but not quite in the right place to shade the fluorescents overhead.

Still. Someone's making the effort.

Nathan leans over, scowling a little. "That isn't working at all, is it?" he asks, sounding annoyed.

Duke scowls right back, or at least tries while his face still feels frozen and he can't really see or move. He says, "Mostly," anyway, because he doesn't really want Nathan to move his hand. Mostly is better than nothing.

"You two are hopeless," Audrey's saying, and wow, Duke didn't need reminders of that, thanks, he's already-- okay. Arm up, carefully, and he goes to rub his eyes, accidentally swats Nathan, ends up just putting a palm over his face instead.

If there were a more appropriate gesture.

"So I'm not actually dead," he asks them, dull.

The sharp intake of breath is Audrey, he has to assume, because Nathan says quite clearly, "Fuck you."

When Duke opens his eyes, Nathan's gone, door banging closed behind him. Audrey's still peering at him. "You scared him," she tells Duke.

"Sorry I upset your weekend plans," he answers. His voice is little more than a whisper, even though he doesn't remember yelling or anything. Hyperventilating, maybe a little.

Audrey says, calm, "Fuck you." She takes his hand, clutches too tight to be comforting. "I know it isn't all your fault, nearly freezing to death from the inside," she tells Duke with a measured, even tone, "but if your yearning desire is really to make sure we're there when you die so you aren't alone-- yep," she finishes, "Nathan's right. Fuck you."

"Sorry," he repeats. Duke's rarely useless, but the anger Audrey has now isn't anything he can diffuse. Maybe tomorrow he'll get angry back, snap at her, or comfort her. Maybe tomorrow, when he doesn't still feel the cold in his bone marrow. When he can feel his fingers as more than dead blocks of ice.

"Don't apologize," she hisses, and Duke thinks maybe she even looks afraid, now. "Tell me how to fix it," and that right there, that's about when Duke decides to stop being conscious for a while. It's too much effort, and hurts too much.

-

 

When he wakes up the second time, Nathan's back and solo, tapping into his phone, and Duke feels a little better. A little more balanced, though that isn't saying much. Maybe.

At least this is familiar.

He struggles to sit up, but it doesn't take too much effort -- relatively speaking, anyway -- and Nathan watches him. "Are you on watch, now?" Duke cracks, trying to grin.

Nathan doesn't smile. "That's even less funny now than it would be normally," he tells Duke. He doesn't try to mask his anger at all, like Audrey did.

Duke shrugs. "I don't actually know that I was trying to be funny," he tells Nathan.

"That's worse than-- Duke," Nathan says. Drops the hand with the phone. Waits.

Duke tries, "what happened with the kid?"

"He wanted to play in the majors," Nathan answers, quiet. "We think he was trying to practice. When it happened."

Duke mutters, "The baseball field? Really?" He wants to think it isn't fair, but then nothing ever is.

"What happened with you?" Nathan asks, proving it.

His head is aching, Duke suspects from exhaustion more than anything else. He tests his fingers, rustles the hospital blanket just to prove he can. "I went out fishing," he tells Nathan.

"Try again."

"Who was it?" Duke asks, because he'd rather think about who sent him into the middle of the ocean to wait for death than what Nathan wants.

Nathan sighs, but acknowledges the question. "Your bartender," he replies. "She knew the boy, and the fishermen. Audrey talked to her." Because that's what Audrey does. Nathan shakes his head, still looks angry. "What about you?"

"She's my bartender, of course I know her," Duke protests, then winces with Nathan's gaze boring into him. Nathan can stare like a pro. Duke folds, shrinks back against the pillows, the bed. He still feels cold. Tells Nathan, because right now it's a lot of effort to pretend, "I don't know what you want from me."

After a moment, Nathan says, "Me either."

They sit for a few moments, not looking at each other.

Finally, Duke can't stand it. "You can leave, you know," he offers. "I mean," and he tries so hard to sound normal when he says it, and even means it, he isn't even lying, "it's fine, you know? The joke about -- I was joking."

"You weren't," Nathan retorts.

"Okay," Duke back-pedals, "I wasn't joking about you being here for -- but you don't have to be here now. So."

It's the only thing he has to give Nathan, and he even said it nicely. He stayed away from them all week, he didn't even-- and now Nathan's staring at Duke like he's lower than the lobster traps, like he did the first time Nathan found out Duke and Audrey sometimes hung out.

It's too much, it's everything that-- Duke snaps, "Nathan, just -- get out, okay? Go find Audrey."

Another look, and Nathan stands up. Duke feels hollow to see it, knowing he managed to shove Nathan away, even though that was the goal. But instead of leaving the room, Nathan puts a finger on his bare forearm. "Can you feel that yet?" he asks.

Confused, Duke says, "Funny." It throws him off, Nathan touching him, and then says, "No, I can't," because he can't feel anything, and for some reason that's really funnier than it should be, and Duke's trying to laugh but just screwing his face up silently, instead.

His throat's all torn up, right.

Nathan tells him, "It's the hypothermia. The, special hypothermia. It'll wear off," and Duke asks,

"How do you know?" which makes him stop trying to laugh pretty quick.

Nathan sits back down, closer to the bed, and goes back to his phone. He leaves one hand on Duke's forearm, as if he's offering his own nerveless fingers as a gauge of Duke's returning feelings.

-

 

Duke's dozing again while Nathan mumbles into his phone. Nathan's voice isn't loud enough to keep Duke awake, but knowing he's in the room is, and so Duke's only half asleep when Audrey comes back.

"We need to talk about this," she declares, and closes Duke's hospital room door.

The loud voice, and the bang, wakes him, and he blinks, still a little groggy but feeling more and more himself. And oh, hey, bonus, he really can feel Nathan's hand, at least a little. There's a little warmth seeping through.

Duke says, "I think only one of us is still wooden, now," but tries to infuse it with gratitude instead of a sneer. He isn't sure if it works, but no retort, no slap, no anger comes, so maybe.

"What's 'this'?" Nathan asks, instead.

Audrey stares at Duke.

"Oh hell no," he says, louder than he could manage before, but still not a normal speaking tone, because "this" seems to mean what they saw, what he said, while he was-- "I was under the influence, this isn't fair."

"Man up," Nathan says, dry.

Duke looks at him, tells them both, "I'm more than a little disturbed to find out my inner monologue has apparently been channeling you for a week."

That he can joke, that the mask is back in place, makes Duke feel more than anything that he's more or less in once piece again. There might still be some cracks, but more or less.

Audrey frowns. "I can't just pretend that I don't know this."

Duke frowns right back, even gets a little angry. "You could try," he insists.

"It isn't just--"

"I've done everything you've asked me," he says to her, really angry now. Duke tries to sit up, tries to shove himself more upright, because if he's going to take Audrey on they need to be at eye level; she seems like the kind of woman to fight dirty. "When have I ever asked you for anything?" he demands. "And you won't even--"

"Never," she says, quiet.

Duke pauses.

"You haven't asked, Duke," she continues, and Audrey's voice is sad. "And I'm an asshole, because I didn't hear it."

Now he feels bad for putting that twinge there, tries to backtrack. "Sure I've asked you for things," he says. "I--"

"You asked me to come for dinner, and I stood you up," Audrey says, with a terrible smile. "And then you nearly died."

"It's fine," he tells her. Can't look at her.

"No," she answers. "It's kind of not."

And a few moments ago, Duke was feeling better, too. The blankets fade away, he feels himself still. Detached, probably. Maybe. Maybe he's just still tired from--

"Look," Nathan says, low. Duke glances down, uninterested, until he sees Nathan pinching his arm.

Can't feel it. It's just kind of numb.

"That can't be good," Audrey says.

"No kidding," Nathan answers, and, wow. Nathan actually sounds a bit angry at Audrey this time. He's stopped touching Duke, at least. Nathan adds, "What do you want to talk about?"

"Well," and now Audrey sounds uncertain. "It seemed like the thing to do."

Duke does not have the energy for this. He summons a smile from somewhere, because she-- because they deserve it, at least most of the time. Tells them, "Let me express no surprise whatsoever that I'm the one that doesn't have a problem talking about feelings. Even today."

"Is your deepest, yearning desire really only not to die alone?" Nathan asks, blunt.

He wants to snap back, wants to point out that they all know what Nathan's deepest desire is, but the question wasn't mean, and contrary to popular belief, Duke can tell the difference. "I don't know," he says instead. "I would have doubted it."

"You wouldn't be the only ones," Audrey says.

Duke shrugs. Might as well tell them. Maybe it'll make them go away, at least, and even if it hurts to think about, hurt isn't cold. He'll take what he can, since he can't ever get what he-- "it was probably me being cynical," he tells them, little smirk. Tells them, voice light, "you know. Deepest desire, yada yada, only, realistically, I know I can't get it. So, what's the only way you'll admit that you two actually might care? Right, I'll be dead first."

Audrey's looking more and more horrified as Duke talks, but something in him won't let him stop. Finally, she finishes, "Or on the way."

"Maybe," Duke says. He tries to make it funny, but doesn't hit the target.

"So my first instinct was right," Nathan says, into the stillness that follows. Off Audrey's look, Nathan explains, "He's a pain in the ass."

Duke tries again to laugh.

-

 

They let him have some respite while they do official things like talk to the chief (Duke's more than grateful he is, apparently, not needed for this part). Mostly he lays there, thinking too hard.

He's still exhausted. Most of him still wants to run for the hills, take the Cape Rouge and get the fuck out. This is bound for even more heartsick than he's got, and that's fucking enough, thank you.

Still.

Audrey stays in view of the open door, even if Duke can't hear her. Nathan comes in and out of view, and then sits down so he can see in. Duke doesn't know what to make of that. So he tries not to.

They come back in, of course, right as Duke's trying to get dressed. With a gentle hand, Audrey forces him back onto, if not into, bed. "Come on," she coaxes. "They said overnight."

"I'm fine," Duke insists. It's...not entirely untrue.

"Maybe," Audrey allows. "But if you leave this room, I know you. You'll be out of Haven so fast--"

Nathan smirks. "She has you pegged pretty well."

And here he thought he was making progress. Duke throws his hands up. Snarls, "Fine, I'll run. You know me so well."

"Hey," Audrey says. "I want to throw myself out that window to get out of this conversation," she admits. Duke looks up, looks into her face, and sees the truth of it. "But I'm not going to, because I think I'd hate myself a little if I did."

"We can't have that," Duke answers, mouth dry.

"So tell me," Audrey asks.

Duke sits back in defeat, slumps down. Shrugs. "I was married for a bit, you know?" he starts with; glances up at the surprise showing on both their faces. "Yeah, I know, but I mean, we were young and in love. So I know what it feels like to be all-in. It's how I recognized it so soon."

It's Nathan that asks. "And?"

"And, I don't know!" Duke says, frustrated. He runs a hand through his hair, feeling chilled again. Even though he knows it's just part of the Trouble, whatever, it's still a little piece of remembered terror, that feeling of finally getting everything he seemed to want, and then knowing he'd lose it.

Knowing he'd only get it right before he lost it.

"Listen, I'm not--" Audrey starts, but when Duke tries to protest, Audrey holds a hand up. "No, listen. I'm terrible. I work all the time, I never, I don't know how to not work." She seems to lose steam after that, looks at her hands.

"You remember people are important when they aren't on a case, for a start," Duke tells her. If it's a little frustrated, a little sharp, well.

This time, it's Audrey that looks sad. "I don't even know if I know how," she admits.

Nathan's dry tone is simple, marvelously easy to handle after that, as he suggests, "You program your phone to remind you of things like dinner dates, maybe? Just a start."

"Look at Nathan, the super stud. I bet you always remember the anniversaries, too," Duke replies. It's shaky, maybe, but anything normal, Duke'll grab onto.

Nathan answers easily, "And I bet you cry if they forget, right?"

It makes Duke crack a genuine smile. "Guilty as charged," he says, which is even mostly the truth. Dates weren't that important, but being made to feel important kind of was, and that was what Audrey really sucked at. He didn't even want to change that about her, but that still left them with an untenable position. At best.

"I guess I never really...did, normal," Audrey tells them. "I dated other cops, or agents, for a while, you know." She shrugs. "People with schedules as bad as mine."

"Did you call them to cancel?" Duke can't help but ask.

"Yes," Audrey says, long and low.

"Okay, this is all very touching," Nathan interrupts. "But I'm going to head out, I think."

As he says it, Duke notices his one hand in a fist, the one Audrey can't see. The tension in Nathan's jaw. Jealousy's a vicious bitch, it gets its claws in and sucks you dry, Duke knows, so he recognizes it, sees it for what it is.

And knows all too well the impulse to try and hide it, try to be the better man. It's painful enough he can't let Nathan go for that alone, never mind the other thing.

"Do you still hate me, Nathan?" he blurts out.

A long pause, Nathan standing to leave. Then he answers, slowly, "Hate's a strong word."

Duke's at a loss what else he can say, what else he can give Nathan. Audrey, at least, liked him most of the time. For Nathan, that isn't even true.

Finally, he says, dumbly, "Good."

It's Audrey murmuring, "Nathan, we were both on the boat," in her entreating way, that gets him to sit back down.

Duke didn't really want to address this part, because Audrey, at least, was his friend. She wouldn't get angry when he actually said out loud he loved her. Probably. Maybe.

With Nathan, all Duke could be sure of was that he probably couldn't make Nathan hate him more.

Nathan turns to Duke, folds his arms. He isn't glaring, not really, and sits, waiting. Duke wants to insult Nathan's choice of wardrobe, more than he wants to curl up against the hint of fear in his gut, so Duke figures he's more or less all right again, no Trouble around. Still, he's horrified to find himself terrified to find out what Nathan wants.

Instead, he goes on the offensive. "My wife and I, we used to pick up people together. She liked two men," Duke blurts out.

That was...less than casual. He rubs a hand over his face. Mutters, "I don't even know where that came from."

Audrey says, "Freudian slip, maybe?"

He glares at her, though it has no heat behind it, and explains, "I meant, I've slept with men, big deal." That doesn't seem to cut it, because Nathan is still sitting, arms folded. Duke tries, "Come on, you have a mirror, you use it to get your hair perfect. You know you're attractive."

He gets a smirk, just a hint of smugness, but still Nathan waits. Damn.

Finally Duke tells him, "Laying there on the lighthouse steps, it felt pretty bad to die knowing the person there couldn't stand your guts, okay?" Duke pushes the memory of Nathan's hands, trying to get him comfortable, the fucking obligation of it. He adds, "I guess it's been on my mind a little."

"Plenty of people can't stand your guts, Duke," Nathan replies.

"Yeah," Duke answers uneasily. "I know that."

"And, so?"

He balls his hands into fists. Why is he doing all the explaining tonight? "This is police harassment," Duke mutters, but they have him by the short hairs; he can't leave the hospital yet, and they won't leave. "Fine," he says, "and it sucked being that I kind of think you're okay, and Audrey-- she thinks you're way more than that, so maybe twist my arm, I'd change my mind."

Nathan grins, and it is completely smug. But he gives Duke, "I don't hate you," again in that slow drawl, so Duke supposes he'll take it.

-

 

They give him another time out.

The nurses change his heating pads. Duke slowly warms up.

Eventually, Audrey asks him, "Do you really-- I mean, with everything, with all of this."

When she doesn't continue, Duke prods, "Yes?"

"Could this really be okay? With the Troubles, and with all the--"

"Yes," Duke says, firm. His voice doesn't shake at all, first and foremost because he's pulled a lot of cons, enough to lie well. Second, because it's mostly the truth. "Yes," he repeats, as Audrey looks at him, skeptical, "because we are going to get you a phone that has a calendar function, and because I know Nathan is allergic to being late. So as long as I don't piss him off, you will be on time."

"That isn't what I--"

"The big stuff, the stuff that pulls at the entire town?" Duke says, low. "That's gonna happen. It's you promising to answer your phone and actually doing it, and me eventually believing you'll do it, that's what we can hold."

She hangs her head. Says, "Yeah, and maybe it would be easier if I'd done it the first time around, right?"

"Listen, Audrey," Duke starts, trying to put it into words. He's still not surprised that he finds it easiest to put himself into words. A con man has to be pretty self-aware, after all, and recent descent into Trouble-related denial notwithstanding, Duke's usually pretty with it. He tries with, "Believing in you was a momentary lapse on my part. It was the exception, for me." He waits until she looks him in the eye, gives her an encouraging grin. "It's kind of what I liked first about you."

"My total unreliability?"

"That, but listening to you anyway."

Maybe Audrey's an FBI agent, not a con, but she was in state care long enough to hear the truth in that, too: that seeing her flaws, seeing she was like Duke (unreliable, smart, too hidden) but trusting her anyway--

"What do you like best about me, then?" comes from the doorway.

Him and Nathan -- that's going to take more getting used to. Still. Duke looks him up and down, a long moment that makes Nathan blush and look uncomfortable. Then Duke says, "That's easy. Your ass."

"It's tight," Audrey agrees.

-

 

Nathan goes to take a phone call, probably to take a break from all the emotions.

Duke reprimands himself; he can't say shit like that out loud anymore, best not to think it. Too much.

"Listen," Audrey says, and it's in her Serious Tone, "you don't have to pretend to be okay for our sake." She leans forward. "You know that, right?"

Duke smiles a little. Tells her, "I'm not."

"Duke--" she starts, a little sad and a little annoyed, and he interrupts.

"You know," Duke says, tone conversational, "you always sound like that when I've annoyed you, or when you think I'm lying. Believe it or not, I hardly ever lie to you, Parker."

"You know," Audrey mimics, "you only call me by my last name when you're mad at me."

Duke blinks. "I did know that," he says, slow. "Though I'm surprised you noticed."

A little grin, and Audrey points to the door where Nathan's on his phone. "Nathan told me this evening," she admits.

"That does make more sense," Duke tells her. He's still sore and exhausted, still feels cold even though they've had him wrapped up in heating pads for nearly four hours. Another moment, and Duke tells her, "I'm pretending for my sake."

Her serious face is back, but Audrey leans in, rests herself against Duke's hospital bed ever so little. Her hip is resting beside his hand, if he wanted, he could reach out and stroke her waist. He won't.

Instead of asking how he is, or commenting on pretending to be okay, "He's looking out for you," Audrey says. "It might not look like it, but he is."

"By telling you when I'm mad at you," Duke asks, dubious.

"Believe it or not," she answers, dry, "I'm not the most observant person when it comes to people's feelings." Rolls her eyes, looks a little rueful. "Sometimes even my own."

Duke rasps out a little laugh, even though his throat still hurts from all the-- was he weeping, on the boat, or was it just harsh sobs? God, best not to wonder too hard. "I know that one," he says.

"I thought you might," she says.

After a moment, she takes his hand, puts it on her thigh where it's resting on the bed. She isn't quite sitting down, probably afraid to jostle him. But she's close enough to touch.

Duke can't help it, maybe it's the Trouble, still. He clings. Says nothing.

-

 

When Nathan comes back, he tells Audrey that visiting hours are over, and they start gathering their things to leave.

Duke, suddenly paralyzed with remembered fear, has to fight himself not to call them back. This is the Trouble, not him, he isn't afraid of being left. He isn't.

"Nathan," he says instead. Nathan waves Audrey on ahead, and Duke asks, straight-up, "Why are you doing this?"

A moment, and Nathan tells him, "Doesn't the saying go, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em?"

Duke gets angry, all of a sudden, angry and feels small. He was asking a serious question, for once, and--

"It took this to talk about it, even with Audrey," Nathan tells Duke. It looks painful to be speaking, period. "Jess said I don't, that I don't really believe I deserve good things, sometimes."

"That'll come from being--" and then Duke claps his mouth closed, because calling Nathan a freak right now was just habit, and a habit he was going to have to break pretty fucking quick. Also, it comes more from what your parents say and do, and that, that's something Duke knows.

Nathan takes pity on him, and finishes, "Yeah."

Duke still doesn't get it. "So what do you get out of this?" It's the one thing he can't figure out. At least Audrey liked him.

Nathan reaches over, squeezes Duke's shoulder tight for one moment. Duke knows that Nathan can't feel it, knows that it means nothing; but he still does it, and that's what matters. So Duke claps his own hand on top of Nathan's. Maybe, that's just it.

Nathan pulls away. His face is softer, somehow. Like he's trying. Of course, he also says, "I also heard you're good in bed."