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In This Together

Chapter Text

“Wuornos,” Nathan snapped, answering his ringing phone.

“Detective Wuornos?  Dispatch here,” came an unfamiliar voice over the line.  “We need you out on Shore Road, single vehicle accident. Fire service and paramedics are on their way and Officer Hendrickson requires back up.

“On my way.”  With that, Nathan ended the call and jumped in the Bronco, racing to the scene of the accident.  

Barricades were already in place, closing the road. Smoke billowed from the tangled wreckage and, just visible through the thick, black clouds, was an unmistakable flash of yellow.

Duke's Landrover.

It was already well alight, flames licking their way through what had once been a vehicle and was now barely recognisable, just a twist of charred metal.

Nathan's chest constricted, his heart trying to force his way out of his throat as he leaped out of the Bronco and forced his way past the barricade.

“Duke!” He screamed.

The anguish was apparent in his voice and Dwight let out a heartfelt curse beneath his breath. Why the hell had Nathan been sent out? He rushed to intercept him, his hands outstretched.

“Nathan, don't. You can't get near, I've already tried.”

“We can't just leave him!” Nathan tried to shoulder his way past Dwight. It might be hopeless but he had to try.

The agony was written on every line of his face and Dwight grabbed hold of his shoulders.  “There’s nothing we can do! I'm sorry.”

Nathan struggled against him, eventually managing to get just his left hand free. He pulled his arm back and punched Dwight, his fist landing squarely on his soot covered jaw. “I have to try! I can't lose him!”

Dwight barely flinched. He pulled Nathan into a bear hug, trapping his arms by his sides. “There's nothing you can do,” he said again, his voice hoarse from the smoke he'd inhaled in his own attempts to get close enough to the Landrover to pull Duke out. “All you're gonna do is get yourself hurt. Duke wouldn't want that. Fire department'll be here any minute. Wait for them.”

Nathan went still, numb as he watched the Landrover burn.

The distant sound of sirens approached but they were already too late, he knew that, and he choked back a sob, sagging in Dwight's arms.

“I'm sorry, man,” Dwight said, half carrying Nathan back to his police cruiser. “Sit here and wait. Let me handle this.”

Nathan collapsed into the passenger seat of the cruiser, thoughts flashing through his mind. The last conversation they'd had. Before he left for work. Duke had imported some alcohol for the Gull, top shelf stuff that wasn't entirely legal. It had led to an argument. Of course it had, because Nathan hadn't been able to keep his damn mouth shut. He hadn't even - he hadn't even told Duke he loved him before he stormed out the door and now...now he'd never have the chance again. His throat closed up and he dug his fingers into his palms as he tried to remember how to breathe.

Dwight stayed close to him, watching the fire service work to put out the fire. It had mostly burnt itself out before they got there and it was only a few minutes before the fire chief was beckoning him over for a debrief. “You gonna be ok for a minute?” He asked Nathan.

“I won’t go anywhere if that’s what you mean,” Nathan said, his voice thick with emotion.

“Ok,” Dwight gave him a nod and strode off to talk to the fire chief.

They talked, animated gestures and slumped shoulders before a flurry of activity and Dwight rushed back just moments later, talking on his police radio at the same time.

Nathan jumped out of the car to meet him. “He’s really gone isn’t he? I need to see him…”

“He's not in there, Nathan. No one's in there,” Dwight said, his voice cracking with relief. “I've called for more backup, organised a search party. We'll find him.”

“Are you sure? He's...he's not in there?” Nathan hardly dared to let himself hope.

“Fire chief's sure. He's not in there.”

Relief flooded through Nathan, leaving him weak kneed and light headed. He grabbed at the car door to keep from falling and let out a shaky laugh. “Damn idiot never wears his seat belt!”

Dwight's answering laugh was high pitched, almost a hysterical giggle. “Yeah. Yeah, I lost count of the amount of times I've ticketed him for that.”

“Got enough backup for a search party. Let's get going. We have to find him.” Nathan snapped straight back into detective mode.

“No we about it. You have to stay here. If he's been thrown out of the vehicle... He could -” Dwight's throat closed up again and he swallowed hard “- be hurt or worse, don't want you seeing that if he is.”

“No, I’m not staying here. I’m helping,” Nathan said, already moving toward the group of officers who were waiting for instructions.

Dwight grabbed his arm. “Nathan. Right now you're Duke's family. Not a cop. Stand down, please. He could...he could be a real mess and he'd want to protect you from that. Wait here until we know.”

“We’re wasting time arguing!” Nathan yanked his arm away but Dwight’s stony expression made it clear that arguing would be fruitless and waste even more time.  He sighed and stopped fighting. “Go. Find him. Please.”

“I'll find him. I promise,” Dwight gave Nathan's shoulder a squeeze before he strode off.

Nathan slumped against the cruiser, his arms folded across his chest as Dwight gave the orders.  The search was in good hands and all he could do was offer a prayer to a god he wasn’t sure he believed in that Duke would be found alive.  Because the possibility that he wasn't…? He wasn't ready to face that possibility yet.

Dwight barked orders at the search crew, organising them to search in a radius from the burnt out Landrover, focussing their efforts on the area to the north of the accident site where the thick undergrowth would obscure any casualty from view. Leaving Stan behind to keep an eye on Nathan, he joined the search party.

The going was tough. The foliage was over the heads of the searchers in many places, thick enough that they had to cut their way through in others. It was hot and it was slow but they searched tirelessly.

Halfway down the steep bank that led away from the accident site, a cry went up.

“Medic!”

Dwight recognised the voice and made his way straight there, arriving before the paramedics. “McHugh. What you got?”

McHugh was crouched in the undergrowth. “It's him. He's out cold but breathing with a strong pulse.”

Dwight hacked at the thick bushes surrounding him, forcing his way through until he saw McHugh, kneeling on the ground with Duke's head between his hands, stabilising his neck. “Thank god,” he breathed.

McHugh nodded. “No telling how bad he's injured. Head, spine...can't check those in the field but... he's breathing, that's a good sign.”

The paramedics raced down the slope as fast as they could, alongside several firefighters who were carrying ropes and a stretcher.

“Noelle, Joseph, Don,” Dwight greeted them and backed off, leaving McHugh to give them a rundown of Duke's condition and organise the extrication. That was his speciality, out in Afghanistan. Duke would be in good hands so Dwight made his way back up the bank.

He found Nathan still slumped against the cruiser and hurried over. “He's alive. They're bringing him up now.”

Nathan looked up sharply. “He’s alive?” When Dwight nodded he let out a sound that was somewhere between a sob and a laugh. “Thank you!” He said launching himself at Dwight and pulling him into a hug.

Dwight clapped him on the back, hard enough to hurt. “Can't tell how badly he's hurt, mind you.  He's unconscious but his pulse is strong and he's breathing. McHugh’s with him, Gloria's going to meet us at the hospital, oversee his care.”

“But he’s alive. That’s enough right now. I want to ride with him, can you have someone take care of the Bronco?” Nathan didn’t wait for an answer, he just hurried towards the ambulance.

“I'll follow in the Bronco, have someone bring the cruiser back for me. And Nathan…? Don't get in the way. McHugh knows his stuff, so do Noelle and Joseph. Anything goes south, you listen to them, ok?”

Nathan nodded. “I got it. I won’t get in the way. I just need to see him.”

Dwight squeezed his shoulder and waited while McHugh and the paramedics loaded Duke into the back of the ambulance. With a final nod, he closed the door and jumped into the Bronco.

In the ambulance, Noelle was monitoring Duke's vitals. “He's doing ok,” she said, giving Nathan a reassuring smile before turning back to focus her attention on Duke.

He was pale, his arm twisted at an awkward angle, and blood oozed from cuts on his head, hands and arms, but he was unmistakably alive.

McHugh gave Nathan a nod. “He's lucky. Could've been worse.”

Nathan spent the ride to the hospital with his eyes glued to Duke, watching his chest rise and fall.  He was alive. He was alive. The thought kept repeating through his head and he tentatively reached out to take hold of his uninjured hand.

Noelle looked up from what she was doing and gave him a quick smile. “Go ahead. Just watch his IV.”

Nathan let out a shaky breath and carefully held Duke’s hand, rubbing his thumb across the inside of his wrist, reassured by the feel of Duke’s pulse, strong beneath his fingers.

“Vitals are all good,” McHugh said gruffly as Joseph brought the ambulance to a stop outside the hospital.

In a flurry of activity, the doors were flung open and Duke was wheeled into the ER. Voices overlapped, shouting numbers and names and instructions in a cacophony of chaos.

McHugh squeezed Nathan's shoulder. “We're outta here. Dwight’ll be here any minute.”

The ER doors closed, leaving Nathan standing alone in the waiting room.  He stared at the doors until his vibrating phone shook him out of his haze.  He pulled it out and groaned when he saw the caller ID. “Whatever it is...now is not the time.”

“Problem?” Garland barked down the phone.

“That accident on Shore Road...it was Duke. But I’m sure you knew that already. I’m at the hospital and I’m taking the rest of the day off.”

“Be there in ten.”

Having expected his father’s normal indifferences and a variety of choruses of ‘there’s nothing you can do’ and ‘let the doctors do their job’ and ‘keep busy’, Nathan was momentarily taken aback.  “Ok. Thanks,” he said quietly.

Garland grunted something that might have been “you're welcome” and ended the call.

Nathan was still staring at his phone when Dwight came into the waiting room.

“Any news?”

Nathan just shook his head. “They just brought him in.” When he finally looked up, confusion was written all over his face. “The Chief’s on his way...not entirely sure why.”

“That's...surprising,” Dwight ventured.

“You staying? Not sure I can stomach his disapproval by myself right now.”  

Dwight nodded. “If you like. Want me to grab some coffees, see if I can track down Gloria?”

“Yeah. And Dwight...thanks…” Nathan said, knowing Dwight would understand he meant for more than just coffee.

Just as Dwight left the room, the Chief walked in and Nathan tensed with the anticipation of what he might say.

“Nathan,” Garland greeted him. “Doing ok?”

“Not really. Don’t know how he’s doing. Looked like his arm was broken…” Nathan replied.

“Any idea what the hell happened?”

“No. The Landrover was already burning when I got there. He was thrown from the vehicle. Dwight might know more. He just went for coffee.”

“Not wearing his seatbelt then,” Garland snorted.

“Well, if he had been he’d be dead so not too concerned about that.” Nathan snapped.

“How the hell did he even crash out there? It's a damn straight bit of smooth tarmac. You requested a blood alcohol level?”

Nathan glared at his father. “What? He doesn’t drink and drive! What is wrong with you?”

Dwight cleared his throat from behind them. “Nathan isn't the investigating officer here, I am. And yes, I'm following protocol and I've requested a blood alcohol level, the same as I would in any other accident. I fully expect it to come back as zero.”

Garland bristled slightly. “Just make sure they run it.”

Dwight nodded and passed Nathan his coffee.

“That why you’re here, Chief? To see if you can arrest my criminal boyfriend for drunk driving?” Nathan couldn’t keep the anger out of his voice.

“No! No, that's not why I'm here. Nathan, you're my son and you love Duke. God only knows why but you do. Seemed right that I was here. Can go if you want me to.”

Nathan took a deep breath. “No, don’t want you to go. I’m just worried. I appreciate the support. Just wish we knew something…”

“Sure Gloria’ll be in soon,” Dwight said. “She knows we're here.”

“Do we know how the accident happened?” Nathan asked Dwight.

“Not yet. I only got there a few minutes before you did, haven’t had a chance to carry out an investigation yet.  Stan’s still on scene, processing, should know more once that’s done and once I can talk to Duke.”

“If he wakes up,” Nathan said grimly.

“He’ll be alright, son,” Garland said kindly.  “Crocker’s have always had hard heads and that boy more than most.”

Nathan let out strangled sound that was almost a chuckle. “That’s almost reassuring.”

“I mean…” Dwight said.  “...Not wrong…”

Garland managed a small smile.  “Gonna go get myself a coffee.”

Nathan waited for him to leave and turned to Dwight.  “You know he wasn’t drinking, right? Had to be another reason.”

“It’s Duke, Nathan.  You can’t say that with any certainty.”

“You might not be able to but I can. Blood alcohol level will confirm it.”

Dwight nodded.  “I don’t believe he was drinking.  But I can’t rule it out without the test.”

“I know. And it’ll be better to have proof for the Chief.”

“What does that old goat want proof of now?” Gloria asked, bustling her way in between Nathan and Dwight.

“Insinuated Duke was drinking.” Nathan replied, desperately searching Gloria’s face for any hint of the news she was about to deliver. “How is he? Can I see him?”

Gloria snorted.  “He knows better than that.  You send him to me, I’ll set him straight.  Duke is ok. He’s still unconscious but he’s stable.  Scans show nothing more serious than a concussion - albeit a bad one, I’d expect it to be a few more hours before he wakes up, several days before he’s walking and talking properly and maybe a couple of months until he’s back to normal.  The broken arm will presumably have been obvious, otherwise it’s an just assortment of bruises and cuts. He’s been stitched up and cleaned up and we’re moving him to a room soon. Once he’s settled, you can see him.”

“He’s really okay? He’s gonna wake up?” Nathan asked, visions of Duke in the ambulance fresh in his mind.

“A head injury is a head injury, there’re no guarantees but yes, I fully expect him to.”

“Thanks for taking on his care, Gloria. I know he’s in good hands.”

“Not gonna let anything happen to him,” Gloria said gruffly.  “You go and get something to eat, he’ll be settled by the time you’re done and you can sit with him til he wakes up.”

Nathan nodded, not sure he could eat anything. “Guess I should find the Chief. You’ll find me when he’s in his room?”

“I will.  And I’ll find the Chief, I want a word with him about the petty little assumptions he likes to make.  You - “ Gloria turned to glare at Dwight. “- Look after him.”

Dwight looked a little taken aback.  “Uh. Yeah.”

Gloria patted his shoulder.  “Good. Nathan, I’ll find you as soon as Duke’s settled.”

Nathan looked over at Dwight. “Cafeteria?”

“Terrible cafeteria food and even worse coffee. Sounds perfect.”

Nathan laughed. “Yeah, not my first choice either. Let’s go.”

Chapter Text

True to her word, Gloria found them in the cafeteria, just as Nathan finished the last mouthful of his admittedly terrible lunch.

“Ok, he's settled. Still out for the count. Room 410. Fourth floor, third room along from the elevator. Listen to the nurses, no more than two people in his room at any one time. Standard visiting hours are two til four and seven til nine but they'll waive them for you, Nathan, stay as long as you want.”

Nathan immediately jumped up and started for the elevator, pausing just briefly to ask Dwight if he was coming.

Dwight drained the last of his coffee. “Should get back. You gonna be ok?”

“Yeah, Gloria said she’d talk to the Chief so I’ll just go sit with Duke. But I’m probably going to need to talk to the chief about taking some time off.”

“I'll ask Laverne to arrange cover for your shifts. Chief’ll have to ok it but I'll get the ball rolling.”

“I can’t say it enough, Dwight...thank you.” Nathan said seriously.

Dwight waved him off. “Anytime. Bronco's parked outside. Call me if you need anything, otherwise I'll be back later.”

Nathan nodded an acknowledgement and hurried off to take the elevator to Duke’s room.  Outside the door, he hesitated, mentally preparing himself. After a deep, slightly shaky breath, he opened the door and walked inside.

Being a cop, he should have been prepared for what he saw.  He’d spent time with dozens of accident victims and their families.  But seeing Duke - the man he loved - lying in the hospital bed...that was completely different.

Wires and tubes were everywhere.  A heart monitor. An IV. He was breathing on his own but still wore an oxygen mask as a precaution.  His right arm was in a sling, too swollen to cast yet. Tiny cuts from the glass of the windshield covered his hands, arms and face.  Luckily only one had been deep enough to need stitches, the one on his temple, but the wounds stood out, stark against the pallor of his skin.  His left eye was swollen shut, dark purple radiating outwards from the eye socket.

Nathan pulled a chair close to the left hand side of the bed and sat down, reaching out to take Duke’s hand in his and bring it to his lips so he could kiss Duke’s palm. It was something they had done for years, a comforting gesture between them and maybe Duke wasn’t aware of it but it made Nathan feel better anyway.  He stared at Duke, watching the rise and fall of chest for a long time before he spoke.

“I’m so sorry for everything I said this morning. It’s just alcohol. Stupid bottles of alcohol. I don’t know if you can hear me but I love you. Even though I was mad this morning I should have said it before I left. Please, Duke, you need to wake up. You need to come back to me.”  Tears slid down his cheeks but he couldn’t bring himself to let go of Duke’s hand to wipe them away.

There was no response from Duke, just an eerie silence broken only by the soft hiss of the oxygen and Nathan jumped when a hand landed on his shoulder. As lost as he'd been, staring at Duke, he hadn't heard anyone come in.

Garland squeezed his shoulder. “Gloria said I'd find you here.”

Nathan quickly dropped Duke’s hand so he could wipe the tears from his face.  “Didn’t hear you come in,” he said, hoping his father hadn’t noticed he’d been crying.  When he looked up, he expected to see disapproval for his outward display of emotions but Garland only looked concerned.  “Could you stay a bit?”

Garland squeezed his shoulder again and nodded. “Yeah. For a bit. Gotta get back to the station and sort your shifts out.”

Nathan nodded, hesitating as he tried to work out how to best phrase what he was about to ask.  He knew it wasn’t going to go over well but Duke’s needs were more important than whether or not he made his father - and boss - angry.  “Gloria said he’s not going to be back to normal for a while. He’s going to need someone to take care of him. I know you’re going to argue about it but I have vacation days saved up or would you rather I take a personal leave?”

“Don't worry about that now. You've got enough leave saved up, ten weeks of family leave on top of that if you need it. I'll sort it.”

Nathan blinked, surprised he wasn’t getting more of an argument.  There was no love lost between the Chief and Duke and while he knew his father wasn’t a monster who didn’t care, he also wasn’t expecting the concern he was showing.  “Thank you. I know you aren’t happy about me and Duke.”

“No, I'm not. Think he's an ass and you could do better. But you love him and you won't be any good on the job until he's recovered.”

Which, Nathan thought, was a fair point.  He’d be useless until Duke was his normal self again.  He nodded and picked up Duke’s hand. “Always thought it would be me lying in a hospital bed not him.”

Garland nodded. “Thought the same. Crocker's always had a knack for keeping himself out of harm's way.”

Nathan managed a small laugh. “Yeah, he does. I know Gloria said it would be a while before he woke up but this is killing me. What if he doesn’t?”

“It’d take more than this to keep him down.”

He was right and Nathan nodded.  Duke was tough. He’d pull through this.  Even if it was only to yell about the fact the fire department couldn’t save his Landrover.

“You don’t have to stay,” Nathan said when Garland shifted uncomfortably in the chair.  “I’m ok now. Know you’ve got a lot to do at the station.”

Garland nodded, relieved. “I'll head off. Call if you need anything.”

With that, he left, leaving Nathan alone with Duke. And his thoughts.

Chapter Text

“Laverne, got a minute?” Dwight poked his head around the door when he got back to the station.

Laverne motioned Dwight inside. “Sure, hon...is this about Duke? How is he?”

“He hasn't woken up yet so…” Dwight sighed. “It was a mess. He was lucky. Gloria says he'll be ok, just gotta believe that.”

“And how is Nathan? The Chief told me he was meeting him at the hospital.”

“Nathan…? Nathan tried to throw himself into the flames to get to Duke. How the hell did that happen, Laverne? How did Nathan get dispatched to an accident involving his partner?”

“What are you talking about? That can’t happen. I have protocols in place to prevent that! The only way my protocols fail is if it wasn’t called in correctly...who called it in?” Laverne asked, rushing back to her computer to pull up the accident.

“Anonymous passerby, according to the information I was given when I was dispatched.”

Laverne scanned the information on the computer screen and slammed her hand on her desk. “That damned trainee the Chief insisted was competent enough to be left alone! The information is right here! The only way Nathan could have been sent on that call is if he was the only officer available! And even then the Chief would have been sent out over him!”

“Should've known,” Dwight muttered. “Can you have a word, please, find out if it was a genuine mistake or lack of attention. Don't want that sort of mess happening again. If I hadn't been there…”

Laverne walked down the hall and found the trainee, Henry, in the break room getting coffee. “Henry, can you come back to dispatch please? Officer Hendrickson and I need to clarify something about the accident this morning.”

“Uh, sure Laverne, everything ok?” Henry asked nervously, following her back to dispatch.

Once back in dispatch, Laverne asked Henry to sit down behind the computer.

“When we get a call about an accident and we put in the victim’s name or the license plate of the vehicle, what pops up in that box in the corner?”

“...it pops up with the officers who shouldn't be dispatched because they have a relationship with the victim,” Henry said.

Dwight raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, and when you put the licence plate in earlier, for Duke's accident, whose name popped up?”

“Detective Wuornos.”

“And who did you dispatch?”

“...Detective Wuornos…”

“Any particular reason you decided to override protocol and send Nathan to his partners accident?” Dwight tried to keep his temper under control.

“You asked for a senior officer, I thought...I thought that overrode protocol.”

“Henry, nothing...and I mean nothing overrides that protocol. I know we discussed this. You got lucky this time...Duke is alive. What do think might have happened if Nathan arrived at that accident where the on scene officer couldn’t have held him back? Or what if they hadn’t found Duke alive? Did you have any doubts about dispatching Nathan?” Laverne asked, trying to hold onto her temper.

“We- y- yeah, I didn't think it was right but Officer Hendrickson requested a senior officer and Detective Wuornos was the only one available, except for...the Chief and I didn't think...and you weren't here for me to ask.”

“You are going to give me an ulcer! If you ever have doubts ask someone! You could have mentioned to Officer Hendrickson that Nathan was the only one available...or this is a novel idea...you could have asked the Chief . He is the Chief for a reason... And when I got back you could have told me what you did! I could have called Nathan back!” Laverne shouted.

“I'm sorry,” Henry mumbled. “I thought I was doing the right thing.”

Dwight sighed. “Ok. Lesson learned, right? I'm not going to have to physically restrain any more of my friends or colleagues to stop them killing themselves trying to rescue a loved one?”

“It won't happen again,” Henry said, staring down at his feet. “I'm really sorry.”

“Okay, go take a fifteen minute break. I need time to calm down...then we’ll go over all the protocols again,” Laverne said, ushering Henry out of dispatch.

Henry allowed himself to be shooed out, shooting another apologetic look over his shoulder as he left.

Dwight shook his head. “Guess he didn't mean any harm but...what a fuck up.”

“I know. He screws up again, I’m asking the Chief to have him reassigned. So, how is Nathan? Is he okay now?”

“As ok as you'd expect. He's worried but I think he'll be ok once Duke wakes up,” Dwight ran a hand over his face. “I never want to hear him scream like that again.”

“I’m sorry, Dwight. I’m just glad you were there to keep him from hurting himself.”

“So am I. Don't even want to think about what might’ve happened.”

“I know what would have happened...he would’ve ended up in the hospital. And then Duke would’ve come down here to chew us out for letting him get hurt. Don’t worry, it won’t happen again,” Laverne assured him.

Dwight managed a small smile. “Yeah. Thanks.”

Chapter Text

Nathan hadn't moved, not even to get so much as a cup of coffee and it was now well into the evening as he sat by Duke’s bedside, gently combing his fingers through Duke’s hair.

“I really wish you’d wake up. I miss you. Yeah, I know, if you can hear me you're laughing because you’ve been out for less than a day. But it’s too quiet. All I hear are these damned machines. What I want is to hear your voice. I promise never to complain that you talk to much if you just open your eyes. I don’t know if I can do this without you. You’ve been in my life so long that I really can’t remember what it was like without you.” He took his hand away from Duke’s hair and picked up his hand again. “Please, Duke...please don’t leave me.”

Gloria appeared by Duke's bedside with a tray of food and a gigantic mug of coffee. “Keep talking to him,” she said kindly.

A stray tear made its way down Nathan’s cheek and he brushed it away.  “I’ve been talking to him all day. I’m not sure it’s working.”

“No one knows if it does or not but one thing I will tell you is that his heart rate steadies when you speak, more so when you touch him. He's calmer with you here. Keep it up.”

“I fought with him this morning. I left the Rouge angry with him. The Chief told me once that was the one thing a cop should never do because if we don’t come home the guilt will eat our loved ones alive. And he was right. If he dies and I never get the chance to tell him I’m sorry…”

“He's not dying. His brain got rattled around his thick skull. It's bruised and needs some time to heal and reboot. That's all. I've checked the scans myself instead of leaving it to that idiot radiographer and I sent a copy to Eleanor - remember her? She's down at Johns Hopkins these days, knows her stuff. She's confirmed my thoughts. He'll be fine.”

“I still feel guilty.”

Gloria nodded. “Try not to. He's going to need you when he wakes up, he doesn't need to be sticking you back together again.”

Nathan nodded. “I know. I’ve already told the Chief I’m taking time off. I’m not leaving his side until he’s back to normal.”

Gloria snorted. “Doubt he'll ever be normal, the word isn't in his vocabulary but he'll appreciate your help. And so will I. He's like a son to me. An idiotic, stupid, son of a bitch that I want to slap as often as I want to hug him but goddamn if I don't love that kid.”

“Yeah, so do I. Just wish I could get the Chief to back off. Though he has been surprisingly supportive and concerned today.”

“He's all bark. Always has been. He doesn't hate Duke nearly as much as he pretends to. He hates what Duke reminds him of.”

Nathan looked confused. “What does Duke remind him of?”

“Simon. You never met him, I don't think. Died when Duke was a kid. He and Garland... they were best friends when they were kids. Until Simon took a different path, screwed his life up. Garland never forgave him and you can bet your life that he's never forgiven himself either. He looks at Duke and sees all of that.”

“I didn’t know that. Makes sense. But he has to see that Duke isn’t screwing things up anymore. Hasn’t been for a long time. I just hope when that blood alcohol level comes back zero he’ll start to believe it.”

“Oh, it did and I've already called to tell him. He grunted something that might've been an apology.”

Nathan let out a laugh. “I knew he wasn’t drinking. Thank you, Gloria. For that, for taking care of Duke personally, for everything.”

Gloria ruffled his hair. “You're welcome. Eat the food. Drink the coffee. You won't be any good to my boy if you don't take care of yourself too.”

“I will.” Nathan assured her.

After she left he turned back to Duke and picked up his hand again.  “Gloria says your heart rate stabilizes when I talk to you, touch you. I hope she’s right. I don’t want you to be scared. They’re taking good care of you. The nurses are really sweet, you’re going to like them. Bill called a little while ago. He and Meg are going to visit tomorrow. It’d be great if you were awake to see them. God, this is so hard. Gloria swears you’re going to be okay and I want to believe her but…”

Nathan let out a deep sigh. “You just want to see what else I’ll promise you, is that it? Duke, I’ll give you anything, do anything...I just hate seeing you like this.” He kissed Duke’s palm again, rested his head on the bed beside Duke and closed his eyes. Just for ten seconds, he told himself. Just to rest his eyes.

Exhausted as he was, only a few minutes later he'd fallen into a fitful sleep.

Duke fought his way back to the surface. It felt like drowning. Drowning in the icy, dark water of his mind. Something kept trying to suck him back under but there was something stronger pulling him up.

Nathan's touch.

Nathan's voice.

He couldn't make out the words, he just knew it was Nathan. He had to get back to Nathan.

So he fought, clawing his way back to consciousness with grim determination until - finally - he was able to open his eyes (just a crack, the light was too painful) and mumble Nathan's name.

Nathan’s eyes snapped open, the sound of his name cutting through his light sleep. He sat up and ran his hand across his face. Duke’s right eye was open, just barely, and despite his stillness, there was something more...animated about him.

He was awake.

Nathan jumped up and reached for the call button. A minute later he heard the night nurse’s voice. “Nurses station. Everything okay, Nathan?”

“He’s awake! Duke’s awake!”

“We’ll call Gloria. I’ll be right in to take his vitals. Don’t let him move his arm.”

Nathan grabbed Duke’s hand and almost cried when Duke squeezed tightly. “You came back to me! Oh God, Duke, I love you so much...I’m so sorry for this morning. I don’t care where you get your alcohol...I’m so glad you’re okay...”

Minutes later Duke’s room was bustling with activity with one nurse taking his vitals and making sure his arm was still immobilised while another was taking blood. The on call doctor was on the phone with Gloria listening to her instructions about what she wanted done before she got back.

Nathan sat quietly, out of the way, thanking God that Duke was okay.

Duke endured the fuss with increasing annoyance. He wanted to shout, shake them off, protest he was fine but…but Nathan had sounded close to tears so maybe…maybe it had been a closer call than he thought so he kept still and quiet and tolerated being poked and prodded.

At least he did until Gloria bustled in, wearing a white medical coat over a pair of very fetching floral pyjamas which he was definitely going to pull her leg about just as soon as his head stopped thumping for long enough that he could come up with a witty remark.

“Save me,” he croaked.

Gloria rolled her eyes. “Gave us a bit of a scare there, kiddo.”

Duke glared at her as best he could given that one eye was swollen shut and the bright lights of the hospital room were hurting the other one.

“No, don't give me that look. You're staying right here where I can keep my damn eye on you.”

Duke turned towards Nathan, doing his best puppy dog eyes. At least, he tried to. Given that Nathan barely suppressed a laugh, he thought it might not have worked quite as well as he'd hoped.

“I know you hate this, Duke, but Gloria just wants to make sure everything’s okay. That you’re okay. And they still have to set and cast your arm. I’ll be here the whole time. I promise. Not going anywhere.” Nathan promised, holding Duke’s good hand in both of his.

Duke sighed and nodded, setting off a new range of thuds in his head. He closed his eyes and leaned back, submitting to the care he didn't want to admit he needed.

Gloria repeated all of the checks that the nurses and on call doctor had done, needing to see for herself that Duke was ok.

He tolerated it without a grumble, soothed by Nathan's words, Nathan's hands around his, and even managed a small smile when Gloria said she was finished. “Thanks, doc.”

“Anytime, kitten,” she said affectionately. “Don't you go scaring me like that again, I'm an old woman, my heart can't take much more of this.”

Duke started to protest, to complain that it had been an accident, that it hadn't - for once - been his fault that he got hurt, but he thought better of it. Now wasn't the time to argue. “Sorry, mom,” he said instead, managing a cheeky grin.

“Watch your sass, kid,” Gloria said, leaning down to give him a very gentle hug. “Ok, get some rest, I've ordered hourly checks. Don't complain and don't give the nurses any grief or you'll have me to answer to. Nathan, you're in charge of making sure he stays there. You know what he's like, he'll be trying to escape as soon as that arm's in plaster.”

Nathan smiled and gave her a mock salute. “Yes, ma’am.”

He waited for Gloria and the nurses to leave before turning to Duke. “I am so glad you are okay. I was terrified I’d never hear your voice again. Or tell you I loved you. Or to apologize for being a judgemental asshole yesterday. I’m so sorry. I trust you not to get in over your head again.”

Duke was quiet for a moment, working through everything Nathan had said. “This is worse than a hangover,” he complained, rather than answering Nathan directly. “And I didn't even get the fun part of being drunk.”

“That’s a pretty dark joke considering Dwight actually had to order a blood alcohol level done,” Nathan said softly.

“...He did?’

“Yeah, it’s protocol. It came back zero if you were wondering. I’m glad they did though…”

Duke snorted. “I wasn't wondering. Last drink I had was the night before, up on the deck, with you. I wasn't drunk and fuck anyone who thought otherwise. Go on, who was it? No doubt someone thought I was because if it was just protocol, you wouldn't've mentioned it.”

“It is protocol.” Nathan sighed and rubbed his forehead. “But yeah, the Chief implied you might have been drinking.”

"Of course he did,” Duke said bitterly. “Just please tell me my truck’s fixable…?”

Nathan dropped his gaze to the floor.

“Nathan…? Please tell me my truck is fixable?”

“It burned out…”

“It... what?!”

“I don’t know how but it was on fire when Dwight got there...the fire department tried but it was mostly burned out by the time they got there. But that doesn’t matter...what matters is that you survived.”

“Wh- Ok, no, if the truck burned out, how am I…?” Duke groaned. “Don't tell me. The chief pulled me out of the burning wreckage and now I'm going to have to thank him for saving my life.”

“No, you weren’t wearing your damn seatbelt...again. Dwight and McHugh found you. Chief wasn’t even there...I was,” Nathan said quietly.

Duke was quiet for a moment. “I don't remember. I remember swerving to avoid a dog and that oh fuck moment when I realised my steering wasn't responding but then nothing til I heard your voice.”

“Your steering wasn’t responding?” Nathan asked, sitting up straighter.

“Nope, turned sharp left to miss the dog, couldn't turn right again afterwards. It was like….it wasn't jammed, it was just really really heavy and I couldn't turn it enough to steer away from the... I hit the tree, didn't I?” Duke winced.

Nathan frowned trying to work out what Duke was saying. “When was the last time you had your truck checked out? I mean really checked...and yes, you hit the tree and got thrown from the truck.”

“I don't...is that why my face feels like it's gone ten rounds with a cheese grater?”

“Probably,” Nathan replied. “You didn’t answer my question though. When was the last time you checked the truck? Is there something you don’t want me to know?”

“No, nothing like that. I can't think, Nathan. My brain feels like...like scrambled eggs and my head hurts.”

Nathan reached out to run his fingers through Duke’s hair. “I’m so sorry. I can’t seem to turn it off...I’m a fucking idiot. You don’t need me being cop right now. We don’t need to figure anything out, that’s Dwight’s job.” He brought Duke’s hand to his lips and kissed his palm, hoping to calm him down. “I just want to focus on getting you better. I’m going to be with you every step of the way.  Not leaving your side, I promise.”

Duke managed a weak smile. “Guess it's a good job I wasn't wearing my seatbelt because if you're being this nice to me, I'm betting it was a close call.”

Nathan rolled his eyes. “Yeah yeah go ahead, make fun of me. I’m always nice to you.”

“Yeah,” Duke said softly. “Thanks Nathan.”

“You want to try to get some sleep before the nurses come back? I’ll be here when you wake up.”

Duke nodded and immediately regretted it, then tried to turn over and immediately regretted that too, hissing sharply when the broken bones in his arm grated together.

Nathan immediately stood up to help him get comfortable while still keeping his arm from moving. “Just close your eyes and relax.”

“Yeah,” Duke managed through teeth gritted against the pain. “Gloria say anything about broken ribs because it feels like at least two.”

“No, but I’ll tell the nurses when they come back. Unless you want me to get them now?” Nathan asked worriedly.                        

“Could you? Morphine is sounding pretty good right now.”

Nathan pressed the call button and the night nurse answered again, “Nurses station. How can I help you?”

“Marissa, can you see if you can get someone to check about Duke’s ribs? He says they feel broken.”

“I’ll be right there,” Marissa replied, appearing in the room just seconds later. She picked up the chart and flipped the pages. “Yes, he has three cracked ribs. I can get you some pain medication if you need it.” She told Duke.

“Yes. Pain medication. Lots of it. Please.”

Marissa laughed, “Gloria warned me about you. I’ll give you your max dose now but we’ll revisit after it wears off. I’ll be right back.”

She was back a few moments later and shot some pain medication into the IV bag. “You should start to feel better very soon. Try to rest. I’ll be back in twenty minutes to take all your vitals. Nathan, you should rest, too, you look tired.”

Duke gave Nathan a small, soft smile. “Why don't you go home, Nate? Get some proper rest.”

“No. I’m not leaving. I’ll be fine.”

“Please? Just get a few hours sleep, then come back…”

“I won’t be able to get any rest...when I close my eyes all I see is the Landrover on fire and thinking you were inside. It’s going to take a while to shake that image.”

“Ok,” Duke said quickly. “Ok, sorry. Stay.”

“If you close your eyes, I will.” Nathan offered.

“... Fair,” Duke said, closing his eyes - well, eye, really, seeing as one was swollen closed.

Nathan rested his head on the side of the bed and held tight to Duke’s hand. He was asleep almost as soon as he closed his eyes.

Marissa returned twenty minutes later for her scheduled check and hesitated by the door.  They both seemed to be sleeping but as she got closer to the bed, she realised that Duke was awake and paler than he had been twenty minutes before. “Duke, what’s wrong? Are you still in pain?” She asked moving around Nathan, trying not to wake him.

“Yeah. A lot.”

Marissa nodded and smiled softly. “Okay, let’s figure out what’s going on. Where do you hurt?”

“Everywhere. Everything hurts.”

“Is it better or worse than before?”

“Slightly better, not much.”

“On a scale of 1 to 10...ten being the worst how much does it hurt?”

“...Eight.”

“I’m going to call Gloria and find out if we can get you a morphine drip...but I will warn you that you’re going to feel high for a bit if we do. Or we can see about increasing the dose and frequency of the medication we give you. I’ll let you know what she says. I’ll be right back.”  Marissa hurried out of the room and true to her word, she was back within minutes.

“We’re going to put you on a temporary morphine drip. You’ll be feeling better in no time. But, Duke, if you’re ever in this much pain again please let me know. If you don’t want Nathan to know, I can ask him to step into the hall so you can tell me. Okay?”

“Ok. I just...didn't want to worry him. Sounds like he's been through enough today.”

“You won’t. He just wants you to be okay. But yeah, heard Gloria say something about there being a mix up and that he was called out to your accident. She asked us to keep an eye on him, too,” Marissa explained.

“Thanks,” Duke said quietly, stroking Nathan's hair, despite the increased pain when he moved.

“You’re welcome. Let me get that line set up. Then you need sleep. We’re going to be setting your arm in the morning.”

Duke sat patiently while she set up the line. “Thanks Marissa.”

Marissa smiled at him while she worked. Carefully removing Duke’s hand from Nathan’s. “This is the kind of relationship I want. Either of you have any single brothers?”

“Wade just found out his wife's been cheating on him but...yeah, no, you don't wanna go there.”

Marisa laughed, “No probably not. Here, just push this button and the morphine will dispense. Don’t worry about hitting it too often, it won’t dispense more than you can safely have. Now, please try to sleep.”

“I will. Thanks Marissa.”

“I’ll be back in an hour.” She said as she left.

She hadn't been kidding about feeling high after the first dose of morphine. Duke groaned as his head started spinning. His stomach clenched and his thoughts slowed and all he could do was close his eyes and do what he was told. Sleep.

He was flying. Weightless and free through clear air, the wind cool against his skin, raising tiny goosebumps. He soared like a bird until…

Until he hit the ground and pain rushed through him.

He woke up sobbing, every inch of him in sheer agony. Through his pain haze, he pushed the button to deliver more morphine and stifled the broken sounds he was making so he wouldn't disturb Nathan.

Nathan heard Duke’s soft cries and sat up quickly, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. “Hey, what’s wrong? Do you need me to get Marissa?”

Duke mumbled something that might have been agreement.

Nathan got up and pushed the call button. Marissa answered immediately. “Nurses station.”

“Marissa, not sure what’s wrong but Duke isn’t doing well.” Nathan said, his voice full of worry.

“I’ll be right there, Nathan. It’s probably just the morphine.”

“Morphine?” Nathan asked when Marissa came in.  “What happened while I was sleeping? Is he okay? Does Gloria know?”

“Nathan, you need to calm down. I can’t take care of both of you at the same time. Let me see what’s going on with Duke. Okay?” Marissa said gently.

Nathan nodded and moved back so she could get close to Duke.

“'m ok,” Duke managed to mumble, trying to give Marissa a desperate look to get Nathan out of there.

Marissa turned to Nathan. “Can you wait in the hall for a minute? Everything is okay…”

Nathan looked like he was going to argue but thought better of it. Marissa was a competent nurse and she wouldn’t ask him to leave if it wasn’t necessary so he gave Duke’s hand a soft squeeze and walked into the hall.

“What’s wrong?” She asked once Nathan had closed the door.

Duke let out a shaky breath. “Thanks. Just needed a minute while the next dose of morphine kicks in.”

“Duke, just be honest with Nathan. He’s not going to think anything less of you because you’re in pain. And he’s going to be more worried about being sent to the hall than knowing you’re hurting.” Marissa said, taking Duke’s vitals while she waited for the morphine to kick in.

“Guess so,” Duke sighed. “Between the nightmare and the pain...I could do with a few minutes on my own.”

“You need me to go, too?” Marissa asked.

“Could you? Ask Nathan to give me five...ten minutes….try and stop him worrying too much…”

“Okay, I will. Call me if you need me. You won’t be bothering me...I’ve been assigned just to you. Gloria’s orders,” Marissa said, heading out of the door.

She found Nathan pacing the hallway. “Hey, Nathan...he’s okay. Listen, he’s still in a lot of pain so he’s going to need a few minutes. Can you try to calm down and trust me to take care of him?”

Nathan nodded. “I’m sorry. I know you know what you’re doing. I’ll try not to get so worried.”

“That’s all I ask. Give him ten minutes. The morphine should have kicked in by then and he’ll be comfortable and able to sleep.”

Alone in his room, Duke couldn't stop shaking. Every single part of him hurt. Despite the morphine, it still hurt.

And now he knew why.

The dream - the nightmare - that had woken him had brought it all back and he now vividly remembered every second of the crash. He wished he didn't. He remembered crashing through the windshield with his face. He remembered a brief moment of being airborne before thudding back to the ground with a loud crack that was his arm breaking. He remembered rolling down the bank, smashing his ribs against rocks on the way. He remembered hitting his head against a tree and then….nothing.

Nothing except swimming around in the dark until Nathan's voice broke through to him. And then pain.

Gradually, the morphine kicked in and the shaking subsided enough that Duke was able to settle back against the pillow and wait for Nathan to come back in.

Nathan looked at his watch, it was close to five in the morning. He’d hardly slept in the last twenty four hours and the lack of sleep was making him anxious but the thought of leaving Duke’s side was terrifying.

Marissa had said they were setting Duke’s arm in the morning, he could go home and sleep when they were done. Maybe when Bill and Meg got there so Duke wasn’t alone.

He looked at his watch again and took a calming breath before going back into Duke’s room. “Hey, you okay or do you need a few more minutes?” Nathan asked softly.

“'m ok,” Duke said, slurring slightly through the haze of morphine.

Nathan sat down and started tenderly running his fingers through Duke’s hair. “Just relax and sleep. Okay?”

“Yeah.  You will as well?”

“I will. Promise.”

“'k,” Duke mumbled, closing his eyes to try to get some sleep before Marissa came back.

Nathan watched Duke sleep for a few minutes before he closed his eyes.

Chapter Text

Gloria insisted that Duke stay in hospital for forty eight hours, just so she could keep an eye on him and make sure they had the dose of morphine right so he wouldn't be in pain when he went home. After the first twenty four hours, Duke was back to complaining loudly that he was, alternately; bored, pissed off, tired, hungry, sore, and bored again so it was a huge relief to everyone when Gloria finally gave in.

“Ok, ok, I give up. I can't listen to your whinging anymore.  Go home. Try not to get into any more trouble.”

Duke grinned. “I promise, I'll stay in bed and do everything I'm told to do.”

Gloria raised her eyebrow. “Do you think I was born yesterday, kid? You'll be up and about long before you're ready but Nathan has strict instructions about what you are and aren't allowed to do so you'll listen to him. Hear me?”

“Yes, doc,” Duke tried to be conciliatory but the effect was ruined by the glint in his eyes that clearly said he had no intention of following orders.

Nathan was just as happy to be going home as Duke was. He was ready to be rid of those uncomfortable hospital chairs and tasteless food. All he wanted was to lounge on the couch with Duke in his arms and not move for hours.

“You ready?” He asked Duke just as he was signing the last of his discharge papers.

“So fucking ready. Take me home, Nate, please.”

The ride back to the Rouge was slow going.  Every bump and pothole caused Duke to griamace and hiss in pain.  The Bronco was probably the worst vehicle for this journey and Nathan cursed himself for not asking to borrow a police cruiser which would have been a smoother ride.

By the time they got back to the marina, Duke was in desperate need of another painkiller.  Either that or a stiff drink.

“Let’s get you inside and comfortable. Then maybe I’ll make us something to eat.” Nathan said, coming around to open the door.

Duke was pale and shaking and not entirely sure that he hadn't been slightly too hasty to get out of the hospital. He could deal with the pain, mostly, it wasn't the first time he'd broken a bone and it wasn't the fifteenth time he'd broken ribs. He could deal with the pain. What he couldn't deal with was the way his head spun, the world lurching around him; spiralling in complicated patterns that left him reeling and made his very soul hurt.

He stepped out of the truck and immediately stumbled. It was like being at sea in a heavy storm. Actually, no, it was worse than that because boats didn't tend to...to rotate in quite the same way as his brain was now determined that the solid ground under his feet was doing.

He steadied himself before he fell. “Please don't cook,” he managed to croak in response to Nathan's suggestion of food.

“Hey, I can cook a few things…” Nathan protested, trying to lighten the mood.

He took hold of Duke’s good arm and helped him walk towards the Rouge, wondering, not for the first time, why Gloria had given in to Duke’s complaining when he really wasn’t healed enough to be walking around on his own.

Getting Duke aboard the Rouge and below deck was an adventure Nathan hoped he’d never have to repeat and by the time Duke was settled comfortably in bed, they both were exhausted.

Nathan leaned down and kissed Duke’s forehead, gently brushing the hair out of his eyes. “I’ll get your pain meds and then we'll figure out lunch. I can call over to the Gull if you really don’t want me to cook.”

Duke managed a shaky smile. “Yeah, thanks. Anything other than hospital food would be good.”

“I can make waffles or I’ll have someone bring soup from the Gull. Whichever you think your stomach can handle,” Nathan suggested.

Duke looked doubtful. “I mean, waffles would be good but... remember the last time you tried cooking anything other than pancakes?”

“One time...that was one time! And if your hands hadn’t been down my pants I would have remembered they were cooking,” Nathan protested.

Duke started to laugh at the memory, then winced when his ribs reminded him they were broken, pain shooting through him. “Never thought I'd hear you complain about having my hands down your pants,” he managed to say, albeit breathless with the burning agony that was threatening to overwhelm him.

“And you never will again...I’ll be right back,” Nathan said, leaving the room to retrieve the pain medication and a glass of water.

He handed them to Duke, grateful he didn’t have to beg and plead with him to take them.

“You’ll feel better soon. I’m going to call the Gull and order food.” Nathan said, pulling out his phone.

Duke obediently swallowed the pills. “Can I have some soup and a grilled cheese sandwich, and maybe they can send something you could reheat for dinner too?”

Nathan stepped out of the bedroom to order the food.

When he came back he was smiling. “Tracy said she’d take care of it. And she said she’d have someone bring food everyday until you can cook again. Does everyone in this town know I can’t cook?”

“Pretty much,” Duke said, suppressing a laugh. “I'll text her and say tha- Wait. My phone was in the truck, wasn't it?”

“Afraid so. I’ll get you a new one when Bill comes by tomorrow. Okay?” Nathan asked

Duke groaned. “Yeah. Thanks. I'll have to sort out all the stuff that was in my wallet too. Cards, drivers license...that picture of us in Maui…” he trailed off.

“Which picture from Maui?” Nathan asked nervously.

“Why...why are you looking at me like that? The one on the beach, where we sat and drank cocktails all day and you got sunburned.”

“Because I never know with you,” Nathan laughed.

“Nathan, trust me, I would very definitely not be carrying around any of the... compromising photos that we have. It was just a picture of the two of us and you were smiling and it was a nice memory of a great vacation.”

Nathan smiled at the memory. “It was a great vacation. We should go back.”

“Yes! We should! Like...now. Just set sail and go to Maui.”

“You are in no condition to be traveling to Maui. But once you are fully cleared to travel and if I have any time left we’ll go. I’m not wasting anymore time with you…” Nathan promised, giving him a soft kiss.

Duke sighed. “Guess you're right. Gloria would hunt me down and kill me if we left. And probably you for letting me.”

“She would. So, we have a little time before the food gets here. Do you need anything?”

“Maybe some coffee? Decaf…”

Just as Nathan finished brewing the coffee, the food from the Gull arrived. He arranged it on a tray and brought it to Duke.

“Thanks,” Duke said, wincing slightly as he sat more upright so he could eat. “Who brought it over?”

“Tracy. She’s going to come over after the dinner rush so I can go get your phone sorted out. She said everyone is glad you are okay.” Nathan said, sitting on the side of the bed.

Duke smiled. “She's sweet. Could you ask her to bring over some of the paperwork from my office? There's stuff I need to get done.”

“I will.  But you need to take it easy. I have a huge list of things Gloria wants you to limit...and not do at all.” Nathan replied.

“What's on the huge list?” Duke sighed.

“Just the normal stuff. No heavy lifting, no driving, no maintenance on the Rouge, not a lot of reading...which is why I said take it easy with the paperwork.” Nathan stared down at the floor and mumbled, “no sex…”

“Don't tell me, no drinking either,” Duke said sulkily.

Nathan nodded and raised an eyebrow. “You seem to be more upset about the no drinking than the no sex...should I be insulted?”

Duke gave him a look. “If you think I'm even contemplating sex with three broken ribs, a broken arm and a head that feels like it's on a bad acid trip...no, you shouldn't be insulted.”

Nathan shook his head and leaned over to kiss Duke. “You’re always contemplating sex...but if you’re really still in that much pain, I’ll get your pain meds after lunch.”

“I just had pain meds, I'm fine, just don't make me laugh or ask me to do anything… energetic,” Duke couldn't resist a smirk.

“You are impossible. Eat your lunch so we can relax. I’ve been waiting for two days to wrap my arms around you.”

Duke gave him a small, soft smile and started eating. “Where's your lunch?”

“On a plate in the kitchen. I’ll be right back,” Nathan answered.

By the time he got back, Duke had mostly finished his soup and had started in on his grilled cheese sandwich. “'s’good,” he mumbled around a mouthful.

Nathan sat down and picked up his sandwich. “So much better than hospital food, huh?”

Duke swallowed. “I'm not sure there's food worse than hospital food. Except maybe Lobster Pup.”

“Those things are gross. How do they even stay in business?”

“...I have no idea.”

When they finished eating, Nathan cleared away the plates and took them into the kitchen. He washed them quickly and returned to the bedroom.

“What would you like to do now?” He asked Duke.

“...You mentioned cuddling…?”

Nathan smiled. “I did. You feeling okay, though? I don’t want to hurt you…”

“I'm fine. Just don't squeeze too hard.”

Nathan climbed in the bed with Duke, taking hold of his hand and resting his head on Duke’s shoulder. “You don’t know how badly I wanted to climb in that hospital bed with you and just hold you. But this is better.”

Duke leaned into his contact, giving Nathan's hand a squeeze. “Missed this,” he said softly.

“Think we can stay like this until you’re better?”

“Fine by me,” Duke said, resting his head against Nathan's. “Maybe not practical but it's a good thought.”

“I know now might not be the right time but I really am sorry about that fight. Nothing is worth leaving angry...and yes, I know I’m the one who left angry...and I’m sorry,” Nathan said softly.

“You were right.  I...should’ve just bought the booze, not tried importing it to save a few bucks.  It was stupid and that’s what I was coming to tell you when…”

Nathan’s chest tightened and there was a hitch in his voice when he spoke. “Please don’t tell me you were on your way to the station. Oh God...this really is all my fault! Duke, I am so sorry…”

“It’s not your fault.  You didn’t make that dog run out in front of me, you didn’t make my steering fail, you weren’t the one who was driving too fast to be able to get the brakes on before hitting the tree.”

“Maybe all those things weren’t my fault but you wouldn’t have even been out of bed if I hadn’t started yelling at you. I promise I’m never going to leave angry with you again. I love you so much,” Nathan said, trying to hold him tighter without hurting him.

“Love you too,” Duke said softly.  “Please don’t blame yourself.”

“All that really matters is you’re okay and you’re here with me now.” Nathan said.

“I'm fine, Nate. Sore and fed up with being stuck in bed but I'm fine.”

“You’ll be out of bed in no time. And as soon as you’re able to drive we’ll start looking for a new car.”

“Yeah,” Duke sighed. “Really not looking forward to that.”

“I’m sure we’ll find something you’ll like.”

“I liked my Landrover.”

Nathan picked up his hand and kissed his palm. “I know. We won’t talk about it again until you’re ready. Let’s just stay here and maybe kiss until Tracy gets here?”

“Gloria's put me on a sex ban and you want to spend the next….six hours... kissing? Are you trying to kill me?”

“It’d be a hell of a way to go though, wouldn’t it?” Nathan grinned.

“That...Nathan, that's really not the point.”

I’m sorry, Duke. How would you like to spend the next few hours?”  Nathan asked, kissing Duke’s cheek.

Duke's eyes fluttered closed as Nathan kissed him and he sighed happily. “I thought of you, y'know. After the oh fuck moment when I knew I was crashing. The last thought I remember having before I was knocked out was of you. Your smile.”

“My smile? Really?” Nathan asked softly.

“Yeah. You're always so serious and then something makes you smile and your whole face lights up.”

“I never realized...I don’t mean to be so serious...it’s just a side effect of the job. I will tell you most of my reasons to smile revolve around you.”

“Good to know,” Duke said softly, leaning in closer to Nathan.

“How about we just stay like this for the next six hours? Since I doubt Gloria would be happy if we broke one of her bans on the first day,” Nathan said softly, rubbing Duke’s hand with his thumb.

“She would definitely not be happy so yeah, for once I'm gonna do what I'm told and rest.”

Nathan noticed Duke’s voice sounded off. “You? Do what you’re told? What’s going on? Talk to me…”

“Nothing, I'm fine, just a bit tired.”

“Duke, I’ve known you since you were five. I know you aren’t fine. Please talk to me. I want to make this better.”

Duke kissed his forehead. “I'm fine. Really.”

“I can see you’re not fine. It’s just us...you don’t have to pretend with me...I love you and nothing is going to change that...let me in…”

“There's noth-,” Duke started to protest again and thought better of it, cutting himself off with a soft groan. “I remember everything and every time I close my eyes, I relive it and every time I sleep, I dream it. I'll get over it.”

“Don’t do that. Don’t act like your pain isn’t important. It is. We'll get through this...together. You didn’t just fall off a bike, Duke. You were in a serious crash. No one expects you to just get over it. What do you need from me? How can I make this easier for you?” Nathan asked, stroking his hair.

Duke angled his head into Nathan's contact. “I don't think there's anything,” he said softly. “You were there too, it can't be easy for you either.”

“It’s not, but every time I touch you and kiss you, I know you’re okay. You’re here with me and it pushes back those horrible images. You’re alive, Duke, maybe a little busted up at the moment but you’ll heal and soon this will be just a really bad memory.”

“Yeah but still...you watched my truck burn and you thought I was inside it. Dwight told me how he had to hold you back…”

“And it was the second most gut wrenching thing I’ve ever experienced...but seeing you alive and breathing in that ambulance took a huge chunk of that pain away.” Nathan assured him, managing a small smile when he continued, “did Dwight tell you I punched him, too?”

“Only the second? I'm offended.”

“You shouldn’t be. You were there for the worst one, too.” Nathan said quietly.

“...I was?”

“We were twelve. Watching a Spider-Man cartoon on my sofa. You weren’t supposed to be there but when the Chief came home early, he didn’t yell at me and he didn’t make you leave...he just sat down next to us…” Nathan couldn’t finish his sentence.

“You didn't say a word for two days,” Duke said softly. “You looked at your dad, tears streaming down your face and you ran to your room. He gave me a nod and I followed you and held you while you cried.”

“I never got to say goodbye. Or tell her that I loved her. Oh, I know she knew it but back then I felt so guilty...like I was being punished for something. I felt the same way watching your car burn...but enough about my shitty memories. I’m supposed to be comforting you,” Nathan said, quickly brushing away the few tears that started to spill out.

“It must have brought all that back. The same emotions. No wonder you punched Dwight.”

“Probably, same emotions, different scenario.” Nathan admitted. “The punch was kind of pathetic, don’t think he even flinched.”

“Pretty sure Sasquatch doesn't know the meaning of the word.”

“Probably not.”

“Thanks,” Duke said quietly. “For trying. I'm glad Dwight stopped you and I wish you hadn't had to but...you tried.”

“You mean the world to me. There was no way I was going to just stand there and not try. You’ve been in my life almost from the start...I mean I can’t even remember my life without you anymore. That’s why I want to help you because when you hurt it makes me sad and all I want to do is make it better...oh God...here I go again, getting all sappy! Please stop me…”

“Shut up.” Duke smiled and kissed him.

Nathan melted against Duke’s lips. When they broke the kiss, he smiled softly, “Sleep? Tracy said she’d call before coming over.”

“Yeah, maybe I could nap for a bit.”

“Want me to stay?”

Duke nodded. “If you won't be bored.”

“Never. Just sleep.” Nathan said, reaching up to stroke Duke’s hair again.

Duke nestled against him, moving slowly and carefully as he made himself comfortable with his head now resting on Nathan's shoulder.

Nathan kept stroking his hair as Duke’s breathing slowed and his body relaxed into sleep.  He closed his eyes, thinking he’d just relax beside Duke.

He fell asleep instead.

*

“I need to see it,” was the first thing out of Duke’s mouth when he woke up.

Nathan propped himself up on his elbow and looked at Duke with sleepy eyes. “You can’t. Not yet anyway. It’s still evidence.”

“When it's not evidence.”

“If that’s what you really want. But you aren’t doing it alone. I can’t let you do that.”

“...Why?”

“Because I want to be there if you get a flashback. I don’t want you to feel like you have to be strong or act like it doesn’t matter, because it does. So, that’s my condition I have to be there...okay?”

“Ok,” Duke said softly. “Thanks.”

“I’ll set it up with Dwight as soon as he releases it. You need anything? When is your dinner rush over? How much time do we have before Tracy gets here?” Nathan asked, checking his phone to make sure he didn’t miss her call.

“Kitchen stops serving at nine so some time after that. Kinda late to be going out shopping, isn't it?”

“Yeah, it is. I’ll just go when Bill comes over tomorrow morning. Tracy was adamant about coming over though. I think she needs to see for herself that you’re okay.”

Duke smiled softly. “Yeah. She worries.”

“Yeah, she does. I remember her getting very worried when I got hit in the face with a baseball during the All-Star game in high school. She really let James have it for letting me keep playing.”

“Hell, we were all worried when you got hit in the face with a baseball and insisted on playing with blood streaming down your chin.”

“It was the All-Star Game and the Chief was in the stands. No way I was leaving that game. Besides our team won didn’t they?”

“We did,” Duke smiled fondly at the memory. The Chief had even taken the whole team out for burgers and shakes afterwards and even though he'd ignored Duke completely, it was still one of the better memories from Duke's younger years.

“Wow...we are taking a really long trip down memory lane today...huh?”

Duke cleared his throat.  “Apparently we are. Sorry.”

“No need to apologize. It’s nice we have so many memories...even if they aren't all happy. I like that we have a history.” Nathan stretched and sat up. “You hungry? I can heat up the food Tracy brought over earlier.”

“Not really, only ate a couple hours ago. Go get yourself something if you are though.”

“Nope, just checking in with you.”

Duke smiled softly at him.  “Thanks. Some coffee might be good?  And yes, I know, Gloria said no caffeine but there’s decaf…”

“Decaf it is…” Nathan headed to the kitchen.

“I missed coffee,” Duke said when he came back.  “I know it was only a couple of days but I missed it.”

“Well, good thing this is something I can’t screw up. I know this is killing you to be confined to this bed...what can I do to make this easier for you?”

“Just be here.  And maybe...could you bring the TV in here?  Or my laptop?”

“I’ll bring the laptop. Gloria expects you’ll be able to move around starting tomorrow. Anybody you want to see besides Bill? You want me to call Wade?” Nathan asked.

“God no.  No Wade. Can’t think of anyone else.”

“I’m going to call Stan and have him send me my paperwork so I can finish it all before I go on leave. You going to be okay for a few minutes?” Nathan asked, grabbing his phone.

“Nathan, I am literally lying in bed.  I’m fine. Really.”

Nathan walked into the kitchen and poured himself a cup of coffee before he sat down and called the station. Stan answered and, after asking about Duke, agreed to email the paperwork that Nathan needed.

After hanging up, Nathan went in search of both their laptops. Once he found them he returned to the bedroom. “Want to watch a movie or is that going to hurt your eyes...well...eye?”

Duke managed to glare at him with his one good eye. The swelling was going down on the other one and Gloria had assured him that the eye socket wasn't fractured so it was just a matter of time but Duke's patience was wearing thin with not being able to see properly. “Pretty sure I'll be fine. It's either that or I spend the next...however long...staring at the ceiling and I think that might cause me to die of boredom.

Nathan shook his head and laughed. “A little dramatic don’t you think? You haven’t been in that bed a full day yet.”

“I'm always dramatic and it's entirely possible to die of boredom. I'm getting up tomorrow.”

“No, you’re not. And stop trying to glare at me. It’s not working...it’s actually funny.”

“Uh, yes I am, you said Gloria said I could start getting up and about tomorrow.”

“True but Gloria’s definition of getting up is going to the bathroom with no help...yours is installing a new water pump. Not the same.”

“Ok, no, that's a fair point but I wasn't planning on installing a new water pump, just relocating from the bed to the couch and maybe doing some basic cooking.”

“I’ll give in on the relocating. But, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, no cooking. You can’t do basic. Find a good movie. This paperwork shouldn’t take more than twenty minutes. ” Nathan leaned over and kissed Duke’s forehead. “I love you.”

“Love you too,” Duke said softly, settling down to watch a movie which wouldn't take too much concentration.

Which, if he was being honest, wasn't a great idea given that his head was still spinning and the light and the moving images made him feel sick. After a few minutes, he closed his laptop in disgust and lay back down with his head on the pillow.

Nathan returned a few minutes later to find Duke staring at the ceiling. “Couldn’t find anything?”

“No, yeah, I did...made me feel sick and my head hurt more.”

Nathan sat down on the bed and ran his fingers through Duke’s hair. “It’s ok. You’ll start feeling better soon. I could get that book you were reading before the accident...or any other book.”

“Think the words would jump around too much.”

“I could read it to you,” Nathan offered. “Just as long as it’s in English. You know I barely passed French in high school.”

“You wouldn’t have passed at all if I hadn't helped you.”

“Probably not,” Nathan laughed.

His phone vibrated in his pocket and he pulled it out to read the text.  “Tracy is leaving in ten minutes. Nora is taking care of closing. You want to call her to ask her to bring your paperwork? Even if you can’t concentrate enough to do it, I can.” He said, handing Duke his phone.

Duke took it and dialled, speaking to Tracy for a few minutes in an increasingly heated conversation before he eventually hung up in a huff. “She said no.”

Nathan raised an eyebrow, “No? And you gave up? And listened to her?”

“She was...quite insistent and it's not like I can jump in my truck and go over there to get it myself.”

“True...well, don’t worry about it. I’m sure if anything serious needs your attention she’ll tell you. She knows what she’s doing.”

“Yeah, I know. It runs fine without me. Which isn't great for my ego, if I'm being honest.”

“Stop...it runs fine when you aren’t there because you hire competent people and train them well. Not to mention that the food is always better when you’re in the kitchen cooking it. They need you.”

Duke nodded. “Guess so. Still sucks to not be there.”

“I know. I’ll take you over in a few days...not to work but just to be there. It’ll be better than just sitting here with me all day.” Nathan said, hoping to cheer him up.

“Nothing's better than being here with you all day.”

“I hope you still feel like that after a week or two...I think Tracy is here. I’ll go let her in.”

“I -,” Duke started to say that he would still feel like that after a week or two but Nathan had already gone so he settled back and waited for Tracy to come in, bracing himself for the 'be more careful’ telling off that she was bound to give him.

Tracy walked into bedroom and her eyes grew wide. “Oh my God! Why did they let you out of the hospital? How do you feel?”

“You should see the other guy,” Duke tried for a cheeky grin but ended up with more of a weak smile.

Tracy laughed. “Very funny…” She tentatively sat on the edge of the bed, trying not to cause Duke any discomfort.  “I am so glad you are okay. When Nathan called and told me what happened I was so worried.”

“C'mon, Tracy, you know me, takes more than a little prang to kill me off. I'm fine.”

“You aren’t fine...and it wasn’t little. But you’re alive. That’s all that matters.”

Duke reached out and took her hand. “I'm ok, Tracy. Really.”

“Yeah, I guess you are. Okay...tell me about this paperwork you seem to think I won’t understand?”

“That's - that's not what I said. You'll understand it fine, the problem is that you need receipts going back to April and...I...sort of haven't filed them. They're in a box under my desk and yes I know, that was very stupid of me but I didn't expect this to happen.”

“Duke...it’s June. Okay, it’s only the first week of June but still. You do know you can always ask me to help?”

“Exactly, it's only two months worth of filing and I was...going to get round to it…”

Tracy smiled and squeezed his hand. “It’s okay. You may be disorganized sometimes...but I still love you. I’ll take care of it. How’s Nathan dealing with all of this? I’m surprised he left your side to let me visit.”

“Thanks Tracy.  He’s...apparently I’m under twenty four hour supervision, he won’t leave unless there’s someone else with me.  Feels like I’m a kid that needs babysitting. So yeah, I’m gonna say he’s not dealing very well.”

Tracy laughed. “C’mon Duke...that’s really sweet. I’m sure he doesn’t mean to make you feel like you need a babysitter. He just loves you and wants to take care of you. And honestly, right now you really shouldn't be left alone. If he doesn’t back off in few days, I’ll talk to him. For now just put up with it.”

“Yeah, no, I know.  He just cares and Gloria probably gave him orders not to leave me unsupervised.  Head injury, y’know.”

“And I’m sure the thought of doing anything that Gloria says not to is terrifying. I wouldn't want to cross Gloria.”

“She’s harmless.  All bark and no bite.”

Tracy smiled. “So, you’re willing to go against her orders?’

“I didn’t say that…”

“Thought so. Besides the paperwork, is there anything else you need me to take care of at the Gull?”

“No.  I trust you,” Duke smiled.  “Just, maybe keep me posted on stuff?”

“Of course. It’s still your restaurant. You’ll be back before you know it. Try to enjoy this time with Nathan and maybe start thinking about your future…” Tracy prodded.

“...My future?  You mean like pensions and investments and shit?”

“Duke...I do not mean your pensions and investments…”

“What do you mean then?”  Duke had a sinking feeling he knew exactly what she was referring to.

“Wow...I guess that head injury really is serious...I’m talking about you and Nathan. It has been over five years…”

Duke groaned.  “What about me and Nathan?”

“You are impossible! I’m talking about getting married...you know he won’t ask you because he’ll be afraid of taking away your freedom. Don’t you think it’s time you asked him ?”

“Why would we get married?”

“You never thought about it? Seriously?”

“After the messy divorce I went through after Evi left?  Yeah, seriously.”

“Nathan isn’t Evi, Duke. He could never be like her. And not to get crazy serious but you do realize if any decisions needed to be made about your care when you were unconscious Nathan would have had to call Wade.”

“...That doesn’t seem like a good enough reason to get married.”

“It’s not. But do you love him? Want to spend the rest of your life with him? Look...I know your marriage with Evi was a disaster but you were young and stupid. But you know what? It’s really not my business...I’m sorry. And maybe Nathan doesn’t even want to get married either.”

“Yes I love him,” Duke said hotly.  “Yes I want to spend the rest of my life with him.  We don’t need a piece of paper or a circle of metal to prove that.  To ourselves or anyone else.”

“Hey...don’t use that tone with me! I know you don’t need all that...and like I said maybe Nathan doesn’t either but what if he does? What if that’s what he wants? Okay, I’m done. I won’t bring it up again. Now...stop being a brat. I came here to visit with you, not get yelled at.”

Duke nodded.  “Maybe he does.  I don’t know, it’s never come up.”

“I brought dessert. And I’ll have someone bring you lunch and dinner tomorrow. Don’t need you both going hungry. I’m assuming you’re letting Nathan cook breakfast?” Tracy asked, ignoring Duke’s last statement.

“Thanks, Tracy.  Sorry...for being a brat.  Yeah, he can make toast. Or cereal.  Or pancakes.”

“It’s okay. You’re a lovable brat. If you let him make pancakes that’s all he’ll want to eat. You know he tried to order them for lunch and dinner today,” Tracy said smiling.

“That...does not actually surprise me.  He offered to make me waffles when we got home but...you know how well that went last time.”

“I still can’t figure out how he burned them enough to set off two of your smoke detectors,” Tracy said, shaking her head.

“I distracted him,” Duke grinned.

“I don’t think I want to know…” Tracy grinned back.

“You really don’t…”

“I’m really glad you’re okay. I was actually really scared. James was one step away from taking me to the hospital to see for myself you were alive.” Tracy said, giving him a gentle hug.

“I’m sorry for scaring you.  And everyone else. Guess I’d better stop complaining that no one cares about me now…”

“Hey...it was an accident. You didn’t scare us on purpose. But yeah, a lot of people love you. Stop focusing on the ones that don’t.”

“That...is really good advice…”

“Yeah, it is. I gotta go. I’m sure Michael hasn’t done his homework. Feel better. And don’t give Nathan a hard time about taking care of you.” Tracy leaned down and kissed his cheek.

“I won't. Thanks, Tracy.”

Nathan walked Tracy out and then locked the Rouge down for the night before going back in the bedroom to check on Duke. “Good visit?”

“Yeah. All locked up?” Duke checked, the same way he always did if he hadn't done it himself.

“Yes, I double checked everything. I got all my paperwork done while Tracy was here. And the Chief signed off on my leave so I’m officially yours until you are healed,” Nathan said, sitting next to Duke.

“The Chief actually signed off on that?”

“I told you he’s been unusually supportive through all this. Well...except for the alcohol comment but Gloria gave him an earful for that.”

“I'm going to have to thank him, aren't I?”

“You don’t have to. He’s been really rotten to you over the years. Though Gloria kinda told me why…”

“...Why? Always assumed he just hated me.”

“Apparently our fathers were friends when they were kids. And then your father screwed his life up. Chief feels guilty for letting it happen and angry because your dad didn’t care enough to change.” Nathan tried to explain.

“...So he took it out on me? Wow…”

“I don’t think he meant to. Look, I’m not defending him. I hate how he treats you and I call him out on it all the time. I think Gloria was just trying to give me the reason why...I never said it was a good one. Sooner or later he has to see you aren’t your father.”

Duke nodded. “Guess I didn't make that easy, following in dear old Dad's footsteps for so long.”

“No, don’t take any of the blame for how he treats you. He’s been like this since we were kids. Long before the less than legal things you did.”

“Yeah but -”

“No, stop. You are your own person...not an extension of your father. Let me ask you this...do you blame me for all the shitty things my father does?” Nathan asked.

“No, course not.”

“Then why is it even remotely okay that he blames you for things your father did? Especially since your father died when you were eight! How much can you take after a man you hardly knew? My father needs to stop treating you like he does...because I plan on being with you for the rest of my life.”

Oblivious to the sharp twinge his ribs gave when he moved, Duke threw himself at Nathan, throwing his good arm around him and nuzzling gently into his hair. “I plan on that too.”

Nathan leaned into Duke, enjoying the contact.

“Thanks Nate,” Duke said softly. “For everything.”

“You’re welcome. I love you, I’d do anything for you.” Nathan replied, softly kissing his neck.

Duke shivered at the contact and winced. “Ok, no, can we not do...that…”

Nathan pulled away quickly, “I’m sorry...I just...and Gloria thought it would be you testing her rules…”

“Oh I would be if it didn't hurt so damn much.”

“You know you can have more pain meds now, right? Wait...that came out wrong...I didn’t mean so we could...I meant so you weren’t in pain.”

“... Actually pain meds would be good…”

Nathan got up and got the medication and water for Duke. “How about we try to sleep now? I know it’s early for you but sleeping is going to help you heal.”

Duke obediently took the medication and nodded. “Sooner I'm back on my feet, the better.”

“No rush you know. It’ll be nice to spend some quality time just the two of us once you are past the constant pain stage.” Nathan said, sliding into bed with Duke. 

“Yeah, it will be,” Duke said, snuggling into Nathan as best he could without it hurting.

Nathan fell asleep with his arms wrapped around Duke, thinking there was no place he’d rather be.

Duke took longer to fall asleep, a combination of the pain, his head still spinning, and the inevitable flashbacks every time he closed his eyes. Eventually, though, he dozed off in Nathan's arms.

Chapter Text

“Duke actually let you in the kitchen?” Bill teased when he arrived just as Nathan was clearing up after breakfast.

“Pancakes and coffee. That’s all I’m allowed to cook. Which, honestly, is fine by me. I mean you’ve tasted my cooking.” Nathan laughed, handing him a cup of coffee and refilling Duke’s mug.

“I have and I’m very glad you’re banned from anything more complicated than pancakes and coffee,” Bill said, following Nathan towards the bedroom.

Nathan rolled his eyes and changed the subject.  “I shouldn’t be gone long. Just need to get him a new phone.”

“No rush,” Bill said easily.

Nathan nodded, handed Duke his coffee and kissed him goodbye. “Have Bill call if you need anything.”

“Well, your eye is open now but you still look like hell,” Bill said after Nathan had gone. “How are you feeling?”

“Like hell,” Duke said, sitting up and grimacing at the fresh bolt of agony the movement sent through his head. “The arm's not so bad, it's in plaster, can move it around-” he proceeded to wave it around his head by way of demonstration “-but there's nothing doing with the ribs, they just hurt and my head...is a wonderful combination of simultaneously being trapped in a vice and a washing machine. Sort of spinny and full of bubbles which makes my eyes hurt and my stomach lurch and Nathan keeps insisting I eat when all I want to do is throw up.”

“And from the way you phrased that last sentence, Nathan has no idea it’s this bad. Am I right?” Bill asked, trying not to move the bed when he sat down.

“He knows I'm sore…” Duke said evasively.

“C’mon, Duke...why are you lying to him? Nobody expects you to be healed this quick.”

“Because if he knows, he'll tell Gloria and if Gloria knows, she'll insist I go back to hospital.”

“Gloria knows. She let you come home so you could heal in your own home and not feel trapped. All of what you’re describing is normal but you gotta tell Nathan. Yeah, he’s gonna worry but so what? He loves you…”

“Gloria….what, now?”

Bill laughed. “You think she didn’t know you were freaking out about being hooked up to those machines? If your condition was that bad she wouldn’t have let you go home. No one is going to make you go back. Now stop lying to Nathan.”

“Wh- she…” Duke groaned. “I've been an idiot, haven't I?”

“Pretty much. What you need is sleep. Lots of it. So, stop being a tough guy and tell Nathan you aren’t hungry. He’ll understand.”

“Yeah, I guess you're right. It's not….I spent a lot of years looking after myself, I'm not used to having someone take care of me. I haven't had so much as a cold since we've been together and I'm not...I'm not good at being looked after.”

“Aaah...the truth comes out. Hey, I get it. But you have to admit it’s kinda nice having someone wanting to take care of you. Meg was like Nathan at first. Even though we’ve been together forever she never had to deal with me being really sick. She worried a lot, too. Fussed way too much. But we figured it out. You guys will, too.”

“Yeah but you were really sick, I've just banged my head.”

“It’s the same. And you didn’t just bang your head. What’s going on? Something else is bugging you...what is it?”

“Everything,” Duke muttered. “I hate being stuck in bed, I hate feeling like shit, I hate that Nathan's stuck looking after me like I'm a fucking child and now - now of all times - Tracy's on my case about getting married.

“Wow….okay, look, nobody likes feeling like shit and being confined to bed. I’d worry if you did. I’m sure Nathan doesn’t see it as being ‘stuck’ looking after you. He sees it as taking care of the man he loves. Honestly, I think it’s the last bit that’s got you all worked up. Am I right?”

“Kinda. It's not just that, it's everything else as well but... What if...what if that's what he wants and he leaves me because I didn't ask?”

Bill started to laugh but bit it back when he realised Duke was serious. “Duke, that’s never going to happen. If he hasn’t left you over the some of the illegal things you’ve done, he is definitely not going to leave you over a piece of paper. I gotta know though, what is it about marriage that bothers you?”

Duke mumbled something about heteronormative bullshit. “I just don't see the point in it. I don't need a ring or a piece of paper to prove that I'm going to spend the rest of my life with him. And I don't like the assumption that everyone has to get married.”

“Has he ever brought up marriage? Because you could be worrying for nothing. Not everyone has to get married, plenty of people don’t. If you want my advice...talk to Nathan. Talking to me is only going to get you so far. I can listen, I can give you my opinion of marriage but none of that is as important as what Nathan thinks.”

“No, I know, it's something we need to discuss but I don't know if I should bring it up when it's something I don't want. Won't that just open a whole can of worms that I really don't want to deal with?”

“Hey, I’m not saying you have to talk to him. But if this is really bothering you, the only person who can reassure you is Nathan. We’ve been friends for a really long time, Duke, so I can say this with absolute certainty, Nathan is not going to leave you over this. I’m honestly shocked it took you two as long as it did to suck it up and realize you were in love. The rest of us saw it in high school...hell, Meg said she knew in eighth grade.”

Duke shrugged. “I knew, he didn't and I couldn't tell him how I felt.”

“I think he knew, he just wasn’t good at feelings back then...I mean would you be, with a father like the Chief?”

“He's... different around me. There's a side to him that no one else sees. He's...softer, more expressive…”

“Because you won’t judge him. Because he loves you.”

“Yeah,” Duke said quietly. “It hurts him to see me like this. That's why I keep trying to hide it. Protect him from it.”

“Well, stop. He’s not stupid and he’s going to figure it out and then he’s going to be hurt you didn’t trust him.”

“Guess I'm going to hurt him whatever I do.”

“Duke! Jesus Christ, that’s not what I meant. Stop it. You love him, he loves you...look what’s that saying - ‘love conquers all’ - you two are going to be together forever. I do have some good news if you want to hear it.”

“Sorry. Yeah. I could really do with some good news.”

“Meg is pregnant. Wanted to wait for all those tests to come back normal before we told anyone, you’re the first to know. We’re having a girl.”

Duke threw his good arm around him. “Congratulations! I'm so pleased for you both. How's Meg doing?”

“Good, a little sick. And missing her mom...but so very happy...so sometime in December you’re going to be Uncle Duke and maybe Nathan will get a birthday buddy.”

“Uncle Duke,” Duke snorted.

“What? You and Nathan are practically family. And besides, I figure with you two as her Uncles I won’t have to worry about her dating until she’s thirty.”

Duke laughed. “You definitely won't have to worry about that. But seriously…? I'd be a terrible influence on a child.”

Bill looked confused. “Why would you think that?”

“...Look at me. I can't even wear my fucking seatbelt, I live on a boat, I've committed far more crimes than I'd ever own up to, I can barely even run my own life, let alone set some sort of shining example to a...a niece.”

Bill leaned back and studied Duke for few seconds before speaking. “I get it now. You think you don’t deserve Nathan. You think he could do better and that’s the real reason you don’t want to get married. You are so wrong. You are a good man. And I don’t give a fuck about any of the things you’ve done. Meg and I are proud to have you in our lives. And we want you in our daughter’s life.”

Duke sat stunned for a moment, then laughed weakly. “Way to call me out.”

“Duke...how long have you been carrying that around?”

“Uh…” Duke rubbed his jaw. “A - a while…”

“So you think he’s just waiting around for someone better? Oh boy. Yeah...you are so wrong.”

“No, I think his self esteem is so low that he doesn't realise he deserves better and I spend every fucking day terrified that one day he's going to wake up and realise he's wasted years of his life with me.”

“I really wish Meg was here. She is so much better at this stuff, but since she’s not I’ll do my best. You think you’re the only one with insecurities? I doubted myself countless times during the early days with Meg, but not once did I doubt her love for me. I know you had crappy parents so no one really gave you the praise you deserved...but what about Elizabeth? You think she was lying to you? You think she was just humoring you? She believed in you. She knew you were a good person. She fought for you just as hard as if you were her own son. Try to remember that. And then remember she told Nathan all those things she told you...so stop with the bullshit. He wouldn’t stay with you if you were the fuck up you think you are. I’ll say it again...you...are...a...good...man.”

“I-” Duke started to object and stopped himself. “Thanks Bill. You and Meg...you're good people. The best.”

“So are you and Nathan. You feeling better?”

Duke nodded. “Yeah, I uh...one chat with you is probably not going to undo the shit of the last forty years but you've put a lot in perspective for me and I appreciate that.”

“Anytime. And yeah, just talking to me isn’t going to fix everything. You’re still going to have to talk to Nathan.” Bill said, turning his head when he heard footsteps on the deck. “And it sounds like he’s back.”

Duke's face lit up when Nathan hurried into the bedroom. “Hey,” he said softly.

Nathan gave Duke a quick kiss and handed him his new phone. “They pulled everything from your last backup so you’re good to go. You staying a bit, Bill?”

Bill shook his head. “Not today. Gotta get back to Meg. She’s having some serious morning sickness.”  He grinned at the shocked expression on Nathan’s face. “Meg’s pregnant and she’s due around your birthday.”

“That’s great news! Tell Meg I’m happy for her. As soon as Duke’s up to it, we’ll come visit.”

“You’re welcome anytime.  I’ll stop by in a few days to see how you’re doing.”

“Need anything?” Nathan asked Duke after Bill had gone.

“N-,” Duke started to say, then thought better of it. “Maybe some water. And did Gloria leave any anti-nausea meds?”

“I’ll check,” Nathan said, heading to the kitchen.

He came back with the water and the list of medications Gloria gave Duke. “Yeah, she did. Just let me find it. Are you still feeling sick?”

“Yeah. Can't shake it. Head starts spinning in circles, vision goes funny, feel sick…”

“Okay, if this doesn’t make it better I’ll call Gloria and have her prescribe something else. I’ll have Tracy send over more soup...or I could go get it if you think you’ll be okay for about twenty minutes? I know you aren’t hungry now but for later.”

“Stay. Please.”

“I will. Let me go find the right medicine and I’ll be right back.” Nathan said, going back into the kitchen.

He came back and handed Duke the pill. “You can take them every four hours. Let me know if it works.”

Duke swallowed it quickly. “Thanks, and for…” he picked up the phone to indicate what he meant.

“No problem. How was the visit with Bill?” Nathan asked, kicking off his shoes and sitting next to Duke.

“Good. Really pleased for them.”

“Yeah, Meg’s going to be a great mom. So, what would you like to do today?”

“I...could really do with resting. Sleeping. Not doing much.”

“Want me to stay or go?”

“Can you stay for a bit? I know you've got stuff to do and it'll be boring but maybe just til I fall asleep?”

“I will never get bored of being with you,” Nathan said, kissing Duke’s palm softly. “I’ll stay with you. And I’ll be here when you wake up.”

“Thanks Nathan,” Duke said quietly, settling down to rest.

Nathan waited for Duke to get settled and then folded himself next to him, reaching to wrap his arm protectively around his waist.

Duke leaned into his contact, sighing happily and closing his eyes. “'s’nice,” he mumbled.

Nathan waited for Duke’s breathing to steady before he let himself close his eyes and fall asleep.

*

Duke woke up still wrapped in Nathan's embrace. He lay quietly, enjoying the warmth and comfort, allowing himself to rest.

He must have shifted slightly because Nathan lifted his head and smiled. “Hey…you look better. I can see both your eyes now…”

Duke smiled back and reached out to trace his finger down the sharp line of Nathan's jaw. “You know I love you, right?”

“Yes, I do.”

“... And you know it's forever? That I want to spend the rest of my life with you?”

Nathan’s brow furrowed. “Yes...why?”

“Just...needed you to know that,” Duke said lamely.

“Is everything okay? Because I’ve never doubted that you love me…”

“Everything's fine,” Duke said quickly. “Really, everything's fine.”

Nathan sat up, brushed the hair out of Duke’s face and kissed him softly on the lips.  “I know everything isn’t fine but I’m not going to push you. Just please don’t ever forget that I love you, too.”

“I won't, I promise I won't.”

“Good, because this is how I want to wake up everyday for the rest of my life. Looking over and seeing your smiling face.”

Duke smiled at him softly. “That's what I want too. I want you to be the last thing I see before I go to sleep and the first thing I see when I wake up. Every single time.”

“And you will, nothing will ever change that.”

“Do you - I mean...is this ok? Just how we are?”

“Right now? Or in general?” Nathan asked, a bit confused.

“In general. Are you happy?”

“Yes, very happy. Why? Did I do something to make you think I’m not?”

“No, nothing like that. Just...do you ever think about the future?”

“Future? Like existentially? You mean of the human race?” Nathan was beginning to think he was missing a key piece of this conversation.

“No, not existentially. We all know the human race is doomed. No, us. What does our future look like to you?”

“Us? I guess just like it is now...except more grey hair and hopefully living someplace warm when we retire. I love Maine but the winters are brutal...why...should I be picturing something else?”

“You want to leave Haven one day?”

Nathan shrugged. “Maybe...but only if you do. I just want to be wherever you are. We don’t have to leave if you don’t want to...maybe just spend the winters in Maui? What does our future look like to you?”

“Growing old and grey with you by my side. Somewhere warm sounds good. Jamaica maybe. I don't care, as long as we're together.”

“Okay, I’m glad we’re on the same page but I have to ask...what brought this on?”

“Nothing, nothing, was just having a chat with Tracy and with Bill, got me thinking.”

“Thinking about our future? Okay...now I’m going to say it. I.. am totally confused.  Which, if we’re being honest, I’m confused about stuff like this a lot.”

“Yeah.  Not in a bad way or anything.”

“What exactly were you talking with Bill about today? About us, I mean?”

“I, uh…” Duke hesitated, took a deep breath and plunged in.  “That I don’t think I deserve you and I’m scared that one day you’ll wake up and realise you deserve better than me and you’ll leave me because I didn’t ask you to marry me.”

“Okay...uh...well...that’s a lot for me to take in...I don’t know where to start…Give me a minute...” Nathan said, running his hand through his hair. “Why would you think I deserve better? Better than you? That thought has never and I mean never crossed my mind. You are everything I ever wanted...and I’m sorry it took me so long to realize it...but I’ve loved you most of my life.”

“Because I’m a piece of shit and you do deserve better than me,” Duke said quietly.

“No. No. That is not true...never has been. Who have you been listening to? I will agree that you’ve made some bad decisions in your life but you have always been a good man. Always.” Nathan said, running his fingers through Duke’s hair.

“But I’m not.  You...you’re kind and sweet and good.   You’re a cop.  You help little old ladies and rescue cats from trees and try to pull people from burning vehicles and...and...you take care of me and I can give you literally nothing in return.”

“I’m a cop because I couldn’t stand up to my father. That’s the only reason. You and I both know that’s not what I wanted to be. All I want is for you to love me. To hold me, kiss me, and laugh at my stupid jokes. And marriage? That’s not something I want...because it’s not something you want. I’ve known that for years...and I’m fine with that…”

“You really don’t want that?”

“I don’t need a piece of paper to tell me you love me. You show me in so many other ways. If you need me to tell you every way you show me you love me, I will. And I’ll tell you everyday...until you believe me.”

“But...I don’t do anything to show you how I feel about you.  Or, well maybe not nothing, but not enough.”  

“Not enough?   Seriously? You show me everyday how much you love me. You cook me pancakes whenever I ask because you know they remind me of my mom.”

“Yeah, b-” That was as far as Duke got before Nathan shushed him again.

“You get up at six every morning to make me breakfast...and yes, I know you go back to sleep when I leave...you make my lunch everyday...and if you aren’t working you bring something you just made to the station.”

“I like-” Duke was once again shushed.

“You put up with the Chief’s bullshit and never once raised your voice to him because he’s my father.”

“That's-”

“You tell me everyday how much you love me, you kiss me and hug me too many times for me to count, you have always treated me with love and tenderness in and out of the bedroom...do I really have to go on?”

“No,” Duke said quietly.

“Because I will,” Nathan smiled softly and squeezed his hand. “How can I prove to you that you are everything to me? How can I prove to you that I’m not going anywhere?”

“You don't need to prove anything,” Duke said in a very very small voice.

Nathan cupped Duke’s face in his hands, looking deep into his eyes as he said, “I love you.”

Before Duke could so much as think about responding, Nathan leaned in and kissed him so passionately that he was fairly sure he just violated at least two of Gloria’s restrictions.

Breathless when they broke apart, Duke rested his hand on Nathan’s jaw. “I love you and I promise I'll never stop doing those things for you and I really want to make some sort of joke here so I'd just like it known that I'm being very restrained and trying not to hide behind my usual bullshit.”

Nathan laughed. “It’s okay. I like your jokes and I’ve been able to see past your usual bullshit for a long time now.”

“You always have,” Duke said softly. “I have nowhere to hide with you and that….it terrifies me as much as I love it.”

“I’m sorry it terrifies you but it’s gotta be nice to not have to have hide. That must be exhausting. Because I know there isn’t anyone you don’t put that mask on for...I didn't think there was anyone besides me who got to see the real you for more than a few minutes.”  Nathan said, pulling Duke close to rest his head on his shoulder.

“There isn't. That's why it's so exhausting,” Duke said, nuzzling into Nathan's shoulder.

“Well, it’s going to be just you and me for awhile so maybe you won’t be so exhausted when you are finally healed. Speaking of, how are you feeling after that nap? Stomach any better?”

“Tired without being sleepy but feeling less sick.”

“Whenever you feel like trying to get up, let me know. And I can get you more of the nausea meds...we slept for a while.”

“Getting up would be good...and more meds, hopefully then I can eat without feeling sick.”

“Let me get the meds and then we’ll get you out of this bed…there’s a joke in there somewhere.” Nathan said, smiling.

“Something along the lines of you being more keen to get me into bed rather than out of it?” Duke grinned.

Nathan laughed. “Pretty much. But I’m trying to control myself...and it’s not easy...so, where would you like to go? Couch?”

“Shower?” Duke said hopefully.

“Uh...okay… but don’t you think that’s going to be a bit dangerous?”

“...Why?”

“Never mind...yeah, we can get you a shower...Gloria made sure your cast was waterproof...it’s just going to feel weird while the liner dries after. You going to be able to do this?”

“I'll be fine,” Duke said automatically.

Nathan just raised his eyebrow but didn’t say anything, moving to the side of the bed to help Duke stand up. “Try not to get up too fast.”

“That...is not going to be an issue,” Duke said, clutching his ribs as he tried to stand.

After a few unsuccessful tries, Nathan was able to get Duke up and in the bathroom. He quickly adjusted the water and turned back to Duke. “What kind of help do you need?”

“Could do with some help getting my clothes off and God help me if you even think about making a dirty joke out of that.”

Nathan’s eyes twinkled with mischief but he didn’t say anything as he helped Duke out of his clothes and into the shower. “You still okay? Let me know if you need help.”

“I'm ok, can you...could you just stay close?”

“I’ll be right here.”

“Thanks.” Duke stepped under the warm water, wincing slightly when it flowed over his numerous cuts but relaxing as it soothed his aching muscles. With only one working hand, washing was difficult but he managed, right up until it came to shampooing his hair. Eventually he groaned in frustration. “Can you just pour some of that in my hand,” he said, passing the bottle to Nathan.

Nathan opened the shower curtain and took the bottle from Duke, opening it and pouring some into Duke’s outstretched hand. “Let me know if you need me to help with that…”

“No, I think I've got it,” Duke said as he succeeded only in smothering the shower floor in shampoo. “...or maybe not…”

“Tell me what you want me to do.” Nathan desperately wanted to help him but not unless Duke asked.  He was so determined to prove that he could do this on his own and Nathan didn’t want to interfere with that.

Duke deflated. “Can you just wash my hair for me. Please.”

“Of course. I’m going to have to join you...you okay with that?”

“Yeah, course,” Duke gave him a look as if to say why wouldn't I be?

Just know you wanted to do this on your own,” Nathan said as he stripped out of his clothes and stepped behind Duke. He poured the shampoo in his hands and started to gently massage it into Duke’s hair, carefully avoiding as many of the cuts as he could. “Tell me if this hurts…”

Duke leaned his head back into Nathan's contact. “Stings a bit but it's fine…”

Nathan continued massaging the shampoo through Duke’s hair until he was satisfied it was clean. “I’m gonna rinse your hair now.” Nathan said, moving to let the water flow over Duke’s hair.

“Thanks, Nate,” Duke said softly. “Feels good to be clean again.”

Nathan smiled. “Anytime.” He said as he got out of the shower and wrapped a towel around his waist before turning back to help Duke.

Duke stepped gingerly out of the shower, careful on the slippery floor. Falling would be very not good. He took the towel from Nathan's outstretched hands and dabbed at himself, drying off as best he could.

“I’ll help with that when we get back to the bedroom. After you get dressed do you want to stay in the bed or go to the couch?” Nathan asked, taking the towel from Duke and wrapping it around his waist.

“Couch,” Duke decided. “Could do with a change of scenery.”

“Are you up for lunch? You don’t have to if your stomach still isn’t right.”

“Might try something to eat after some more meds…”

Nathan helped Duke get dressed and settled on the couch before he went to get him the pain and nausea medicine.

“I can heat up the soup if you want. There are sandwiches, too. Or I could make pancakes...” Nathan called from the kitchen.

“...Pancakes would be good…” Duke wasn't entirely sure his stomach was ready for pancakes but they were warm and comforting and reminded him of days spent with Nathan and his mom. Happy memories.

Nathan looked over at him and smiled. “Pancakes it is.”

Duke smiled back and made himself more comfortable on the couch, pulling a blanket around himself. He wasn't cold, exactly, but it was comfort and maybe - just maybe, he still wasn't entirely convinced - he deserved a little comfort.

Nathan finished cooking and brought Nathan a plate of pancakes, drizzled with maple syrup.  He kissed Duke softly and went back to the kitchen to get his own plate. “Let me know if you want more,” he called over his shoulder.

“This is plenty, thanks,” Duke said, balancing the plate on his knees so he could slice off mouthfuls of pancakes with the side of his fork.

“Do you remember the first time we made pancakes?”

“I remember the mess,” Duke grinned.

“Not sure what my mom was thinking letting a six year old pour flour,” Nathan laughed.

“I thought she was gonna be so mad,” Duke said, remembering how he'd shoved Nathan behind him even as he stood on shaky knees, a waver in his voice as he apologised for spilling flour everywhere.

“But she just laughed. Told us cooking wasn’t fun unless you made mess.” Nathan was getting nostalgic at the memory. He wished he had thought to ask her to teach him to cook more than just her pancakes.

“Yeah,” Duke said softly. “Cleaning up the mess afterwards is less fun though.”

“It wasn’t so bad. I miss it sometimes...the cooking together...not the mess,” Nathan said. “You finished?”

“Yeah,” Duke handed him his empty plate. “We can cook together anytime, I just thought it wasn't your thing.”

“It’s not. I’m not good at it. Not like she was. Not like you.”

“Could learn…”

Nathan snorted. “Didn’t we just have this discussion? You remember the waffles.”

“Yeah, the waffles. But you're right, that wouldn't've happened if I hadn't had my hand inside your pants.”

“Truth is I probably still would have burned them...just not beyond recognition.”

“Yeah, there was...there was no saving that waffle maker…”

Nathan grinned. “But we had fun, didn’t we?”

“Depends what sort of fun you're talking about…”

“The kind of fun we aren’t allowed to have...”

“Yeah but think how good it'll be when we can have that sort of fun again...all the anticipation, the tease of knowing we can't have each other…”

“Okay...you need to stop…you know what you do to me just by talking…”

Duke laughed softly. “That...is not exactly an incentive to stop…”

“No. I guess it isn’t.” Nathan said, joining Duke on the couch.

“I'll stop,” Duke promised, not entirely sincerely as he proceeded to trace one finger down the inside of Nathan's arm and across his palm.

“That’s what you call stopping?” Nathan said softly.

“I've stopped talking, haven't I?” Duke said, taking hold of Nathan's hand to bring it to his lips and kiss along the ridges of his knuckles.

“You are impossible…” Nathan said, but he didn’t pull his hand away.

“Mmm hmm,” Duke murmured, turning Nathan's hand over to kiss his palm.

Nathan trembled at the feel of Duke’s lips. “Duke...that’s not fair…”

“No, I s’pose it's not,” Duke managed to sound vaguely apologetic as he put Nathan's hand down and leaned his head on Nathan's shoulder instead.

Nathan put his arm around Duke’s shoulder and pulled him closer. He leaned in and softly kissed his hair. “Want to try a movie or just talk?”

“Maybe try a movie? My head doesn't feel so bad now…”

Nathan reached for the remote and handed it to Duke. “You choose.”

“Sure?  You know you hate my taste in TV and movies.”

“I’m sure. You’ll know what might still hurt your head. Besides, I really just want an excuse to sit here and hug you,” Nathan said, smiling.

“Hugging...hugging is good,” Duke said softly, flicking through the channels to find something that didn’t require him to concentrate.

Cuddling with Duke without having to worry about an unexpected call from the station or the Gull was nice. They rarely had this much time to themselves and even though Duke was hurt and in pain, Nathan was happy. This was the life he wanted for as long as he could remember. He let out a contented sigh and kissed Duke’s cheek. “Yes, hugging is good.”

Duke settled on a TV show and nestled into Nathan's contact, snuggling against him with his head on Nathan's shoulder.

After a few minutes, Nathan spoke again. “Do you still want to see your truck?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“Okay, I’ll call Dwight and see if he can arrange it. They should be done with it. Are you sure you’re going to be okay?”

“No. But I think it's something I need to do.”

“And I’ll be right there with you. But you have to promise me that if it gets too much, we’ll go. Okay?”

“I promise. I, uh...need to see the scene too, can't keep avoiding that road for the rest of my life.”

“No, you can’t. We’ll get through this, I promise.” Nathan assured him, reaching to hold his hand.

“No, I know. I'll be fine, it's just something I have to do.”

Nathan nodded and turned back to the tv, still holding Duke’s hand. “What are we watching?”

“Great British Baking Show. Thought I'd get some ideas for when I feel up to cooking again.”

“You get ideas from cooking shows? I never knew that...is this what you watch when I’m working and you’re on the late shift?”

“Yep,” Duke grinned. “And then I go in the kitchen and start experimenting. That's sometimes why I bring you lunch, because I'm pleased with how it came out and want your opinion.”

“You want my opinion? Why?”

“...Because I've created something I'm proud of and want to share it with you and find out what you think.”

“You should be proud...you create the best food I’ve ever tasted. And I love that you want to share it with me.”

“To be fair, I do only share the good stuff with you, you don't get to see the disasters.”

“There are disasters? I thought I was the only one in this relationship that made kitchen disasters.”

“Nope, things go wrong sometimes. Even stuff I know how to make sometimes goes wrong and has to be started again. Admittedly your kitchen disasters tend to involve more smoke….”

“That’s not funny...okay, it is funny. Maybe you could teach me not to set off the smoke detectors when I try to cook.”

“Don't burn stuff?” Duke suggested helpfully.

“If you weren’t hurt you’d be getting an elbow in the ribs right now.”

“Good job I'm hurt then,” Duke grinned.

“Seriously though, maybe I should get over my fear of the kitchen...you still willing to help?” Nathan asked hopefully.

“Yeah, course I am.”

“Just as long as you keep your hands to yourself…”

“Now that I can't promise…”

“Oh, really? And why is that?”

“Because you're so irresistible.”

“How irresistible?”

“Very, very fucking irresistible,” Duke said, his voice low and husky.

“God, I want you so much right now…”

“Sorry,” Duke said, sounding anything but. “I should stop teasing you.”

“No, you’re not sorry but I started it. Just talk to me. I love your voice…”

“Not as much as you love my hands on you, though…”

“You do have amazing hands…”

“And lips…”

“Yes...I love they way they feel…”

“Kissing you all over…”

“Especially that spot on my neck…” Nathan shivered just thinking about it. He didn’t know why he was torturing himself, but Duke’s voice was incredibly intoxicating and he couldn’t quite bring himself to put an end to this.

“Just on your neck? I'm disappointed,” Duke teased.

“I thought we were just talking about your lips..,not your mouth,” Nathan said, his eyes sparkling with mischief.

“We were. Don't tell me you don't like the sight of them wrapped around your cock.”

“Now that you mention it, that is a beautiful sight,” Nathan said, slightly breathless.

“Mmm hmm,” Duke murmured. “Down on my knees in front of you, staring up at you, your fingers tangled in my hair…”

“Oh my God...that mouth of yours...keep talking…” Nathan murmured, closing his eyes.

“If I could, I'd do it now. Unzip those jeans, pull them down just enough that I could get at your cock...kneel between your thighs and suck you off right here…”

Nathan leaned his forehead onto Duke’s shoulder and barely suppressed a soft moan. “You keep this up I’m gonna come without you even touching me.”

“I keep this up and I'm going to spend the next... however long it takes me to recover to the point where I'm no longer under Gloria's sex ban...very, very frustrated.”

Nathan kissed Duke’s cheek and stroked his hair softly. “I’m sorry. I got carried away. You need to rest. I shouldn’t be teasing you...or encouraging you to tease me.”

“Maybe we should cool it, just for a while,” Duke said apologetically.

“It’s okay. I’m not going to do that again...not until you are healed. I really am sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry, it was my fault as much as yours.”

“True, but you tried to stop. I was the one acting like a horny teenager.”

“Yeah,” Duke sighed.

“Let’s go back to watching that cooking show. I promise to be good.”

Duke nodded and started the show playing again, leaning more closely against Nathan.

“Tell me how you decide what you want to try cooking?”

“Well that’s...complicated.  Sometimes it’s just something that I haven’t thought of before, a different flavour combination in an otherwise familiar dish, or a small tweak that I want to try out.  Sometimes it’s to learn a new skill, especially with pastry and desserts, y’know, I’m self taught, pretty much, some of that stuff is hard to learn and hasn’t been a priority.  Or it might just be something...fun that takes my interest.”

“Have you ever thought to take classes for the dessert and pastry stuff?”

Duke laughed softly.  “I’m not exactly the world’s greatest student, Nate.  Slight problem with authority and being told what to do.”

“But this is different. This is something you want to learn. It was a just a thought.”

“Yeah, no, it’s a good thought, maybe I will once...once my head is back to normal and I have the use of both of my hands again.”

“I didn’t mean now. I’m just thinking for the future.”

“I know, I’m just...not really ready to think about that stuff yet.”

“I’m sorry. I seem to be saying all the wrong things today. Maybe I need to go do the laundry or something so you can rest.” Nathan said, moving to untangle himself from Duke.

“You don’t need to go.”

“You need to rest.”

“I can rest with you here.”

“You sure you don’t want to be alone for a while?” Nathan asked, already settling back down next to Duke.

“I’m sure,” Duke smiled.

Nathan relaxed against Duke and reached to hold his hand.

Duke settled into his contact, happy to be able to rest.

Chapter Text

The following morning, Dwight appeared through the hatch of the Rouge, stooping to avoid hitting his head.  “How’re you doing?” He asked Duke.

“...Been worse.”

“Look better than when I last saw you.”

“Not sure that’s hard,” Duke grinned.

“You gave us quite the scare…”

“Aww, Sasquatch, I didn’t know you cared.”

Dwight just lifted an eyebrow.

Nathan stifled a laugh. “I’m guessing you’re here for Duke’s statement?”

“Yeah.  Sorry, Duke, know you’d probably prefer not to go over it again.”

“It’s fine, know you’ve gotta do your job.”

Dwight nodded and started asking Duke questions about how exactly the accident had happened; Duke answering as best he could remember.

“Your steering failed?”

“Yeah.  Swerved left to avoid the dog, couldn’t turn right - or I could but it was heavy and sluggish and I couldn’t turn in time to miss the tree.”

“Steering ever been a problem before?”

“Nope.”

“Checked it recently?”

Duke nodded.  “Can’t remember exactly when it was.  Same weekend as…” He glanced at Nathan.  “Same weekend as we had that stupid argument about laundry.  I stormed outside to work on the truck, checked everything over, tightened a bolt or two.  Everything was good.”

“Last month. A week before your birthday.”

“Should’ve remembered that, shouldn’t I?” Duke smiled softly, remembering his birthday.

“Ok, so, what, three weeks ago, the truck was fine and then something suddenly failed in the steering system?”

Duke shrugged.  “It’s an old truck.  These things happen.”

“Sabotage a possibility?”  Dwight said bluntly.

Duke glanced at Nathan again.  “It...would be a possibility but I don’t think it’s likely.”  

“A possibility? Why would it even be a possibility? Have any of your former...or current...business partners threatened you? And you just forgot to mention it?” Nathan asked, going into detective mode.

“I didn’t-” Duke started before Dwight put his hand up to interrupt him.

“Nathan, you’re here as Duke’s partner, to support him.  You’re not a cop right now and I will ask you to leave if you interrupt again.”

“I’m sorry, it’s just habit,” he said to Dwight before turning to Duke. “And I’m sorry for accusing you of keeping anything from me.”

Duke gave him a nod.  “It’s fine.”

“Valid questions though,” Dwight said.  “Mind answering them?”

“No threats, but...my old line of work, I couldn’t rule out that someone tracked me down…”

“I’ll get the forensics guys to go over it more closely, see if we can find out why it failed, although...It’s a bit of a mess…”

“Can I see it?”

Dwight nodded.  “Don’t see why not.  Give the team another day to go over it and I’ll give Nathan access.  Anything you had in there, personal possessions...all gone I’m afraid.”

“Thought as much.”

“Think I’ve got enough to be going on with.  I’ll let you know what we find.”

“Yeah.  Thanks Dwight.”

“Anytime,” Dwight turned to leave.  “And Duke…? I’m really glad it worked out this time but please wear your fucking seatbelt.”

Duke half-laughed.  “Yeah. Nathan’s making me buy a new car, it’ll probably be one that pings at me if I forget.”

Dwight raised an eyebrow.  “And you won’t be removing the fuse to stop it, right?”

“No…”

“Good.  Take care of yourself - or, more accurately, make sure Nathan takes good care of you.”

“Don’t worry, I plan on it.” Nathan smiled, squeezing Duke’s hand more tightly.

Duke squeezed Nathan's hand in return as Dwight gave them a succinct nod and left.

“You okay? I know that wasn’t easy. Especially admitting someone might have done this.”

“Yeah, I'm ok. Doubt anyone would've done this. It's not exactly the most reliable way to off someone.”

“Just want to make sure we don’t need to start taking more precautions…if someone wants to hurt you…”

“The Rouge is well locked up, no one's getting on board without me knowing about it. There are weapons taped all over the place - yes, I know you asked me to get rid of them two years ago when you moved in, now isn't really the time for that argument - I'm not exactly defenceless here.”

“First off, do you honestly think I don’t know about your guns? I’d be a shitty detective if I didn’t realize there was a gun taped to my headboard. Second, I’m not worried about you here...if someone is trying to hurt you the easiest place to get to you is at the Gull.”

“You - I thought I'd hidden them pretty well,” Duke complained.

Nathan raised an eyebrow, “Seriously? You have one taped behind the toilet...who do you think cleans the bathroom? Did you think it cleans itself?”

“Wha-? No, I didn't think it cleans itself. The same way as I'm sure you don't think the kitchen cleans itself. So, Haven's finest ass, if you think you're so smart, where's the one in the kitchen?”

“There are two, smartass. One under the table and one in the spice cabinet.”

“Three. One in the freezer.”

“Why is there a gun in the freezer?”

Duke shrugged. “Honestly? Mostly because I know you wouldn't find that one and if you tried to make me get rid of the others, at least I'd have one left.”

“I’m not going to make you get rid of your guns. It’s a bit excessive just how many there are, but at least they’re all registered. So, please take the gun out of the freezer before you ruin it.”

“Fine, fine, it's in the top drawer, double wrapped, hidden inside a bag of peas. By all means go and take it out and find somewhere more sensible to put it.”

Nathan leaned over and kissed Duke’s forehead. “It’s your gun. I’ll take it out of the freezer for you since it still hurts for you to walk, but you tell me where you want it.”

“Under the chair?” Duke nodded in the direction of the chair he meant.

“I’ll take care of it later. Now...can we go over where all of the guns are? I’m sure you’ve been able to hide a few that I don’t know about.”

“Underside of the cabinet by the door, under the couch, under the coffee table, the three in the kitchen, the toilet, bathroom cabinet, headboard, one under each bedside table, a couple in the closet, one in each of the storage rooms, the wheelhouse, obviously, the box on deck with all the spare ropes, there's a hidey hole on the foredeck, there's a couple in there. And then the storage room on the lower deck, the one that's always locked…that's where I keep the rest of them.”

Nathan just shook his head. “Well, it’s good to know I’m not completely useless as a cop. I knew about almost all of them. And I have to ask even though I’m fairly certain I know the answer...they are all registered, right?”

“Uh... the easily accessible ones are...the stuff in the lower storage room...not so much. But they're for everything's gone to shit purposes. You know, if things get so bad that I just have to grab some cash and some fake ID and get the hell out of dodge. Didn't seem much point registering weapons to be used under those circumstances.”

“You aren’t going to want to hear this and I’m not trying to start a fight, but we need to get those guns off the boat. If there is even a remote possibility that your truck was sabotaged, they might try again. And if...and yes, I know it’s a big if...they get on board we can’t risk either of us using an unregistered weapon.”

“Just off the boat?  I could...move them to a storage unit somewhere else…?  You’re not actually suggesting I get rid of them?”

“Yes, you have to get rid of them. We can do it without getting you in trouble. I’m not backing down on this.”

Duke started to protest and thought better of it.  Nathan probably had a point.   Even if he didn’t like it.  “Ok. Do it. I’ll need to get a new one, though.  Or maybe two...to replace the ones that were in my truck.”

“It’s a good thing I’m a cop. Otherwise I might be a little freaked out about your obvious gun obsession. I’ll talk to Dwight when we see your truck and have him come out to take them.”

“I don’t have a gun obsession, I have a staying safe obsession.  There’s a difference. A subtle one, admittedly, but a difference.”

“I’m sorry you don’t feel safe. Wish I could change that…”

“Feel safer with you here,” Duke said quietly.

“That’s good to know,” Nathan said, pulling Duke closer.

“I’d feel even safer if you weren’t making me get rid of half my weapons.  Presumably you’re going to insist the knives go, too?”

“If you want to replace them...legally...I’m fine with you having them. Wait...knives? How many knives?” Nathan asked, pushing Duke back to look at his face.

“A few,” Duke said evasively.

Nathan rolled his eyes. “Duke…”

“What?”

“I swear you only do these things to see my reaction. How many knives”

“Four. Not counting kitchen knives, obviously.”

Nathan sighed. “Why? Do you like giving me grey hair? Four is not excessive.”

“You haven't got any grey hair. Tasers? Do I have to get rid of tasers?”

Nathan groaned and pointed to his temple. “Yup, right here...I can feel it turning grey.”

Duke peered at where Nathan was pointing.  “Nope, still not grey. The lines on your forehead from scowling at me, though…”

Nathan tried to stop scowling. “No. You can keep the tasers. Just please, please tell me that’s it. You don’t have any, oh, I don’t know...crossbows? Swords? Canons?”

“Nope, none of those.  Unless a pressure washer counts as a water cannon but I use that for cleaning the deck so…”

Nathan stared at Duke, trying to see if he was actually serious before he burst out laughing. When he caught his breath he leaned in and kissed Duke softly. “I love you, so very much. Can we please stop talking about weapons now?”

“Yes, yes we can,” Duke said, leaning against Nathan.

“Good. How are you feeling? Need anything?”

“I’m ok, think I’m starting to feel better.  Not as sick, anyway, and my head isn’t doing that annoying spinny thing.”

“That’s good. Let me know when you get hungry.”

“Will do.  Think we could go out tomorrow?  Getting a bit stir crazy here…”

“Anyplace you want to go?”

“Depends if Dwight finishes with my truck or not.”

“If he doesn’t we can stop at the Gull...but you are not doing anything except visiting.”

Duke brightened.  “That would be good.  I’ve got some notes for some new dishes that I can discuss with Tracy.”

“If that’s what you want to do. We also need to stop and see Gloria. Let her check you out.”

Duke’s face fell again.  “Guess we have to.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Could just do without being poked and prodded and told to rest more.”

“Duke, this is Gloria. She’s not going to poke and prod. And you have been resting. You’re actually doing better than I expected. That is, after you started being honest and taking the medication.”

“She’s definitely going to poke and prod, she can’t help herself.  Can you back me up? Tell her I’ve been resting, taking my meds…”

“She’ll be able to tell that herself, but yes, I will back you up.”

“Thanks.  Could do without a lecture from her.”

“Duke, she cares. And what could she possibly lecture you about? You’re following all her restrictions...unless there’s something I don’t know? Have you been installing water pumps while I’m sleeping?”

Duke rolled his eyes.  “Installing water pumps and breakdancing on the roof of the wheelhouse.”

Nathan raised an eyebrow. “You can break dance?”

“Obviously no.  I can lap dance though.  Yes, really.”

“Part of me really wants to know why you know how to lap dance…”

“Work was quiet for a while so I took a job in a club for a couple months,” Duke said, shrugging.

“When? Why am I just hearing about this now?”

“Years ago, while I was away.  Didn’t come up in conversation.”

“Okay, don’t take this the wrong way...but you any good?”

“Bit out of practice but yeah.  Want a demo? When I feel up to it, I mean.”

“Do you even need to ask?”

Duke laughed softly.  “Ok, maybe that was a silly question.”

“Anything else interesting I should know?”

“Define interesting…”

“Something I don’t know. Doesn’t have to be sexual.”

“I got arrested in Russia.”

“Why?”

“Well first off, it was a misunderstanding…”

“Isn’t it always? Go on…”

“There may have been some vodka involved…”

“Were you consuming said vodka or smuggling it?”

Duke made a seesawing motion with his hand. “ Technically there might have been some smuggling involved but mostly consuming it. And...there might have been some nudity and let me tell you... Russian cops are far less forgiving than American cops and I never thought I'd say that.”

“Can you just tell me what exactly happened? You tell me and I’ll tell you something you don’t know about me…”

“I smuggled in some vodka, stupid idea, trying to sell vodka to the Russians but there we are. They wanted to know if it was good so they opened a bottle to test and insisted I drink with them. So I did. They were... y'know, kinda intimidating but great fun. Had a few laughs and before I knew it, they'd knocked me out and stolen the vodka. And my clothes, for good measure. And just to add insult to injury, they called the fucking cops and I couldn't tell them what had happened because that meant implicating myself in a much worse crime than public nudity. So I spent a couple days in lock up, then they marched me back to the harbour and waited while I sailed off. Could've been worse. I think. Two words though - cavity search,” Duke shuddered.

“Wow...just wow. And you’re right could have been worse if they had found out you were smuggling. Never a dull moment with you, huh?”

“It was interesting, that's for sure…”

“So, anything else you think I should know?”

“Hey, I told you one thing, you're supposed to tell me something now.”

“I didn’t just watch the meteor storm with Hannah after prom…”

Duke raised an eyebrow. “Did you really think none of us knew that?”

“What? How?”

“The way you two acted around each other afterwards. You were like a lovesick puppy, staring at her every time she wasn't looking. She couldn't see you without giggling. It didn't take much to work it out.”

“Shows how clueless I am...actually thought you didn’t know.”

“Sorry. For what it's worth, she never said anything, not even to Julia.”

“Okay, since I probably don’t have any secrets from you...ask me a question and I’ll answer.”

“That night on the beach, we were what…? Fifteen? Was that the first time you'd ever gotten drunk?”

Nathan nodded. “Couldn’t you tell?”

“By the way you threw up over your shoes and then cried about it? Yeah, I kinda guessed…”

“Then why did you ask?”

Duke shrugged. “There's not much I don't know about you, so…”

“I knew I wanted to be more than friends with you in eighth grade...well seventh if we’re being honest...did you know that?”

Duke smiled softly. “I...did not know that. Why'd you wait so long?”

“Because I knew my father would never understand. My mom knew though...she figured it out. Told me to follow my heart...but I was too scared of what the Chief would say...”

“I can imagine that wouldn't have gone down well.”

“Yeah, he was less than thrilled when he found out...the night I came home wearing your sweater the summer before college. But he couldn't really do anything about it…”

“I never did get that sweater back,” Duke smiled fondly.

“I took it to college with me.”

“Even after... everything?”

“Yeah, I never stopped wanting to be with you. Can’t you tell?”

Duke cupped Nathan's jaw in his good hand and kissed him softly. “Now…? Yeah. Back then, I thought you hated me. I'd let you down so much, said some terrible things…”

“And I was any better? I never hated you. I loved you even then. But it was too hard...to admit it. Besides...I never thought you would want to be with me...especially after I gave into my father and became a cop.”

“Guess we were both pretty hard on each other back then but I never stopped loving you.”

“We were very stupid. Glad we finally figured it out. Because I can’t imagine my life without you.”

“I can't either,” Duke said, resting his head on Nathan's shoulder.

“What’s the first thing you want to do when Gloria clears you...besides the obvious,” Nathan asked, grinning.

“Yoga. And surf. After we spend an entire week in bed, that is.”

“A week? I can see why you might need yoga after that.”

Duke grinned. “Pretty sure you won't be complaining.”

“Oh, I’m sure I won’t as long as you give me that lap dance…”

“There will definitely be a lap dance. And possibly a strip tease.”

“You haven't done that for me in a while…”

“No, I haven't…”

“And we are going to stop talking about this right now.”

“Probably a good idea,” Duke said, smiling.

“You going to be okay here for a bit?”

“Yeah, I'll be fine. You got stuff you need to do?”

“Unfortunately, yes. Laundry. You know, my favorite.” Nathan said grimacing.

“I promise I'll get back to doing my fair share as soon as I can.”

“I’m not complaining...you do more than your share. I say cooking is worth way more than the laundry.”

“Yeah but you do all the washing up.”

“We both do our share,” Nathan said kissing Duke before he got up. “I’ll be back in a little bit.”

“Ok,” Duke said, smiling as he stretched out on the couch to watch some more TV.

Chapter Text

After he'd been checked out by Gloria - without too much poking and prodding, a limited amount of fussing, and only a short lecture - Duke insisted on taking Shore Road so he could see the scene of the accident he'd been carried away from.

As soon as Nathan parked the Bronco, Duke jumped out, running his hands through his hair.

“You okay?” Nathan said, standing beside Duke.

Duke nodded but said nothing, images flashing through his mind.

Nathan put his arm around Duke’s waist. “Talk to me.”

“I'm ok,” Duke said, his voice strangled. He swallowed hard and tried again. “I'm ok. Really.”

“Let me know when you want to go.”

Duke nodded. “Dwight found me down that slope?”

“McHugh found you, but yes, it was down that slope.”

“McHugh did?”

“Yeah. He kept you stable while Noelle, Joseph and Don got you strapped to the board. Then he helped Noelle on the way to the hospital.”

Duke sat down heavily on a charred tree stump at the side of the road, his head in his hands. “How the fuck did I survive this, Nate? If I'd had my seatbelt on...Dwight said the front of the Landrover was caved in...I'd have been trapped. If I'd landed differently...broken my neck. If my head had hit the tree just a bit harder, or in a different place…”

Nathan squatted down next to him and rubbed his back. “I don’t have any answers for you. You’re right, so many things could have gone wrong. But they didn’t. God, Guardian Angel...who knows but somebody thought you needed to live.”

“Yeah,” Duke said shakily. “Should probably be thanking Buddha that I'm still here and uninjured. Relatively speaking.”

“Compared to how bad you could have been injured….yeah, I’d say you’re uninjured.”

Duke nodded. “You ok? Must've been pretty rough for you…”

“I’m okay. I told you, having you here with me makes it better. Every time I touch you it gets a little easier.”

Duke reached across to squeeze his hand. “Then don't let go.”

“I won’t.” Nathan promised. “You ready to get out of here? Maybe get something from Rosemary’s before we go see the Landrover?”

“Yeah, that sounds good,” Duke said, standing up on legs that didn't quite want to hold him up.

Nathan kept a firm hold around Duke’s waist and guided him back to the Bronco.

Duke sat heavily in the passenger seat. “Feel like I need a bottle of scotch right now,” he half-joked.

“Nope, and not just because of Gloria’s ban...you’re stronger than that. You fought your way back to me without scotch,” Nathan said, getting in the driver’s seat and heading to Rosemary’s.

“Guess I did,” Duke said quietly.

Nathan left Duke to his thoughts, letting him work through what happened at his own speed.

They pulled up in front of Rosemary’s a few minutes later. “Cupcakes?” Nathan asked with a grin.

Duke gave him a look. “You know full well my cupcakes are better than any you get from Rosemary's.”

“I do, I’m teasing. Was actually thinking of her croissants.”

“Croissants would be good.”

They made their way inside Rosemary’s. After being gently hugged by Rosemary herself and admonished to ‘never scare everyone like that again,’ Duke bought a few croissants for himself and Nathan and three dozen donuts for the the station.

Once inside the station, Nathan handed Stan the donuts and went in search of Dwight.

Duke exchanged a few words with Stan and Laverne, and ended up on the receiving end of a flying tacklehug from Henry the intern who babbled apologies for something that Duke couldn't quite understand but appeared to have something to do with sending Nathan out to the scene by mistake. After a moment, Duke redirected Henry's attention to the donuts and made his escape.

He found Nathan in his office, perched on edge of the desk, his arms folded as he talked to Dwight.

“- inconclusive,” Dwight finished up and gave Duke a nod as he walked in.

“What was inconclusive?”

Dwight glanced at Nathan. “Want me to catch him up?”

Nathan gave him a succinct nod and a small hand gesture, silently saying 'go ahead’.

Dwight nodded back and turned to Duke. “Forensics went over your truck again, in light of the conversation we had yesterday. There's nothing conclusive. No evidence it was deliberate but they can't rule it out either.”

“Ok, and where exactly does that leave me? And if either of you tell me to be more careful, I swear to God I'm going to start throwing punches and Gloria'll have to patch up my good hand.”

He hid it well but Nathan caught the flicker of panic that crossed Duke’s face for the briefest of seconds before he launched into his little rant.  Not wanting to call him out on it in front of Dwight, Nathan just raised an eyebrow.

“Go ahead if that’ll make you feel better. Just wouldn’t recommend doing it here, ya know, in a police station,” Nathan said after a minute, hoping to make Duke laugh with his usual dry humor.

It only earned him a glare from Duke and a flick of his head, as if to say 'do you really think I'm that stupid?’.

Dwight bit the inside of his cheek. “We could always put you in protective custody.”

Duke turned his glare on Dwight instead. “Thanks, Sasquatch, that's...that's really fucking helpful. Can I have some serious suggestions now, please.”

“Vary your routine. Don't lock up at the Gull on your own. Check your car before you get into it - that includes the Bronco when you're with Nathan. The Rouge is already well covered but consider stepping up security at the Gull. Don't discuss plans if there's anyone in earshot, or with anyone you don't know well and trust implicitly.”

“So... basically don't do anything.”

“That’s not what he’s saying, Duke. We just have to take precautions, just in case. Besides, you can’t do a lot of this yet. We haven’t even really talked about a new car and what did Gloria say earlier? About going back to work?” Nathan said calmly.

“She said not for at least two more weeks, if not four because she wants to wait until this thing -” Duke waved his cast around “- is off.”

“So, let’s not get too worked up. Especially if you still want to see the truck. We aren’t going to see it if you’re already upset.  These are safety precautions we should be doing anyway considering your previous line of work and my current one.”

“I'm not upset,” Duke said, ignoring Dwight's huff of laughter at that statement. “But yes, I see your point.”

“Thank you. Now are you ready to see the truck?” Nathan asked, pushing off his desk.

“As I'll ever be.”

“It’s gonna be okay,” Nathan said, giving Duke’s arm a squeeze before he turned to Dwight. “Let’s go.”

Dwight nodded and led the way out to his police cruiser. “You two coming with me or following?”

“Following,” Duke said before Nathan had a chance to answer.

*

They parked up behind Dwight at the forensics garage and Duke sat quietly in the Bronco, centring himself with some breathing exercises.  After a few minutes, he slowly opened the door and got out, joining Nathan who was waiting for him to be ready.

Dwight led the way into the garage and Nathan sucked in his breath when he saw the Landrover, images of that horrible day flashing through his head.  Flailing, he reached out for the nearest thing to steady himself against, and took a deep breath. He had to be strong for Duke because whatever he was feeling, Duke was feeling worse.  After a moment, he put a hand on Duke’s back.

Duke stared at the twisted, charred lump of metal that had once been his pride and joy. His Landrover - Tramp, he called her - hadn't just been his vehicle, she'd been freedom, just like the Rouge. A means of escape. A home, sometimes, if he'd been on a long job that was too far inland to get back to the ship at night. Seeing her in this state, along with the flashes of memories he had from the accident, was more than he could cope with.

Aware of Nathan's hand on his back and Dwight's eyes on him, he steeled himself.

“If-” his voice came out too high, too strangled and he cleared his throat. “If,” he tried again, his hand raised as though to make a point before he dropped it and turned away, stalking out of the garage with long strides.

Outside, he breathed more easily, each breath filling his lungs with cool, fresh air.

Nathan looked over to Dwight. “When he comes back in can you give us a minute? And I need to talk to you before we leave today.”

“Yeah, sure. What do you need to talk to me about?”

“We need to get some unregistered firearms off the Rouge. And before you ask, none of them can be linked to any crimes. With everything going on we thought it best there was nothing illegal on the Rouge. I’d prefer we don’t tell the Chief.”

Dwight raised an eyebrow but nodded. “No problem. If it's ok with you, I'll send McHugh over and he can hand them into the PD anonymously. Covers all our asses.”

“There aren’t that many but yeah, I appreciate it.”

“No problem. I'll get him to give you a call, make arrangements.”

Nathan stared at the door, hoping Duke was in his way back in. “I’m going to give him two more minutes. Hope we aren’t keeping you from anything.”

“I'm in no hurry. More important he processes this.”

“Yeah, it is. Give me a minute. I’m going to make sure he’s okay,” Nathan said, heading for the door.

“How you doing?” he asked when he found Duke outside.

Duke gave him a look. “I'm fine. Obviously.”

Silently, Nathan walked over and pulled him into a tight hug.

Duke almost clung to him, his voice suspiciously thick when he spoke again. “Ok, maybe not fine.”

“We don’t have to go back inside.”

“Can we just go?”

“Whatever you want. Let me just go tell Dwight.” Nathan squeezed Duke and kissed his cheek before going back into the garage.

“Dwight, we’re going to head out. I think it’s too much for him.”

“Not surprising.  How are you doing?”

“Better than Duke,” Nathan said evasively.

“That’s not an answer,” Dwight said bluntly.

Nathan ran his hand over his face. “No, it’s not. And I know that if I wasn’t on leave that answer would get me a visit with Claire.” He let out a deep breath before continuing. “It was shocking to see the truck, I remembered the flames reaching the treetops. And the smell...that awful burning rubber smell. But then I looked at Duke and realized he’s alive. And that’s all that matters.”

Dwight nodded.  “Could’ve been a lot worse.”

“Yeah, it could’ve been. I’ll wait for McHugh to call. If you need anything else from us just stop by. And thanks again for everything.”

“No problem.  Just glad Duke’s ok.”

Nathan walked outside to find Duke leaning against the Bronco. “Ready to go to the Gull or do you want to go home?”

“Home,” Duke said quickly.  “I… Home.”

Nathan got in and started the engine, waiting until Duke was settled in the passenger's seat before driving away in silence, giving Duke time to process before he asked any more questions.

Duke stayed quiet all the way back to the Rouge, striding aboard and slamming the bolts closed as soon as Nathan had followed him inside.  He was halfway to the whiskey cabinet before Nathan’s hand closed around his wrist and stopped him and Duke turned to face him. “I can’t…” he started, his voice raw and broken.

“It’s okay. Whatever it is we can work through it. Talk to me…,” Nathan said, rubbing circles across Duke’s wrist.

Duke took a deep breath.  “I can’t stop the what ifs.”  

“You have to. Because they will make you go crazy. You are here. Alive.”

“I know, but…”

“Would it make you feel better to voice all the what ifs? I’ll do whatever you need to get you through this. You just have to tell me and I’ll do it.”

“It would help me to open a bottle of whiskey but I can’t see you letting me do that.”

“You aren’t drinking this away.”

“I’m not sure I really understand why not…”

“Because the problem, memory, what if...will still be there when you’re sober again. We have to deal with this head on. Figure it out...together.”

Duke jerked his wrist out of Nathan’s grip and turned away.  After one last, longing, look at the whiskey cabinet, he went over to the couch instead, flinging himself onto it hard enough that he grimaced as pain shot through the ribs that hadn’t healed enough to take that sort of punishment.

Nathan followed and knelt down in front of him. “Talk to me. Let me help you with this.”

Duke curled in on himself, pulling his legs up to his chest, his heels resting on the seat of the couch.  He leaned forwards, his elbows resting on his knees, and completely ignored the screaming from his ribs. “It’s not…” he started, sighed and tried again.  “Losing the truck is hard, not gonna say it isn’t, but it’s a truck, it can be replaced. It’s not even the what ifs, that’s just a process I’ve gotta go through until my brain can rationalise it.  It’s…”

Nathan waited. Rushing Duke wasn’t going to help. In fact, if he pushed Duke would just stop talking all together. So. he just leaned back on his heels and waited.

“Memories,” Duke said abruptly.  “That feeling of having lost control.  The moment I realised I was gonna crash and it was gonna be bad.  Putting my arms up to protect my head. Glass from the windshield slicing my face anyway.  You know, I even had time to think ‘oh fuck, this is gonna hurt’ before I hit the ground? And it did.  A lot. I felt my arm snap. Heard it too. I’ll never forget that sound. Or the crunch my ribs made as I hit rock after rock as I fell down the slope.  Or the thud as my head hit the tree, the blinding white pain for a split second before I lost consciousness. I remember every fucking second of it in glorious, technicolour detail and I don’t know how I’m ever going to forget it.”

“Do you want to talk to Claire? Maybe she can help.”

Duke gave him a look.  “I’d rather talk to my old friends Jack and Johnnie.”

“I’ll talk to her if you do…”

“...You need to talk to Claire?”

“You think I’ve gotten over watching your truck burn thinking you were in it?”

Duke uncurled himself and leaned forwards to drag Nathan into a hug, burying his face into Nathan’s neck.  “Sorry. I’ve been a selfish ass.”

“No, we’re both hurting and I don’t think we can do this without some help.”

“Maybe you’re right.”

“I’ll set it up with her. We will get through this.” Nathan promised.

“Yeah,” Duke sighed.  “Sorry I haven’t been asking how you’re doing.”

“Don’t be sorry. I shouldn’t have even been there.”

“That’s not really the point though, is it?  You were there and...Christ, Nate, I was out cold for most of it, you’ve probably got it worse than I do.”

“This isn’t a contest. It sucked for both of us.”

“I wasn’t trying to make it a contest, just acknowledging what you’re going through.”

“I know...I know you were...I’m sorry.”

“You don't have anything to be sorry for.”

Nathan didn’t answer. He just hugged Duke tighter.

“Call Claire, make us both an appointment.”

“Okay, I’ll call her now. You should probably call Tracy so she doesn’t worry when we don’t show.”

“Will do,” Duke said, reluctantly letting Nathan go.

Nathan walked out of the room and dialled Claire. She seemed to be expecting his call and set them up with both joint and private sessions. He walked back into the living room to find Duke on the phone with Tracy.

“No, I'm fine,” Duke said into the phone. “Tracy, I'm fine. Really. It just took more out of me than I thought so we came home. Yes, dinner would be great but only if it's no trouble. Ok, ok, yes, I'll stop, see you later.”

He ended the call and rolled his eyes. “She's worrying.”

“Because she cares. What’s for dinner?”

“Grilled seabass.”

“Sounds good. So, how are you feeling? Physically I mean? Oh, what did Gloria want to talk to you about while I was calling Dwight?”

“Ok. Tired. Sore. Head's gone a bit spinny again. Gloria was being a nosy old witch and demanded to know if we'd been sticking to the sex ban. I told her we weren't, scandalised her with some gory details and she cuffed me round the ear and kicked me out.”

Nathan laughed. “You keep that up and she won’t lift the sex ban, you know. When does she want to see you again?”

“Next week, as long as I don't get worse again.”

“Don’t be a smartass next week. I do eventually want to have sex again.”

Duke laughed. “You think I don't?”

“I know you do. But you’re still in pain so it’s not the same…”

“Aww, poor Nathan getting all frustrated. It's been what…? Four days?”

“Four days? You had sex the night before your accident? Really? With who?” Nathan teased.

“My left hand, because you were busy,” Duke teased back. “It was a great time, you should've been there.”

“I was working...did you take pictures?”

“Actually, yes. Did you not get them?”

“You sure you sent them to me?”

“...Pretty sure…”

“I mean...I don’t think I’m the only Wuornos in your phone...might’ve sent them to the Chief by accident…”

“Very funny.”

“I think I am.”

“You're really not.”

“But you love me anyway…”

Duke smiled softly. “I really really do.”

“And I love you, too.”

Duke leaned in to give him a gentle kiss. “Still need to work out where the fuck those pictures went…”

Nathan looked at him, wide eyed. “Wait…there really are pictures?”

“Uh, yeah…” Duke said, rubbing the back of his neck.

Nathan studied him for a few seconds. He really couldn’t tell if he was joking or not. “Duke… really?”

Duke relented. “Yes there are pictures, no I didn't send them.”

Nathan grinned. “I want to see them.”

“Why am I not surprised?” Duke said, rolling his eyes as he pulled his new phone out of his pocket. “Good job they were backed up.”

“Well, you’re gorgeous so why wouldn’t I want to see?”

“I'm also right here, you don't need photos.”

“Okay...take off your pants.”

Duke waved his cast in the air. “One handed? You're gonna have to help with that…”

“Damn...can’t believe you just called my bluff! No...we aren’t going down that road again.”

“What were you expecting?” Duke laughed.

Nathan shrugged. “Nothing really. Just like seeing you relaxed and joking.”

Duke smiled softly. “Yeah, you were right, I needed that. Thanks.”

“Yeah, I think we both did. Forgot to tell you earlier but McHugh is going to come by and get the guns...stop glaring at me. When you feel a little better we’ll replace them. I’ll buy you whatever you want...within reason.”

“So no flamethrower then?”

“Why do we need a flamethrower? Are we fighting dragons?”

“Zombies. Please tell me you've prepared for the zombie apocalypse?”

“Um..no...I thought that was your job…”

“Which is why I want a flamethrower.”

“Zombie apocalypse aside, the answer is no. You do not need a flamethrower. I will replace the guns we get rid of...or get you something you really want. And they will all be registered.”

Duke smiled. “Ok. Thanks. You know you don't have to, right? I can actually buy my own guns…”

“Yes, I know that, but I am the one making you get rid of the other ones.  Besides, it’ll make you happy.”

Duke leaned in and kissed him softly. “You're the best.”

Nathan returned the kiss and snuggled into Duke’s side, reaching down to bring Duke’s hand to his lips. “I know,” he teased.

“No, don't... you don't get to joke about it. I mean it. You're the best.”

“That’s not...it’s...it’s because you bring out the best in me.”

Duke leaned in to kiss him again. “Listen. What you're doing for me...taking care of me, supporting me, making sure I feel safe. I just want you to know you're appreciated and maybe I can't show it in my usual ways at the moment but it's still true.”

“I know you do...and I will always do those things for you. I realized a long time ago that asking you to get rid of all your guns was wrong. I do want you to feel safe. And if that means cleaning around a gun taped to the toilet and replacing your illegal guns with legal ones, well, that’s what I’ll do.”

“Thank-” Duke started to say before Nathan stopped him with a kiss.

“I haven’t forgotten what your early life was like...never feeling safe or loved. I never want you to feel like that again. I’m not naive enough to think I can take away all those painful memories but I’m going to do my best to help you make new ones...better ones.”

Duke flung his arms around Nathan, practically climbing into his lap, peppering soft kisses across his face. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Nathan replied, returning the kisses.

Duke hugged him as tightly as he could, nuzzling into Nathan's neck.

“This feels really nice,” Nathan said, running his fingers through Duke’s hair, hoping he was being more soothing and less seductive.

“It does,” Duke said softly, angling his head into Nathan's hand.

“Your hair is getting long.”

“Should probably get it cut.”

“No...don’t…”

“You like it like this?”

“Uh huh...it suits you. And I love doing this.”

Duke smiled softly. “I love you doing it.”

Nathan yawned.  “I’m kinda tired. Care to join me in bed?”

“You're really making the most of this time off, huh?”

“Yes, I am. Doubt the Chief is going to give me a moment to breathe when I get back, no matter how understanding he appears to be right now. I want to spend as much time as possible in your arms.”

“Then let's go to bed. Even if it is the middle of the afternoon.”

“It’s not like we have anywhere to be,” Nathan said, leading him to the bedroom.

“Nope. Seriously, though, how much time off do you think you can get away with?”

Nathan settled on the bed and waited while Duke got himself comfortable before answering. “I get ten weeks of family leave...it’s unpaid unless I use vacation time...which I am. I think I have almost 9 months vacation time I haven’t used. Maui was the only real vacation I’ve taken since joining the force. But I also have a ton of comp time from this year so...without actually figuring it all out...I’d have to say...a lot.”

“That...is a lot... I thought you were gonna say another few days…”

Nathan laughed. “Nope, I told you I was going to be by your side until you are totally healed...or until I drive you nuts. Either one…”

Duke kissed him. “You'll never drive me nuts. Seriously, though, I'm mostly ok now, by next week I should be fine. Maybe...we could take a long trip, if you've got that much time saved up...once I'm fully recovered…”

“We could. But Gloria will need to clear you first. Where do you want to go?”

“Yeah, no, I know, I was thinking maybe next year or something. Take a couple months, go wherever you want to. Back to Maui. Jamaica. Could go over to Europe.”

Nathan pulled Duke closer, carefully avoiding touching his ribs, “Europe might be nice. But I do love the warm weather.”

“Europe is warm. In the summer. Madrid, maybe. Or Rome. Venice…”

“You pick. You know what we’ll both like. Why are you always so warm?” Nathan asked, yawning again.

“No idea, I feel cold most of the time.”

“You’re cold now? Come closer…” Nathan said, barely able to keep his eyes open.

“I'm always cold,” Duke said, snuggling closer in to Nathan.

“Love you…” Nathan mumbled before falling asleep.

Duke kissed his forehead and settled down, watching Nathan while he slept, listening to his slow, rhythmic breathing until it lulled him into sleep.

Chapter Text

Two weeks later and Duke was almost healed and very frustrated with still being restricted by the cast on his arm and Gloria's insistence that he kept resting. He hadn't had a dizzy spell for days, his head no longer thumped every time he moved and he was bored.

At least he was until his phone rang one lunchtime. Nathan was snoozing on the couch beside him so Duke answered quietly and listened for a moment before panic set in.

“Tracy, Tracy, breathe,” he almost shouted down the phone. “No, don't touch it, hang up and call 911. Now. Yes, now. I'll call Dwight, make sure he comes over but you need to call 911.”

Nathan awoke and jumped off the couch as soon as he heard the panic in Duke’s voice. “What’s going on?”

Duke raised his hand and mouthed 'in a minute’. “Ok, I'm hanging up now. Call 911.” He paused for a moment, ended the call and turned to Nathan. “Tracy. Box was delivered to the Gull, with my name on. Looked like a gift from one of our suppliers, they do that sometimes. She opened it and it was filled with bottles of rat poison.”

“Call Dwight. And make sure you tell him to get McHugh over here now. We need those guns off the ship today, it's been ages since I asked. I might have to call the Chief…”

Duke was already dialling. He spoke to Dwight for a few minutes, explained, then hung up and text Tracy to let her know Dwight was on his way.

“McHugh'll be here in half an hour. Dwight’s on his way to the Gull.”

“After McHugh leaves, I’ll touch base with Dwight. Then I’ll call the Chief. Are you okay? You know we’re safe here, right? And Dwight will get to The Gull in less than five minutes.”

“I'm fine. Unsettled, but fine. It's not an immediate threat, it's a warning. It's fine.”

“It is going to be fine. We will find out who is doing this, I promise. You’re safe. Now we need to round up those guns for McHugh.”

Duke muttered something beneath his breath, something about needing all the weapons he could get his hands on but nodded and stood up to go to the storage room where he kept the slightly less than legal guns. On the way, he picked up the handgun that had been in the freezer and tucked it into the waistband of his jeans. “Not a word,” he growled at Nathan.

“Um...why would I say anything?” Nathan asked gesturing to his service weapon already back on his hip in it’s holster. “Just...is your carry permit up to date?”

“Yeah, renewed it two months ago.”

“Good...if we leave the boat at least we’ll both be armed. That might be McHugh on deck,” Nathan said as his phone started vibrating. “Yes, it is. I’ll let him in. Stay here.”

“Heard you need my help,” McHugh greeted Nathan.

Nathan ran his hand through his hair, “Yeah, we need to discreetly get rid of a few unregistered firearms. They’re below deck.”

“Don't worry, Dwight filled me in. I'll take them away, store them safely for a week or so and anonymously turn them over to the PD.”

Nathan led the way to where Duke was waiting with the guns.

Duke gestured around the room which was surprisingly full of an assortment of weapons from handguns to knuckle dusters and a couple of dusty old rifles that had seen better days. Nathan wondered if they'd once belonged to Simon.

“Quite the arsenal you've got here,” McHugh said dryly. “Setting yourself up as a one man army?”

“Very funny. Don't tell me your basement doesn't look like this.”

McHugh cast a glance in Nathan's direction. “Uh…”

Nathan flicked his eyebrows. “I’m not on duty.”

“Thank god for that,” McHugh mumbled as Duke started passing him guns. He quickly packed them into a large bag, closed it, and hoisted it onto his shoulder. “I'll get outta your hair.”

“Thanks again.” Nathan said, following McHugh so he could lock up.

“Hey, McHugh?” Duke said, waiting for McHugh to turn round. “Thanks. For this and... finding me, y'know…”

McHugh shook his head. “It's nothing. Just glad you're ok.”

Duke nodded. “Still. Thanks.”

McHugh gave him a nod and left.

“Hey, still okay?” Nathan checked after he’d closed the hatch behind McHugh.

Duke shrugged. “Thinking I need to close the Gull for a while. If any of my staff get hurt…”

“I’m not sure closing the Gull is necessary. That box was meant for you. Tracy only opened it because you weren’t there. But if it will make you feel safer to close, then we will. After Dwight is done I’m sure he’ll be over here. We can discuss what precautions to take. No one is going to get hurt.”

“What if whoever the fuck’s doing this manages to get into the kitchen, swaps out all the salt for rat poison or something. What if that's what the threat was.”

“I don’t think that’s what happened, but call Tracy and have her close. It’s not worth the risk.”

“Yeah. I'll call her after Dwight's finished there.”

“We will find who is doing this. I hate to ask, but do you have any idea who it might be? Maybe you can give Dwight a name...or two?”

Duke slumped onto a chair and ran his fingers through his hair. “Could be a number of people,” he admitted.

“Not reassuring but it’s something for Dwight to check out. Before we start talking about this I need you to know something…”

“...What?” Duke said, narrowing his eyes.

“I absolutely do not care what you did while you were away. Legal...illegal...doesn’t matter. So, don’t lie because you think I’ll get mad. Okay?”

Duke nodded. “Ok. Thanks.”

“You want write down some names? Give us a head start for when we talk to Dwight. And do you want me to call the Chief?”

“Yeah, I'll see what I can come up with. Your call on the Chief. I guess Dwight would call him if it was necessary.”

“I’ll give him a heads up after I talk to Dwight. Not like he won’t find out as soon as the reports get filed.”

“Whatever you think’s best. And, look, if…”

“If…?”

“You're probably at risk being here, if you want to go home for a while, move back in once this is all sorted...I won't hold it against you.”

“This is my home. I’m not leaving you here alone. Besides, you forget I let the apartment go a few months ago? And Mom’s house isn’t livable right now.”

“Could stay with your father. Even a B and B.”

“Absolutely not! My place is right here with you. If I was being targeted would you just move out?”

“No but I'm not worth the risk. You are.”

Nathan closed the gap between them and wrapped his arms around Duke. “You are most definitely worth the risk. You are the man I love and I would never abandon you.”

“Even if-?”

“There is no reason I would leave you. Didn’t we establish this already?”

“Yeah, but-”

“Okay. Get it off your chest...so I can reassure you.”

“There's nothing to get off my chest. I don't want you to get hurt. At all, obviously, but especially not because of me.”

Nathan reached for Duke’s hand and brought it his lips, turning it over and kissing his palm. “I know. It’s going to be okay. I’m not going to get hurt.”

“You can't...you can't guarantee that. What if I can't protect you?”

“Duke, I’m a cop. I’m supposed to be protecting you.”

“That...is so far from the point I don't even know where to start.”

“You really want me to go?”

“No! I just really need you to be safe and if that means not being around you until this whole clusterfuck is sorted out, than that's what we should do.”

“Fine. You want me to go because you think we can’t do this together...let me just call the Chief. He’s going to love this…” Nathan said, dropping Duke’s hand and striding out of the room.

Duke eyed up the whiskey cabinet and sighed, throwing himself onto the couch instead while he waited for Nathan to make his call and hopefully pack a bag or two.

Nathan sat on the bed with his phone in his hand, angry enough that he was actually tempted to call the Chief. Instead he called Dwight. Maybe he could talk some sense into Duke.

“I'm here now,” Dwight said when he picked up and Nathan had explained the situation. “Just parked up beside the Rouge. Don't go anywhere, I'll talk to him.”

Nathan walked back to the living room. “Dwight’s here.”

Duke gave him a curt nod and went to open the hatch.

Dwight strode in. “Tracy's fine, she's calmer now. I've removed the rat poison, called the Chief, and left Stan there to keep an eye on things.”

“Thanks, Dwight. I'm gonna call Tracy, ask her to shut the place down til this is sorted.”

“Seems a bit premature to me. We can have someone stationed there round the clock if needs be.”

“You could do that?”

Dwight nodded. “This is Haven, Duke, not much in the way of crime. If we can prevent it rather than solve it, that tends to be our preferred method.”

“Duke thinks I’ll be safer off the Rouge. Wants me to stay with the Chief,” Nathan all but growled.

“Duke’s an idiot,” Dwight said.

“Hey!”

“No, you are. Nathan's a cop, he's perfectly capable of looking after himself. And you.”

“Bu-”

“I know how well you can shoot, too. There's one way on and off this ship. No one's getting on without one of you knowing about it. Trust me, you're both safer here than anywhere else.”

“Bu-” Duke tried again.

“No more buts. I'll station another couple of officers outside, keep an eye on the place. Chief won't say no to that. You're safer here and you're safer together.”

Nathan tried not to look relieved that Dwight wasn’t backing down and changed the subject instead. “Duke has a few names you might want to check out.”

Duke nodded and handed Dwight the list he'd made. “If you can keep my name out of it, that'd be good. Some of those people…”

“Understood. We can find a way to look into them without involving you.”

“Thanks. You really think Nate's safer here?”

Dwight snorted. “Have you seen the Chief shoot recently? You're better than he is. Look, if Nathan's a target because of you, that won't necessarily change just because he isn't staying here. The Rouge is like a fortress. Safest place.”

Duke nodded and cast an apologetic look at Nathan.

“Ok, I'll keep you posted what I can find out. You'll probably get a visit from the Chief later, I need to escalate this.”

“How was he when you talked to him earlier? Want to be prepared,” Nathan asked, moving closer to Duke.

“Worried,” Dwight said succinctly.

Nathan nodded. Worried wasn’t good but he could deal with that; it was better than pissed off.

“Right, I'm outta here, see what leads I can dig up. Usual stuff, be aware of your surroundings while you're out, check the truck before you get in. I don't need to tell either of you this stuff.”

Duke managed a smile. “Yeah. We'll be fine. Thanks Dwight.”

He waited until Dwight had left, then locked the door behind him.

Nathan looked at Duke but didn't say a word. He just raised an eyebrow and waited to see what Duke was going to do.

“He's right. I'm an idiot.”

“I wouldn’t say you were an idiot. More like a stubborn ass.”

“That too. Fuck, Nathan, I'm sorry. I just thought... I thought it'd be for the best, I really did… I'm sorry.”

“It’s okay. I know you just want me to be safe. I’m sorry, too.”

“It's not ok,” Duke said miserably. “You're doing so much for me, taking care of me, making sure I'm ok and I feel safe and I tried to push you away.”

“I wasn’t really going to leave. I was just angry. Was debating who to call, Dwight or the Chief.”

“You weren't?”

Nathan shook his head. “I wasn’t going to leave. But I did almost call the Chief to talk sense into you.”

“I...am very glad you didn't. On both counts.”

“Yeah, Dwight was a better choice, plus he was already here. But looks like we’re going to be getting a visit from the Chief anyway.”

“Yeah. Guess he's not gonna be too pleased with me.”

“Duke, he’s not going to blame you. I won’t let him.”

“No? He always said I was trouble. Always said I'd get you killed one day. Maybe he's right.”

Nathan took a deep breath. “No, he’s not.”

Duke shrugged.

Nathan closed the distance between him and Duke and all but pushed him to the couch, forcing him to sit. He knelt in front of him, took Duke’s face in his hands and kissed him hard.

When he pulled back, he stared into Duke’s eyes. “I know you are scared. I know you feel off balance because you’re still hurt. But this is not your fault. It’s not. Okay?”

Duke nodded and dropped his gaze to stare at the floor.

Nathan reached under his chin to gently bring Duke’s gaze back to him. “Hey...I didn’t mean to upset you…”

“You didn't.”

“Then what’s going on?”

“Nothing, it's just...I always knew I wasn't good enough for you and this just proves it. You could get hurt because of me, because of the shit I did in the past and I can't...I can't let that happen. It would...destroy me,” Duke choked off the final word with a sound that might have been a sob.

“You are good enough. I told you yesterday that I’ve wanted to be with you since I was twelve.”

“Tha-”

Twelve , Duke,” Nathan cut him off. “I’m close to forty. I’ve wanted you almost my whole life. You’ve been a part of my life so long I don’t remember you not being here.”

“I'll still be here, just-” was as far as Duke got before he was shushed again.

“We’ve had really good times and really bad times. We’ve survived everything life has thrown at us because we are stronger together than apart. And God help the person who tries to take you away from me because I will show no mercy.”

“I -” Duke tried again and cut himself off this time, too choked to speak.

Nathan cupped his jaw in his hand. “We will get through this. I am not going to get hurt because of you.”

Duke swallowed hard. His eyes were stinging and he had to force his voice to be level when he spoke. “I promise I'll do everything I can to keep you safe but Nate... you have to promise to keep yourself safe too. No risk taking, do everything Dwight said…”

“I promise. No risk taking. But you have to promise the same thing. Okay?”

“Ok. I promise,” Duke said, managing a smile as he let out a shaky breath.

Nathan wrapped his arms around Duke. “It really is going to be okay. Maybe not right now but we’re going to find this person and everything is going to go back to normal. You gonna be okay?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I'll be fine. There's nothing to say my truck was deliberate, and the rat poison could be just a prank. Don't know what I'm worrying about.”

“You’re right, it could be nothing. But for now let’s just be careful, no risks and by the time you’re healed we can start planning a nice trip away from here. Just you and me.”

Duke nodded. “That'd be really good.”

Nathan sat forward again and kissed Duke softly. “Yes, it will be. And now I need to get up. My knees are killing me...yes, there is a joke in there somewhere.”

“Happens when you get old,” Duke smirked. “You wouldn't have that problem if you did yoga like I suggested.”

“Go ahead, laugh. You’re older than I am. And you got me to agree to learning to cook. You really want to try to teach me yoga, too?  You think your head hurts now?”

“Yeah yeah, rub it in why don't you. I'm only six months older, it hardly counts.”

“But you’re still older,” Nathan smirked.

“Shut up,” Duke said, rolling his eyes.

Nathan pushed up off the floor with a very loud groan. “I’m going to get something to eat. You hungry?”

“Yeah, I could eat. You called the Chief yet?”

“No, I’ll call him after we eat. He might just show up. Didn’t Dwight say he was?”

“He said probably which I guess means likely.”

“Yeah, with the Chief that’s a safe bet. What do you want to eat?”

Duke groaned. “Suppose I should eat while I still have an appetite because I definitely won't after he's yelled at me.”

“I’m not getting into this again. He’s not going to yell...well, he might yell, but when do I ever let him yell at you?” Nathan asked, heading to the kitchen. “Now, do you want a sandwich or something Tracy sent over? I can heat up soup? I think there’s mac and cheese, too.”

“Maybe mac and cheese?”

Nathan heated up the mac and cheese.  He’d barely sat down to eat before his phone vibrated and he sighed when he saw who was calling. “The Chief is here. Eat. I’ll go let him in.”

“What a pleasant surprise, Chief,” he said, forcing a smile as he let Garland in.

Garland glowered at him. “Pleasant isn't the word I'd use.”

“Yeah, it probably isn’t. Mac and cheese? And no, I didn’t cook it,” Nathan said, offering him the mac and cheese he had planned on eating.

“No, thanks. How's Duke?”

“Uh, I'm right here,” Duke complained. “And I'm fine, thanks.”

“Well you must be feeling better with that attitude.”

Duke just glared back and returned to eating his mac and cheese.

Nathan frowned at his father. “Think you can stop insulting Duke for the two minutes it takes me to lock the hatch?”

Garland bristled while Duke tried not to smirk.

“Anyway,” Garland said. “Gather you gave Dwight all the information he needs. I don't like trouble in my town. Anything else you can tell me?”

“I don't like trouble around me, either,” Duke snarked back. “Believe me, if I knew who was behind it, I'd tell you.”

“Good.”

Nathan rolled his eyes. “This isn’t Duke’s fault. You know that, right?”

Garland shrugged. “Doesn't surprise me he's pissed someone off enough to want to kill him.”

“Again,” Duke said hotly. “I am right here.”

Nathan sighed and tried a different tactic. “Dad, can we please not do this right now? I know you didn’t come here to upset everyone…”

“You're right, I didn't. I came to go over your security arrangements. Dwight insisted on having officers at the Gull during opening hours, and out on the dock but that's only gonna be overnight, can't spare the people for a 24/7 guard.”

“I can handle things during the day. What else?”

“Keep your gun to hand at all times. Both of you,” Garland gave Duke a sideways glance which Duke blithely ignored. “Usual stuff that I'm sure you already know, be extra aware of your surroundings...Call 911 straight away if you have any concerns. Don't try handling it yourselves, you'll need backup.”

“We’ll be careful. Appreciate you coming out here, Dad. I’m sure Dwight will figure this out soon. Haven’t seen you since the hospital.  You want to stay a bit?” Nathan asked, ignoring Duke’s glare.

Garland glanced at Duke and shook his head. “Appreciate the offer but I gotta get back, start figuring out who's behind this.”

“Yeah, maybe after this is all cleared up,” Nathan said, moving to unlock the hatch.

“Yeah. Could go fishing, have a beer.”

“We could. Thanks again for coming out to see how we were doing,” Nathan said, shooting Duke a look and tilting his head towards his father.

Duke cleared his throat. “Yeah, thanks.”

Garland nodded an acknowledgement. “Call if you need anything.”

Nathan followed his father and locked the hatch behind him.

“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” Nathan asked, smiling weakly at Duke.

Duke just raised one eyebrow.

“Look, I have to try. And I told you I wouldn’t let him yell at you.”

“You did. Thanks,” Duke said, smiling softly.

“You finished the mac and cheese? I’ll wash your bowl while I reheat mine.”

Duke nodded and passed him the bowl. “Sorry. Still being prettly useless at the moment.”

Nathan sighed and looked Duke in the eye. “Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m thinking.” He leaned down and kissed Duke. “Stop. I like taking care of you.”

Duke smiled softly. “You don't mind it too much?”

“Not at all.” Nathan said, taking the bowl to the kitchen.

“Thanks,” Duke called after him. “Hey, if I do something illegal in the name of protecting us both, will you turn a blind eye?”

“Is this hypothetical or are you planning something specific?”

“Let's say it's hypothetical…”

“Anything you do to preserve a life...within reason...is considered self defense. So, unless you plan on gunning down an unarmed man, I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

After a minute, curiosity got the better of him and he glanced over at Duke. “But hypothetically what are you planning?”

“Well, it's not exactly self defense but...it might help. Can I hack the marina security cameras?”

“You can do that? Why am I not surprised? And you don’t have to hack it. I’ll just call Beattie to get her to send the feed to my laptop.” Nathan looked over his shoulder and smiled. “Did I just ruin your fun?”

“Yes I can do that, and I, uh…” Duke rubbed the back of his neck and gave a little waggle of his hand. “Sort of already have…”

“Duke…”

“What? I did it years ago, for what it's worth. Before we were together. I just...left it running… Beattie really should update her security.”

Nathan rubbed his forehead. “At least call her and tell her, please. And switch it to my laptop so it seems official.”

“Fine, fine, I'll do it now,” Duke said, picking up his phone.

“Thank you. You know, I think you’re trying to make me totally grey before I turn forty.  If you are, remember you only have about six more months.”

“Oh, is that another dig at my age? Because I'm fucking proud to be forty.”

“No, it wasn’t. And you should be proud. You’re gorgeous. And you don’t look forty, by the way.”

Duke grinned. “Apart from the grey hairs you're giving me.”

“Me? What have I done to give you grey hairs?”

“Your terrible jokes, for a start.”

“C’mon they aren’t that bad. What else? I’m sure you have a list.” Nathan said, sitting next to Duke.

“Trying to burn down my kitchen,” Duke smirked.

“Well, you had a hand in that...two hands actually.”

“Ok, that's fair, but what about the time with the spaghetti sauce? I asked you to watch it for five minutes and you managed to wreck my best saucepan.”

“I honestly have no idea. So, all your gray hairs come from my cooking mishaps? Or do I do other things?”

“Your job. Every time you go out, I never know if you'll come home again,” Duke said softly.

Nathan’s smile faded. He took a deep breath. “I know and I’m sorry. You know I’ll always do everything in my power to come home, right?”

“Yeah, no, I know. Doesn't stop me worrying though.”

“I know it doesn’t. That’s why mom didn’t want me being a cop. And you know I hated it in the beginning. But I really do love my job now.”

“I know you do. I'm not asking you to stop or anything. Just pretty sure that's what's turning me grey,” Duke said, giving Nathan an affectionate nudge with his shoulder.

Nathan smiled. “Call Beattie before you forget.”

A few minutes later, Duke had finished on the phone and transferred the camera feed to Nathan’s laptop instead of his own.  “All done. Turns out she knew I’d hacked in anyway.”

“She’s very thorough when it comes to her job. She probably knew when you first did it.” Nathan picked up Duke’s hand and held it tightly. “You’ve been afraid something like this was going to happen for a long time, haven’t you? That’s why you have guns all over isn’t it?”

“Not sure afraid’s the right word but, uh...yeah.”

“And what word would be the right word?” Nathan asked, not sure he wanted to know the answer.

“I prefer to call it a healthy degree of concern for my own safety, given my past and the amount of people I pissed off. Not least the ones who weren't happy when I gave it up and went legit.”

“Just how many people did you piss off?”

“I was running cons, Nathan. A lot. A very lot.”

“Guess I never really stopped to think about that. You ever miss it? The freedom of going anywhere and doing anything you want? And the money?”

“The freedom sometimes, but I wouldn't change what we have. Money...c'mon, you know what I've got invested. I'll admit it was easier money than what I make running the Gull but it's not like I have to worry about it if I don't turn a profit.”

Nathan got up and went to the kitchen to get himself a drink. “You know if you ever need to get away for a little while you can, right? I mean not now of course, but if you ever start feeling trapped you could just sail away for a few days...weeks…you know I understand…”

“I don't. Need to, I mean.”

“Are you sure. I don’t ever want you feeling like I’m forcing you to stay here. I want you to be happy…”

“Nathan...I'm happy. I came back because I wanted to. Because I missed you. I'm not going anywhere.”

“I just...nevermind. You’ve got an appointment with Claire in the morning...I don’t remember if I told you that. I’m going to go fold the laundry.” Nathan put his glass in the sink and walked out of the room.

Duke followed him. “What's going on?”

“Nothing. I’m just tired of searching through the basket for my clothes, thought I should fold them.”

“Right. What's really wrong?”

Nathan shrugged and continued to fold the clothes. “I never wanted you to give up your freedom…”

“I...wasn't aware I'd given up my freedom. I know I can leave, whenever I choose to. Apart from, y'know, being injured and not having a car, I'll admit that's causing me a few issues but they're both temporary things. I stay because I want to, Nate. Because I love you. It's a choice. My choice. You're not holding me here.”

Nathan kept his head down, focused on folding the clothes. “You ever think this is because of me? Because I’m a cop. Maybe I’m the one putting your life in danger.”

Duke took the clothes out of his hands. “Then why would they send something to me at the Gull? Why would they sabotage my truck?”

“Not what I meant. It’s what you said earlier about pissing of a lot of people, especially ones who didn’t want you going legit. Maybe they are trying to silence you because you’re sleeping with a cop…”

“Doesn't matter what their reasons are.”

“What?”

“Well it doesn't, does it? Someone tried to kill me, and I think it'd be fair to call the rat poison a threat. Why they're doing it is irrelevant. Whether it's someone I screwed over, or someone who didn't want me to get out of the business. Hell, a jealous ex isn't exactly impossible. Yeah, maybe it is someone who's scared I'll give you some names but it could just as easily not be.”

“I guess...maybe you have a point. I think the visit from the Chief just bothered me a little more than usual...and got me thinking when I probably shouldn’t...just forget what I said…”

Duke hugged him tightly. “Look, you were right to call out my bullshit earlier. We'll get through this together.”

“I know,” Nathan said, hugging Duke back.

“Love you,” Duke said softly.

“Love you, too.”

Chapter Text

Another week went by with Duke alternately complaining about being bored and worrying about the possible threats to his life. The two should have been mutually exclusive, it shouldn't have been possible to be bored while spending every waking moment looking over his shoulder (figuratively speaking). But Claire had been poking and prodding in their sessions and he was feeling just a tiny bit fragile. So, as usual, he resorted to complaining.

“Can we go out for coffee?” He said, as soon as Nathan started to stir from his sleep.

Nathan opened his eyes to find Duke staring down at him. “Wh-what? Don’t we have coffee in the kitchen?”

“Yeah but we're out of the really good beans and you said you were going to get some yesterday but then you got distracted watching  some golf thing on TV and I didn't have the heart to remind you and I still don't have a car and I can't drive anyway because -” Duke waved his cast in the air “- so can we go out for coffee?”

Nathan squinted up at him, still not fully awake. Duke rarely asked to go for coffee and he was looking at him with puppy dog eyes. He smiled and pulled Duke down to kiss him. “Yes, we can go for coffee.”

“Can we go for coffee now?”

Nathan laughed. “Can I get dressed first?”

“Yes,” Duke leaned down to kiss his forehead. “What's happened to you, anyway? You used to be up at the crack of dawn every day and now you're sleeping til nearly lunchtime.”

Nathan got out of bed and pulled on some clothes before answering.  “You think I liked getting up that early? I kinda had to for work. And after seventeen years it was a habit. Besides, I love waking up with your arms around me and not having to wake you. I can set my alarm for 5:30 tomorrow if you want.”

In a move closely resembling a football tackle (or as much as it could given the cast on his arm), Duke wrestled Nathan back into bed, nuzzling into his hair. “Don't you dare. I love waking up with you and staying in bed as late as we want.”

Nathan moved slightly so he could run his fingers through Duke’s hair. “I thought you wanted coffee.”

“I do. Want you more.”

“More than coffee? Really?” Nathan smiled softly.

“Always.”

“Well, as much as I’d like to stay here in bed with you, we probably shouldn’t start anything we can’t finish.”

“What? Cuddling?”

“Yeah, not what I meant,” Nathan replied, kissing Duke’s cheek.  “But seriously, now that I’m awake, I need coffee. We can come back and spend the rest of the day in bed if you want.”

“Yeah, we... we're definitely doing that,” Duke said, reluctantly letting Nathan go.

Nathan got up and pulled Duke off of the bed. “And don’t forget you have an appointment with Gloria tomorrow. Maybe if you don’t scandalize her this time she might lift some of your restrictions.”

“I didn't scandalise her last time and she still wouldn't lift any restrictions,” Duke complained. “It's been weeks, Nathan. I'm fine and she still keeps insisting I take it easy and rest more.”

Nathan laughed. “Maybe try asking her to lift one or two restrictions...not all of them like you did last time. And you’re better...a lot better...but you are not fine.”

“I am fine. The stitches are all out, my ribs barely hurt anymore, my head hasn't done anything weird for ages and my arm would be fine if it wasn't in this thing.” 

Nathan hugged him, not quite able to keep the amusement out of his voice. “I know this is driving you crazy. You’ve been extremely patient...I’m sure she’ll lift some tomorrow. She just doesn’t want you to re-injure anything. C’mon, let’s get some coffee...you can complain to me the rest of the day. I’ll cuddle you and kiss you all you want.”

“Coffee and cuddling sounds good,” Duke said as he threw on the nearest clothes, not even bothering to check if they were his or Nathan's.

Nathan unlocked the hatch and waited until Duke was on deck before locking it again. They walked to the Bronco and checked it over before getting in. “Haven Joe’s?”

“Yeah. And can we stop off at Rosemary's on the way back?”

“Anything you want.”

“You're the best,” Duke said, smiling softly as he buckled his seat belt.

After getting coffee and way too many pastries from Rosemary’s, Nathan checked the Bronco and headed back to the Rouge. He parked, opened Duke’s door and handed him the pastry box, then grabbed the coffee and locked the truck.

“I’m going to need to spend hours in the gym to work off all those pastries you know. Why did I let you buy all this stuff?” Nathan complained half heartedly.

“Because you indulge me and I love you for it,” Duke said, balancing the box on his good arm.

Nathan reached the Rouge first and stopped short so Duke bumped into him. Before Duke could say anything, the coffee was all over the dock and Nathan’s gun was out. “Call 911...now.”

Duke dropped the pastry box and pulled his phone out. “Is that...is that blood?” He said, his voice strangled as he stared at the message that was written across the hatch of the Rouge.

The bright red words screamed at him. I know where you sleep, Crocker.

Within minutes the marina was swarming with police. Nathan looked up to see Dwight and the Chief striding over to where he was sitting, trying unsuccessfully to calm Duke down. “Breathe. It’s probably not blood. It’s going to be okay.”

“We need to get out of here, Nate. Both of us. Today.”

“You’re not going anywhere, Crocker. And you’re definitely not taking Nathan somewhere I can’t protect him,” Garland growled.

“Not now, Chief. For once can you act like you care about us both?” Nathan asked, exasperated.

Garland nodded once. “You’re right, you’re right.” He turned to Duke and mumbled what sounded like, “Didn’t mean to yell.”

Taken aback, Duke just stared for a minute. “Uh, ok…”

Garland looked from Duke to Nathan and sighed. “When did this happen?”

“In the past half hour. We went to get coffee and stopped at Rosemary’s on the way back. It wasn’t there when we left,” Nathan replied, still holding Duke’s good hand.

“I need to check over the Rouge,” Duke said, standing up. “See what else they might've done.”

“No sign of anything else,” Dwight said, emerging from the side of the wheelhouse. “You'll know better than me but from what I can see, it's just...that.” He nodded his head in the direction of the message.

Duke sat back down again. “I'll check her over properly later.”

“Good. So. Think we can safely say the box at the Gull wasn't a prank or coincidence. Agreed, Chief?”

“No. Not a prank. Somebody seems to want you dead, Crocker,” Garland said bluntly.

“Dad!”

Garland shrugged his shoulders. “Not telling him anything he hasn’t figured out.”

Duke leaned forwards, his shoulders slumped as he stared at the deck. “Still think this is the safest place?” he muttered in Dwight's general direction.

“Yeah. One entrance, two of you armed at all times, cops right beside the boat overnight. Yeah.”

Duke nodded but it was more of an acknowledgement than it was agreement.

“We need to check the security cameras to see if they caught who did this. And Beattie needs to lock up the keys she has to the Rouge,” Nathan said to Dwight, then turned to the Chief. “Dad, a word please.”

The Chief followed Nathan out of earshot of Duke and Dwight. “What do you want, Nathan?”

“Please, can you just stop? Duke is already freaking out about this. I know you don’t like him but can you dig deep and find some tact at least?”

“No, I don’t like him. We’ve been down this road more than once recently. But he’s not stupid, I’ll give him that, and he already figured out someone is after him-”

Nathan interrupted him. “What would Mom have done if she heard what you just said to Duke?”

Garland pointed his finger at Nathan. “That’s not fair, Nathan.”

“Maybe not but if that’s what it takes to get you to stop insulting him, well…”

“Fine. No more insults until this is over. I’m not promising anything after that,” Garland grumbled, stalking back toward Dwight and Duke.

“Yeah, McHugh'll be over any minute, clean all that off for you,” Dwight was saying.

Duke nodded. “Thanks. I'll check the security feed.”

Dwight raised an eyebrow. “Should I ask how you can access the feed? In fact, no, I don't want to know. Can you leave it to us, please? Keep it official?”

Reluctantly, Duke nodded again. “I'll stay out of it. Be a good boy and hope no one actually kills me while you spend the next week filling out paperwork to get access to the security recordings.”

“That's not fair and you know it.”

Duke had the grace to look vaguely embarrassed and Dwight clapped him on the shoulder.

“We'll get this bastard. You just have to trust us.”

Duke just snorted.

“Do you need anything else from us?” Nathan asked Dwight.

“Nope. Got everything we need. For now.”

Nathan turned to Duke. “I have to make a call and then we can go inside.”

He waited for Duke to nod, then walked away to make his call, returning a few minutes later. “Let’s go.”

Duke followed him inside. “Who'd you call?”

“Just Stan. He’s going to stop by in about ten minutes. Don’t worry about it.”

“Don't - don't worry about it? Nathan, I am fucking freaking out here. Can you please stop being fucking cryptic. Why is Stan coming over?”

Nathan pulled him into a painfully tight hug. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be cryptic. He’s bringing us coffee and pastries.”

Duke made a small sound and sagged against Nathan. “Thanks. Sorry.”

“It’s okay. I shouldn’t have tried to surprise you. I think we both had enough surprises today. Bedroom? I told Stan to text when he got here,” Nathan said, letting go of Duke.

“Need to check the place out first, make sure they didn't get in, do any more damage.”

“Okay, let’s go check it out.”

Duke nodded and started systematically checking over the whole boat - even down to the engine room and the hidden storage rooms well below deck. Eventually, he was satisfied and settled onto the couch with the coffee and pastries Stan had dropped off.

“When you’re finished we can pick up where we left off this morning,” Nathan suggested, finishing his third pastry.

“Cuddling?”

“And kissing…”

Duke nodded. “Sounds good.”

*

“I’m all yours,” Nathan said after he’d flopped onto the bed and pulled Duke down beside him.

Duke curled himself into Nathan's arms, still tense but settling against him with a soft sigh.

Nathan kissed the top of Duke’s head and began rubbing his back softly. “Relax. It’s just us. We’re safe.” He didn’t know who he was trying to convince more, himself or Duke.

“Relax? Did you…? Did you actually just tell me to relax? We were gone half an hour, Nate. Half an hour. It wasn't coincidence. Whoever's doing this is watching the place. Watching us.” Duke wriggled out of Nathan's grasp and sat on the side of the bed, hunched over with his elbows on his knees. He ran his hands through his hair and stood up. “Think I'm gonna throw up.”

No sooner had he said the words than he was dashing to the bathroom to do just that.

Nathan cursed and followed Duke to the bathroom, waiting until the sounds of violent retching subsided before pushing the door open. He stepped over Duke’s legs and sat on the edge of the tub. “Relax was a poor choice of words on my part. Sorry. Didn’t think the the truth was going to be comforting in this situation.”

He reached out to stroke Duke’s hair for a minute before getting up and turning on the water so he could fill a glass and set it on the sink, then handed Duke his toothbrush. “C’mere and brush your teeth so I can try again...maybe without screwing up?”

Duke groaned and picked himself up off the floor. “Pastries don't taste as good the second time around,” he joked weakly, mumbling around his toothbrush.

“Nothing ever does,” Nathan replied, standing up and waiting for Duke to finish before reaching for his hand. “Let’s try again? Unless, you want to talk.”

“Nothing to talk about,” Duke said, taking Nathan's hand and allowing himself to be led back to the bedroom.

Nathan laid down and pulled Duke on top of him. “Okay, no talking. Just kiss me.”

Duke kissed him hard, hungrily, in a way he hadn't since the accident. Attempted murder, his brain helpfully reminded him. He kissed Nathan harder, almost desperately in his need to silence the thoughts crashing through his mind.

Nathan responded eagerly, running his hands up and down Duke’s back. A low moan formed in the back of his throat as they continued to kiss.

“I need you, Nate,” Duke's voice was raw, broken, and he breathed hard as he leaned his forehead against Nathan's.

“I’m all yours…” Nathan answered, his voice barely a whisper, his heart already racing.

Duke groaned and awkwardly balanced on his elbow so he could slip his uninjured hand between them, pulling at Nathan's belt buckle.

Nathan groaned at the sound of his belt being undone. “Stop. God, I can’t believe these words are coming out of my mouth, but we can’t.”

Duke groaned again and rolled off, lying on his back with his arm thrown across his eyes, breathing shakily. “Can't drink, can't fuck…”

“I’m sorry. I know you need the comfort…” Nathan leaned down and softly kissed his lips. “I’ll talk to Gloria tomorrow...beg if I have to. For now can’t this be enough?” he asked before kissing Duke again.

Duke kissed him back. “It is. It's enough.”

Nathan coaxed Duke onto his side so he could caress his back while they kissed. He tried to keep his kisses soft and gentle, comforting without being too arousing. He was still going to need a cold shower after this but feeling Duke melt into his touch was worth it.

Duke curled his fingers around the nape of Nathan's neck and pressed against him. After a moment, he pulled away again. “Ok, no, fine, we can't do sex but can we at least do naked cuddling? Please?”

Nathan stared at Duke for a minute, reaching over and tugging Duke’s shirt over his head before removing his own. “I’m not going to regret this, am I? You’re going to behave?” he asked, not waiting for an answer before shifting to pull off Duke’s pants.

“I'll behave. Just need the contact,” Duke said, raising his hips so Nathan could slide his pants off.

“I know,” Nathan said, throwing Duke’s pants on the floor, followed by his own. He smiled and opened his arms. “Where do you want me?”

Duke immediately curled himself into Nathan's waiting arms, sighing happily.

Nathan resumed rubbing his hands up and down Duke’s back. He leaned over and started leaving small kisses along Duke’s jaw. “I love you.”

“Love you too,” Duke said softly, angling his head to give Nathan easier access.

“You good? It’s not too much?” Nathan asked, moving to kiss Duke’s neck.

“I'm good,” Duke murmured. “Maybe...maybe not too much of that…”

Nathan stopped kissing his neck and gently stroked Duke’s side instead. “Tell me what you need.”

“Just this. Just you,” Duke said, relaxing into Nathan's gentle contact.

“We haven’t done this in a long time. I love the feel of your skin under my fingers. The way you still react to my touch after all these years.”

Duke smiled softly. “Guess we kinda got too busy for this stuff. Remember the early days when we'd spend hours just holding and touching each other?”

“I remember. Do you remember the first time we did this? The first time you touched me?”

“I'll never forget it. You said you wanted to take things slowly, we'd been out a few times and you wanted more than kissing but you said you weren't ready to have sex with me. So I suggested this and...god, Nate, you were so responsive, it was like you'd been starved of touch for your whole life.”

“I’d never been touched like that before. It’s not like I had a lot of experience with women and definitely none with men. I felt so comfortable in your arms. Like I was exactly where I was meant to be.”

“Like coming home,” Duke said quietly.

“Yeah,” Nathan replied softly, kissing Duke’s shoulder. “I never want you stop touching me.”

“I never will.”

“How are you feeling?”

“Calmer. Marginally.”

Nathan went back to kissing Duke’s neck. “I’m sorry but I can’t stop kissing you. But I will if you really need me to…”

Duke whined softly. “Don't stop…”

Nathan kissed down Duke’s neck and back up, stopping to suck behind his ear. If he kept this up he’d be getting a very angry lecture from Gloria tomorrow. Though, honestly, even that wasn’t quite enough to make him stop.

Duke arched against him, his fingers twisting in Nathan's hair. “Don't stop.”

Nathan ran his hands over Duke’s back as he slowly moved the kisses lower, stopping to nip and suck all of Duke’s sensitive spots. “You taste so good.”

Duke hooked his leg over Nathan's and pulled him closer, rolling his hips against Nathan's. “Don't stop.” Almost pleading.

“What do you want, Duke. Tell me…” Nathan whispered, kissing his chest.

“Fuck me,” Duke murmured, rolling his hips again.

Nathan pulled back a little and studied Duke’s face. “Are you sure you’re up to it?”

“Yes,” Duke said firmly, dragging him closer and kissing him again, hard and hungry and desperate.

Nathan returned the kiss, letting his hands slide down to grab Duke’s ass.

Duke broke the kiss with a soft gasp. “And you'd better not have any ideas about teasing me. I need you, Nate.”

“I thought you liked my teasing.” Nathan said, softly running his nails up Duke’s back.

“I do,” Duke almost whined, arching against Nathan once again. “Just not now.”

“Tell me how you want it...I’ll do whatever you need.”

Duke rolled back, pulling Nathan on top of him. “Like this,” he said, stretching to grab a bottle of lube from the bedside cabinet.

Nathan reached for the bottle. He leaned in and kissed Duke again.

Duke moaned softly as Nathan used slicked fingers to slowly stretch him, his other hand lightly stroking Duke's cock. “Please, Nate, I'm ready,” he begged.

“You sure?” Nathan asked, wiping his fingers off and grabbing Duke’s hips to give him the perfect angle.

“Very,” Duke's voice was low and urgent and he tilted his hips, encouraging Nathan.

Nathan reached for the lube again and slicked himself up. With a few quick strokes he was hard enough to press slowly into Duke.

Duke pushed back against him, whining in frustration when Nathan moved infuriatingly slowly. “Nate, now really isn't the time for teasing me. Please, just...can you just fuck me already,” he said breathlessly.

Nathan laughed and picked up the pace. “God, you feel amazing….every single time.”  

Duke threw his head back, grinding against Nathan with pure, wanton abandon, soft whimpers and pleas for more falling from his lips.

Nathan grabbed Duke’s hips and pushed deeper and harder. “Good?”

“So fucking good,” Duke's voice was raw and hoarse.

Nathan reached between them and wrapped his hand around Duke’s cock, adjusting his rhythm until he heard more soft moans from Duke.

Duke groaned loudly, thrusting up into Nathan's hand. “Fuck, Nate,” he managed to choke out.

Pleasure was written all over Duke’s face and Nathan moaned loudly, thrusting harder and faster. “I’m so close…”

Duke made a sound that was halfway between a curse and a whine. “I'm right with you, just…” He angled his hips and groaned loudly. “There. Right there. Keep doing that.”

“You’re so good, Duke,” Nathan murmured.

His words were like a jolt to Duke's cock and with a loud moan, he spilled into Nathan's hand, the clench of his body carrying Nathan over the edge with him.

Nathan leaned down to kiss Duke softly. “That was fucking amazing. I don’t think I can move.”

“So don't,” Duke said, lazily stretching beneath Nathan.

Nathan buried his face in Duke’s neck, gently lowering himself to blanket Duke. “Let me know if I hurt you.”

Duke held him close, nuzzling into his hair as Nathan slowly softened and slipped out of him, leaving him with that feeling of loss that he had every time they did this. Sometimes he wished they could just stay joined forever. Not that it would be even remotely practical but it was a nice thought.

Nathan rolled to the side and pulled Duke against him. He brought his hand up to brush the hair out of Duke’s face. “You are incredible. You take my breath away every time. I’ll never get enough of you.”

Duke smiled softly, turning his face ever so slightly into Nathan's hand. “You're the best, Nate.”

“You know, Gloria is going to be very angry with me,” Nathan said, softly stroking Duke’s side. “But it was so worth it.”

“She'll probably clip me round the ear so hard she gives me another head injury,” Duke said, kissing Nathan gently. “And it'll still be worth it.”

“I need a shower.” Nathan said, not making any attempt to leave Duke’s arms.

“Nope. You need to stay here with me,” Duke said, holding him tighter.

Nathan smiled and kissed him. “I’m not exactly moving, am I? I just stated I needed a shower. You could always join me…”

“Or we could always just stay right here,” Duke said, pulling the covers around them.

“We could.” Nathan agreed, enjoying the closeness.

“Good. That's settled then. We're staying here.”

“Can we stay like this all day?”

“Yep. Got nowhere else to be. Place is all locked up. Guns are right beside us.”

At the mention of the guns, the events of the morning came rushing back to Nathan. He took a deep breath and pushed them aside. They were safe. Duke was right, the place was locked up and the guns were within reach. And no matter how much the Chief grumbled that Haven PD didn’t have the resources for a twenty four hour guard, he knew he’d have doubled if not tripled the patrols on the marina. “Well, when you put it that way, let’s stay here and see how long it takes to recover enough for more…”

Duke felt Nathan tense against him and held him tightly. “What's up?” he murmured, nuzzling into Nathan's neck.

“It’s nothing. I’m fine...better than fine. Just keep doing that. You make me feel amazing,” Nathan said, tilting his head so Duke could continue.

Duke obliged him, nipping and kissing his neck. “If I keep doing this, will you tell me what nothing really is?”

“God, how are you making me feel like this again already?” Nathan asked, ignoring Duke’s question. Which was stupid really because if he didn’t answer, Duke was going to stop kissing him.

“Because I'm good. So. What's nothing?”

“Don’t stop, please,” Nathan moaned, seeing how far he could push his luck.

“Tell me and I won't…”

Nathan sighed or maybe moaned, he couldn’t tell, before answering. “I just panicked a little when you mentioned the guns. I had forgotten what happened...but I’m fine now. So, don’t stop kissing me…”

Duke kept kissing him but softly now. Gently. Affectionate rather than arousing. “We're fine,” he said, as much to convince himself as Nathan.

"Yes, we are,” Nathan whispered, running his hands up and down Duke’s back.

“We're safe,” Duke said, pulling back from Nathan, tense and alert to every sound, and clearly not believing a word of what he was saying.

Nathan moved his hands from Duke’s back and cupped his face. “We really are safe. I’m sorry I reminded you.”

“No, don't be. It's not like I could forget. For long, anyway.”

“Well, let’s try to keep forgetting...kiss me…”

“No, you're right, we need a shower. Coming?”

“Depends on what you do to me in the shower…”

Duke gave him an affectionate nudge. “Already? Really?”

“Maybe…”

Duke grinned. “Just maybe?”

“What are you going to do for me?” Nathan asked, grabbing Duke’s hand and pulling him to the bathroom.

“That depends on what you want me to do…”

“I can think of a few things.”

“Go on…” Duke murmured into Nathan's ear.

“I want to feel your mouth on my cock…” Nathan whispered back, pushing Duke into the bathroom.

Duke groaned. “Yeah? You want me down on my knees, my lips wrapped around you?”

“Only if you’re up to it.”

“I'm up to it,” Duke said, turning the shower on.

“Then hurry up...”

“Someone's impatient,” Duke teased, nudging Nathan under the warm water.

Nathan looked sheepish. “I’m sorry...I’m acting like a horny teenager…”

“I'm not complaining…”

Nathan pulled him close and kissed him fiercely. “I love you. You spoil me.”

“Mmhmm,” Duke agreed, passing Nathan a bottle of shower gel and holding his good hand out. “Pour.”

Nathan took the shower gel from him and poured a good amount in Duke’s hand.

Starting at Nathan's shoulders, Duke began to wash him, working slowly and awkwardly with just one hand.

“You don’t have to do that...I know it’s not easy with your cast. But, it feels so good.”

Duke shushed him. “I'm fine. Stop worrying.”

Nathan closed his eyes and let Duke continue, enjoying the feel of his hands sliding all over his soapy slick skin.

“Good?” Duke murmured, working his hands lower.

“So good.”

Duke gently washed Nathan all over, giving him a few short strokes to bring him back to full hardness, impressed at his ability to recover so quickly.

Nathan let out a low moan “How do you do that to me?”

“Because I'm that good.” Duke smirked as he very carefully dropped to his knees in front of Nathan.

Nathan reached down to run his fingers through Duke’s wet hair. “You are very, very good…”

Duke's cock gave a weak twitch at the praise. He angled his head into Nathan's hand and nuzzled at his hip.

Nathan sucked in his breath. “Duke...please…”

“Please what, Nate?” Duke asked innocently, nuzzling at Nathan's hip again.

“Don’t tease...I want…” Nathan looked down at Duke and his heart skipped a beat. Even after all the years, it still took his breath away to see Duke on his knees for him. “No, I need your mouth…”

Duke grinned against the soft skin of Nathan's hip and, after one final nuzzle, ran his tongue slowly and gently around the head of Nathan's cock.

“Fuck...that’s so good…”

“Mmhmm,” Duke mumbled his agreement, slowly licking a stripe from root to tip.

Nathan moaned and continued to tangle his fingers in Duke’s hair. “More…”

Duke grinned and slid his lips down Nathan's cock, swallowing him as deeply as he could. He allowed the pressure of Nathan's fingers tightening in his hair to guide him, picking up the rhythm he knew Nathan loved so much.

Nathan looked down at Duke sucking him off and couldn’t form a coherent thought. His legs turned to jelly and he knew he was close. “Fuck...Duke...don’t stop…”

Duke's hand tightened on Nathan's hip, encouraging him to keep still, sucking harder and faster until Nathan came, deep in his throat. He swallowed and pulled off with an audible pop.

Nathan reached down and pulled Duke up to give him a passionate kiss. “I love how you make me feel. You are so good. I love you so much.”

“Love you too,” Duke mumbled against Nathan's lips.

Nathan gently manoeuvred Duke under the water. He took the shower gel from the ledge and poured it into his hand. “Now I’m going to make you feel as good as you made me feel…”

Duke sighed happily, closing his eyes and relaxing into Nathan's gentle touch.

Nathan took his time washing Duke. He started at his shoulders and slowly moved down his body, kissing along the way. When he reached Duke’s hips he looked up at him and grinned. “Would you like me to return the favor?”

“You have to ask?” Duke grinned back.

Nathan grinned back, stroking Duke until he was hard again. “It’s always polite to ask…,” he said before sliding to his knees.

“You look so fucking hot like that,” Duke groaned, leaning against the shower wall, the tiles cold against his back.

“Really?” Nathan asked, slowly licking along Duke’s cock. “How do I look now?” He asked before swallowing him as deep as he could.

“Fucking amazing,” Duke managed to choke out as he was enveloped in the smooth silkiness of Nathan's mouth.

Nathan hummed around Duke, gazing up at him to see the pleasure that was written on his face. He moved slowly at first, gradually building up to a faster rhythm, responding to Duke's intoxicating moans.

“Fuck, Nate,” Duke all but whined, his fingers curled around the back of Nathan's neck.

Encouraged by the sounds Duke was making, Nathan sucked harder and faster, steadily bringing Duke closer and closer to the edge.

Duke pushed at Nathan's shoulder. “Gonna come,” he warned.

Nathan didn’t stop, he continued until Duke came in his throat. He swallowed, pulled off, and grinned up at Duke. “Feeling okay?”

Duke slumped further against the wall on legs that didn't quite want to hold him up. “Better than ok,” he said blissfully.

Nathan pulled himself up and kissed Duke.  “How’s the water? I really should have washed your hair before…”

“Water's fine,” Duke said, smiling. “Not gonna complain if you want to wash my hair again though.”

Nathan poured shampoo into his hands and began softly massaging Duke’s scalp. “I love doing this. I know it’s not practical but I want to do this for you everyday.” He moved so he could rinse the soap off. When he was done he wrapped his arms around Duke’s waist. “I’m glad we did this. It’s been too long since we took a lazy shower together.”

“Far too long,” Duke said, holding Nathan tightly and resting his chin on his shoulder.

“We need to start taking more time to take care of each other. I know we’ve both been busy with work but I don’t want to look back on our life and realize we didn’t spend enough time just being together.”

“Yeah, we do, I'm...I'm sorry, Nathan, I haven't been particularly good to you recently and I need to do something about that.”

Nathan turned off the water and pulled Duke out of the shower before speaking. “That’s really not what I meant. I haven’t exactly been the doting lover lately. I’ve been spending too much time at work because there always seems to be someone asking for my help, I don’t wait up for you anymore when you close the Gull, and let’s not forget the stupid fight I started before the accident. I just want to be better…”

“You don't wait up because you're tired. I understand that. That's why I get up to make you breakfast every morning. It saves you time, gives you an extra ten minutes in bed. Or, probably more accurately, it means you consume something that isn't coffee before you go to work. You don't have to be better, Nate. I love you just as you are.”

“What did I do to deserve you?”

Duke shrugged. “Dunno but you must've committed a terrible sin in a past life if you're stuck with me in this one.”

Nathan threw his head back and laughed. “Well, then you’re stuck with me, too. We really need to put some clothes back on…”

Duke pulled him close again. “Do we? We could just go back to bed...nap…”

“If that’s what you want.”

“Mmm, I'm kinda tired...been a long time since I went two rounds…”

Nathan grabbed his hand to pull him back to the bedroom. “That’s because you’re getting old. I mean, I’m younger and don’t usually have any problems.”

Duke raised one eyebrow. “Yeah? And when was the last time you went a second time instead of cuddling me like a drunk octopus and falling asleep on my arm?”

“Fair point, I haven’t gone a second round in a while. And I fall asleep because you wear me out. C’mon, let’s cuddle like drunk octopuses and maybe fall asleep”

“I...sorry, I wear you out? What do you think you do to me? Giving me all these grey hairs…”

Nathan raised an eyebrow. “Okay, I gotta know...how exactly does fucking me give you grey hairs?”

“Because…” Duke flailed for an appropriately snarky response.

“Glad we got that cleared up,” Nathan said dryly before continuing, “I mean, you could always stop fucking me and then you wouldn’t get grey hairs…”

Duke snorted. “Yeah, like that's gonna happen.”

“Yeah, true. You barely lasted what…? Three weeks?” Nathan said, pulling Duke into the bed with him.

“Shut up,” Duke mumbled, burying his face in Nathan's neck. “Not my fault you're so irresistible.”

“You’re just as irresistible.” Nathan said softly into Duke’s hair.

“Yeah,” Duke said, grinning as he pulled back to kiss Nathan gently.

“Sleep…” Nathan said, rubbing Duke’s back.

“If you do…”

“I am kinda tired…”

Duke snuggled more tightly against him. “Get some rest, Nate.”

Chapter Text

A few hours later, Nathan was woken by his phone ringing.  He reached across Duke to answer it, trying not to wake him.  “Hello?”

“Nathan,” Dwight greeted him. “How're you both doing?”

“Duke’s asleep,” Nathan answered, trying to hide the fact he had been sleeping, too.

“'m not asleep,” Duke mumbled, uncurling himself from where he'd been tucked against Nathan.

Nathan gave him an apologetic smile and mouthed “Dwight” by way of explanation.

Duke nodded and leaned closer so he could listen in.

“Sorry for waking you,” Dwight said, the roughness of Nathan's voice making it obvious he'd been woken up by Dwight's call.

“It’s okay. What did you find out? Did the cameras pick up anything?”

“I'll keep this quick. Nothing on the cameras. Preliminary tests confirm it was animal blood - pig, probably, they'll confirm in a day or so, then we can look at where it might've come from. Chief’s ordered patrols stepped up during the day, drive by every fifteen minutes, and you'll have officers on the dock overnight so you can sleep easy.”

“Guess the Chief is more worried than he let on. Thanks for the update, Dwight. Let me know when you find out anything else.”

“He's shouted at everyone, lit a fire under the lab and locked himself in his office with the files I dug out for the names Duke gave me. Yeah, he's worried.”

“Yeah, well it would have been nice not to have to guilt him with my mother’s memory to get him to ease up on Duke.”

“Think he's genuinely worried, Nathan. He's like a bear with a sore head, has been since Duke's accident started looking less like an accident and more like someone's trying to kill him.”

“I hate that he does that...you know, act like nothing’s wrong.  He’s still keeping things from me like I’m a rookie cop.”

“He's your dad. He's protecting you,” Dwight said kindly. “That won't change because you're an adult and the best cop on the force.”

“Best cop? Your assessment or his?” Nathan laughed bitterly.

“His,” Dwight said firmly.

Nathan was silent for a moment, processing that.  He cleared his throat, “Okay, well...I’ll stop by the station tomorrow after I take Duke to see Gloria. Thanks, Dwight.”

“See you tomorrow. I'll call if we get anything else in the meantime.”

Nathan hung up his phone and set it back on the nightstand. He sighed and ran his hand through his hair. If the Chief was really as worried as Dwight said, things were bad. Really bad.

Despite his sleep, there were still dark circles under Duke's eyes. “Maybe they'll get a lead from the blood,” he said flatly, without hope.

“Maybe they will. We have to trust Dwight and the Chief to figure this out. I’m sorry I woke you.” Nathan said, taking hold of Duke’s hand.

“You didn't. Phone woke me. Want something to eat?”

“I could eat.”

“Want me to make something? I think I can manage pancakes with one hand…”

“Or I could help you.”

“Or you could help me.”

“Though I think it would be safer we actually had clothes on.”

“...You make an excellent point,” Duke said, stretching before he got out of bed and hunted around for the clothes he'd been wearing. He gave up and just pulled on the nearest clothes which happened to be Nathan's.

“Are those my clothes?” Nathan asked, a small smile on his lips.

Duke glanced down at himself and shrugged. “Property is an illusion,” he said airily. “But yes, these are ones that you bought and they live on your side of the closet so technically, they probably are your clothes.”

“You look hot in my clothes,” Nathan said, walking past Duke.

“To be fair, I look hot in anything,” Duke grinned, throwing a t-shirt at Nathan.

Nathan pulled on the shirt and a pair of jeans. “Yes, you do. Now you said pancakes?”

“Yeah, pancakes. Blueberry. Dripping with maple syrup.”

Nathan followed Duke to the kitchen and got out the ingredients for blueberry pancakes.

Duke picked up the flour and attempted to measure it into the mixing bowl but failed miserably and poured most of it on the floor instead.

Nathan smiled. “Wow...haven’t seen you do that since you were seven.” He picked up the flour and measured it out before handing it to Duke.

“Can you…?” Duke waved his hand in the general direction of the spilled flour to indicate what he meant.

“Of course,” Nathan replied, getting the broom. “Don’t skimp on the blueberries when I’m not looking.”

“As if I would,” Duke snorted, finishing making the pancake batter. “Might be better if you do the actual cooking…”

Nathan hesitated. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” Duke glanced at his cast. “Can't steady the pan and flip pancakes…”

Nathan took the batter and poured it in the pan. He looked at Duke. “I know I can make passable pancakes but don’t go anywhere.”

“Your pancakes are good, Nathan. Better than passable.”

“Thank you...but they’re not like...yours.”

Duke nodded. “I follow her recipe exactly, y'know. Down to the extra pinch of sugar.”

Nathan looked down at the pan. “Flip them?”

Duke picked up the spatula and turned the pancakes over, checking that they were perfectly golden.

“They smell delicious. Didn’t realize I was so hungry.”

“Me neither,” Duke said, his stomach rumbling. All he'd managed to eat today was the pastries Stan had brought for them and he hadn't even kept those down.

Nathan got a plate for the pancakes and then quickly set the table before Duke needed him to get the pancakes out of the pan.

Keeping one eye on the pan, Duke pulled a fresh bottle of maple syrup out of the cupboard. “Forgot I was saving this. From when we took that trip to Vermont.”

Nathan looked up and smiled. “I forgot about that, too. That was a great weekend.”

“Yeah,” Duke said softly. “That little B and B…”

“With that enormous bathtub…”

“And the whirlpool jets... I don't think I've ever seen you as relaxed as you were after we made love in that tub…”

“Because I was with you,” Nathan said simply. He walked back to the kitchen to stand behind Duke and put his arms around his waist, his chin resting on Duke's shoulder. “You, my gorgeous, talented, incredibly sexy lover, make everything more relaxing.”

Duke smiled and turned off the stove so he could twist in Nathan's arms and kiss him softly. “You do that for me, too. I couldn't get through...all this... without you.”

Nathan hugged Duke a little tighter. “I will always be here for you...always.”

“I know,” Duke murmured, relaxing into Nathan's contact. “I'll always be here for you too.”

“Let’s eat before the pancakes get cold,” Nathan said, picking up the plate with one hand and taking Duke’s hand with the other.

“Yeah. Can you serve them up? I'll probably just drop them…”

Nathan smiled and put pancakes on both plates before going back to the kitchen for the syrup. After pouring a generous amount on each plate he sat down. “So good,” he said between bites.

“Really good,” Duke mumbled around a mouthful. “Crap, I meant to make coffee…”

“I’ll get it. Sorry, it won’t be the good stuff. We can get more beans tomorrow after we see Gloria,” Nathan said, putting another forkful of pancakes in his mouth before getting up.

Duke grimaced slightly at the mention of Gloria. “How much trouble d’you think I'll be in?”

Nathan looked back at Duke a little confused. “Trouble?”

“With Gloria and restrictions.”

“Duke, I’m sure you won’t be in any trouble. Maybe a lecture about following directions….I mean how are you feeling? Does anything hurt?”

“I feel fine, nothing hurts. But she'll yell. You know she'll yell.”

Nathan laughed. “Yeah, she’s going to yell. And she’s going to yell at me too, ya know. I had specific instructions that I absolutely did not follow.”

“I don't like being yelled at.”

Nathan walked up behind Duke and put his arms around his chest. He leaned in and kissed Duke’s cheek. “She cares about you. Do you want me to call her now and tell her? It’ll be awkward as hell but I’ll call her if it’ll make you feel better.”

“No, but thank you,” Duke said, smiling softly.

“Are you sure? I mean you did have help breaking those restrictions.”

“I'm sure.”

Nathan gave him another soft kiss before going back to the kitchen to make the coffee. “What would you like to do after the coffee?”

“What I'd like to do and what I can do are two completely different things.”

Nathan raised an eyebrow. “Do I want to know?”

“Not like that,” Duke rolled his eyes.

“Good, cause round three hasn’t happened since...high school? But okay, I’ll bite...what do you want to do?”

“Go out. Swim. Surf. Maybe sail. Feel the wind in my hair. Or yoga. Stretch out a bit.”

Nathan gave him a sympathetic look. “Listen...why don’t I call Gloria and see if she’s free now. We can be there in ten minutes and maybe she can clear you for one of those things.”

“It doesn't matter because I can't do any of them with this fucking thing on my arm anyway.”

Nathan hated seeing Duke sad and defeated. “I’ll be right back,” he said, turning towards the bedroom before Duke could stop him. He came back a minute later. “Get your shoes on. We’re going to see Gloria and then we’re going sailing. I’ll have to call the Chief and let him know but we’re still going.”

“We... what?”

“Don’t act so surprised. I do know how to sail. Been doing it my whole life...just like you. I know you know that,” Nathan replied, tossing Duke’s shoes in his general direction.

Duke hurriedly put his deck shoes on. “Can we go out to that little cove? Take the cabin cruiser, drop the anchor, chill for a bit?”

“We’ll have to tell the Chief exactly where we are...you okay with that?” Nathan asked, grabbing his keys and tossing Duke a jacket.

“If it means I can get out for a while, I'm ok with anything.”

“Gloria first. I’ll call the Chief after.”

Grumbling slightly about being made to see Gloria who was definitely going to yell - or worse, fuss over him - Duke followed Nathan out to the Bronco and ten minutes later they were sitting in the exam room waiting for Gloria.

Gloria was definitely looking a little bit glarey when she came out and saw them. Even more so when she told Nathan to stay put and ushered Duke into her office.

“You weren't due til tomorrow, everything ok, kiddo?” She said, peering at Duke intently.

“Yeah, yeah, everything's fine, I just wanted to…”

“Good,” Gloria said brusquely, shining a light into Duke's eyes. “Following my restrictions?”

“Uh…”

“Go on. Which one did you break?”

“Uh... the thing about not having sex, that was more of a...a guideline rather than an actual restriction, right?”

Gloria cackled. “I'm impressed. You made it three weeks, I was pretty sure you'd only manage two.”

“So wh- ok, no, why was I still on restrictions if you thought I wouldn't hold out this long?”

“Old ladies have to get their amusement where they can.”

“Old ladies should mind their own business when it comes to their patients sex lives.”

Gloria cackled again. “Ok, look, you're fine. Do anything you want to, long as it doesn't hurt. If it hurts, you're overdoing it. No more headaches?”

“Nope.”

“Dizzy spells?”

“No. And no nausea either, unless you count this morning which I don't.”

“I heard,” Gloria sounded unusually sympathetic. “That'd be enough to make anyone sick to their stomach.”

Duke nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

“So why’re you here a day early?”

“Could really do with getting out on the boat for a while. Stress relief.”

“Uh huh, and that's what the sex was, was it? Stress relief?”

“Actually yes…”

Gloria sighed. “Better than drinking. Ok. Go sailing, let Nathan do all the hard work. In the bedroom as well. Still want you taking things easy, especially with that arm. That won't be healed for another couple weeks. Otherwise, no more restrictions. Go nuts. Don't land yourself back in hospital.”

“...and alcohol?” Duke said tentatively.

Sure enough, Gloria rolled her eyes and (gently) cuffed him round the ear. “In moderation and not if you're still taking the pain meds.”

“I'm not,” Duke said quickly.

“Don't go mad but if you want a couple beers or a glass of whiskey before bed, I can't see a problem with that.”

Duke grinned, feeling lighter than he had since the accident had happened. “Thanks doc.”

“Anytime, kitten. Get outta here, I'll see you in two weeks,” Gloria gave him a hug and shooed him out of the door.

Duke practically bounced over to Nathan, grinning from ear to ear. “Can we go? Like, now?”

“Cleared for sailing?” Nathan asked, grinning back.

“Cleared for everything as long as it doesn't hurt and I take it reasonably easily. Gotta mind my arm still but otherwise I'm all good.”

“Then let’s go sailing. I called the Chief while you were in there. He sent a cruiser out to make sure nobody was near the cove. And we have to call him when we are on the way back so he can have the Rouge checked before we get there.”

“That's... surprisingly helpful of him…”

Nathan shrugged but didn’t look at Duke as they walked to the Bronco. “I know you heard what I told Dwight...it seems he’s actually doing what he promised for once.”

“I did and I meant to say…. I don't really know what I meant to say. Thanks doesn't seem right. Sorry doesn't either. I just wish you hadn't had to resort to that to get him off my back. Sometimes I think...doesn't matter,” Duke cut off and swung in front of Nathan to kiss him. “Let's go sailing.”

Nathan smiled and kissed him back. “Yes, let’s go sailing.”

“Lead the way, captain,” Duke grinned, giving Nathan a cheeky little salute.

Nathan rolled his eyes and opened the door for Duke before getting in and starting the engine. The ride back to the marina was quick and before long they were on the boat, motoring out to the cove. “It does feel good to be out here. Especially since it’s such a nice day.”

Duke turned his head into the breeze, salt air filling his lungs and breathing new life into him. His words, when he spoke, were lost to the ocean and the roar of the engine.

When they got to the cove, Nathan turned off the engine and dropped the anchor.  He started to say something but stopped. Duke was standing with his face to the sun, his eyes closed, calm and relaxed for the first time in weeks.  Nathan stood beside him and slid his arm around his waist.

Duke glanced at him and smiled briefly before turning his face to the sun again. “It's good to be out,” he said quietly.

“It is. This is another thing I miss. We used to come out here all the time...why did we stop?” He asked, pulling Duke so they were both sitting on the deck.

“Because life got in the way and we started taking each other for granted.”

“I’m sorry. I need to start actually taking time off of work…”

“I'm sorry too, I'm just as guilty of that as you are.”

“You have an excuse. It’s your restaurant.  Sometimes I don’t even know how I get stuck at work as much as I do.”

“Because you save lives? Prevent crime? Help old ladies cross the road? What you do, Nate, it's... important. It matters.”

“Maybe but not at the expense of this...us...I have to find a balance. I’m not the only one on the force.”

“It's not...it doesn't have to be a choice. There're no ultimatums here, I won't ever ask you to choose between me and your work. I'll always be right here.”

“I know you won’t. That’s why I love you so much. And I’m sorry I made you choose…” Nathan brought Duke’s hand to his lips and kissed his palm.

“You've never made me choose and I know you never would. Somehow we just need to find that balance.”

“Did you ever think we’d end up here?”

“Sitting in a cove while avoiding someone who wants to kill me? I mean, more outrageous possibilities crossed my mind…”

Nathan laughed softly. “I meant back in Haven…with me...running a bar…”

“The bar, yes. Never thought it'd ever happen but yeah, I thought I might. One day. Not here though. I thought it'd be in Jamaica or somewhere. Retirement plan sorta thing. But you...no. I really didn't think that'd be a possibility.”

“I wish things had ended differently before you left. Actually, I wish you hadn’t left. After you were gone for awhile, I would spend a few hours almost everyday at the marina just hoping you’d come back...come home...so I could tell you I was sorry.”

“I wish I hadn't left but I had to. I couldn't stay, not after…”

“After what? Me telling you that you were a selfish asshole for wanting to leave? Or was there something else?”

Duke stared out at the ocean. “You... you hated your job when you first came back, you weren't doing well, your dad was on your back the whole time... I... remember all those anonymous tip offs?”

“Yeah...I remember...wait...you? You did that? For me? Why?”

“Because I love you. Even back then I loved you. And you needed a success at work before you jacked it in completely, you were so miserable and I knew it'd be worse if you gave up. So I called in the information I had when I knew you were on shift and the arrest would be down to you. But I couldn't keep doing it, it was getting noticed, threats were being made, so...I left.”

Nathan stared at Duke, not quite understanding what he was saying. “I didn’t think it was possible to love you more than I did a few minutes ago…” He threw his arms around Duke and held him tightly.

Duke laughed softly. “Would've told you sooner if I'd known that'd be your reaction. I figured you'd be pissed at me for interfering.”

“Well, if you told me back then I probably would have.” Nathan admitted before continuing. “How could you ever think you weren’t good enough for me? You saved me from making a huge mistake and probably destroying my relationship with my father. I was going to quit…”

“I know you were, that's why I did it.”

“Thank you. You don’t know how much it means that you did that for me,” Nathan said, holding tighter. A minute passed before something Duke had said registered with him and he pulled away. “Those arrests...you put those names on the list for Dwight, right?”

“Yeah. They've got an axe to grind with you too, figured they should be at the top of the list.”

“Yes, they should. Being arrested and convicted is always a strong motive for retaliation.”

“Don't need to tell me that.”

“If we’re gonna sit here and reminisce can we switch to happy things now? This is supposed to be relaxing you and I can feel you’re getting tense again.”

“Which surprises you….why, exactly?”

“It doesn’t but I want you to be relaxed. Tell me something you remember about our past that makes you smile.”

Duke took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “Sorry,” he said when he opened them again, smiling softly as he hugged Nathan tighter and kissed his cheek. “Remember the first time I made you pancakes? Must've been the summer before you went to college, your dad was away on a fishing trip or something. The way your face lit up when you tasted them. It was like….you didn't just smile with your lips, it touched your eyes too and you looked at me...like I mattered.”

Nathan smiled. “I remember. I was so happy and I went to hug you but ended up kissing you instead...you remember what happened next?”

“You were trying to drag me upstairs to your bedroom and kiss me at the same time and we ended up in a heap on the stairs, laughing.”

“I was a little clueless about anything sexual and very clumsy back then.”

“Yeah,” Duke smiled fondly. “It was adorable.”

Nathan laughed. “Just how I want to be remembered at eighteen...adorable.”

Duke kissed his cheek. “You still are. Adorable, I mean, not eighteen. You have too many grey hairs for that.”

“And we’re back to that...good thing I love you. So, do you remember going fishing with the Chief and my mom? She wanted to learn to fish but when my dad handed her the live bait-”

“She stared at it, horrified, then stared at the Chief and refused to have anything to do with it. Said it was cruel and spent the rest of the day trying to catch fish with bits of the cheese sandwiches she'd made.”

“I never saw the Chief laugh so hard in my whole life. Your turn…”

“Christmas, we were, what…? Fifteen? My mother had already left, pretty much, she wasn't around anyway, and the Chief was working so I snuck over to your place. We spent the whole day eating popcorn and candy canes that I'd stolen a few days before and watching stupid Christmas movies.”

“That was so much fun.” Nathan smiled at the memory. “Do you remember when I finally asked you out? You said no because you thought it was the tequila talking. How many times did I have to ask before you finally said yes?”

“Four, because you were drunk the first three times.”

“I still meant it…”

“Well I know that now.”

I was thinking that we could maybe start fixing up my house when you’re all better.”

“Yeah, that...that would be good.”

“I don’t want to leave the Rouge...I just hate seeing it sit there like that. My mom always talked about how happy she was there. And you have to admit the view is beautiful…”

“No, no, you're right, we should fix it up. You never know when you might need the space.”

“I don’t need any space. I have plenty of space on the Rouge. If you want me to, I’ll sell it. It was never my intention to live there. I can feel you tensing up again. I’m sorry I brought it up. Forget I mentioned it, ” Nathan said, kissing his cheek.

“I'm not... Nathan, I'm not tensing up, I don't want you to sell it. It's a good idea, whatever your reasons are for wanting to fix it up.”

“Do you remember taking Bill to Boston for his bachelor party?” Nathan said, changing the subject. “And parking the car in a no parking zone? I thought Meg was going to kill us because she had to drive down and pay for it to get out of the impound. We spent all our money in that bar and she thought Geoff had taken Bill to a strip club?”

“I don't think I've ever been so scared of Meg in my life,” Duke laughed.

“Me either...made me regret not calling the Chief...I actually thought Meg was going to be the better choice.”

“We all thought Meg would be the better choice.”

“I thought for sure she was going tell the Chief and Bill’s parents but instead she just woke us up everyday for the next week at three in the morning because that’s when we woke her up.”

Duke grinned. “Not me. No phone on the Rouge and I had one of those house brick mobile phones that didn't get a signal anywhere below deck.”

Nathan shoved his shoulder. “Thanks for telling the rest of us! After the third day I just took to staying up until she called. The Chief couldn’t figure out why I was so tired. Caught me sleeping in the break room more than once.”

“Bet you were popular,” Duke smirked.

“Very funny. Okay, besides Maui, give me a current memory that makes you happy.”

“This. Right now. I wanted to get out, you made it happen. Every time my mind goes back to everything that's happening, you find a way to distract me and that...it gives me breathing room. Like, I can't forget what's happening but what you're doing, all these memories, it gives me the space in my own head to be able to deal with the crap. So you, doing this...that shows me two things. How well you know me and how much you love me and I'll never forget that.”

Nathan took hold of Duke’s hand and laced their fingers together. “I do know you, Duke. I know that you hate feeling trapped or out of control. This...today...was something I could give you. I can’t fix everything...God knows I want to….but I can make it better. I love you so much. And all I want is for you to feel happy,  safe and loved.”

“I do,” Duke said softly. “Aside from current circumstances, I mean.”

“Yeah, I get that,” Nathan said, shifting to kiss Duke. “You want to stay here awhile longer...keep talking?”

“I'd love to but we should probably get back before dark or they'll be sending a search party out. Maybe we can do it again soon, though?”

“Anytime you want,” Nathan said, pulling out his phone to call the Chief.

“Wuornos,” Garland growled into the phone.

“Everything alright, Chief?”

“I’m still at the station...what do you think?”

“Something I need to know?”

“No, Nathan. I’m still here because we haven't found anything yet. I’m assuming you’re going home? Your little date over? Did it help? Is Crock-” He cleared his throat and continued. “Is Duke feeling better?”

Nathan bristled but softened when his father asked after Duke. “Yes, to both questions.”

Tell you later.” He mouthed in response to Duke’s questioning look.

“There’s a patrol at the Cape Rouge now. They’ll stay until you get there.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

Garland cleared his throat again. “Yeah, well...I gotta go.”

Nathan stared down at the phone for a minute before putting it back in his pocket.  “Let’s go home and maybe watch a movie,” he said, smiling at Duke.

“Yeah. Everything ok?”

Nathan nodded and started getting the boat ready to go. “He just wanted to know if we were on our way home.”

“Good. You want to order pizza tonight? I know Tracy left a whole bunch of stuff in the fridge yesterday but I kinda fancy pizza. And beer.”

“Pizza sounds good. And so does a beer...I don’t know how you lasted three weeks...I almost snuck out of bed last week just to have one.”

“I don't know how I lasted either. The whiskey cabinet kept calling to me...still is…”

“Can we start small? Maybe a beer or two? Whiskey isn’t going anywhere.”

“Trying to control my drinking again?” Duke said lightly.

Nathan looked at him, “Actually, yes. At least for now. You can get mad if you want but I don't want either of us getting drunk. We need to be in total control.”

Duke glared for a moment, then softened. “Yeah, no, you're right.”

Nathan smirked. “Aren’t I always?”

“No, actually. Mostly I just let you think you are.”

Nathan grinned as he steered the boat into the slip. “You’re an ass. You know that?”

“And you're a dick, so your point is what, exactly?”

Nathan shrugged. “Just thought you should know.”

Stan was waiting for them when they stepped onto the slip.

“Everything is locked up and quiet,” he said, gesturing to the Cape Rouge.

“Thanks, Stan, we’ve got it from here,” Nathan replied.

Stan nodded and waited while Nathan unlocked the Rouge.

“Thanks Stan. And for the coffees and pastries earlier,” Duke said, giving Stan a brief smile.

“Anytime. Glad to see you up and about,” Stan said before heading back to his cruiser.

Nathan let Duke go ahead of him and then locked the hatch. “Want to order the pizza? Get whatever you want.”

Duke double checked the hatch and nodded. “You want any garlic bread with it? Or ice cream?”

“Ice cream? You don’t usually want dessert.”

“Kinda feeling like cuddling up on the couch, under a blanket, and sharing a tub of ice cream. Don't have to, just thought I'd ask.”

“We can definitely do that. What flavor?”

“Caramel? Can get whatever you want though.”

“Pizza with pepperoni and olives? Garlic bread, and caramel ice cream. Sound good?”

“Perfect,” Duke smiled and phoned through their order. “Half an hour, they said.”

Nathan opened the refrigerator and pulled out two beers. He handed one to Duke and headed to the couch. “Movie or no movie?”

“Movie. Your choice.”

“Since we’ve been going down memory lane how about Goonies? It has pirates….”

Duke raised an eyebrow in Nathan's direction as he flung himself onto the couch, carefully holding his bottle so he didn't spill any beer. “You do know not all pirates have hidden treasure, right?”

“They don’t? Isn't that Pirate 101? Bury some treasure? If you don’t want to watch it we can watch the new Avengers.”

“Gets dug up too easily. Could watch both? It's still early…”

“Whatever makes you happy,” Nathan said, pulling Duke closer, so his back was resting against his chest.

Duke tucked his legs up and curled against Nathan, sipping his beer as they started watching the first movie.

A short while later, Duke tensed at a sound outside the Rouge.  Nathan turned to check the camera feed on the laptop. “It’s just the pizza. Sit up so I can go get it.”

Duke was already halfway up before Nathan had stopped talking. “I'll get it, I'm up,” he said, dashing off to the door and returning a few minutes later, balancing the pizza box, garlic bread, and ice cream on one hand.

Nathan got up and took everything from Duke to arrange it on the table. “Pizza smells good. I’m just going to put the ice cream away until we’re done. Need anything from the kitchen?”

“Another beer?”

Nathan nodded and grabbed one for Duke, along with pizza for the both of them.

“Thanks,” Duke took it from him and grabbed a slice of pizza.

Nathan put the movie back on and took a bite of his pizza. “Tastes good, too.”

“It's always good from there,” Duke said, eating half his slice in one go.

“Garlic bread?” Nathan asked, getting up to get another slice of pizza and the garlic bread.

“Yeah, thanks. Why don't you just bring the boxes over here?”

Nathan brought the boxes over so they could reach them more easily. He also grabbed another beer for himself before settling back on the couch.

“Much easier,” Duke grinned happily, shovelling another slice of pizza into his face.

“A little hungry?” Nathan asked, grabbing garlic bread and offering a piece to Duke.

“Being out on the water does this to me.”

“Huh...I never noticed before. Well, have some garlic bread because I don’t feel like brushing my teeth so I can kiss you.” Nathan said, handing him a slice of garlic bread.

Duke grinned and took a piece of garlic bread. “Happy now?”

Nathan pulled Duke close and kissed him, nipping at his bottom lip to get him to open his mouth. “Mmm-hmm.”

Duke tossed his half eaten piece of garlic bread back into the box and brought his hand up to rest on Nathan's jaw as he kissed him back.

Nathan ran his fingers through Duke’s hair, breaking the kiss to rest his forehead against Duke’s. “Ice cream and cuddling? Or would you like more pizza?”

“Cuddling. Definitely cuddling.”

“Get comfortable. Move me where you want me because I’m not moving after you do. I want to stay here with you all night.”

Duke grinned. “All night? Sure your back can cope with that, old man?”

Nathan almost pushed him off the couch. “If it hurts you’ll just have to massage it better.”

“I'm sure I can manage that. Go get ice cream.”

Nathan did what he was told. “Okay, how do you want to do this?”

Duke grinned. “Sit down so I can put my feet in your lap.”

“Whatever you say,” Nathan replied, doing what Duke asked.

“See? Comfy,” Duke said, resting his feet on Nathan's lap and stretching out. “Now you can feed me ice cream.”

“Really? You want me to feed you? How about you feed me?”

Duke squeaked indignantly and waved his cast in the air.

Nathan snorted. “And? You only need one hand to feed me…”

Duke gave Nathan his best puppy dog eyes.

Nathan sighed dramatically. “Fine. Then move closer. I’m not leaning over to feed you.”

“But I'm comfy…”

”Duke...put your head in my lap and I’ll feed you all the ice cream you want. Make me lean over to feed you and this old man might drop it all over you.”

Grinning, Duke did what he was told, leaning back with his head in Nathan's lap.

Nathan sat feeding Duke ice cream and watching the movie. He sighed again, this time because he was exactly where he wanted to be.     

Duke gazed up at him, his heart in his eyes. “Love you.”

“I love you, too.”

“I really mean that, you know. Not just because of everything you do for me, just because you're you.”

“I know,” Nathan said softly, stroking Duke’s hair.  “I hope you know that goes for me, too.”

“Yeah,” Duke smiled up at him, angling his head into Nathan's hand.

“More ice cream?” 

“No, thanks. You finish it.”

Nathan took one last spoonful and returned to stroking Duke’s hair.  “I’d rather be doing this. You’re gorgeous...you know that?”

“I do, in fact, know that.”

Nathan rolled his eyes. “You know...my compliments lose something when you act like that. Good thing I love you even when you’re being conceited.”

“Confident. Not conceited.”

“Same difference. You know what I meant. Would you rather I stop telling you that I think you’re sexy, beautiful, gorgeous, exquisite, stunning, handsome, ravishing...should I go on?”

“See, I knew it, only with me for my looks.”

“That and your superior skills in the bedroom…”

“Well yeah, that's a given…” 

“You are impossible.”

“Yeah. Dunno why you're with me.”

”Because when you look at me like that you take my breath away.  Because your laugh makes my stomach flutter even after all these years. Because when you smile at me I feel like the luckiest person in the world,” Nathan said softly.

Duke reached up to pull him down for a kiss. “I was joking but thank you. I kinda needed to hear that.”

Nathan returned the kiss. “I know you were joking but I never want you to forget how important you are to me.”

“You are to me too, Nate,” Duke said quietly. “You...you're my anchor.”

Nathan looked into Duke’s eyes and smiled. “Really?”

“Really. I can't... I don't think there will ever be enough words to tell you how much you mean to me. You...you give me a place I can be myself. You keep me grounded. If I need to lean on you, you’re rock solid and no I don't mean when I'm drunk and you're half carrying me home. You're... everything to me.”

“When you talk to me like this I really hate that we waited so long...but now we have the rest of our lives.”

“Yeah, feels like we wasted a lot of time.”

“It wasn’t a total waste, we still had good times. We proved that today.  We just didn’t have this -” Nathan said, leaning to kiss Duke again, laughing softly when he pulled away “- or the sex…we maybe wasted time there.”

“We definitely wasted time there.”

“Well, now that you have no more restrictions we won’t have to waste any more time… except not tonight...there is no way I can go again.”

“Yeah, no, I definitely can't,” Duke laughed.

“Next movie? I know we hardly watched the first one but I really don’t want to move right now.”

“Sounds good to me,” Duke said, stretching lazily.

“Uh...one of us going to have to go put it in...and probably put that ice cream away before it melts.”

Duke made a sound that was dangerously close to a whine and lifted his head just enough for Nathan to stand up.

Nathan gave him a half hearted glare before he stood up. “Next time I’m sick I expect to be fed ice cream, cuddled, hair stroked, and have my palm kissed…”

Duke smiled up at him. “As if I'd do anything less.”

Nathan smiled back and picked up all the food to put it away. “Want anything?” He called from the kitchen. “And don’t say another beer.”

“Another beer?” Duke called back, smirking.

Nathan just shook his head and brought him a bottle of water. “Pretend.”

Duke laughed and took it from him, then passed it back and stared at Nathan with puppy dog eyes. “Can you open it for me please.”

Nathan took the bottle back and twisted the cap. “Oh you are milking this for all it’s worth aren’t you?”

“Yep,” Duke grinned.

Nathan put the next movie in the DVD player and sat back down. “Get comfortable. Just don’t spill water on me.”

“I'm tempted to do it deliberately now you've said that,” Duke said, stretching out with his head in Nathan's lap again.

“Go ahead, then I’ll have to get up and stop doing this…” Nathan dared, stroking Duke’s hair again.

Duke sighed happily and closed his eyes, turning his head into Nathan's hand. “Don't stop.”

“Feels good, doesn’t it?” Nathan asked softly.

“So good,” Duke murmured.

Nathan leaned his head back against the couch, still stroking Duke's hair, and watched the movie.

Chapter Text

The next ten days were quiet. Nathan took Duke out on the boat again, much to the annoyance of Garland who muttered about resources and why they couldn't just stay put where it was easier to keep an eye on them. Dwight popped over with regular updates but they were no closer to finding out who was behind the threats. Nathan was starting to lose patience with the investigation and was threatening to come back to work just so he could oversee it himself. He and Garland would have come to blows over it if Duke and Dwight hadn't got between them and calmed things down.

Duke had finally stopped milking his injuries for all they were worth and was doing as much as he could, working around his cast as much as possible and only occasionally swearing at it.

He was in the middle of making coffee for Nathan when his phone rang and he quickly answered the call and tucked his phone between his ear and his neck so he could carry on measuring beans. “Everything ok, Tracy?”

“Everything is fine. I just need you to come down here. That new supplier we talked about needs to have your signature before we can set up the contract. He said he’d be here at ten. Is that doable for you and Nathan?”

Duke glanced at the clock. It was only just gone nine and even allowing for the fact Nathan was like a bear with a sore head before he'd had his morning coffee, ten should be doable. “Yeah, no problem.”

“Okay. See you then.”

“Thanks Tracy, see you in a bit.” Duke tried to end the call and ended up juggling his phone for a moment before he dropped it, narrowly avoiding the freshly brewed pot of coffee.

Nathan walked into the kitchen, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He yawned and reached to pour himself a cup of coffee. “Problem at the Gull?”

“No, just need to sign a contract with a new supplier,” Duke said, pouring the coffee for Nathan.

Nathan nodded. “After my coffee I hope. And I probably should get dressed, too.”

“Need to be there for ten so you've got plenty of time.”

Nathan sipped his coffee. He walked closer to Duke and gave him a soft kiss.    “Good coffee. Thank you.”

Duke kissed his forehead. “You're welcome. Sorry for dragging you out so early.”

Nathan shrugged. “I’m going to have to get used to getting up early again soon. And this isn’t exactly early.”

“Is it bad that I'm really not looking forward to you going back to work?”

“No, because I’m not looking forward to leaving you alone everyday. But I’m not going back for another few weeks so let’s not worry about it now.”

“I won't exactly be on my own, will I? I'll be back at work too. But yeah, fair point, it's a way off yet.”

Nathan finished his coffee and washed his cup. “Going to take a quick shower and get dressed. I’ll be out in a few minutes.”

“Ok, I'm ready to go whenever you are.”

Nathan appeared fifteen minutes later, showered and dressed. “Okay, let’s go.”

Ten minutes after that, they pulled into the Gull’s parking lot.

Nathan parked the Bronco and turned to Duke.  “Surprise,” he said softly.

Duke stared back at him blankly.

Nathan grinned and jumped out of the truck, waiting for Duke to get out and walk around to him.  Once Duke was beside him, Nathan gestured towards Dwight’s truck and the Landrover parked next to it, tucked away just enough that it wasn’t immediately obvious.

“Wh-?” Duke dashed over to the Landrover. It wasn't completely identical to his, it was a year younger and the desert yellow paint was a slightly different shade but it was immaculate. “Nathan?”

“Do you like it?” Nathan asked hesitantly.

“You - you…” Duke's voice was strangled and he swallowed hard. “Did you buy this for me?”

“Yes, I mean Dwight helped bring it down from Canada but I bought it. Do you not like it?”

Duke laughed incredulously. “I love it. I love you. I can't believe….”

“I wasn’t sure if it you would because of...well, you know. But I knew how much you loved the old one so I took a gamble. Now, you’ll have something to drive when you get that cast off next week.”

Duke flung his arms around Nathan, narrowly avoiding knocking him out with the cast. He peppered soft kisses across Nathan's cheek and buried his face in his neck. “Thank you,” he said, his voice suspiciously choked.

Nathan laughed and hugged him. “You’re welcome.”

“It's a hell of a get well gift, Nate. Don't forget I know what these cost…”

“You’re worth it. Seeing you smile like this is worth it.”

Duke hugged him tighter. “I don't know how I can thank you enough. It's... perfect.”

“Seeing you this happy is enough thanks. We should go inside and thank Dwight for driving it down here.” Nathan said, letting go of Duke and turning towards the Gull.

Duke nodded, a small smile on his face as he ran his hand across the smooth paintwork of the Landrover - his Landrover. He gave her an affectionate little pat and reluctantly followed Nathan inside.

Dwight was sitting at the bar, sipping at a coffee. He turned and grinned when Nathan and Duke walked in. “He liked it then?” He asked Nathan.

“I think he did. He hasn’t stopped smiling.”

“I do,” Duke confirmed. “Thanks, Sasquatch, Nathan said you drove it back.”

Dwight nodded. “Drives well. Checked her out before I left. She's solid. Maybe try and not burn this one to a crisp?”

Duke rolled his eyes. “Yeah, because that was all my fault.”

Dwight stood up and gave Duke an uncharacteristic hug. “Pulling your leg, man.”

Duke clapped Dwight on the back. “I know. Thanks, Dwight.”

Dwight cleared his throat and let Duke go. “And wear your damned seat belt.”

“Every time,” Duke promised, catching Tracy's eye. “So I guess there's no supplier meeting?”

She laughed. “Not today. But I do have one scheduled for next week. Figured it was the best way to make sure you’d come down.”

“Yeah,” Duke said softly. “Can you do me a favour? Make sure Dwight doesn't pay for his drinks for the next….I dunno, six months?”

“Will do.” Tracy agreed.

Nathan gave Duke a look. “Hey! What about me? I actually paid for it…”

“You never pay for your drinks here anyway. Don't worry, you'll get your thanks later.”

Tracy shoved Duke’s shoulder. “Really, Duke! That is a visual I did not need!”

“What? That as soon as my arm's out of this thing, I'm going to cook him a three course meal with candles and wine?”

“Uh huh...right. Before you leave I need you to sign some of the paperwork,” Tracy said, heading towards Duke’s office.

“Just because your mind's in the gutter,” Duke complained as he followed her.

Tracy laughed. “It’s not. I just know you. So, how are you doing? You should be getting the cast off soon, right?” She went to the filing cabinet and pulled out a stack of invoices to sign.

“Next week. First thing I'm gonna do is spend at least an hour scratching my arm. Do you know how itchy these things are?”

“Yes. I broke my arm when I was eight. The itching was awful. You’re lucky yours is waterproof. I had to wrap mine everyday to take a bath. My parents were so happy when it came off. When do you think Gloria is going to let you come back to work?”

“If I have my way, the day after I get the cast off.”

“Miss us that much or is Nathan still driving you nuts?”

Duke smiled softly. “He's not driving me nuts at all, it's...been really good spending time with him.”

“Then spend as much time with him as you can. Don’t rush back to work. Okay, here’s the last thing you need to sign,” Tracy said, handing him the last invoice from the pile.

“Yeah, you're right. I don't know when he's planning to go back to work…” Duke quickly signed the final invoice with a flourish and handed Tracy the pen.

“From the way he was looking at you out there, I’m guessing he’s trying to figure out how he can extend his leave. Go, enjoy your time with Nathan and your new truck...I’ve got it covered here, “ Tracy said, pushing him out of the office.

Duke laughed softly and allowed himself to be shooed out. “Ok, ok, c'mon Nate, I'm being kicked out of my own bar.”

Nathan nodded at Dwight before standing up. “Duke, Dwight is going to take the Landrover with him until you get the cast off. It’ll be one less thing we have to worry about right now.”

“Thanks Dwight. You'll-?”

“Run the engine every couple days and rinse off any salt water that blows in if we get a storm. I know, Duke.”

“Yeah, sorry. Thanks, man.”

“Anytime,” Dwight said, giving Duke's shoulder a squeeze.

*

It didn’t take long to get back to the Rouge where Nathan did a quick check of the deck before they went inside and locked up. He turned to Duke and smiled again. “You really like it?”

“You...are amazing. I love it and...thank you just doesn't seem like enough…”

“Seeing you this happy is all the thanks I need. I’d do anything to keep you smiling like this.”

“I still can't believe it…”

“Well, I thought it was better than making you get a new truck you really didn’t want.”

“I really wasn't looking forward to getting a new truck but this is... perfect,” Duke said, leaning in to kiss Nathan gently.

Nathan kissed him back, bringing his hand up to the back of Duke’s neck so he could pull him closer and deepen the kiss.

“I love you so so much,” Duke mumbled against Nathan's lips.

Nathan nodded and kept kissing him, his hands going to Duke’s waist and up under the back of his shirt. “I love you, too.” He said when they broke apart.

Duke arched into Nathan's contact. “I swear,” he said, burying his face in Nathan's neck and mouthing at the soft skin, “as soon as I've got both my hands back, I'm gonna show you just how much I love you.”

Nathan tilted his head for Duke. “Oh really? You need two hands? Should I be worried or excited?”

“Excited. Definitely excited,” Duke murmured, pressing soft kisses along Nathan's jaw.

Nathan moaned softly. “You seem to be doing a good job of exciting me right now.”

“That was the general idea,” Duke said, kissing his way down Nathan's neck.

“Oh? Wh- ? You…?” Nathan couldn’t form a coherent sentence when Duke kissed his neck like that.

Duke pulled away for just long enough to pull Nathan's t-shirt off before crowding back against him, gently nipping at his collarbone.

“Take it off…” Nathan murmured, tugging at the bottom of Duke’s shirt.

Duke pulled it over his head in a surprisingly elegant one handed move.

“That...was so hot…” Nathan whispered, running his hands all over Duke’s back.

Duke laughed softly, pressing back into Nathan's contact. “Good to know I can still impress you.”

“Always…” Nathan said, moving his hands up to Duke’s jaw, then leaning in to capture his mouth in a passionate kiss.

Duke trailed his fingers lightly down Nathan's ribs as he returned the kiss just as passionately.

Nathan broke the kiss to catch his breath before bringing his other hand up to comb through Duke’s hair. “Love this…”

“Love you,” Duke murmured, his fingers tightening on Nathan's waist.

Nathan had just started to unbuckle Duke’s belt when his phone vibrated in his pocket.  Without even looking, he hit the ignore button but before he even had a chance to toss it aside, it was ringing again.  This time, he looked at the display and groaned. “It’s the Chief...I should probably answer it,” he said apologetically to Duke.

Duke muttered something under his breath and nodded.

“Nathan,” Garland said when Nathan finally answered the call. “Avoiding me?”

“No. My finger must’ve slipped. How are you?”

Garland snorted down the phone. “Fine. Nothing new here, just checking in. How are you?” He said, adding as an afterthought, “both.”

Nathan shot a surprised look at Duke before answering. “We’re good. Gave him the truck this morning. Dwight’s going to keep it until the cast comes off. One less thing for us to check over everyday.”

“Good, that's good. He like it?”

“Yes, he did. A lot.” Nathan said, smiling at Duke.

Garland made an harrumphing noise. “Good. I'll call again if I have any news for you.”

“Thanks for checking in with us...Dad.” Nathan said sincerely.

“Look after yourselves, son,” Garland said, his tone almost warm.

Nathan said goodbye again and hung up the phone. “Well, that was unexpected.”

“Sounded like he was being….nice?” Duke said hesitantly.

“Yes, asked how you like the truck, asked how we were both doing...he hasn’t been like this in a long time.”

Duke nodded. “Can't remember the last time he rang you just to say hi.”

“It’s been a while. I shouldn’t complain, I kinda miss the way he used to be.”

“Before me, you mean?”

“No, not what I meant...at all. Before mom died. Do you remember what he was like when we were little? I mean really little…”

“Yeah, he was...he was your dad. Not the Chief, just your dad.”

“He took us places. Played with us. He laughed. And he liked you.”

Duke nodded slowly. “He did. When that changed, when he stopped liking me and started... hating me...it was like I lost my whole family, almost overnight.”

“I tried, Duke. I tried to make him change his mind about you. To be fair, I was only eleven when Mom got sick so there wasn’t much I could do. He stopped doing all those things with me, too. But I never stopped being there for you. Yeah, we had some really bad times but I was always there. I was always your family…”

Duke kissed him, hard but briefly. “I know. I know you tried. I know you were there for me, as much as I let you anyway. I wish I'd let you in more back then and then maybe I wouldn't have fucked up my life so badly.”

“You didn’t fuck up your life…”

“I went to prison, Nathan. What else would you call it?”

“You made mistakes...everybody does…”

“Mistakes are things you'd change if you could. I wouldn't - couldn't - change anything I did. Except being honest with you.”

“You’re honest with me now. That’s what counts. I wasn’t exactly honest with you back then either. Maybe if I had told you just how much I loved you, things wouldn’t have gotten that bad. Maybe if I had stood up to Chief about being a cop…”

“Maybe if I'd dropped my pride for two fucking minutes and actually told you how bad things were, that I was living in an abandoned warehouse and would've starved to death when I was a kid if I hadn't learned very fucking fast how to be a good thief. Hell, maybe if I'd been honest with you when we were kids, if I'd told you that my dad used to punch the crap out of me and turn on my mom when she tried to stop him, that she turned to drink because of it… Yeah, pretty sure if I'd been honest, someone would've helped me and I wouldn't have ended up the way that I did but I wasn't and that's the one thing I wish I could change. The rest...that wasn't a mistake, that was just what I had to do to survive.”

Nathan put his arms around Duke and held him tight. “You’re right, maybe if you had told me even half of that maybe things would’ve been different but you didn’t. We can play the ‘What if’ game until the cows come home and all it’s going to do is bring up old pain. I’m sorry for not being a better friend back then and seeing past your armor. I don’t care you’ve been to prison. You are a good man and your everyday actions prove that. I’m sorry you felt like you lost your family...that the Chief tried to keep us apart...but we’re together now. And I’m never letting anyone try to change that.”

Duke hugged him back, burying his face in Nathan's neck. “You're right. Thanks. Sorry.”

Nathan hugged him tightly for a minute before picking up their discarded shirts. He put his back on and handed the other one to Duke. “Need help or can you put it back on just as smoothly as you took it off?”

Duke gave him a look and slipped his shirt back on with a little shimmy.

“You looked hotter taking it off but I guess that was impressive, too.”

“Sorry, I'll work on the hotness levels of my getting dressed one handed technique.”

“After next week you won't have to. You’ll be all healed and things will start to get back to normal.”

“Whatever passes as normal round here, anyway,” Duke said, grinning.

Nathan laughed. “Yeah, not sure we even know how to be normal. I’ve been meaning to talk to you about going back to work. How would you feel about me staying home for another month? Would that be too much? I know you miss the Gull…”

Duke smiled softly. “No, that wouldn't be too much. Are you sure you can afford the time off?”

“I’ve only taken what? Six weeks? I wasn’t kidding when I said I had close to nine months in vacation saved. It might actually be more. I need to sit down with the Chief and find out. I want to take a nice long and warm vacation with you when the weather gets brutal this winter.”

“We should start planning. A vacation once all this shit is over with would be... wonderful.”

“Anywhere special you want to go?”

“Nate, after everything you've done for me, this vacation is for you. So,” Duke said, kissing Nathan's forehead, “can you let me plan it? As a surprise?”

“If that will make you happy...yes.”

“It will. Somewhere warm and relaxing, get away from it all.”

“That sounds amazing. Being anywhere alone with you sounds amazing.”

Duke kissed his forehead. “Leave it with me.”

“You know we’re going to fix all this. We’ll find out who’s doing this.”

“I know. I know we will.”

“Good. I’m going to make a late breakfast or early lunch...want anything?”

“Maybe a sandwich?”

Nathan smiled and nodded, going to the kitchen to make them both some lunch.

Chapter Text

Duke fidgeted while he waited in Gloria's office. He was at least reasonably certain that she kept him waiting deliberately because she knew it would drive him crazy.

Waiting generally was driving him crazy. There had been no more threats since the message-in-blood incident and Garland, under pressure from the town councilmen to reduce overtime costs, had been forced to cut back the patrols around the marina and stop the overnight security watch completely. Nathan had made a fuss and threatened to hire private security guards if he had to but Duke had pointed out that a cop and a well armed and mostly reformed smuggler were probably not in need of private security.

But the person who was behind the threats was still out there and, despite Duke's protestations that they'd probably just been out to cause trouble and had got bored by now, Nathan still insisted on following the PerSec guidelines as outlined by Dwight and was, if it were possible, even more paranoid and jumpy than Duke was.

Which was why he was standing outside Gloria's office door, keeping watch. What he thought would happen in a hospital, Duke didn't know and he was very relieved when Gloria bustled in, though less so when he realised she was carrying metal contraptions that vaguely resembled medieval torture implements and something that looked like a bone saw.

“Please tell me you're not planning on using those,” he said, glancing suspiciously at her.

She cackled and dropped them on the desk. “Nope. Just finished an autopsy. This is the only one for you,” she said, brandishing the mean looking electric circular saw.

“...That makes me feel so much better.”

“Oh, shush, don't be a baby. Arm out.”

Duke did what he was told, keeping a watchful eye on her as she started the saw running with an expression that was far too gleeful to be comfortable.

Moments later, his arm was free of the cast and he breathed a deep sigh of relief, immediately starting to scratch his arm, making a sound that could only be described as a groan of pleasure as he was finally able to reach the itch that had been bugging him for a week.

“Better?”

“You have no idea.”

“Good. Right, physio appointment tomorrow,” she said handing him a card. “They're expecting you and they'll tell me if you don't show so no excuses. Do what they tell you, go to your follow up appointments and I don't want to hear a word of complaint.”

Duke took the appointment card and nodded.

“Be careful with that arm, the soft tissues need time to build up strength again. No heavy lifting, no yoga that takes pressure on your arms, keep your hand and wrist moving as much as possible.”

“Ok. Anything else?”

“Just look after yourself, kiddo. Don't go giving this old lady any more heart attacks,” she said, ruffling his hair.

He glared up at her and smiled as he stood up. “Thanks, doc. Know you've taken good care of me.”

“Get outta here before you go all sappy. You know I hate sappy. Buy me a bottle of good Scotch.”

“Deal,” Duke said, bending to kiss her cheek before he dashed out of the door so fast that he collided with Nathan who was standing in the doorway with his arms folded across his chest, stock still and completely immovable. Duke couldn't help but wonder how many people he'd managed to terrify with the scowl that he wore.

“You okay? Gloria say the arm is good?” Nathan asked, steadying Duke so he didn’t hit the doorframe.

“Yep. Got to do physio, got an appointment tomorrow, and still gotta be careful but yeah.”

“Let’s go home unless you need to stop anywhere? We can get your truck after your appointment tomorrow.”

“Stop for coffee on the way? I can even go in and pick it up now I've got both my hands,” Duke said, wiggling the fingers of his right hand in Nathan's direction.

“Of course we can but I’ll go in with you. You can carry it if you want.” Nathan said, capturing Duke’s right hand in his.

Duke immediately curled his fingers around Nathan's hand, glancing down and smiling softly. “Ok.”

Nathan pulled Duke towards the door, not letting go of his hand. “Haven Joe’s or Black House Coffee?”

“Black House,” Duke decided.

After picking up the coffee, they headed back to the Rouge. “Must feel good to not have that cast on your arm anymore. No more restrictions. You can do all the things you’ve been missing. Driving...Yoga...making me breakfast…” Nathan said, trying to suppress a smirk and not entirely succeeding.

“Being able to wash my own hair... cooking generally,” Duke said. “But what I've been really looking forward to is this…” he waited for Nathan to lock up and put the coffee down and flung both of his arms around him, hugging him fiercely tightly, in a way he hadn't been able to while his arm was in the cast.

Nathan relaxed into the hug and put his arms around Duke’s waist. “I know what you mean. I really missed this.”

“It just wasn't the same,” Duke said softly. “Really missed being able to hold you like this.”

“Now you can whenever you want. Just relax a bit...I kinda like breathing.”

Duke laughed softly and released his grip on Nathan. “Sorry. Hey, can we go to the store later? Want to cook you something special.”

“Sure, anything you want but you know you don’t have to, right?”

“I know. I want to.”

“Not gonna lie, I am looking forward to you cooking again. Definitely one of the things I’ve missed.”

Duke smiled softly. “Anything in particular you'd like?”

“I like it when you surprise me.”

“Well it's not gonna be much of a surprise if you're with me while I'm shopping…”

“I won’t look at the ingredients. Or I could ask Dwight to go with you...or,” Nathan closed his eyes and shook his head, “I can’t believe I’m saying this...the Chief.”

Duke raised an eyebrow. “The Chief? Really?”

Nathan shrugged. “It’s not like there’s anyone else, I know he’s not at the station and you are not going alone. Or you just cook whatever you want and surprise me another time.”

“No,” Duke said quickly. “You've been so good to me, I really want to do something nice for you.”

“You spoil me. So...what do you suggest?”

Duke sighed. “See if Dwight's available. If not, the Chief. I'm sure we can manage a simple shopping trip without killing each other.”

Nathan took out his phone and dialled Dwight.

“Hey Nathan,” Dwight answered.

“Hey Dwight, you free to take Duke food shopping?”

“Sorry, man, Lizzie's ballet recital starts in ten minutes.”

“No problem. Have fun.” Nathan said, hanging up and dialing the Chief. He waited for Garland to answer. “Dad? I need a favor…”

Garland's growl was audible. “What do you need this time?”

Nathan winced at his father’s tone before asking, “Can you take Duke food shopping?”

A long suffering sigh came down the phone. “There a reason you can't go with him?”

“He...uh...wants to make me dinner. And surprise me with what he’s making. Look...if you’re busy you don’t have to…”

“Give me half an hour,” Garland said, sounding marginally softer than he had a moment before.

“Thank you,” Nathan said, ending the call and turning to Duke. “He said to give him a half hour. You sure you’re okay with this?”

“Yeah. I mean, kinda. I'd rather go on my own but that's not gonna happen so…”

“No, it’s not. I’m sorry. And the Chief would call us both stupid if I let you go alone. He didn’t want to pull all the protection, remember. I know I was mad that he gave in but I know it wasn’t his choice.”

“Yeah,” Duke sighed. “Still…”

“I know this isn’t ideal. And I did give you an out...you didn’t take it. You’ll be fine...I mean what could possibly happen in a grocery store?” Nathan asked, giving Duke a soft kiss on his cheek.

“Nothing. Will you be ok here on your own…?”

“Yes, I’ll be locked in and I still have access to the marina’s security cameras.”

“Maybe you could call McHugh or someone? Just another pair of eyes…” Duke didn't add that it was another gun if it came down to it.

“Duke, seriously, I’m going to be fine. I’m more worried about you walking around out there without me.”

“I'll be with your dad, in a busy shop, which is a sentence I never thought I'd say, and I'll have my gun with me. I'll be fine.”

Nathan sighed. “I know. It’s just going to be the first time since your accident we haven’t been in the same place. Well...except for me getting you your new phone.”

Duke kissed his forehead. “Better that it's a short trip out then. Want me to check in while I'm out?”

“You don’t have to. I trust you to be careful. I’ll try to relax a little. Maybe read something…”

“You deserve a chance to relax, you've been doing so much…”

“I’m not complaining. Besides, you’d do the same for me.”

“I know you're not complaining. Doesn't mean you don't deserve a chance to rest. Double bolt the hatch when I go, keep an eye on the camera feed, and chill for a bit.”

“I’ll try to relax.” Nathan said as his phone pinged. He looked down and read the text. “The Chief is here.”

“Good,” Duke kissed his cheek. “See you in a bit. Lock up behind me.”

With that, he steeled himself and went to meet Garland on the dock.

“Chief,” he greeted him.

“Duke,” Garland returned the greeting. “You make sure Nathan locked up after you?”

“Yeah, heard him pull both bolts across.”

“Good. Where am I taking you?”

“Just to the grocery store,” Duke said, adding as an afterthought, “please.”

“Okay. Just give me a minute before you get in.” Garland said, checking the car over. When he was done he nodded to Duke. “Let’s go.

Duke got into the car and put his seatbelt on. “Thanks. For this. Know you're busy.”

Garland raised an eyebrow when Duke pulled on his seatbelt and he bit back the sarcastic remark that was on the tip of his tongue. “Wasn’t busy. And I’m sure I wasn’t your first choice. Nathan says you’re cooking for him?”

“Yeah, he's...he's done a lot for me while I've been recovering and I wanted to do something nice for him,” Duke said softly.

“That’s good. I know he’ll like that. You’re a good cook. You ever try showing him around the kitchen?” Garland asked, pulling into the parking lot.

“A couple times. He makes great pancakes but anything else...he struggles but he's agreed to let me try and show him a few more basic dishes.”

Garland turned off the engine and looked at Duke. “Pancakes? Didn’t realize he could cook them. Always assumed that was your mess I found in the kitchen when you two were in high school.”

Duke scratched his head. “Yeah, it...it might've been. Elizabeth taught us to make them when we were kids. After she...I used to make them for Nathan. Still do. We both do.”

Garland nodded but didn’t say anything, he just motioned for Duke to get out and headed towards the store.

Duke followed him, mentally running through the list of ingredients he needed to pick up.

“What are you making him?” Garland asked, walking next to Duke.

“Caramelized onion and goats cheese tartlets to start, then steak and salad with a white wine vinaigrette and I thought I'd do a strawberries and cream millefeuille.”

Garland shook his head. “What in God’s name is a tartlet?”

“A miniature tart.”

Garland snorted but didn’t say anything.

Duke rolled his eyes and carried on walking round the store, loading up his cart with all of the ingredients he needed, along with a nice bottle of wine to go with dinner.

“Planning on drinking all that tonight?”

“Nope. One glass each with dinner, then I'll use the rest for a Bolognese sauce tomorrow.”

“Don’t you ever cook anything simple?”

“Bolognese is simple.”

Garland snorted again. “If you say so. But what do I know? Been living on take out and TV dinners for over twenty five years now.”

“Maybe you should come to dinner with us,” Duke said, biting back the urge to point out he'd been invited several times over the past five years and refused every time.

“Thanks for the offer but I know Nathan would rather it just be you two.”

“Tonight maybe, but tomorrow?”

Garland cleared his throat. “Maybe...you making something simple? I’m not eating something I can’t pronounce.”

“Was planning on spaghetti Bolognese but I can make meatballs and marinara sauce if that'd be better.”

“Maybe some meatballs and marinara. You sure you want me over for dinner? Don’t want to impose…” Garland said uncomfortably.

“It'd mean a lot to Nathan,” Duke said as he carried on picking up ingredients.

“But you, not so much, am I right?” Garland said, a little harsher than intended.  

“Yeah, you're right. Trust me, I have no great interest in spending hours cooking for, and in the company of, someone who can barely disguise his hatred of me. I'm doing it for Nathan's benefit, not yours.”

“Hate’s a strong word, don’t ya think?” Garland growled. “You don’t want to cook for me...don’t. Not going to force you to pretend you want me on your boat. Nathan doesn’t even have to know you invited me. You almost done?”

“Fine, don't come then. I won't even tell Nathan you rejected the invitation,” Duke said, striding off to the checkout.

Garland followed, shaking his head. Sometimes he wondered how things got so complicated. He wasn’t stupid, he knew most of the blame was his, but he wasn’t sure how to fix it after all these years. “Nathan is happy, yeah?”

“With me? Yeah. He is.”

“That’s all I ever wanted for him, ya know. Just never thought it would be with you…” Garland put his hand up when Duke looked like he was going to protest. “...but it really doesn’t matter what I think. Just want him to be happy…”

“I'll always do what I can to make sure he's happy. I love him.”

Garland nodded. “Yeah, I can see you love him. If you think Nathan wants me there, I’ll come for dinner. You can even make the Bologna...thing you were planning.”

“I think he'd be really touched if you came. I'll do meatballs.”

“Ok, then. I’ll be there. Need help with those?” Garland motioned to the bags that the cashier had filled.

“Yeah, thanks. Still not meant to be lifting much.”

Garland picked up most of the bags and they headed to the car. After the routine check, they got in and headed back to the Rouge. Garland helped Duke bring the bags on deck and waited while he called Nathan to unlock the bolts.

Nathan took the bags from his father. “Thanks, Dad.”

Garland nodded. “You’re welcome. Call if you need anything else.”  He turned and headed back to his car.

Duke waited until Nathan had bolted the hatch. “So, uh, don't hate me but he's coming to dinner tomorrow night.”

“Okay, did hell just freeze over?” Nathan asked, opening the bags to help put things away.

“Quite possibly,” Duke sighed. “I felt sorry for him, he says he lives off takeout and TV dinners.”

“And you’re surprised? You know it’s been like that since mom died. Though I’m not quite sure why because he knows how to cook. What is all this stuff?”

“I know but still...hearing him say it…” Duke said, unpacking the bags. “This stuff is ingredients and I'm supposed to be surprising you so…” Duke shooed Nathan out of the kitchen.

Nathan smiled and kissed Duke’s cheek. “Thank you.”

“You're welcome. Now get out,” Duke said, smiling.

Nathan walked back to the couch and picked up the book he was reading. “Let me know if you need help with anything.”

“Go and relax. You deserve it,” Duke called back, already starting to bake and cook in a whirlwind of activity.

Nathan started reading again, smiling at the familiar, domestic sounds of Duke cooking, humming a tune as he went.

Two hours later, Duke emerged from the kitchen, a smudge of flour on his nose. “All prepped,” he said cheerfully. “Just gotta cook a couple things later.”

“C’mere…” Nathan said, reaching his hand out to Duke.

Duke smiled softly and took his hand.

Nathan pulled him close and gently brushed the flour off Duke’s nose. “Sit with me?”

Duke curled up beside him. “I need to start cooking in a couple hours.”

“Was the shopping trip bad? I mean being alone with the Chief?”

“Can't say it was the most fun shopping trip I've ever had but we didn't fight or anything.”

“I’ll admit I was worried he would say something nasty. Glad he didn’t. I really wish he’d accept that you are the best thing that’s ever happened to me. That I’m happy…”

“He does, I think. He asked if you were happy, I said you were and he said that's all he ever wanted for you. Yeah, we...bickered a bit but he was...almost nice, by the time we left the store.”

“He asked...if I was happy?”

“He did.”

“Maybe he’s getting soft in his old age. Still don’t like how he treats you though…”

Duke snorted. “Can't say I like it much either but he wasn't too bad today.”

Nathan hugged Duke and kissed him softly. “Thank you for putting up with him. It means a lot.”

“I'd do anything for you, Nate,” Duke said quietly.

“You are amazing and I love you so much.”

“Love you too,” Duke said, snuggling in closer.

“So, what are we having for dinner?”

“Deep fried surprise with a side of you'll find out later, served with a whole heap of not telling you.”

“Smartass.”

“Uh, excuse me but that's finest ass.”

“Says who?”

“You. Several times.”

Nathan laughed. “True. I did.”

Duke smiled. “If you're lucky, you might get your hands on it later…”

“Oh really? Might?”

“Might. I'm not promising anything.”

“Can I do anything to sway your decision?”

“Nope, just keep being your usual wonderful, sexy self.”

“Sexy? Stop, you’re making me blush…”

Duke kissed him. “Yeah. Sexy.”

Nathan shook his head. “You’re the sexy one. Not me…”

“Why does just one of us have to be the sexy one? Can't we both be?”

“Yes,” Nathan said, reaching to hold Duke’s hand, “But I just don’t see it…”

Duke grinned. “It's the handcuffs…”

Nathan raised an eyebrow. “Really? I’ll have to keep that in mind…”

“I know, I know, not your sorta thing.”

“Not normally, no.” Nathan agreed.

“I know,” Duke said softly. “It was a joke, not a serious suggestion.”

“Hey, I wasn’t upset...you know all you have to do is ask and I’ll do what you want...it’s just not a look I like on you...I guess it’s a cop thing...but can we change the subject because I’m obviously upsetting you.”

“You're not upsetting me. At all.”

“Okay, what do you want to talk about?”

“I don't. Want to talk,” Duke said, leaning in to kiss him.

Nathan smiled against his lips, sitting up and swinging his leg over Duke so he was sitting on his lap, and deepened the kiss.

Duke brought his hands up to cup Nathan's jaw as they kissed.

Nathan rested his hands on Duke’s shoulders and coaxed his mouth open so he could sweep his tongue lazily inside.

Duke eagerly kissed him back, making soft sounds of pleasure as he tangled his fingers into Nathan's hair.

Nathan shifted in Duke’s lap, grinding against him. He broke the kiss just long enough to catch his breath before leaning back in to crush his lips against Duke’s.

Gasping for breath, Duke kissed him, deep and slow, his hands shifting down to grip Nathan's ass and pull him closer.

Nathan’s heart thudded in his chest when Duke pulled him closer and he brought his hands up to frame Duke’s face.

Duke broke away with a quiet sound of disappointment. “Guess I shouldn't start things I can't finish,” he said apologetically.

Nathan tried very hard to suppress a groan as Duke pulled away. “Probably not…,” he said, letting go of Duke and getting off his lap.

“Sorry,” Duke caught hold of his hand and pulled him down to gently kiss him.

“You gotta give me a minute...and stop kissing me if you don’t want to continue…” Nathan laughed, squeezing his hand.

Duke kissed him again anyway. “Consider it a promise for later.”

Nathan tried to glare at him but failed miserably. Instead he kissed him back. “Oh, I will…”

“Good,” Duke said, smiling softly. “Because I meant it.”

“How much time before you need to start cooking?”

“An hour and no, before you ask, we're not having a quickie first.”

Nathan snorted. “Wasn’t even thinking it...okay, maybe I was...but seriously, I have to start cleaning up in here…”

Duke narrowed his eyes. “Are you kicking me out or asking me to help?”

“I should be asking for help...but I won’t. It’s my judgmental father who’s coming over tomorrow...sit and relax. It shouldn’t take long...it’s not like we’re slobs or anything…”

Duke groaned. “I'll help. It's my fault he's coming…”

“No, it’s okay. You’re cooking me dinner. And I do want to see him...I’m not upset you invited him. I mean I’ve invited him so many times I lost count…”

“I did too, in the early days. Then I gave up,” Duke said, standing up. “I'll go and potter in the kitchen.”

Nathan grabbed Duke’s hand as he passed. “Whatever you said to get him to change his mind...thank you. I know you aren’t looking forward to this.”

“Not sure I said anything but I'm glad he changed his mind. For your sake,” Duke leaned in to kiss Nathan on the cheek.

It didn’t take Nathan long to clean up the living area, it was mostly just putting things back in their places. He walked into the kitchen and placed an empty water bottle in the recycling bin. “See, told you it wouldn’t take long. How are things in here? Starting soon? Can I help?”

“Fine, yes, no, in that order.”

“You’re really taking my request to surprise me seriously, huh?”

Duke smiled and kissed him. “Yes, yes I am.”

“Are you going to take all my requests so seriously?”

“That depends on what they are…”

Nathan laughed. “So suspicious...was thinking of things we could do later…”

“Oh, any requests or suggestions you have for that will be taken very, very seriously.”

Nathan raised an eyebrow and barely suppressed a smirk before leaving the kitchen. “I’ll keep that in mind,” He called over his shoulder.

Duke rolled his eyes and turned his attention back to cooking, putting all thoughts of later out of his mind.

Half an hour later, the caramelised onion and goats cheese tartlets were ready and he called Nathan to come and eat.

“Whatever you are cooking smells delicious. Do I get to know what it is yet?”

“Funnily enough, yes, because it's now on plates and ready to eat,” Duke said, smiling.

Nathan looked down at his plate. “I see it...but still not quite sure what it is…”

“Caramelised onion and goats cheese tartlet. With some rocket leaves and a balsamic vinegar syrup.”

Nathan took a bite and looked at Duke. “This is amazing. I’m in awe of your skills…”

Duke smiled softly. “Thanks. Two more courses to go…”

“I can’t wait.”

“Won't take me long, I'll start as soon as we finish these. Want some wine?”

“Yes, please.”

Duke poured them each a small glass of wine, mindful of what Nathan had said about them keeping their heads clear. “We should make plans for the weekend, go out somewhere…”

“Anyplace you have in mind?”

“Thought it might be nice to go down to Boston for the weekend, lose ourselves in the crowds...maybe hit a bar or two…”

Nathan sighed and looked down at his plate. “Probably not the best idea. What about that bed and breakfast in Vermont? It’s quiet, secluded, and it has that bathtub…”

“We'd stand out like a sore thumb…if anyone's following us...that's just gonna make it easy for them.”

“And it’s not exactly safe going to bars with crowds of people. Maybe we can come up with a compromise?”

“Crowds of people will hide us and provide cover but yeah, I'm open to compromising if you have any suggestions.”

‘“We could stay local...my father does have that fishing cabin.”

“Yeah, that might be nice…”

“I’ll ask him tomorrow. And I promise that when this is over we will go wherever you want.”

“You reckon it'll ever be over?”

“Don’t think like that. It will be. Now didn’t you say something about two more courses? This is supposed to be a happy dinner.”

“No, I'm serious, Nate. You saw the list of names I gave Dwight. Every single one of them could be a possibility and I'm tired of having to watch my back every moment of every day just in case one of them finally catches up to me. It's not just now, it's not just this one person, it's constant.”

“You can’t think like that. You have to stop worrying. It’s not easy, I know that. You think I don’t worry about some of these criminals I’ve locked up? Or how about the charges I couldn’t make stick? I have people who probably want me dead...but I’m not going to stop living my life…” He looked up at Duke and sighed. “You know what...let’s go to Boston.”

Duke nodded and stood up to clear the plates away. “It was a stupid idea, forget it,” he said as he fired up the stove and started heating a griddle pan ready for the steaks.

“What? I agree with you and it’s now it’s a stupid idea?” Nathan asked, getting up and walking over to Duke.

“No, you were right the first time. It's not exactly safe.”

“I wasn’t. We can’t let any of this stop us from living our lives.”

“No, we can't. Because it won't end. The threat will always still be there. For both of us.”

“Stop. Just stop. Please? Can we just have a nice dinner? Maybe some dessert? And maybe if you’re up to it...some really good sex? I’ll let you use the handcuffs…on me.”

Duke turned and kissed him softly. “Sorry. Dinner, dessert, some excellent sex, without handcuffs. It's not your thing, Nate, you don't have to...to try bribing me with that.”

“It’s not but I love you and I just want you to be happy. I want you to forget about everything even if it’s just for a little while. It bothers me that I can’t fix all this. I’m supposed to keep you safe.

“You make me happy. You keep me safe. You don't need to do anything else. I love you, not what you do or don't do for me.”

Nathan just nodded.

Keeping half an eye on the almost smoking hot griddle pan, Duke hugged Nathan tightly. “How d’you want your steak?”

“Rare.” Nathan replied, hugging Duke back.

“Right answer,” Duke said, grinning as he let go of Nathan to start cooking the steaks.

Nathan sat back down and watched Duke cook.

Duke quickly cooked the steaks, piling salad onto the plate alongside and drizzling the dressing he'd made earlier over the top before he delivered them to the table with a flourish.

“I still can’t believe I’m lucky enough to have someone cook like this for me.”

“That's not luck, it's because you're amazing,” Duke said, his heart in his eyes.

Nathan started to protest but the sincerity in Duke’s eyes gave him pause.  He didn’t think he’d ever get used to the compliments Duke gave him but it wasn’t fair to brush them off every time so he smiled softly instead.  “Thank you. You’re pretty amazing, too.”

“Yeah,” Duke grinned.

“Speaking of amazing...I really like this steak...did you do something different than usual?”

“I rubbed in some crushed black peppercorns and then used a sprig of rosemary to brush it with olive oil.”

“Okay...well, it’s delicious.” Nathan said, taking another bite.

“Good,” Duke said softly.

“What’s for dessert?”

“That's still a surprise.”

“If I kiss you enough will you tell me?”

“Hmmm,” Duke pretended to think about it. “Maybe…”

Nathan leaned over and grabbed Duke’s hand. “C’mere and let’s find out…”

Duke laughed softly. “Ok, let's see how many kisses it takes before I tell you.”

Nathan pulled Duke out of his chair towards him. “Where do you want these kisses?” He said, kissing his lips softly.

Duke straddled Nathan's lap and angled his head. “Right... here,” he said, pointing at his neck.

“Here?” Nathan asked, kissing his neck. “Or here?” He asked, kissing behind his ear.

“Both?” Duke murmured. “Both is good.”

Nathan started kissing up and down Duke’s neck. “More?”

“Depends if you want this dessert or not…”

“I do want the dessert...as long as you let me finish this later.”

“Oh, oh we are definitely finishing this later,” Duke said, uncurling himself from Nathan's lap to finish assembling the dessert.

“So, do I get to know what it is?” Nathan teased.

“At the moment,” Duke said, licking a stray piece of cream from his finger, “it's pastry, strawberries and cream but in a minute, if you let me finish assembling it, it'll be a millefeuille.”

“And what is that exactly?”

“It's...puff pastry, layered with whipped cream and strawberries.”

“And why don’t you just call it that?”

“Because it's French so I call it by its French name which translates to 'thousand layers’.”

“It sounds delicious.”

“It is. You'll love it,” Duke shot Nathan a smile over his shoulder and carried on piping the cream onto the pastry.

“This something from the cooking show you watch?”

“The Great British Baking Show? Yeah,” Duke grinned. “It's a sweet show and I get loads of ideas from it.”

“Can’t wait to taste it.”

“Good job it's ready then,” Duke said, placing the final layer of pastry on the top and dusting with icing sugar.

Nathan took a bite and couldn’t stop the sound of pleasure that came out of his mouth. “This is possibly the best thing I’ve put in my mouth in a very long time.”

Duke started to say something and stopped. “Can I just point out that I could make about a hundred very dirty remarks about that comment and in the interests of having a nice dinner, I'm not doing so and I'd really quite like that acknowledged.”

Nathan smirked, “It’s just us. You can be as dirty as you want. But I do admire your restraint.”

“Good. I thought it was very well behaved of me.”

“It was. But as soon as we finish this you don’t have to behave…at all.”

“Oh, I don't plan on it. Did you come up with any requests…?”

“Maybe just switch it up a bit?”

“Ok, no, gonna need you to be more specific. You know I'm up for anything you want to do or try, telling me to switch it up could mean anything.”

“Okay wasn’t thinking anything crazy...just thinking we could switch positions...what were you thinking?”

Duke leaned over the table to kiss Nathan. “Anything you want is good with me.”

“Besides, weren’t you and I quote ‘as soon as I get both my hands back, I’m gonna show you just how much I love you’?”

“That is the plan, yeah.”

“Then let’s put these dishes in the sink and get moving...you’re not getting any younger you know.” Nathan said, winking at him.

Duke let out an indignant squeak. “Just for that you can do the washing up before we do anything else.”

“And that’s different from any other night... how, exactly? That’s actually our arrangement…you cook, I clean...but okay...it’s not only me who’s going to have to wait for that excellent sex you keep promising…” Nathan said, walking to the sink and turning on the water.

Duke grinned and snuck up behind Nathan, throwing his arms around his waist and nuzzling in to kiss the soft skin on his neck. “But doesn't the anticipation make it so much more fun? I love it when you're impatient.”

“No. But this will be one less thing I have to do in the morning because I fully expect to be exhausted when we are done.”

“Oh, you definitely will be,” Duke murmured, nibbling at Nathan's earlobe.

“Okay, keep doing that and I’m going to take you right here on the kitchen floor…” Nathan said, sliding the dishes in the soapy water.

“Thought you wanted to change positions. Maybe it should be me bending you over, pulling your pants down and fucking you over the kitchen sink…”

Nathan dropped the plate he was washing and turned to face Duke. “Okay, I’m done...that mouth of yours is too much...I want you...now.”

Duke crowded against him, pressing him back into the counter and pinning him there with his hips. “You like that idea, don't you?” He murmured into Nathan's ear. “That I want you so fucking much that I can't even wait to get you into the bedroom.”

Nathan shivered at the thought and angled his head to kiss Duke. “What are you waiting for?”

“You. To make a choice. A quickie in the kitchen, hard and fast and devastatingly good… or...we go to bed and I spend hours worshipping your body and making sure you're so, so satisfied.”

Nathan pushed away from the sink and started maneuvering Duke towards the bedroom. “When you put it that way...we can fuck in the kitchen tomorrow…”

Duke laughed softly and allowed Nathan to maneuver him to the bedroom. “We can fuck anywhere you like,” he said, his fingers pulling at Nathan's t-shirt as they moved towards the bed.

Nathan pulled his t-shirt off and fell backwards onto the bed, pulling Duke on top of him. “I’m all yours...”

Duke caught himself on his elbows and leaned down to kiss Nathan, deeply and passionately. “No more talking,” he mumbled against Nathan's lips.

Nathan kissed him back, gently tugging at Duke’s shirt. “Take it off...I want you naked on top of me...then I’ll shut up…”

Duke sat up and pulled his shirt over his head with the same one handed move that Nathan had so enjoyed before. “Shut up,” he said as he leaned back down and pressed his chest against Nathan's.

Nathan smiled and tilted his head, inviting Duke to kiss his neck. He slowly caressed Duke’s back, enjoying the closeness.

Duke took full advantage, nibbling and kissing Nathan's exposed throat in the way he knew he loved so much. “I love you,” he murmured between kisses, “so so much.”

Nathan moaned softly, gently trailing his nails up Duke’s back. “Love you…”

Duke arched into him, nipping at Nathan's ear.

“That feels so good,” Nathan whispered, bringing his hands between them to undo Duke's pants.

“Good,” Duke murmured, pulling away to take his pants off and then reaching for Nathan's belt.

Nathan waited while he unbuckled his belt, then lifted his hips so Duke could pull his pants off.

Duke dropped Nathan's pants on the floor and kissed his way up the inside of his thigh, pausing to nose over the bulge in his boxers before he carried on with his quest to leave no inch of Nathan's skin untouched.

Nathan shivered as Duke’s lips brushed over his skin, warm desire pooling low in his belly.  “Don’t stop…”

“Not stopping,” Duke mumbled against Nathan's chest, kissing and nipping his way back down again.

Nathan arched his back and tangled his fingers in Duke’s hair as he lingered on a particularly sensitive spot on his ribs.

Duke laughed softly. “Good, huh?”

Nathan could only nod, a soft moan escaping when he breathed out.  Even after all these years, Duke could still reduce him to jelly.

Duke nibbled at the spot one last time before moving down to gently bite the sharp jut of Nathan's hip bone, prominent even through the soft cotton of his boxers.

Nathan arched into him again, the movement completely unconscious, desperately seeking more.   Fearing he’d pull too hard on Duke’s hair, he forced his fingers to relaxed, uncurling them from the soft strands and resting his hand lightly against Duke’s head instead.

“You're so fucking responsive,” Duke groaned, tucking his fingers under the waistband of Nathan's boxers to slide them over his hips.

“Only because you are so good.” Nathan said, moving his hands from Duke’s hair to caress his arms.

Duke sat up and threw Nathan's boxers onto the floor alongside his pants. He smiled down at Nathan, then stretched out beside him, with one leg hooked over Nathan's thighs. “Do you have,” he said conversationally, “any idea how fucking gorgeous you are?”

Nathan shook his head. “No. But it’s nice hearing you say it. Your voice is so hot.” He leaned forward to kiss Duke, soft and passionately.

Duke kissed him back, running his hand across the smooth skin on Nathan's chest.

Nathan ran his hand down Duke’s back to his ass, dug his fingers into the soft flesh and pulled Duke closer.

“Demanding,” Duke teased, pressing against Nathan.

“I just love how you feel…”

“You'll be able to feel every inch of me soon,” Duke murmured, his lips brushing against Nathan's ear.

Nathan trembled and let out a soft moan. He took hold of Duke’s hand and brought it to his lips to gently kiss each finger.

Duke smiled and carried on murmuring into Nathan's ear, a litany of soft words and promises of exactly what he planned to do to him.

“Stop teasing and do something...anything…” Nathan begged.

“This?” Duke said, running his finger up the underside of Nathan's cock. “Or this?” He bent his head to lick Nathan's nipples.

Nathan moaned, loudly this time, bringing his hands back to Duke’s hair and running his fingers through the silky locks, soft sounds of pleasure falling from his lips every time Duke’s tongue slid across his nipples.

Duke lavished attention on them, licking and gently mouthing at the sensitive nubs.

Nathan tangled his fingers tighter in Duke’s hair. “Duke...oh my god...you are so good…”

“Mmhmm,” Duke mumbled, sliding his hand down Nathan's hips to gently wrap his fingers around Nathan's cock.

Beyond coherent thought, Nathan thrust up into Duke's hand, pleasure coursing through his body.

“God I love it when you get like this,” Duke murmured. “So turned on you can't even think straight.”

“More...I need you...so good.”

Duke laughed softly. “Want me to stop so I can fuck you?”

“Yes...want you so much,” Nathan said, pulling Duke up to kiss him.

“Are you sure? Because you seem to be really enjoying this... I could just keep going, finish you with my hand…”

“Fuck me,” Nathan moaned against Duke’s lips.

“Well...seeing as you asked so nicely…” Duke said, letting go of Nathan's cock and reaching for the lube instead. With slicked fingers, he slowly and gently worked Nathan open, curling his fingers to rub across his prostate.

Nathan dropped his hands away from Duke’s hair to clutch the sheets instead, soft moans falling from his lips every time Duke brushed his fingers across his prostate. “Love you...so much…”

“Love you too, Nate,” Duke said, taking Nathan's cock in his other hand and stroking lightly.

“I can’t take much more of this...I need you…” Nathan all but whined when Duke started stroking his cock. “Fuck me…”

Duke groaned at the pleading note in Nathan's voice and after one last twist of his fingers, he pulled them out and positioned himself between Nathan's thighs.

Nathan angled his hips to give him easier access, silently encouraging him.  

Duke lined himself up and started to slowly press inside Nathan.  

The love that was shining in his eyes as he did so warmed Nathan’s whole body and he moaned softly, soaking up the feeling of being joined with Duke.

“You feel so fucking good,” Duke said breathlessly as Nathan opened up around him.

“So do you…”

Duke buried his face in Nathan's neck, mouthing at the soft skin. “God, Nate, I love you so much,” he murmured, starting to move slowly and gently.

Nathan closed his eyes and let out low moan. “Duke…”

The sounds of pleasure that Nathan was making sent shivers down Duke's spine, knowing they were all for him.

“Love this..love you…” Nathan whispered, running his nails up and down Duke’s back.

Duke arched into him. “Harder,” he murmured.

Nathan glanced up sharply, searching Duke’s face as he dug his nails in harder.  Satisfied with the expression of pure pleasure he saw, he added a little more pressure when he brought his nails back up again.  “Like this?”

Duke groaned loudly. “Yeah, like that.”

Hearing Duke’s pleasure, knowing he was causing it, was intoxicating and Nathan tilted his hips, encouraging Duke for more.

Duke obliged him, thrusting harder and faster and deeper, angling himself so he hit Nathan's prostate on each stroke.

Unconsciously, Nathan dug his nails into Duke’s back. “Fuck, Duke…”

Duke pressed his lips to Nathan's and shifted his weight so he could slip a hand between them, reaching for Nathan's cock.

Nathan’s moans grew louder against Duke’s lips, the dual sensations of Duke stroking his cock and thrusting inside him bringing him closer and closer to the edge.

“God, Nate…” Duke murmured, dropping his lips to Nathan's neck, his hand gripping more firmly, stroking more quickly.

Nathan’s breath caught in his throat.  Duke stroked him once more and he was coming, incoherent sounds of pleasure spilling from his lips.

The clench of his body carried Duke over the edge with him and he fell forwards, leaning his forehead against Nathan's and gasping for breath.

“Oh my god, that was...that was probably the best sex I’ve had in two months…” Nathan said, kissing Duke softly.

Duke let out a quiet huff of laughter. “Clearly not good enough because. you can still string a sentence together.”

Nathan laughed. “I don’t know how it could’ve been better. I love you.”

“Love you too,” Duke said, rolling off and reaching for the tissues.

“I am exhausted. I just want to sleep...with you wrapped in my arms…”

Duke murmured agreement, curling himself into Nathan's arms.

Nathan kissed the top of Duke’s head and pulled the covers over them.

Duke fell asleep to the quiet sound of Nathan's soft snores, knowing he was safe and loved.

Chapter Text

After the event, he couldn't be sure what had woken him. A tiny scuffle, some sort of sixth sense that he was adamant he didn't believe in, but the fact remained that he was woken a split second before the bedroom door was flung open, revealing a tall man with instantly recognisable green eyes.

Duke's stomach dropped to somewhere around his knees and his heart pounded in his chest so loudly that he was convinced it could be heard a mile away.

Nathan was still scrambling for his gun as the intruder raised his, aiming it not at Duke but at Nathan.

Time slowed down. Each second that passed felt like an hour.

Moving on instinct, his eyes still locked on the intruder, Duke's fingers closed around the cold, hard metal of the gun he kept on the bedside table.

It was over in a flash. The loud crack of a single shot. The solid thump of a body hitting the floor. A sound that would give Duke nightmares for months afterwards.

Adrenaline coursed through his body and, shaking, he lowered the gun. “Nate? Ok?” He managed to say.

“I’m okay,” Nathan said as he climbed across the bed. Breathing heavily he knelt to check the intruder for a pulse. Finding none, he stood up and gently took the gun out of Duke’s trembling hand. He set it on the nightstand and took Duke’s face in his hands. “Are you okay?”

Duke nodded. “Can you make the call? I…”

“Duke, it’s going to be okay. I’m not going anywhere, I promise but for the next few minutes I need you to understand I have to be a cop, okay?”

He waited for Duke to acknowledge him with a nod, then grabbed his phone from the nightstand to dial 911.

When they answered he identified himself and gave his badge number. “There has been a shooting at the Cape Rouge. Suspect is down but send medical.”

After he hung up the phone, he opened the dresser drawer and handed Duke a t-shirt and a pair of sweats. “We need to get dressed. This place is going to be crawling with police in a few minutes,” he said, getting clothes for himself as well.

He paused, taking a minute to drag Duke into a rough hug.  “You know, if I'd known you could shoot like that, I'd have tried to recruit you for the force years ago.”

Duke managed a laugh, high pitched and bordering on hysteria. “You just want me for the interagency shooting competition because you're sick of losing to the feds every year.”

Nathan laughed and kissed his forehead before turning serious again. “Look, this was self defense. You’re still going to have to answer questions but there will be no arrest and you won’t have to go to the station tonight. You’ll have to give a formal statement but that can wait until tomorrow. I’m going to unlock the hatch. I can hear the sirens now.”

Duke nodded and followed him, taking a wide berth around the dead body of the man who had once been his friend and lover.

Dwight arrived first, closely followed by Noelle and Joseph who set about checking that the dead body was, in fact, dead. They returned moments later, shaking their heads and Noelle told Dwight to call Gloria.

Dwight ran a hand across his face and made the call. “Ok, one of you want to tell me what the hell happened here?”

Nathan gave a brief explanation of the facts as they knew them, still trying to work things through in his mind.

“You're both ok?”

“Yes.” Nathan said, looking to Duke to make sure he was still okay.

“Fine,” Duke said automatically, plastering an appropriately 'I'm fine’ expression on his face.

It didn't convince Dwight in the slightest and he raised his eyebrows but let it slide. “I've called the Chief, figured he should be here.”

Nathan nodded. “He should. I told Duke he doesn't have to give his formal statement tonight. We’ll come down in the morning but we’ll answer anything you need tonight.”

“Fine by me. This place'll be a crime scene until it's all sorted out. You two got somewhere else you can go for a day or two?”

Nathan opened his mouth to answer when the Chief bustled in and answered for him. “They can stay with me.”

“You don’t have to do that. We can-” Nathan started but Garland put a hand up to stop him.

He walked over to the body and crouched down for a minute. When he came out of the bedroom he looked at Duke. “Good shot. That gun’s registered, right?”

Duke's brain was still playing catch up from Garland's offer to stay with him and he stared blankly for a moment. “Yeah, it is. They all are,” he said eventually.

Nathan put himself between his father and Duke. “What the hell, Dad? Someone tries to kill us and the first thing you do is question if the gun is registered?”

Garland ignored his outburst and reached around him to awkwardly grabbed Duke’s shoulder.  “Thank you for saving my son’s life.”

“He wouldn't've been in danger if it hadn't been for me,” Duke said, staring down at Garland's hand.

“Could’ve just as easily been an ex-con gunning for Nathan. Not like he hasn’t put away a fair few dangerous criminals.  Don’t beat yourself up.” Garland said, squeezing Duke’s shoulder before letting go.

“It's the truth, Duke,” Dwight chimed in. “You don't have a monopoly on pissing off bad guys.”

Duke nodded. “Yeah, guess you're right. Still…”

“Still nothing. You saved Nathan. Now...I have to ask...did you know him?” Garland asked.

“Yeah. Rob Crowley. We were business associates, years ago. I…” Duke rubbed the back of his neck. “I might have double crossed him and I might have used some very underhanded ways of doing it. He was on the list I gave Dwight.”

Garland took a deep breath and Nathan thought he was going to start yelling at Duke. Instead he just asked, “Any idea why he wanted to shoot Nathan?”

“No. Get the cop out of the way? To hurt me before he killed me? Because he was an ex and he thought he'd get me back if he killed Nathan? Your guess is as good as mine.”

“Okay, Dad...I think that’s enough for now. Dwight? You have any questions?” Nathan asked, putting his arm around Duke and guiding him to the couch.

“Nothing that can't wait til tomorrow,” Dwight said, squeezing Duke's shoulder. “That was a hell of a shot, man.”

“Yeah. Thanks,” Duke said, forcing a smile onto his face.

Garland sat down next to Duke and looked up at Nathan. “Go pack a bag for you both. You’ll stay with me for a few days.”

Nathan caught Duke’s eye and raised his eyebrow, silently questioning what Duke thought about his father’s offer.

Duke nodded. “Yeah, thanks Chief.”

Garland nodded back.  “And Nathan…? Maybe get dressed.”

Nathan looked at his father slightly confused. “I am dressed…”

Garland tried not to smile.  “You’re wearing his clothes,” he said, gesturing to Duke.

Nathan grimaced. “Really, Dad?”

Garland shrugged. “Just an observation.”

Nathan rolled his eyes and headed towards the bedroom.

“That really was a good, clean shot, Duke. You did good.” Garland said quietly.

“Guess so. Still wish I hadn't had to.”

“Yeah. Me, too. It’s not an easy thing to do. But Nathan is safe...and so are you. That’s the important thing.”

Duke nodded. “Yeah. It is.”

Nathan came out of the bedroom, fully dressed and carrying a duffel bag.  One look at Duke was enough to tell him that he needed to get him out of there and go somewhere where it was just the two of him so he had space to process.  “Dad, we should get going. Let forensics do their job. Duke? You want to change or do you just want your shoes?”

“Shoes. Could do without going back in there,” Duke said, standing up.

Garland was already on his feet. “I'll go make up the spare room for you.”

Nathan went in search of Duke’s shoes. When came back, his father was gone. “Hey, we’ll be settled in my old room in a few minutes. Put your shoes on and I’ll tell Dwight we’re leaving.”

Duke nodded and started pulling his shoes on, not bothering with the laces.

“All ok?” Dwight said when Nathan found him.

“We’re heading to the Chief’s. Need to get Duke out of here. Call if you have anymore questions.” Nathan said.

“No problem. Looks pretty straightforward to me, just need to talk to Duke tomorrow, fill in some of the blanks. It's just a paperwork exercise, make sure he knows that.”

“I will. Thanks, Dwight.”

He found Duke sitting on the couch with his head back and eyes closed. He reached down and took Duke’s hand. “Let’s go. Dwight will make sure everything is locked up when they are done.”

“Yeah. Guess I'd better invest in industrial quantities of bleach,” Duke joked weakly. “That blood is gonna be a pain to get out.”

“You won't have to worry about that. The department has people who do that for a living. It’ll all be gone before we come back.” Nathan promised, guiding Duke to the Bronco. He checked it over, just in case, before opening the door for Duke and they drove to the Chief’s house in silence.

Garland was waiting for them when they pulled onto the driveway.  “Your room is all ready. I’m going to head back to the Rouge and make sure everything is under control. Need anything?”

Nathan shook his head. “Thanks Dad. I think we’ll be okay.”

Once in the spare room, Nathan put down the duffel bag and turned to Duke.  “How are you really doing?”

“Like I need an entire bottle of whiskey.”

“The Chief doesn’t have any whiskey. Best I can do is a beer. But seriously, talk to me.” Nathan said, pulling Duke to sit on the bed.

“Then I'm going out for whiskey,” Duke said, pulling away from Nathan.

Nathan pulled him back and wrapped his arms around Duke. “It’s going to be okay. It’s just us now. You can talk to me...without whiskey.”

“Nathan, don't,” Duke said sharply. “Don't try to control me. This is what I do, you know that.”

Nathan let go of him. “Fine. Go. Get your whiskey. Keys are on the dresser. I’m going to bed.”

“Well I'm fucking glad you can sleep, I just killed someone so I don't think sleeping is going to be a thing for a while,” Duke said, getting up and picking up the keys to the Bronco.

“I’m not going to fight with you. You don’t want to talk to me. Fine. I’m not going to force you. Just remember, I know what it’s like to have to kill someone, too. It’s ugly, it’s terrifying, and the images linger for a long time. But go ahead. Shut me out. Go drink it all away. I’ll still be here when you sober up, because I love you.”

“I love you too,” Duke said softly. “I won't be long.”

With that, he left, driving to the Gull to pick up a bottle of fairly terrible whiskey. It wasn't worth wasting the good stuff when he was only drinking to get drunk.

Half an hour later, he was back at the Chief's house with the dawning realisation that the front door had locked behind him and he had no way of getting back in. Which wasn't as much of a problem as it might have been given that he'd spent a large portion of his teenage years sneaking into Nathan's room and he was at least reasonably sure that his arm was healed enough to cope with shimmying up the drainpipe and crawling through the always open bathroom window.

He tucked the bottle of whiskey into his pants and did just that, grinning to himself that he was still able to do it despite being twenty years older than the last time he'd tried.

Expecting Nathan to be asleep, he crept into the bedroom and quietly closed the door behind him.

“That was actually pretty impressive,” Nathan said, moving away from his window.

“Nice to know I've still got it,” Duke said, opening the bottle and offering it to Nathan.

“No, thanks.”

Duke shrugged and took a long swig straight from the bottle. “Thought you were going to bed.”

“You honestly think I was just going to go to bed without you? Besides, I knew the door was going to lock.”

“Would've been helpful to know that before I left,” Duke snarked. “Oh, here…” he tossed Nathan's keys back to him.

Nathan caught the keys and set them back on the dresser. “I was going to open the door for you but you decided to give me a show.”

“Yeah,” Duke grinned and took another swig of whiskey, the grin turning to a grimace as it burned on the way down.

“Better?” Nathan asked, sitting on the bed to watch Duke.

“Yeah, actually.”

“Ready to talk to me yet?”

“I don't really know what to say.”

Nathan sighed. “I’m not going to push you to talk about any of this with me. That’s Claire’s job. So, drink your whiskey and when you’re done, I’ll hold you all night. Or I’ll just leave you alone...whatever you want.”

Duke nodded and poured some more whiskey down his throat. “Sure you don't want some?”

“No. I don’t. I’m just going to sit here and wait for you to get yourself drunk. And then maybe you’ll actually talk to me. You know the person who loves you and is alive because of you.”

“Don't. Don't do that. Don't fucking try to manipulate me into talking to you.”

“You know what? Fuck you. I’m tired of this shit. I asked you to talk to me...you said no, you wanted to get drunk… So I give in and let you go take my car to get your precious whiskey… And still that’s not enough. Manipulate you? Is that really what you think? Because if it is I don’t want to talk to you about this. You’ve got an appointment with Claire later this week, talk to her. Now, I really am going to bed. When you’re done drinking, join me.”

“Yeah that’s what I think. You're being passive aggressive and trying to use emotional blackmail on me. You've been trying to control my drinking for weeks and you're still doing it now. Yeah, I probably do need to work on my drinking and my emotional availability but is now really the fucking time? Can't you put that to one side for one fucking night when I really need your support and not...not this bullshit.”

“Support you? What the hell have I been doing this whole damn time? Controlling? Passive aggressive? Emotional blackmail? Wow...I sound like a wonderful boyfriend, huh? Glad I know what you really think of me.” Nathan sat on the bed and put his head in his hands, trying to figure out what the hell just happened.

‘Glad I know what you really think of me’? How the fuck is that not passive aggressive? I love you, I need you but the way you're acting right now…? Not ok, Nate. Do you need some space to do your own... processing, or are you actually going to be the man I know and love and stop with the bullshit?”

Nathan stared at him and took a deep breath, trying to work out why he was lashing out at Duke when it was supposed to be the two of them against the rest of the world.  “Duke, I'm sorry and I love you.”

Duke nodded slowly and took one more swig of whiskey before he put the bottle down. “I'm sorry too. Been a rough night.”

“Yeah. Pretty bad.” Nathan held his hand out, hoping Duke would take it.

Duke closed his fingers around Nathan's and kneeled at his feet, his other hand resting on Nathan's thigh. “Thought I was gonna have to watch you die,” he said, his voice rough with emotion.

“I thought the same. I don’t want to lose you…”

“I don't want to lose you either,” Duke said quietly. “Can we go to bed now.”

“Yes. C’mere.” Nathan said, pulling Duke to his feet.

Duke kicked his shoes off and collapsed onto the bed, not bothering to get undressed.

Nathan climbed into bed next to Duke. “Goodnight,” he said quietly, still feeling bad about their fight.

Duke rolled over and kissed his forehead, letting his lips linger on Nathan's skin. “Get some sleep, Nate. I'm gonna be awake for a while yet.”

“I’m not tired. I’ll be right here.”

“So why'd you say goodnight?”

Nathan shrugged. “Because it seemed like the thing to say. If you aren’t going to sleep why did you ask to go to bed?”

“Because it seemed like the right thing to do and you kept saying you were going to bed and I wanted to cuddle.”

“Then why are you all the way over there?”

“Because you were mad at me and I didn't know if you wanted to cuddle.”

“You were mad at me, too,” Nathan said quietly, turning to give Duke a small smile.  “Come over here so I can hold you...please.”

Duke bit back the retort that was on the tip of his tongue, about how he hadn't been mad at Nathan, he'd been mad at the way Nathan was treating him and how there was a difference, a subtle one but still a difference. He swallowed the words and shuffled across the bed to curl himself into Nathan's waiting arms. Nathan's arms closed around him, folding him into an embrace that felt like home, more so tonight than it had on any other night because now Duke knew how close he'd come to losing this. Losing everything. Images ran through his mind as involuntary shivers ran through his body.  Every muscle trembled and his fingers twisted around the soft cotton of Nathan's t-shirt, balling into a fist and all he could do was cling and try to remember how to breathe.

Nathan held him tighter when he started to shake, rubbing small, calming circles on his back.  He leaned in and kissed Duke gently on the forehead. “I love you.”

Duke nodded, not able to speak. He buried his face in the crook of Nathan's neck and clung more tightly.

“It’s okay. We’re both okay.” Nathan said softly, moving one hand to stroke Duke’s hair. “I’m sorry for everything I said. You mean the world to me.”

“Why did you say those things?” Duke asked in a very small voice. “Why kick me when I was already down and out? Why are we back to you punishing me for existing in a way you don't approve of?”

Nathan’s heart shattered at those softly spoken words. “I’m a cop, Duke. I should’ve been the one protecting you. I let you down and put you in an unthinkable position of having to take a life. I was so angry at myself and I...I just let all the anger out and you were there… and I’m so sorry… I never meant to hurt you.”

Duke was quiet for a minute. “Ok,” he said eventually. “I'm sorry too. Neither of us would've been in that position if it hadn't been for my actions in the past and you needed me to be here and open and honest and I wasn't. I wasn't ready to talk about it - I'm still not - and you were pushing so I did what I always do and tried to escape into a bottle. Which, with hindsight, was probably not my best move.”

“Duke, your past is in the past. It doesn’t matter why he was after us. You don’t have anything to be sorry about. And I was pushing you to talk to me but I wasn’t exactly opening up either. This is a lot for both of us to deal with. I really have no right to say anything about the drinking...you know your limits...I don’t want to control you or punish you for anything. That part of my life is over...I know what I was like when we were younger and that’s not the person I want to be anymore. I love you and all I want to do is protect you. You really do mean the world to me.”

Duke uncurled himself and kissed Nathan on the forehead. “Let's just put it down to the stress of what's been a really fucking awful night. We were both being dicks and it's over. Fair?”

“That's fair,” Nathan agreed, pulling Duke back in his arms. “It wasn’t all awful though, it just ended that way. I think we need to sleep or at least just lay here in each other’s arms before the sun comes up.”

“That...sounds like a very good plan,” Duke said, settling into Nathan's contact.

Once Duke was settled against him, Nathan started stroking his hair again. “It does…”

Duke angled his head into Nathan's hand and sighed deeply. “Guess I'll have to go through it all with Dwight or your dad tomorrow.”

“It’s all just paperwork. Nothing to worry about. It was self defense. If you need to put it off another day we can do that. We can even have Claire there if you want. And it will be Dwight… not my dad.”

“Yeah, no, I know, it's pretty clear cut, I just don't want to have to relive it all.”

“And I wish you didn’t have to. Once you give your statement it will be over. We can put it behind us and move on. I think we have a trip to plan...maybe a weekend in Boston first? Or maybe just some time out on the boat. Whatever you want to do.”

“A weekend away sounds good. And I'm still planning that long vacation…”

“I think we definitely need that long vacation. I’m still taking the rest of the month off. And when you finish planning let me know so I can tell the Chief.”  After a few moments of silence, Nathan shifted so he could look into Duke’s eyes. “I want to kiss you…”

“What are you waiting for?” Duke said, grinning.

Nathan curled his hand around the back of Duke’s neck to pull him close.  He kissed him softly, at first, then more passionately as the emotions of the past few hours threatened to overwhelm him.

Duke gave himself over to the kiss, losing himself in the proof that they were alive and safe and together.

Nathan ran his fingers down Duke’s side as he continued the kiss, enjoying the close contact.

“I love you, Nate,” Duke mumbled against Nathan's lips. “I thought... I thought I'd…” he pulled away with a broken sob.

Nathan wrapped his arms around Duke and pulled him close, not saying anything, just trying to comfort him.

“I thought I was going to lose you,” Duke managed to choke out.

“I know,” Nathan said, kissing the top of Duke’s head while continuing to stroke his side.

“Everytime I close my eyes, all I can see is the gun pointing at your head. Every time there's silence, I hear his body hit the floor. That's why I wanted the whiskey. Try to drown everything out.”

“It’s okay. I understand. I’m here, I’m alive. It doesn’t change what happened and how you’re feeling, I know that. I love you. Just tell me what you need.”

“I don't...I don't know what I need.”

“That’s okay. We’ll figure it out.”

“I didn't even think. I just shot him. Just like that. I knew him, Nate and now he's dead and I have no idea how I'm supposed to be feeling.”

“There is no wrong way to feel. He meant something to you once... it's okay to be confused.”

“He was going to kill us. Both of us. I did what I had to do and I don't regret it but…”

“You still took a life?”

“Yeah. And that's all mixed up with what I used to feel for him and then all the memories of how wrong I'd been about him, all the things he used to do to me, how I managed to get away from him and it's….it's all one giant clusterfuck of mess in my mind.”

“Do you want to try to sort through it all with me? Or do you just want me to listen? Or we don’t have to do anything…”

“I don't know.”

“Okay. Can I ask questions? You can say no.”

“As long as it's one at a time, you actually listen to the answer and I can reserve the right to remain silent.”

“Nothing you say or don’t say is going to change how I feel about you. I love you. You don’t have to do this at all. I’ll just hold you and kiss you.”

Duke nodded, relieved that Nathan had given him an out.

Nathan pulled Duke close again and started running hands up and down his back. “Kiss me?”

“First you want me to talk, then you want me to kiss...make your mind up, Nate,” Duke said cheekily.

“We can do both. It’s all up to you. When it gets too much...tell me. Were you in a relationship with him or was it casual?”

“Relationship, if you can call it that.”

“Can you explain?” Nathan asked, brushing the hair out of Duke’s face.

“That...is long and complicated. He was a business partner to start with, then a friend, then a hook up partner, if we were in the same place, same time. Then our businesses became more intertwined, we were together all the time, he got steadily more possessive, more abusive until…” Duke trailed off.

“Abusive how?”

“Do you really want me to answer that? You're a cop, Nathan, you know how these things go.”

“Unfortunately, I do. So, it was physical? You don't have to go into detail...or even answer.”

“That scar on my back…the one you kissed once and asked me how I got it and I said I didn't remember... I pissed him off one night, he stormed out, came home angry and drunk and carrying a knife.”

Nathan took a deep breath. “I’m so sorry. You know it wasn’t your fault, right? Nothing you do or say gives anyone the right to scar you. Do you want to stop? Or go on?”

“Yeah, I know. At least, I do now. Back then...not so much. He was older, controlling and leaving would've been such a fucking mess. I was only twenty six, Nate, I didn't understand all of the business crap he'd dragged me into. And then he stabbed me and it wasn't like the bruises, I couldn't just ignore it like I did the broken ribs and the dislocated shoulder, I had to get help for it and that was the wake up call I needed.”

“God, Duke...I never knew…”

“No reason you should've known, it was while I was away.”

“I know but you left because of me and you ended up in another kind of hell…”

Duke nodded. “I got out though. Sorted my life out, well, kinda. Found my way back here.”

“You did. I’m so proud of you....you got out of a horrible situation that a lot of people wouldn’t have been able to. You are so strong...do you need to stop?”

Duke shook his head. “I'm good. Just...just maybe don't ask what I had to do to get out. I'm not proud of it, no one got hurt, physically anyway, but it wasn't my finest hour.”

Nathan nodded. “If you don’t want to tell me I respect that. I really only have one more question and you don’t have to answer it. Did he… was there any sexual abuse? I’m not trying to upset you… I just… now that everything is back at the surface in your brain… I don’t want to be blindsided if you get any flashbacks. But seriously, if you don’t want to answer please tell me.”

“...Yeah.”

Nathan felt as though someone just ripped his heart out. He was in awe of how strong Duke was. All that this person did to him and he was still a soft, loving man… he survived what would break most people. “You don’t have to tell me anything else unless you want to. I love you so much. Thank you for trusting me with all of this.”

“Nothing else to tell. I can't even bring myself to be sorry he's dead.”

“You don’t have to be sorry. It’s okay to feel nothing.” He held Duke close for a moment before pulling back a little. “Can you kiss me now?”

Duke smiled and brought his hand up to rest on Nathan's jaw, leaning in to kiss him.

Nathan relaxed into the kiss, letting Duke take control.

“I love you so much,” Duke said breathlessly when he pulled away. “If he'd hurt you…”

“He didn’t. You stopped him. I’m okay.” He reached for Duke’s hand and brought it to his lips, placing a soft kiss on his wrist, and then his palm.

Duke nodded. “I killed someone, Nate. How...how am I supposed to live with that?”

“It’s not easy. Especially since you knew him. But he forced your hand. You didn’t have a choice. And this is one time no one is going to tell you that there was another choice. You did the right thing no matter what your brain is making you feel. I am going to get you through this. I promise.”

“I know I didn't have a choice, that doesn't make it any easier to live with.”

“No, it doesn’t. And you never quite get over it but you can move past it. Claire will be able to help you with this...trust me.”

Duke kissed him gently. “Yeah. I know you've been through all this before.”

“This isn’t about me right now. Yes, I’ve been here... twice...but never like this. Never someone I knew like you knew him.”

“I'll call Claire in the morning,” Duke promised. “Don't want to lay all this on you.”

“No...that is so not what I meant. You can talk to me. She’s just more qualified than I am. And you won’t have to call her. She’ll probably be at the station in the morning anyway.”

“No, I know you didn't mean that I can't talk to you but I don't want to dump it all on you. You're my partner, not my therapist.”

“Fair enough. Just know I’m always here… whenever you need to talk.”

“Thanks,” Duke said softly, kissing his forehead again. “You always take such good care of me and I have no idea what I did to deserve you but I'm so so glad you're in my life.”

“I feel the same about you. I’m glad we finally got our acts together and figured out we truly belong together.” Nathan said, kissing him. “Sounds like the Chief is home.”

“Yeah, figured that was his car I heard.”

“We’re going to have to get up soon. We can come back after you give your statement and spend the rest of the day in bed. Sound okay?”

Duke groaned. “No, it sounds shit. All of it sounds shit but yeah, that sounds...as good as it's getting.”

“I kinda meant the spending the day in bed with me…” Nathan teased.

“It'll make up for the other stuff, anyway.”

Nathan managed a small chuckle. “Not doing a lot for my ego…” He stopped mid sentence and turned to Duke. “What is that smell? Is that…”

“Pancakes?”

“Let’s go downstairs…”

Chapter Text

Duke dragged himself off the bed and made a vague attempt at straightening his clothes before he followed Nathan down the stairs, hoping he didn't still reek of whiskey.

Nathan took Duke’s hand and walked into the kitchen to find the Chief stacking pancakes on a plate. “Dad? You’re cooking pancakes?”

Garland turned and squinted at Nathan. “Knew there was a reason we promoted you to detective. Yes, I’m making pancakes. Thought you both could use some comfort food… probably not as good as Duke’s but…”

Duke glanced at Nathan who was staring at his father with an expression of disbelief that Duke was fairly sure mirrored his own. “Thanks,” he managed to say after a minute.

“Here...sit...eat...I’ll get the syrup.” Garland said, handing the plate of pancakes to Nathan who set them down and put some on Duke’s plate before taking some for himself.

Garland came back to the table with the syrup and a book. He placed the book next to Duke. “I...uh, found this yesterday after I left the Rouge. I know Elizabeth would’ve wanted you to have it.”

“...Thank you..I...don't really know what to say,” Duke said quietly, picking up the book that he'd recognised instantly.

Garland cleared his throat as he sat down. “You’re part of the family, Duke. Can’t deny that anymore...besides if you’re seriously going to try to get Nathan to cook, his mom’s recipes might be the incentive he needs. He’s got to learn sometime and he’s not getting any younger…”

Duke nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

“Is that her cookbook?” Nathan asked.

Garland nodded. “Haven’t really had much use for it. Not a lot of recipes I’ll even attempt. Was hoping you both would like it.”

“We do...thank you,” Nathan said softly.

“Should’ve given it to you a long time ago…”

“I could...uh, I could make something tonight. If you'd like…?” Duke said.

“If it’s not too much trouble. You’ll probably need to go shopping though,” Garland said.

“No trouble. You were coming to dinner with us anyway, I'll just cook here instead. We can go shopping after we've been to the station,” Duke glanced in Nathan's direction.

“Of course. We’ll head to the station after we get dressed. Get this over with,” Nathan agreed.

“Shouldn’t take more than ten minutes. We just need to fill in a few spots on the paperwork. Everything else we’ll get from forensics.”

Duke nodded. “Be good to get it done so I don't have to think about it any more.”

“Oh, so you don’t keep worrying how he got in...he had your keys. Did you have a spare set in your truck?” Garland asked.

“Uh, yeah. Figured you guys had found them in the wreckage. Doesn't explain how he got in though, we double bolt the door from the inside.”

Garland glanced at Nathan who, judging by the slightly sick expression on his face, clearly knew what he was about to say. “We know how he got in…”

Duke stared at him, horrified. “He was there, wasn't he? While we were there. While we were having dinner...while we were... sleeping.”

Garland sighed, not wanting to add to Duke’s stress but knowing from experience it was better he found out here and not at the station. “Our best guess is that he let himself in while you were getting your cast off. And just waited.”

Nathan reached across the table and grabbed Duke’s hand. “It’s over. He can’t hurt us anymore.”

Duke yanked his hand away and bolted for the bathroom. After he'd finished throwing up barely digested pancakes, he flushed the toilet and sat on the floor, breathing hard.

Garland took deep breath and rubbed his forehead. “I’m sorry. Should’ve told him before the pancakes. Just knew it would be worse if Dwight told him at the station.”

Nathan shook his head. “Not blaming you for anything. You’re right. He’ll be okay.” Nathan moved to get up but Garland grabbed his arm.

“Right about now, he’s realizing you were alone on that boat with someone who could have killed you. He can’t go to the station today. I’ll take his statement here when he’s done in there. Nathan, I really am sorry for everything.”

Nathan nodded and went to the bathroom. He knocked on the door. “Can I come in?”

“Yeah,” Duke croaked.

Nathan opened the door to find Duke sitting on the floor leaning against the tub. “Chief said he’s going to take your statement here. You won’t have to go to the station at all.”

Duke nodded. “That'd be good. Don't want to fuck anything up, though. If I need to go to the station, I can.”

“There isn’t anything to fuck up. All we really need is who he was. When you knew him and what exactly happened. Hell, I could tell him most of that and you’d just have to sign it. The reports don’t need speculation as to why he tried to kill us.” Nathan said, moving around the bathroom to find a spare toothbrush and the toothpaste. Once he found them he gave it to Duke with a glass of water.

Duke took them and brushed his teeth. “How much detail are they going to need? About the relationship I had with him?”

“Nothing you don’t want to tell. I mean that does go to motive but it’s a cut and dry self defense case. If it was my gun or if there was an arrest then yes you would need to disclose everything. But this is not going to trial. You aren’t being charged. We will file the paperwork with the DA and it’ll be over.” Nathan assured him, taking the toothbrush when he handed it back to him.

“He was there, Nate. He could've killed you while I was out. He could've...while we were having dinner or having sex. He was there that whole time and neither of us had a fucking clue.”

“I know. He didn’t though. He had his agenda and you stopped him. You saved me.” Nathan said, sitting on the floor next to him. “Oh, and thank you for not mentioning the sex in front of the Chief...that would have been all kinds of mortifying.”

Duke managed a small smile. “For all of us.” He leaned his head back, staring at the ceiling. “Gonna need to step up security on the Rouge. We knew he was coming and it still wasn't enough. He wasn't the only one out there, Nate. Next time...someone else…”

“We can’t think like that. You’ve been home for what? Ten years? If anyone else was coming wouldn’t they have already found you? We can definitely step up security, no problem, but we can’t think...next time. That’s just a variation of what if.”

“Maybe. What ifs have kept me alive this long though. If I let my guard down again…”

“Okay, I get it. We’ll tighten the security but you have to try not to let this run our lives… please. I know it’s a lot to ask right now, that’s why all I’m asking is you try.”

Duke nodded. “I'll try. I can't promise anything beyond that but I'll try.”

Nathan gave him a quick kiss. “That’s all I ask. You ready to talk to the Chief? Because after that and a quick shopping trip, I think you owe me a day in bed…”

Duke stood up and stretched. “Ready as I'll ever be.”

Nathan followed him back in the kitchen where the Chief was cleaning up breakfast.

Garland looked up at Nathan and Duke. “You okay? You want to do this here or at the station? And I have to ask because it’s protocol...do you want a lawyer?”

“Here's fine, long as there's no conflict of interest issues. I'll call a lawyer if I feel I need one but I've been down this road enough times to know what to say or not say.”

“I called the DA last night, told them we aren’t arresting you. As long as the forensics checks out with your story...and I have not reason to think it won’t, she was fine with not charging you. All I need from you is a recounting of what happened last night. It’ll be recorded so there will be no conflict or anything. This okay with you?” Garland asked again.

Duke nodded. “Yeah. Go for it.”

Garland motioned for him to sit and he set the small tape recorder on the table. “Just state your name and tell me what led to the shooting.”

Duke sat and took the mug of coffee Nathan offered, holding it in hands that wouldn't stop shaking. He slowly recounted the events of the past six weeks, right up the the point he pulled the trigger.

“Is there anything else you want to tell me? Otherwise we’re done.” Garland said.

“No. You know where to find me if anything else comes up.”

Garland turned off the tape recorder and stood up. “Gonna bring this to Dwight so he can file the report with the DA. I’ll be staying at the station so if you need anything you know where I’ll be.”

“We’ll pick up stuff for dinner. Be home around six?” Nathan said, looking to Duke for confirmation.

“Six would be good. Any particular recipe you'd like me to try? Either of you?”

“Anything in that book is fine. I’m heading out.” Garland said, reaching for his keys and heading out the door.

“Surprise me.” Nathan said, handing him Elizabeth’s cookbook.

Duke took it from him and slowly leafed through the well read pages. Some had handwritten notes, Elizabeth's own variations on each recipe. He stopped when he got to the recipe for meatloaf. “Nutmeg. Of course it was nutmeg. No wonder I could never get it quite right,” he said quietly.

Nathan gave him a confused look. “What was that?”

“Meatloaf. She added a pinch of nutmeg. I tried so many times to recreate it over the years but I couldn't remember everything she used to put in it. It was nutmeg.”

“I do know she was always doing that. She said to me once that you could change a whole dish just by the spices you put in it. Of course I never really understood that…”

“No, you really can. I don't know why I didn't think of nutmeg before.” Duke carefully closed the book. “Right. Shopping. Meatloaf ingredients.”

“Do you want me to go with you? Or would you like to go alone?”

“Come with?” Duke said, getting to his feet.

“Of course. Gotta get dressed first.”

Duke nodded and followed him up the stairs to get changed into clothes that he hadn't slept in.

They changed quickly and got into the Bronco. The drive to the food store was quick. “We probably need everything...you know the Chief doesn't cook much.”

“Yeah, I figured,” Duke said, already picking up ingredients and throwing them into the cart absentmindedly.

“We should probably get food for a few days. Maybe something for dessert, too?”

“It'll be that long before the Rouge is released?” Duke said, picking out some apples to make a pie.

“No...probably only today and tomorrow. Just hate that my father doesn’t have real food...I mean I have you to keep me from eating like crap…”

“I'll double up on everything and make extra for his freezer.”

“Really? You’d do that?”

Duke gave him a strange look. “Yeah. Why wouldn't I?”

“Because until two days ago I was convinced my father was never going to accept that we’re together.”

“He seems to have accepted it now. Look, Nathan, he's your family, you care about him, if I can do something to help then I will.”

“Thank you. You are so good to me.”

“Says the man who's just spent six weeks taking care of me,” Duke said, smiling.

“Because I love you...okay, yeah I get it.”

“Good. Anything else we need? I've got ingredients for meatloaf, apple pie, pear crumble, and meatballs with marinara sauce. Beer. We need beer,” Duke said, already wandering off to pick up some beers.

Nathan followed Duke and waited while he chose the beer. “I think that’s all we need. Wait… coffee...we need better coffee…”

“We definitely need better coffee,” Duke said, striding off to pick out some of the best stuff.

They checked out and loaded everything in the Bronco. “When we get back we can get a few hours sleep. How long do you need to cook?”

“Need to make pastry for the pie so...maybe three hours? Not all of that'll be cooking though.”

“Well, it’s only nine now so I doubt we’ll sleep until three so we should be good. Though I think we both need a shower as well…” Nathan said, pulling into the driveway.

“Yeah, I…” Duke trailed off. “We didn't put the, uh...supplies away before we fell asleep last night, did we? Before everything happened, I mean.”

Nathan shook his head. “Hopefully, no one noticed. But it’s not like we haven’t been living together for almost five years...it’s not going to be a shock to anyone that we have sex...why, does it bother you we forgot?”

“No one noticed,” Duke snorted. “It was a room full of cops, Nate, I think they noticed. It doesn't particularly bother me aside from the fact your dad was in there.”

Nathan rubbed his forehead. “Uh...yeah...he was. Maybe Dwight moved it?”

Duke gave him a look. “In an active crime scene? No, I really don't think Dwight moved anything.”

“Okay, you know what...I’m almost forty. As long as my father never walks in on us...I’m good. It’s not like he doesn’t know. I mean how many times did you sneak into my room the summer before college?” Nathan said, unlocking the front door.

“Yeah, no, I know he knows but still…”

“Wait, is this bothering you?”

“Not really,” Duke shrugged.

“Because yeah it’s embarrassing if my father knew what we were doing but I’m not ashamed of it.”

“I didn't say I was ashamed of it. It's just...awkward.”

Nathan set the bags on the counter. “Yeah it is. But obviously he didn’t say anything. Let’s get this put away. So I can get back in bed and wrap my arms around you.”

“Yeah. Feel like I could sleep for a week.”

Nathan helped Duke put everything away and then he grabbed his hand to lead him back upstairs. He stripped down to his boxers and got into the bed. “Ah, this feels good. I didn’t realize how tired I am.”

Duke peeled off his clothes and fell onto the bed beside Nathan. “Well we did only sleep for like...two hours last night and a lot's happened since then.”

“I know. I just wasn’t tired at all. I know it was the adrenaline but still. C’mere...I want to feel you next to me.”

Duke rolled towards him, folding himself against Nathan.

Nathan kissed his cheek and wrapped his arms around Duke. “I love you.”

“Love you too. Kinda funny being back in your old room.”

“And not having to sneak in?”

“Yeah. Was kinda fun doing it last night.”

“That was actually very hot.”

Duke grinned and kissed him.

Nathan pulled him close. “Sleep.”

“I'll try. Still a bit too wired to sleep and you know what I'm like, two hours is enough some nights.”

“Okay, then just stay with me?” Nathan asked, trailing his fingers up Duke’s side.

“Not going anywhere, just gonna stay right here while you sleep.”

Nathan closed his eyes but still softly stroked Duke’s side, needing to feel that he was still there.

Duke wrapped his arms around Nathan, holding him close and gently running his fingers up and down Nathan's back.

“Mmm...feels nice…” Nathan said softly.

“Get some sleep, Nate,” Duke murmured.

Nathan shifted in Duke’s arms and let himself fall asleep.

Duke held him while he slept, replaying things in his mind. Stuff from the past, some from the last six weeks. As he ran through everything, he vaguely wondered if he'd be able to stick the pieces of his shattered soul back together again once again.

Nathan woke with a start, momentarily forgetting where he was. He felt Duke’s arms around him and relaxed. “Hey…” he said sleepily.

“Hey,” Duke said, kissing his forehead.

Nathan yawned. “You sleep at all?”

“Nope.”

“You okay?”

“Yeah, I'm good. Gonna grab a shower.”

“Okay. I’ll be here.”

“Ok,” Duke kissed his forehead again and got up, pausing to grab the washbag Nathan had packed for him the night before. He spent ages in the shower and even he wasn't sure if he was letting the water wash away his thoughts or if he was trying to drown himself. Either way, he was in there long enough that Nathan came looking for him.

Nathan pushed the door to the bathroom open slowly. “Duke? You sure you’re okay?” He asked, sounding fully awake and slightly worried.

Duke stuck his head round the shower curtain. “Yeah, I'm good. Sorry, am I taking ages?”

“Kinda. I still need to shower before you start dinner...but I’ll just use my father’s shower...stay as long as you need,” Nathan said, turning to leave.

“Ok. Won't be long,” Duke called after him.

Nathan took a quick shower in his father’s bathroom, then went back to his old bedroom and sat on the bed in his towel to wait for Duke.

Another ten minutes went by before Duke finally emerged from the shower, a towel wrapped around his waist.

“You are gorgeous…”

“Yeah,” Duke said, grinning.

“Also, still a touch conceited,” Nathan laughed, reaching around him to get clothes out of the bag.

“It's called confidence, Nate. You did pack clothes for me, right?”

“No, I thought you could just walk around naked...you’re confident enough, right?”

“Right,” Duke said, standing up and pulling the towel off.

“C’mere, Mr. Confident Show Off…”

Duke grinned and sauntered back to Nathan.

Nathan sat down on the bed and pulled Duke down so he was straddling his thighs. He took Duke’s face in his hands and kissed him fiercely. “Yes, I packed you clothes. They’re probably tucked behind the pajama pants you’re going to have to wear tonight.”

Duke whined. “I hate sleeping in pants.”

Nathan kissed him again. “I know. But it’s only one night...if you do I’ll give you a surprise before bed…”

“A surprise?” Duke brightened.

“Uh huh...unless you want it now…” Nathan teased, running his hands over Duke’s thigh.

“Oh, that sort of surprise?” Duke grinned.

“Well, I did call the Chief while you were in the shower and ask him to pick up something for us...so, you can choose which surprise you want,” Nathan said, grinning back.

Duke considered that for a moment. “Does it have to be a choice?”

Nathan continued to stroke Duke’s thighs. “I can’t say no to you...you don’t have to choose… if you wear the pants to bed…”

“I promise I will wear the pants to bed.”

“So, when do you want my surprise?”

“Now.”

Nathan manoeuvred himself out from under Duke and pushed him onto the bed so he could stretch out beside him, leaning in to kiss his neck and stroke his cock.  It only took a few quick strokes to get Duke hard and Nathan grinned. “You want it quick or slow and teasing?”

“Quick. Definitely...quick,” Duke said, reaching to curl his fingers around the nape of Nathan's neck.

Nathan nipped at Duke’s neck while he stroked his cock, building to a rhythm he knew Duke enjoyed. “Good?”

“Oh god,” Duke groaned. “So good.”

Nathan moved from Duke’s neck to kiss him hard and fierce, coaxing his mouth open so he could sweep his tongue inside. He increased the pace and pressure of his strokes, occasionally swiping his thumb softly over the tip.

Duke let Nathan swallow his moans and soft sounds of pleasure, thrusting into his hand.

With just a few more quick strokes, Duke was spilling into Nathan’s hand.

“Quick enough?” Nathan asked when he broke the kiss.

Duke stretched lazily. “Perfect.”

“Stay there,” he said, heading to the bathroom, returning a minute later with a damp washcloth so he could clean Duke gently. “Don’t want that long lazy shower to be in vain.” He tossed the washcloth on Duke’s discarded towel and searched the bag until he found Duke’s clothes. He threw the shirt and pants to him. “See, I told you I packed them. You’ll get your other surprise later…”

Still relaxed from Nathan's tender care, Duke took a minute longer to enjoy the blissful post-orgasmic haze before he sat up and started getting dressed. “Sure you don't want me to reciprocate?”

“Later. This was for you…” Nathan said, pulling on his clothes.

“Thanks,” Duke said, pulling a half dressed Nathan into his arms.

“Well, I did it for purely selfish reasons you know…”

“Oh, of course. It couldn't possibly be anything else with you,” Duke teased gently.

“Smart ass...I meant that I can’t get enough of your moans of pleasure...I love that I can make you feel so good. And now I think we need to get dressed so you can go start cooking.”

Duke kissed him gently. “We definitely need to get dressed or I'm dragging you back to bed.”

“Maybe later...you have to cook and we decided that we didn’t want the Chief to catch us… besides, I knew I forgot to pack something…” Nathan teased.

Duke sighed dramatically. “So practical.”

Nathan laughed and pulled up his pants. “C’mon. I’ll keep you company.”

“Uh, no, you’re not just keeping me company, you’re helping.”

“What?” Nathan asked, voice rising almost to a squeak.

“Helping.”

Nathan groaned, “I thought you were going to help feed my father not poison him…”

“I am.  I’m also going to teach you to cook at the same time.  Stop complaining.”

Nathan sighed and resigned himself to once again attempting to learn to cook. “I just hope I don’t burn the house down.” He grumbled, following Duke downstairs. “And you better keep your hands out of my pants.” He added for good measure.

“You won’t and I will.”

Nathan continued to follow Duke into the kitchen. “Okay, I’m in a kitchen...now what?”

“Open the recipe book to the meatloaf recipe on page 93.”

Nathan did as he was told and opened the book on the table.

“Get out all of the ingredients listed,” Duke told him as he gathered the ingredients he needed to make the pastry for the apple pie.

Nathan looked at the recipe. “There are eggs in meatloaf? Seriously?”

“There are eggs in meatloaf.  Stop questioning, start doing,” Duke said, brandishing his rolling pin menacingly, having already whipped up a batch of pastry in the time it took Nathan to open the book and stare at the list of ingredients.

“Sorry, not everyone is a gourmet cook ya know.” Nathan joked, gathering all the ingredients and putting them on the table.

“I’m not trying to teach you to be a gourmet cook, I’m trying to teach you not to starve to death if anything happens to me.”

A lump formed in Nathan’s throat as he watched Duke rolling out pastry.  He started to say something but thought better of it. It had just been a casual remark, he told himself, not something serious.  So he swallowed hard and pushed his emotions to one side. “Yeah, not starving would be good.”

“It would,” Duke said, neatly moving the pastry to the pie dish.

“Okay, all the stuff is here. Now what?” Nathan asked, somewhat confused as he stared at the ingredients.

Duke passed him a clean bowl.  “Measure them all out into here.”

“Are you sure you want me to do this unsupervised?”

“You can follow instructions, right?  You’ll be fine.”

“Is this some sort of test? Yes, I can follow instructions...and I have tried in the past...just not sure where I mess everything up.”

“You won’t mess up.  Look, want me to go through it with you?”

“You don’t have to sound so exasperated with me you know. I’ll do it…” Nathan said, picking up the measuring cups.

“I wasn’t...I’m not exasperated with you, Nate, I just know you can do it.  You can cook fine, you just lack confidence and then you panic and it goes wrong and then you lose more confidence.  If you want me to, I’ll watch everything you do and tell you if you’re going wrong. Otherwise, I have every faith in you,” Duke said, crossing the kitchen to kiss Nathan’s cheek.

Nathan sighed and started measuring the ingredients to put them in the bowl. He knew cooking wasn’t that hard. If it was his mother never would have let them cook with her. Duke was right he just lacked confidence. That and he had a habit of burning things.

Duke surreptitiously kept a watchful eye on him as he continued preparing the apple pie, smiling when Nathan got all of the quantities right.

“Everything is measured and in the bowl.”

“Take the wooden spoon and mix it all together. Use your hands if it's easier, just make sure it's well mixed so you don't end up with a mouthful that's all mustard powder and none in the rest of it.”

“You know,  now I remember my mom making this...and taking my hands in hers to squish it all together...how did I forget that?” Nathan asked wistfully.

“I remember that,  too,” Duke said softly.

Nathan took a deep breath and smiled at Duke. “You’d think with all the time we spent in here with her I’d be better at this,” he said, shoving his hands into the bowl of ingredients to mix them together.

“Not really,” Duke said, putting the now prepped apple pie in the fridge to cook later. “Your memories of cooking with her got all mixed up with your grief and you couldn't think about it so you forgot what she taught you.”

“Maybe but then why are you such a good cook? We both loved her.” Nathan asked, looking down at the meat mixture to make sure it was mixed thoroughly.

“Because,” Duke said, drying his hands and leaning back against the counter, “I had to be. After your mom died...there was no one to cook for me, hell, there was rarely any food in the house that I hadn't stolen. So I tried to remember what she'd shown us, got it wrong, practiced, got it vaguely right. Between what she taught us and what I taught myself, I had enough skills that when I left here, I could pick up the occasional shift as a kitchen hand, learnt some more, experimented and... voilà. I can cook.”

Nathan looked up at Duke. “I am so sorry. I wasn’t a very good friend to you back then. I should have known...should have seen…”

“You were caught up in worry, then grief, and I did a pretty good job of hiding it. From you and everyone else. You couldn't've known.”

“You did a very good job of hiding it. But I was also too damn oblivious...I mean c’mon...how many times did I see you naked and never question why you were so damn skinny? But years later, after the academy and after you left...I realized because by then I knew all the signs...so even though you didn’t want me to know...I’m still sorry.”

“Thanks,” Duke said quietly. “No one else saw it either. None of the teachers, the cops… don't be too hard on yourself over it.”

“I know, and the rational part of my brain understands that. But the emotional part doesn’t. I loved you. I should’ve noticed,” he said, walking across the kitchen so he could wash his hands and hug Duke tightly. “You deserved better. And I’m never going to stop taking care of you and giving you everything I can to make you feel happy and loved.”

“You do,” Duke said quietly. “You do make me feel like that. Don't ever doubt that.”

“I know that sometimes I can be too much like my dad and sometimes I don’t turn off the cop thing. I know that hurts, I’m trying to work on that.”

“Nate,” Duke said gently. “You're doing fine. I love you. Just how you are. Not if you did less of this or more of that. Just how you are.”

“And I love you, just how you are,” he said, kissing Duke’s cheek. “Now what do we do with that blob of meat in the bowl?”

“We put it in this tin. After we've greased and lined it with baking parchment,” Duke said, showing Nathan how to do just that.

“Anything else we need to do?”

“Nope. That's everything ready to go in the oven at... five-ish.”

“That leaves us a few hours. What would you like to do?”

“Clean. This place could do with a good spring clean.”

Nathan looked around the kitchen and although it wasn’t disgusting, it did need to be cleaned. “Okay, where would you like to start?”

“Start at the top, work down. Decobweb, clean windows, dust all the furniture, deep clean kitchen and bathrooms, vacuum and mop.”

“You think we have enough time?” Nathan half joked, opening a small closet next to the back door that was full of cleaning supplies.

“Ten minutes a room, one short break, we'll be done in two hours.”

“And we’ll probably need another shower,” Nathan said, heading to the living room.

“Probably. Start upstairs? Then we won't bring dirt and dust down from up there when we clean down here…”

“Good point. I’ll do the bathrooms…”

Duke was already upstairs and cleaning the bedrooms before he'd finished speaking. He cleaned like he cooked - a whirlwind of activity that would've been destructive if his energy hadn't been focussed in completely the right direction. He dusted and cleaned like his sanity depended on it. Maybe it did.

With each room he cleaned (and he'd finished cleaning the living room before Nathan came back downstairs) he felt a little bit lighter. Less stuck in his own head.

Nathan came back downstairs in time to help Duke clean the kitchen. “It’s just the kitchen and dining room left. Then we can shower before dinner needs to start cooking. How are you doing? I know cleaning calms you…”

“Better,” Duke said, emptying the cupboards so he could clean the shelves. As he reached the back of the cupboard that was filled with a vast array of mismatched mugs, he stopped, removing the last mug very, very carefully and cradling it in his hands. “She kept it. Your dad...kept it,” he said quietly, not quite able to hide the waver in his voice as he stared at the mug.

It was a simple mug, one which pretty much every family kitchen in the country probably had. A white mug with the words “World's Greatest Mom” printed on it and decorated with flowers and hearts. He'd bought it for Elizabeth after Laverne had paid him a couple of dollars for mowing her lawn, back when he was just big enough to push the lawnmower around her small yard, and he'd presented it to her proudly, standing here in the small kitchen with its warmth and love. She'd crouched down and hugged him and made him a batch of cookies and told him she loved him like he was her very own son.

He'd cried, then, sobbed into her apron and apologised for being such a baby, while she stroked his back and told him there was nothing wrong with crying.

He'd cried then and he cried now, openly, letting go of all the stress and emotions of the last few weeks with great, wracking sobs that shook his whole body.

Nathan gently took the mug out of his hands so he wouldn’t accidentally drop it, wrapped his arms around Duke and held him tightly, gently stroking his hair. Words wouldn’t mean anything right now so he just held Duke and let him cry. Just like Duke did for him all those years ago.

Duke clung to him, his face buried in Nathan's shirt, and cried until he couldn't any more.

Nathan kept holding him and pressed kisses into his hair. “She really did love you. She wanted to make sure you were safe and loved. Asked my dad all the time if she could just keep you.”

Duke nodded. “She was everything to me,” he said, his voice cracking again as he let himself feel the grief that he hadn't processed before. At twelve, he'd wanted to be strong for Nathan. By the time they were sharing memories, the rawness of the loss had passed, but right here, right now, it felt like it was just yesterday.

“I know. She was incredible. As a child I thought every mom was like her, but as an adult and especially as a cop, I know now that she was special. And that’s probably why the Chief changed. He knew that. He lost her, too. That doesn’t excuse anything he’s said or done to you over the years, though. She’d be so proud of you. You turned your life around and you never stopped being a good person. You faced some terrible shit and never lost your caring loving heart. I am so lucky to have you.”

Duke sniffled and nodded again, pulling away from Nathan to wipe his eyes on his sleeve. “Let's get this cleaning finished, then I'm gonna make cookies.”

Nathan nodded. “Okay, if that’s what you want to do. You know I’ll never say no to your cookies.” He gave Duke one more kiss and started helping him put all the mugs away, leaving Elizabeth’s near the front.

Duke smiled but didn't say anything, he just carried on with cleaning, then sat down to thumb through the recipe book so he could make cookies just the way Elizabeth used to.

“Which ones are you making?” Nathan asked, sitting next to him.

“Triple chocolate chip. Could you run to the store?”

“Sure, just text me what you need.”

Duke kissed his cheek and text him a list. While Nathan was at the store, he added the finishing touches to the apple pie and popped it in the oven so it would have time to cook and cool ready for after dinner.

Nathan walked into the house and stopped for a moment, just breathing in the smell of the apple pie cooking. He smiled and brought Duke the ingredients for the cookies.

“Thanks,” Duke gave him a brief kiss as the took the bag of ingredients and quickly whipped up a batch of cookie dough, following the recipe to the letter. As soon as it was ready and the cookies cut out, he slid the baking tray into the oven with the pie. “Go grab a shower, these'll be ready when you come out.”

Nathan took a quick shower and got dressed. He left another set of clean clothes on his bed for Duke and gathered up all the towels and discarded clothes from the night before, putting them all in the washer when he got downstairs. “When you’re done with your shower bring everything down so I can wash them before dinner.”

“Will do. Give the cookies a couple more minutes to cool before you try eating them.”

Nathan laughed. “You know me so well.”

“Yep,” Duke smiled and kissed him before he dashed up the stairs to shower. He was back ten minutes later, his hair still damp. “Laundry's in the machine and I switched it on,” he said, putting the meatloaf into the oven.

“Chief will be home in about an hour or so. He’s making a quick stop for me, we have a little time to relax?”

“Yeah, everything's done, just gotta wait for the meatloaf to cook. It'll be about an hour. How were the cookies?”

“Delicious. Just like mom’s.” Nathan said, leading Duke over to the couch. He got himself settled and pulled Duke down so he was lying with his head in Nathan’s lap.

Duke smiled up at him. “There any left or did you eat the lot?

“I’m insulted! I left some for you and the Chief,” Nathan said, running his fingers through Duke’s hair.

“One each, then?” Duke teased, practically purring under Nathan's touch.

“No...I think I left more.”

“Think?” Duke laughed.

“They were so good I may have lost count,” Nathan teased. “Seriously, I only ate three.”

“Only three? I'm disappointed in you, Nate. I thought you'd manage at least six.”

“I could...but then I wouldn't be able to eat the pie later,” he said, smiling at Duke.

“True,” Duke said, smiling back and nudging his head into Nathan's hand to demand more stroking.

Nathan laughed. “You’re like a cat,” he said, stroking his hair.

They were both so relaxed they didn’t hear Garland until he closed the front door and Duke immediately started to leap up, scrambling out of Nathan’s lap.

“Duke, you don’t have to get up,” Garland said kindly, looking around. “Did you clean? And is that apple pie?” He asked, taking a deep breath.

Duke settled back, leaning against Nathan rather than lying down with his head in his lap. “We did and it is. Also, cookies. Triple chocolate chip. Meatloaf should be about fifteen minutes.”

A lump formed in Garland’s throat and he swallowed it down.  Memories he thought he’d long since forgotten were rushing back to him, prompted by the sweet scent of apple pie and the sight of Nathan and Duke on the couch together, their arms wrapped around one another, looking as relaxed as they could be.  Elizabeth would have been thrilled they were together.

He cleared his throat. “Nathan, I’ll put this on the table. And I’m going to go change. I’ll be right down,” he said, setting a bag on the kitchen table on his way upstairs.

“I should go check on the meatloaf,” Duke said, stretching. “Don't want it to get overdone and dry out.”

Nathan followed him and waited while Duke checked the meatloaf, then he gestured to the bag on the table. “That’s for you.”

“Uh, thanks,” Duke said, peering inside the bag and pulling out a bottle of twenty five year old Glenfiddich. “Thank you,” he said softly, drawing Nathan into a hug and kissing his forehead.

“You know I never wanted to control your drinking.” Nathan said softly.

“I know,” Duke kissed him again.

“I’ll set the table.”

“I'll get the beers.”

Garland walked into the dining room just as they were putting the food on the table. “Looks good. This place hasn’t smelled so good in a long time.”

Duke gave him a small smile. “Hope you don't mind me taking over your kitchen.”

“When you make things like this? No, I don’t mind at all,” Garland replied, taking a bite of the meatloaf. He shook his head slightly and took another bite.

“Something wrong?” Nathan asked.

“Just like I remembered that’s all. I know you think I’ve forgotten her but I still miss your mother,” he said.  “Duke, this is perfect.”

“Yeah,” Duke smiled softly. “Nathan made it, I just threw it in the oven.”

“You did good, son. Your mom would be proud of you...both of you. And not just for dinner.” He cleared his throat before continuing. “I was wrong about a lot of things but most of all I was wrong about you, Duke. Don’t expect you to forgive me for all I put you through but want you to know you are always welcome here.”

“Thank you. I did a lot of sh- uh, stuff that I'm not proud of and I appreciate you being able to see that I've changed.”

“Yeah, you made some bad decisions. Actually some really stupid ones but that’s in the past.” He put up his hand when it looked like Nathan was going to interrupt. “Kept telling Nathan he could do better but don’t think that’s possible. You’ve been taking care of him since you were kids. Elizabeth saw that. I just got caught up in how mad I was at your father. I’m sorry. You are nothing like him. You have a good heart…”

“Hey, I keep telling Nathan he could do better so...maybe you're not far wrong with that one. For some reason he seems to love me anyway.”

“Oh no...you are not starting that again. I love you. And I’m positive there is no one out there who would treat me better or love me more.”

“Love you more? No, probably not,” Duke said softly, turning his puppy dog eyes on Nathan.

Garland groaned. “Okay okay, glad we sorted all this out but now you two are getting sappy. Can we finish eating so I can have some of that pie?”

Duke laughed and picked up his fork again. “Told you you could cook.”

“Only because I had a great teacher.”

Garland shook his head, but he was smiling.

“Yeah, your mom. I didn't teach you any of that, I just gave you the confidence to try again.”

“Yeah, well thank you for that.” Nathan said, putting the last bite of meatloaf in his mouth.

“I could get used to this. Missed having home cooked meals,” Garland said, finishing his meatloaf.

“I said to Nathan earlier, I can always make extra of whatever we're having, stock up your freezer a bit...if that'd be a help…”

Garland looked at Duke strangely. “You’d do that? I’d like that, if it’s not too much trouble.”

“Let me clear this up. And then I’ll get the pie,” Nathan said, gathering the dishes.

“It's no trouble. Can't guarantee you'll like everything but most of it's pretty good.” Duke gave Nathan a smile as he jumped up to help him with the plates.

Nathan put all the dishes in the sink and turned to Duke. “Thank you for all of this.”

“Least I could do. You've spent six weeks doing everything for me…”

“And I’d do it all over again. It wasn’t hard you know.” Nathan said, giving him a soft kiss before he took out plates and forks for the pie.

Duke hummed a sound of disagreement and waggled his hand. “Maybe doing the actual stuff wasn't hard but trying to keep me occupied and resting for as long as I needed to definitely was.”

“Okay, sometimes it was hard but it was worth it. You’re all healed with no restrictions now. Something I plan on taking advantage of very soon,” Nathan said, kissing him softly.

Duke cleared his throat and pulled away. “Want some ice cream with that pie?”

“Sure,” Nathan said over his shoulder on his way to the dining room. He set the plates down and waited for Duke to bring the pie and ice cream out.

Duke followed a minute later with the still-warm apple pie and the tub of vanilla ice cream he'd picked up at the store.

Nathan handed Duke the knife. “You want to serve?”

Duke took the knife from him and neatly cut three slices, flicking them expertly onto the plates and adding a scoop of ice cream to each.

Garland took a bite and smiled. “Now this is good apple pie. Don’t let Rosemary know you can bake like this. She’ll be trying to recruit you to work for her.”

“She's already tried,” Duke said, grinning. “She came into the Gull one night and ordered the chocolate brownie for dessert. Pretty sure she was looking for something to bitch about but she tried to get the recipe out of me and when that failed, she offered me a job as a ‘consultant chef’.”

Garland scoffed. “She just wants to be the only place in town with good pastries.”

“I mean, no one else's come close…”

“Not anyone who sells them,” Nathan agreed.

“True…”

“Nathan, you figured out when you want to come back to work?” Garland asked.

“Uh…,” Nathan faltered, looking over at Duke. “Was hoping to take the rest of the month…”

Garland put another bite of pie in his mouth and looked from Duke to Nathan. “Yeah, I think you both need a little more time. And the councilmen have been after me to start getting you and some of the other officers to start taking their vacation time. Do you know you still have over a year banked? They don’t want to have to pay all that out when you retire.”

“We were hoping to take a long winter break,” Duke gave Nathan a little smile. “Maybe a few months, if that's not too much of a problem.”

Garland laughed. “Maine winters starting to get to you? Just fill out your vacation forms when you figure it out. Nothing ever happens in Haven in the winter, it’s too cold for serious crime.”

“We’ll let you know. I’m going to clean up. You want anything? More pie? Another beer?” Nathan asked.

“You saving that Glenfiddich for something?” Garland asked Duke.

“Always happy to share good whisky,” Duke smiled. “Can you grab three glasses, Nate?”

Nathan put everything in the sink and wrapped up what was left of the pie before joining Duke and his father in the living room. He set the glasses on the coffee table and sat down next to Duke.

Duke poured a healthy shot of whisky into each one and passed a glass each to Garland and Nathan before sitting back with his own, cradling his hand around the glass to warm the amber liquid.

Nathan raised his glass towards Duke. “Toast?”

“To not being dead?”

Nathan looked appalled but Garland snorted with laughter. “That’s always a good thing to toast to. C’mon Nathan, don’t look so horrified.”

Reluctantly, still not appreciating the joke, Nathan lifted his glass towards his father and then turned to Duke to touch their glasses together.

Duke leaned in for their now-traditional double clink, top and bottom. “Sorry,” he murmured.

Nathan pulled him into a hug. “You can be sorry later,” Nathan whispered in his ear before sitting back and bringing his glass to his lips.

Duke cleared his throat and raised his eyebrows. He took a long sip of whisky and sat back. “How're things going over at the Rouge?”

“It’ll be released tomorrow afternoon. Crime scene clean up is happening in the morning. It will look like nothing happened. I’ll have them call you when they’re done. I have your other set of keys at the station with the rest of the evidence. They’ll release your gun as soon as forensics is finished with it.”

“Sounds good. Thanks, I know you've pushed to get this wrapped up quickly.”

“Dwight found out he was just released from prison two weeks before your truck was tampered with. Once the DA heard that and saw all the other evidence, she declared it a cut and dry self defense shooting. Of course we still have to wait for Gloria to file the autopsy report and forensics to finish with your gun but it’s all just filling the blanks. Don’t want you worrying about anything.”

“That...is really good to hear, thank you.”

“Yeah, Dad...thank you for everything. Especially letting us stay here.”

Garland looked uncomfortable with all the thanks. “Wasn’t going to make you stay at the B&B. And it was really nice tonight. I know you’re both a lot older but it brought back some good memories. Maybe you...uh...could stop by every now and then.”

“I think we can do that…,” Nathan said, glancing at Duke.

“Yeah, I'd like that. And you're always welcome on the Rouge, anytime.”

Garland nodded. “Well, five a.m. comes way too fast for this old man. I’m heading up. I’ll make sure someone lets you know when the Rouge is ready.”

After he heard his father close the bedroom door, Nathan turned to Duke. “Want to head up, too? I’ll clean up in the morning…”

Duke nodded and drained the last of his whisky. “Yeah, I'm kinda tired.”

Nathan reached for his hand. “Then let’s go to bed...I think I left your pyjama pants on the bed.”

“You're really holding me to that, huh?” Duke grinned.

“I might be persuaded with a few well placed kisses to let you sleep naked.”

“Oh, so bribery might work? Sure you can be quiet enough for that?”

“Bribery will definitely work and is that a challenge?”

“Yes it fucking is,” Duke murmured, pressing into Nathan's space, his hands gripping Nathan's hips to hold him still while he kissed him hard.

“Upstairs. Not here…” Nathan whispered against Duke’s lips.

“Scared of getting caught? I could jerk you off right here…”

“You wouldn’t…”

“That sounds like a challenge…”

“Do it…”

“Yeah?” Duke said, unbuckling Nathan's belt and undoing his jeans. “You want it quick and dirty, right here in the living room?”

“Yes…” Nathan pleaded.

“Make you come in your shorts like a horny teenager?” Duke murmured, slipping his hand inside Nathan's boxers and grinning when he found him already hard.

“God, that is not fair...you know what your dirty talk does to me...” Nathan whispered into Duke’s ear.

“Yeah, you fucking love it,” Duke nipped at Nathan neck, his hand wrapped around Nathan's cock, moving with short, quick strokes.

Nathan bit his lip to keep from moaning. Between Duke’s hand stroking his cock and his mouth on his neck, he wasn’t going to last long.

Duke tangled his fingers in Nathan's hair, gently pulling his head back so he could graze his teeth over his pulse point, not missing a stroke on his cock.

Nathan stifled a moan and thrust into Duke’s hand, losing himself in the pleasure Duke was giving him.

“God, you're so fucking hot when you're like this, all desperate and needy,” Duke murmured, speeding up his strokes.

“And whose fault is that?” Nathan managed to choke out. “I am so close...god, you are so good.”

“Come for me, Nate,” Duke urged, tightening his grip.

Nathan bit his lip hard enough to taste blood. With one more stroke he was coming into Duke’s hand. He leaned forward to rest his head on Duke’s shoulder, trying to catch his breath.

Duke laughed softly and wrapped his arm around Nathan's waist, holding him up. “Good?”

“You are so fucking good at that...okay, you don’t have to wear the pants.”

“C'mon, I'll go get you a washcloth,” Duke said, pulling his hand out of Nathan's shorts.

Nathan followed Duke upstairs, his legs still a little shaky.

Duke steered him towards the bed and waited until he sat down before he went into the bathroom to wash up. “Get undressed,” he said when he came back, brandishing a warm, damp, washcloth.

Nathan kicked his shoes and socks off and then slid his jeans and boxers off, tossing them next to the bed. He took off his shirt and added it to the pile.

Duke gently cleaned him up, tossed the washcloth onto the pile and pulled off his own clothes. “Ok?” He said softly, collapsing onto the bed beside Nathan.

“I love you,” Nathan said, pulling Duke close and throwing the sheet over them.

“Love you too,” Duke said, snuggling against him.

Nathan kissed Duke softly, “Please try not to throw the sheet off in the middle of the night...just in case.”

“When have you ever known me throw the sheet off? That's usually you, you get too hot, I get too cold…”

“Whatever. Let’s just try to keep our nakedness to ourselves.”

“If you're worried, I'll put on the pants and grab your pyjamas…”

“No, it’s okay. Too tired to move. Want to feel your skin next to mine…” Nathan mumbled, suddenly feeling very tired.

Duke wrapped him up in his arms, holding him close. “Sleep, then,” he said, kissing Nathan on the forehead.

Nathan relaxed in Duke’s arms and drifted off to sleep.

Duke listened to him snoring softly for a few minutes before he fell asleep - despite the nightmares, he slept better than he had for weeks.

They woke, still wrapped around each other, with the sheet on the floor.

“Well, I’m fairly certain we would have heard the Chief if he had walked in here for any reason. Want to grab my pyjama pants? I’m going to go make coffee and clean up the dishes from last night,” Nathan said, stretching.

“Yeah, there's that creaky floorboard just inside your door,” Duke said, rolling out of bed and throwing Nathan's pyjama pants at him before he pulled on his own.

“Huh, you remembered that?”

“How many times did I step on it when we were kids?”

“True...though was thinking of all the times you snuck in here. How many times did I wake up with you curled next to me?”

“A lot,” Duke said softly. “It was warm here and I knew your mom would make pancakes for breakfast and not say anything if I just happened to be here.”

“And I always felt so safe with you next to me. Still do.”

“I'd never let anything happen to you, Nate.”

“I know. You never have.”

“Yeah. C'mon, get dressed, I want to get some stuff made up for your dad's freezer before we go back to the Rouge.”

Nathan stretched again and pulled on his pyjama pants. “Okay, let’s go.”

“You do coffee, I'll...no, you do washing up, I'll do coffee. Think the chief is still here?”

Nathan looked at the clock. “It’s nine. He’s been at the station since six.”

“You Wuornoses and your early mornings.”

Nathan laughed. “I got it from him. But you seem to have broken me of that habit.”

“Not a bad thing,” Duke said as he started making coffee.

“No, it’s not. I like sleeping in a bit.” Nathan said, filling the sink with water.

“I do too. Especially with you.”

“You’re sweet,” Nathan said, giving him a quick kiss. “You want to go get your Landrover today?”

“Yes,” Duke said quickly. “You've been great taking me everywhere but...it'll be nice to be able to take myself.”

“I understand. I’ll still take you anywhere you want to go. But this way you get your freedom back.” Nathan smiled.

“I don't...Nate, I don't want my freedom back so much as I don't want to feel like a burden.”

“You could never be a burden. And I meant freedom as in being able to go anywhere without having to wait for me to take you. Not like sailing off into the sunset freedom.”

“Oh. Good. I don't want that sort of freedom.”

“That’s good to hear. Is that coffee ready yet? The dishes are done so I’m ready to help you get the freezer stocked, but I need coffee.”

Duke slid a steaming mug of coffee over to him. “I was going to do meatballs in marinara sauce. Can make up a few portions and freeze them.”

“Sound easy enough. I’m sure my dad will enjoy it. better than cold take out or half frozen TV dinners.”

“Yeah, he'd just have to make some pasta but the rest can be microwaved.”

“You really are the best. Thank you,” Nathan kissed him before drinking his coffee.

Duke sipped at his own coffee. “Might get dressed before I cook. Properly, I mean. Not sure bare chests and hot oil splatters are a great combination.”

“Probably not,” Nathan agreed.

Duke drained the last of his coffee and went in search of a t-shirt to pull on, coming back a few minutes later wearing one of Nathan's.

Nathan raised an eyebrow. “Wearing my clothes again?”

“... Couldn't find mine…”

“It’s okay. I like how you look in my clothes…”

Duke smiled softly. “I kinda like wearing them.”

Nathan smiled back. “My Dad was right last night, we are very sappy.”

“Sickeningly so.”

“And I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

“Neither would I,” Duke shot Nathan a smile over his shoulder as he pulled ingredients out of the fridge.

“I’m going to pack up all our stuff. I figure we can take a shower when we get back home. Is that okay with you? Or would you rather take one before we go?”

“No, that works. I'll get this done and in the freezer and then I'll be ready.”

Nathan went upstairs and got dressed. He packed their things, leaving clothes for Duke on the bed. By the time he was finished brushing his teeth, Duke was placing the last container of food in the freezer. “I’ll wash the pans. Go get dressed, clothes are on the bed and toothbrush is in the bathroom. Bring the bag down when you are done. I’ll see if Dwight has your keys, so we can go get your truck.”

Duke grinned and raced off to do what he was told, returning moments later with the bag slung over his shoulder and his shirt buttoned crookedly. “Ready?” He asked, bouncing on the balls of his toes.

Nathan glanced at Duke and and let out a small laugh. “Almost. Just let me dry these. Oh, you may want to fix your shirt or everyone is going to think we were doing things we weren’t.”

“Everyone always thinks I've been doing things that I wasn't.” Duke fixed his shirt anyway, though he did leave a button in the middle undone, just because he knew it would bug Nathan.

Nathan put the pots away and turned back to Duke. He raised an eyebrow at the unbuttoned button but resisted the urge to fix it. He knew Duke was seeing how long it would take him before he either asked Duke to fix it or did it himself. “C’mon, let’s go. Can you call Dwight? See if he has the keys or if he can spare a few minutes to meet us at his house?”

Duke looked slightly put out that Nathan hadn't mentioned the button but nodded and took out his phone to call Dwight. He spoke for less than a minute, grinning widely when he ended the call. “Dwight's home, he was waiting for us and he says to bring coffee because it's his day off and Lizzie had a sleepover last night and he can't cope with a houseful of eight year olds without coffee.”

Nathan searched the cabinet to see if his father had a travel mug but he didn’t find one. “Looks like we’ll have to stop at Black House on the way. Let’s go.” Nathan made it to the front door before he turned around, causing Duke to bump into him. “You do this to me on purpose don’t you?” He asked, reaching out to fix the button Duke left open.

Duke grinned. “Yep,” he said, popping the 'p’.

Nathan sighed and shook his head before opening the door. “Why? Why, do I fall for this stuff?”

“Because you love me and you know it amuses me when you fall for it?” Duke said, following him out to the truck, still bouncing slightly.

“Yeah, yeah...shut up.”

Chapter Text

When they arrived at Dwight’s, Nathan barely had time to turn off the engine before Duke was out of the truck and knocking on the door, brandishing the coffee cup in front of him like a shield.

The sound that Dwight made when he took it from him could only be described as a relieved growl. He came out and closed the door behind him. “Twelve eight year olds trying to recreate The Nutcracker before I've had my morning coffee,” he said by way of explanation before guzzling down half the cup at once.

“Sounds...entertaining…”

“Not really but they're having fun so what can you do?” Dwight shrugged. “How're you doing?”

“Better. Still got a lot of shit to work through but...looks like it's over and we can get on with our lives.”

Dwight clapped him on the back, hard enough that Duke stumbled and coughed. “Good attitude. Talk to Claire, she'll help you work through it all.”

“Yeah. I take it she's not here for the dance of the sugarplum fairies as enacted by Lizzie and her friends?”

“No. She gave them candy for breakfast, laughed and went to work.”

Duke couldn't help but laugh.

“Sounds like Claire,” Nathan laughed. “I know Duke is dying to ask for his keys but is actually trying to not act like those eight year olds you have inside.”

“Hey, you want to act like an eight year old, go right on in. I'm ready to pass them off to the nearest vaguely responsible looking adult.”

Duke squawked indignantly. “I'm a very responsible adult. I have a business and everything.”

Dwight rolled his eyes. “Keys,” he said, handing them over. “Started her up yesterday and gave her a quick run. She's got a full tank of fuel and ready to go.”

Duke grinned. “Thanks, Dwight. Seriously, you need help corralling a group of wannabe ballerinas on a sugar high, I'll stick around. Least I can do to say thanks.”

Dwight looked tempted for a minute, then shook his head. “Nah, I've got it. Just don't crash this one, that's all the thanks I need.”

“You have no idea how relieved I am to hear you say that,” Duke said, already halfway off the porch towards the truck.

“Thanks again, Dwight. For everything. Going to call the Chief and make sure the clean up at the Rouge is done. Good luck with your ballerinas,” Nathan said, nodding to the house.

“Anytime. Nice to see him that happy, haven't seen him like that for...since you two finally got together.”

“Yeah? I guess…” Nathan said, watching Duke adjust everything in the Landrover just how he wanted it.

“He's like he was that first time he brought you lunch at the station, when he bounced in, grinning and announced he was there to see his boyfriend.”

Nathan laughed at the memory. “Yeah, I remember. And it took him all of two minutes to realize he was surrounded by police officers. The look on his face was priceless, but he didn’t bolt for the door.  He sat in my office with me while I ate my lunch. God, that seems like such a long time ago.”

“The look on his face wasn't because he was surrounded by cops, it was the dawning realisation that he'd just referred to you as his boyfriend when you'd only been on three dates, in front of the entire Haven PD.”

“I never thought twice about that...guess I just took it for granted that’s what we were but I can see how that might be slightly mortifying for him, especially since no one really knew we were dating…”

Dwight snorted. “Nathan, we all knew. You two've been so obviously in love for as long as I've known you.”

“Good to know everyone seems to know me so well,” Nathan said, shaking his head in amusement. His phone vibrated in his pocket and he pulled it out to read the text. “Rouge has been released. I’m sure Duke will be happy to know that. Thanks again, Dwight.”

“Anytime. Look after each other. See you back at work soon.”

Nathan nodded and headed across the driveway to Duke. “Good news. The Rouge has been released. Why don’t you go take a ride in the Landrover and I’ll go make sure everything is in the right place?”

Duke couldn't quite contain the yelp of delight that escaped as a small squeak. “Would you mind? There's something I want to do…”

“Of course I don’t mind. Go, have fun. We have nothing planned. I’ll be home when you get there.” Nathan said, smiling at how happy Duke was.

“Won't be long,” Duke leaned out of the window to kiss him and made a big show of putting his seatbelt on before he pulled out of Dwight's driveway in a thoroughly more sensible fashion than he normally would have.

Nathan watched him go and then got into the Bronco to drive back to the Rouge.

He parked in his spot at the marina and walked aboard, hesitating for a moment before he unlocked the hatch and went inside. Out of habit, he double bolted the hatch before he went into the bedroom.

Everything was spotless.  The cleanup crew had done a good job and Nathan walked around, putting a few things back in their proper places.

Panic threatened to rise in him.  Being back in the room...alone...wasn’t easy.  He sat on the bed, closed his eyes, and took a few deep, calming breaths.

After a couple of minutes, he opened his eyes and got up, casting a critical eye around the room.  Nothing was out of place so he made the bed and leaned over to close the nightstand drawer, catching a glimpse of a note inside as he did so.  He picked up the note, which had been covering the bottle of lube he and Duke had been worried about, and read it.

This had nothing to do with the crime scene.

You’re welcome.

—Gloria

He chuckled and closed the drawer. After taking another look around, satisfied the room looked the way it should, he went to check the rest of the boat.

Chapter Text

Despite having said he wasn't going to be long, it was another two hours before Duke pulled up, parking his new Landrover beside the Bronco and leaping out, grinning like a Cheshire cat. He practically flew up the gangplank and onto the Rouge and came to an abrupt stop when the hatch didn't open when he turned the handle. His heart pounding in his chest, he knocked.

Nathan rushed to open the hatch, smiling when he saw Duke. “Have a nice ride?”

Duke breathed again when Nathan greeted him. “Yeah. She's a good truck. You ok?”

“Yeah, why?” Nathan asked, moving back to let Duke inside.

“You locked up,” Duke said, glancing around the inside of the ship for anything that was out of place.

“Oh...I guess I just did it out of habit…”

“...It's not exactly a bad habit…”

“True. C’mon let’s go somewhere. Unless you want to stay here for a bit?”

“Could go up to Doble's Beach? Have a late picnic lunch, catch some rays, swim, maybe watch the sunset?”

“Anything you want. You driving?” Nathan grinned, already knowing the answer.

“Yeah,” Duke grinned back. “You grab a blanket and a couple towels, maybe a cooler?”

“Swim trunks, too…,” Nathan said, heading to round up all the things Duke asked for.

“Not quiet enough up there for you to go skinny dipping?”

“Have you always been such an exhibitionist and I’m just too in love with you to notice?”

“...I've always been an exhibitionist…”

Nathan kissed him softly. “Yeah, I’m starting to realize that. I’m still getting the swim trunks. Be right back.”

A few minutes later, Nathan had everything Duke asked for. “Ready?”

“Ready,” Duke said, holding up a picnic basket. “You got beers in that cooler?”

“Yes...what else would I have in the cooler?”

Duke grinned. “Just checking,” he said, heading towards his truck.

Nathan loaded everything into the trunk and got in the passenger seat.

Duke started the engine and set off for the quiet beach, parking up on the sand, well above the high tide line.

Nathan looked out at the water. “It really is beautiful out here.”

“Yeah,” Duke said softly, reaching across to squeeze Nathan's hand.

“I’m glad you came back. And not just because of me but because I can see how much you love it here.”

“There are beautiful places all over the world, Nate, but the best of them are the ones I share with you.”

Nathan smiled and ducked his head, still not used to the words that came out of Duke’s mouth sometimes. “Ready?” He said, hoping Duke didn’t notice the slight crack in his voice.  

“Yeah,” Duke gave him a soft smile and jumped out of the truck.

Nathan followed him and set out the blanket when he found the perfect spot. He sat down and opened the cooler. “Beer?”

“Yeah, thanks,” Duke said, taking the bottle Nathan offered him and stretching out on the blanket.

“Have you started planning our trip?”

“Kinda. In my head, anyway.”

“Can I know anything?”

“Not yet. Wait til I've finalized it all, then I'll tell you. You can ski, right?”

Nathan gave him a look. “Barely. Why? I thought we were going somewhere warm?”

“...Ok, no skiing…”

“Ok. I’ll stop asking. Want to swim?”

“You read my mind,” Duke grinned, already stripping off his clothes.

Nathan shook his head, smiling  “Skinny dipping? You okay if I actually put on swim trunks?”

“Whatever makes you happy, Nate. Personally, I like to let things...breathe but you do you.”

Nathan laughed and stood up to take off his clothes. “What the hell...you only live once, right? What’s the worst that can happen? ”

Duke grinned. “Race you to the water?”

“Loser does the dishes for a month.”

Duke had already gone before Nathan finished speaking, jogging across the pale, sun warmed sand.

Nathan caught up to Duke at the water’s edge. “Water’s warm today…”

“Yep,” Duke said, flicking a handful of water at Nathan.

“Really?” Nathan asked, flicking water back as he moved to deeper water.

Duke grinned. “Really,” he said, flicking more water this time.

Once the water was deep enough, Nathan dove under and swam next to Duke to grab his legs and pull him under the water. He quickly let go and swam further out before surfacing.

Duke emerged, coughing and spluttering, wiping water out of his eyes. “Bastard,” he said cheerfully. “I'm gonna get you back for that.”

“Not if you can’t catch me,” Nathan said, diving under again and trying to swim close enough to dunk Duke again without him noticing.

More prepared this time, Duke swam under the water, surfacing just behind Nathan and grabbing him around the chest to pull him under.

Nathan surfaced, wiping the water from his face and turned in the water, trying to find Duke. After a few seconds, something brushed his legs. Reaching down he grabbed Duke and pulled him up. “Impressive. Almost got me again.”

Duke grinned and grabbed him again, this time pulling him close for a long kiss.

Nathan wrapped his arms around Duke’s neck and leaned into the kiss.

“Love you,” Duke mumbled against Nathan's lips.

“Love you, too.” Nathan mumbled back.

Duke kissed him once more and pulled away, staring into Nathan's eyes. Water lapped around his waist as he gently grasped Nathan's upper arms. “Thank you. For everything you've done. For taking care of me, for the truck, for putting up with my shit. I know you'll just say it was fine, it was no trouble, you'd do anything for me because you love me but I want you to know...you're exceptional.”

“You’re right, it wasn’t any trouble. But thank you for saying all that. I love you very much and I’ll do anything for you.”

“I know. I just want you to know that you don't have to. I'm with you for you, not what you can do for me.”

“I do know that. I just know you never had people do things and give you things growing up and if I can bring that look of complete happiness to your face... I will.”

Duke chewed his lip for a moment and nodded, holding Nathan's gaze a beat longer before he flicked up another handful of water and grinned.

Nathan sputtered and wiped his face. He smiled sweetly at Duke and leaned in to kiss him. As soon as their lips touched, he hooked his leg around Duke’s and dunked him.

Duke came up and laughed. “Nice seeing this side of you again.”

“I’m beginning to understand why my mother didn’t want me to be a cop. It can suck the fun right out of you if you let it…” Nathan said, still smiling at Duke.

“Considered quitting the force?” Duke said lightly.

Nathan shook his head. “Not after seventeen years. I just need to learn to balance my work and home life. My biggest problem is I don’t turn it off like I should. Maybe that’s something I can talk to Dwight about...he seems to be able to leave work at the station. Why? Did you ever want me to quit?”

“No, not at all. You just seem happier, even with everything that's been going on, you're… more relaxed, not being at work.”

“I’m happier because I’m with you. Changing careers isn’t going to change the fact that this is the most time we’ve spent together without responsibilities since the summer after senior year. I promise I’m going to leave work on time unless absolutely necessary and try leave all the stress there. I know it’s not always going to be easy but you’re worth the effort. I like this… you and me… I don’t ever want you waking up one day and leaving because I’m a grumpy ass who doesn’t smile anymore.”

Duke leaned in to kiss him. “I promise you that won't happen. Grumpy ass or not, I'm not going anywhere.”

“That definitely reassuring,” Nathan said, happily returning the kiss.

“Don't get me wrong, I hope we can keep making time for each other like this but...even if we don't, I'll always be yours.”

“I promise I’ll make time for us to do this. Maybe not for two full months like now… but weekends and random days definitely. Let’s go eat… I’m getting kinda hungry.”

“Yeah, sorry, I should've made breakfast,” Duke said as he waded out of the ocean.

Nathan followed him. “Don’t be. This was amazing. I doubt anything could top this feeling I have right now.”

Duke smiled, chewing his lip. He quickly towelled off and pulled on a pair of pants before he started unpacking the picnic basket.

Nathan watched Duke unpack the food while he towelled off and put his clothes back on. “What are we having?”

“Not the most inspiring because I didn't go to the store but we have smoked salmon, strawberries and cream, a couple different cheeses, grapes, apples and some crackers…”

“Not inspiring? I was expecting sandwiches...hell, I would’ve been happy with peanut butter and jelly. This looks delicious,” Nathan said, stretching out on his side.

“Just stuff we already had in the fridge,” Duke said, stretching out beside Nathan.

“I guess these are some of the perks of living with someone who owns a restaurant?”

“Along with the late nights, no weekends off, coming home smelling of whiskey and beer and pissed off because I had to throw someone out for hassling one of the bar staff and they tried to punch me or a customer stiffed one of the wait staff on their tip and that's not fair so I covered it out of my pocket instead?”

“But I try to make most of that better. I kiss you and hug you and do all sorts of sexually relaxing things that usually make you smile…”

Duke smiled softly. “You always make it better. My point was that my job gets in the way of things just as much as yours does.”

Nathan nodded. “I guess you make a good point.”

“I usually do,” Duke grinned, cutting a slice out of an apple and holding it up to Nathan’s lips.

Nathan opened his mouth and let Duke feed him the apple.

Duke smiled and cut another slice for himself, staring out at the ocean while he ate.

“What are you thinking about?” Nathan asked, reaching for the grapes.

“I'm thinking... hypothetically speaking, what would you say if I asked you to marry me?”

Nathan sat up and put the grapes down. “What?”

“If I asked...what would your answer be?”

“Are you...wait...if you asked? You don’t want to get married but if you asked I’d say yes… why?”

Duke nodded, chewing his lip to suppress a smile as he kept his gaze locked on the water. “Just wondering.”

“Oh, well that clears things up. Can we just eat and not get into any more hypotheticals?” Nathan asked, throwing a grape at Duke.

“That depends. Do you want it to be a not-hypothetical question?”

“Duke? What’s going on? What are you trying to say?” Nathan asked softly.

“I'm saying…how would you feel about Venice for a honeymoon?”

“Did you just ask me to marry you without actually asking me?” Nathan asked, his heart pounding.

“Pretty much,” Duke said, taking a small box from his pocket and holding it out for Nathan to open.

Nathan opened the box and looked at Duke, confusion written all over his face. “I don’t know what to say…”

“You said you'd say yes…” Duke said softly.

Nathan smiled before taking the ring out of the box. “I did, didn’t I? Yes...I’ll marry you.”

Duke smiled back and leaned over, taking the ring from Nathan and sliding it onto his finger. Still holding Nathan's hand, he leaned in to gently brush his lips across Nathan's cheek. “Thank you. For making me the happiest man alive.”

Nathan looked into Duke’s eyes. “All I ever want is for you to be happy. You really want this? To be married?”

“Yes. The last few weeks...maybe I've realised some stuff, got rid of a few of my hang ups and then, the other night... Life's too short, Nate. I want you beside me for the rest of our lives. I want to call you my husband and I want to be yours and maybe it is just a piece of paper and a chunk of metal but I want that. With you.”

Nathan took Duke’s face in his hands and kissed him. When he pulled back he was smiling. “Duke, all I’ve ever wanted was to be by your side. I’m sorry it took so long and way too many fights before we got here. I love you and I want to call you my husband, too. And this may be a chunk of metal...but it’s a beautiful chunk of metal that you picked for me. Thank you for making me so very happy.”

“All I ever want is to make you happy,” Duke said, smiling softly, his eyes shining. “So... Venice?”

“Venice sounds amazing,” Nathan said, leaning in to kiss Duke again.

“Could get married in Maui, honeymoon in Venice, vacation in... I hadn't got that far. Somewhere warm. Come back here in the spring,” Duke said after they broke the kiss.

“As long as I’m with you I don’t care where we go. But maybe we get married here? Kinda want Bill and Meg there...and with the baby coming, don’t think she’ll be able to travel...but I understand if this place doesn’t really hold enough good memories for you to get married here.”

Duke nodded slowly. “Yeah, I... you really want to get married here? Big wedding, everyone around…?”

“Not a big wedding. Something small just close friends and obviously my dad. But if you don’t want to get married here it’s okay. Really. All I want is you to be happy. We can have a party after Maui if that’s better.”

“Small ceremony, close friends, your dad, then the reception at the Gull afterwards, invite the whole town…” Duke said, smiling softly. “Yeah, that could work.”

Nathan studied Duke’s face for any sign he wasn’t okay with this. “Duke, I’m serious, we don’t have to get married here. Bill and Meg will understand or we can try to go before she can’t travel anymore. It might be kinda fun to see my dad on a beach in Maui…”

Duke smiled. “In shorts and a tropical shirt, sipping a brightly coloured cocktail with one of those little umbrellas in it?”

Nathan laughed. “That’s a very interesting image.”

“One that I think all of Haven needs photographic evidence of.”

“So, Maui...mid November?”

“Are you sure?  If you’d rather have everyone around us, we can do that.  Otherwise...Maui mid November, spend a month there, Venice mid December, maybe Scotland for new year - you definitely have to experience a Scottish Hogmanay, expect to spend at least three days drunk - then onto somewhere warm, Bali maybe, come home in...March?  And have a huge party at the Gull.”

“All of that sounds amazing. You need help planning it? And who do you want in Maui with us?”

“The wedding, yeah, but can you leave the extended honeymoon to me? Bill and Meg, if she's up to travelling, James and Tracy, your dad obviously. Maybe Gloria?”

“You can plan whatever you want. I trust you. We may need to talk to Meg or Tracy about the wedding. Kinda never expected to have to plan one.”

Duke gave Nathan a strange look. “You know Bill planned his and Meg's? And I think Tracy's mom in law took over most of hers, she was still gritting her teeth about it when the old bat was there for Thanksgiving a few years ago.”

“I guess I can figure it out. I mean how hard can it be with only six guests in Maui?”

We. We can figure it out. It'll be fine,” Duke said, leaning over to kiss his cheek.

“Yes, we. I like the sound of that.”

Duke smiled softly. “I do too. I mean, I guess we've been we for a while but...feels different, somehow.”

“Yeah, it does. We’ll need to tell my dad...but that can wait. You ready to head home?” Nathan asked, taking Duke’s hand in his.

Duke nodded. “It's funny, I had this all planned out. Wait til sunset, down on one knee, tell you what you mean to me...ask you to marry me...and then it didn't happen like that.”

“Hey, it’s okay. I don’t care how you asked me...though technically you didn’t actually ask outright...it still makes a really great story.”

“Ok...fine, I'm asking outright,” Duke said, twisting so he was down on one knee. “Nathan Thaddeus Wuornos, I love you and I never want to be without you, I don't want to spend a single day apart from you because you...you're my rock. My everything. And I hope one day I'll be able to do as much for you as you've done for me. Will you marry me?”

Nathan pulled Duke up and wrapped his arms around his waist. “Yes. Yes, a thousand times yes. Those were beautiful words. I never want to be without you, either.” He kissed Duke before adding, “I was only teasing. You didn’t have to do that.”

“I know,” Duke said, smiling softly. “But you deserved to hear them. Even if it wasn't at sunset.”

“I love you and I’m never going to stop telling you that. You deserve to hear how much you are loved every day. Let’s go home,” Nathan said, kissing him softly.

“Love you too, Nate,” Duke said, shaking sand off the picnic blanket and folding it ready to go in the truck. “Should think about who we want to tell and when. Your dad should be first…”

‘Yes, he should. Maybe you should tell your brothers? Or do you not want them to know? Then Bill...maybe Tracy...then Gloria. After Gloria we won’t have to tell anyone else. Anyone you want to tell before Gloria?” Nathan joked.

“Brothers no, who gives a shit, haven't spoken to them in years. Your dad, Bill, Tracy, let Gloria tell everyone else.”

“Maybe we should tell Dwight...but yeah that sounds good.” Nathan said, picking up the cooler and heading to the Landrover.

“Yeah, you're right. And Claire. And maybe Laverne?” Duke followed him and started loading everything neatly into the truck.

“The list keeps getting longer...we can tell my dad tomorrow.”

“Yeah. Gonna be a bit of a bolt out of the blue for him, he's only just come round to the idea of us being together.”

Nathan nodded. “Maybe. But I still think he’ll be happy, I could tell he was serious about all those nice things he said about you.”

“Yeah,” Duke said, jumping into the truck and giving the steering wheel an affectionate pat. “Gotta say, I was kinda surprised…”

“I am, too. I mean he was different when we were little but I never expected to see that side of him again after mom died. I think it may have been the shock of possibly losing me, too?”

“Probably. Shook us all up…”

“Yeah…”

Duke took Nathan's hand and brought it to his lips, kissing gently before he released it and started the engine. “...How are you doing?”

“I’m okay. Not going to lie, it was a little weird walking onto the Rouge earlier but looking around and not seeing any physical evidence made it a little easier. And then there was that note from Gloria that had me laughing…”

“Note from Gloria?”

“You can see it yourself. I left it in the nightstand drawer.”

Duke groaned. “Do I even want to know?”

“Trust me it’s fine. You’ll appreciate it...I think.”

Duke nodded, stealing little glances at Nathan as he drove. “You're amazing, you know.”

“Thank you...but what did I do?”

“Existed?”

“Stop. You keep saying things like that and I’m going to become very conceited.”

“I keep telling you, it's not conceited, it's confident and a bit of that won't do you any harm.”

“You know it’s hard for me to accept compliments. I don’t get many and they all seem misplaced.”

“That's...yeah, sorry, I should be better at that…Complimenting you, I mean.”

“You know that’s not what I meant. You compliment me plenty. It’s...just you’re the only one…”

“Yeah, no, I do, just...not enough. You deserve all the compliments, Nate and you know I mean every word I say.”

“Yes I do know that. It really shouldn’t bother me. I’m not twelve anymore…”

Duke reached across to squeeze Nathan's thigh. “Age has nothing to do with it, we all need approval from people we respect and it's hard when you don't get it.”

“I guess you’re right. Well, thank you. You always make me feel appreciated. I hope I do the same for you.”

“You do,” Duke said solemnly as he pulled up beside the Rouge.

Nathan waited for Duke to shut off the engine before he took off his seatbelt and got out to unload the truck.

Duke took a deep breath and followed him, unlocking the hatch and going inside. He quickly put away the food they'd barely touched and turned to Nathan. “Kinda feel like we should be going out for dinner. To celebrate…”

“Sure. Where would you like to go?”

“Where do you fancy? Not the Gull, I'll get sucked into work…”

“Don’t know. Nothing in Haven is as good as your cooking or the Gull.”

Duke smiled softly. “Thanks. Want me to cook something?”

“That’s doesn’t seem fair. How about we go to the lobster place in Derry?”

“...you don't like lobster so that doesn't seem fair either…”

“You know that’s not entirely true. I’m just not like the tourists who go nuts over it. We both grew up here, lobster to us is like burgers to them. And burgers are good sometimes...but we could always just go to the Pancake House.”

“Or the Waffle House?” Duke grinned. “No, I...I'd really like to take you somewhere special.”

“Duke, anywhere with you is special. But okay, I get what you’re saying. So, if you want to drive there… let’s go to the Sushi place in Bangor.”

“Perfect. Call and book? I need to get showered and changed,” Duke said, already wandering in the direction of the bathroom.

Nathan called and made a reservation. He looked at the time and headed towards the bathroom. “Hey, want some company? I promise I’ll behave…”

Duke snorted. “You're incapable of behaving but yeah, come on in.”

“Okay, I’m hurt. Just for that I’m not touching you at all. You can wash your own back.” Nathan said, stripping and getting in the shower.

Duke caught him by the waist and kissed him hard. “That's fine, I was done anyway,” he said, grinning as he let go of Nathan and got out of the shower.

Nathan laughed and quickly showered so they wouldn’t be late for dinner.

Duke hesitated by the bedroom door. There was no hint of the pool of blood that had been there last time he'd been here, no sign of anything out of place. Whether that had been down to Dwight's meticulous supervision or if Nathan had tidied up earlier, he wasn't sure.

He mentally shook himself off and went to get dressed, deciding on a pair of dark grey pants and a crisp white shirt, open at the collar. He tied his hair back and sat on the bed to wait for Nathan.

While he waited, he peeked inside the bedside cabinet for Gloria's note and laughed when he read it. He was still laughing when Nathan came in. “Nice to know Gloria's got our backs,” he said.

“I thought so, too. I mean my dad probably saw it but it’s not in any crime scene photos. You look good.” Nathan said going to the closet to find something appropriate to wear. He picked out a light blue dress shirt and navy dress pants and dressed quickly. “I’m ready.”

Duke kissed him softly. “You look stunning.”

“You are gorgeous. Let’s go so we don’t miss our reservations.” Nathan said, kissing him back.

“What time did you book for?”

“8:00. We have plenty of time as long as we leave now.”

“Ok,” Duke said, picking up his keys. “Let's go.”

The drive to Bangor was relaxing; it was good to get out of Haven for a while, even if it was only for dinner, and they arrived at the restaurant a few minutes before their reservation.  Nathan had told them it was for a special occasion and the maitre d’ showed them to a table with a beautiful view.

“You want to order for us?” Nathan asked.

“How about an Uni flight to start? Followed by some Tai, Akami, Hamachi, Unagi and Sanma. And I’ll feed you these delicious morsels while we enjoy this gorgeous view.”

“Sounds delicious, can’t wait.”

Duke smiled softly. “Thank you, I...feel like I keep saying that but... I mean it.”

“You’re welcome...but thank you for?” Nathan asked, slightly confused.

“Everything,” Duke said simply, holding Nathan's hand. He ran his thumb across the back of Nathan's fingers, lingering over the band, brushed gunmetal grey tungsten inlaid with a line of electric blue, that now adorned his ring finger.

“Well now that’s kinda vague but you're welcome, again. I love the ring, by the way…”

Duke smiled softly. “Good, I'm...that's good. I'm glad you like it. I thought...grey for the Gull, blue for the PD and... the blue brings out your eyes…”

“You have excellent taste you know that? If you haven’t picked the wedding bands can we both have this one? It’s perfect and it would look amazing on you, too.” 

“You want matching rings?” Duke said, his smile growing (if it were possible) even softer.

Nathan leaned across the table and gave Duke a soft kiss. “Yes. You picked it to represent the Gull and the PD, you should be wearing it, too. I want to know that no matter if we are together or apart we are wearing the same ring. And I want everyone to know we are together...married.”

“I'd really like that,” Duke said quietly, his eyes shining.

The server arrived at their table and Nathan let Duke order for the both of them, confident that everything he ordered would be delicious.

Duke ordered what he'd planned to, foregoing the sake when it was offered and opting for flavoured water instead.

“You good with telling the Chief tomorrow?”

“Yeah. Is he working tomorrow?”

“Probably. He was off…” Nathan looked down at the table, trying to compose himself. He looked back up and smiled. “He was already off this week.”

“Right, right, his day off was...ok, so maybe we go see him after work?”

“You want to have him come to the Rouge or we go to him?”

“Get him to come over, I said I was going to make him dinner before... everything.”

“I will. Sounds good. Just hope we can convince him to come to Maui with us. I can’t remember the last time he left Haven to do anything other than hunt.”

“Yeah, maybe...maybe we should just get married here, it'd be easier…”

Nathan reached across the table and took Duke’s hand in his. “No. I want to go to Maui. You want this and you never ask for anything. Seriously, we are getting married in Maui.”

“I do, but...where we get married isn't the important part. The important part is that we're getting married. The where and the when and the how doesn't matter.”

“I know that, too. Really, I do. But I want this. Please, let me give you this?”

“Ok,” Duke said softly, squeezing Nathan's hand. “Maui it is. Hopefully he'll be able to make it anyway.”

“I’m probably worrying for nothing. I am his only child. I doubt he’d miss my wedding.”

“I don't think he'd miss it for the world.”

Nathan smiled at Duke and pulled his hand back when the server brought the Uni flight to the table. “That looks delicious...what is it again?”

“Sea urchin. You'll love it.”

Nathan reached for a piece. “I’m sure I will.”

Duke gently tapped the back of his hand with his chopsticks to stop him and smiled as he picked up the piece with his own chopsticks and raised it to Nathan's lips.

Nathan’s smile reached all the way to his eyes as he opened his mouth. Duke fed him the piece of Uni and he let the flavors roll around on his tongue.  “This is really good…”

Duke grinned triumphantly. “Knew you'd like it.”

“How do you always know what will make me happy?”

“Psychic powers,” Duke said, tapping his head.

“Uh huh. If you’re psychic, what am I thinking now?” Nathan challenged.

“You're thinking how wonderful I am and how much you love me and you're thinking of all the things you're going to do to me when we get home.”

“Wow...you are good...now how about the winning lottery number?” Nathan teased.

“Forty two.”

Nathan just shook his head and once again lifted his chopsticks in an attempt to get more Uni.

Duke once again stopped him and fed him another morsel.

After he was done chewing he smiled at Duke. “You’re really going to feed me everything?”

Duke smiled back. “Not if you don't want me to.”

“I don’t mind. Just not used to you doing this when we are out.”

“Just thought it was cute...we don't have to.”

“I didn’t tell you to stop” Nathan said, guiding Duke’s hand back to the food.

Laughing, Duke fed him another bite size piece.

The server brought the main course just as Duke fed Nathan the last piece of Uni and Nathan looked at everything, wide eyed. “These look almost too pretty to eat.”

“They're like little works of art, aren't they?”

“Yes. And I’m sure they taste as good as they look.”

Duke nodded and held up a piece for Nathan to try.

Nathan took the sushi from him and let out a quiet moan of delight.

“Good?”

Nathan nodded.  “I think I’m going to let you order for me more often.”

“Well at least if I order, you won't try to eat pancakes every time we go out…”

“I like pancakes…”

“I like waffles but I don't try to order them when we go out for Italian…”

“I have never ordered pancakes at an Italian restaurant. I only do that when I eat at the Gull. And half the time your servers ignore me and bring me something else.”

“Yeah, because I told them to. I told them 'Nathan isn't allowed pancakes if it's after midday, if he orders them, take him something off the Nathan list instead’.”

Nathan laughed. “You have a list of food they can bring me? Really? And you think you don’t take care of me? You are so good to me.”

“Yeah, only for when I'm not there to stop you ordering breakfast foods for the seventh day running. Every time I change the menu, I pin a new list on the board so you never get something you won't like.”

“I should be a little upset that you won’t let me order pancakes all the time but I’ve never been disappointed with what they bring.” Nathan said, eating another piece of sushi that Duke brought to his lips.

“No, because it's a carefully crafted list and I make sure there are at least two of your favourite things on the menu at all times.”

“And I love you for it. Thank you.”

“Now that you mention it, it is a bit controlling…”

“No. It’s not. If you didn’t take care of my eating habits I’d never eat breakfast and hardly eat lunch. Not to mention that I’d never get to experience all these wonderful flavours.”

“True. You'd eat breakfast foods for dinner and survive off coffee and Slim Jim's the rest of the time and if I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times. Slim Jim's are not food.”

“Then what is it? I mean you eat it so isn’t it food?”

“It's processed crap that doesn't count as food because it has a nutritional value of precisely nothing.”

Nathan’s eyes sparkled with mischief. “You do know I’m teasing, right? I know they aren’t really good for me. I love how passionate you get about food.”

Duke smiled softly. “Yeah, I know but you know me, I don't need much excuse to start talking about food.”

“Because you love it. And I love when you get excited about it. I love the way your eyes light up. So, keep making sure I eat right, I don’t mind.”

Duke leaned across the table to gently kiss him.  “I love you,” he said, settling back down to eat - one mouthful for Nathan, one for himself, until they’d finished the vast array of sushi in front of them.  “Want to pick up dessert on the way home?”

“I’d love it. You can feed it to me in bed.”

“Deal,” Duke said, grinning as he caught the waiter’s attention and paid for their meal.

“I think there was a diner around here that has really good cheesecake. Do you remember where?” Nathan asked on the way out of the restaurant.

“Uh, wasn’t it the one in that little town just off the highway?”

“I think so. You think they’ll still be open?”

“Yeah, I think they’re an all night diner so…”

“Cheesecake with raspberry sauce?” Nathan asked hopefully.

“Whatever you want,” Duke said, smiling.

It was after midnight when they got back the Rouge. Nathan grabbed the cheesecake and followed Duke inside, waiting while he locked up. “Where would you like to have dessert?”

“You wanted me to feed it to you in bed…” Duke said, grinning.

Nathan raised an eyebrow. “Well, I’m not going to say no to that. Just want to get out of these clothes first.”

“Oh, I'm all for naked eating in bed,” Duke's smile grew wider.

“Okay not what I meant but…”

“No? What did you mean then?”

“I meant pyjamas but since you sleep naked I guess it would be naked eating. C’mon...let’s get you naked.” Nathan said, pulling Duke to the bedroom.

Duke was already out of his shirt and halfway out of his pants by the time they got there. He finished pulling them off and sprawled on the bed with his best come get me expression.

Nathan set the cheesecake on the nightstand and climbed on the bed. “You’re eager…”

“You're wearing too many clothes,” Duke said, reaching for Nathan's shirt.

“I am? What are you going to do about that?”

“This…” Duke said, unbuttoning Nathan's shirt and slipping it off his shoulders, then reaching for his belt.

Nathan reached down and took over the task of ridding himself of his pants. “What now, Duke?” He asked softly.

Duke leaned in to kiss him gently, his hand resting on the side of Nathan's neck, his thumb brushing his jaw. “Get comfy,” he said afterwards, pulling away to arrange the pillows into a cosy nest.

Nathan settled against the pillows and smiled at Duke. “I love it when you make the bed so comfortable.”

Duke smiled softly. “I know, that's why I do it.”

Nathan looked up at Duke and smiled. “I love you.”

“I love you too. Shut up and eat your cheesecake,” Duke said, picking up the box of cheesecake and the fork.

“You going to feed it to me?”

“Yeah, I mean, I can't absolutely guarantee you won't end up wearing some of it but I can always lick it off…”

“Is that a promise?”

“...Yeah…”

Nathan thrust the fork at him. “I’m dying to have you put something in my mouth.”

Duke smiled sweetly, restrained himself from making the very obvious dirty joke on the grounds it was too obvious and lifted a forkful of cheesecake to Nathan's lips.

“Mmmm. That is so good. You need to try it.” Nathan said, taking the fork from Duke and reaching into the box. He managed to get a good sized piece on the fork. “Open up…”

Duke nipped at the fork playfully and took the bite of cheesecake. “So good,” he mumbled.

“More?” Nathan asked, already reaching into the box.

“Mmhmm.”

Nathan fed Duke another bite, smearing a tiny bit on the side of his mouth. “You want me to get that?”

“Yeah…”

Nathan leaned in and licked the cheesecake off Duke’s mouth before kissing him softly. “Tastes amazing…”

Duke curled his fingers around the back of Nathan's neck and pulled him close. “Not as good as you,” he murmured, kissing him deeply.

Nathan sighed happily and brought his hands up to curl his fingers into Duke’s hair.

Duke put the box down on the bedside table and wrapped his arm around Nathan to pull him closer.

“I love being so close to you,” Nathan murmured against Duke’s lips.

Duke pressed against him, holding him more tightly. “Never want to be apart from you.”

“We won’t ever be. I will always do everything in my power to come home to you.”

“I know, I know you will but...but what if one day that isn't enough? That doing everything isn't enough and...and…”

Nathan sat up and shifted so he could take Duke’s face gently in his hands. “Duke, I won’t make you a promise I can’t guarantee. I can promise you I’ll never leave you for someone else, I can promise I’ll never stop loving you, I can promise that I will wake you up with kisses and send you off to sleep the same way...please let that be enough.”

“It is. It is enough. I know you can't promise to always come home, not with…,” Duke choked and swallowed hard, “not with your job.”

“I’m going to ask you something and I’m dead serious so please answer honestly. Will all this pain and fear go away if I quit the force? Because I love you too much to have you always wondering if today is the day I don’t come home.”

Duke hesitated. “Honest answer, yeah. But with everything that's happened...the other night… it's all...it's still really raw and...maybe I'm not really dealing with it quite as well as I'm making out and... I think...now isn't the best time to be making decisions like that.”

“Okay, I’m going to propose something. I go back to work next month. That’s about three weeks away.  If by then you still feel like you want me to quit, I will. But in the meantime we’ll both talk to Claire and discuss it. What do you think?”

“I...Nate, I wouldn't ever ask you to do that. You love your job, you're good at it, you have a career there. You'll be Chief in a couple years when your dad retires. I'm not...I won't stand in the way of that.”

“Absolutely none of that matters if you are unhappy. I have a criminal justice degree. I can transfer to forensics, I can teach, I can be a forensic nurse. You won’t be standing in the way of anything. Not even sure the councilmen would appoint me chief. And yes, I love my job but I love you more.”

Duke stared at him for a moment, his mouth slightly open. He closed it with an audible snap and nodded. “Thank you. For even considering it. Give me a couple weeks, like you said, maybe even a couple weeks after you go back to work, get back into the old routine and then...then see where we are.”

“Sounds fair and reasonable. Now, I think there might still be cheesecake in that box...unless you need to talk more or just go to sleep.”

Duke kissed him softly. He picked up the box and plucked the fork out of Nathan's fingers, loading it up with a huge piece of cheesecake and raising it for Nathan to eat.

“I could get used to this…”

“Good. Because I plan on spoiling you like this for the rest of our lives.”

“That sounds amazing. And I’m going to spoil you right back.” Nathan took the fork from Duke and fed him one last bite before setting it in the box. He curled himself into Duke’s arms and closed his eyes. “Never want to be anywhere but in your arms

Duke closed his arms around him and nuzzled into his hair. “Love you, Nate,” he said softly.

“I love you, too,” Nathan whispered, drifting to sleep.

Duke held him tightly while he slept. It was starting to get light when Duke finally stopped staring at the bedroom door as though it was going to be flung open at any moment, closed his eyes and fell into an uneasy sleep.

Chapter Text

Nathan was still wrapped in Duke’s arms when he woke up.  He yawned and stayed as still as possible, hoping not to wake Duke, and smiled when he caught a glimpse of the ring on his finger.  Duke wanted to marry him. It was taking a while to sink in because Nathan had never really thought about getting married. It hadn’t been something Duke wanted and that had been absolutely fine with Nathan.  He never doubted Duke’s love for him. In the early days, he might not have understood why Duke loved him but he never doubted it.  He didn’t need  a ring or a piece of paper to know that Duke would always love him but he couldn’t deny how good it felt to be wearing this ring.

His smile faltered when Duke jerked in his sleep, the frown on his face indicating that he wasn’t sleeping well.  Afraid he was caught in a nightmare, Nathan stroked his hair, taking the risk of waking him over the need to try to comfort him.

Duke startled awake and pulled back, frantically scrabbling for the gun in the bedside cabinet.

Nathan grabbed his hands. “It’s okay...its okay. It’s me...you’re safe. I’m sorry...it was stupid to touch you while you were sleeping.”

Duke tore his hands out of Nathan's grasp and surveyed the room, staring wildly into each corner, his eyes trying to make sense out of the sleep-hazed shapes. Satisfied there really wasn't a threat, he blinked and nodded.

“Duke...look at me...hey...it’s okay…” Nathan soothed, slowly pulling him into his arms.

Duke wrapped his arms around Nathan, all but clinging to him, his face buried in Nathan's neck.

Nathan rubbed Duke’s back. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that. Should’ve realized you’d think something was wrong.”

“No, no, it's fine,” Duke said, lifting his head. “Just a bit jumpy.”

Nathan kissed his forehead. “I know. Probably going to take a while to not be jumpy.”

“Yeah,” Duke said, letting out a shaky breath. “You sleep well?”

“Not too bad. Having you wrapped around me helped. But you didn’t. I’m sorry about that.”

Duke kissed his forehead. “Thanks. Might go for a bit of self medicating tonight. Didn't get to sleep til...I dunno, the sun was coming up anyway.”

“And maybe tonight I’ll stay awake until you fall asleep. You still want to have the Chief over here? Or would you like me to ask if we can make dinner at his house?”

“No, it's fine, invite him here. I'll do something out of your mom's recipe book.”

“We both need to call Claire, too.  And I think you missed your physical therapy appointment.” Nathan said, entwining his fingers with Duke’s.

“...Crap. When was that again?”

“The day after you got your cast off. Don’t worry. I’m sure Gloria rescheduled it for you. Call them. I’ll call Claire.”

Duke groaned. “So much for my plan of going back to sleep.”

“No, go back to sleep. I’ll make the calls. We can schedule everything for tomorrow. Lie down and I’ll be back in a few minutes,” Nathan said, pulling on his pants, grabbing his phone and giving Duke a quick kiss before he could argue.

“I-” Duke raised his hand to object but Nathan had already closed the door behind him so he settled back onto the bed with his arm thrown across his eyes.

Nathan came back in the bedroom a few minutes later and sat on the bed. “Claire wants to see us tomorrow. Together. Then she’ll schedule separate sessions for next week. Gloria already rescheduled your physical therapy to Monday. Do you want me to come back to bed with you? Or would you rather have the bed to yourself?”

“Thanks,” Duke said, gazing up at Nathan adoringly. “I'm getting up. Can you start a pot of coffee?”

“Already started it while I was on the phone. Are you sure you don’t want to sleep some more? I woke you not long after you fell asleep.”

“It's that early?”

“It’s only 8:30...sorry.”

Duke groaned. “I thought I'd cured you of waking up early.”

Nathan laughed. “I guess not. So, why don’t you go back to sleep and I’ll pick a recipe for dinner tonight. I’ll see if we have what we need and when you wake up we can get what you don’t.”

“Yeah, maybe. Can you wake me before you go out though?”

“I won’t go anywhere without waking you. Sleep at least for a few hours.”

“Ok. Thanks Nate. I'll be up soon.”

Nathan went into the kitchen, poured himself a cup of coffee and opened his mother’s recipe book. He flipped through the pages looking at all the recipes with his mother’s handwritten notes in the margins. Some recipes were crossed out completely with little notes like ‘Garland hates this’ or ‘Nathan cried when I put this in front of him’. He stopped at a page that had little smiley faces all over it and a note that read ‘All my boys love this, make for them when they are sad’. It was a recipe for mac and cheese and there were notes all over as to which cheeses worked best and how long to toast the bread crumbs and which pasta everyone preferred. He sipped his coffee and pulled out his phone to make list of all the ingredients they would need. Duke had his own mac and cheese recipe that he liked to make but Nathan was sure he wouldn't mind making this one tonight.

After making the list, he started opening cabinets, looking for the waffle maker that he knew Duke had bought to replace the one that was destroyed in the affectionately called ‘Waffle Incident’.  Once he’d found it, he pulled out a bowl and all the ingredients for waffles.

An hour and a few burned waffles later, he had a stack of perfectly cooked waffles on a plate. He took out the breakfast tray, put the waffles, butter, syrup and freshly brewed coffee on it and took it to the bedroom, tapping the door quietly before he opened it lest he startle Duke and ended up with food flying everywhere when he woke him.  “Duke?”

Duke mumbled sleepily, slowly emerging from the cocoon he'd managed to wrap himself up in.

“It’s almost eleven. I made you breakfast. And fresh coffee..”

Duke shoved his hair out of his face, vaguely wondering why it couldn't just stay put while he slept instead of plastering itself to the side of his head and flopping in his eyes, and sat up. “You made waffles,” he said softly.

Nathan sat the tray on Duke’s lap. “And the waffle maker is still in one piece.”

“And the kitchen hasn't burned down…” Duke said, grinning.

“No, it’s still standing. Eat. I’m going to finish cleaning up. Because I did make a mess,” Nathan laughed, heading for the kitchen.

“Thanks Nate,” Duke called after him, picking up the knife and fork and starting to eat.

Nathan cleaned the kitchen and went back to retrieve the tray from Duke. “How were they?” He asked from the doorway.

“Perfect,” Duke said, smiling. “So's the coffee.”

“Thanks. You ready to get up? You don’t have to…” Nathan asked, taking the tray.

“No, I'm ready. Just gonna grab a shower, then I'll be with you.”

Nathan nodded. “I’ll take one after you’re done. I still have to call the Chief to invite him to dinner. What time is good for you? I know he tries to leave the station by five.”

“Seven?”

“Seven it is,” Nathan said,  turning to leave.

Duke sprang out of bed and caught him by the waist, pulling him around so he could kiss him. “Thanks. For breakfast and letting me sleep.”

Nathan smiled. “Of course. Anything for you.”

Duke kissed him again and wandered off to the bathroom for a long, hot shower. His hair was still damp, the ends dripping water onto his shoulders, when he finally got himself dressed and went to find Nathan in the kitchen.

Nathan looked up from the plate he was drying. “Feeling better?”

“Much. You get something to eat?”

“Yes, I ate before I brought it to you. I called the Chief while you were in the shower. He’ll be here by seven. We’re going to need to go to the store. I left the book open to the recipe I chose. I’m going to take a quick shower,” Nathan said, hanging the kitchen towel on the rack.

“Ok,” Duke said absentmindedly. He glanced at the book and smiled, sitting down to go through the recipe. It wasn't dissimilar to the recipe he used for Mac and Cheese but there were a few differences that he made a mental note of - particularly the types of pasta Garland and Nathan preferred.

After he'd gone through that recipe, he started flicking through the rest of the book, smiling when he came across the recipe for chicken and leek pot pie that had 'Duke's favourite’ written next to it and double underlined. There were plenty with the note 'Garland's favourite’ or 'Nathan's favourite’ written next to them and Duke marked the pages with sticky notes to come back to later.

By the time he was done, Nathan was back in the kitchen. “You ready to go?” Duke asked.

“Yeah. You?”

Duke nodded. “Want me to drive?”

“Sure.”

An hour later, they were back and Duke had put all the shopping away while Nathan made more coffee.

“Gonna start cooking early, make sure everything's ready. Do you think we should use the good cutlery?”

“Do you want to? It is a special occasion…”

“We'll use the good cutlery. Maybe I should've got some wine but he doesn't drink wine, does he? Or champagne, should we have champagne?”

“He’s not really a wine or champagne drinker. At least I’ve only ever seen him drink wine a handful of times. He really likes his beer. And apparently whiskey...which I did not know.”

“Well we've got beer and whiskey so that's fine. And I was going to do a crumble for dessert but maybe that isn't...special enough. Should I do something else?”

Nathan walked up behind Duke and put his arms around his waist. “A crumble is fine. He’s going to love it. Why are you so nervous all of a sudden?”

Duke laughed softly. “That obvious?”

“Yes,” Nathan said, kissing his neck. “I’m not sure I’ve seen you this nervous about dinner...ever.”

“He's never been here for dinner before. I know he's eaten my cooking but not here, in our home and he might...when we tell him...what if he's not happy about it?”

“He’s not marrying you. I am. And I’m happy. Why would he be happy about us living together but not getting married?” Nathan asked, kissing him again before turning him around. “If you’re really afraid of what he’s going to say we can tell him before dinner and give him a chance to leave. I don’t think he will but I don’t want you to worry he’s going to freak out.”

“No, you're right, it's stupid. It's just...he hasn't been happy about us being together from the start and he's only just started to accept that and now we're dropping this bombshell on him…”

“Stupid is not a word I’d use. Everything you’ve said is valid. You’re allowed to be nervous. For some reason I’m not. I truly think he’s going to be okay with this. And if he’s not...we’ll deal with it. So, when he gets here we pour some whiskey and we tell him.”

Duke hugged him. “Ok. Thank you. I'll stop - try to stop stressing.”

“That’s all I ask. We still have to pick a date. I know we have to talk to Meg first but did you have any preference?”

“We should go see them tomorrow. And Tracy and Gloria and...who else were we going to tell?”

“Dwight and Claire. I think that’s it.”

“We should see them tomorrow too.”

“Whatever you want. We could just invite them all to the Gull.”

“...That might be easier…”

“Just have them for late lunch or dinner. It’s Saturday so everyone should be able to make it.”

“Ok, I'll call them and get it set up,” Duke said, kissing Nathan's cheek.

Nathan smiled.  Organizing the get together at the Gull seemed to lift Duke’s spirits. He truly hoped his father would be happy for them. After the past two months he was sure they deserved a bit of happiness.

Duke went off to make the phone calls, returning a few minutes later. “All sorted, pretty sure they know something's up but I didn't say anything.”

“Meg probably knows. I’ll bet you she and Bill bring a gift.” Nathan predicted.

“Gloria probably guessed too. Dwight...I dunno but when he tells Claire, she'll probably work it out.”

“Probably, but it’ll still be nice to celebrate with everyone.”

“Yeah, it will be,” Duke smiled softly.

“When do you need to start preparing dinner?”

“Well I want to leave extra time in case it goes wrong so maybe...half five?”

“So, we have a few hours to ourselves. Anything you want to do?”

“Should probably have a clean round, get ready for tonight. Maybe I should make some, I dunno, nibbly things…”

“You tell me what you want me to do and I’ll do it.”

“Clean the bathroom?”

“Of course that’s what you want me to do. You hate cleaning the bathroom. Anything else?” Nathan asked, shaking his head and smiling.

“Not at the moment, I'll...get on with some cleaning, make lunch, then think about getting everything ready for this evening…”

“Well if you need help let me know.”

“Yeah,” Duke said, his mind already wandering to what sort of canapés Garland might enjoy and whether it might be slightly overdoing things and if he should put a bottle of champagne in the fridge, just in case.

It didn’t take Nathan long to clean the bathroom so he straightened the bedroom as well and went to see how Duke was doing with the rest of the living areas.

He'd already finished, cleaning in his usual way where he barely paused to draw breath, and put a bottle of something fizzy and expensive (or it would have been expensive if he didn't own a bar) in the fridge. Another pot of coffee was brewing on the counter and he'd started making the canapés he hadn't been sure he was going to make.

“What are you making?” Nathan asked.

“Canapés,” Duke said, as if it should have been obvious.

“And these are for?”

“... Tonight…”

“Need help?” Nathan asked, walking up behind him to give him a quick hug.

Duke smiled. “No, I've got it. Can you pour some coffee though?”

Nathan poured two cups of coffee and handed one to Duke. “Are you still nervous?”

“No,” Duke said, but his hand was shaking when he took the cup from Nathan.

“Hey...what’s wrong? You’re shaking.”

“Nothing. Nothing, I'm fine.”

“Is it the Chief? Are you having second thoughts about telling him?”

“No, no, definitely not that. Just...on edge.”

“Is it being back here? Tell me what you need. I’ll do everything I can to make it better…”

Duke smiled and cupped Nathan's cheek in his hand, leaning in to kiss him. “Thanks. I'm ok, I'm just trying to get everything perfect and I'm stressing.”

“You always make everything perfect.”

“Yeah, for you. I know how to make things perfect for you.”

“I don’t understand…”

“...I want to make things perfect for your dad. I want to...I want to get this right.”

“You will. Please stop doubting yourself. He’s going to enjoy everything.”

“Yeah,” Duke said shakily. “I know I'm being stupid, he's disapproved of me for this long, it's not like I can really fuck it up.”

“Okay, you need a break. You almost done with those?”

“Ten minutes or so…”

“Then you are taking a break. I’m going to help you relax, okay?”

“Ok,” Duke said softly. “Half an hour, then I need to start cooking.”

“That’s all I need. I’ll be in the bedroom.” Nathan said, giving Duke a soft kiss.

Duke raised an eyebrow. “Oh, that sort of relaxing,” he smirked.

“I think I’d need more than a half hour for that…” Nathan said, over his shoulder.

“You didn't the other night,” Duke called after him.

“Just hurry up…”

“Hurrying…” Duke smiled and turned back to the canapés he was making.

True to his word, ten minutes later he'd finished and made his way to the bedroom.

Nathan was sitting on the bed. “Take off your shirt and get on the bed.”

Duke obediently did what he was told.

“Roll on your stomach…”

Duke rolled over, stretching out beside Nathan with his head on the pillow.

Nathan gave Duke a soft kiss, then straddled him, bringing his hands up to caress Duke’s back in small circles, starting soft and gentle, then increasing the pressure.

Duke let out a soft sound of pleasure, melting under Nathan's touch, letting him soothe the tension out of his body.

Nathan kept massaging Duke’s back, working all the knots out of his back. “How are you feeling?” He murmured into his ear as he leaned in to kiss Duke’s neck.

Duke sighed happily. “Better. Thanks.”

“More? Where else would you like me to rub?”

“...I'd just like it known that I'm being very restrained in not making a dirty joke here…”

“You can. Dirty jokes are always welcome…” Nathan said with a wink.

Duke sighed theatrically. “Fine. If I think very hard, I'm sure I can come up with something for you to rub.”

“We have five minutes left...so, roll over…” Nathan said kissing Duke’s neck again.

“Five minutes...you sure you're that good?” Duke teased, turning over.

Apparently Nathan was that good because he only needed four minutes (four minutes and twelve seconds, to be completely precise) before Duke was calling his name and gasping for breath. Ten minutes after that, Duke was showered, dressed, and back in the kitchen, making dinner in a much calmer fashion than he had been before.

“What can I do to help?” Nathan asked after he had changed.

“If I ask you to grate cheese, can you do that without grating your finger? I don't think any of us enjoy blood with our Mac and Cheese…”

“Yes. I can do that. I will not bleed in our dinner.”

“That...is always a good start when it comes to cooking,” Duke said, passing Nathan two blocks of cheese and a grater. “All of that, please.”

Nathan laughed and took the cheese and started grating it into the bowl Duke handed him.

Duke followed Elizabeth's recipe exactly, making three individual dishes of gooey, cheesy pasta, topped with breadcrumbs with a hint of garlic, and put them in the fridge ready to cook once Garland arrived.

Nathan quickly glanced over the living area, making sure everything was in order. “I’ll wash the dishes. We have a little time before he gets here. When do you think we should tell him?”

“Before dinner, like you said. If he doesn't take it well...it gets it over with…”

“Okay, we have about a half hour before he gets here. What do we have to do with the hors d'oeuvres you made?” Nathan said, suddenly feeling a little nervous.

“Put them on plates, that's all,” Duke said, squeezing Nathan's shoulder. “So I'm voting for a shot of Dutch courage…”

“I’ll get the glasses...you pour…”

Duke was already reaching for the whiskey and poured before Nathan had even put the glasses down.

Nathan drank his whiskey down in one gulp. “We can do this. It’s going to be fine. He said you were part of the family...remember that...he said it just two days ago. He’s going to be fine with this. Right?” Nathan said, speaking so quickly that his words blended together.

Duke drained his glass and nodded. “He did and he will be. It'll be fine.”

Nathan set the glass on the kitchen counter and turned back to Duke. “Kiss me. It’ll make me less nervous.”

Duke rested his hand lightly on Nathan's jaw and leaned in to kiss him hard, pressing into Nathan's space and bringing his other hand up to curl around the nape of Nathan's neck.

Nathan kissed back fiercely, pulling Duke closer before he drew away, breathless. “I will never get tired of that.”

“Neither will I,” Duke said softly, turning away to pour them each another glass of whiskey. He was still screwing the cap back on the bottle when there was a scuffle on the deck and a knock at the hatch.

Nathan nodded to the whiskey. “Get him a glass? Or did you have other plans?”

He didn’t wait for Duke to answer before he walked over and opened the hatch. “Hi, Dad. Glad you could make it.”

Garland nodded. “You asked, so here I am. Hello, Duke.”

“Chief,” Duke gave him a nod. “Can I get you a drink? Whiskey? Beer? Coffee?”

Garland looked at the glass of whiskey in Duke’s hand and the one on the counter that was most likely Nathan’s. “I’ll join you for some whiskey.”

Nathan handed him a glass and picked up the bottle Duke had set down, praying his father wouldn’t notice the slight tremor in his hand while he poured. He handed the glass to his father and smiled. “Here you go.”

The tremor was barely noticeable but Duke gave his shoulder a reassuring squeeze anyway. “Thanks for coming,” he said to Garland.

“Well, kinda missed the last invitation. Nathan, you look a little green. You okay?”

“I’m good. We wanted to tell you something…” Nathan looked to Duke for some help.

Duke let out a soft huff of laughter. “Yeah, we...I asked -”

“We’re getting a dog,” Nathan interrupted.

Garland nodded. “A dog? Okay. Okay. And you needed to tell me over a glass of whiskey why?”

Nathan flailed and took a sip of his drink, running his free hand through his hair.

“Nathan, are you sure there isn’t something else you wanted to tell me?” Garland asked. He looked over to Duke and raised his eyebrow, giving him a small smile. 

“Uh...why would you think that?” Nathan asked.

Garland tried not to laugh. “Maybe you want to tell me about that?” He said, gesturing to Nathan’s hand.

Nathan took another drink of his whiskey and looked pleadingly at Duke again.

“A dog? Really? I thought I was supposed to be the nervous one,” Duke said, giving Nathan an affectionate nudge before he put on his best serious expression. “I asked Nathan to marry me and he said yes.”

“Well now, you want to get married? That’s why you invited me? To give me the news?”

Nathan drained the last of his whiskey “I..uh...yes. I’m getting married. Was hoping you’d be happy for us-”

Garland put up a hand to stop Nathan before he finished what he was going to say. He turned to Duke instead. “I think we need to refill Nathan’s glass so we can have a proper toast.”

Duke refilled Nathan's glass and topped up his and Garland's.

Garland cleared his throat. “Well, gotta say I’m a little surprised but only a little. Knew you two were gonna always be in each other’s lives from the first time I found you both curled up next to Elizabeth. Just saw it. And I’m sorry I gave you both such a hard time all these years. I was wrong. You are both good men and I’m proud of you.” He took a deep breath and raised his glass to the ceiling. “Looks like you got your wish, Elizabeth,” he said, turning to Duke. “Guess I’m getting another son.”

Tears stung Duke's eyes and he swallowed hard. “Thanks, Chief,” he managed.

Garland nodded and gave Duke an awkward hug. “I meant it. I’m proud of you.”

Nathan moved to put his arm around Duke when his father let go. “Thanks, Dad. I was a little nervous to tell you.”

“And the best you could come up with was we’re getting a dog? Really, Nathan? Knew what you planned to say when you handed me the glass.”

“What? How?”

Garland laughed. “I didn’t get to be Chief because of my good looks ya know. I saw the ring. Now raise that glass. To my two sons...may you always be happy.”

Duke raised his glass. “To Nathan, for making me the happiest man alive.”

Nathan raised his glass. “To Duke, making my life complete.”

Duke smiled softly, started to speak, hesitated, raised his glass in Garland's direction, and started again. “To Elizabeth, for being the mom I never had.”

Garland cleared his throat. “She loved you just as much as she loved Nathan. You both made her so happy. She was always smiling when she talked about you both. Even when you tried her patience. Guess when she died I kinda forgot that.” He touched his glass to Nathan’s and then to Duke’s. “To new beginnings.”

“New beginnings,” Duke echoed, clinking both glasses before taking a sip of whiskey.

Nathan clinked his glass to his father’s and Duke’s as well. “New beginnings.”

“I should get dinner in the oven,” Duke said. “Can you get the canapés, Nate?”

“Dad, have a seat. I’ll be right back.” Nathan followed Duke to the kitchen. He took the plate that Duke handed him. “That went so much better than I thought,” he whispered.

“So much,” Duke whispered back. “See if he wants some champagne?”

Nathan brought the canapés to Garland. “We have champagne if you’d like it…”

Garland looked at Nathan for a minute. “Sure, that’d be nice. Nathan, you’re my son and I love you. I know I never said it enough when you were growing up.”

Nathan nodded. “You didn’t. But you’re saying it now. I love you, too. I’ll get you some champagne.”

“Dinner's in the oven, be about half an hour,” Duke said, setting out champagne glasses.

“What are we having?” Garland asked.

“It’s something from mom’s book. I picked it.” Nathan replied, popping the cork on the champagne. He poured and handed Garland a glass.

“Mac and cheese,” Duke said, taking the glass that Nathan handed him. “And pear crumble for dessert.”

“Sounds good. And these little things are good, too.” Garland said, eating a canapé.

“Thanks,” Duke said, smiling.

“So...how do you feel about Hawaii?” Nathan asked.

“Hawaii, huh? Let me guess...beach wedding?”

Nathan nodded. “Is that...would you come if we did?”

Garland looked at Duke and then back at Nathan.”I’ll come...but I’m not wearing any flowery shirts, that’s where I draw the line.”

Duke grinned. “You'll really come?”

“Did you both think I wouldn’t come?” Garland asked, a little shocked.

Nathan shrugged. “Maybe a little worried you wouldn’t.”

“It's a long way and...we were hoping to get married in November which...isn't a lot of notice…”

“Nathan, I’m your father. Of course I’ll be at your wedding. November? I think I can manage that. I’m surprised you didn’t want to go for Christmas.”

“We did but Meg’s baby is due around my birthday and we were hoping she and Bill would come, too,” Nathan explained.

“Tell me when and I’ll be there.”

“As soon as we've set the date, you'll be the first to know,” Duke promised.

“Would you like more champagne? Or a beer?” Nathan asked.

“Nathan, would you relax? Not going to change my mind and start yelling.” Garland assured him.

Nathan huffed out a laugh. “I’m trying. I’ll be better after we eat.”

“Won't be long,” Duke said, squeezing Nathan's knee.

“Thanks for the stuff in the freezer. Appreciate it,” Garland said, finishing his champagne.

“No problem,” Duke said easily. “I can... I could make more, if you wanted.”

“If it’s no trouble. Never liked cooking for one.”

“Yeah, no, it's not particularly inspiring. I'll make some stuff, go through Elizabeth's book…”

“There’s a few in there I’m not too fond of. You can add your own things, too. I’ve eaten at the Gull enough to know you know what you’re doing.”

"Thanks,” Duke said, smiling. “Let me know if there's anything in particular you'd like.”

Garland nodded.

Nathan stood up and gathered the champagne glasses and the plate from the canapés. “I’m just going to put these in the sink. I’ll be right back.”

“Can you check the mac and cheese?” Duke called after him.

“Yeah, it’s still in the oven,” Nathan called back.

“I didn't think it had grown legs and walked out,” Duke grumbled, getting up to go and check it himself.

Nathan hugged Duke when he walked in the kitchen. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist. It looks good but not sure how to tell if it’s ready.”

“It was a stupid question,” Duke said, rubbing Nathan's arms before he pulled away and peered into the oven. “Looks pretty ready to me. Can you sort drinks out?”

Nathan walked back out to his father. “Dinner’s ready. Did you want beer? Water? Wine?”

Garland stood up and followed Nathan to the table. “Beer sounds good.”

Nathan opened the refrigerator. “Duke? What do you want?”

“Beer, please. No point opening a bottle of wine just for me.”

“If you want wine I’ll drink it with you,” Nathan said, grabbing a bottle of beer for his father.

“Sure? There's a nice pinot grigio in there…”

“Yes, I’m sure...uh...which one?” Nathan asked, looking in the refrigerator again.

“Yellow label.”

“Thank you. You’d think after living with you all these years I’d know these things,” Nathan said, bringing the beer and the wine to the table.

He set the beer in front of his father and put the wine by Duke’s place, then went back to get the wine glasses and bottle opener. “Duke’s bringing the food out now.”

“Smells good. Just like your mom’s. I forgot how good it was to have dinner together.”

Duke came out of the kitchen, expertly balancing all three plates in his hands. He set down one in front of Garland, then put down Nathan's, then finally his own, sitting down beside Nathan. “Hope it's ok…”

Garland took his fork and broke through the breadcrumbs to get a bite. When he brought the fork up he hesitated and looked up at Duke. “How did you know I liked radiatori?”

“There was a note in Elizabeth's book. You prefer radiatori, Nathan prefers macaroni, I prefer penne.”

Garland smiled softly. “My Elizabeth. She thought of everything.”

“Tastes just like hers. You have a real gift, Duke.” Nathan said, chewing the Mac and cheese.

Duke gave Nathan an appreciative smile. “Did you ever read through the book?” He asked Garland. “Lots of good memories in there. Maybe you and Nathan should go through it together? I only remember some of it. Like, there's one recipe that's crossed out with thick black lines with the note 'dinner disaster’ on it. I'd really like to hear the stories behind the stuff I don't remember.”

“Dinner disaster? I saw that today but I don’t remember anything being bad enough to be called a disaster. Dad?”

Garland was trying to contain his laughter. “You boys were too little. In fact this was before you two were friends. Elizabeth wanted to cook a big dinner for my parents. She pored over that book for days trying to come up with the right recipe. She finally picked stuffed chicken breasts. She didn’t know my father was allergic to tarragon. He ate a few bites and started swelling up.  We spent the night in the emergency room. I had your mother crying because she ‘poisoned’ your grandfather and my mother crying because she never told Elizabeth about the tarragon. Your mother came home afterwards and crossed out that recipe.”

Duke stifled a laugh. “Yeah, that...that's definitely a dinner disaster. Why did Nathan cry when she put Shepherd's Pie in front of him?”

“Because he thought it had real shepherds in it so he panicked and then Elizabeth told him it was lamb and he burst into tears because he thought lambs were cute and he didn't want to eat them.”

Duke smiled affectionately at Nathan. “And now I know why you still don't eat lamb.”

“I’m just glad she didn’t do that with venison. I can’t imagine not eating that because I thought I was eating Bambi.” Nathan said, smiling at the memory of his mother snatching the plate away and kissing the tears from his cheeks.

“You know that’s also why he thinks you can have pancakes for any meal. She made him pancakes instead.” Garland told Duke.

Duke laughed softly. “Why doesn't that surprise me?”

“Okay, keep picking on me.” Nathan said, trying to keep his smile contained. This day was turning out better that he ever expected.

“Sorry,” Duke said, leaning over to kiss his cheek. “Who's ready for dessert?”

“Dessert sounds good,” Nathan said, smiling up at Duke.

“Don’t remember Elizabeth making pear crumble. Is that something of yours?” Garland asked.

“Yeah. It's similar to her recipe for apple crumble so I think you'll like it.”

“I’m pretty sure I’ll like it.” Garland assured him.

“Dad, we’re having a small private dinner tomorrow to tell everyone else. We wanted to tell you first. It would be nice if you could join us…” Nathan asked.

“It's at the Gull, at seven. Just a handful of people. Bill and Meg, Claire and Dwight, Tracy, James if he can make it, Gloria.” Duke added.

“Let me make sure nothing is going on at the station. Seven should be doable.”

“Great,” Duke said, grinning happily as he got up to get the dessert, still warm from the oven.

“You are spoiling me. Mac and cheese and warm dessert straight from the oven,” Nathan said, getting up to grab the dessert plates and forks.

“There's ice cream to go with it too,” Duke said, grabbing a quick kiss before Nathan took the plates and forks to the table.

Nathan smiled. “Definitely spoiling me.”

“You deserve it.”

Nathan started to object but stopped himself. “Thank you.” He sat down at the table and let Duke serve the dessert.

Garland took a drink of his beer and smiled. “I may have to come over more...this is bringing back good memories.”

“I really hope you do,” Duke said, quietly, his voice full of honesty.

“I’d like that, Dad,” Nathan said, smiling.

Chapter Text

The informal announcement at the Gull went down well and, as both Nathan and Duke had suspected, didn't come as a surprise to anyone.

Arrangements were underway for the wedding to happen in November, in Maui, with all the guests Nathan and Duke had hoped for.

Nathan was busily doing some work on his truck when Duke made an excuse to pop out, saying that he wanted to pick up a particular jar of spice that he could only get from a specialist shop in Portland. Nathan had given him a strange look but nodded and said he'd see Duke later.

Which is how Duke found himself standing outside Garland's front door with a six pack of beer tucked under his arm. It was the first time in his memory that they'd spent any time alone together and Duke couldn't quite stop his hand from shaking when he rang the bell.

Garland answered the door, looking a bit confused. “Duke? This is a surprise. Come in,” he said, stepping aside to let Duke in.

“Chief,” Duke greeted him. “Brought some beers…”

“Everything okay?” Garland asked, leading him to the kitchen. He sat at the table and gestured for Duke to sit.

“Yeah, yeah, fine,” Duke said, passing Garland a beer and taking one for himself.

Garland opened the beer and took a drink, waiting for Duke to speak.

Duke gave a nervous little chuckle and leaned forwards, his elbows resting on the table. “Wanted to ask you about Nathan's house - the one Elizabeth left him.”

“What did you want to know?”

“It's been in the family for generations, right? It was Elizabeth's parents house, Nathan spent time there growing up and he was renting it out until a few years ago but it's been empty for a while and it needs a lot of work…”

“Needs some work. Mostly cosmetic. New bathrooms, maybe a kitchen upgrade. You know he wants to sell it? Asked me about a month ago to find an agent.”

“He did? Did you do anything about it?”

“It was right after the blood thing at the Rouge. After you came back from the outing in your boat. He called and said he didn’t want it anymore. I told him I would take care of it but I knew he was just upset. Never called anyone.”

Duke nodded. “Good, that's...good. Do you think…? I was thinking about doing it up, as a wedding present...live there when we get back in the spring…”

“Live there permanently? Not on the Rouge?”

“Yeah…”

“I think we can figure that out. But are you sure? You know you don’t have to give up the Rouge for Nathan…he wouldn’t want that. I think that’s why he wanted to sell the house.”

“I'm sure. Not planning on selling her, we can still take trips on her, but I'd like to do something to prove to Nathan that I'm done with that life.”

“Not sure that’s necessary. You don’t have to prove anything to Nathan but we can get this done. What kind of upgrades do you want?”

“No, I know, but I still want to,” Duke said. “Repaint, touch up some of the woodwork, bathrooms, kitchen, sort out the flooring in the lounge, tidy up the yard, maybe make a vegetable garden…”

“Okay. We can do that. I’ll take care of most of it. You tell me how you want the kitchen. What appliances you want, color scheme, that sort of thing. And tell me what you want done with the bathrooms. They aren’t exactly suitable right now for you and Nathan...kinda on the small side. May need a total remodel on them. I’ll recruit Dwight and McHugh to help.”

“You sure you don't mind? I was asking for an opinion on whether it was the right thing to do but that help would be amazing.”

“If you want to surprise him, you can’t keep disappearing to help out. He’ll figure it out. It is a good idea to fix it and keep it. Elizabeth always wanted to keep the house in the family maybe pass it down to Nathan’s children...don’t say a word...I’m not even suggesting children. Don’t start panicking.”

“I wasn't panicking.”

“Good, good. I’ll start figuring everything out today. You want to talk through some ideas now? You have time?”

“Yeah, I have time if you do? Want to go over there?”

“Sure. You driving?”

Duke nodded and stood up, waiting for Garland before he went out to his truck.

Ten minutes later, they were standing outside the modestly sized family home.

“It’s not too fancy but Elizabeth loved it here It’s got three bedrooms on the second floor plus a bathroom we can connect to the master bedroom. Living room, dining room, kitchen and another bathroom on the first floor. The basement is the full length of the house but it’s not finished. There is a lot of land though. Huge backyard and plenty of room for a vegetable garden. Want to go in?”

“... That depends on whether me borrowing Nathan's keys without him knowing counts as breaking and entering…”

Garland shook his head and laughed. “It’s a fine line...but if it makes you feel better we can use my keys.”

Duke breathed a sigh of relief. “Ok, that sounds like a much better plan.”

Garland opened the door and let Duke go inside. “Floors are hardwood. I had them replaced when Nathan was in high school. They shouldn’t need to much work.”

“It's a lovely house,” Duke said, looking around. “Doesn't need much doing at all.”

“No, it doesn’t. Like I said, mostly cosmetic. It’s all structurally sound. Everything is up to code, electric, plumbing all good. I know you’ll have thoughts on the kitchen and probably the bathrooms. And possibly the paint. You can re-decorate however you want as well. I’ll tell you the pieces that need to stay...the ones that were Elizabeth’s.”

“Yeah, we'll definitely want to keep those. Kitchen...I have a lot of thoughts about, I'll work out a design for that.”

“That sounds good. I can give that to whoever we get to work on the kitchen. I’m sure you know what Nathan likes for everything else.”

Duke nodded. “Old wood, imperfect furniture, nothing that matches.”

“Like I said...you know better about this stuff than I do. You have a budget?”

“Nope. It costs what it costs. Getting it right is more important.”

“You want regular updates I’m assuming. It’ll be easier to come check things out once Nathan goes back to work. I’ll give you all the contacts once I hire some people. Dwight, McHugh and I can do a lot of it ourselves but we will need some other contractors and extra help. When did you say you wanted this to be ready?”

“March. We'll hire whoever it takes to get the job done but my preference, other than Dwight and McHugh, of course, is for people who need the work. Give a chance to someone who's struggling. That's not negotiable.”

“Will do. I’ll talk to Dwight. I’m sure he knows who could use the work. Anything else you need me to do?”

“Nothing I can think of. I'll send swatches and stuff over to Dwight, paint samples, that sorta stuff.”

“Nathan is going to be very surprised by all this. Glad you thought of it.”

“Just hope it's a good sort of surprised.”

“It will be. Especially if you truly want to live here with him.”

“I really do. He deserves a home. One that's ours, not one that was mine and he just moved in. I know that's not how he feels about the Rouge but I want to give him something more… stable.”

“Well, I can honestly say he seems very happy since you proposed. I mean he said he was happy before but he’s smiling more and I’m glad. Glad my shitty parenting didn’t ruin things for him...or you.”

“I think part of the smiling is down to not working…”

“Yeah, this job can suck the life right out of you if you let it. Nathan’s a good cop. He needs to start taking vacation though. Not just because the councilmen are strongly suggesting it but because you’re right...not working is making him happier.

“He's already agreed to that so hopefully that'll help.”

“Good. Ready to go back? Want to check the yard on the way out?”

“Yeah, see if I can work out where to put the vegetable garden. And a greenhouse. And some herbs by the back door.”

“Definitely enough space for all that.” Garland said, opening the back door to reveal the huge backyard.

Duke grinned. “Yeah, plenty of space. Maybe a couple of fruit trees too.”

“Fruit trees? This is a dream come true for you, too. I think you are both going to be very happy here.”

“Yeah, I think we will be,” Duke said, smiling softly. “Thanks for all your help.”

“Anytime.”

“You really think I’m doing the right thing?”

“With the house?”

“Yeah. Maybe Nathan would prefer to be involved, choose stuff for himself…”

“You’re doing the right thing. He’ll appreciate the surprise and all you are doing to make him happy.”

Duke nodded. “I really hope so.”

“Duke, you’ve never let him down before.”

“I have. I've let him down, I've let you all down. What if I'm getting this wrong as well?”

“Since you came back to Haven you’ve never let him down. And me? Well, I let you down and I know I can’t make up for all those years. But I can try. And I can offer advice. You know Nathan. You know him better than I do. He loves you and he will love that you wanted to make this house a home for him. Why would you think he wouldn't like it?”

“Because I'm taking over. I'm doing it without him, without his input.”

“If you asked him to design the kitchen what would he say?”

“He'd laugh and shake his head.”

“And the bathrooms? What does he want in a bathroom?”

“... He'd probably prefer not to have a gun taped to the toilet cistern but otherwise, he's not too fussy.”

“And does he like fresh fruit and vegetables?”

Duke wavered his hand in a so so gesture. “He likes what I do with them.”

“Do you think he’d like to be surrounded by things that belonged to his mother?”

“Yes. Yeah, he would.”

“Okay, then. Tell me what you think you’re going to get wrong.”

“I won't, I know I'll get the house right. It's whether I should be doing it at all that's bothering me.”

“Because he wanted to sell it?”

“Kind of. It's his house, and I'm just taking over and we haven't even discussed living here. What if he hates the idea?”

“Do you know why he wanted to sell it?”

“No, he didn't mention it to me. He…” Duke sighed, remembering. “He said he was going to do it up so we could use it for weekends and I said it was a good idea, then he'd have a space of his own to go to if...he ever needed or wanted it and then he said he didn't need space and he'd sell it if I wanted him to. I said no, of course, I’d never want that, but...that was probably why.”

“He wanted to reassure you that he never wanted to leave you. He didn’t ever want you to see this place as a backup plan. He loves you. He will not see this as overstepping or being controlling. He will love it.”

Duke nodded. “Yeah. You're right. Thanks.”

“This is going to make him very happy. I’m sure of it.”

“Yeah,” Duke said, sounding more convinced. “He will. Thanks, Chief.”

“You’re welcome.”

Duke gave him a warm smile - perhaps the most genuine one Garland had ever seen from him, open and happy and without the underlying bitterness that had been there for so many years.

Chapter Text

It turned out that planning a beach wedding in Maui wasn’t as hard as Nathan thought it would be. All he had to do was call the resort they were staying at and coordinate everything with the on staff wedding planner. Which is exactly what he did, shortly before he returned to work.

True to his word, Nathan asked Duke again if he wanted him to quit the force.  Duke still didn’t have an answer. They brought it up with Claire during one of their joint session and she suggested they give it another few months, postpone the decision until after the wedding.  Even so, Nathan spoke to the Chief about transferring to Forensics just in case Duke did decide he wanted Nathan to quit. With all the time off, Nathan had come to realise that although he loved his job, it wasn’t the same any more.  He’d been happier during the three months he’d taken off to care for Duke than he had been in his seventeen years on the force.

*

Summer turned into fall and before anyone knew it, they were in Maui for the wedding, sitting on the beach and sipping cocktails (mocktails in Meg’s case) in the sun.

“How does it feel to be getting married tomorrow?” Bill asked, sipping a ridiculously fruity drink with a little yellow umbrella.

Meg looked to Nathan and Duke and then smiled at her husband. “They both looked terrified. Kinda how you looked before our wedding. You do know this is supposed to be one of the best days of your lives right?”

“I know, I know, I’m just thinking of all the things that could go wrong…” Nathan said, reading over the list the wedding planner had given him. “What if I forget my vows. What if Bill forgets the rings. What if I drop the ring...in the sand…”

Meg smiled and gave Nathan’s arm an affectionate squeeze. ”Nothing is going to go wrong… unless your niece decides to make her appearance early.”

The color drained from Bill’s face when she said that. “Please, don’t even joke about that.”

Duke glared at Meg. “That's just tempting fate. She'll probably arrive early just because you've said that and while I'm very, very excited to meet her, she needs to stay in there and cook for another couple of weeks at least.”

Meg laughed. “Will you both stop! She’s not going to upstage this wedding.”

Nathan looked up from his list. “This time tomorrow we will be halfway to being married. I almost can’t believe it…”

“Well, I can. You two are meant to be together. Hey, I never asked….are you keeping your names?  Changing them? Hyphenating them?” Meg asked cheerfully.

“Actually I was going to take Nathan's,” Duke said quietly.

Nathan looked over to Duke, a little surprised because they never discussed this. “You want to take my name?”

“Yeah. I mean, if you don't mind, that is…”

“Why would I mind? I’d love for you to take my name if that’s really what you want.” Nathan reached across Meg and caught hold of Duke’s hand.

Duke squeezed his hand and gave him a small smile. “Thanks. Never was too keen on the Crocker name.”

Meg smiled at them. “You two are adorable! Thank you for making sure I could be here. I’ve waited so long to see you both so happy. I think I’m going to cry.”

Nathan let go of Duke’s hand and put his arm around Meg. “Of course we made sure you could be here, you and Bill mean a lot to us.”

“Wouldn't be without you,” Duke said, smiling. “Either of you.”

Bill nodded. “Thanks, man. Stop being nice to her, pregnancy hormones, she'll be in floods of tears in a minute.”

“Aah, let her cry if she wants to. You’re going to have to get used to it. You’re going to be living with two females soon,” Nathan said, hugging her tighter.

Meg thumped him on the shoulder. “I don't want to cry, that's the problem. Stop being nice or...or…” she trailed off with a little hiccup.

“Told you,” Bill said smugly, earning himself a thump from Meg.

“Okay, Okay! Stop beating me up.” Nathan said, holding his hands up in defeat. He looked over at Duke. “A little help here…”

Duke stretched out on his sun lounger, a lazy grin on his face. “Go get me another cocktail and then I'll help you.”

“What would you like? Nathan asked, standing up.

“I’d like pineapple juice with a pink umbrella,” Meg replied.

“Wasn’t asking you. I’m not getting you anything...you beat me up,” Nathan said, grinning.

Duke rolled his eyes. “Pineapple juice with a pink umbrella, sex on the beach and whatever Bill wants.”

Bill shook his head. “I’m good, thanks.”

Meg watched Nathan head to the bar and smiled at Duke. “You’re really happy aren’t you?”

Duke smiled softly. “I really am.”

“Well, I...we may have something that’s going to make you a little happier. Two things actually but let’s wait until Nathan comes back with the drinks,” Meg said, smiling brightly at Duke.

Bill groaned. “Why did you tell him that? You know what he's like with surprises.”

“Y'know, Bill, I would be vaguely offended by that but one, you have a point, and two, I'm getting married tomorrow and I'm too damn happy to care about much else,” Duke said, stretching and arching his back.

Nathan came back with the drinks and handed them out. “Did I miss anything?”

“No, but we do have something we’d like to ask you both. Now you can say no and we’ll understand.” Meg looked over at Bill and he nodded. “We want you to be our daughter’s Godparents. I know neither of you are particularly religious and that’s okay, we just want you front and centre in Erin Elizabeth’s life.” By the time she was finished talking, Meg was crying again.

Bill put his arm around his wife and looked at his oldest friends. “Is that okay?”

Nathan looked stunned and couldn’t find any words. He looked at Duke, hoping he would say something, but he looked just as stunned. He cleared his throat. “Erin Elizabeth?”

Bill nodded. “Seemed... appropriate.”

Duke tried to rearrange his face into a smile but it appeared to be stuck on stunned. “I, uh - thanks.”

Meg started crying harder. “Are you okay with all this? I’m sorry I should have waited to spring this on you. You don’t have to do it...I just wanted to... I know how much Elizabeth meant to both of you. And-and…”

Nathan looked at Duke again, not wanting to speak for him but wanting to comfort Meg. “We love the name. And we’re honored you want us to be in her life…”

“But it’s too much, right?”

Duke kneeled beside her and pulled her into a hug. “No, it's not too much. We'd be honoured to be Erin Elizabeth's godparents. I think I'll be terrible at it but Nate won't be and I'll love her and spoil her and I'll do my best to be a good influence in her life. Thank you - both of you - for asking us.”

Nathan nodded. “Everything Duke said, except he won’t be terrible. We love you both and thank you so much for asking us.”

Meg wiped the tears from her face and smiled. “We love you guys, too. Okay, I’m going to try to keep the crying to a minimum...at least until the wedding. I can’t guarantee anything then.”

Bill passed her a tissue. “Don't worry, got a whole stash in my pocket and yes my other pocket is filled with the honey roasted cashews you keep craving.”

“In containers, I hope,” Duke said, grinning.

“Obviously,” Bill couldn't quite help rolling his eyes.

“Bill, you’re sure you have Duke’s ring?” Nathan asked, looking over his list again.

Meg gently pulled the paper out of Nathan’s hand. “Everything is going to go smoothly. I promise we have the ring. Your wedding planner is going to give you directions tomorrow. Let’s spend tonight together, having fun...like old times.”

Nathan smiled at her. “Okay, we can do that. Just...what kind of stuff did we consider fun back then?”

“I seem to remember there being alcohol involved…” Duke said.

“There was always alcohol involved...and kissing...but since Meg can’t drink and I doubt Bill wants to kiss either of us...maybe we think of something else?” Nathan teased.

“Poker? Doesn't have to involve drinking, definitely doesn't involve kissing, and I can see if Meg's poker face is still as bad as it was back then.”

“Hey, I resent that! My poker face is just as good as Nathan’s,” Meg protested.

Bill laughed. “No, honey, it really isn't. You grin when you have a good hand and pout when it's bad.”

Nathan smiled. “Don’t feel bad, Meg, that’s exactly what Duke said about me when I first started playing. I’ll go see if I can round up some cards. We can play right here.”

“And now I can't beat you,” Duke complained.

“Well, it’s your own fault. You taught me.” Nathan stood up and gave Duke a quick kiss. “I’ll be right back.”

Duke smiled softly as Nathan walked away. “Still can't believe this is happening.”

Bill squeezed his shoulder. “What made you change your mind?”

“Nearly losing him. Life's too short and the past few months really made me see that.”

Meg nodded, her eyes getting misty. “I’ve never seen either of you so happy. I knew all those years ago you two were meant to be.”

“Apparently everyone did except us,” Duke said quietly.

“It’s okay, Duke. You figured it out..that’s all that matters. And now you have the rest of your lives together. Gonna miss you guys the next few months...you better send pictures!” Meg said.

“I promise we will send pics or post them on Insta or something. And you’d better send pics of Erin Elizabeth as soon as she arrives too.”

“I’m sure Bill is going to be taking pictures of everything. I’ll make sure you don’t get any of the graphic ones,” Meg promised, smiling.

“Graphic what?” Nathan asked, coming up behind Duke holding a deck of cards.

“Birth pictures,” Duke said, tilting his head to invite Nathan down for a kiss.

Nathan leaned down and kissed Duke, relaxing into his soft lips.

Bill groaned. “Were we ever that sickeningly cute?”

“I think we were worse. I used to sit on your lap all the time and kiss you,”  Meg said, winking at Duke and Nathan.

Duke grinned back and grabbed Nathan around the waist to pull him onto his lap. “I seem to remember it going something like this…” he said, curling his hand around the back of Nathan's neck and stretching up to kiss him.

“I think there was a little more tongue…” Meg said, trying to be heard over her husband’s loud groaning.

Duke laughed softly and kissed Nathan harder - complete with tongues.

Nathan pulled away from the kiss, totally dazed. “I thought we were doing something that didn’t require kissing…”

Meg held her hand out. “Give me the cards...I’m dealing.”

Chapter Text

The next morning, Duke and Nathan were up in time to watch the sunrise from their balcony overlooking the ocean, enjoying each other’s company before they took their time to get dressed for breakfast.

Nathan walked up behind Duke and snaked his arms around his waist. “We’re meeting my dad and Gloria for breakfast at eight and then Kailani is going to find us around nine to go over everything again. Housekeeping should have our suits pressed and ready by ten. Can you believe we’ll be married in less than eight hours?”

“Seven and a half, if you want to be precise about it,” Duke said, turning in Nathan's arms to kiss him.

Nathan gave himself over to the kiss, pulling Duke just a little closer. He smiled brightly when they broke apart. “Seven and a half hours and you’ll be Duke Wuornos…can’t believe how lucky I am. You really want to take my name?”

“I really do. Sorry for springing it on you.”

“Nothing to be sorry for. I want whatever makes you happy and it makes me feel special that this is what you want.”

Duke smiled softly. “You've always been my family, Nate. It feels right to take your name and it...it means I won't be a Crocker anymore.”

Nathan gave Duke a soft kiss. “You were never like him. You were always so much better. You’re right, we’ve always been family. I love you.”

“Love you too,” Duke said quietly. “Think your dad'll mind?”

“No, he’s different now that he’s stopped being so angry. I know he hurt you in the past and there are things I never expect you to forget. But I believe he truly meant it when he said he’s happy we’re getting married. He won’t mind at all.”

Duke nodded. “Yeah, I think you're right, he's happy for us.”

“I’m always right,” Nathan teased, turning to get dressed for breakfast.

“Nah, only sometimes. The rest of the time, I'm right,” Duke grinned and followed him.

*

Gloria and Garland were already seated and waiting in the resort restaurant when Duke and Nathan arrived.

“Morning, Dad, Gloria.” Nathan greeted them.

“Morning,” Garland replied before adding, “How are you two doing? Nervous?”

“Nope,” Duke said, squeezing Nathan's hand. “Nate is though.”

“What you nervous about?” Garland asked after Nathan and Duke sat down.

Nathan shrugged. “Just things going wrong…”

“Nothing's going to go wrong,” Gloria said. “If it does, they'll have me to answer to.”

“Thanks, Gloria. Are you enjoying Hawaii? Both of you?”

“It’s warm and sunny, can’t beat that. And that room you got me is huge.” Garland replied.

“It's too hot, the booze is too expensive and the mosquitoes won't leave me alone,” Gloria complained. “And I still wouldn't change it for the world.”

“Only you could be a grumpy old woman on our wedding day,” Duke said, smiling.

“Oh hush, you know I would never have missed this. You two could've got married at the north pole and I'd still have been there.”

“You know you have to be on the beach at noon, right? We’re starting at twelve thirty...then it’s a big party until we’re too exhausted to stand. Lots of food, alcohol, and music...did we give Kailani our playlist? I can’t remember if we did...” Nathan asked Duke.

Garland laughed. “Nathan, can you relax a bit? You’re making me nervous and I’m not the one getting married.”

“Yes we did. It's quarter past eight, we have plenty of time,” Duke said, squeezing Nathan's knee.

“I’m sorry. We’re only doing this once, so I want it to be perfect for you,” Nathan said softly.

“It will be. Because I'm marrying you and nothing else matters.”

Gloria made a sound as though she was being sick. “Disgustingly sweet, the pair of you. Nathan, you'll be fine, everything'll be perfect.”

Nathan was about to reply to Gloria when the server came by and placed a plate of pancakes in front of him. “Did you order these for me?” He asked Duke.

“Yep,” Duke said, grinning.

The server set a plate in front of Duke that was filled with fruits and waffles. “Yours looks good, too.” He looked over to his dad and Gloria. “How was your breakfast?”

“Very good. A lot more than the coffee and donuts I’m used to,” Garland said.

“Coffee and donuts,” Gloria snorted. “Keep that up and you'll be on my table in no time.”

“Well, we’ve been cooking for him so he’s getting a little better. Or should I say Duke has been loading up his freezer with home cooked meals.” Nathan said, eating a bit of his pancakes.

“Yeah, can’t fit a sardine in that freezer now…” Garland grumbled goodnaturedly.

Duke grinned. “So buy a bigger freezer and I'll be able to fit more into it.”

“Dad, it’s only that packed because we are going to be gone for over three months. And when it gets low, call Tracy. She has the rest in one of the freezers at the Gull.”

Duke nodded. “She'll bring it over, a week's worth at a time.”

“Thank you. It’s almost like Elizabeth is cooking for me again. I’m glad we’re a family again.”

“Yeah, about that Dad, being a family...we decided what we’re doing about our last name.” Nathan started, looking towards Duke to make sure he was okay with telling Garland now.

Duke gave him a subtle nod.

“Duke’s going to take my name...our name.”

Garland looked back and forth between Nathan and Duke. He started to speak and had to clear his throat. “Well now...that’s really nice. I couldn’t be happier.”

Duke visibly relaxed. “It just felt right…”

“It is right. You’ve been part of this family for a long time. I’m just an old goat who was holding on to old grudges.”

Gloria stared at him, her mouth hanging slightly open. “Never thought I'd see the day. Garland Wuornos admitting he was wrong. Hell must've frozen over.”

“Alright, alright, make a joke,” Garland said waving his hand at Gloria. He turned to Nathan. “I’m going to go spend time on the beach. Don’t worry, I’ll be dressed and ready before the ceremony starts. You want to join me, Gloria?”

“And get away from these two lovebirds? Try stopping me,” Gloria said, already on her feet.

Nathan laughed after them. “I guess it’s just you and me-“

“Duke! Nathan! There you are! I’ve been looking all over for you. Oh, you’re still eating? Mind if I sit with you?” Kailani, the wedding planner, said, sitting down at the table.

“Good morning,” Duke said, smiling. “Coffee?”

“Thank you. I’d love some. I just talked to housekeeping and your suits are all pressed and in your room. I’ll be bringing you the boutonnières before your photographer arrives. We’ll be taking pictures of you two before the ceremony and then different ones with all your guests after. Do you have any concerns?” Kailani asked, sipping the coffee Duke poured for her.

“We gave you the music, right?” Nathan asked nervously.

“Yes, you did. That’s all set. After you finish breakfast we can walk through the ceremony. Is that okay?”

“You're a star, thank you,” Duke said. “A walk through would be good, Nathan's stressing.”

“There’s nothing to stress about. I’m taking care of everything. You just have to show up and remember your vows...oh and bring the rings but I think Bill is taking care of that, right?”

“Yes, he is. What if I forget my vows?” Nathan asked, feeling nervous all over again.

“You won’t but on the tiny chance you do the officiant will just take over. Don’t worry you will be married today...even if you forget your vows,” Kailani assured him.

“I’m sorry if I’m being difficult...I’m trying not to be nervous.”

Kailani laughed. “You are the sweetest couple I’ve had in a long time. You would not believe some of the bridezillas I’ve had to deal with this month. I have a bride due in from New York tomorrow who doesn’t understand why she can’t wear six inch stilettos on the beach or why we can’t take pictures with an erupting volcano.”

“That...doesn't sound like fun and honestly…? You deserve a medal,” Duke said. “Nate, you're not going to forget your vows, you've practiced them twelve times with Meg and made her cry every time.”

“Duke’s right...that doesn't sound like fun. Are they all like that?”

Kailani shook her head. “Not all of them. It’s just bad during November and December, you know around the holidays. I love being able to make people’s dreams come true...as long as they are realistic. So, as long as you don’t expect me to make a volcano erupt during your ceremony...I’m good.”

“No volcano eruptions necessary,” Duke said. “What else do you need from us?”

“Just your witnesses to sign your marriage certificate with the officiant. I know Bill is your best man but I forgot to ask who is your second witness? Then after you finish eating we’ll walk through the ceremony. We don’t need Bill but if you want to get him we can.”

“Second witness is Gloria,” Duke said. “Bill knows what he's doing but I'll grab him if you want me to, Nate?”

“No, let him enjoy his time with Meg. It’ll probably be their last vacation alone in a long time.”

“First one in a few years too. Good call.”

“I’m ready whenever you are.”

Duke pushed his plate to the side. “I'm good to go.”

Kailani bounced out of her chair and led the way outside. “Okay, let’s walk through the rest of your day. The photographer needs you on the beach right here at eleven. He’ll take loads of pictures then you’ll each have a few minutes to yourself in these cabanas,” she said, pointing to two cabanas near the ceremony site. “I’ll let you know when everyone is here and seated. Bill will already be next to the officiant. You decided you want to walk together right?”

Nathan nodded. “Yes, that’s right.”

“Okay, then the officiant will start the ceremony. He’ll guide you through it all. Telling you when to recite your vows, when Bill will need to give the rings. After the ceremony the photographer will take more pictures. Then we’ll move a little farther down the beach to the reception area. There will be tables, food, bar...and tons of desserts just like you requested. Any questions? Last minute requests?”

“No, I think I'm all set,” Duke said. “Nate?”

“I think I’m good.”

“I’ll meet you at your room with the boutonnieres a few minutes before eleven. If you think of anything else just call me. Now go relax for a bit.” She hugged them both and walked back inside.

“We have a little bit of time before we need to get dressed. Stay out here and watch the waves?” Nathan asked.

Duke leaned against him. “Yeah, it's... relaxing.”

“It is very relaxing. Come sit with me?” Nathan asked, taking Duke’s hand.

Duke followed him to a patch of sand, just above the high tide line, and sat down, tugging Nathan with him. “Last chance to back out,” he said lightly.

Nathan raised an eyebrow. “Really? Nope, you aren’t getting rid of me that easy. I’m not going anywhere. Love you so much. Love being with you. I want this life. What about you? Want to back out?”

“Never. You're stuck with me.”

“Good. Because there’s no place I’d rather be than by your side.”

Duke smiled softly and pulled Nathan close for a kiss. “Me neither.”

When they broke from the kiss, Nathan rested his head on Duke’s shoulder. “The first time we kissed was on the beach…”

“By the bonfire. After everyone else had left…”

“I was not expecting you to kiss me. I had just told you that Hannah decided she didn’t want to lie to the Rev anymore and you smiled at me…”

“And then I leaned in and kissed you,” Duke said, smiling softly.

“Your kiss took my breath away then and it still does all these years later,” Nathan said, leaning in for another kiss.

“Love you, Nate,” Duke said after they broke apart.

“I love you, too, Duke...always and forever…”

Duke smiled softly. “Are we going to get changed, then? We only have an hour and a half and the way your hands are still shaking, it might take you that long to button your shirt.”

“You can always help me get into my clothes.”

“I prefer getting you out of them…”

“You can do that tonight...but yeah, we need to go get dressed.”

“Is that a promise?” Duke grinned.

“Yes. It’s going to be incredible.”

“Oh, oh that sounds like you have plans. Should I be worried or excited?”

“Excited...definitely excited. You still like chocolate right?” Nathan winked when he tried to open the door to their suite.

“Wh- what are you planning to do with the chocolate?”

“Later... after we tell the world how much we love each other...I think I may need help getting dressed...I just dropped the keycard my hands are shaking so bad.”

Duke bent down to pick it up and opened the door, ushering Nathan inside. “Let's get you ready, then you can sit and shake until it's time to go.”

Nathan managed a small laugh. “I don’t know why I’m so nervous. We only have six guests...all of them have known us practically our whole lives...I shouldn’t be shaking.”

“It's a big thing,” Duke said. “Understandable that you're nervous.

Nathan nodded. “You’re right. Hopefully, I’ll never have to be this nervous again. I’m going to take a quick shower. I’d invite you to come with me but then I think we’d be late for our own wedding…”

“...I think you'd be right about that.”

“I’ll be right out.”

Duke nodded and flung himself onto the bed to wait.

Nathan emerged from the bathroom ten minutes later towel drying his hair. “All yours.”

Duke stopped to give him a gentle kiss before dashing into the bathroom and coming back a few minutes later, a towel around his waist and another wrapped around his hair.

“I’ll get the suits out of the closet while you dry your hair.”

“Thanks,” Duke said, pulling out a hairdryer and trying to remember how to dry his hair so it wouldn’t go fluffy.  Given that he usually just pulled it into a ponytail, it wasn’t something he had to worry about often.

Nathan laid the garment bags on the bed and opened them. He pulled his blue linen suit out and started to get dressed.

By the time Duke had succeeded in (mostly) avoiding fluffy hair and tied it back neatly (or tried to, the band kept slipping off because his hair was too clean and shiny), Nathan was half dressed and struggling to button up his shirt.

“Here, let me,” Duke said softly.

Nathan smiled. “Thank you. You look gorgeous...can’t wait to see you in your suit.”

“You’ve seen me in my suit, when I tried it on and I really don’t think wearing a towel can be described as gorgeous.  Maybe I should take it off…” Duke smirked, peeling the corner of the towel away.

“Yes, let’s take it off…” Nathan said, reaching for the towel.

Duke grinned and let Nathan take the towel off.

“Okay, now you are definitely gorgeous. The things I want to do to your body…” Nathan murmured, pulling him closer.

Duke laughed softly and leaned down to kiss him.  “I thought we didn’t have time for that…”

“We don’t...I just love looking at you. Go get dressed, we don’t need to shock Kailani when she comes in with our boutonnieres.”

“Hey, you were the one who undressed me,” Duke complained goodnaturedly, even as he did what he was told.  “Starting things you have no intention of finishing…”

“I know. That wasn't fair but I promise to finish it...tonight…”

“With chocolate, apparently…”

“There might be other things too. Maybe champagne, strawberries, whipped cream…”

Duke grinned.  “Sex and food, my two favourite things.”

Nathan grinned back and got up to tuck in his shirt. He was just grabbing his jacket when there was a knock at the door. “Kailani must be here. I’ll let her in while you finish getting dressed.” He opened the door and greeted Kailani. “That time already?”

“Yes, it is. As soon as I pin these on we’ll be all set,” she said, setting the flowers on the table.

“Thanks Kailani,” Duke said, pulling on his blazer and trying not to fidget with the sleeves.

Kailani noticed him fidgeting. “You only have to keep that on for some of the formal pictures and the ceremony. Then you can take it off.”

“And the shoes I hope,” Duke said, fidgeting with his feet as well.

Nathan laughed. “If you really don’t want to wear the jacket or the shoes you don’t have to. This is your wedding, too.”

“Don’t tempt me,” Duke said, sighing.  

“Duke, there is no right or wrong dress code for this ceremony. If you want to lose the jacket and shoes...that’s fine. Just wait until you get to the beach to get rid of the shoes.” Kailani told him.

“No, no, I’ll wear them.  It’ll look better if we’re matching.  Can’t guarantee how long I’ll keep them on, but I’ll wear them for the ceremony and photos.”

Kailani smiled and pinned the flowers on both of them. “You’re all set. Let’s go find your photographer.”

“Ready?” Nathan asked.

Duke nodded, his mouth suddenly dry.  “Ready,” he croaked.

Kailani walked with them to the beach where their photographer and videographer were waiting. “Nathan, Duke, this is Neal and George. They will be following you around until you decide to go to bed tonight. They are going to capture everything for you. I’ll be back in time to get you in place for your ceremony.”

“Thanks Kailani,” Duke smiled warmly.  

Once she’d gone, he turned to kiss Nathan, pressing his lips softly to Nathan’s cheek as the photographers camera clicked away.

*

Kailani bounced back five minutes before the ceremony was due to start.

“That time already?”  Duke joked weakly.

She smiled brightly Duke, “Your turn to be nervous?”

“No,” Duke mumbled.

Nathan grabbed hold of Duke’s hand and brought it to his lips. He turned it over and kissed his palm. “I love you. You are making me so happy.”

Duke let out a shaky breath. “Love you too. Let's do this.”

Nathan held onto Duke’s hand and nodded to Kailani. Soft strains of Pachelbel's Canon in D floated through the air. He looked over at Duke and smiled. “Let’s go.”

Duke smiled back, tried to stop fidgeting with his blazer and walked down to the flower covered arch where the officiant and Bill were waiting for them, squeezing Nathan's hand with every step they took.

Nathan smiled as they walked past Meg, who was already crying on Tracy’s shoulder.

When they reached the officiant, the music faded and they turned to face each other, just like they’d practiced.  Nathan tried to drop Duke’s hand but Duke wouldn’t let go so he grabbed his other hand and held tight.

The officiant waited for them both to nod, smiled, and started the ceremony.

“We are here today to join Nathan and Duke in a life of mutual commitment. It is fitting and appropriate that you, the family and friends of Nathan and Duke, be here to witness and to participate in their union. For the ideals, the understanding, and the mutual respect which they bring to their life together had their roots in the love and friendship and guidance you have given them. The union of two people makes us aware of the changes wrought by time. But the new relationship will continue to draw much of its beauty and meaning from the intimate associations of their past."

Nathan took a deep breath and squeezed Duke’s hands.

Duke gave him a reassuring smile and mouthed the word 'breathe’ to him.

Nathan let out the breath he was holding and laughed quietly.

The officiant smiled again and continued.

“True marriage is more than joining the bonds of marriage of two persons; it is the union of two hearts. It lives on the love you give each other and never grows old, but thrives on the joy of each new day. Marriage is love. May you always be able to talk things over, to confide in each other, to laugh with each other, to enjoy life together, and to share moments of quiet and peace, when the day is done. May you be blessed with a lifetime of happiness and a home of warmth and understanding."

Nathan felt himself getting choked up and he was worried he would start to get teary eyed but Meg took that exact moment to blow her nose loudly enough that everyone turned to look at her.

Bill managed to stifle a laugh, but Nathan couldn’t.

Meg looked around and shrugged. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t help it!”

Gloria passed her a fresh tissue and patted her shoulder. “Think we're all getting a bit emotional at these two idiots finally getting things together.”

“Thanks Gloria, remind me never to invite you to anything serious again,” Duke grumbled goodnaturedly, rubbing his thumbs over the back of Nathan's hands.

“Nathan and Duke have written vows they would like to share with each other. Nathan?”

Nathan looked into Duke’s eyes and took a deep breath. “Duke, I can’t remember life without you. You were there to celebrate the best days of my life and comfort me in my worst. I knew when I was twelve that I never wanted to be anywhere but by your side. It took many years and many mistakes to get here but I wouldn’t change anything. Everything we have been through just proves we are meant to be. You made me a better person, a stronger person, a happier person. I promise to love you. Treasure you. Support you. Laugh with you. Cry with you. Grow old with you. I will love you always, with every beat of my heart.”

Duke blinked furiously, willing the tears that stung his eyes not to fall. “Thank you,” he murmured.

“Love you,” Nathan whispered back.

Meg and Tracy leaned into each other, tears running down their cheeks.

“Sickeningly cute, aren't they,” Gloria hissed at Garland.

Garland quietly cleared his throat. “Yeah. Never thought I’d say it but they belong together.”

Gloria nodded as the officiant asked Duke to say his vows.

“You're my anchor, Nathan. My compass. You help me navigate the seas and provide me shelter when they're rough. You give me a rock to cling to but more than that - you're my best friend, my partner through everything and I promise to spend the rest of my life treasuring you and cherishing you and loving you in the way that you deserve. I want to spend the rest of my life with you by my side, supporting each other no matter what the world throws at us. I love you.”

Nathan felt tears starting fall and he let go of Duke’s hand for a moment to brush one away.

The officiant turned to Nathan.  “Do you, Nathan, take Duke to be your partner in life and sharing your path; equal in love, a mirror for your true self, promising to honor and cherish, through good times and bad, until death do you part?"

Nathan nodded. “I do.”

“Do you, Duke, take Nathan, to be your partner in life and sharing your path; equal in love, a mirror for your true self, promising to honor and cherish, through good times and bad, until death do you part?"

Duke reached to take Nathan’s hand again. “I do.”

The officiant turned to Bill. “You have the rings?”

Bill reached into his pocket and handed the rings to the officiant, who then turned to Nathan.

“Take Duke’s ring and place it on his ring finger of his left hand and repeat after me. I give you this ring as a symbol of my love for you.”

Nathan picked up Duke’s ring from the officiant’s palm started to put it on Duke’s ring finger.  “I give you this ring as a symbol of my love for you.”

“Let it be a reminder that I am always by your side”

He pushed it towards Duke’s knuckle and repeated. “Let it be a reminder that I am always by your side”

“And that I will always be a faithful partner to you."

With one final push the ring was where it was supposed to be. Nathan took a breath and said, “and that I will always be a faithful partner to you."

Duke's breath caught in his chest. “Love you,” he mouthed.

The officiant held up the other ring. “Take Nathan's ring and place it on his ring finger of his left hand and repeat after me.”

Duke followed the instructions he was given, repeating every word until the ring was firmly seated on Nathan's ring finger. He smiled softly. “And that I will always be a faithful partner to you.”

Nathan watched Duke slide the ring on his finger. He smiled and looked up to meet Duke’s gaze. He knew without a doubt he would never forget the look of pure joy in his eyes.

Duke smiled back at him, only dropping his gaze when the officiant spoke again.

"Nathan, Duke… By the power vested in me by the State of Hawaii, I now pronounce you married.” There was a chorus of sniffling from Tracy and Meg and Duke thought even Gloria might have been dabbing her eyes with a hankie. The officiant went on - “You may now kiss."

Duke didn't hesitate to pull Nathan close and kiss him, softly and gently, almost reverently, his hands resting either side of Nathan's jaw, amidst a quiet round of applause from their friends and family, and a wolf whistle from Bill.

The officiant addressed the guests. “Family and friends, thank you all for coming. I now present to you for the first time, Nathan and Duke Wuornos.”

Nathan looked at the smiling faces of his friends and family and knew he would remember this day for the rest of his life. He heard “All of me” begin to play and reached for Duke’s hand. He looked up to see Kailani gesturing for them to walk towards her while the photographer snapped the first pictures of them as a married couple.

*

By the time night fell, everyone was very, very drunk (except for Meg who was loudly complaining that drunk people were nowhere near as much fun when you were sober) and Garland had been persuaded into a floral shirt which Duke had immediately taken a picture of and posted it on Instagram (to which Claire had replied with a bunch of crying laughing emojis and said that Dwight was going to print it and put it on the board at the station - Duke wasn't telling Garland that just yet though).

“Want to get out of here,” Duke murmured into Nathan's ear, trying to hide how slurred his speech was.

“Yes, very much,” Nathan replied his words slurring as much as Duke’s. “Should we say goodnight?”

Duke wrinkled his nose. “Think anyone would notice if we just...left?”

“Let’s just tell Meg...she’s sober...right?”

“Good plan, good plan,” Duke said, wobbling to his feet.

Nathan looked around and saw Meg sitting on lounge chair throwing pieces of pineapple at Bill. He stood and walked over to her. “Meg?”

“Nathan? Oh man...you are drunk.” She laughed.

“Duke and I are going to go test out that really big-“

“Whoa! I don’t need details! Go...I’ll tell everyone you said goodnight.” Meg said, kissing his cheek.

“Love you, Meg...and you too Erin,” he said, touching her stomach before staggering back to Duke.

Duke threw his arm around Nathan's waist and leaned into him as they walked back to their room.

Nathan fumbled with his keycard but didn’t drop it this time. He closed the door and turned to Duke. “Come with me…” he said, tugging Duke towards their huge bathroom.

Everything was just how he had explained to Kailani. Champagne was chilling on a small table and small plates of chocolate covered strawberries, fresh fruit, and whipped cream were placed strategically on the marble edge of the tub. Candles lined the wall, casting soft yellow light over the room. “You like it?” Nathan asked softly.

“It's... I love it, it's perfect,” Duke said, gathering his thoughts enough to string a sentence together.

“Want to take your clothes off...feed you strawberries and get in this ridiculously large tub…” Nathan brought his hands up to unbutton Duke’s shirt.

“Perfect,” Duke said again, grinning like an idiot. “Can I feed you strawberries too?”

“I’d love that.” Nathan unbuttoned the last button on Duke’s shirt and slid it off his shoulders. “Can I tell you you’re gorgeous now? Because you are…”

“You can tell me that whenever you want,” Duke said, still grinning like an idiot.

Nathan reached around Duke to turn on the taps, adjusted the temperature and stood up straight again, leaning in to kiss Duke softly. “Where were we, Duke Wuornos? God...I love how that sounds…”

“You were telling me how gorgeous I am…”

“You are. Every inch of your body is beautiful. I want to spend days just touching you and telling you how much I love you.”

“...I'd like that…”

Nathan unbuckled Duke’s belt, unzipped his pants and slid them down until they pooled around Duke’s ankles. “Good...I’m going to make you feel so good.”

“You're wearing too many clothes,” Duke complained, stepping out of his pants and fumbling with the buttons on Nathan's shirt.

While Duke worked to take off his shirt, Nathan undid his belt and took his pants off. “Is this better?”

“Much,” Duke grinned and made a smug sound as he finally finished undoing the buttons and slipped Nathan's shirt off.

“Get in?” Nathan nodded to the tub.

Duke leaned over to turn off the taps, wobbled, stood up and waved his hand in the general direction of the bath. “Taps are complicated.”

Nathan laughed and helped him. “Only when we’re drunk.” He stepped into the tub and held his hand out for Duke.

“Why are you soberer than me? I'm definitely drunker…” Duke said, taking Nathan's hand and not so much stepping into the tub as falling into it with a splash.

“I have no idea. Maybe it was all the shots you were challenging my father to…” Nathan looked over the side of the tub and laughed. “There’s water on the floor.”

“Can we be fair here…?” Duke said, sitting down and ignoring Nathan's comment about the water on the floor. “Bill challenged your dad who challenged Gloria who challenged me. I was an innocent victim in their drinking game.”

“You, innocent? Nope...not buying it...but I don’t care. All I care about is this…” He pushed Duke against the side of the tub and straddled his legs, leaning down to kiss him hard and passionately.

Duke groaned loudly and tangled his fingers in Nathan's hair as he kissed him back.

Nathan pressed against him, running his fingers up and down Duke’s back, kissing Duke as though he never wanted it to end.  When he finally broke the kiss, he picked up a strawberry and ran it lightly across Duke’s lips.

Duke nipped at it playfully, his eyes wide and dark.

Nathan pulled it back and took a bite himself. “Champagne?” He asked, reaching for the glass.

“Husband, are you trying to get me even more drunker?”

“It’s just champagne...it’s not going to get you any drunker. I’ll drink the other glass....and there’s a strawberry on the bottom…”

“There's a strawberry on your bottom? Maybe I should check that out,” Duke said, grabbing Nathan's ass.

“On second thought...you probably don’t need more alcohol. But you can keep grabbing my ass…”

“I always need more alcohol,” Duke said, squeezing Nathan's ass with one hand and picking up a glass of champagne with the other.

“I want the strawberry…”

Duke pulled away, drained the champagne and tipped the glass up so he could pick up the strawberry with his teeth. “Come and get it,” he mumbled around it

Nathan leaned in took the strawberry out of Duke’s mouth. “So good...but I like the way you taste better…”

“So kiss me some more…”

Nathan pulled Duke close and kissed along his jaw. “Like this?”

“Mmm, like that,” Duke murmured, closing his eyes.

Nathan moved his kisses to Duke’s neck, nipping and kissing up to the sensitive spot behind his ear. “Or how about this? Is this good?”

“So good,” Duke said, curling his fingers around the nape of Nathan's neck.

Nathan moaned against Duke’s neck, sucking a mark just behind his ear. He let his hands dip beneath the water to squeeze Duke’s hips and pull him even closer.

“Nate,” Duke all but whined, pressing against Nathan.

“What do you want?” Nathan asked softly.

“You. I want you,” Duke said, trying unsuccessfully to climb into Nathan's lap.

Nathan grasped Duke’s hips and pulled him to the other side of the tub, letting go when he felt the cool tiles against his back. “Is this what you were trying to do?” He asked, manoeuvring Duke so he was on top of him.

“Yes,” Duke said brightly, leaning down to kiss Nathan hard, nipping at his lower lip.

“I’m all yours…”

Duke kissed him again and pulled away. “Can we...could we move this to the bed because drunk and slippery bath…”

“What are you going to do if we get out?”

“I...am going to give you whatever you want.”

Nathan stood and pulled Duke to the edge of the tub. He carefully got out and helped Duke out as well. “I think we need towels...or something…”

“Mmhmm,” Duke mumbled back, steering Nathan towards the bed, kissing him as they went.

The bed hit the back of Nathan’s legs and he fell backwards, pulling Duke with him, never breaking their kiss.

Duke rolled to one side and slipped his knee between Nathan's thighs. “Love you so much,” he said softly.

“I love you, too...my husband…” Nathan murmured, hands roaming all over Duke’s body.

“I'll never get tired of hearing you say that,” Duke said softly, trailing his fingers lightly down Nathan's ribs.

“Then I’ll say it everyday...touch me...kiss me, my sexy husband…”

“Demanding,” Duke teased, running his hand across Nathan's chest and leaning in to nibble at his neck.

“I’m in the mood for something sweet...can you reach those little coconut things on the other side of the bed...and maybe the whipped cream?”

Duke leaned over to pick up the plate of coconut things and the bowl of whipped cream. He swiped his finger into the cream and held it up to Nathan's lips. “I mean...I assume there was a plan for all this food that doesn't involve just eating them off plates…”

“There was...I think there is melted chocolate here somewhere, too...just can’t remember where…”

“On the dresser,” Duke said, getting up to go and get it.

Nathan took the little bowl from Duke and set it next to the bed. “I’m too drunk to figure out how it’s still melted...but c’mere…” Nathan dipped his finger in the chocolate and brought it to Duke’s lips.

Duke gently nibbled the chocolate from his finger, sucking lightly even once all the chocolate was gone.

“There’s more...if you want it...and pineapple...and whipped cream,” Nathan said, watching Duke suck on his finger.

Duke considered that for a moment. “Do I get to eat the whipped cream off you?”

“Oh god yes…” Nathan handed Duke the bowl of whipped cream.

Duke scooped out some cream and smeared it across Nathan's chest, dipping his head to thoroughly lick it all off.

Nathan moaned and arched his back, thoroughly enjoying Duke’s tongue sliding all over his chest.

“Love it when you're so responsive,” Duke murmured, spreading more cream just below where he'd just licked.

“It’s because you know just how and where to touch me. You make it so good…”

Duke smiled softly and dipped his head to lick the line of cream from Nathan's body.

“Duke...more…” Nathan almost whimpered.

“Hmm?” Duke murmured, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he smiled. “What do you want, Nate?”

“Want your mouth and tongue all over me. Remember there’s chocolate, too…”

“...If you're so obsessed with desserts all of a sudden, shouldn't you be the one licking them off me?”

“If that’s what you want...you pick the dessert and tell me where to lick…”

Duke grinned, scooped out some whipped cream and neatly placed a dollop right on the tip of his cock. “...Were you seriously expecting me to do anything else?”

Nathan grinned. He gently pushed Duke into his back and settled between his legs, leaning forward to lazily lick the whipped cream off his cock. “I think the chocolate is still warm…would you like to try that next?”

“Hey, you're the one tasting it, I'm up for whatever gets you to do that again…” Duke said, reaching for the chocolate.

Nathan caught hold his hand. “If you want me to do that again, I don’t need the chocolate.” Without waiting for Duke to answer, he bent down and licked his cock slowly from root to tip. He gazed up at Duke, his blue eyes shining with desire, wrapped his lips around the shaft and sucked.

“Oh fuck,” Duke groaned, arching towards him. “You're so fucking good at that.”

Nathan affectionately squeezed Duke’s hip before sucking harder. He started moving, building to a rhythm he knew Duke would enjoy.

“God, Nate,” Duke murmured, twisting his fingers into Nathan's hair. “Keep that up and I'm not gonna last.”

Nathan picked up the pace, encouraged by Duke’s fingers twisting in his hair. He licked and sucked, pulling off to run his tongue around the head before sinking back down.

Duke swore again. “Ok, no, stop. As good as this is, I want you to fuck me and if you keep doing that, nothing else is going to be happening.”

Nathan pulled off slowly. “Tell me again what you want.”

“I want you to fuck me.”

Nathan grinned and moved to straddle Duke’s hips. “How do you want it?”

Duke arched up into him and ran his hands up Nathan's thighs to squeeze his hips. “Can you...god, Nate… Like this. Ride me like this.”

“God, that is so hot…” Nathan groaned, leaning to kiss Duke. “Where did you put the lube last night?”

“Drawer,” Duke said, waving his hand in the general direction.

Nathan stretched to open the drawer. He picked up the bottle and handed it to Duke. “Can you?”

Duke nodded and took the bottle, slicking up his fingers and slowly working them inside Nathan.

“Tell me how you want it. Do you want it slow and teasing or would you like it deep, hard and fast?”

“Slow,” Duke murmured. “Want to feel you around me.”

Nathan groaned and leaned forward to kiss Duke. “Sounds amazing. Guide me…”

Duke took himself in his hand and lined himself up. “Lean back,” he murmured, gently pushing at Nathan's shoulder.

Nathan leaned back so Duke pressed into him. He lowered himself slowly, giving himself a moment to adjust before moving.

“You feel so fucking good,” Duke said as Nathan opened up around him, accommodating his length.

“Love feeling you inside me.” Nathan moaned, slowly moving against Duke.

Duke murmured wordless agreement and wrapped his arms around Nathan to pull him down for a kiss.

“This is perfect...you are perfect…” Nathan murmured against Duke's lips.

Duke ran his hands down Nathan's back and squeezed his ass. “Love you, Nate,” he said softly.

Nathan leaned back again, adjusting his position before moving against Duke. “Talk to me...I love it when you talk to me…”

Duke matched the rhythm that Nathan set and wrapped his hand around his cock, stroking lightly. “You look so gorgeous like that, Nate. That light flush of pink on your cheeks, the way your eyes go dark with desire, your lips part slightly and you look just a little bit dazed, like you're losing yourself in the pleasure and that…. it's really hot, knowing I'm doing that to you.”

“Fuck...you are so good...you’re gonna make me come just by talking…”

“Yeah…?” Duke said breathlessly. “I can feel how close you are, your cock's throbbing in my hand and you - fuck - you're tightening around me.”

“Duke...god...want you to...god I’m right there…” Nathan lost the ability to form complete thoughts.

Duke stroked him harder and faster until Nathan came in his hand, the clench of his body taking Duke with him.

Nathan leaned forward, covering Duke’s body with his, and kissed Duke softly. “Sorry about the mess...shower in the morning? I just want to stay like this...with my husband.”

Duke mumbled wordless agreement and reached for the tissues.

“Sleep?”

“Cuddle?”

“That sounds better. That was incredible. You are incredible.”

“You're pretty fucking incredible too,” Duke said, nuzzling into Nathan's neck.

“I never get tired of this…” Nathan said, gently stroking Duke’s side.

“Me neither,” Duke said, holding Nathan tightly.

“Can we just stay like this forever? Right here in this bed?”

“Hmm, we could but Venice…”

“We have to do this in Venice…”

“...By ‘this’, do you mean the sex or the cuddling?”

“Both…”

“Both. Both is good. Here, in Venice, in...where we're going after we spend Hogmanay in Edinburgh.”

“When are you going to tell me where we are going?”

“At the airport.”

“You love your surprises don’t you? Is this the last surprise? Or do you have more?”

“You'll have to wait and see,” Duke grinned.

Nathan snuggled closer to Duke.  “I guess I will. It’s okay. You know I love when you surprise me.”

“Surprises are good. You'll love them. I promise.”

“If it’s coming from you, I have no doubt I’ll love them.”

Duke smiled softly. “Love you, Nate.”

“Love you, too, Duke.”

Chapter Text

The morning after the wedding was a rather subdued affair with everyone nursing hangovers except for Meg who was gleefully giggling at Gloria hiding behind oversized sunglasses and Garland who was growling at everyone.

A day later, Nathan and Duke flew to Venice where they spent three weeks exploring - gondola rides, hopping on the vaporetto to get to different areas of the city and walking the tiny cobbled streets. Nathan fell in love with Piazza San Marco, gazing around with wonder in his eyes.

They passed under the Bridge of Sighs at sunset, as the bells of St Mark's Basilica tolled, and Duke pulled Nathan close for a kiss.

“There's a legend,” he'd explained later. “If a couple does what we did, their love will last forever.”

Nathan had gone misty eyed and kissed him again.

They spent Nathan's birthday exploring art galleries and celebrating Bill and Meg's announcement that Erin Elizabeth had been born just after the stroke of midnight, giving her the same birthday as Nathan. Christmas was spent in the hotel, opening presents by the roaring fire, before Duke whisked Nathan off to Edinburgh for Hogmanay.

As he'd suspected, it was three days before they were sober again, the locals having plied them with whisky (the good stuff, of course) and introduced them to the concept of First Footing which Duke immediately decided was a tradition that they needed to take home to Haven.

No sooner had they sobered up than they were off to a villa in the south of France. With its own private beach and weather that was warm but not too hot, it ticked all of the boxes that Nathan wanted from a vacation. The night they'd arrived, he'd hugged Duke hard enough that his ribs creaked and refused to let go, saying over and over again just how perfect it was.

And it was. There was even a vineyard next door that Duke had spent a lot of time at and briefly considered coming back with the Rouge so he could - ahem, import some of the delicious bottles of wine. (He decided not to, but one particularly special bottle did make its way into the bottom of his case before they left.)

Neither of them wanted to leave but they returned to Haven in April, just as the weather was starting to warm up.

The first morning back, Duke went out early, returning with coffee and pastries.

“Sorry I was so long,” he said when he got home. “Needed to check on something.”

“Anything I can help with?” Nathan asked, looking up from the book he was reading.

“Nope,” Duke said, not quite able to suppress a grin.

“Okay, can I ask where you were?” Nathan asked, closing the book and putting it on the table.

“Surprise. Drink your coffee, eat your breakfast, then I'll show you.”

Nathan picked out a pastry and sipped his coffee. “Sounds good. Can we stop to see Bill and Meg after your surprise? I want to give Erin all the presents we bought her.”

“Good plan,” Duke said, pulling out his phone to let Meg know they'd be over later.

Nathan took the last bite of his pastry and finished his coffee. “I’m ready.”

“Ok,” Duke grinned and led the way out to his truck. As soon as Nathan was settled, he passed him a sleep mask. “Put this on, don't want to ruin the surprise before we get there.”

“How big is this surprise?” Nathan asked, putting on the mask.

“... Fairly big…”

“I’m intrigued…”

Duke laughed softly. “Only a few more minutes to wait,” he said, pulling away from the marina.

“It’s that close? Did you finally decide you’ve had enough of the Bronco? You get me a car?”

“Nope. Better. I hope.”

“Better?”

“I think so…”

“Okay, I’ll sit quietly and wait...soon you said?”

“About thirty more seconds,” Duke said, turning into the right street.

“Yeah, this is close.”

“Yep,” Duke said, turning into the driveway of the house that had once been Elizabeth's. “Ok, we're here, you can take the blindfold off now…”

“Are you…?” Nathan said, pulling the blindfold off. He stopped mid sentence and stared out of the window, his mouth hanging slightly open. He slowly opened the door and stepped out of the truck. “What is this?”

From the front, the house didn't look any different - the yard was perhaps slightly tidier but nothing had changed.

Duke took Nathan's hand. “Come inside…”

“Inside?” Nathan asked, following Duke.

Duke led him inside to the freshly decorated and furnished house, all warm colours and mismatched wood with modern touches.

“I still don’t understand… I-I told my father to find an agent...wait...you did this? For me?” Nathan asked.

“I thought...yeah. I thought maybe, if you wanted, we could live here?”

“You want to live here? But I thought…”

Duke nodded. “I'm done running. I'm done leaving. I want to put down roots and have a proper home. With you.”

“You want to live here? In my mother’s house? With me?”

“That's exactly what I want,” Duke said softly.

“I want that, too,” Nathan said, hugging Duke tightly.

Duke buried his face in Nathan's neck. “You're not just saying that?”

Nathan gently pushed Duke back and kissed him softly. “I really want to live here with you. I want spend my nights sitting on the sofa wrapped in a blanket with you. I want to wake up to the sun shining through the windows and seeing you next to me. I can’t believe you would do this for me. Thank you.”

Duke cleared his throat. “Wasn't just me. Dwight and McHugh did nearly all of the work, your dad helped and supervised and told me which bits of furniture to keep. Anything you want to change, we will, just have a look around and let me know what isn't right and we'll get it sorted before we move in - oh, and the yard, you definitely need to see the yard. And the kitchen and we did some remodelling upstairs so the master bedroom has an en suite.”

Nathan laughed, delighted. “I’m sure it’s all perfect but yes, I’ll look around. Let’s take a tour. I want you to show me everything.”

“Come on then,” Duke said, taking his hand again.

“How did you do all this? I honestly thought my dad was selling it for me…”

“He figured you wanted to sell it for the wrong reasons and held off doing anything about it. Then I spoke to him about what I wanted to do and he helped get it all set up.”

“He was right. I was upset and didn’t want to hurt you so I told him I wanted to get rid of it. I’m so glad he never listened to me. This is perfect.” Nathan squeezed Duke’s hand. “Show me your kitchen?”

“I'm glad he didn't listen too. I'd have been devastated if you'd sold it just because of me,” Duke said, leading Nathan into the kitchen.

Dwight and McHugh had knocked out the wall between the kitchen and the dining room so it was now a large open plan room with a rustic farmhouse style dining table, big enough to seat eight people. The cabinets were cream, contrasting with the dark wood of the counters and the stainless steel appliances, and the original tiled floor that they'd found beneath the faded old lino.

Nathan stood in the middle of the kitchen, his eyes wide. “This is fabulous! I love it! There’s enough room to have everyone over for the holidays or just for Sunday dinner.”

“Yeah,” Duke grinned. “There's enough space for an additional table and chairs too, if we want more than eight people.”

“You said something about the backyard. Did you do something special outside, too?”

“I did. Or, they did, I just designed. Come see the lounge first, think you're gonna love it…”

“If you designed it, I’m sure I will. Show me..”

Duke practically bounced into the lounge. Three walls were painted in a pale, warm grey and the other was a darker, dramatic blue-grey. Natural light flooded the room from two sides and wall lights would stop the room feeling too dark on dull days and winter evenings. Two large couches faced each other over an oak coffee table that had once belonged to Nathan's grandparents.

The feature though, was the fireplace. At some point in its life, it had been plastered over with just the mantle piece visible but McHugh had made short work of that and Dwight had painstakingly repaired the hearth to its former glory. Beside it was an old coal scuttle which held a poker, a toasting fork and a contraption for roasting chestnuts.

“I’m speechless. This is beautiful. My grandmother said she remembered the fireplace when she was a child. She wasn’t sure why her parents covered it up. How much did all this cost?”

“I didn't really keep track. Want to see the bedroom?”

“Yes, I’d love to see the bedroom. But you can afford it? I can help with the cost…”

“I can, and it's all paid for,” Duke said, nudging Nathan towards the stairs.

“Okay...I’m just offering to help...do we have a king bed?”

“Do we - ? Yes we have a king sized bed, what do you take me for? And I appreciate you offering to help with the cost but I really wanted to do this for you…”

“Thank you. I know I’ve said it before but you spoil me.”

Duke smiled softly. “You spoil me too.”

‘You deserve it.”

“So do you,” Duke said, opening the bedroom door.

“Duke...this is...I don’t have words.” Nathan walked into the master bedroom and turned around, taking everything in. The room was decorated with complimentary shades of blue and gray. The bed faced the windows which would provide an amazing view of the sunrise and there was a built in bookshelf that Duke had already filled with a lot of their books, two oversized chairs for reading alongside.

“Turned out pretty great, didn't it?” Duke said opening the door to the en suite to reveal a large free standing tub, complete with whirlpool jets, and a walk in shower as well as two separate basins and shelves stuffed with fluffy towels.

“This is amazing. Wait...is that a w-?” Nathan moved to the walk in closet. “Wow...do we even own enough clothes to fit this?” There were drawers already filled with sweaters and bars to hang suits, shirts, and pants. Shelving designed for shoes and places for ties lined one wall. “Um...is this necessary? I mean you don’t own that many shoes…”

“Uh, I don't but you do,” Duke said, laughing. “You have a different work outfit for every day of the week, then another one for after work, suits for every occasion, then your smart casuals and I really have no idea how many pairs of shoes you think you're going to wear out in your lifetime but I guarantee you could fill this closet on your own.”

Nathan grinned sheepishly. “Yeah, you’re right. I’m just a bit overwhelmed with all of this. You did all of this for me and I don’t know how to thank you.”

“I'm just glad you like it. Thought I might have been overstepping, doing all of this without you knowing…”

“No...you didn’t overstep. I know my mother wanted me to keep it in the family but I didn’t give it much thought because you love the Rouge and I wasn’t expecting to get married. And children to pass it down to? Well...knew that wasn’t something that was going to happen. I knew I hurt you suggesting we fix it up...and I hated myself for doing that...that’s why I wanted to sell it.”

“I mean...children could happen…”

“Could? What?” Nathan asked softly.

“We could, if you wanted, and I don't mean straight away but we could look into adopting…”

“You’d want children?” Nathan’s vision started to blur with the tears that were forming.

Duke nodded, a tiny smile curving his lips. “Lot of kids out there need a home and someone to care for them. Like I did. We could...we could do that.”

Nathan threw himself at Duke and wrapped his arms around him. “I love you so much!”

Duke set his feet, bracing himself against Nathan's flying tacklehug. “I love you too,” he said, holding Nathan tightly.

Nathan kissed Duke’s cheek and pulled back. “Is there anything else you wanted to show me?”

“The yard? It's not completely finished, I need to work out what to plant in some of the beds but loads of it is done.”

Nathan followed Duke out to the yard. “This is more than I ever dreamed, Duke. Thank you for all of this. I love everything.”

Duke smiled softly, glancing around the yard. Herb plants - sage and thyme and oregano and rosemary and mint and others - sat in raised beds under the kitchen windows where the scent would waft through in the summer. Semi-mature fruit trees broke up the lawn, apple and pear and plum. They'd cost a fortune over the younger saplings but Duke had no regrets. He wanted to cook with the produce from his very own kitchen garden and the sooner he could do that, the better as far as he was concerned. Vegetable beds and a small greenhouse were tucked away at the bottom of the yard, waiting for Duke to start planting them. He'd already bought packets and packets of seeds.

The new raised patio area had a view of the sea and a large grill for cooking out on when the weather was good. A table and benches were already in place. Flower beds surrounded the patio and Duke planned to plant them with a mix of bright, scented annuals and hardy shrubs.

Duke led Nathan towards a young tree that was tucked into a sunny, sheltered position. “It’s a magnolia and the variety's called Elizabeth,” he explained. “She'll take a while to grow but she'll always be here.”

Nathan held onto Duke’s hand and marvelled at the the yard around him. “This is beautiful. You created a home for us. A place we can truly call ours. I love it. Thank you… for everything you’ve done for me. The house, the vacations, the wedding… all of it has been incredible. If there is anything you ever want or need please tell me because I want to make you as happy as you’re making me. I love you.”

“To be fair, you did most of the wedding stuff. And seeing you this happy is thanks enough, that's all I want...to keep that smile on your face.”

Nathan let go of Duke’s hand and reached out to pull him close. He kissed him gently. “I will always be happy because I’m with you.”

“Me too,” Duke said, smiling softly and burying his face in Nathan's neck. “Want to go pack our stuff up before we go see Bill and Meg?”

“Yes, let’s do that. I want to start enjoying this beautiful home you’ve created.”

Duke hugged him tightly. “You're my home, Nate. You always will be and I can't wait to get settled in here.”

Smiling, Nathan kissed him softly. “Then let's go.”