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Variations on a Square Dance

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Audrey lets her head land on the bar with a thump. It's late, the staff gone home and only a few stragglers left at the Gull on a weeknight before closing.

"That bad, huh?" Duke asks from above her.

"Martini. Three olives," she tells him because she doesn't want to talk about it.

"Okay, now I'm worried. A three olive day is like a national emergency," Duke says, but she hears the clink of the glass as he sets it on the bar top and the scrunch of ice scooped into the shaker. "I'm assuming since you didn't call ahead that Nathan's not dead?"

"Alive and in one piece," Audrey confirms. "He got a call from Dwight just before we pulled in. We had two dead victims before we figured out the Trouble, and I really hope we don't have anymore." She sighs and lifts her head, resting it against her hand, elbow braced on the bar. When she looks up at him, Duke is regarding her seriously, concern in the frown between his eyebrows.

"You all right?" he asks, and this is why Audrey loves him. He'll crack the jokes and lay on the sarcasm, but he also knows when to shut up and be serious.

"Yeah," she says. "The day just involved more awkward conversations than I was anticipating."

"What? They didn't know about the Troubles?"

Audrey shook her head. "Well, that and . . . the nature of the Trouble wasn't something most people want to share." It had been kind of awful, actually, even after the remaining people affected by the Troubled kid had been . . . taken care of. Thankfully all of them had had someone they could turn to.

"Uh uh," Duke wags a finger at her as he pours her drink. "You can't say that with that long face and not tell me. Come on spill." He grabs the olive jar and skewers three onto a tiny plastic sword and holds it just out of reach.

"Hey!" Audrey protests, but Duke just raises his eyebrows pointedly, with a playful smile.

Audrey huffs and considers not telling him because it's none of his business, but that isn't how it works between them anymore. Besides, Nathan hadn't wanted to talk about it on the ride home. The look she gives him must show some of her annoyance though, because Duke softens and sticks the olives in her drink.

"Hey, what's going on?" he says more seriously.

Audrey eats an olive first. "This Troubled teenager just had sex with his girlfriend for the first time, and when his afterglow wore off, he started infecting everyone his teenage brain thought about having sex with with horniness. His girlfriend wasn't too happy about that."

"He's a teenage boy," Duke scoffs, which had been pretty much Nathan's reaction earlier.

"Yeah, we had to explain that." The girlfriend hadn't believed them at first, and while Nathan had taken the kid aside for some lessons in how to write lovesick poetry, Audrey explained to her in no uncertain terms that until they figured out how to stop the Trouble she was just going to have to deal because people were dying. She hated herself for it; girls should have a choice about who they let touch their bodies. "Fortunately, once she took him back, making out seemed to stop him from infecting people with his Trouble."

"I'm guessing those two dead people didn't figure it out in time," Duke says.

"Worse," Audrey grimaces. "The people he infects have to have an orgasm or they burn up from the inside."

"Sex or die?" Duke's eyebrows went up again, the disbelieving smile not really laughing so much as Duke's way of wrapping his head around it.


"Nathan didn't get infected, did he?"

"No," Audrey shakes her head, but she swears Duke's face falls. "Wait, are you disappointed?" she asks, and this time, Duke's smile does turn into a grin.

"Well, I'd have to help him out, wouldn't I? Couldn't leave him hanging."

Audrey swats at his arm -- "Hey!" Duke squawks -- "And what about me?" Audrey demands. "I'm just supposed to sit and watch? How do you know I didn't take care of him already?" It's stupid, but joking about it is making her feel better.

Duke leans across the bar and takes her face in his hands, slight cool and damp from the condensation of making her martini as he gently tugs her closer so he can kiss her. It's a slow meeting of their lips, nothing too scandalous, but Audrey feels her shoulders finally start to relax.

"Then I guess I'd better take care of you too," Duke says quietly when they pull apart. He waits for Audrey's smile before turning to Nathan, who'd come inside while they were kissing. "Nathan! I hear you both had an interesting day."

Nathan's smile is half-hearted, but he leans across the bar to give Duke a hello kiss before sitting on the barstool next to Audrey. She reaches out and lays a hand on his arm, as she always does when they're off duty now. It's been long enough now that he doesn't jump at her touch, but usually she gets at least something more genuine than the frown on his face.

"Thanks," he says when Duke sets a beer in front of him, grabbing another for himself.

"What's wrong? What did Dwight want?" Audrey asks.

Nathan drinks and stares at the bottle when he sets it back down -- a red flag if she's ever seen one. "He got another report of someone affected by the Trouble today. She's in bad shape."

"Oh no. Was it someone who doesn't have a partner or anyone to go to?" That had been Audrey's worst fear since they figured out the details of how this particular Trouble worked.

"It's Jordan. I told Dwight to bring her over." Nathan takes another long draught from his beer, his eyes flickering to Duke who moves from his slouch at the news. Audrey sucks in a breath as that sinks in, and thinks, well, shit.

"Jordan McKee who hates you and shot you and tazes people who touch her?" Duke waves his beer bottle for emphasis.

"Nathan -" This is so not how Audrey was expecting her day to end.

"Her Trouble doesn't affect me. She needs my help, and I'm not going to let her die because of some stupid Trouble that wasn't her fault," Nathan says firmly, that stubborn look his eye one Audrey only had a fifty-fifty chance of talking him out of. "They're already on their way. Are you going to tell her No to her face?" Nathan challenges them, looking first at Duke then Audrey, and damn him he knows they're not, even if she's pissed as all hell that she doesn't get to even consider it.

"Yes!" says Duke anyway. He pushes off the back counter he'd been leaning against. "If all she needs is to get off, she can go buy herself a vibrator."

"It's not all they need." Audrey lets go of Nathan in favor of the stem of her martini glass. This crappy day has officially turned into a shitty night. She doesn't want to tell Duke the next part. "An orgasm by itself helps, but they need a mutual orgasm for it to go away."

"As in -" Duke makes circle with the fingers of one hand and a crude gesture through it with the other.



"Yeah, pretty much." Like Duke, Audrey's not particularly happy about what it means.

"It doesn't have to be a big deal," Nathan starts in his reasonable voice, and Audrey cannot believe he is pulling that out.

"I'm sorry but you sleeping with someone else is absolutely a big deal," she says, giving Nathan a sour look that he bears with bad grace.

"There's no one else who can help her."

"Look, it's not that we want her to die -"

"I'm not actually that opposed -" Duke interjects.

"- but you're supposed to be with us, so it would help if you didn't look so eager to stick your magic dick in her."

"What she said," says Duke, and Nathan's jaw clenches as he glares at both of them.

"I'm not."

"And you could have asked us first before telling her to just come on over," Audrey goes on, and wow, she kind of wants to deck him. It's been a while since Nathan has pissed her off like this. Judging from the look on Duke's face, it's a good thing there's a bar between her boys, too. The problem is, it's a standoff they all know the outcome of, even if they don't like it.

When Dwight arrives with Jordan a few minutes later, it's pretty clear she isn't amused by the turn of events either. She's dressed head to toe in her usual black, wearing long sleeves that fully cover her arms and her customary gloves that are barely visible from where they're tucked close around her body. Even holding herself still, she looks like she's about to shake apart.

"Nathan, Audrey, Duke," Dwight greets them with a nod, wary.

"Dwight. Jordan." Nathan stands up, and Audrey's a beat behind him, coming to stand at his shoulder. She's never hated Jordan, but it would be a lie to say she wasn't a little jealous of the woman when Nathan was sort of dating her. He might have been undercover to get close to the Guard, but he hadn't been pretending when he got close to her. Even knowing what was going on -- being cool with it, encouraging him to do what he needed -- none of that actually stopped her from feeling like she was losing him. The fact that Nathan chose Audrey instead is comforting, and she doesn't feel insecure about his love for her now, but there's still that little voice in her head that points out what if. If Nathan had let her go into the barn, he'd probably be shacked up with Jordan now.

Jordan's face is flushed, and if her Trouble was sending out pain through her eyes, they'd all be writhing on the floor. For some reason Audrey finds that comforting. None of them want to be in this situation, and now that Jordan is here, Audrey can't help the twinge of empathy for her.

"Let's get one thing straight," says Jordan and her voice is stressed. "I don't like you," she says to Nathan, "I don't like you," she jerks her head toward Duke, " and I don't like you," her eyes come to rest on Audrey. "But I'm pretty much fucked if I don't get fucked so let's get on with this."

"We can go upstairs -"

"Oh no. Not so fast -" Duke says before Nathan can steamroll them into this. "That is not how this is going down."

"Dammit, Duke -"

"Nathan, I know you are a champ in the sack, but unless it's with Audrey you are a bitch to get off, and I refuse to let you try all night long. Unless your sense of touch has magically come back, you are going to need some extra stimulation."

"I never needed to hear that," Dwight mutters.

"Suck it up, Dwight. Or better yet, slap a glove on it. Why aren't you screwing her out of trouble?" Duke leans forward on both hands on the bar, taking up space like he has to fill the room with himself so people -- Nathan -- won't ignore him. Which Nathan is trying to do, his own face flushing. None of the awkward sex talks throughout the day made him as uncomfortable as revealing his own Trouble's effect on his sex life.

Dwight, meanwhile, manages to keep a straight face when he says, "Condoms don't work to make it go away. Only skin on skin."

Duke, appalled, says, "You're shitting me," and to Jordan, "Please tell me you're on birth control."

Jordan rattles a bag held in one of the hands hidden under her arm. "Plan B. And just because I can't hurt them doesn't mean I'll have any problem setting fire to your face."

"Duke, stop," Audrey says, before they get into it and this devolves into an even worse pissing contest than it already is. Thankfully, Duke listens to her. Nathan is still stiff as a board beside her, and the awkward has fully filled the room. "Jordan," says Audrey. "Nathan will help you. We will help you. But we are going to have to talk about the . . . logistics, because Duke is right. It's not going to be that easy."

Jordan takes a shaky breath. "I don't know if I can stand this much longer."

"She got touched around eleven this morning," says Dwight, and Audrey doesn't let the stab of adrenaline through her system show on her face. The two dead victims had died within 20 hours, with progressively unbearable symptoms. Toward the end, even kissing and touching, which helped slow down the effects on everyone else, hadn't made enough of a difference to matter. Jordan was coming up on that threshold.

Nathan steps toward her, holding a hand out cautiously. "I can," he trails off, and Jordan watches as he approaches, not moving away but not moving closer either. She keeps her arms wrapped up around her self, and when Nathan's hand touches her shoulder, over her shirt, Audrey can see the full body shudder that runs through her. When his hand slides up to her bare neck, Jordan jerks, eyes popping open and the expression in them is cracked wide open. She sucks in one ragged breath, then another, her eyes flickering to the rest of them watching. Then Jordan takes two quick steps backward.

"I can't," she says, turning abruptly and striding toward the door and back into the night.

"Jordan," Nathan starts to go after her, but Audrey catches him by the arm.

"Let me," she says, breaking into a jog and running after Jordan.

It's chilly outside, and Jordan hasn't gone far. Her boots crunch on the gravel underfoot, and when she stops and lets Audrey catch up to her, her face is hard to see in the light that spills outside.

"I can't," she says again, stopping there, but Audrey gets it. What she saw on Jordan's face was a woman who usually kept the world out suddenly have her protective layers peeled back. Her arms had dropped from their tight hold when she walked out and now she holds them out like a barrier.

"Jordan, wait."

"You won. You don't have to put up a fight. I'll be out of your hair forever now."

"Jordan, quit the pity party," Audrey snaps. She grabs Jordan's left hand and before she can react, Audrey is pushing up her sleeve above the glove and setting her bare hand to the skin of Jordan's arm.

Jordan jerks away, but Audrey holds her fast until the quiver that runs through her settles. Then she sets it off again by rubbing her thumb against the soft inside of Jordan's forearm.

"Nathan's not the only who can touch you. And touching you will take the edge off," Audrey says quietly. For all that she's mad at Nathan for being so willing to go along, faced with Jordan, afflicted and hurting for it, she can't pretend that this is not going to happen.

Jordan remains silent except for each breath she takes that puffs loud in Audrey's ears. She keeps her eyes on her hands as she lets Audrey pull her gloves off. Her skin is feverishly hot, and this close, Audrey can tell that it's not the occasional shudder rolling through Jordan, but the strong ones that escape her full body vibration. Audrey feels it when Jordan finally lets go her control, a second before she grabs Audrey's hands and surges forward. Audrey barely has time to brace before Jordan's lips are on hers, her tongue swiping across the seam and pushing to get in. When she opens her mouth, Jordan moans, the sound going straight through Audrey, taking her by surprise even as Jordan's tongue strokes hers.

Audrey keeps her fingers moving, sliding a far as they can up Jordan's sleeves then back down to her hands. The pulse of the kiss speeds up, and Jordan nips at her bottom lip before diving back in, pressing their bodies closer together. Audrey feels that soft give of Jordan's breasts as they push into hers, and a moment later Jordan lets go of her hands to slip her own under Audrey's shirt and slide against the soft skin at her waist, kneading like a cat but moving no higher.

It's a kiss unlike what Audrey shares with her boys, aggressive where they let her lead, but holding back from demanding more. The kiss is the endgame, and its heat doesn't coil in her belly with anticipation, instead burning slow and steady.

Jordan is the one who breaks it. Her eyes are closed when she steps back, and she lets go of Audrey's waist with trailing fingers.

Audrey takes a moment to catch her breath, unsure what would be most helpful here. She doesn't reach out, letting Jordan put herself back together. She's calmer when she finally opens her eyes, but she's also waiting for Audrey's judgement, her arms coming to cross protectively over her chest again, bare hands tucking under her armpits, even as she gives Audrey a level, unflinching stare.

"Better?" Audrey asks as neutrally as she can. Jordan doesn't relax so much as appear less openly hostile. She seems better, less on edge.

"Don't think this will make us friends," she says.

"Don't worry. It hadn't crossed my mind," says Audrey. They keep a couple feet between them as they head back inside, but the whole thing makes Audrey feel like this can work. They can do this for Jordan, save her life, and then move on.

The problem, Nathan thinks, is that it they're doing this at a table. It feels formal, like a business deal or like there might be a test later. Duke pulled down the chairs after Dwight left and pushed Nathan in the seat across from Jordan, setting himself up on Nathan's right and leaving Audrey to Nathan's left. The shots of Grey Goose were quickly slammed back by each of them, but Duke left the bottle at the bar, so that was it on the alcohol. Nathan knows it's the right choice, but that doesn't make facing this any easier.

He almost wishes Audrey and Duke weren't here and that he could figure this out with Jordan without an audience. Almost. He'll never fully trust Jordan again, and he feels safer with them at his side, but it doesn't stop the embarrassment he already feels crawling up his neck as the silence stretches among the four of them.

"So." Audrey shifts, leaning back in her chair. "Jordan has about eight more hours. Four before there's not much we can do."

"Just tell me what I need to do to get him off," Jordan says, and Nathan flinches at the clinical tone. "Will you even be able to get it up?"

"Yes," Nathan bites out, feeling his face flush again, because it's a defensive answer and not necessarily a true one. His own body betrays him on a regular basis, especially in the bedroom. He knows it's a wrong thought -- his Trouble is outside his control -- but it doesn't quiet the 20 year-old inside that questions what kind of man he is if he can't get hard at the touch of a beautiful woman. Or Duke. Nathan glances his way, but Duke's glaring at Jordan.

"I wouldn't hold it against him if he couldn't for you," Duke says, mean.

"Stop it, both of you," Audrey cuts in. "Look we have to talk about this, so the insults are going to stop." She levels her cop gaze at Jordan and then Duke, who holds up his hands in surrender.

"She started it," he says, exactly as childishly as the jerk that he sometimes is.

"I don't need you defending me," Nathan says and hates that his voice sounds just as petulant. He jerks his left hand away when Audrey tries to cover it with hers. He doesn't want her reassurance either.

"Boys!" Audrey snaps, and now she's actually mad, which is just great.

"I could figure this out faster on my own," Jordan says. She eyes Nathan with a high flush in her cheeks, and it's both like and unlike the looks she gave him with they were sort of dating, full of desire but also predatory. After the last few months of cold contempt, it's anything but friendly. "I'd be out of here in ten minutes."

"First of all, no," Audrey says, still crisp and angry, "you are not having sex with Nathan in my apartment. We're going to help you, but there are going to be ground rules. We're going to go around this table until we get this hammered out because I've read enough trashy romance to know that ninety percent of the bullshit fallout can be avoided if we talk about this beforehand. So we're going to talk about this like adults. Is that understood?" She eyes each of them, daring them to say otherwise.

Nathan nods when her eyes land on him and tries to squash the smile that wants out. Audrey is gorgeous when she takes charge. She knows what she wants and she is going to get it.

"All right," she says. "Then let's start with the easy one. Where this is going to take place? Because, I'm sorry, but upstairs is our space." She makes a little circling gesture with her finger to include him and Duke, and now that she's said it, Nathan's relieved. Audrey's apartment is where they usually end up during the week, and the peace they can find there with each other shouldn't been seen by outsiders.

"We can go to my house," Nathan offers instead. He's never slept with Audrey or Duke there; when he sleeps at home it's always a night they're spending apart. "We won't lose much time getting there."

"Okay, good. Nathan's house it is," says Audrey. "Does that work, Jordan?"

"Yeah. That's fine." She nods. Her shoulders have slumped from earlier, and she takes a breath. "What do I need to need to know to make this work with your Trouble?" she asks, and this time the question is calm, and because it's calm, Nathan feels it cut twice as sharp.

This is where he wants another shot of vodka. "I, uh," he coughs to clear his throat. "Watching is good. And, uh." He tries to think what else turns him on without Audrey's touch and all he can think of is the scent of Duke's hair, seeing it sweaty, stuck against his forehead and spread out on the pillow. Watching Duke's face, or Audrey's, as pleasure passes through them.

"Watching, he says." Duke rolls his eyes and sits forward. "Look, he's got four other senses, and that's what you have to pay attention to. You gotta make some noise, tell him what you want him to do, how he feels inside you --"

"Duke!" Nathan hits him on the shoulder, hard, to get him to shut up.

"This is information she needs to know, Nate," Duke tells him. "Or your dick's going to be a limp fish and then this will all be for nothing."

"It won't be for nothing," Nathan grits out, trying to not sound like he's defensive again. "If you stroke my . . . dick, it'll get hard just fine, even if I can't feel it."

"Yeah, after like a week and half," says Duke. "Unless it's Audrey. Which actually," he looks across to Audrey, a smile playing on his face as he points at her, an idea taking shape. Nathan already hates it. "We should be there too."

"No," Jordan says instantly.

It's ridiculous, and Nathan turns to share a look with Audrey but she's nodding along with Duke. Fucking great. Just what he needs, Duke running his mouth at Jordan while they're trying and, probably, failing to fuck. Nathan's balls are preemptively trying to crawl back up into his body. He can't think of a worse idea.

"If we're there, we can help you with Nathan --"

"No. Absolutely not," Jordan says.

"It's perfect," Duke goes on. "We can take care of Nathan. Nathan can take care of you."

"Let me be perfectly clear," Jordan drops the gloves she's been holding instead of wearing -- when did that happen -- and raises a very clearly threatening hand out toward Duke. "I would rather die than have you watch."

Duke jerks back and twists out of his chair to his feet. "Not cool!" he points at Jordan from the safety of five feet.

"Yeah, well, my body is not open for your eyes. In case you hadn't noticed I'm the one forced into this. You think I want to be here? Asking for this kind of fucking -- this goddamn help? From him?" She turns her glare on Nathan and he flinches as if he's been struck. He felt that all right, and he can't even blame her for it.

Nathan had led her on, broken up with her, and then did everything in his power to keep Audrey from walking into the barn, everyone else's Troubles be damned. Everything still going wrong in Haven, this, it all comes back to him in the end.

"Hey!" Audrey tries. She's not looking at him even through she's grabbed his wrist. Nathan doesn't know if that makes it better or worse.

But Duke's on a tear. "We didn't ask for this either! And Nathan's too good of a person to leave you out to dry even though you have done nothing but want him dead for months, even when it wouldn't do anyone any good. So forgive me for not wanting you to touch him at all! If he wants us there, we'll be there."

Everyone's eyes fall on him, but all Nathan can do is stare at Duke, and it's like he's been struck again. Duke, smiles-to-make-a-dime Duke, going to bat for him. Part of his brain, the part that still doesn't understand how Duke ended up in bed with him and Audrey, doesn't believe it, even though it's not like Duke has never stood up for him before. But he's usually not this loud about it, and he usually doesn't do it with an audience. And when it's happened before it's always taken Nathan this much by surprise.

"Nathan?" Audrey's hand is still on his arm; he can feel her thumb stroke up and down on his skin.

Across from him, Jordan has wrapped herself up again, miserable and angry. She meets Nathan's eyes and nothing happy is there. Nathan remembers the first time he took her bare hands, the way her face lit up like sunrise.

"Duke," he starts, unable to look up at him, his answer in his voice.

"Fine. Whatever, Nathan."

He looks up in time to see Duke's back as he storms out through the French doors and around to the sea side of the deck, out of view.

"Nathan," says Audrey, but quietly. It's not like she doesn't understand his reason for refusing in the quick look he sends toward Jordan, who lifts her chin, bare fingers in stark contrast against her dark shirt. The way she used her open hands as a threat.

"Go," he says when Audrey makes an aborted move to get up. "Tell him . . . I don't know." He lets his head drop onto his hands, unable to look at anyone. Who knew that the hardest part of dating Duke was letting him down?

He listens as Audrey goes, the door shutting softly behind her, a cool draft left in her wake.

"If you expect me to thank you -"

"I don't." Nathan looks up, resting his chin on his hands this time.

"Good." Jordan glances out the doors and back at Nathan. Her cheeks are flushed and for a moment, Nathan thinks she's embarrassed, before she sits back in her chair and says, conversationally, "So, Crocker, huh? Gotta tell you I was expecting Audrey when you threw me over, but when I heard the three of you were shacking up . . ."

"Leave it alone, Jordan." The last thing he wants to talk about is his very carefully balanced love triangle.

"Seriously, Crocker?" she says. "Was he Audrey's idea?"

Duke was never an idea. He's always been fully formed, a lodestone in Nathan's life. "No." Nathan doesn't rise to the bait and sits back in his chair crossing his own arms. "We're not talking about Duke."

"Fine." Jordan's gaze slides from his face down his chest, and she visibly squirms in her seat. It's a move Nathan had seen over and over again throughout the day, talking to the other victims of the Trouble du jour, and sure enough when Jordan jerks her eyes back to his face, her eyes are glassy and it's clear she's struggling not to completely undress him with her eyes.

Whatever calm she'd walked back in with from Audrey is slipping away. Nathan hasn't been thinking too hard about what they got up to outside. He'd been telling people with a mostly straight face how to "self-medicate" all day, and for someone like Jordan, who doesn't touch people on a regular basis, he imagines that the symptoms are that much worse.

Nathan doesn't have to imagine at all actually. He knows. Arousal without relief is like burning up inside. At least Jordan can touch herself. And he did not just think that. But Jordan is glaring at him again, sitting up straight in her chair, looking anything but comfortable.

"Are you okay?" he asks.

And yeah, Nathan probably deserves the disbelieving look she gives him, but staring at each other in silence was not working for him.

"I could," he waves his hand vaguely, reaching across the table. Jordan pulls back. "We're going to have to touch each other later," Nathan says.

"Later is fine with me," Jordan says, stubbornly.

"It'll help with the. . . you know."

"The burning desire to rip my clothes off and rub all over you?" Jordan snorts. "Yeah. I know. I can control myself, thanks."

"That's not what I mean," says Nathan, wishing she would stop resisting this. And not because he wants to sleep with her, though he would be a liar if he said he never thought about how things might have been if he'd chosen to stay with Jordan. But they both have to get through this and it could be something other than awful and embarrassing, for both of them.

"You're doing enough," Jordan says.

"No, I'm not, clearly, if you can't even let me touch you," Nathan says, frustration bubbling over. "I feel like . . . I know this is something neither of us want, but I feel like you're just waiting for me to rape you, and if something is guaranteed to turn me off, it's knowing that I'm hurting you, or you waiting for me to hurt you."

"So now it's my fault, you're not comfortable with this?" Jordan, somehow, sits up straighter.

"No, that's not what I -"

"Because I think as the person who was raped and is being forced to have sex with someone who used me and then decided to fuck off with his perfect woman and perfect boyfriend, I get to be as uncomfortable as I damn well please."

Nathan holds her eyes and keeps his mouth shut. He gets it, he does, and he is mad at himself for putting his foot in it when he should know better. He's a cop who prides himself on being on the victim's side, and here he is being a jackass.

"Okay," he says, quietly. Everything between them is so fucked up, and that's mostly his fault. "How do I make this better for you? What would make you more comfortable?" he asks.

Jordan's eyes narrow. "What are you offering?"

"Whatever you want," Nathan says.

"Go away," Duke says when he hears Audrey's footsteps follow him outside.

"You know I'm not going to," she says, coming to stand beside him at the railing. The moon is a thin sliver tonight, the stars bright. Duke takes a deep breath and lets it out, trying to think zen thoughts.

"Well, I'm fine, so you can go back inside," he says. "I don't need -"

"Duke, would you stop talking for one fucking second?"

He finally looks over at Audrey, shoving back from the railing. "Don't tell me you're okay with this." The words burst out, and Audrey looks so fucking calm with only that little wrinkle between her eyebrows to show she might not be. Duke hates that she's taking this in stride, just like everything else.

"I'm not. You know I'm not."

"So you're not here to talk me into letting Jordan screw Nathan by herself?"

"We're not letting her die -- and don't try to pretend that you would let her," Audrey says. "We both know that's not you."

Duke closes his mouth and feels like he's swallowing his tongue at the same time. He's buzzing with the need to strike out, but there's nothing to hit, so he takes a couple of steps, then spins back. Audrey lets him, and her frown has only gotten deeper.

"We're going to work this out," she says.

"She's going to fuck with his head," Duke retorts. "Hell, she's already done that by showing up."

"I didn't say it was going to be easy. And you're right," Audrey holds up a hand to forestall what he had to say about it being easy, because that's exactly how everyone was acting. "One of us should be there with him."

"And it's not me." Duke crosses his arms and lets out another breath, and with it, he tries to let go of everything else too because Audrey has that frown on her face, and he's realizing that it's for him. He hates that it makes him feel better -- because Duke is righteously pissed off right now -- but it does.

"It's not easy for Nathan either," she says gently.

"Funny, it sounded like he was more worried about her feelings back there."

"This sucks for her too," Audrey reminds him, which he really didn't want. He's been doing so well making Jordan out to be the enemy in his head. "Come on, Duke. It's not just you here. Let's go back and get this sorted out. The faster we're done here, the sooner this will all be over."

Over would be nice. "Have I stated for the record that I hate this?" he says, not even caring how whiny it sounds.

Audrey gives him a half-smile and moves into his space. Duke doesn't resist and lets his arms drop and come around her, absorbing the feel of her against his chest.

"Yeah, we got that message," Audrey says into his shoulder, then pushes to her tiptoes to kiss him. Duke catches her before she can pull away and make it a quick peck on the lips, instead bending his head down and opening his mouth, holding her closer when her tongue meets his. Audrey's hands rest at the nape of his neck, holding on for balance. For all her outward calm at this fucked up situation, the kiss is flavored by urgency and now that it's started, neither of them want it to stop. Her mouth is wet and hot, and she swipes her tongue under his lip, and it's all Duke can do to hold either side of her head still so he can tilt his head just so, and kiss her like he it's the only way to breathe. He feels the press of her breasts against him as his cock floods with blood, but resists shifting his hips to rub against her. They have to go back inside soon, whether he wants to or not. Audrey's right: better to get this over with sooner than later. But before that happens, he wants her to know that he's still here, that he's not going to be pushed aside.

Slowly, in stages and ever diminishing kisses they slow down, let each other go. They end up forehead to forehead and Duke whispers, "When this is done, we're going to come back and I'm going to bend both of you over the back of the couch."

"Yeah, okay," Audrey says, breathless, and he can hear the smile in her voice.

When they go back inside, Duke isn't surprised that Nathan and Jordan seem to be getting along fine. That just figures. But he is surprised when it's him Nathan looks to him first instead of Audrey, searching his face for . . . Duke doesn't know what. He came back, didn't he?

He detours to the bar and grabs the Grey Goose. Wine is usually his drink but tonight the liquor will give him the hangover he deserves. He pours himself a shot, pointedly ignoring everyone at the table and Audrey's murmuring, and throws it back before joining them. Not that it matters much that he's there in the scheme of things.

"You can stop staring, Nathan. Audrey talked me down. I'm not going to put up any more fuss," Duke says to the middle of the table.

"I wasn't staring," Nathan says, because he always has to have the last word, and Duke does glance over then, only to catch Nathan looking away, the bastard.

"So Duke's agreed to not be there," Audrey says, "but we both think I should be there. To help with anything Nathan needs."

Duke waits for Jordan to jump down their throats about that, but she doesn't, watching Audrey with a speculative gleam in her eye, and yeah Audrey's hot and all, but come on. The sharp kick is to his shin, but Audrey otherwise ignores him while she waits for an answer from the other two. Duke keeps his opinions to himself. He gets the message just fine.

"I think that's a good idea," Nathan says quietly, avoiding looking at Duke. "It's a good compromise, and I want her there if you're going to be calling the shots."

"Wait, what?" Audrey looks between Nathan and Jordan.

"Nathan agreed to let me dictate what happens," Jordan says.

This time when Duke opens his mouth to say, hell no, the bruise on his ankle is from Nathan. "Hey! You don't -"

"It's a good compromise," Nathan says over him, cutting him off. "Jordan will be more comfortable if she has more control of the situation. I'll be more comfortable if Audrey's there, too."

"All right," Jordan says, glancing toward Audrey, and some sort of conversation happens between the two women that Duke does not understand, but who asked him? He's just sitting at the table while his boyfriend and girlfriend conspire to sleep with someone else. And, oh yeah, the woman who has wanted them all dead for their own unique reasons is the one who gets to be in control.

"Duke?" Nathan says, and Duke raises his hands.

"What? Now you want my opinion?" he says. "I think it's a terrible idea. Except for Audrey being there."

"Of course you do," says Jordan.

"I'm not entirely comfortable with it either," Audrey says. "What are we talking about when we say Jordan's calling the shots?"

"No tying anyone up," Duke says. "No knives or guns or weapons, and no hitting anyone. Just because he can't feel it, doesn't mean it doesn't do damage."

"I wasn't planning on tying anyone up," Jordan says scathingly.

Duke almost asks her why not, because he's thought of it. Repeatedly. Audrey with her hands tied to the headboard, Nathan spread eagled with his ankles tied to the corners at the foot. They haven't done anything like that together yet, and Duke hasn't brought it up, but that hasn't stopped the mental images.

"We'll use safe words, too," Audrey says.

"All three of us," Nathan adds.

Jordan scoffs, but agrees to go along with them and picks out a word. "Is that it? Can we do this now?" she asks. "Because I really will be dead before we get anywhere if you-"

"I'm good," Nathan says, and Audrey nods. When all three of them turn to Duke, he sighs and nods too.

"Yeah. I guess it's as good as it's going to get," he says.

"Good, then lets go." Audrey stands first, reaching out to steady Jordan when she sways getting to her feet. "Jordan."

"Fuck!" Jordan bends slightly, one hand landing on the table for balance. She looks like she's in pain, but the groan she makes when Audrey's hand and lands on her bare forearm, the sleeve still pushed up, goes straight to Duke's cock which is still half hard from kissing Audrey earlier. Then Audrey leans in and kisses Jordan on the cheek, and suddenly Jordan turns, catching Audrey on the lips and they're making out. Duke's stiffie is just as suddenly uncomfortable in his pants, and he knows his eyes have gone wide.

"Okay. I wasn't expecting that," he murmurs so as not to disturb them, and is that tongue?

"Me either." Nathan swallows audibly, and the corners of his mouth turn up in a wicked little smile when he and Duke share a look between them, because two women making out in front of them will never not be hot. It's enough for Duke to almost forgive Nathan for earlier, but when Audrey and Jordan keep going, Nathan coughs, and says quietly, "While, they're… I'm gonna go ahead. Get everything ready."

Duke nods, and feels the whole evening come crashing back down around him. He's the one who is painfully hard and isn't going to be getting any tonight.

Audrey and Jordan separate not long after Nathan leaves; Jordan's eyes are closed and Audrey's slowly stroking up and down her arms, the worried frown back between her eyebrows, but this time focused entirely on Jordan.

It's the fever burn of wanting someone's hands to run under your clothing. It's the slick passage of a tongue up your spine. It's that gaping feeling, when you're right on the edge and all you crave is a hard cock to fill all the spaces between your legs. The Trouble she's been hit with is like every carnal desire Jordan's ever experienced all at the same time.

She can't even resent Audrey anymore. Her kiss, her hands on Jordan's arms are all she can focus on. They're all that's getting her through the lust-adled haze of want. She's past the point where she has the luxury to care that much about who is doing the touching, she's just grateful that someone can. A little part in the back of her head hates it, hates it a lot, but that's something she'll deal with later when she has the luxury of not wanting to crawl out of her skin and into someone else's.

Kissing at the Gull cleared her head for a little while, but by the time Crocker locks up and they drive to Nathan's house, Jordan is gripping Audrey's hand with her eyes squeezed shut so she can resist the urge to lick the back of Crocker's neck while he's driving.

"Both of you need to be naked, right now," Jordan says as soon as the door to Nathan's bedroom closes behind her and Audrey. He freezes where he is, bent at the waist to turn the bed covers down, and Jordan forcibly pulls her eyes off of him so she doesn't embarrass herself. Nathan already stripped down to a t-shirt that clings to his sides, jeans falling over bare feet, which pull her eyes back.

"Come on, Nathan, you heard the woman. Chop, chop," Audrey says, and the way she makes it an order and teasing both, cuts through some of the tension.

Jordan turns her back on Nathan, not ready to be confronted with him, and raises an eyebrow at Audrey to hurry her along. A slow smile spreads across Audrey's face, and dear lord she nearly slays Jordan when she pulls off her shirt in one smooth motion, baring her belly, soft curves, and two full breasts in a lacy black bra Jordan was never meant to see. That thought, that Jordan is stealing Audrey from her men, that tonight she gets to unwrap Audrey Parker, sets a low fire off under her skin, and Jordan has to touch.

The shirt has barely hit the floor when her fingers are sliding over the softness at her hips, her palms fitting perfectly in the curve of her waist. Audrey is anything but skin and bones, lean yes, but strong. Jordan wants nothing more than to lean in, feel her from her ankles to her neck. But she hesitates despite the need running through her, the seductive imp on her shoulder that is all want, all the Trouble she's infected with.

"Touch me. Anywhere. Come on, Jordan. You can let go with us," Audrey's fingers slide though her hair and urge her head closer, the movement pulling their bodies flush. Audrey's cheek brushes hers, and she whispers is Jordan's ear. "Tell me what you want," with a puff of air that sends electricity straight to Jordan's core. And oh, god, she wants.

She kisses Audrey again, hot and intense, hands everywhere, as suddenly all Jordan can think is finally and nownownownow.

When she comes up for air, she says, "I though I told you to strip."

Audrey grins again and gently pushes Jordan backwards. She startles when she feels hands on her shoulders, trying to jerk away, but Nathan's hands run down her arms, and Jordan settles, hissing in pleasure when his fingers find skin, sliding down her wrists, bringing her hands with his to Jordan's waist.

"Can I?" he asks, teasing their fingers under the hem, his breath hot on her neck.

"Yes." Jordan is one nerve as Nathan slides his hands up her torso, and oh god, it's been so long. His fingers skim the undersides of her breasts as in front of her Audrey bares hers, and Jordan melts. Her head lands on Nathan's shoulder, her chest push into his hands that, oh, squeeze, and she wants hands on her forever.

Nathan gets her shirt off, and then it's the skin of her back against the skin of his chest, loosely wrapped up in his warm arms. Audrey gets her pants off, and then she's stepping forward again, kissing Jordan again, and Jordan barely notices when Nathan steps away. Audrey's hands are roaming and it feels too good, too real, too much. One of them unbuttons her jeans, Nathan behind her pulls them down. Then they're all naked, all falling onto the bed, Jordan sandwiched between them, their hands all over her, kisses trailing down her neck to her shoulder, and oh, oh, oh, teeth and tongue lighting her up.

It's easier with Nathan at her back, and when Jordan can't stand the teasing play of all that skin against her -- she needs more, so much more -- she tells him, "Behind me, hold me," so far past caring as he maneuvers against the headboard and cradles her between his legs. "Touch me," she says, taking his hands and placing one on her breast, the other on her belly.

Her eyes lock with Audrey as she lets her legs fall open, laying herself bare, needy. Audrey licks her lips, swollen from kissing, and only hesitates for a second before kneeling in front of Jordan, shoulders brushing the inside of her knees as she bends her head.

Jordan can't watch, throws her head back, and nearly bucks off the bed at the first touch of Audrey's tongue to her folds. It's electric, it's fire, it's not enough. "Oh, god!" she moans, and only Nathan's arms around her keep her still.

"Ohhh," Nathan moans, right in her ear. Jordan knows he's watching. Watching his girlfriend eat her out, setting her delicate tongue to Jordan's hot, wet, musky pussy. Against her back, she feels his cock harden, his fingers pinch her nipples, sending tingles and fire down to her toes.

Audrey licks her slowly at first, from her cunt to her clit, the flat of her tongue focusing to a point on each stroke. Jordan has the stray thought that wonders if she's done this before. She fucks two men on the regular but has she ever touched a woman like this. Maybe Jordan's her first, and god, the thought makes her writhe, try to get more of that tongue on her where she needs it.

"You like that?" Nathan whispers in her ear. Jordan jerks against his hold again, unable to process Nathan Wuornos talking dirty. She's floating, she's three points -- abused nipple, the cock at her back, and a live wire where Audrey is sucking at her clit now.

Jordan moans in answer, unable to fucking think, she just needs more, more, moremoremore. She's so close. Too close. "Need . . . Nathan," she pants, her scattered thoughts coming together for a few moments.

Audrey eases off, and the driving build settles into a low burn.

"How do you want to do this?" Audrey asks, and Jordan has no fucking idea. She tries to catch her breath. She feels the muscles of her vagina clenching, waiting to be filled.

"I'm gonna need . . . "

Jordan shifts to the side, turning so she can see Nathan. He's aroused, but he doesn't have that must-fuck-now look that guys get when they're on the edge.

"Here," says Audrey. She glances at Jordan, who doesn't protest. The fire in her blood from the Trouble has subsided. Still there, but not overwhelming.

Audrey crawls up the bed, over and around Jordan's still sprawled legs and ending up straddling Jordan's thigh. Audrey's pussy is wet, and the slick feel as she slides against Jordan's leg, is enough to set Jordan off again, even as she pulls Nathan's head to hers for a kiss that leaves him gasping from the first touch of her tongue on his. The kiss starts heated and Jordan can see their tongues fucking, Nathan trying to taste everything on Audrey's lips, which Jordan realized belatedly is her. Those are her juices on Audrey's chin that Nathan is licking away, her scent that has his nostrils flaring. She feels the need building in her again, and once her mind's eye puts his brown hair between her thighs, licking her pussy, Jordan can't help the stab of anguished want that runs through her.

This is what she and Nathan could have had.

Jordan gets to have him now, but only to borrow for the night, a bittersweet consolation prize that doesn't stop her wanting him, fucking Trouble or not. Sometimes Jordan feels like she's been alone forever. Every person on the other side of a moat she can't cross. The first time Nathan touched her was like learning that she could breathe. When he didn't want her back -- when he wouldn't end her isolation -- when he chose Audrey. . . They kiss like lovers, and Nathan, as he never had for Jordan, jumps alive under Audrey's touch. The worst part is, Jordan knows what that's like, to feel someone for the first time, a surprise, a blessing, how hope blooms and dies, hinging on that touch. She can hate him for it, but she can't not know where he is, why he picked Audrey instead of her.

But tonight he is hers, too.

"Hey," Jordan says, running a hand up Audrey's back and tugging lightly at her hair to get her attention. Audrey and Nathan pull apart, their eyes blown wide when they turn to her, and it's almost too much. But Jordan fixes her eyes on Audrey and says, "Get him ready. Let him fuck your mouth."

It takes some rearranging before Audrey's on her knees before Nathan, her fingers slicked up with lube. As her head bends, her hand disappears behind his balls and Jordan can't tell if his gasp is from the slick heat of her mouth or her opening him up. Jordan doesn't care, her own fingers touching herself, as she watches them impatiently. Audrey's hair hides her face, but Nathan's cock is shiny with saliva, red and hard each time her head bobs back. Jordan can't take her eyes of of them, the anticipation burning through her.

"Oh!" Nathan's voice cracks. "Audrey, I'm gonna, you need -"

"Okay, come on -" Audrey is breathless but calm, and she takes control, kneeling up and pushing Nathan around so he's covering Jordan. Her fingers come out of his ass as they move, but the noise he makes as Jordan takes his cock in hand and guides him into her, can only be from Audrey fingering him open again.

Jordan doesn't even care because all that matters is that Nathan is pushing into her, and it's been so long, she's tight, that all other thought is driven from her head, lost in the sensation of him filling all the empty spaces inside.

"Oh, god," she moans, barely hearing her own voice. She takes a moment, and then she really needs him to fucking move.

"All right?" Nathan asks, concern and heat twining together in the question.

Jordan answers by getting a hand on his upper arm and pulling him on top of her. Not expecting it, he lands with an ooff and a sharp intake of breath as the movement changes whatever angle Audrey's got on him. Jordan's got her hands on either side of his head and is kissing him before she thinks about it, arching her hips up so he slides deeper. Her eyes closed, she revels in the feel of him, his weight against her belly, the rasp of end of day stubble under her palms, the heat of his mouth.

Then he starts rocking into her, and Jordan groans into his mouth, losing focus. Her skin feels like it's on fire, heat and desire pooling between her legs, and it takes a minute, takes her adjusting her hips, rocking up to meet his thrusts, but then he's found the magic spot inside of her that sends sparks straight through her.

Jordan doesn't know how long they fuck. She doesn't know how long she tries to breathe by stealing Nathan's air, or when their kissing turned to hot pants in each others ear, she doesn't know when her eyes found Audrey's over Nathan's shoulder and held them, as his hips snapped into her, getting close while Jordan was painfully on edge, just needing that little bit extra friction, that little bit deeper thrust.

"Oh, I'm gonna -" Nathan gasps, grinding back against Audrey's hand when Jordan needs him grinding up against her. But then he lurches forward, slamming into Jordan hard enough that she cries out, because yes, there, theretherethere.

"Fuck her come on, Nathan," Audrey whispers, and Nathan does, hips frantically pushing in and out. Jordan, arching up to meet him, feels her orgasm coming, an offshore wave building and building as it draws close to shore, but not enough not yet, until there -- fingers find her clit, Audrey's, and Nathan's thrusts turn to uncontrolled rutting. Jordan cries out as the wave crashes over her, pleasure, sweet pleasure flooding her body. A moment later, Nathan jerks, gasping in her ear.

Jordan keeps her eyes closed as her orgasm fades. As it does, the burning feeling that's been under her skin since that morning finally fades too, and she knows that the effect of the Trouble is gone. That's it, they're done. But she's wiped out and doesn't want to move. Vaguely she registers Nathan slipping out and tilting to her left.

"Hey," he says, and when Jordan turns her head on the pillow he's got a soft smile waiting for her. Slowly, giving her time to stop him she thinks, he reaches out and brushes a strand of hair from her face. The backs of his fingers linger against her cheek. Jordan closes her eyes again and savors the feeling, her thoughts again turning to what-ifs. She stretches lightly, feeling all the places that feel goodtouched, really, fully touched, by humans for the first time in almost a year -- Jordan doesn't want to give it up either. If she could, if it were her, if, if, if . . . She feels . . .

When Jordan wakes up, she's still warm and sunlight is streaming through the window. To either side, Audrey and Nathan are asleep, though not as tightly curled around her the way they were last night. It makes it easier for Jordan to wriggle out from between them. She finds her clothes on the floor then goes to find the bathroom. After she takes care of business and takes the first Plan B pill, she takes a moment to run her fingers through her hair, and wonders how much she regrets the evening after all as she stares at her reflection in the mirror. She doesn't, she decides. She hates that she was forced into it, but she doesn't regret it.

Audrey and Nathan have gravitated toward each other while she was in the bathroom, their bodies closing over the hole left by Jordan as if she was never there. It hurts, but it's a familiar hurt, and Jordan's a big girl. She was deluding herself for even thinking that anything else was even possible. Audrey's eyes peek open when Jordan crosses to the door, but Jordan doesn't stay long enough for it to matter. She'll be out of their lives again as soon as she gets to the bottom of the stairs, a clean getaway and they don't ever have to talk about this whole sorry Trouble ever again.

But Jordan had forgotten about Crocker.

He's awake on the couch in the living room, and he's watching Jordan descend the stairs. "Cured?" he asks flatly. He looks like he's been up all night, and Jordan has a stab of panic that he heard everything.

She slows, taking the last three steps warily. "Of the Trouble I was hit with. Not the rest."

Crocker nods, like it's exactly what he expected. "Yeah, well. They still asleep?"


He nods again, this time glancing up as if he could see through the ceiling to where they're curled up around each other.

"I don't know how you do it," Jordan says before she really thinks about it. She should leave. She doesn't even like Crocker.

"Do what?"

"Stand to be third wheel to them," she says, jerking her head upward.

Crocker's head tilts and his eyes narrow, like he doesn't understand what she means, in which case he's either stupid -- which she knows he's not -- or so far in denial that he clearly hates himself.

"It's not like that," he says.

"Isn't it?"

The shrug she gets is dismissive. "Maybe you wouldn't understand."

Maybe not, but that doesn't stop Jordan from saying, "From where I sit, you're the consolation prize neither of them could give up."

"That's . . . not actually entirely inaccurate," Crocker says, and he grins a little. It's not at all the reaction Jordan was expecting, and she doesn't know why but it bothers her.

She doesn't actually care that much, she decides. If Crocker wants to pretend that he's happy with the arrangement who is she to argue. He doesn't stop her when she leaves.

The sun is even brighter outside than it was upstairs, and Jordan takes a moment to breathe in and resettle into her skin. She's still here, despite the Troubles. Still here and maybe feeling a little bit more alive than she did yesterday. It's early enough to be pleasantly cool, and she pulls on her gloves before running down the steps and taking off down the street. It's a nice morning for a walk. She'll call Dwight or Kyle for a ride in a little while.

Audrey's hand is on Nathan's arm. He feels her fingers lightly rub up and down his forearm and smiles. When he opens his eyes she's smiling back.

"Hey," he says. It comes out sleep rough so he swallows to clear his throat.

"Hey," she replies.

It takes a moment of waiting to hear Duke's voice for him to remember that last night was different.

"She already left," Audrey says when he lifts his head. The room is empty except for the two of them, and Nathan doesn't examine the let down he feels that Jordan's already gone.

"I guess it really worked," he says, rolling over to his back. He remembers asking in the afterglow last night.

"Yeah. That would be awkward, waking up with a corpse in bed," says Audrey who laughs when Nathan's head snaps to her. It's not a very funny joke, but Nathan has to admit that Jordan leaving is definitely the better of the alternatives.

"Hey, what's wrong?"

"Nothing," Nathan says. "I'm glad it worked out. I'm glad Jordan is okay." Unless Audrey's skin is on his, he doesn't feel a thing, so it's hard to gauge the effect of last night's sex on himself. It had been strange staring down at another woman and not feeling her, while for once the fingers in his ass worked magic he could feel straight to his bones and not just when the orgasm hit. "When did she leave?"

"Maybe half an hour ago?" Audrey hazards. "Are you-"

"Yes. I'm fine." Nathan sits up, scanning the floor for boxers.

"Nathan," Audrey says in the tone of voice that tells him he needs to take a breath. So he does. Slows down. Feels Audrey drape herself on his back. Shivers. "Something's up," she says, and it isn't a question.

"It's nothing. Not a big deal," Nathan says, his hand coming up to hold onto the one she's wrapped around his shoulders.

"She wasn't going to stay and say thank you."

"No. I know. She made that clear last night." Nathan pauses. Really it's not a big deal, he just feels off-balance. He'll get over it. It's not like he was expecting the sex to be like what he has with Audrey and Duke, he wasn't, but it didn't go the way he thought it would either. And Jordan barely looked at him until she was so far gone into lust that she needed the convenient body fucking her to kiss her. He runs his tongue over his lips, but he can't tell if they've been bitten or not. He tried to make it good for her, hopes he did.

"I guess, I don't know if I used her or she used me," he says when Audrey waits him out.

"It wasn't an ideal situation," she says.

"You two seemed to get along."

"She needed our help and we helped her," Audrey says, letting go and twisting to sit beside him. They're both naked and she drags the sheet and blanket over her legs. "Is it weird if I'm glad that you feel weird about it?" She tilts her head, and while she isn't nervous, there's something vulnerable in her expression that makes Nathan melt a little bit.

"No," he says, setting his hand on hers between them, feeling the warmth of her skin seep into his palm.

He focusses on that and tries to shake off the rest. It's not that unfamiliar a feeling, when he thinks about it. When they'd sort of dated, Jordan had been playing him as much as he'd played her, and he'd never known where he actually stood with her until she wanted him dead. After last night, he feels on uncertain ground again. He supposed that all he wanted was a chance to figure out where they stood again. But he wasn't going to get it.

"How about you? Are you okay with --" He gestured at the bed and everything, getting a what-do-you-think raise of her eyebrows. Nathan can't tell what that means, if she's faking it or rolling with it, and Audrey doesn't give him a chance to prod further. She's up and closing the bathroom door behind her before Nathan can ask a followup. For the woman who always complains about him being the stoic, uncommunicative one, Audrey's just as bad sometimes.

Nathan sighs, puts on a clean t-shirt and jeans, and goes to find out how mad Duke is at him. Duke is in his living room, nursing a cup of coffee on the couch and otherwise looking like crap. When he looks up, his eyes are dark and judging. A year ago it would have been more fodder for irritation, but now that Duke's feelings are something Nathan has a lot invested in, Nathan pauses in his approach and settles for leaning against the back of the armchair instead of coming closer.

"You could have come up after Jordan left," he says softly.

"To the same room where you fucked another woman? No thanks," Duke says, and Nathan winces. He has a point. "Was it good?"

He says it cheerfully, just a guy asking another guy about his one night stand. He remembers Duke asking him something similar after he snuck out with Hannah Driscoll in high school. But today, here, there is definitely a right and wrong answer to the question.

"All I could feel was Audrey," Nathan says slowly. "The rest was a little strange. Without you there," he adds.

"Really. You know, Jordan called me the consolation prize neither of you could give up."

"Duke --"

"No, it's all right, Nate. It's okay. I know where I stand with you." He's doing the thing he does, where it sounds light and easy, no big deal. Except sometimes Duke forgets that Nathan knows him, probably better than anyone in town anymore.

"You're a fucking idiot if you think you're a consolation prize."

"Which is why you didn't want me in there with you," Duke says, all sarcasm. Nathan wants to bang his head against the wall, because he already feels like a shit, and now he feels worse, except -

"I didn't want you in there with us because Jordan would have hurt you, deliberately or not, and I didn't want that. I thought that was obvious."

Duke holds his gaze for a long moment, studying Nathan's face and all Nathan can do is not look away. Maybe Duke had realized that, maybe he hadn't. Maybe he just needed Nathan to say it out loud, because he nods a little when he breaks their gaze and stands up, pushing stray hair behind his ear.

"I can take care of myself," he says, but it's not defensive or angry. Nathan doesn't think he's forgiven yet, but at least Duke isn't taking a swing at him. It's hard to tell sometimes. The man drives Nathan insane.

"I never said you couldn't," Nathan says. And since he's hungry, and they seem to be done here, he adds, "You want pancakes?"

"Blueberry," Duke says immediately. "With smiley faces."

"All right. I can do that." Nathan nods, suppressing his own smile because Duke will always be eight when it comes to pancakes, and heads to the kitchen.

Duke doesn't follow right away, instead going upstairs where Audrey's shower is still running. Nathan squashes his own curiosity about what they might be doing and settles into the familiar routine of whipping up pancakes, breathing in the fresh scent of batter layered over coffee. He's got several plated, another three in the pan, and half the batter to go when Duke and Audrey come in. Audrey's clean and in last night's clothes. Duke has changed into one of Nathan's undershirts with a slightly small on him flannel shirt thrown over it.

"Oh good," Audrey comes over to the stove and kisses Nathan's cheek. "I'm starving."

"Burned a lot of calories last night, did you?" Duke teases, though the undercurrents are still in his voice. Nathan grabs plates and maple syrup then puts three blueberry pancakes in front of each of them. They all have blue smiley faces.

"They did," says Audrey, waving her fork Nathan's way before diving in. "I didn't. All I did was push buttons."

Duke chokes on his pancake, and Nathan pounds him on the back and rolls his eyes. "And lick them," he can't resist adding, which gets another startled laugh out of Duke. Nathan pours them both coffee and brings his own plate of pancakes to the table.

"I bet that was hot," Duke says.

"It would have been hotter with you there," Nathan replies, ignoring Duke's eyes on him. Just because he said it, doesn't mean he has to acknowledge it.

But instead of the expected sarcasm, Duke's voice is soft when he says, "Yeah?" And Nathan does look over then, and he might be a little more forgiven.

"Yes," Audrey confirms aloud. "I told you." She half stands so she can lean over and kiss Duke. Watching them, Nathan can't help his goofy smile, warm and fond. He doesn't really try to hide it, but when Duke turns to him next, he rolls his eyes anyway, kicking at him with his bare feet under the table.

"Don't let it go to your head," he says.

"Too late." Duke grins. It's bright and clear, chasing away the last of the shadows for now. Nathan doesn't delude himself that it won't come up again; he's learning that being part of a love triangle is tricky business. But for now it feels good to have Duke's gaze turn speculative, like this is something they'll get through just fine. "You know, since I had to sit down here and listen to you last night and didn't get off -"

"I didn't either," Audrey jumps in, her own wicked grin turning on him.

"And since clearly Nathan wasn't fully satisfied, either," Duke continues.

Nathan sighs, pretending to be put upon, but he's not fooling them. Audrey's bare foot runs up his calf, sending a thrill through him. "I'll put clean sheets on the bed after breakfast."