It really wasn’t supposed to be all that complicated.
The Trouble was a simple one- an unpleasant one, but a simple one- and really, Nathan and Duke were supposed to be letting Audrey take point. That was the plan, and maybe they weren’t thrilled about it, but they were hanging back, leaning against the Bronco and trying to pretend they weren’t fretting over Audrey being inside by herself. It really should’ve ended there.
Unfortunately, none of them had that kind of luck.
There were raised voices from inside, and Nathan went rigid, hand going to his gun; Duke mimicked his motion, because he was long past running as backup for the two of them unarmed, and they headed for the front door without a word spoken. Nathan made it through first, having won their silent argument about it with a pointed application of Stern Eyebrows, and Duke followed.
Which left him blocking the doorway at precisely the wrong moment, as their Troubled teenager whipped around the hallway corner and crashed into him; Duke moved to catch him on instinct, to keep them both from crashing to the ground, to keep him from fleeing the scene, whichever, and only distantly heard Audrey’s frantic cry of “Don’t touch him!”
The kid shoved back, aimed high, his hand pressing into skin at the top of Duke’s shirt collar, and the world went sideways.
Fear, bone-deep and utterly overwhelming, swept over him; the present faded out, disappeared, and Duke wasn’t standing in the doorway of a comfortable three-bedroom in Haven any longer.
He was cold, so cold his skin burned and his muscles ached and he felt slow, felt sluggish. There was water in his mouth, in his nose, in his eyes and ears- everything was the screaming howl of the wind and the roar of the ocean and the trembling bellow of thunder, the pitch-black-infinite of the ocean at night and the bright flashing reflection of lightning, and it was taking everything he had, every last drop of strength, just to try and find the surface, to figure out which way was up and how to orient so that his desperate gasp brought air instead of sea, and he was losing, he was sinking- below the water or into his own mind, he didn’t know and it didn’t matter, both would kill him just as quick-
“Duke! Duke, come on, damnit, wake up!”
The rough voice was nothing like the sea, and there were hands on his skin, bright points of warmth against the consuming cold, and Duke dragged in a breath, gasping and coughing, choking on water that wasn’t there. Disoriented, he tried to move, tried to roll, but the hands on his skin gripped hard, dug in, and Duke got the point, stayed where he was as he caught his breath.
After a minute, they relaxed, and Duke managed to get his eyes open, looked up to see the last vestiges of Nathan’s fearful expression disappearing into blank calm that didn’t actually hide his worry.
“The fuck just happened,” Duke demanded, not quite a question, still fighting to get his thoughts in order.
“You fainted,” Nathan said, tone as dry and bare as a salt flat. “Straight into my arms.” He paused for a moment, the corner of his mouth quirking up. “You know, you wanted my attention, didn’t have to go to extremes.”
“…” Duke stared at him, and it took him a second to recognize the joke, to draw the connections, and the startled laugh that boiled up chased away the last sense of water in his throat, the last traces of cold on his skin. “Not so sure about that,” he managed, after another moment. “Sometimes you miss the subtle things. Where’s Audrey?”
“Chasing down our Troubled kid. She said to stay here, not worth the risk of one of us getting hit again.” Nathan shifted his grip on Duke, and Duke took the hint and pushed himself up into a sitting position. “He can’t hurt her, and she thinks he’s more scared than malicious.”
“…Hope so,” Duke said, shaking his head and moving to get back on his feet. Nathan steadied him, stood back up with him, and Duke honestly appreciated the help. “Because that, that was not fun, I’d hate to think he was doing it on purpose.”
“Hit you pretty hard,” Nathan said, the words careful, deliberately not a question.
“Yeah,” Duke said, shifting forward so that his shoulder was pressed into Nathan’s, steadying himself. Letting the heat that Nathan radiated keep the creeping grasp of the cold back. “Remind me why I keep volunteering for this job?”
“Perks aren’t so bad,” Nathan said, bringing one hand up to touch Duke’s jaw, light and careful. “You like the company.”
“…Yeah,” Duke said, after a moment. “Yeah, suppose there’s that. C’mon, if we can’t help, I want a drink.” He paused, considered, and leaned in, stealing a kiss- Nathan made a startled sound, but let him, and Duke chased the taste of coffee and syrup and warmth for a moment, let it overwhelm the lingering, imagined taste of brine.
“What was that for?” Nathan asked, when he’d pulled back; they were usually more circumspect than that when Nathan was technically on the clock.
“Perks,” Duke said, shrugging. “Gotta take ‘em where I can.”
“…Suppose so,” Nathan agreed, and he pushed Duke toward the door, one hand firmly in the small of his back. Duke leaned back, let himself feel it as Nathan led him out. “C’mon. Let’s find you that drink.”