It was late; the usual crowd at the Gull had thinned out hours ago, and Duke had chased the stragglers off not long after, had closed up and poured Nathan another drink.
Nathan had taken it, and the one after, and the one after that. He was long past the point where he shouldn’t be driving, his keys locked in the cash drawer next to Duke’s, and he knew he’d be spending the night on the couch in Duke’s office. He didn’t know where Duke would be spending the night; didn’t want to ask.
He was afraid the answer would be upstairs, and he didn’t want to dwell. Didn’t want to think about all the ways that made him burn.
Though the fact that Duke was sitting across the bar from him, about as deep into his cups as Nathan was, suggested that maybe that wasn’t the case.
Duke poured him another shot, and Nathan drank it down before Duke had finished pouring his own.
“I should stop you,” Duke observed, the quiet words the first that had passed between them in hours.
“Not going anywhere,” Nathan replied, pushing his glass in Duke’s direction, a clear demand. Duke sighed, but filled it again. “Don’t see the harm.”
“Harm is, you’re stumbling drunk, and that’s an extra layer of trouble for you,” Duke replied, as Nathan drank, something quiet and bitter in his voice. “Least it is now.”
“‘M fine,” Nathan said, which was a lie, but he didn’t really know what else to say. Duke being concerned about him left him itchy in a way that went beyond physical, in a way that tempted him to reach across the bar and do something about it.
“No you’re not,” Duke countered, but he didn’t say anything else, and he filled Nathan’s glass again when Nathan held it out expectantly.
They fell back into silence, and the bottle was empty when Nathan spoke again.
“You helped her. Fix it. …Me.”
“You were dead. Asshole. What else was I gonna do? Don’t do that again.”
“Wasn’t on purpose,” Nathan defended, the words sluggish. “Why?”
“Why’d you help?”
“…Jesus, Nate.” The words were surprisingly sharp, given that Duke was at least mostly as drunk as he was, and clearly stung, the look Duke gave him one of wounded offense. “You really think- you do, you asshole. I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve seen the way you look at me, when you think I don’t notice. You think, you still think-” Duke broke off, and reached for another bottle, and that was a bad idea.
“How do I look at you?” Nathan asked, confused and annoyed, because Duke was acting like Nathan had hurt him, and that- Nathan was pretty sure that wasn’t right.
“Like you’re still just… waiting. For the next time I fuck up. For the next time I disappoint you. For the chance to, to get me back. For everything, when we were kids and when I- when I came home-” and Duke broke off again, and Nathan made a clumsy grab for the bottle hanging forgotten from his hand, took it and set it aside before Duke could drop it and make a mess. Because he looked like he was going to drop it, looked like his attention was anywhere but on what his hands were doing, and Nathan shook his head, wondering how Duke could be so far off base.
“No,” he said, and Duke blinked at him.
“That’s- you’re wrong. That’s not how I look at you.” And Nathan really shouldn’t, shouldn’t say anything more, definitely shouldn’t do anything, but he’d had a rough day. A rough couple of days. And a lot of drinks. Hell, he’d been dead earlier, and that was honestly less directly upsetting than the fact that Audrey had taken off, gone to Colorado and taken Duke away with her.
Nathan hated, hated, when Duke left town. He was never sure that it wouldn’t be the next time he didn’t come back. Him leaving town with Audrey had been a whole new kind of unpleasant.
“…Then what are those looks for?” Duke asked, looking confused, looking earnest and confused and with his guard down just as far as Nathan’s, drinks and stress and a long few days, and Nathan had nearly lost his chance. Had nearly lost all his chances, and it wasn’t the first time. It wasn’t the first time they’d nearly lost all their chances, and Nathan was tired of pretending.
He reached across the bar, and he was slow and clumsy and it didn’t matter, because Duke didn’t move, just waited while Nathan sorted out the extra effort of getting his limbs to do what he wanted them to. His hand connected with Duke’s jaw, slid down until Nathan could press his thumb just below Duke’s lower lip, and Duke blinked, looked utterly lost, and Nathan surged forward, leaned over the bar, used what little sense of where his own body was that he had to line up properly, pressing his mouth to Duke’s just above where he was touching.
Duke made a startled sound, moved sharply, but he wasn’t pulling away, was reaching forward, and Nathan caught a dizzy view of his hands coming to rest along Nathan’s cheeks, and Nathan relaxed, let him take control, trusted Duke’s guidance more than his own. Something rolled off the bar, hit the floor and shattered, and Nathan didn’t care, was lost in the taste of whiskey and salt, iron and spice. The world moved, or Duke moved, or Nathan moved, Nathan wasn’t sure, and Duke pulled back, eyes wide.
“Oh,” he said, and that… Wasn’t really an answer, not that there’d actually been a question.
“Yeah,” Nathan said, and Duke blinked again.
“…Oh,” he repeated, before he leaned across the bar, and Nathan lost himself in tasting again, in the sense of urgency that he could read in Duke’s posture and the degree of movement between them.
And that, that was an answer.