“No!” The word pulled from him, raw and desperate, and Nathan lunged forward, heedless of his lack of balance, utterly unconcerned about the unpredictable, treacherous footing on the jagged ocean-slick rocks. Not wise; he managed barely two steps before he stumbled, went to his knees, the impact jarring his vision. He pushed himself up, ignored the traces of blood now on the rock at his feet, made another desperate lunge.
“Nathan! Nathan, stop,” Audrey snapped, and her hands clamped around his wrists, bright points of sensation that couldn’t compete with the sight in front of him, that barely registered past the pounding of his pulse in his ears. He tried to shake her off, didn’t want to be restrained, didn’t understand how she could be trying, he needed- needed to move, needed-
“Stop, Nathan, it’s not what it looks like! Whatever you’re seeing, it’snot real!” Audrey yanked on him, refused to let him get loose, and her grip was fierce, was bruising, the tips of her fingers digging deep, and he transferred his gaze to her, glared as he tried to twist free, and she was pale and pinched and worried, eyes wide, but there was none of the same fear there, none of the same overwhelming horror, and he didn’t understand how she could be so calm.
“Let me go, I need-”
“You need to stop and think,” Audrey snapped, letting go of one of his wrists to reach up and catch his cheek, keeping his attention fixed on her, keeping him from looking past her, over the spit of rocky ground and the twisted, crumpled wreck of torn metal that rose up like a spectre out of the grey fog. “Nathan. Look at me. Trust me. Please. It’s a Trouble, you know it’s a Trouble. Whatever you’re seeing, it isn’t real. There’s nothing there!”
“Nothing-” Nathan started, a wild, unreasoning rage shifting up through him, violent and certain, and that stopped him in his tracks, made him still; years of practice keeping himself from that kind of display, that kind of outburst, working to give him a moment to steady. Nothing there. If- Audrey was worried, but not frantic. Was sure, was asking him to trust her.
He always trusted her. She knew, when things weren’t right, when things weren’t real.
“Keep your eyes on me, Nathan,” Audrey said, gentling her tone. “That’s it, come on, stay with me. It’s a Trouble, Nathan. It’s not what it looks like.”
He tried to listen, but he could hear the echoing sound of waves filling a metallic hollow, could smell oil in amongst the spray of salt and seaweed. His gaze flicked up, past her, and the broken edges of the hull were solid and sharp, black shadow in the cold grey air-
“Nathan,” Audrey said, tone urgent. “Come on, no, look at me, not out there. I need you to listen to me, Nathan, I need you with me!”
He dragged his attention back to her, heard his breath hitching, forced himself to stop, to breathe properly. Audrey moved, didn’t release her hold on his wrist or drop her hand from his cheek, but turned, and he turned with her, kept his eyes locked on hers. Let himself focus on the fact that she was still calm, that her worry was still tightly-focused and far too… pedestrian for her to be seeing what he’d seen. He’d seen this concern from her, more than once, it wasn’t new, it wasn’t overwhelming.
And with his back turned, all he could hear was waves on the rocks, and the scent of oil had faded.
“You with me?” Audrey asked, the words careful, and he nodded, set his shoulders and kept his attention forward.
“Think so,” he said, and he could hear the rough note in his own voice, the echo of a tightness in his throat that he couldn’t control. “Not looking, it’s not so bad.”
“Okay. Okay, that’s, that’s good to know,” Audrey said, letting go of his wrist, though she still didn’t drop her hand from his cheek. “So definitely, definitely don’t look. Just… I’ll go check it out, just stay here.”
“Nathan, I need to check it out, and if everyone who gets close goes into a panic, that’s not helping me. Just stay here, I can handle it.” And she was right, of course she was right, she couldn’t do her job if she had to stop and coax whoever was with her through whatever that was, but he hated the thought of letting her deal with it alone.
Even if she couldn’t see anything, even if it wasn’t real.
“…Be careful,” he said, after a moment, yielding, because he didn’t really have a choice. They couldn’t just ignore this, people were going to get hurt if she couldn’t sort it out.
“I’ll be fine,” she said, finally dropping her hand. “I’ll be careful. Just. Do not turn around. Okay?”
“Yeah,” he agreed, which was going to be more difficult than it should be.
But he really didn’t want to see that again.
She hesitated a moment longer, but finally nodded and stepped around him, and he could hear her picking her way carefully over the rocks, and he stepped forward, moved back to the lee of his truck and leaned, settled himself so that he couldn’t try to look back at her. She’d be fine, she was more than capable of handling herself. He knew that. And he knew that the shifting press of impatience and alertness was adrenaline, not rational worry, knew that it had nothing at all to do with what Audrey was doing and everything to do with the effect of the Trouble, and it would wear off eventually.
He considered for a moment, and pulled out his phone. He trusted Audrey, without question, he knew that she was right. That it was a Trouble, nothing more. But knowing and feeling were very different things, and he was rattled, was still struggling to get out from under the crushing sense of dread, to put aside the sharp and certain fear.
He made the call; it barely had the chance to ring before it connected.
“Hey,” Nathan replied, closing his eyes and letting the relief settle over him. “You at home?”
“Yeah, I’m not due at the restaurant until later. Why, you need something?” Duke asked, easy and unconcerned, nothing but mild curiosity in his tone.
“No. No, we’re- we’ve got a case, but it’s not one you can help with. Not one I can help with,” Nathan said, not bothering to keep the frustration out of his tone, and Duke made a sympathetic noise.
“Know how much you hate being benched. Think it’s going to be a long day, or should I plan on company for dinner?”
“…Parker’ll get it handled. We’ll be home,” he promised, and maybe it was optimistic, but Nathan wanted to be home in time for dinner. Wanted to be home now, in point of fact.
Wanted the comfortable movement of the deck beneath his feet, the constant shifting of balance that reminded him that the ocean was never still, not even in the shelter of the harbor. Wanted the familiar, particular light of the kitchen, warm where it reflected off of copper pots and brass accents. Wanted to settle into the spot that had been his since he was twenty two, the one that let him see the whole length of the galley, where he could watch Duke cook while he read, while Audrey worked on her laptop at the table and hummed along with whatever was on the radio.
He wanted to see Duke, not just talk to him, wanted the reassurance of getting his hands on him. Wanted to know he was hale and healthy and whole.
Wanted to know that the Cape Rouge was where she ought to be, back in the harbor. Not wrecked on the rocks, hull ripped open, fuel spilling out like blood. Not lost, and likely her captain with her.
“Good, was planning to make pasta with that shrimp and pancetta white wine sauce you like. If you ask nicely, I might even be able to whip up a passable tiramisu, things don’t get too crazy at the Gull.”
“…How nicely do I have to ask?” Nathan asked, because he knew damn well that Duke would catch on that something was wrong if he didn’t, and Duke laughed, low and easy.
“Tell you what, I’ll see what I can do, and we can work out just how nice later tonight. Consider it extra incentive to actually show up.”
“We’ll be home as soon as we can,” Nathan promised, and he heard the waver in his own voice, knew he’d given the game away.
“…You okay?” Duke asked, the humor gone, replaced by a slow sort of caution.
“Yeah. Fine. Just… one of those Haven things. You know how it is.”
“…Yeah, I do. Watch your back out there, Nate. Call me if you need help.”
“Trust me, you don’t want in on this one.”
“Only if you’re not immune. Parker’ll handle it, she’s fine. She’s got this covered.”
“…Fine. Still. Anything changes, you call.”
“Know we will. See you tonight.”
“Yeah. Don’t be late.”
The call cut off, and Nathan shoved his phone back into his pocket and focused on the sound of the waves, still nothing more than water on stone. It wasn’t real. Parker would figure out what was causing the effect, stop it, and then they could go home.
Home was still there, waiting.