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The Quality of Mercy

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Haven was the kind of place where, if one of your waitresses missed her shift twice and wasn't answering her cell phone, you called the cops. Or in Duke's case, you called your friend on the police force and asked if she's heard anything.

"No," Audrey said. "But I'll ask around. What's her name?"

"Molly Wrightwood," Duke said.

"Is she Troubled?"

"I don't know. It hasn't exactly come up in conversation."

"Well, I'll run her name through the system, see if anything comes up. If that doesn't pan out, I'll do a drive-by of her house. But she's an adult, I can't officially do anything until she's been missing longer."

"Thanks, Audrey," Duke said, and then grabbed an apron and an order pad to go deal with the lunch rush.

Audrey called back sooner than he was expecting.

"This can't be good," he said.

"It's not great," Audrey said. "Molly collapsed in front of Joe's yesterday morning. The EMTs took her to the hospital and she's still there for observation."

"Is she okay?"

"Physically, they can't find anything wrong with her, but she's having...memory issues."

"Amnesia?"

"Not exactly. She's insisting that her name is Karen Church, not Molly Wrightwood."

"Oh."

"Yeah. Maybe it's just because of the bump on the head, but I want to check it out. Could you meet me there? It might help to have someone there that she knows."

Duke looked out at his full restaurant and didn't hesitate. "I'll be there in fifteen minutes."

***

"No Nathan?" Duke asked as they walked down the gleaming, sterile hallway of the hospital.

"This isn't really an official visit," Audrey said.

"Uh huh. This is her room."

Audrey knocked on the open door, and said gently, "Molly? I'm Audrey Parker, Haven PD."

"I'm not Molly," Molly said, and it sounded tired and automatic, like she'd been saying it over and over again.

It definitely looked like Molly sitting there in the hospital bed. Long, straight hair dyed black, an inch of blonde roots growing out, blue eyes. She looked younger without make-up.

"Look who I brought," Audrey said. "Do you remember Duke?"

Molly looked at him blankly. "No."

"He owns the Grey Gull -- do you know where that is?"

Molly's face brightened a little. "Yes, my husband took me there for our anniversary last year. It was lovely. But I don't remember meeting the owner."

Audrey hesitated and glanced at Duke. Duke made an I-have-no-idea-what-to-do face back at her.

"Can I ask you about what happened yesterday?"

"I don't really know." Her hands twisted in the blanket across her lap as she spoke. "I was coming out of Joe's and I bumped into a woman, and then I got all dizzy and everything went black. When I woke up, people were saying my name was Molly, but it's not. They showed me her ID, but that's not me."

"Maybe you had a fake ID for some reason," Audrey said. "Maybe you've just been using the name Molly Wrightwood."

"No," Molly said, tears welling up in her eyes. "It's not me. The picture in the ID. But everybody is acting like it is. There's no mirror in the bathroom, but my hair shouldn't be this long and I haven't been this thin since I was twenty-five and oh, God, I'm crazy, aren't I? This sounds so crazy."

"Shhhh, no, it's all right," Audrey said. She gave Molly a kleneex. "Have you heard of the Troubles?"

Molly wiped her eyes. "No."

"Has anything like this happened to anyone in your family?"

"You mean like, has anyone gone crazy?"

"Or had amnesia or any kind of memory problems?"

Molly frowned. "My grandma had Alzheimer's. But that's it."

"Thank you very much," Audrey said. "I'm sure this is just a symptom of the concussion, and the doctors will get you back in shape in no time."

Molly nodded and attempted a watery smile, but she looked about as confident as Duke felt.

***

They got coffee in the hospital cafeteria, scorched and old.

"Does Molly have any family in Haven?" Audrey asked.

"I don't think so. She put her landlady down as her emergency contact." He tried to remember what else she'd told him. "She said once that her grandfather used to live in Haven, but they moved to Portland a long time ago. She came up about six months ago to check it out."

Audrey's phone rang. "Parker," she said. "Hi, Nathan, what's up?"

Duke made a face at her and she flapped a hand at him.

"No, that's fine, I can meet you there. What's the name?" Audrey's face froze. "On second thought, maybe you should meet us at Joe's."

"What?" Duke said when she'd hung up.

"Nathan just got a call from a guy who says his wife went out for groceries yesterday morning and never came back."

"What's her name?" Duke asked, not really sure he wanted to know.

"Karen Church."

***

Nathan gave Duke the stink-eye when he showed up at Joe's and Duke gave him his smarmiest grin in return. But Nathan just handed Audrey a couple of print outs. "I got pictures of Molly and Karen from the BMV. They both have Maine driver's licenses."

Karen Church was a cheerful looking woman in her forties with chin-length dark hair. The barista recognized her immediately. "Oh, yeah, Karen," he said. "Triple shot soy latte. She comes in here before she goes grocery shopping most weeks."

"Was she here yesterday?" Nathan asked.

"Yeah."

"Did she seem okay? Did anything unusual happen?" Audrey asked.

"No, it was -- everything was fine, normal. Is something wrong?" His eyes widened. "Did something happen to Karen?"

"That's what we're trying to find out," Audrey said. She held out the picture of Molly. "What about this woman?"

"Maybe? She's not a regular or anything."

"Do you have a security camera?" Nathan asked.

"Oh, you'd have to ask Joe," the barista said.

Nathan glanced at Audrey. "I'll work on that -- "

"And I'll ask around at the grocery store," Audrey said, and they split up like some well-oiled detective-ing machine.

Duke trailed after Audrey, feeling like a spare cog.

***

"The cashiers at Luciano's Fine Foods don't remember seeing Karen yesterday," Audrey reported when they got back to the police station. "I asked for the security tapes, just to be sure."

"We've got some footage from Joe's," Nathan said. "A couple of stores got together and put up a camera outside after that wave of vandalism last summer."

He hit play and fast-forwarded through morning rush until Karen went in. A couple more people came and went, and then Molly walked into the frame. She passed the door of the bakery and then stopped short. Her whole body stiffened and she whipped around just as Karen came out, coffee in hand.

The two women collided. Karen steadied Molly with her free hand. Their eyes locked for split second, then Molly staggered back. Karen dropped her coffee and took off running, away from whatever Molly had seen, and Molly collapsed to the ground.

People rushed to Molly's side, and Nathan fast-forwarded through the paramedics arriving and helping her into an ambulance.

"That's is," he said. "Molly clearly saw someone that scared her."

"Duke, was Molly in some kind of trouble?" Audrey asked.

Duke shrugged. "She seemed like someone who was trying to get away from her past, trying to start new, y'know? So I didn't push."

"But if Molly saw someone she didn't want to see, why did Karen run?" Nathan asked. "Is there a connection between them? Did Karen recognize that person, too?"

"I think the bigger question is why does Molly think she's Karen?" Audrey said.

"If Molly thinks she's Karen," Duke said slowly, "does that mean Karen thinks she's Molly?"

They thought about that for a moment.

"Let's go back to the hospital and see if Molly knows Karen," Audrey said. "Or if Karen knows Molly."

***

Audrey handed Molly-slash-Karen the picture of Molly. "Do you know this woman?"

Molly-slash-Karen frowned. "No. I mean, I think that's the woman who ran into me at Joe's. But I don't know her. That's -- that's who everyone thinks I am, right?"

Nathan smiled at her. "I just wanted to ask you a couple of quick questions. Easy questions, I promise. What's your birthday?"

She bit her lip. "August ninth, nineteen sixty-eight."

"And your address?"

"Thirty-five north Pine Street."

Nathan looked at the print-out in his hand. Duke leaned over his shoulder to see. Her answers matched Karen's driver's license.

"Do you recognize this woman?" he asked and held out Karen's picture.

Molly-slash-Karen gasped. "That's me!" she said, and caught Nathan's hand, dragging the photo closer.

Nathan overbalanced and Duke grabbed his shoulder. Molly-slash-Karen looked up and met Nathan's eyes, and Audrey grabbed her wrist.

And then--

And then Duke was suddenly dizzy and the room seemed to spin around him. He blinked. He was standing closer to bed and Nathan wasn't in front of him anymore.

"Ack!" someone said behind him, followed by a couple of steps and a thump.

"Duke!" Audrey said, but she wasn't looking at him.

Duke turned around and saw his body sprawled on the floor, looking up at him with an appalled expression.

"Nathan?" Duke asked cautiously.

"Oh hell no," his body said, Nathan said, and really, that about summed it up.

***

Duke poked his hand with a fork. Okay, technically, it was Nathan's hand, but Duke was wearing it right now, so it counted as his. The tines of the fork left little red dots but he didn't feel anything. "That is so...weird."

"Stop that," Nathan hissed, and smacked the hand holding the fork. Duke didn't feel that either. Nathan surreptitiously shook his hand out, though.

Audrey rolled her eyes and poured them all another round.

They were sitting around an empty table at the Gull, after hours. Duke had made Nathan call in sick, because there was no way Nathan could fake Duke's charming presence at his own restaurant and no amount of hand-holding with Molly-slash-Karen had gotten them back into the right bodies.

"Molly has to be the Troubled one," Audrey said. "She probably can't swap with anyone else now that she's in Karen's body, but we have to track her down. Nathan's got a BOLO out for her and there's a cruiser staking out her apartment. Her only real connection to Haven is her grandfather, and you know what that means."

"We have to talk to Dave and Vince," Nathan said, and he sounded resigned.

He pulled out his cell phone and Duke said, "You can't call them now, it's way past their bedtime."

Nathan's bitchface looked pretty great on Duke, if he did say so himself. "Well, they can just suck it up and deal with it."

"Duke's right, let them sleep. We're going to want their full cooperation on this, and that's hard enough to get on a good day. We'll go over first thing in the morning." Audrey cleared her throat. "Speaking of sleep, Nathan you should probably stay with Duke tonight."

"Um--" Duke said.

"What?" Nathan said.

"Duke, you're not used to...living with Nathan's Trouble. You could hurt yourself and not even realize it. You need someone to keep an eye on you."

"I won't--"

"That's not--"

"Good, I'm glad we got that settled," Audrey said. She threw back the last of her whiskey and stood up. "Good night!"

Duke and Nathan stared at each other for a minute after she left. "I don't know what she's worried about. It's not like I'm going to roll over on a knife in the middle of the night and sever my femoral artery," Duke said.

Nathan grinned like that was a hilarious image.

Duke sighed. "You can have the bed, I'll sleep on the couch."

Nathan raised his eyebrows.

"Hey, I don't want a crick in my neck from the couch when I get my body back," Duke said.

***

"Sheets are pretty clean, here's a towel, feel free to take a shower," Duke said. "And hey, feel free to jerk off in the shower, while you're at it."

Nathan made a strangled noise.

"It's not like you don't know what that body likes," Duke said, and watched his face turn an alarming shade of red. For a second, he thought Nathan would punch him. He didn't know why he wanted to jerk Nathan's chain like that, but he couldn't help himself.

Nathan just turned without a word and walked into the bedroom.

Duke lay on the couch, which didn't feel any different from sitting at the bar, or standing on the deck. He felt like he was insulated from the world with miles and miles foam. He wondered if this was how Nathan felt all the time, if he ever got used to it.

If he was going to jerk off in Duke's shower.

If Duke could have maybe, at some point when they were teenagers, not fucked everything up.

***

They got to the Herald office when Dave and Vince were unlocking the door.

"We need some information on a family that lived here about two generations ago," Audrey said. "The Wrightwoods?"

"What happened?" Dave asked.

"Molly Wrightwood ran into a woman at Joe's yesterday and, ah, switched bodies with her."

"Whoa. Is that what happened to those two?" Dave asked, pointing at Duke and Nathan.

"How did you--" Duke started and Audrey jumped in.

"Not exactly. I grabbed Molly's wrist when she touched Nathan and they switched and she didn't."

"I appreciate that you acknowledge that this is all your fault," Duke said.

"Shut up, Duke," Nathan said.

"Amazing," Dave said.

"The Wrightwoods?" Audrey prompted.

"Sounds familiar," Vince said. He and Dave had a brief conversation with their eyebrows and meaningful looks.

"I think we've got some files on them," Dave said. "Hang on."

They came back with a small pile of yellowing newspaper and old photos.

"The oldest boy died in the war," Dave said, and gave Audrey a clipping of his obituary. "The middle son moved away after the Troubles--"

"After Sarah...left," Vince said.

"But the ones you're interested in are probably the youngest two, Bill and Edith." Dave handed over another photo. Two blonde teenagers smiled at the camera in front of a bandstand. "That's them before the Troubles, and this is them a few years after."

Neither of them were smiling in the second photo. The girl was wearing pants and a man's dress shirt and vest. Her brother sat next to her, spine perfectly straight, hands folded in his lap, knees together, ankles crossed.

"Everyone said they were different after the Troubles, but then, a lot of people were," Vince said.

"You think Bill and Edith switched bodies and then got stuck," Audrey said.

"It's possible," Dave said.

"Wait, we could get stuck like this?" Duke said. "If the people who's Trouble this was couldn't switch back--"

"It'll be fine," Audrey said firmly. "We'll fix this."

"They moved up to a little hunting cabin on some lake about fifty miles west of here," Dave said. "For all I know, they're still up there."

"Maybe Molly would go up there if she was running from something," Nathan said.

"There's no other family connections in Haven?" Audrey asked. "What about her mother's family?"

"Tom, the middle son, wasn't married when he left Haven," Vince said.

"All right," Audrey said. "I'll check out the motels and some of the vacant buildings around Haven, you two check out the cabin."

Duke looked over at Nathan who was looking back with an equally unexcited expression.

Audrey sighed. "We have to split up. I just figured you guys wouldn't want to leave your bodies alone with each other."

***

"I'm driving," Duke said.

Nathan frowned. "I don't think you want to do that."

"It's fine," Duke said.

He felt clumsy and awkward opening the door and getting the key in the ignition. It was like trying to handle tools in the middle of winter, with numb hands in heavy gloves. But the real problem was he couldn't tell how hard he was hitting the gas.

The truck roared forward. Duke cursed and stomped on the brakes, and they slammed to a halt.

"Okay, you can drive," Duke said.

Nathan smirked but didn't say anything.

Fifty miles west of Haven meant nearly three hours on back roads. After half an hour of watching Nathan drive, Duke asked, almost unwillingly, "How do you do it?"

Nathan gave him a sharp look, like he thought Duke was making fun of him. But then he said, not sarcastically, "Practice."

They didn't talk for the rest of the drive.

***

There was an old, battered pick-up truck parked outside of the cabin and a thin trickle of smoke rose from the chimney.

As Nathan pulled up and cut the engine, a man stepped out onto the porch.

"I guess you won't be sneaking around the back after all," Duke said. They got out.

"Bill Wrightwood?" Nathan called.

The man raised a hand in acknowledgement as they walked up.

"Or is it Edith?" Duke asked, as gently as he could.

Edith sucked in a shocked breath. "I -- yes," she said. "You better come in."

***

"Molly's not here," she said, when they were all settled around the kitchen table. "I haven't seen anyone other than you in weeks."

"Where's Bill?" Nathan asked.

Edith looked down at her cup of tea. "He's out back," she said. "He died five years ago. Pneumonia."

"I'm sorry," Nathan said.

"Thank you," she said politely. "We made as a good a life as we could out here, and I think he was happy, all things considered. I think he forgave me, at the end, for causing all this."

"What happened?" Duke asked.

"Oh, well. I guess it was more than fifty years ago now. I don't really know. I had a terrible fight with my parents. They didn't want me to go to college, and I desperately did. I used my own money to pay the application fees, and then I found out that they had burned the letters I got back from the University of Maine. I was furious and heartbroken and I wished that I was their son instead of their daughter. I stormed out of the house in a rage and went to Bill, and when he took my hand, we, we switched. I was him and he was me."

"And you never switched back?" Nathan asked.

She shook her head. "We didn't know what had happened or how to fix it. I always felt like it was my fault, because I was the one who had wished for it. And I guess now it will never be put right."

***

"Well, that was a depressing waste of time," Duke said when they were back in the truck.

Nathan grunted.

Duke stared out the window, watching the trees roll by. They passed a one-pump gas station and a diner advertizing PIE in neon letters.

"Hey, didn't we come up this way on a Cub Scout trip?"

Nathan let out a startled bark of laughter. "Yeah, I think we did."

"That trip was a disaster," Duke said. "Your dad tipped his canoe over--"

"After he yelled at all of us to stop fooling around."

"And he had all the food, so we had marshmallows and hot dog buns for dinner, because those were the only things that floated."

"And Mikey Ardmore's dad told us ghost stories, so everyone had nightmares." Nathan was grinning and shaking his head. "Shoot, I'd forgotten you were on that trip."

"That was the first and last Cub Scout trip that I did."

"Me, too," Nathan said, and his grin was fading.

"I thought your dad was totally into that stuff."

Nathan shrugged, trying and failing to act casual. "That was the summer before the Troubles came that first time."

"Oh," Duke said.

"Still," Nathan said. "It was a good trip."

Nathan's phone rang. Duke poked Nathan until he put it on speaker.

"We got a hit on one of Karen Church's credit cards," Audrey said. "Someone used it at the Sleep Tite Motel. I'm texting you the address now. Meet me there."

***

They pulled into the parking lot of the Sleep Tite Motel a little after five.

Audrey was sitting in her car with another woman. They both got out when Nathan parked.

"I didn't find Molly when I was canvassing the motels, but I found her sister," Audrey said. "This is Amy Wrightwood. She's looking for Molly, too."

The other woman gave them a little wave.

"If seeing Amy is what triggered Molly's Trouble, then maybe she can help us reverse it. That's Karen's minivan, so Molly is probably still here. She's in room 214, which should be..." Audrey consulted a piece of paper. "That one."

"Duke, stay with her car in case she tries to make a break for it. We'll go up and talk to her," Nathan said.

"Oh, of course, I get the job where I have to sit around at night in an empty parking lot," Duke said.

"On the bright side, you won't feel the cold," Nathan said.

He hopped up on the hood of Nathan's car and watched room 214. Nothing happened for a few minutes, then the sliding door to the balcony opened and someone came out.

"Um," Duke said.

Molly climbed over the balcony railing.

"Guys, she's making a break for it!" Duke shouted.

Molly turned around, clutching the railing, and carefully crouched down to grab the bottom edge of the balcony.

"Oh, shit," Duke muttered and started running towards the motel.

Molly let herself dangle from the bottom of the balcony and then dropped, straight down onto Duke.

Duke ended up on his back on the asphalt, hanging on to Molly. She struggled, but Karen's body wasn't quite up to wriggling free, especially not after the balcony stunt.

Nathan and Audrey came running out of the motel, trailed by Amy.

They stopped short when they saw him, and Nathan burst out laughing.

"Shut up and cuff this woman," Duke growled.

Nathan helped Molly up. He didn't cuff her, but he didn't let go of her either.

"Molly?" Amy said uncertainly.

Molly saw her sister and stopped struggling.

"Amy?"

"Molly, Molly, Molly!" Amy said, and launched herself at her sister, wrapping her in a bear hug.

"Good job," Audrey said to Duke and held out her hand.

Duke took it, and suddenly he could feel everything: the asphalt under his other hand, the bruises on his ribs and back, the cold air against his face, Audrey's skin--

She frowned at him and he realized he was just sitting there gaping at her. Something almost like jealousy flashed over Nathan's face, and then Nathan looked away.

Duke forced himself to smile and say, "Jeez, Audrey, put your back into it."

Audrey made an outraged noise, and when she pulled, Duke pushed himself to his feet. Audrey let go of his hand and the dead numbness covered him again.

***

"I got myself into a bad place when I was a teenager," Molly said. She and Amy sat on one bed, holding hands. Nathan and Audrey sat across from them on the other bed.

Duke sat in chair by the door.

"I started using heroin, and eventually I ran away from home. I hit rock bottom, living on the street, and...and I got help. I cleaned up, but I couldn't go back home. I couldn't face them. The things that I did when I was using. I remembered how Grandpa Tom used to talk about Haven and I thought, that's what I need, a haven. So I came here."

"Oh, Molly," Amy said. "You can always come home, always."

Molly shook her head.

"How did you--" Audrey made a gesture that was apparently supposed to mean "switch bodies with Karen."

"It wasn't on purpose," Molly said. "I saw Amy on the street and I just panicked, I didn't want her to see me."

"You wanted to be someone else," Nathan said softly.

"Yeah. And then I ran into this woman and, all of the sudden, I was. I freaked out, I didn't know what was going on. I had this woman's keys and her wallet and I had no idea what to do. I guess I was hoping it would fix itself."

"It won't," Nathan said. "But we can help."

***

Duke got to flash Nathan's badge to get them into the hospital after visiting hours.

Karen sat straight up in her bed when they came in, eyes wide.

"So how is this going to happen?" Duke asked.

"Try what you did before," Audrey suggested. "Touch each other and make eye contact."

Molly went to the bed and took Karen's hands. They looked at each other for a long moment, but then Molly shook her head. "It's not working."

Duke leaned over and whispered to Nathan, "Should we mention that Bill and Edith never switched back?"

"No," Nathan said firmly. "Edith never forgave herself for what happened to them."

"You think switching back needs a different emotional trigger?" Audrey said.

"I think...Molly needs to let go of what made her switch in the first place and what's holding her there," Nathan said.

"I don't know how to do that," Molly said. "I didn't mean to do this in the first place."

"I forgive you," Amy said suddenly. "We all forgave you a long time ago, Molly. That's why I've been looking for you, because we love you and we miss you and we're worried about you. We want you to come home."

Molly was crying. She looked back at Karen and then they both inhaled sharply.

Karen let go of Molly's hands and stepped back unsteadily.

Nathan caught her elbow. "Easy now."

"I'm okay," she said. She looking wonderingly at her own hands and arms. "I'm fine."

"Molly?" Audrey said.

"I'm good, too," Molly said from the bed.

"I can't help but notice that Nathan and I are still in the wrong bodies," Duke pointed out.

"But I think I can fix that," Molly said. "It's like a logic puzzle."

"Are you sure?" Audrey asked. "We can come back tomorrow, if you're too tired."

"No, I want to do this," Molly said, and held out her hand.

"Nathan first," Duke said.

Nathan took a deep breath and clasped her hand. After a couple of heartbeats, Molly grinned with Duke's mouth and said, "See, I told you this would work."

"Okay, this is weird," Nathan said.

Duke held out his hand. Nathan smoothed his hands over the rough hospital blanket, almost wistfully, then looked at Duke and said, "I forgive you for the tacks."

Duke took his hand and leaned in to whisper, "I forgive you for being the one Audrey loves."

"Wait, what?" Nathan said.

When their eyes met, everything seemed to snap into place. One second he was standing next to the bed and the next he was in the bed. And he had breasts.

"Nathan's right, this is weird," Duke said. "Could we--"

Molly held out her hand, Duke's hand, and when he took it, everything was back to the way it should be.

***

When they got back to the Gull, Audrey headed for the stairs to her apartment, saying, "Sorry, guys, I'm exhausted. I'll have to take a rain check on that drink."

Duke made an exasperated noise.

"That's fine with me," Nathan said, and reached for the door of his truck.

"No," Duke said. "Just, wait a minute, okay? Please."

Nathan tipped his head to the side and looked at him for a long moment. "Okay," he said finally, and leaned back against the truck.

Duke went up the stairs after Audrey, and caught her just as she was closing the door.

"Look, are we going to talk about this?" he asked.

"About what? Your exciting bodyswap experience?"

"For starters, how about why you seem to want me and Nathan to spend more time together?"

Audrey pressed her lips together, and glanced away. "I want to make sure you guys...are there for each other when I go away."

"Jesus, Audrey."

"I've got to start planning for the worst case scenario--"

"No," Duke said. "No, you've got to be here with us, you gotta fight this with us. If we lose, fine, but let's go down fighting."

"Duke--"

"Or, hey, let's talk about how you love Nathan and Nathan loves you, and you're just making everyone miserable by pretending that's not true."

"That's not--"

"You can't deny what you said, what you felt when you thought he was dead."

"I would have said the same thing to you if you'd been the one lying there!" Audrey shouted.

It felt like a sucker punch.

"You think we're miserable now?" she said. "It can get so much worse, and then I'll be gone, and you won't even have each other. So, just -- let this go, Duke."

"Why does it have to get worse?" Nathan asked.

Duke whirled around.

"Sorry, I got tired of waiting for you to fall on your sword for this relationship," Nathan said, and smiled. "Forgiveness doesn't mean the mistakes of the past are undone or forgotten. It just means you can move forward."

"What?" Duke said, and Nathan kissed him.

Nathan kissed him like they were teenagers again, hard and desperate and consuming. Duke made a shocked noise in the back of his throat and grabbed Nathan's hips pulling him closer.

Audrey was suddenly pressed up against his back and she reached out to touch Nathan's hand against Duke's cheek. Nathan broke the kiss with a ragged gasp, and Duke grinned and took the lead, but carefully, slowly, and Nathan made a noise like he was coming undone.

Duke eased back. Nathan's eyes were closed and he was breathing fast. After a moment, he opened his eyes and smiled at Audrey. "See? It doesn't have to be worse."

Audrey grinned and shook her head, and Duke ducked in to kiss her before she could argue them out of it. It was nothing at all like the kiss in the hotel room. It felt sweet and easy and right; it felt like a beginning.

When he lifted his head, Audrey had her eyes open. They regarded each other for a moment, and then turned in unison to look at Nathan. Nathan slid an arm around Duke's waist and leaned in to kiss Audrey.

They stood like that, in a tangle of limbs, until Audrey said, "Fine, fine, come in, out of the cold."

And they went.