Nathan is no stranger to the notion that his Trouble is a punishment. There’s a reason that they also talk about the Troubled as ‘cursed’. Cursing isn’t something that happens to you, it’s something that’s done to you. Lately, that seems more and more obvious.
Six months ago, Audrey went away. Nathan sent Duke away. And the Troubles went away.
Except for Nathan’s.
He can make sense of that, on his better days. Nathan shot at the barn, at whatever the keeper of the barn really is, and Nathan was right in the centre when the whole thing went off. Maybe he was too close for it to work on him.
He can make that make sense, on his better days, but Nathan hasn’t had many of those lately. On the other days, what he thinks is that he shot at the barn and he shot at the keeper. So this is his punishment. He interfered and the price of interference is that he keeps his curse. Audrey and Duke are gone but Nathan’s Trouble is still here. That makes a different kind of sense.
Nathan spreads his fingers out on the desk. It’s quiet today. There is paperwork he could be doing, but if he doesn’t do it right now, there will still be time tomorrow.
Stan knocks on the open door. “Chief?”
Nathan forces his face into an attentive expression. “Yeah?”
“It’s- never mind.”
Nathan raps his fingers on the desk. “What’s up?”
“Cynthia called again. About the Gull.”
“I’ll get back to her tomorrow. I’m busy right now.” He drags the nearest file towards him. “Paperwork.”
Stan nods quickly, and leaves.
Nathan tries to focus on the words. The town is still working on rebuilding, at the same time pretending that a meteor strike on a lighthouse is normal behaviour. The Herald’s cover story didn’t read like Vince and Dave’s hearts were really in it, but the people of Haven have never needed much encouragement to not look hard at what goes on around here. Nathan thought this time might be different, but he’s in the middle of a long run of being wrong.
* * *
Jordan rolls her eyes when Nathan walks into The Gun and Rose. “Just because I haven’t shot you again yet, doesn’t mean I won’t.”
“Hello to you too.” His eyes are drawn, still, to her bare hands resting easily on the counter.
“Is this a social call?”
“Just checking in.”
“Then you can take your check in to someone who cares.”
She winces in pain when she reaches up above the bar for a glass, but neither of them mentions it. She says, “You made a choice, Nathan. If you can’t live with it-”
“I know the choice I made. This isn’t about-”
“I’m pretty sure you regret yours more than I regret mine. And I’m the one still in PT.”
He doesn’t ask if she’s okay, because she hasn’t answered that question yet.
She tilts her head to one side. “If you’re going to waste your time in bars drinking alone, why not the Gull?”
“I’m not drinking,” he points out.
“I hear you’re not drinking over there either. I can’t believe that’s the part you feel guilty about.”
“I don’t,” Nathan says. Then: “He made a choice too.”
She scoffs. “Not the choice he looked like making when I got there.”
That may be true. But Nathan didn’t push him in.
When he turns to leave, Jordan’s scorn is visible in her expression. Nathan meant what he said. He wishes his choices had worked out differently – he wishes the first one he made hadn’t pointed him on a path that led here - but he wouldn’t take back the choice to fight for her.
In the absence of alternatives, Nathan goes to the station and starts looking through requests for a hot stove meeting. There’s some concern about noise levels on the street after dark, one guy who wants to talk about beach preservation, and a few more seriously arguing that the Sea Dogs will have an unfair advantage in the game this season because Nathan is a known supporter. Nathan is not sure why that didn’t worry them last season, but he guesses he just might not have been reading the letters back then. He has a lot more time now.
Nathan does have to go down to the Gull eventually. He leaves it until late, and Cynthia is waiting for him, wiping down the bar. “Chief Wuornos.”
“I was a waitress.”
“I know that.”
“I can bartend, I can run a kitchen, I can run front of house.”
“I know that too,” Nathan says. “That’s why I asked-”
“I’m not a manager. I don’t want the hours, or the stress.”
“It’s only been-”
“Six months,” she says. “Six months since he disappeared, and you won’t let anyone-”
“I’ll lock up,” he interrupts. “Go home and see Kitty.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Go home,” he says again. “I’ve got keys.”
She startles a little at that, but hits the lights out front and heads through the door. Nathan fumbles in his pockets for the keys. Duke had left them on Nathan’s desk at the station, one day when he came in to pick a fight. After Nathan got the tattoo, but before Duke figured out what the Hunter meant. Nathan assumed they were Duke’s set, had tucked them into his jacket with an idea of pulling them out triumphantly when Duke couldn’t get back into his own bar. But Duke never came looking for them, never mentioned them at all and Nathan had seen him with his own keys since then. This set has a little tourist key-ring on it, a white-painted wooden gull.
Nathan puts everything back where it belongs, and straightens up as best he can. Honestly, he has far less idea what he should be doing here than Cynthia does. He’s still not sure how Duke managed – as far as Nathan knew, Duke had no experience running anything but smuggling scams before he ended up with the Gull.
There’s still light coming from somewhere outside, and it takes Nathan longer than it should to track down where. There are lit candles on tables on the deck. Nathan turns out of all the lights inside and locks the door behind him. He blows out every candle but one, and sits down at that table.
He has been in Audrey’s apartment once, a few days after. He cleared out her refrigerator, tossed the wilting flowers, practical things. He hasn’t been back since. The same with Duke’s boat. The Gull, though, is still useful as a source of information, even without Duke in it.
They spent enough time in here, all three of them, but it’s not so tied up with their bad memories as the Rouge or Audrey’s apartment. Whatever bad things Nathan had come chasing down here, and a few days the Trouble came looking for them, mostly what happened here is that Duke poured drinks and set them down in front of Audrey and Nathan. It’s one of the few places in Haven where more often than not, if the three of them were there together, then things weren’t all bad.
When it’s full of people, Nathan can act as though it’s still like that: he can ask questions of the patrons and the waitresses, as though Duke’s watching eyes are somewhere behind him, and Audrey is out on the terrace asking her own questions.
Out here on his own, the building dark behind him and the sea dark in front, there’s not much point in acting. Nathan holds his hand over the candle flame. It takes a long time to burn out.
* * *
Nathan sometimes suspects Laverne of making up dispatch calls just to get him out of the station. She calls in a report of a disturbance at the docks which, when Nathan gets there, turns out to be a couple of kids with a bonfire. He’s pretty sure Beattie could have handled that one without him. She might not have an alter-ego that sucks the life out of guys any more, but she can be plenty scary without it. He didn’t even get to see the babies, as they were out with Abby, so it’s a quick trip and then he’s headed back to the station.
Nathan hears the radio click on before a few seconds of silence. Then: “Nathan, honey?”
“Go ahead, Laverne.” He wonders what it is this time, possible parking offences on Main Street?
There’s another long pause. “You better get down to Chester’s Cove.”
He’ll go anyway of course. It’s his job. Nathan swings the wheel of the truck around. “I’m on my way. What happened?”
“Duke just turned up.”
Nathan lets go of the talk button and takes a breath. Pressing it again he says, “He-”
“He’s talking, doc’s checking him out. But they’re waiting for you.”
Nathan turns on the siren.
He doesn’t remember, later, how he got down there. He doesn’t remember stopping the car or how he climbed down over the rocks onto the beach. His memory starts again with Duke, sitting unmoving on the beach, staring out towards the water. Lucassi and the other cops move away, leaving a clear path between the two of them.
Nathan sees Duke and shouts for Audrey.
Duke looks up at him from his seat on the sand. “I looked. She’s not here.”
“What do you mean she’s not-?”
“I mean she’s not here, Nathan. I’ve been walking up and down ‘til one of your patrol cars got a call and came down here to stop me. I looked.”
“You both went in there.”
Duke runs his hand over his head. He’s wearing the same shirt and jeans from the day he disappeared into the barn. He says, “I remember that part.”
There’s something off with the phrasing. Nathan kneels down beside him. “And after that?”
“Not so much. Lucassi says it’s been-”
“Almost summer again.” Duke stops talking and Nathan looks at him more closely. He doesn’t seem hurt or confused. He doesn’t seem like he’s been away six months. Except his eyes are unfocussed and maybe Nathan is out of the habit of reading Duke’s shades of expression but he doesn’t know what he should be saying here. After a moment, Duke’s eyes sharpen and when they do it’s Nathan he settles on. His hand twitches and he reaches out to tap Nathan’s chest. “You were shot. You okay?”
“I’m fine.” Nathan stands up. “Get him to the hospital, get him checked out.”
“Nathan,” Duke protests.
Nathan waves him away, and Duke gets steered into the back of an ambulance. Nathan, meanwhile, starts walking the beach. He calls the station. “I need someone circulating Officer Parker’s photograph to the hospitals. I want someone checking into any call outs nearby, anyone that matches her description.”
“Chief, we did all this-”
“Do it again,” he says. “Duke’s back.”
Duke is in the station when Nathan gets back. He’s in Nathan’s office, staring at the board which Nathan knows he had covered. There’s not a lot on it – he wasn’t left with a lot of evidence. Nathan covers it over again. They all know it’s there in the station, but they don’t mention it any more.
“Sit down,” Nathan says. “Talk.”
Duke sits down in the chair opposite the desk. “I don’t know where she is.”
“Start at the beginning. You went in.”
“And I don’t-” He shakes his head.
Nathan tries to forget that this is Duke, that this is about Audrey. He tries to pretend this is any other witness statement. “Anything at all. Sounds, smells.”
Duke looks at him incredulously. “Are you seriously doing your kidnap victim bit?”
“You have a better idea?”
“What do you think you’re going to get from-? White. I remember white. Though that could have been the explosion.” Duke stares at a point on the wall while Nathan waits. Duke’s gaze comes back across the desk. He leans down. “You burn your hand?”
“Doesn’t look fine. How do you not notice something like that? Even you, you don’t see the open flame when you stick your hand in it?” He reaches out, brushing his finger down Nathan’s wrist.
“Can we get back on topic?” Nathan asks, pulling his hands back.
“I don’t remember,” Duke says. “I wish I did, but I don’t.”
“Try again,” Nathan says. There has to be something. But it doesn’t get any better than that.
* * *
Duke spends most of his second day back in Haven asleep. He doesn’t know how time worked in the Barn, but he didn’t come out of it feeling rested. He came out feeling like he had been battered. There is an odd scattering of bruises on his chest, red and slightly inflamed. He doesn’t remember anything after diving towards the Barn, and while he spent most of his childhood dodging around a hole in his memory, he’s not a kid any more. Audrey is still gone and Duke has no idea if she’s still in there but okay, or in there but not okay, or not in there at all. The fact that Haven is still Trouble-free would be a point in favour of the first option, but then Duke still has to wonder how he got out. James didn’t. Duke has seen the reports Nathan was circulating and one of those photographs is of the man he now knows is Nathan and Audrey’s kid.
So Duke gets why Nathan is pissed off – if he could only get one of three out, Duke is not the person Nathan would have picked. If Duke could change places with Audrey, he would. Doesn’t change the fact that he doesn’t remember a thing.
When he dreams, he dreams of endless white corridors and wakes up yelling. He falls asleep all over again because he’s still exhausted, and the process repeats.
The next morning – the third day – he heads over to the Gull as soon as it’s light. He’s expecting to see the place boarded up or worse, but it looks no worse for wear. His key still works.
Duke makes himself breakfast in the kitchen there, and turns on the coffee machine. He goes outside to watch the ocean.
He blames the insomnia for the way Cynthia manages to sneak up on him. She calls his name and he nearly falls off the chair. “Christ!”
“Sorry, sorry! Nathan said you were back but that you probably wouldn’t be in yet. I didn’t expect to see you.”
“So you yelled my name? And Nathan called you?”
“To make sure I still came to open up, I guess. He’s been keeping an eye on the place but he asked me to make sure things ran okay. You still want me to open or would you-?”
“Sit,” he says. “Tell me all about it.”
* * *
Nathan goes looking for Duke on the Rouge, because he’s not at the Gull and not answering his phone. He was at the Gull this morning, but no one has seen him since midday. “Duke?”
Duke comes stumbling up the stairs onto the deck and for a long moment all Nathan feels is the bitter taste of adrenaline going to waste. Duke is in pants but no shirt, an expanse of skin that didn’t lose his tan in all the months away. There are little bruises on his chest that Nathan didn’t notice on any report. He steps forward to look at them. Duke holds him off with one hand. “Personal space, Nathan.”
“What are these?”
“Bruises, I guess. Maybe I fell when I turned up on the beach, I don’t remember.”
There are ten bruises, eight roughly circular and two ovals where his ribs meet. “It looks like handprints.”
Duke looks down at them. “Maybe.”
Nathan matches them with his own fingertips, but the spacing seems wrong. The hands were smaller. “She was with you.”
“You know she was with me. You saw me go after her. You sent me after her. I don’t know what happened after that. I swear I really don’t.”
“She was with you,” Nathan says again, “and you what? Left her there?”
“Where are you getting-?”
“She was holding onto you.”
Duke exhales sharply. “If she had been doing that, Nathan, she would have come back with me.”
“So why didn’t she?”
“Nathan.” It’s the way he said it every time before - faintly exasperated as though it’s Nathan who is being unreasonable here. Duke has said Nathan’s name in just that way when he was protesting an inquiry into his liquor license, like Nathan’s anger is a mild, occasionally amusing inconvenience in his day. Nathan takes a step towards him. He doesn’t know what he’s planning to do.
Duke pushes him away first. Nathan will swear to that. Duke pushed him, Nathan pushed back, and Duke threw the first punch.
They have never held back. Nathan’s punch sends Duke backwards; Duke hooks Nathan with his leg so they’re both rolling on the deck, not making contact enough to do real damage but flailing for another solid hit. Nathan lands one on Duke’s cheek and there’s a cracking sound. Nathan hesitates and Duke takes the moment to get a lucky hit at Nathan’s eye. It’ll be black in the morning, and for now he can see the red of his blood trickling into his eye. Nathan rubs it clean in time to see the silver creep into Duke’s eyes. Duke pushes him off, gasping. Nathan goes flying back across the deck.
Duke scrapes himself onto his knees.
Duke has Nathan's blood vanishing on his fist and his own trickling from his mouth. He uses one to wipe away the other and looks up, eyes dull now. “Did that make you feel better, Nate?”
Nathan answers the only way he knows how. “A little, yeah.”
* * *
Duke literally walks into Dwight on Main Street. He’s still not running at quite his normal level of alertness. Dwight moves him bodily out of the way of the oncoming traffic. “Duke.”
“Hi. If you’re going to punch me for that, I’ve just about had my fill for one week. I can schedule you in next Thursday.”
“I’m glad you’re back.”
“Yeah, well that makes one.”
If Duke is looking for sympathy, Dwight is probably not the place to go, but in fairness to the man he looks Duke up and down and grimaces. “Got into it with Nathan?”
“What gave me away?”
“Aside from the fat lip?”
Duke acknowledges that. “You should see the other guy.”
“I did,” Dwight deadpans.
“Oh, now that’s just mean. Tell me he’s at least got a black eye, I know I hit him, even if he didn’t feel any of it.”
“He’s a little beat up,” Dwight says. “And pissed off. But at least he’s not-”
“He’s better off than he was before you got back.”
“Now that, I definitely don’t believe. If you had seen him yesterday- that man wants nothing more than to shove me back into the Barn and hope I never come out again.”
Dwight scoffs. “And if you believe that, you’re as fucked in the head as he is. You didn’t see him, after it happened.”
“Yeah. Because I wasn’t here. Because I went after Audrey who, believe me, is the reason for any and all weird behaviour on Nathan’s side.”
Dwight shrugs. “All I know, he had every cop in Haven and every contact I’ve got nationwide looking for signs, and it wasn’t just Audrey’s picture he was handing out.”
“He’s a good cop. Most of the time. That’s what cops do.”
“He went- people were concerned.”
“This is Nathan. He’s not exactly the talking and sharing type. Hence the fistfights. But I’m going to stay out of his way; he can stay out of mine. We’ll both get along better.”
Dwight shakes his head. “Sure. Anyway, like I said, I’m glad you’re back.” He heads off in the other direction with, now Duke comes to notice, a massive coil of cabling slung over his arm. Some things around here never change.
* * *
Nathan orders a coffee and sits down at one of the tables with a view of the ocean. His eyes are drawn back to the bar – it’s the cop in him, people are almost always more interesting than nature.
Duke grabs the arm of the waitress heading towards his table. Nathan has to focus to make out the words. Duke asks, “That for him?” He nods in Nathan’s direction.
She nods back.
Duke says, “Leave it behind the bar for another minute or two.” He doesn’t elaborate, and the woman gives up waiting for him to explain. She puts the mug down and goes to take someone else’s order.
Nathan pushes back his chair. He waits until he’s close enough to Duke that no one else is going to hear him. “What are you doing?”
“Nathan. Here to grace my fine establishment? Cynthia said you were keeping an eye on it when I was away.”
“What are you doing?”
“Well,” he drawls, “when coffee is very hot, and idiots with no pain sensitivity don’t notice, sometimes they burn their tongues off and go on to sue innocent small business owners.”
“I don’t need you-”
“Well you sure as hell need somebody keeping an eye on you, and right now I’m the only candidate.”
Nathan takes a step closer, and Duke takes a step back. Nathan reaches past him to pick up the coffee. It’s still steaming when he takes the first sip.
* * *
For someone who professed, pretty loudly and violently, his distaste for Duke and anywhere Duke is, Nathan is spending a lot of time in the Gull. Maybe he thinks Duke’s hiding Audrey somewhere. Or at least information on Audrey’s whereabouts.
Duke stops his coffee on the way out again. “How many times- for him, wait.” He tests his hands on the cup. “This is still too warm.”
Mary-Ann blinks at him. “He said that I shouldn’t let you hold onto it.”
Duke rolls his eyes. “He is not empowered to give you orders in here. I write your checks.” He blows on the surface of the coffee, which is a pretty futile gesture but it’s all he’s got right now. He’ll think of something new tomorrow.
Duke feels the tapping on his shoulder and turns around. “Doc.”
Lucassi looks him up and down. “I left messages for you to come to see me.”
“Aren’t you officially the coroner now? Pretty sure me walking and talking takes me out of your wheelhouse.”
“You went missing in a massive explosion. From a legal standpoint-”
“Oh, do not tell me someone went and declared me dead.”
He rolls his eyes. “On Nathan’s watch? Regardless, as the medical professional in this town most acquainted with the- unusual aspects of your case, if I ask you to come for a check-up, you should make the time.”
“That’s not for you to decide.”
“I’m fine.” He’s hyper-aware of Nathan staring at him from the other side of the bar, and he’s still not sleeping, but he’s fine.
* * *
Nathan does not want to be doing this. If Duke would just turn up places he was supposed to, or answer messages, then Nathan wouldn’t have to go after him. When he goes looking at the Gull, Cynthia rolls her eyes. “He’s upstairs.”
Upstairs in Audrey’s apartment. Nathan would not have looked there. He thinks Duke probably knows that.
There’s no light coming through the window, but the door is unlocked. Nathan can see the back of Duke’s head, over the top of Audrey’s couch. There’s a bottle of whiskey, open, on the floor in front. Nathan really is going to kill him this time.
Except when he rounds the couch, there’s light enough to see by. And Duke’s eyes are red.
Nathan stands there for a second or two.
Duke stares back. He picks up the bottle and offers it, wordlessly, up to Nathan.
Nathan grabs it and sits down beside Duke. He takes a gulp. “Just so we’re clear – you don’t need someone to keep an eye on you?”
“I didn’t say that,” Duke answers. “I didn’t think you were offering, so...”
“Yeah, well.” Nathan takes another drink and passes the bottle back. There’s not too much missing from it. He doesn’t think Duke came up here to get blind drunk. He’s just been sitting here, in the middle of Audrey’s things, alone in the dark. Nathan gives it one more moment to decide if this is a bad move, and gives up. He wraps one arm around Duke’s shoulders.
Duke half-turns his face. “What are we doing now?”
“Hugging. Sort of. I think.”
Duke sighs. “This is a new low for both of us.”
Forget about the words, Audrey would say, always better than him at seeing what was underneath the surface. Forget about the tone, and every time Duke has taken an overture of friendship and made a joke of it. Focus on the parts that matter. Nathan says nothing, and doesn’t move his arm. He is still utterly, completely taken aback when Duke exhales and tips his head sideways to rest on Nathan’s shoulder. For a long time after that, neither of them moves at all.
* * *
Peacetimes with Nathan have always been a fragile thing, and they’ve broken truces over situations far less incriminating than Duke in the station in cuffs. Nathan has never been much for asking questions first and judging later. So Duke reckons he has maybe five minutes to get out of here before the Chief of Police comes back to the station and finds out that his officers have arrested Duke, not even a month since he was dropped back into town. Duke says, “You know, you really haven’t let me explain.”
“You can explain it to the Chief.”
“Really? Must we? You look like a fine, upstanding officer of the law, Sanders, is it? I’m sure between the two of us we could straighten this out without getting Chief Wuornos involved. He’s a busy man.”
“It’s his case, he’ll want to know that you were-”
“See now, exactly! I had excellent reason to be around the house. Strange things. I heard noises. Lights? Bad things, anyway, and it was my duty as a good citizen to investigate.”
From the doorway, Nathan snorts.
Too late. Duke asks, “You want to listen to my side of the story, or are you in a punch first, interrogation later kind of mood.”
Nathan watches him steadily. “You’re handcuffed.”
“I punch you, you’ll be able to punch back.” He turns. “Sanders. Keys.” Nathan plucks the keys from the air when they’re thrown, and settles into the chair opposite Duke. “Hands.” When Duke isn’t fast enough to react, Nathan reaches across the desk and lightly pulls Duke’s arms. He bends over the handcuffs with the key.
“Chief,” Sanders protests, “we have him on trespassing in-”
Nathan sighs. “Trespassing.”
Duke tries to explain but Nathan’s not looking at him.
Sanders says, “His behaviour was suspicious.”
“Duke’s behaviour’s always suspicious – that’s no reason to drag him in here in cuffs.”
“Go. I’ll deal with this.”
Then it’s just the two of them. Duke rubs his wrists. He says, “The Garrison estate.”
“What about it?”
“That’s where I was ‘caught’.”
“It’s an open case.”
“I know. Dwight was just leaving when I walked by. He said you had some kind of situation out there.”
“We have it under control.”
“I’m not saying you don’t. I’m saying – that’s why I was there. In case you could do with another pair of eyes.” Duke stops there. That’s the kind of shaky ground that ran them into difficulties before.
Nathan says, “This is you helping.”
“And apparently I shouldn’t have bothered. I can go now?”
Nathan nods. “Yeah.”
“Well, thanks for not arresting me, I guess.”
Duke heads for the door. He’s maybe three steps away when Nathan catches up to him. “Duke.”
“Hello.” He raises his eyebrow. There is a long pause. “Hey, why didn’t you arrest me? You uncuffed me before I even had a chance to explain my entirely legitimate reasons to be dragged in for questioning by Haven’s never-knowingly underzealous police department.”
Nathan shrugs. “You should let me know, next time.”
“And what, you’ll come with me?”
Duke laughs him off, and goes back towards the door. Nathan grabs his arm, pulling him out of the hallway into a storeroom. “What the-?”
Nathan pushes him against the wall, more carefully than he needs to, his hand round the back of Duke’s head to cushion the blow. The kiss, by that point, makes more sense than the steady intent of Nathan’s stare. Nathan barely moves his body with the kiss, keeping his free hand braced by Duke’s side. He leans in and out from it, ducking back to look at Duke, gauging God-knows-what before kissing him again.
And then he leaves.
Duke watches after him. “Okay. What the hell just happened?”
* * *
Nathan gets a call-out he’s suspicious about right from the word go. So far, the only Troubles he knows are back are his and Duke’s. Nathan’s started near the beginning both of the last times, so it’s fair to say they could have a year or two before things get really bad again. It’s fair to say that, but Nathan isn’t willing to bet on it. He needs to see what’s in front of him. So when the first disappearance call-out turns into a spate of disappearances and reappearances, he’s not coming to any particular conclusions.
The Teagues turn up at the station. Dave says, “You don’t think-?”
Nathan hadn’t exactly mentioned that Duke’s Trouble was back too. It could still be related to the barn – there’s no evidence so far to suggest otherwise.
Nathan leans his hands on the desk. “Don’t think what?”
“Twenty-seven years,” Vince says. “It’s always twenty-seven years.”
“People don’t just vanish in the middle of a crowd, not the way the Taylor boy did. Not without...” His voice goes down to a whisper. “Not without a good reason. Reasons that shouldn’t be happening.”
“Well,” Nathan says, “Maybe it’s time for some changes.” He stares them down until they both leave, reluctantly, still mumbling as they head out of the station.
Nathan grabs his jacket and heads out to the second scene. It’s now officially a kidnapping. Jimmy Taylor has pulled a disappearing act and his ex-girlfriend is missing. There’s evidence of something that looks like a small fire in Jeannie Stone’s bedroom and she’s not answering her cellphone.
There is a burnt-smelling melted patch of asphalt where Jimmy Taylor allegedly turned invisible and snuck through the crowd. Reports on the actual invisibility are mixed, and Nathan suspects that there is a sizeable contingent of the population now trying to come up with any other feasible explanation.
It’s not until the third scene that Nathan figures out that he needs another explanation, although it’s not one that the formerly-Troubled citizens of Haven are going to like any more than invisibility.
Duke turns up at that scene, at about the point when Nathan has figured out that invisibility couldn’t be doing this, but before he knows what’s actually happening. He doesn’t know what’s happening with him and Duke either, but that problem has to be left on the backburner.
Jimmy reappears out of nowhere, dragging the missing girl behind him. She’s missing a chunk of her arm and that’s the point where this clicks. That’s why there’s no forensic evidence of the route he took to leave. Because he didn’t walk out. He just closed his eyes and reappeared somewhere new.
They take Jeannie to the hospital. No one can really figure out what to do with Jimmy. Duke stands at Nathan’s side, rolling on the balls of his feet. Nathan says, “Sedate him, until we can work out a way to-” There’s no way to neutralise a Trouble without another Trouble, and even if that was a possibility, the side-effects are never great. Right now, Duke is the only one they have who has anything like that kind of ability and that’s not an answer. Nathan has no idea what the answer is.
He snaps at the officers marking out the scene. When Duke comes to check on him, Nathan snaps at him too. He doesn’t want to be making the same old mistakes with the Troubles. They can’t just pretend that nothing is happening, But if no one’s going to talk, then Nathan has to figure out all the answers by himself. And he’s not used to that any more.
Duke pushes his hair roughly behind his ear. “Nate. It’s okay that you’re not Audrey. Nobody’s asking you to be.” He glares at nothing in particular. “God, I can’t believe I’m the one that ends up saying...” He turns away, trailing off into silence.
Nathan grabs his arm. “You’re the one that what?”
“Nothing. Doesn’t matter.”
* * *
Duke doesn't remember, growing up in Haven, thinking of it as a place where things happened a lot. When he talked about it later – telling stories to all the new people there were to meet out in the wide world – he painted it like any other small town. The kind of place a guy like him would do anything to escape: a town where everybody knew everybody, where the main excitement was the new minister moving in, and each year progressed through the seasons much like the one before. His Dad died, and Nathan's mom, but those were the kinds of things that could happen anywhere. Men died in boats, even bad ones, and women got sick, even good ones. That period of time where someone got murdered - where a woman called Lucy gave Duke a necklace to hold onto and told him he'd find someone to give it to later - those were things that didn't happen everywhere. But Duke was either a little too young to notice, or Haven was doing its level best to keep its silence. He only started thinking of it as odd after Audrey showed up.
Duke feels, now, like crazy shit is never done happening. He feels like maybe Nathan and he could work something out if the rest of it would just stop for a month or two. But it doesn’t. And he can't begrudge this new spanner in the works. He wouldn't ever.
Audrey comes back.
Only she's not Audrey really, and it's not about the short, dark hair or the faded tee. It's the way she looks up at Duke and doesn't blink twice. “Sorry,” she says, which is at least less suspicious than their last first meeting. “I'm totally lost.”
She has just driven into town, like it's nothing special. Like Nathan hasn't been throwing himself into new levels of crazy looking for her these past eight months. Duke's not sure whether fake-Howard is even still alive, but if he is, Duke has some pretty strong words for him right about now.
He's waited too long to say something. “I'm sure we can figure out where you ought to be. Hi. I'm Duke.”
He hopes, against all logic, that she's going to laugh in his face and tell him she knew that already. But she doesn't. She says, “Madeline. Madeline Travers. I'm looking for Abbotts, the lawyers? Do you know it?”
“Haven's a pretty small town,” Duke says. “I can point you in the right direction. Any chance I could persuade you to join me for a coffee first? Rosemary makes a mean breakfast muffin.”
She smiles, but it's forced. “Sorry, no. I really do have some work to get done.” She waves the files in her hand and Duke notices the other thing.
“Plus, you're married.”
“I'm- widowed, actually. But yeah.”
“I'm sorry to hear that. I'm- my wife died last year. Let me show you where you're heading, okay?” He lifts the takeout menu lying on her front seat. “You got a pen?”
She takes one from the glove compartment and passes it over. “I'm sorry too. About your wife, I mean. It's...” Her hand twists awkwardly and she doesn’t finish the sentence.
Duke says, “It really is. Here you are, Ms Travers. You can drive there in five minutes or, given the usual state of parking over there, probably walk it in three.” He scribbles something else on the page. “You get lost again, give me a call. I grew up here, I know as much about it as anyone.”
She nods, probably just being polite, but takes the page. “I’ll walk, I think. I’d like to see some more of the town.”
Duke watches while she walks away, and then reaches for his phone. He thinks better of it. Duke gets back into his truck and heads towards the station. He needs to get over there before anyone else tells Nathan, but this isn’t something they should do over the phone.
Nathan looks up when Duke walks into his office. “Need something?”
Duke takes the chair. “I need you not to-” He rests his hands, palms up, on the desk, and meets Nathan’s eyes. “Don’t do anything until I’ve finished talking, okay?”
A crease develops on Nathan’s forehead. “What did you do?”
“I saw Audrey.” Nathan is halfway out of his chair already. “Nathan, what the hell did I say? I saw her, she doesn’t-”
“She doesn’t remember.”
“No. Least, not that I could tell. She told me her name was Madeline.”
“How did she-?”
“She looked fine. Her hair’s different.” Nathan’s laughter catches in his throat, sounding painful. Duke says, “She was heading over to Abbotts.”
“Why?” Nathan shakes his head.
“Didn’t get that far. Nathan, if you’re going over there...”
“Of course I’m going over there.”
“I know. I know that, just... go slow, okay?”
Duke’s not convinced Nathan even heard that. He’s already through the door, heading for Audrey.
* * *
They have spoken three times now. Nathan does not think any of those have been good impressions, but she hasn’t told him to go away and stop bothering her.
She says she works for an insurance company. Nathan didn’t hide his reaction well enough when she said that, and he knows she thinks it was a judgement against her. Everything she has been so far, he understands how that led her to Haven and to its Troubles. He can’t see how this was supposed to work.
Nathan had always wondered why his Dad didn't just tell her. He knows Audrey had wondered. Nathan still doesn't get it, exactly, because Audrey had started asking questions about that photograph her first full day in Haven. But he sympathises a little more than he used to. It's hard to know what to say.
Part of that is mostly practical. There is some combination of words, he knows, that would be a good introduction to 'we loved each other once, I know you don't remember, but that's only because you made a choice to sacrifice all of that so we wouldn’t be crushed by the falling sky’. The other part is the way he can see her – Audrey - in the back of the eyes of a face that doesn’t know him anymore. He’s going to start talking to her and not stop.
Duke is adamant that they need to find out more first. Nathan understands why he thinks that, but he isn’t sure Audrey would have agreed. He should have asked her, but he never thought the question would matter. He never meant to let her go. Nathan wonders, if he had been quicker to accept what Audrey had known already, if she would have asked him to make promises too. All he can do is guess how she would have wanted him to do this.
He sits down opposite her at Joe’s. “Madeline.”
“How’s the investigation going?”
“Oh, you know.” She smiles. “Strange things seem to happen in this town. I’ve never seen claims like it.”
“Well. That’s... good?”
“Honestly? Yes. It’s interesting. Could I drop by the police station tomorrow?”
“To get some copies of records? A lot of people seem to have lost theirs. You had a meteor storm?”
“Something like that.”
“That was a new one for me.”
“For us too.”
“Sorry, you must think I’m- I needed something new. When the company wanted someone to head out here to dig a little deeper it just seemed... like a good opportunity.”
“I get that.”
“Really? I would have thought you were more- you grew up here, didn’t you? Pillar of the community.”
“Now, who would tell you a thing like that?”
“Your friend. The bartender.”
“Duke said ‘pillar of the community’?”
“Duke said... well, that was what I took from it, anyway. Not the kind of man who just picks up and leaves, is what I got.”
Nathan shrugs. “I’ve been here all my life.”
“Good memories, then.”
“Not the kind I want to forget.”
* * *
Nathan pushes too hard. He expects too much, he always has. Duke warned him. But Duke knows Nathan, and he is not surprised when he sees Madeline shoving away from him, leaving in so much of a hurry she forgets her coat.
He looks between the two of them and follows after Nathan. She is not going to want to talk to Duke right now, and Nathan needs to have the sense knocked back into him. “For once in your life will you listen to me?”
Nathan spins back towards him. “She found a photograph. She was already- I tried to explain it, I didn’t start it.”
“And you explained it how?”
“I told her the truth!”
“She’s not ready to hear that.”
“And when will she be?”
“It’s not that simple, Nathan, she deserves a chance to-” He takes a breath. “If we can’t fix this... Audrey is gone, and she is here, she deserves a chance to- You’re scaring her, and I’m not going to just sit by and let you-”
“Let me?” Nathan shoves, pulls, and Duke has wondered before what buttons are triggered in Nathan that go straight to a physical response he can’t feel. Half the joy in punching someone is the way it makes your own hand ache.
“You really want to do this now?” Duke asks.
“No.” Nathan grabs him again, no gentler, pulling Duke towards him. Their mouths clash and Duke tastes blood but nothing happens so it must be his own. Nathan leans his forehead against Duke’s. “Are we doing this or not?”
Nathan blinks, out of focus so close. “Okay.”
It’s true: the Rouge is much closer than Nathan’s place and a little closer than the Gull, and anyway Duke isn’t going to have Nathan fuck him in Audrey’s bed.
Duke isn’t one to give a damn what people think of him, or anyway the list of people whose opinion he cares about can be counted on one hand. Nathan cares about that kind of thing though, so Duke does consider what it looks like, by the time they get to the Rouge, Nathan’s hand fisted in Duke’s shirt, half-pulling half-pushing him below deck.
Duke makes space between them long enough to get rid of his jeans and shirt. Nathan stares at him before stripping off his own shirt in one economical movement. He walks them across the cabin until the back of Duke’s knees hit the bed. Nathan leans his head in, breathing hot on Duke’s neck. “Are we-?”
“Still yes,” Duke says.
They’re still fighting, Duke guesses, even as he sinks into the sheets. It’s another argument, the way Nathan holds back and holds back until Duke is gasping, “Move, fuck you. Move.” He’s an inch away from pleading instead of ordering, but it’s an inch he won’t cross. Nathan braces himself over Duke, staring down at him in challenge. Duke does his best to meet it, wrapping his legs around Nathan’s back, securing him there, forcing him over the edge first.
And yes, Duke knows, lying flat on the bed again. This is the other thing they do when they fight. Nathan always leaves first, leaving Duke staring at the wrong side of a closed door.
* * *
She is Audrey in his head, and that’s one more question Nathan would like to ask his father. How he ever called her anything but Lucy, how he never slipped. Nathan catches the words before they leave his mouth but it is close every time. “Madeline.”
“What can I do for you?” he asks.
“Duke showed me another photograph.”
Nathan wonders where he got it. Nathan had a hard time finding photographs of them together – Duke took them on his phone when he wanted to make a joke of it, but Nathan didn’t know what he did with them afterwards. “When?”
“He says you lost a friend.”
“I- we did.”
She looks at him long and hard. “You know what you said is crazy, right?”
“I know it probably sounds that way.”
She sighs. “I know what it’s like to... I know what it does to you. It gets in your head until all you can think about is- and she looks a lot like me. Your friend.”
“When my husband- when he died, I saw him all the time. I still do. I mean, I know it’s not him but sometimes I am so sure. So I get it, I do.”
They haven’t talked about this part. The details hadn’t seemed important at the time. “How did he- what happened?”
Her eyes are bright with unshed tears but she smiles at him all the same. “He was like you,” she says. “He was a cop. Shot and killed in the line.” She touches her own chest, inches away from the spot Nathan has new scars.
* * *
“Right,” Duke says, “I vote we tell her.”
Nathan’s fists clench. “What?”
“The whole thing.”
“You- three days ago you pitched a yelling match with me in the street over this. And now you want to tell her everything.”
“Because that bastard, those bastards whatever, they did this on purpose.”
“I don’t...” He shakes his head.
“We ever ask why she came back now at all? No, because we’re too busy being glad about it. What went wrong?”
“I shot Howard and the whole barn exploded?”
“Apart from that. I mean, yes, that, but the whole thing went. We messed with the sequence. Whatever Audrey’s supposed to do in there, it didn’t get done. So they sent her back. Only they didn’t do it right. She’s- look, you’re not imagining it, sometimes I look at her, I listen to what she’s saying and it’s just – that’s Audrey. It’s like they tried to stick some new memories on top of her and the edges are peeling off. They didn’t do it right. But the only thing – the one thing they really want to make sure of – she thinks she had a husband who was a cop who died. That doesn’t strike you as suspicious? Like a really specific detail? They wanted to rig what happened this go around.”
Duke hasn’t been in favour of keeping quiet because he wanted to play nice this time. He wanted to keep quiet because he thought she should be allowed to find her way to the answers if she still wanted them. He wasn’t sure if she would. There is a cycle and she is stuck right in the middle of it. This changes things. Whoever the powers that be are, they are screwing around with her. They are worried about the choices she might make all over again, and they want to make sure she doesn’t make the wrong one. The deck has been marked in advance and that’s the kind of thing that pisses Duke off.
Nathan, Duke thinks, should really understand that. Lately it seems though that they only understand each other when Nathan is pressing Duke down onto the bed. Duke isn’t expecting that today - it doesn’t feel like that kind of fight - but Nathan doesn’t make any move to leave when he finishes his drink. He waits Duke out – obviously neither of them are going to just ask for what they want. Nathan does stretch up, working out kinks he can’t feel, exposing the pale skin of his stomach. That’s about as clear as he ever manages to be, and in the event, Duke’s not going to object to him sticking around a while longer. Duke inclines his head slightly towards the bedroom. “With me or not?”
Nathan shrugs. “I don’t have anywhere to be in the morning.”
After, Duke slings his leg over Nathan’s, pressing them chest to back, so if Nathan’s going to run off again he’ll to have to work for it. True to form, Nathan shakes his shoulders free and pulls out from underneath. He doesn’t get up though. He says, “You mind if I turn over?”
“Because you can’t deal with being the little spoon?” Duke asks. “Go ahead.”
Nathan turns over, and Duke makes to turn as well. Nathan puts a hand on his arm. “That’s fine, if you want.”
“O-kay. Sure.” They’re face to face now, or face to shoulder, the way Nathan has inched down the bed. Nathan settles his hand on Duke’s elbow, thumb tracing the edge of the tattoo on his upper arm in a way that is beyond weird even for him. “You gonna sleep sometime soon?” Duke asks, because Nathan is keeping his eyes open, fixed on whichever part of Duke he strays them over.
“Yeah,” Nathan says, without doing anything about it.
Duke, in the end, drapes his leg over Nathan’s again, and doesn’t say a word when Nathan drops his head, fitting himself under Duke’s chin. Nathan is still awake, staring, and Duke sleeps.
* * *
Nathan is pretty sure that she thinks he’s crazed with grief. But there is something in her which is mourning too, so she has forgiven him. The strength of grief for a man who didn’t exist, or more likely who did exist and was lost by a woman who really was called Madeline, is enough to run like a faultline through this Audrey. She sits down at the table with him in the Gull.
She asks him, “Where’s your boyfriend?”
Nathan blinks at her.
“Tall, dark and pirate?” On ‘pirate’ she pulls the ends of her hair into a ponytail, holding onto it with her hand. She makes an enquiring face, and apparently decides he’s still not getting it, because she uses the index finger of her other hand to indicate a moustache above her lip. Mostly, Nathan is distracted by the tease of her smile, shining, and so much like it looked before. She shakes her head. “Oh, never mind. The one over there.”
Nathan hears Duke before he sees him. Duke leans over his shoulder to say, “Nathan’s trying to find a nice way to tell you that ‘boyfriend’s’ not exactly the right word.”
She grins at him. “Boytoy?”
“I would go with acquaintance with whom he occasionally has sex, and occasionally aims guns at. One is patently more fun than the other, but Nathan is a complicated individual.”
Looking at Nathan, she asks, “You shot him?”
“Aimed at,” Duke corrects, because he’s generous that way.
“You’ve aimed at me more than a few times,” Nathan says.
“Yeah, but you’re still ahead.”
That could be right. When Nathan has pointed a gun at Duke, he’s had his reasons, but the reason hasn’t always been that Duke was pointing one at Nathan.
Her gaze flicks from Duke to Nathan and back again, but she’s not as disturbed by that as she might be. She says, “You two are pretty weird.”
“We are at that,” Duke agrees easily.
She shrugs. “That’s okay. I might not look it, but I’m pretty good with weird.”
Duke grins at her, shaking his head in fond disbelief. But if this was really Audrey, Nathan thinks, she wouldn’t have been okay with that answer. She loved weird more than almost anything else, but she wouldn’t have accepted weird as a reason for whatever mess Duke and Nathan are tangled up in together right now.
* * *
Nathan progresses from chasing Duke's heels to avoiding him entirely. Or not entirely - he still drops by the Gull, but he doesn't talk to Duke while he's there. He looks, Duke can tell, because of the number of times Duke glances over to catch his eye. It's the uneasy relationship they had before they were sleeping together. The step backwards presumably makes some kind of sense in Nathan's head, though Duke will be damned if he can see it.
Duke sidles up to him at the bar. "You think about what I said?"
"Not now, Duke."
"Yeah, cause you look really busy over here with your coffee and pancakes. What's up?"
"I need a reason to want a quiet breakfast? Just not in the mood for conspiracy theories first thing in the morning, okay?"
“Fine. You coming around tonight?”
“I have a lot of work to do.”
Duke, possibly contrary to Nathan’s belief, can take a hint. He leaves Nathan to his breakfast and goes back behind the bar. Nathan leaves ten minutes later, without even looking Duke’s way. Duke is too tired for this.
It’s a sign that he’s been in Haven too long that it takes Duke until the afternoon to remember that he doesn’t have to keep feeling like this. He can go and be somewhere else for a while.
He drops by the station first. Nobody even questions that any more – Laverne nods at him as he walks in, but no one tries to stop him. Duke knocks the frame of Nathan’s door. “Hey.”
Nathan looks up. “Yeah?”
“You in the middle of anything likely to get you shot in the next week or so?”
He pulls his eyebrows together. “Sorry?”
“I’m going out of town. Unless you need me around here.”
Leaning back in his chair, Nathan says, “We’re good.”
“Fine. I’ll be back in a few days.”
“Sure.” Nathan looks down at his desk, flicking through the file.
Duke heads towards the harbour. Fifteen years ago, he could just have left. He did. This time, he tells his employees, he even tells Madeline just in case something happens. Then he scrolls through his phone until he finds the name of someone who probably doesn’t want to punch him right now. “Lee? I’m doing a run near you, you got anyone who needs- Excellent. I’ll be there Thursday, late, usual spot? Okay.”
There’s not a spot in Haven that doesn’t have history to Duke, and if he takes the Rouge with him when he leaves, he’s just carrying it around. Still, it’s Duke’s history and he’s well enough used to living with those demons by now. The Rouge still runs as well now as the day he won her – these boats were built to last, none of those shiny summer tourist wonders. She’ll get him where he needs to go and, when he’s ready, she’ll bring him back again.
The Cape Rouge isn't in dock. Nathan stares at the place where the boat should be.
There's a man in the boat in the next dock over. “Looking for Crocker?”
“Yeah,” Nathan answers. His voice sounds louder than he expected.
“He took off Thursday morning. Didn't say where.”
“Thanks.” It's been four days since then. Nathan knows Duke said he was going somewhere, but this is not an overnight trip. And he has taken the boat. The last time he did that, he and Audrey were being kidnapped. One of the times before that, he disappeared for a decade. It must be years since the Rouge was out of this dock for more than a day. Even when Duke was gone, the boat was here. And Nathan would have noticed if Duke had said he was leaving. He’s almost sure of that.
At the Gull, Mary-Ann is the waitress moving around the tables. Nathan waits until she is heading back to the kitchen before he catches her arm. “You know where Duke is?”
She blinks. “He said he was going away for a few days. He didn’t tell you?”
“He didn’t say how long,” Nathan says.
“Oh, he didn’t tell us that either.”
“He just left?”
“I think so.” She waits. “Is there something else you need?”
Nathan shakes his head and lets her go.
He buys coffee and takes it back to the station. Nobody bothers him all day. He finishes all his paperwork. And then he goes back to his empty house.
On Tuesday, he calls Duke’s cellphone. It goes straight to voicemail. Nathan doesn’t leave a message. He goes for a drive, but the radio is silent.
Wednesday, Madeline drops by to find some more reports. She asks, “Duke not around?”
Something in that monosyllable must betray him because she excuses herself and asks Stan to hunt the reports down for her instead.
It’s a lot like the six months before Duke came back. Nathan spends most of his time checking that no John Does have turned up at the hospital or morgue. He knows that is not the most rational explanation for Duke being gone so long. When they were twenty-one, they had a fight in the summer and when Nathan came back at Christmas from college, Duke had picked up and left. He hadn’t mentioned that he was thinking about it before he did it.
On Thursday, the Cape Rouge is anchored in her usual dock. Nathan stands on the top of the steps, looking down at the familiar scattering of furniture and odd decorations Duke picks up on his travels. Duke is setting out lights over the table, putting the place back to rights.
Nathan tries to find his voice. He misses it the first time, but manages on the second attempt. “Duke?”
Duke turns. His shoulders are red from too much time out on the deck in the sun, and his eyebrows raise as though seeing Nathan is a surprise. After a beat, he frowns. “Hello to you too. What’s up?”
Nathan jumps down onto the deck.
“Nathan, seriously, is everything- okay then.”
Duke is easily moved, dragged into Nathan’s hold until they are as close as they can be with Nathan still able to look at him. Nathan leans his forehead on Duke’s and keeps his eyes open. “Don’t go anywhere without a plan to come back.”
“Look, I don’t have any right to ask, and I know you never planned on sticking around here when we were kids but- don’t just go and not come back.”
Duke turns his head, breaking the eye contact and pulling them cheek to cheek. He whispers in Nathan’s ear. “You can ask me whatever you want.”
“I’ve got no plans to be anywhere else, but even if I did- you can ask me whatever.”
It’s easier, a little, staring out at the ocean instead of Duke’s eyes. “Last time it was six months. Time before that was nearly ten years. I don’t think I could-. So stay.”
“It’s that easy?” Things have never been that easy between them.
“If you want it to be. Okay?” It’s a lie, but there’s a truth buried in the promise that Nathan hasn’t heard before.
* * *
“Still think this is all insurance fraud?” Duke asks.
Madeline looks at him. “You want me to give you a rational explanation?”
“You got one?”
“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”
“So why are you still here?”
She grins. “Curiosity, mostly. I haven’t ruled out the possibility that you’re all some really elaborate science experiment.”
“Hey. Words hurt.”
Nathan looks up from the giant hole in the ground and snorts. Then he says, “You know, you really shouldn’t be here. This could be dangerous.”
“I can see that,” she says. “The roads are falling in. Does that happen a lot?”
“Less often than it used to,” Duke says. He doesn’t know whether to look at Nathan then or not. Duke is fairly sure that Garland Wuornos had no other family, or at least none related closely enough to share his affliction. But they have been wrong about things like that before. This doesn’t seem like those cracks anyway. With the exception of the one that swallowed Max Hansen, who Duke judged to have deserved it, most of those were narrow, spider-webbing across the road (or across Duke’s boat, which had not deserved it). This is more like the ground underneath the road just vanished, and the asphalt fell in.
Madeline looks in. “Is it supposed to look like that?”
“Like someone took a scoop out of it. Or- like they squashed a lump of it really small.”
“Why’d you say that?”Nathan asks.
“Something crossed my desk today-”
“You don’t have a desk,” Duke points out. They let her sit in Abbotts sometimes, and he knows Nathan refuses to throw her out of the station when she turns up there, even though there are probably twenty regulations against it.
“Something was brought to my attention,” she amends smoothly. “Rare bone disorder, the density all wrong.”
Duke waits for her to finish. She’s thinking out loud.
“I mostly noticed because it was the second claim in a few months. His wife had died, nothing suspicious about it, but then he suddenly got sick too. At the time I just thought it was sad.”
“You remember the name?” Nathan asks.
She pages through her phone. “Here. Snyder. George Snyder.”
Duke remembers his wife, Emily. She had been dead already when Duke got back. He had remembered that she was friendly, that she and her husband still went out for a date together on a Friday night. Madeline’s right though – there was nothing suspicious about that death. It could be the trigger though.
Nathan makes a quick phonecall and hangs up in a hurry. “I’ve got the address. Apparently the forest around the house is splintering.” He starts towards the truck and Duke follows him. Madeline follows too. Nathan turns around. “This is going to be dangerous.”
“And probably lead to a number of claims. I need an independent eyewitness.”
“And that has to be you?”
“Maddy,” she says. “Nathan. Come on.” She emphasises this by tapping the back of his hand.
Duke sighs. She doesn’t know it, but that’s one battle Nathan has no hope of winning now.
Apparently the sound a tree makes when it’s rapidly compressed from wood to rock is something like a firecracker. And pieces go shattering off. One of these mini-explosions knocks Duke from his feet. Nathan moves towards him but Madeline is already there.
She helps Duke back up and to his feet. He straightens his clothing, dusting himself down. She catches sight of his chest. “Did you get hurt?”
“What?” He looks down at the marks. “Oh, no. Old bruises.”
“They don't look old. How did you do that anyway?”
She smiles. “Oh, that type of injury? I have a professional interest in those.”
“Working theory is someone holding onto me.”
She shakes her head, too fast to have needed to think it through. “No.”
She touches his chest, matching the fingertips of her small hand to the marks. “Look at the positioning. Somebody pushed you clear of something.”
Nathan looks at her, hands spread on Duke's chest, poised to shove him away from danger Nathan had asked him to run into. “She's right,” Nathan says.
Duke nods easily, without judgement. “Guess so. Smart woman.”
They’re interrupted by the ground opening up in a chasm in front of him. Nathan stumbles, losing his gun in the process. He crouches down but before he can pick it up, the earth shakes again.
Duke looks down into the hole. “Think this means we’re getting closer?”
Madeline looks too. “I really want to blame this on subsidence.”
“And the trees?” Duke asks. Nathan is going to ask him, someday soon, how he always sounds so relaxed around her. He never sounds like he’s balancing out what he can and can’t say. Duke calls, “There.”
Nathan takes a leap over the gap before he has time to think about it. Snyder is staring at the hole. Maybe he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Or maybe he didn’t when he made this hole but he’s figuring it out now. He holds one hand out towards Nathan and the ground underneath him starts to shift. Snyder folds his palm up so it’s pointed at Nathan’s chest. Nathan has a moment to be thankful that he is the one on the receiving end of this Trouble – anyone else, and he bets it would be an extraordinarily painful way to go.
There is a bang, and Snyder drops to the ground, clutching his shoulder. Nathan looks behind him.
Madeline is holding the gun; her hand is shaking.
Duke crosses over to her. “Maddy?”
“I shot him.”
“Yeah. But he was probably going to send Nathan plummeting through the earth towards Antarctica so I think it’s okay. Plus, you got him in the arm.”
“It was a clean shot,” Nathan says. It’s textbook perfect, he couldn’t have done it so cleanly himself, especially not with the angle he had.
She shakes her head like they’re not getting it. “I’ve never fired a gun in my life. And when he went towards you, I picked it up, I just knew. How did I know that?”
* * *
Duke is not actually surprised that Maddy has more faith in their story, now that she can spontaneously fire a gun without remembering learning how, than when they were just telling her things. So now she wants to know more. Nathan starts her off – practicalities of the Troubles and what they know of Haven’s history, not what the three of them did together before Audrey went away.
Explaining Duke’s own Trouble proves problematic.
Nathan says, “I’d cut myself so we could demonstrate, but Duke’s not much of a fan of what happens next.”
Truthfully, Duke is much less a fan of the look on Nathan’s face when it happens, but he doesn’t enjoy it much in its own right either. At least most of the time he has a choice.
She smiles, and Duke knows this is going to be a tease. “So your family are supposed to be the arch enemies of the other Troubled people?”
“Arch enemies?” he asks.
“But you fell for him anyway. It’s sweet, it’s like Romeo and Juliet.”
Duke glares at her and Nathan, who has been distracted by something outside the window, answers without looking around, “I think that may be taking it too far. We’re not exactly a grand romance.”
“Please.” She snorts. “Duke’s been in love with you since he was eight.”
Naturally, naturally, Nathan jerks into full attention at that. “Sorry?”
She bites her lip. “You told me, didn’t you?”
“I told you?” Nathan asks.
“No... It was raining. And you asked your Dad to drive Duke home because there wasn’t anyone there to pick him up.”
Nathan looks over at Duke. Duke shakes his head. He has told that story, one night when he was drunk, but it was Audrey he told it to. Audrey had asked something which now, with more distance, Duke isn’t even sure was about Nathan. But it had lead to Nathan eventually, and the fight he and Nathan had been having. It had led to the ways Duke hadn’t, back when he was telling the story, ever really thought about drawing a line under his and Nathan’s relationship. And she had asked why.
Duke shakes his head. “It was like a month after the tacks. You still weren’t talking to me. But you didn’t want me walking home in the storm.”
Nathan’s smile is crooked. “You gave me such shit for remembering things that happened that long ago.”
“I remember the stuff that matters.”
“Unlike the tacks.”
Duke shrugs. “I remember figuring out who you were.” Nathan is the guy who does the right thing, no matter how he feels about it. Duke hasn’t always liked him for that but he still remembers the day in the rain.
Madeline looks between them. “That wasn’t a secret, was it?”
Duke shakes his head. “We’re trying to cut out the number of secrets being kept in this place. I guess that starts at home.”
* * *
Nathan should probably be objecting to Duke sitting on the edge of his desk while Nathan theoretically files some reports. It’s not exactly conducive to getting much done. But when he asked, Duke had announced that he was in hiding.
As he’s hiding from the Teagues, Nathan sees a flaw in his plan, namely that Vince and Dave aren’t unknown visitors here at the station. And true enough, Duke’s been there for maybe twenty minutes before they collar him.
Nathan looks over at them. “Vince. Dave.”
“Nathan. We just need to... borrow Duke here.”
He lets Duke decide if that’s something that’s going to happen. Duke leans back, spreading his hands wider on the desk. “I’m sure you can say whatever it is in front of Nathan.”
“You know what it is,” Vince hisses. “The two of you and your- with Madeline. She’s asking questions. It needs to stop.”
“What do you know?” Dave interrupts. Different agenda. Interesting.
“Are we really going to play who’s hiding what?” Duke asks. “Because in a contest between me and Nathan, and the two of you...”
“You think you have a way to end it,” Dave says. “That’s what you’re doing.”
“No,” Nathan says. “We don’t know any more than we did before.”
“Then why are you telling her everything?” Vince asks. “Especially now. What could that possibly achieve?”
Duke plasters on his brightest smile. “Well, we won’t know until we try.”
“And at the end of it?” Vince leans over the desk but he has spent far too long trying to persuade Nathan into things for Nathan to find the new act of intimidation threatening. If Vince was going to take up arms against him, he would have done it by now. Vince says, “When the same thing happens all over again? Are you going to let the town be destroyed this time?”
Nathan shrugs. “Maybe I’m going to keep trying until we get it right.”
Dave says, “She won’t remember. She can’t. Don’t you think we- It doesn’t work that way. Even if you find a way to stop the cycle, it won’t bring Audrey back.”
“You could be right,” Nathan says. “And if you are, you don’t need to worry. Now, was there anything else?”
Vince growls under his breath and Dave shakes his head. But they don’t have anything Nathan wants, or at the very least they don’t have anything he expects will be worth the price they’d want for it. Nathan watches them coolly until they leave again.
“Was that a lie?” Duke asks. “Or is that what you think?”
“I don’t know.” Madeline remembers pieces. She believes that they’re not lying about something being different with her. But that was true of Audrey, with Sarah and Lucy. Occasionally the old memories would surface. It didn’t wipe Audrey’s memories away. And the longer she’s here, the more Nathan is concerned about what it would mean, to break through that dam. The other Audrey had lost all of her memories in the barn, and regained only those she made before Haven. They don’t know how the memories work – if they keep pushing, trying to find the memories she made as Audrey, she could forget this last month. She could forget everything. “What if this is as far as it goes?” Nathan asks.
“Why would it?”
“Because it was before.”
“It was different last time, you know that.” Duke says, “She tried to stay, enough that she scared a lot of people. You think she remembers how to shoot and not how she felt about-?”
“Maybe it burnt up, maybe that's how it works.”
“I'd give you decent odds that, back when she was Sarah, Dave was in love with her. Enough that he and Vince tried to blow the barn up to save her.”
Duke makes a face. “Vince and Dave try to blow everything up, that’s their go-to. Anyway: that's not the part that matters. What else did she do when she was Sarah? It was you that she fell for. And Audrey, she loved you. There's your difference.”
“She loved both of us.”
“No, she loved both of us.” It took Nathan long enough to accept that, and he won’t let Duke brush it away.
Duke doesn’t outright agree but he asks, “So what do we do next?”
“I guess we keep making sure we don’t let the cycle start again.” That’s a two-pronged problem. It means Audrey remembering enough not to go into the Barn again, and it means Haven not needing her to go into the Barn again. Selling that one is not going to be easy, but Nathan said it already – they’ll keep trying until they get it right.
* * *
Duke really wishes that Nathan’s favourite party trick wasn’t stabbing himself. Sure, physical demonstrations are impressive, and sure Nathan favours action over talking, but Duke isn’t really convinced making himself bleed is necessary. Particularly not at a Town meeting.
Plus, it just gets some people wincing, a few glaring, and the rest surprised. It’s an intro – he needs to keep going.
If Audrey could remember it all, she would think this was hilarious. Nathan and public speaking. But he has decided that he can’t not – not talking is what got them all here in the first place. And Duke can’t let him go alone to stand in front of the murmuring discontent of a Haven citizenry that’s precariously balanced between Guard members, former followers of the Rev, and everybody in the middle who has figured out that it really can’t be another gas leak. Duke, though he’s an expert at talking his way out of things, doesn’t do ‘stand together’ speeches. So he just stands awkwardly, off to Nathan’s side, keeping an eye on the crowd in case things get ugly.
“-the Troubled aren’t necessarily any more dangerous than anyone else,” Nathan lies, before adding, “the danger has always been from Troubled people who haven’t had their history explained to them. If their families talk about the Troubles with them, if they know what to expect, we can avoid situations like-” Like three days ago.
Nathan is still talking, but someone in the crowd is talking over him. “The biggest danger has always been to Troubled people, from the families in this town who won’t-”
And then there’s a third voice, a guy Duke recognises from his brief stint with the Rev’s men. “You trying to say the Cross boy didn’t damn near take out half of Main Street with his-”
“Maybe he wouldn’t have been running if your idiots hadn’t been chasing him with guns.”
“Protecting our families from-”
Nathan coughs, trying to restore order, but what works on mostly rational police officers doesn’t go so well with angry townsfolk and in the end Duke gets out his whistle instead. That does the trick.
Nathan glares at him but it’s more the ‘I can’t believe you did that’ one than the ‘why in hell are you anywhere near me?’ one so Duke figures he’s not actually objecting much. At least there’s a bit of quiet now.
Right until the first interruption – Sam Quinn, Duke remembers now – loops back in again. Duke had thought Quinn was one of Dwight’s, hadn’t seen him with Jordan or with Vince for that matter. Quinn says, “People like him, that’s who we ought to be afraid of.”
Nathan raises one eyebrow and uses his best deadpan. “Duke.”
“The Crocker family.”
“Embodied in Duke,” Nathan says again. “I’m not seeing anyone else around.”
“You’re telling us you trust him?”
Nathan takes a moment, and adds a second eyebrow to join the first. He drawls, “Well, we share a bed, so...”
Duke laughs. He probably shouldn’t, this is probably a terrible time to be laughing, but Duke has always appreciated Nathan’s sense of humour, a little because of its rarity and mostly because of the way Nathan’s tone barely changes. Nathan doesn’t look like he’s amused by much. Between Duke coming back to Haven the first time, and Audrey nearly driving her car over the cliff, he could count on one hand the times he’d heard Nathan genuinely laugh because something was funny. Audrey had laughed with both of them and then somehow they had both been laughing with her.
Her choked giggle startles him, even knowing where she is, and when Duke catches her eye she is grinning brightly. They’re not quite her Romeo and Juliet, Duke guesses, but somewhere out in the crowd someone else laughs, and there’s a ripple of it through the room.
Quinn shakes his head but his mom is smiling and Duke knows well enough where the decisions are made in that family. She’s always had a soft spot for Nathan.
Nathan shakes his head too, leaning round to stare at Duke. Duke makes wide, innocent eyes: Nathan started this. It’s one guy, or a few guys, it’s not enough to sway anything. Some people, it might even send them heading the other direction. But Duke has always believed in being grateful for the moments when you get them. If breaking the cycle starts with changing the town, then a good place to make a stand might be the way Duke isn’t planning on killing anyone, and Nathan’s Guard tattoo doesn’t stop him believing that. It’s a better position than the two of them were in last year, so Duke is going to drag Nathan to the bar and drink to that.
* * *
Nathan tries to figure out if the Troubles are proceeding at the same pace as last time, or if this is faster. He thinks that it might be – he knows that the distance between his Trouble kicking in and Duke’s was a lot shorter this time. Though there were other reasons for that. He thinks, just for a minute or two, that though they may be coming faster, there seems to be fewer really bad cases. So he really only has himself to blame when the tide rolls in at midday and keeps going up the beach, right up and over the road. It rolls out again less than twenty minutes later, but there’s a lot of damage.
Nathan reaches for the radio. “Dwight?”
“You got any idea of radius?”
“Worst up by the beach. Not so bad at the harbour, but the boats out on the water took a battering.”
“I’ll head towards the beach then, see what we can find out.”
“I’m working on the power supplies.”
Duke calls when Nathan’s already in the truck. “Remember,” Duke says, “when you said call you if I go out to look at something?”
“I’m going to take the skiff out.”
“Dwight says the boats out there got knocked around.”
“Yeah, I think it started out there. I’m looking at the satellite images.”
“Where did you get-?”
“You want to know that, or you want to come with me?”
“I want to come with you.”
Duke pauses. “Okay then. Meet me at the Gull.”
Duke doesn’t know whether it’s still a point in his favour that he called Nathan first, seeing as how they’re both stranded out on a narrow spit of rock now. Neither of them ended up in the water, but the boat’s either down on the ocean floor or washed in on the Haven coastline, given the power of the waves that carried the sinking wreck away.
It would absolutely be more unpleasant to be out here on his own. But if it was just him out here, Nathan would be looking for him by now. And as motivated finders go, Nathan is high on the list. Duke’s sure the other cops are well-trained, but he would rather have Nathan looking for him than almost anyone else.
“You're bleeding all over me,” Duke says. “Quit it.”
“Not helping?” Nathan looks surprised.
“No, Nate, not really. Ten-second superstrength to kill a person doesn't actually do me much good in this situation. If it meant I got to share your Trouble so I wasn't so damn cold, maybe.”
Nathan takes off his jacket, and then his shirt, leaving him in just a t-shirt. Which is rubbing it in, frankly, through Duke appreciates the view of his arms. Nathan uses the shirt to wipe his blood off his face and hands. He balls it up and tosses it away from them. “Come here.”
“I can't share my Trouble.”
“I know that.”
Nathan tugs on Duke's arm until they're side-to-side. He drapes the jacket over both of their shoulders, covering neither. And then he slides his arm behind Duke's back and pulls him closer still.
Duke observes, “You'd think we'd have got better at the hugging by this point, wouldn't you?”
He can feel Nathan's laughter. “Considering the other parts? Yeah. I'd just give you the jacket but I figured you wouldn't take it.”
“You figured right.”
“You can be oddly chivalrous somedays, Crocker.”
“Just because you can't feel cold doesn't mean you're not.”
He laughs again. “Audrey used to say that. All the time.”
“Well, she's a smart woman.”
There is a long pause. Water crashes onto rocks. Duke loses all semblance of dignity and presses in closer to Nathan. “So,” he says conversationally, “who's going to miss us when we freeze to death?”
“We're not going to-”
“Right now, is anyone even looking for us? And when they do, are they going to look here?”
“They'll find us.” Nathan could outstubborn an ox.
“You're not going to fight about it?”
“If we don't die, I'm not having you lording it over me. And if we do, maybe I'd rather not have our last conversation be a fight.”
“See,” Nathan says, “I have always assumed our last conversation would be a fight.”
Nathan doesn’t know how long they’ve been waiting when he hears the roar of engines. “You hear that?”
“Your hearing’s better than- okay, yeah. Please tell me that’s a helicopter.”
The noises get closer. Nathan can see the black dot of it low on the horizon, like they summoned it. He stands up, ready to wave, but it’s moving unerringly towards them.
Duke looks up. “Is that-?”
Audrey- not Audrey, Madeline, is leaning out of the helicopter, looking for them. She is the one who calls out to them, shouting behind her for the rope ladder.
Nathan sends Duke up the ladder first, climbing up behind him to make sure he gets the whole way to the top. When Duke gets onto the helicopter he turns around to pull Nathan up. The three of them crawl back from the edge, safe against the inside wall of the copter.
She smiles, and Nathan had thought he was over the jolt to the heart one of those could give him. It’s small, a tiny curve of her mouth, but showing in her eyes. She moves towards them both; she takes Duke’s hand and then Nathan’s. “There’s my guys.”
“Audrey,” Duke breathes.
Nathan won’t believe it until she says it.
“I remember now,” she says. “Everything. Or- it feels like everything. I’m sure you two can tell me if I’ve missed a piece.”
Nathan says, “The tides,” focussing on the wrong thing, the job, not the part that matters right now. But those are the words that spill out first.
Audrey doesn’t question it. “I talked to her,” she says. “I think she’s got it under control now.”
“How-?” Duke asks. Nathan reaches over to cover his hand. Duke goes on, “I don’t know if I should be asking how you found us or how you- you really remember?”
“I remember,” she says. “The two of you were missing. Stan said they didn’t know where you’d gone and I knew, knew Duke would have taken a boat and you wouldn’t have let him go on his own.”
“He asked,” Nathan says. “I didn’t just follow him.” He would have, probably, but it hadn’t been necessary.
Audrey smiles at him again. She leans back to smile at them both together. She says, “And maybe I knew you were managing to cause havoc without me around to keep an eye on you.”
“If you tell me you came back psychic...” Duke warns.
“I found the woman,” Audrey says. “Rebecca. And I knew what had happened to her. I knew what to say. She told them where the tides had taken you.”
She’s done that before, as Madeline, and for a while Nathan can’t work out why this time was different. In the end, he thinks, it’s that no one would have found them but her.
A single memory out of context is a lie. They all came scattering back at once, no order or reason. In one of them, she was pushing Nathan away from her - she was mad at him and mad at herself. In another, Duke was kissing her and she stopped him. She knelt beside their bodies, again and again and again. She told them not to follow her.
There was another memory, one she wouldn’t have known to choose and hold close, where Nathan sat behind a desk in the same office as her and she was holding in her laughter. Duke leaned over her shoulder, passing her a drink, and rested his hand on her back before he walked away. She had counted the memories all together and made a choice. This was home, and she was going to protect it the only way she had been given.
But now she has broken all of the rules.
Audrey sits down and looks around the apartment. “You never rented this to someone else?”
Duke, from the side of the breakfast bar, says, “No.” Then, “Let me go downstairs, grab us something to eat.”
He nods, crossing the room to sit on the edge of the coffee table, facing her and Nathan.
Audrey rubs the back of her head. “I’m surprised I’m not having a nosebleed.” She was told she wasn’t supposed to remember.
Nathan asks, “Is it just- just from before, or do you remember the others too?”
“Just me,” she says. “Not any more of Lucy than I had before. None of Sarah except-”
He frowns, nods at her. “Yeah.”
“Making James?” Duke fills in. Nathan glares at him and Duke leans back.
Nathan asks, “And Maddy?”
“I remember what happened when I was here. Everything before that is- it doesn’t feel real.”
“Even the husband?”
Audrey remembers that better than any of the rest. She remembers what it was like to be mourning. But she doesn’t remember what he looked like. It was just loss, and now it’s not even that. It had used her own loss, though, and that has not gone away. It used James, who is still God knows where, who she has to hope is safe and happy even if he’s not with her. It used Nathan and Duke, and how she had said unwilling goodbyes to them both. The mourning feels real because that part of it had been.
She focuses on this instead. She takes holds of Nathan’s hand, watches while he grips Duke’s hand in his own. This is real too.
Duke would like the record to show that he tried. He has made three separate attempts to leave and let them have their Nathan-Audrey reunion on their own. Nathan spent a good number of months before she left accusing Duke of spending too much time with Audrey. And now every time he heads toward the door, Nathan frowns at him.
“Where are you going?”
“Just down to the bar.”
“Bring back wine,” Audrey says. So he can't actually leave. She asked for a drink, and Duke has a particular weakness for Audrey Parker asking him to pour her alcohol.
When he comes back, the two of them are standing at the breakfast bar while Audrey peers into cupboards. "Flour," she says. “I have flour. Why'd you clear out everything else and leave flour? Why do I even have flour?”
Duke taps the bottle. “Wine. I can also get food, if you want me to send something up.”
“I'll get it,” Nathan says. “You pour.”
That leaves Duke alone with Audrey for the first time. She says, “You remember the Groundhog Day?”
“With the car crash, yeah, I remember. Well not the days, obviously, but I remember you telling me about it.”
She wraps herself around him so tightly he can barely breathe, but he just circles her waist with his arms and holds her. She's on her toes, getting her mouth near his ear. “I dreamt, when I was still Maddy, I dreamt you dying. And I knew it was too real to be a dream, the way it felt, and the way Nathan was there and- but it couldn't be real either. Even if the rest of what you were telling me was real, I knew that couldn't be. And I'd wake up, and want to go downstairs and find you but...” She cups his face with one hand and draws him down into a kiss.
Duke pushes her hair back and tilts them so the angles are right, so he can kiss her the way he only did once before. He takes a breath. “I missed you.” It's inadequate but it's all he's got.
“I missed you too,” she says. She looks over his shoulder. “Both of you.”
Duke turns but all Nathan says is, "Both of us missed you. Now, what are we going to do about the town?"
* * *
Nathan worries about repercussions. Dwight meets him stare for stare and says, “Really.”
“I'm just saying that pissing off some of the most dangerous people in town didn't seem to concern you much before.”
Nathan's not sure if Dwight means before when the barn appeared or before when Audrey came back with another name. Or maybe he means the things more recently - the town meetings and the slow campaign they have been waging against Haven’s secrets. “It's different now,” Nathan says. “She remembers and that's not supposed to happen.”
“No! I just- you'd tell me if you heard anything? I need to keep her safe.”
“I would tell you if I heard anything,” Dwight agrees. “Right now all I’m hearing is a lot of wait and see. This is new territory, even for the Guard. They’re all wanting to know what happens next.”
“So are we.”
As it turns out, the biggest obstacle to keeping Audrey safe is Audrey. This isn’t exactly new information, but her refusal to take Nathan’s concern seriously is frustrating. She was back in the station the day after she remembered, and back on the investigation two days after that.
She’s apparently frustrated too. “Did you send me back-up?”
“When you went poking around an unsecured crime scene? Yeah, I did.”
“Because you’ve never just followed a hunch to see where it takes you? You know how much more difficult that is with a patrol car coming after me?”
“I’m just trying to-”
She takes a deep breath. “I know that. And I know- I worry about you too. But when you keep doing this, it feels like you don’t trust me.”
“It’s not about trust.”
“It’s about you trusting me to do my job. And to be able to look after myself. Which I can do.”
So maybe it is about trust. Nathan trusts Audrey to do her job and a hundred thousand other things that she shouldn’t need to do. He trusts her to always make the choice that hurts her over the one that hurts anyone else. And he trusts no one else to understand all of that about her. He doesn’t trust them not to hurt her.
And none of that matters, because this is what she’s telling him now. He doesn’t like it, can’t even fake liking it at this moment in time, but there is a line he will be crossing if he ignores what she’s telling him. He made that mistake before, and they lost some of the last weeks they should have had together before she disappeared.
“Okay,” he says.
“You’ll let me know if you need me to come and back you up? Before it gets bad.”
Audrey pushes her hands through her hair. He thinks the length is still bothering her. She exhales. “I said I know how to do my job.”
* * *
Soon, Audrey promises herself. Soon, they’re going to rub the edges off this and stop dancing around each other like there’s a sword over their heads. They don’t need to rush.
All the time she and Nathan have spent in each other’s company, working in the same office, and it still feels strange to be sitting in the same room as him, doing nothing in particular. She likes it, but it’s strange: he’s sitting beside her on the couch in her apartment, while she reads and he stares off into space. She resists the urge to ask what he’s thinking, but leans a little closer to him instead. The book is good, but he is warm, and she’s enjoying both.
“You don’t have to...” Nathan says, trailing off from the explanation when she puts down the book to look over at him.
“Don’t have to what?” she asks.
He nods, barely, at her free hand, resting on his arm where she had been stroking up and down.
“You weren’t out of my way,” Audrey points out.
“Doesn’t mean you need to...”
“Nathan, do you want me to stop?” He resents, she can tell, being asked to put that answer into words. Audrey picks up her book again and waits to see if he’s going to move away. He doesn’t, so she strokes her hand over his arm again.
Duke walks in, all noise and energy. He looks down at Nathan. “You know, I’m pretty sure Jordan likes me better than you and I’m the one who shot her. Tomorrow, you need to go down to the Gun and Rose, she says there’s something going on Haven PD ought to know about. Which might be a trap, so take backup, but also I’m not your P.A.”
“I know,” Nathan says slowly.
Duke nods and drops to the floor in front of the couch. He peers up, smiling at Audrey upside down. “What, no hello kiss?”
It’s a contortion, bending over at that angle without pushing Nathan off the couch, but they manage it. It’s a wasted effort, as Duke decides to turn around anyway, stretching up on his knees to kiss Nathan’s cheek. He slides down again, resting his head on the couch cushion. Nathan asks, “She give you any indication of what she wanted to talk about?”
“Well, she wasn’t wearing gloves, so it’s probably not that. But I’m pretty sure she still thinks I’m out to get you all so no, not much information-sharing. And besides-“
Audrey peeks over the edge of the book. Nathan’s hand is resting on Duke’s shoulder.
Duke continues, “-as previously established, she doesn’t like me very much even without the issue of my particular heritage.”
“But still better than me,” Nathan says.
“Well, you probably deserve that,” Duke says. “I’m cooking tonight, any requests?”
* * *
Nathan asks, “What’s in the box?”
Duke makes what he will admit is a half-hearted attempt not to roll his eyes. “Things.”
“Equipment?” he tries. “Wine. Weapons... wait, no, that’s worse.”
Nathan continues to stare him out. If he wouldn’t insist on dropping by the Gull at all hours, he wouldn’t be witness to so many things he didn’t want to see. Duke absolutely does not want to chase him off, but he may need to find another place to store his pick-ups. The Rouge is the obvious solution but they sleep there, sometimes, and people know that it’s his boat. He doesn’t want either of them in the crossfire if something goes a little south, the way things occasionally do. The Gull is a less likely spot for a shoot-out: too many people, plus the sadly increasing number of cops who wander by.
Duke says, “Honestly, Nathan, I’m not sure. It’s going A to B, it’s nothing illegal in the place it’s coming from, but it needs to be under the radar.”
He hates that sigh of Nathan’s, that blank expression of fulfilled bad expectations. Nathan caps it with, “And I’m supposed to just ignore it?”
“Um. You have before.”
Nathan’s expression isn’t so blank then, eyes flicking wide like a sting Duke hasn’t been able to land on him in years.
Duke backtracks. “I’m not- whatever you think I just said, not that. I mean even when you still hated me you weren’t exactly bending backwards to make sure my import licenses were in order.”
“You get that I’m a cop, right?”
“Yes, Nathan, I get that you’re a cop.”
“And that- that means something to me. It’s not just a job.”
“I know that, for God’s sake, I’ve been...”
“You’ve been what? If something happened-”
“Like what? You’re really still worried I’ve got bodies piling up in here?”
“No, I’m worried that if you did, I wouldn’t know whether to take you in or help you bury them!”
Duke stops. “What?”
“It matters to me, that I do my job. And you- you complicate that.”
“I need to get to the station.”
Nathan being Nathan, he’s out the door before Duke can muster an adequate response to that admission of God knows what. Even truer to form, he’s not in the station by the time Duke has thought of a rejoinder and driven over there.
Audrey is at her own desk. She looks up at Duke and shakes her head. “You seriously expect me to jump in on your side here?”
“I expect you not to automatically take his when he throws around accusations of-”
She glares at him. “Pretty sure it wasn’t meant to be literal body burying.”
“Oh, you’re pretty sure, are you? Because the man spent most of the months before we left making it clear that he thought I was about one good trip from a serial killer. And now it’s not about that at all, it’s about a couple of boxes which, believe me, are a drop in the ocean compared with things he hasn’t given a damn about over the years?”
Audrey raises her eyebrow. “He’s arrested you a few times.”
“Not over business. Not for- bodies piling up, I get that he cares about those. People getting hurt. I don’t hurt people. I sure as hell don’t- well, I guess except when you ask me to.”
That knocks the righteousness out of her which wasn’t exactly Duke’s intent. She says, “I’m responsible for my fair share of the bodies around here. Nathan knows that.”
She rolls her head back. “And he’s bailed me out of it too. It’s hard for him. Can you maybe not make it harder?”
“It wouldn’t need to be harder, if he would just trust me.”
“This is him trusting you.”
“Did he look in the box?”
Duke throws his hands up and leaves. He goes to his boat, which is free of both Nathan and Audrey, at least for now, and also of any and all suspicious cargo. Honest to God, he barely has the time to be a smuggler lately. He did a little border work that week that Nathan decided to miss him, and this box was the next one after. And no matter what Nathan and Audrey think, he’s a little more careful with what he carries nowadays. He’s not in a position any more to just up sticks and head out of town.
Growling, Duke gets out his phone. “Manny. Yeah, it’s here, it’s fine. Come pick it up tonight. No, tonight, I want it out of my place... No, what my cop boyfriend has to say about it is nothing the fuck to do with you. Before midnight.” He hangs up.
He waits around at the Gull until it’s gone and then he heads upstairs. Nathan and Audrey are in bed. Duke shakes Nathan awake. “It’s gone, okay?”
“I’m not asking you to choose. There won’t be any- there are no bodies for you to bury. I wouldn’t ask.”
“So can we not fight about- what?”
Nathan blinks at him, the blue of his eyes shockingly bright in the little light coming through the curtains. “It occurred to me that you buried a body with me once.”
“You didn’t ask,” Duke says.
“No,” Nathan says, “but you did it anyway.”
Nathan reaches out to get his hand around Duke’s elbow. “Come to bed.”
* * *
Nathan doesn’t usually have problems sleeping. He has problems getting to sleep sometimes, and he has problems finding the time to get a real rest. But once he is asleep, he usually doesn’t wake up until his alarm goes off or his cellphone rings, whichever comes first. He also didn’t have much experience sharing a bed. So he doesn’t know if this is standard practice – the way Audrey and Duke, some nights, startle awake every couple of hours. Audrey, waking in a hurry, sits up in the bed and gasps. Nathan touches her back and she smiles sleepily at him before lying down again, though he knows she doesn’t go straight to sleep.
Duke does this: he rolls onto his back, mumbles, argues, reaches out. The next step is flailing into wakefulness with a yell. Nathan leans over him instead, holding down one shoulder. “Duke.”
Duke’s eyes open, he focuses, gasps, and scrambles away from Nathan up the bed.
“Duke,” Nathan says again. And then he figures out what Duke clocked first – the inked skin of his arm. “You all right?”
“Yeah. Fine. Maybe not so much for you with the looming while tattooed.”
“I wasn’t trying to...” Duke knows that already. Nathan asks, “You want me to get rid of it?”
Duke stares. “Sorry?”
“That’s an option?”
He shrugs. “It’s not like I’m using it. Pretty sure the Guard aren’t going to be letting me into the inner circle any time soon. In fact some of them would probably like me better without it. They’re not fans of pretenders.”
“That’s not why you got it to begin with though.”
“No, it wasn’t. So you want me to get it removed or not?”
Duke yawns. “No. I actually have- tattoo guys aren’t what keep me up at night.”
“You want to – do you want to talk?”
Shaking his head, Duke says, “I’m fine. Go to sleep, Nathan.”
Nathan lies back down and closes his eyes.
Duke doesn’t go back to sleep right away. Nathan can hear his breathing, still too fast. Duke says, “Thanks, though. For waking me up.”
Nathan wakes up an hour or so later, confused at how dark it still is. He’s alone in the bed. He takes a breath before he panics. When he listens, he can hear the two of them standing on the other side of the open window. He can just see their silhouettes through the curtain – Audrey’s arm around Duke’s back. He dozes a little before they come back in.
He can hear Duke whispering. “Hang on, let me roll him over.”
Nathan had rolled over to see them, towards Duke’s side of the bed.
“You can’t get in on the other side?” Audrey asks.
“He likes the middle,” Duke says. “He can see me and touch you. You ever notice how long it takes him to get to sleep when he can’t?”
Nathan lets Duke roll him back towards the middle of the bed. They settle in on either side of him. Duke turns to face him. Audrey drapes her arm over his stomach, presumably catching hold of Duke’s hand on the other side.
“Goodnight,” Audrey whispers, and Duke echoes her.
The first call-out says ‘speaking in tongues’. Nathan rolls his eyes and lifts his jacket. “Demons, now?”
“You don’t believe in...” Audrey points out.
“And neither do you. But I bet someone in this town does.”
And that’s all it would take. That’s all it ever takes here. Audrey nods. “Witnesses, then the church?”
Except there aren’t witnesses, exactly. There are twenty people at Joe’s who don’t remember much of anything. There’s a CCTV camera that has recorded what looks, Audrey will admit, a little like a mass possession. There’s a lot of reciting, possibly in chorus, but the footage has no sound and a bad angle. There are too many people on the scene to narrow down potential suspects: it’s a weekend afternoon and there are parents out with children, teenagers headed towards the cinema, and a few elderly couples enjoying a coffee after lunch. None of them seem immediately obvious candidates.
At the church, too, there’s nothing useful. Nobody’s been intensely reading Latin, or asking questions about demons.
The next thing is a body. Audrey really should have predicted that. They know who held the knife, but he swears he doesn't remember why he did it. There are witnesses this time, but the reports conflict. The two men argued, and what they said didn’t make sense. There was some dispute over a theft, or smuggled weapons.
Dave calls her aside. “Audrey.”
“You saw something?”
“No. But I heard one of the names they were saying – Stalsworth? Is it true they fought over a shipment of rifles?”
“Well. That’s what they’re saying. Otis doesn’t remember that, and no one can find any guns.”
“They wouldn’t.” Dave tugs her towards the Herald. “It happened one hundred and fifty years ago.”
He pulls a book from one of their desks, retrieving it instantly from the midst of the impossible organising system he and Vince employ. Finding the right page takes only a little longer, and he passes it to Audrey.
“What am I looking at?” she asks.
“A story from Haven’s past. A gunrunner in the Civil War ran into a dispute with his supplier over terms. It ended with the gunrunner dead and the supplier exposed as a spy. The dead man was called James Stalsworth.”
“It seems like it,” Dave says.
Audrey asks, “Do I want to know what else is in that book?”
“Haven’s a town with a difficult past,” Dave says. “I think it ought to stay there.”
Audrey doesn’t disagree, but she knows better by now than to think that means anything. Haven’s past does an awful lot of interfering with its present. That it has now taken to actively possessing people and forcing them to play history out all over again is new, but not as surprising as it should be. She looks at the book again. In the original report, Stalsworth was shot. Otis clearly hadn’t been able to find a Civil War rifle, because he ended up using a knife instead. So it doesn’t play out exactly the same way – it improvises and makes do with what’s around.
Audrey needs to find Nathan and tell him what’s going on. She really needs to talk this through. So she leaves the Herald and starts heading back towards the first scene. Nathan had said he wanted to check something. Dave silently follows her out, which is strange but not entirely unprecedented.
The street is full of people now and she can’t see Nathan anywhere. Audrey tries to push her way through the crowd, waving her badge, but no one is in any hurry to get out of her way.
She gets through to the middle of the crowd and then runs into a couple of kids. They look at her; Audrey smiles encouragingly but they just keep watching her silently.
The little girls were at the first scene too. Twins, maybe nine years old. One of them says: “The Troubles came first. Then the town. And then the woman.”
“Which woman?” Audrey asks.
Her twin joins in, a singsong chorus. “She was a traveller. She came and left again. Passing through.”
Audrey looks up. People are creeping closer, moving to surround them. “Wait,” she says, but they don't seem to hear her.
The girls say, “Everyone else came to stay, but she never did. She always left and came back. And when she was there, she made their Troubles ease.”
“But she wouldn't stay.” That's Nathan. Audrey stares at him, looking for recognition in his eyes. Nothing. He looks the same as everyone else around her: following a pattern she can neither see nor hear.
Audrey looks at the girls. “Did they ask?”
“I see our future.” That's Vince. “If she will not stay.”
"The Troubles worsen," someone says. "Destruction. Death." Other words are shouted, but Audrey can’t make them all out. There are too many people.
“When she heard this,” the girl says. “She promised. ‘I will stay with you.’”
Nathan says, “Liar.”
“He had a brother,” the girls say, and that's Duke moving, and her last hope for a rescue gone. She doesn’t know why he’s anywhere near here. The lack of animation, of humour, on his face is terrifying. They girls say, “He was a carpenter. He could trap the echoes of the Troubles in the things he made.”
“I can build a lantern,” Duke says. “To keep her light with us always.”
That’s where it started. Audrey wonders if this is the history Dave didn’t want her to see, or if this is an episode never written into the books. She was a sacrifice.
The crowd moves then, Duke and Nathan in the centre of it. They're shoving her towards the bandstand.
“They built the casket around her, trapping her inside.”
“Wait,” Audrey says.
“Nathan.” They are bringing rope.
“She promised to stay.”
“But the men had passed their judgement. The elders of the town gathered around her. She was selfish. She must be made to do her duty.”
“Stop.” They hold the ropes between them, herding her into a smaller space.
The girls say, “They didn’t know her strength. When she told them, they were afraid. She told them she could make her power go away forever, melt away inside it, and leave them without her. She made a bargain. A season of light in each generation. One season. And-”
They break harmony. One says, “She was clever.”
The other adds, “’If I prove you wrong, I break this prison.’”
Vince says, “They made a bargain. If she proved her roots in Haven's soil, then their trap would break.”
“But it was a trick,” Dave says. “He founded the town. He had his own power. He could make a person forget. And when she was inside the casket, where her immunity stopped, he stole her memories from her. They knew she could never break the curse without the memory of its working.”
The crowd presses in. She’s going to be crushed to death.
“She screamed,” the girls say. “She screamed as they shut the lid. But when it was done, she stopped. She closed her eyes.”
“No,” Audrey says. They are so tightly crowded around her that she can’t see daylight.
“She let them make a sacrifice of her. And she vanished into it.”
“No.” Audrey shouts this last refusal, planting her feet solidly. "No."
The girls pause. “That's not how it happened.”
“That's how it happens this time.”
Duke uncurls his fist from her shoulder. “Audrey?”
“Audrey!” That’s Nathan.
She screams it. “Everybody stop.” And they do, this time.
Most of the people disperse, confused. This is going to be one more thing Nathan has to explain in a town meeting. Now, Nathan goes to talk to the girls, who look as disorientated as anyone else. Audrey still hasn’t figured out exactly how this Trouble worked. She’ll think it through later but her head is full of other ideas this evening.
Duke wraps his arm around Audrey and keeps it there while Vince and Dave come to talk to her, and while Nathan gets everything wrapped up.
Nathan finishes talking to Stan and walks back to them. Audrey asks, “What do you remember?”
“I’m sorry we couldn’t stop it before- are you hurt?”
“No, that’s not... do you remember what they said?”
“Bits,” Duke says. “Towards the end.”
“She was a sacrifice,” Audrey says. “The Troubles were there already, she didn’t come with them. You think it’s true?”
Nathan rests his hands on her shoulders. “I never thought you brought them. I don’t think anyone does.”
“They said- ‘roots in Haven’s soil’. If this was just a really bad translation, I could kill Howard.”
“What?” Nathan asks.
“He said I had to kill you. I’m saying, if burying something here is a metaphor, I’m going to be pretty pissed off.”
Audrey hasn’t told them that part before. She hadn’t wanted to put the thought in either of their minds. But she tells them now, sitting on a bench facing out towards the sea. It’s part of their story, though not an important one. Even if it was true, she wasn’t going to exchange her sacrifice for one of theirs. If this was true, she has been holding up her end of the bargain for a very long time. It is time, she thinks, to work on the escape clause.
* * *
There are practical concerns that need to be taken into account with three people in a bed. One is the size issue – Duke and Audrey have big enough beds in their respective living spaces. Nathan does not, which is sad, but honestly they would have been in the Rouge or Audrey’s apartment anyway. Nathan’s house depresses Duke. He likes the bed in the Rouge but their current situation – sprawled together in the bed in Audrey’s apartment, half-drunk wine on the table and the lamps turned low – works perfectly well too. It’s progressing through to the next stage that tends to cause logistical hiccups.
Under other circumstances, Duke would be perfectly happy being the one who knows what they’re doing here. And in a lot of ways it doesn’t matter much if the sex is awkward and not quite as smooth as it could be. It’s still them, and cliché as it is, that’s the important part. But Audrey’s been back a while now, and Duke has realised that sometimes someone needs to give them a push in the right direction.
Before this, Audrey had only a handful of memories that she could actually guarantee were real, and hers, of sex with her as a participant. Obviously they know of at least one more when she was Sarah, but that doesn’t count for these particular purposes. And Nathan is Nathan.
Nathan is Nathan, who can’t feel Duke, but had an adequate amount of sex with him over the past few months, and who can feel Audrey, but seems reluctant to touch her now that they are all in bed. And again, had definitely had sex since his Trouble kicked in, with multiple partners even, so Duke’s isn’t entirely sure why they keep bumping elbows so much here. It’s getting better, but it’s taking time.
Duke has made the executive decision that they are going to be faking it until they make it. He has a long and storied history of just brazening his way through and hoping for the best. It hasn’t historically worked so well with these two, but times can change.
“Right,” Duke says. “Nathan, you know I love you and all, but that’s just ridiculous. Let me...” He pushes Nathan’s knee out of the way. “Audrey, sweetheart, you’re going to need to... there we are. Excellent.”
Nathan lifts an eyebrow but has stopped giving the whole situation serious-face, so Duke will call it success. Anytime he gets Nathan to relax, Duke calls success. Nathan asks, “You planning to direct the whole scene, or just this part?”
“You want to take over, you go right ahead.” He leans over Nathan’s body. “Where do you want me?”
And that seems to work better too. Nathan is good at telling Duke to stop messing around and get with the programme. “Come down here,” Nathan says, pulling him with one hand on Duke’s neck.
Duke takes an educated guess that Audrey also decided to get with the programme at that point, because Nathan groans something very fervent and entirely unintelligible, and Duke can’t see her hand. He can’t see Nathan’s hand either now, and when he looks up at Nathan’s face, Nathan is watching Duke very closely. Audrey sits up to capture Duke’s mouth when Nathan leans back and relinquishes it. So it’s her lips that muffle the shout Duke gives when Nathan’s hand reasserts itself.
There are still elbows where they shouldn’t be, but Duke can work his way past that.
* * *
They’re going to be fighting about this later. Any time only one of them can be put into danger, the other two argue it. If this was the other way around, Nathan would be protesting just as vigorously as Duke and Audrey are going to be.
That’s not the important part. There’s a kid in there, and the place is burning up. The Troubled person is gone but the fire is still there, and no one else is going to get here in time. Everything else can wait for later. Nathan looks at Audrey. “Okay. But you know it has to be me.”
“Call Dwight, the Fire Department might need a little help.”
“I won’t feel it.”
“You could still-”
“And so could you. I’ve got a better shot at getting to Tyler. I won’t get distracted.”
Duke raises his voice. “You think distraction is going to be the problem here?”
And yes, it would be. That’s what a pain reflex is for. Tells you to stop walking into the burning building, tells you to get away, get down, cover your face and put your hands away. Nathan is going to be able to reach Tyler because that’s going to be the only thing he has to think about.
Nathan says, “Audrey.”
She shakes her head. “Go.”
Nathan grabs her hand. “I love you.”
He doesn’t have time to stop, doesn’t have time to wait and see if she’ll say it back (she’s said it already/she hasn’t said it to him/he doesn’t want to think about it). Nathan turns to Duke. He wants to say it the same way, no difference in inflection, as if he is no more scared by this than the first. He doesn’t make it, chokes on it first time – “I-,” but pulls Duke in with a hand to the back of his neck and finishes, “I love you.”
And then he runs into the house. It wouldn’t have made things better, he doesn’t think, to have had it said before they left. He didn’t spend those six/ten months regretting the words he didn’t say to them or they didn’t say to him. He had just missed them. But it might have made a difference, to be sure.
The walls are falling in around him, trailing fire as they crack open. Nathan calls out, choking on it because even if he can’t feel the burn of smoke in his lungs his body still needs the air. Tyler screams, and Nathan’s hearing is good enough. He makes his way to where the living room used to be, finds the kid on the floor with a piece of cloth over his nose and mouth. Nathan drops to the floor beside him. “Tyler? I don’t know if you remember me, my name’s Nathan, I’m a police officer.”
“You came to school.”
He had, Nathan remembers, no Audrey there to play rock paper scissors for the task. “Yeah. That’s good. Are you hurt?”
He points to his leg, twisted awkwardly underneath him. “I fell. And it hurts, here.” His hand sketches a hesitant path over his chest.
“Okay,” Nathan says. “We’ll stop talking. You just follow me, okay? Stay right behind me, I’ll make sure-” A piece of the ceiling falls, nearly on top of them. Nathan grabs Tyler and rolls backwards, but it blocks the exit to the room. That leaves the window, high on the far wall and blocked with shutters. “Tyler, I need you to stay right behind me, okay? Keep your hand on my shoulder.” He crawls slowly across the floor.
There’s a banging noise, but he can’t work out where it’s coming from. It’s Audrey he hears, eventually, “Nathan?! Get away from the window.”
Nathan pulls Tyler down again and covers both of their faces when the window comes crashing in. Dwight leans in through the hole. “Nathan?”
“Take the kid.” Nathan lifts Tyler up and passes him into Dwight’s strong grip.
Dwight reappears and leans down for Nathan. Something cracks inside the house and Dwight grabs hold of him and heaves. Things explode around them but the base of the exterior wall holds. “You okay?” Dwight asks.
“Fine, you take care of-”
Dwight waves Audrey over before going back to Tyler.
Audrey hits his shoulder, light but enough to feel it with the bruises he’s accumulated. “Ow.”
“You have glass,” she says. “All over you. Just because you can’t feel it doesn’t mean-”
“I know,” he says. “I know.”
Duke is watching him from another pace away. He jerks his hand vaguely to the person standing to the left of him. “This is Maria. She can hear things even better than you can. Even through walls and explosions. Which was good, because the explosions made it really fucking difficult to work out where you had run off to.”
Nathan says thank you to Maria and submits to being alternately petted and hit by both Duke and Audrey. They fight with him all the way home, but no one leaves, and no one asks him what he meant before.
* * *
Audrey thinks someone found it in the fire. The paper smells of smoke. What she doesn’t know is who left it for her. She is staring at it when Nathan comes into the office. “Parker?” When she doesn’t answer right away his voice changes. “Audrey.”
“This was left for me.” She holds it out to show him.
“Looks old,” he says, before he has unfolded the paper the whole way. Then: “This is you.”
“Maybe,” she says. “Probably. Some version of me.” It’s a pencil sketch of a woman who looks like a slightly younger version of Audrey, but only slightly. The clothing looks colonial, though Audrey can’t make out the date below the sketch. The only readable text is a V.
“Name?” Nathan says. “V something, something V?”
“Or V could be the artist,” she says. “Or anything else.”
“We can look into it.”
“Do you think she was the first?” Audrey asks. “You think I was a real person once?”
Nathan steps towards her. “You’re a real person now, you always were.”
“Doesn’t always feel like it.”
Ever since the re-enactment, she has wondered. The woman in the story wasn’t born in Haven. She could have come from anywhere. Or maybe Howard lied, the way he lied about everything else, and she’s not human at all.
The woman in this drawing is smiling at the artist, and looks as though she is keeping her own counsel about something. If she was the first, and the story is true, then she is the one they locked away. But someone had loved her enough to ask her to sit for this sketch, and to carefully reproduce her in soft pencils. There hadn’t been anyone in that crowd asking to set the woman free.
“When you think that,” Nathan says. “Come and find me. I’ll remind you.”
* * *
Duke doesn’t know exactly what’s going on with Audrey right now, but he is preparing himself for anything. They’re in her apartment, and today has been quiet enough, only now Audrey is making a weird face, the kind that normally goes before statements she thinks Nathan is going to be sceptical about or find amusing. She says, “This is a demonstration.” She holds her hand up straight and then circles it to indicate the three of them. “Note: no one is dying or about to die.”
Duke says, “You know, in the long run, philosophically-”
She cuts him off. “Shut up now.”
He shuts up.
Audrey points her index finger towards her chest. “I,” she says, as though the two of them don’t speak the language. Then she leans over the chair and rests her hand on Duke’s side. “Love you.” She moves over to touch Nathan’s face. “I love you.” And then she stands up, satisfied. “See?”
Duke raises his hand. “The first time you said it to Nathan he was actually dea-”
“Yes,” she says. “So I’m nipping that in the bud. You want to say it back, you say it back when no one’s going to end up in the hospital.”
“What if I’m saving it for a special occasion?” Duke asks.
She shrugs. “Special’s fine. Goodbyes aren’t.”
Audrey hadn’t said it as a goodbye. She’d said it when there was no goodbye to make. When she was leaving, she hadn’t said the words at all, which Duke had understood. She was trying not to make it harder, she wasn’t saying anything that Nathan would have run in loops in his head for years. Nathan, though, had said it when he thought he might not come back. Nathan got that kind of shit from his dad. Feelings are for when there’s nothing else to do but admit them and then go set yourself on fire so you don’t have to deal with the consequences.
“Duke’s said it before anyway,” Nathan says.
“True.” Duke nods. “And you noticed and everything. I’m impressed.”
Nathan’s forehead wrinkles. “He says ‘I love you, but’.”
Audrey says, “I’m not sure that counts.”
Duke had his own reasons. Mostly, it was that he hadn’t been sure how Nathan would react to it as a declaration. It had been after that day on the boat, when he realised that Nathan probably needed to know. ‘But’ was a good word to hide the rest of it, so Nathan could react or not react as he chose. He took it in anyway.
Audrey, though, is looking at him patiently. Duke says, “Audrey, if you don’t know by now, you’re not paying attention.”
“See,” Nathan says. “Love you but you’re ignoring me.”
“Well,” Audrey says, “Now we couldn’t have that.”
* * *
The call says, “Come down to the hospital right away.”
Nathan hangs up and goes to Audrey’s desk. “They found James.”
Audrey pales. “Is he-?”
“He’s in the hospital, they can’t wake him up.”
“But he’s alive.”
Duke meets them at the hospital, where they are ushered into a small room and told to wait. Audrey says, “I don’t understand. He told me James couldn’t leave the Barn, he said it would kill him.”
“Howard?” Duke asks. “I think we can agree that he lies by this point. No?”
They are lead into another room, one larger and whiter. James is lying in the bed, attached to a lot of machines which beep and wheeze steadily. There is not a mark on him.
Audrey pulls up the chair beside the bed. She takes James’s hand and starts talking. “Hello, James. It’s your mother, it’s Audrey. I have it on pretty good authority that you might be able to hear me, so let’s try, okay? Your father’s here too, he’s pretty worried. Duke too, did you ever meet Duke properly?”
Duke shakes his head.
Audrey goes on, “Did you just find your way back here? Or were you lost too?”
The doctor tells Nathan that they don’t know why James won’t wake up. His brain-function, heart rate, breathing all seems normal. He just won’t wake up.
“Howard said he needed the Barn,” Audrey says. “He said that James couldn’t have a life out here. What if it’s something else about the Barn? If I went out to Kick'em Jenny Neck-”
“If I got it to come back-”
“We have to try something,” she says. “If I take him back inside. I can summon the Barn, or whatever it really is. I can ask questions. We know more about how it works now... how it was meant to work in the beginning.”
Nathan isn’t sure he can watch her go through that door again.
“Or what if James stays here,” Duke says. “And the three of us go in and get some answers?”
They have the fight on the move, since there is no way she is getting out to the island without them anyway. They take Duke’s new boat there, Audrey mustering new counter-arguments the whole way. She looks at Duke and says, “Remember when I made you promise to keep Nathan out of there? And now you think I should bring both of you in with me?”
“I think it’s different now,” he says. “You broke the cycle. I think if you tell it not to swallow all three of us whole then it won’t.”
Nathan seems onside with this, but Audrey could have guessed that without looking at him.
“Or we could all get stuck inside,” she says, “and never get out again. Or all come out again in twenty-seven years with no memories.”
“Audrey,” Nathan says. “You really think you wouldn’t find us if it did?”
And no, honestly she thinks that if the three of them were spat out across the globe, some way or another she would still manage to find them. More than that, Audrey thinks that if she tells this thing ‘no’, it might not obey but it will sure as hell have to listen. It’s holding her son hostage, and she is more than a little pissed off about that. She is just about done with being asked to make choices with no right options. This option is not sensible or good, but at least it’s hers. Or theirs.
She thinks about this as they walk through the woods.
The Barn, if it is still a barn at all, will only appear when she wants it to. That part she believes. Audrey has to concentrate on James to want it here. She doesn’t want to go away. Those two things have to be perfectly clear in her head.
A shape shimmers in front of them.
Audrey asks, “Did it look like that before?”
There is white light escaping out of the cracks, but the shape is still unmistakeably that of the Barn.
Nathan tilts his head. “It looked worse last time.”
“When you were done with it anyway,” Duke adds.
Audrey laughs. These are her roots. This is her choice. The door opens.
She reaches out her hands to either side, feeling out for them. “Still yes?”
“Still yes,” Duke says. “Three in, three out.”
Nathan squeezes her hand. “I meant it last time. Still do.”
“Okay,” Audrey says. “I guess we should go in.” No sacrifice this time; this is an invasion. They step through the door.