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ooh, ooh, ooh (honey)

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“I think Duke’s trying to poison me.”

Audrey sighs, setting her muffin down carefully on top of her case files. “Is this about the muffins?”

Nathan nods. “Where did they even come from?”

“Judging from the sounds of the mixer echoing up to my bedroom at three in the morning last night, he’s stress-baking,” Audrey says. She picks her muffin back up, shrugging. “And honestly, I’m not even mad. This is double chocolate-cranberry something and it’s the best thing I’ve ever had in my mouth. And that includes Rosemary’s pastries and that thing we did last Saturday. It could have strychnine in it for all I care.”

“I do not stress-bake,” Duke says. “And I’m sitting right here.”

Nathan looks him over. He is looking a bit peaked, almost as if he was up at three in the morning baking. His brow furrows. “But why did you give them to me?”

Audrey squints at him. It’s the look she gives him when she thinks he’s being particularly dense, a little softened by the fact that she’s still chewing an incredibly large bite of white chocolate/dark chocolate/cranberry/clementine muffin. It has some kind of crumble top. Nathan can almost see her point.

Duke sighs. “Maybe I’m trying to expand your palate. Man cannot live on pancakes alone.”

That’s not even true, Nathan thinks with a huff. Fruit topping and extra eggs in the batter and you’d be fine. “Or maybe you’re trying to poison me.”

“Nathan, honey,” Audrey says consolingly. “I’m sure if Duke wanted to kill you, you’d already be dead.”

“That’s true,” Duke acknowledges, “Now is it really too much to ask for the three of us to have a nice, quiet, normal lunch? As friends?”

The thing is, Duke has lots of friends. Nathan knows this, they pop out of the woodwork all the time. Duke can be charming, when he wants to be or wants something, and more than that, Duke has friends who actually like him. Who trust him. Who call him when something goes wrong, when they need to get out of the country in a hurry or need to get rid of their dead brother’s restaurant or need somebody to rescue them.

Nathan does not have friends, not like that.

Nathan gets called socially awkward and a workaholic and secretive and worse things, and Audrey gets hung up on the whole thousand-year old alien who cursed an entire village and suffered memory loss and multiple personalities for a few centuries thing. Neither of them has ever been any good at this.

Nathan has people he is friendly with, Stan at work who always remembers how Nathan takes his coffee and bent over backwards to try to get Nathan to dinner with his wife and kids in the six months Audrey and Duke were gone and Nathan spiraled down and down and down, Laverne who’s known him since he was six and has sent him a card every single year on his birthday since then, Gloria who pesters him about his health and remembering his and Audrey’s anniversary, Dwight who has taken more than one bullet for him. But he doesn’t have friends the way Duke does. Even with half the town ready to run him out, Duke has friends.

Audrey snorts. “Probably.”

Duke rolls his eyes, but rifles through the paper bag he’d tossed on Nathan’s desk and pulls out three sandwiches, sliding them over.

Audrey peels apart the wax paper and starts chewing nearly before Duke lets go but Nathan stares at his in bemusement.

“Okay, so what is this?”

“It’s a sandwich, Nathan, you put it in your mouth and eat it,” Duke says, and Nathan can see him physically restraining himself from rolling his eyes again. “Am I going to have to explain every item of food I show you? I know you’re not actually a robot, you know.”

“How much food did you bring?” Nathan asks. “And why?”

Duke huffs. “Funnily enough, when half the town blames you for cursing all their friends and families, attracting customers gets a little tricky. I’m knee-deep in tuna salad over here and foisting it off on you is actually less of a health code violation than recycling tuna melts for the next week.”

“But this isn’t tuna,” Nathan says, lifting the crust of his bread cautiously. It’s very distinctly a reuben on rye, thinly sliced corned beef and homemade sauerkraut, no vinegar. Nathan’s mouth is probably watering. He swallows hard.

“Well, no,” Duke admits. “You don’t actually like tuna.”

He is, oddly, not looking at Nathan.

“Thank you, Duke,” Audrey interjects around a mouthful of cheddar before Nathan can say anything else. “What’s a normal lunch, anyway? Am I allowed to mention the sinkhole that spontaneously erupted downtown, or is that not small talk?”

Duke sighs again. “No sinkholes is definitely too much to ask for.”

Audrey shrugs. “So, you sticking around after this? We’re about to head downtown and see about re-organizing the clean-up crews.”

“Can’t,” Duke says. “I’ve got a karaoke machine to either figure out how to set up or beat myself to death with, whichever seems easier. Oh, also, Wednesdays are now karaoke night at The Gull.”

“Why?” Nathan asks, baffled.

“Because life has no meaning and we’re all going to die soon anyway,” Duke says cheerfully. “And yesterday my bookkeeper actually started crying when she saw our sales for the month. You guys can do a duet. I’m thinking “You’re the One That I Want”, finale of Grease.”

Audrey considers. “Only if I get to be Danny Zuko.”

Duke beams at her. “That’s the spirit.”

Nathan still hasn’t touched his sandwich. Duke pushes it towards him pointedly.

“The Russian sauce is a family recipe,” he say, and laughs at Nathan’s raised eyebrow. “Not my family, a family. It cost me a fortune to know the secret spices.”

Before Nathan can say anything about false advertising, there’s a rap on the door frame, and one of the officers pokes his head in.

“Hey, Detectives, I’ve got that case file - are you guys having a picnic?” 

“Yes,” Audrey says.

“No,” Nathan says.

“In a police station?” the officer - Bannon, Nathan knows - asks.

Duke nods. “This is my life now. Do you want a muffin?”

Bannon actually smiles. Nathan frowns again.

“Oh man,” the cop asks. “Is that chocolate chip?”

“It’s double chocolate chili fudge,” Duke corrects, hopping off of Nathan’s desk to hand him the bag. “And yeah, here, consider it a bribe, please.”

“Thank you so much,” Bannon says, gushing. His hand lingers on Duke’s when he accepts the muffin, still smiling. “That’s so nice of you, Duke!”

Duke grins back at him, and there’s a brief, confusing instant where Nathan’s vision reds out before he blinks and everything goes back to normal. Audrey is staring at him with an expression of exasperation.

“What?” he mutters, and she shakes her head in silence. He clears his throat and says, louder, “Hey, don’t you have work to do?”

Bannon glances over at him, and freezes suddenly, paling. Nathan blinks, sneaking a look behind him. There’s nothing there. He frowns at Bannon in confusion. The rookie officer blanches, somehow, even further.

“Work, right, yes, sorry, sir,” he says, and hotfoots it back to his desk, muffin clutched protectively in his hands.

Duke blinks at his retreating back.

“So do you just give muffins to everyone?” Nathan says, surprised at the sourness in his own voice. Across from him, Audrey makes a choking sound around her sandwich. Duke casts her a worried glance and she waves him off, gulping coffee.

“Well, I made six dozen last night, what was I going to do, eat them all myself? Besides, everyone likes muffins... except, apparently, you right now, judging from that face.”

“I’m not making a face,” Nathan scowls. “What?” He crosses his arms.

“Why were you glaring at Andy like he stole your dog?” Duke demands. "Also, I think you just called me a slut with muffins, and I'm not sure how I feel about that."

“Who’s Andy?” Nathan says. “And no, I wasn’t.”

“His first name, Nathan, honestly, you work together,” Duke says, rolling his eyes while Audrey quietly mutters, getting to be as bad as me. “And yes, you were.”

Nathan glances at Audrey, who raises her hands. “Don’t look at me. I’m following the prime directive on this one. No interfering with primitive life.”

Nathan’s scowl deepens. Duke scowls back at him. Audrey quietly takes the bag of muffins out of his hands.

"Normal lunch," Duke says. "All I asked for. Why does this always happen?"

"Haven," Audrey says wryly. "We don't really do normal."

Duke sighs. "You mean we don't really do normal."

"That too."

"Do you really want normal?" Nathan asks. 

Duke pauses. 

"Well," he says. "I kind of want to have lunch with you two idiots for the foreseeable future, so, no, I guess not."

There's an odd timbre to his voice. The light in his and Audrey's office is bright, and Duke still looks tired under it, but he doesn't really look angry anymore. Nathan isn't great at feelings, physical or emotional - he can't process his hands tightening when he wants to punch Officer Andy Bannon in the face for no real reason, or his stomach flipping, or heat flooding his face when Duke looks at him like that, but he thinks he could name almost everything Duke has to offer - wry and fond and tired and pleased.

"You could've just said something," Nathan says.

"I brought you muffins, you idiot," Duke says. 

"Oh," Nathan says. "Oh."

Duke has a lot of friends. They call him when they're in trouble.

But really, Nathan realizes, there's only two people Duke ever calls.

"Oh, fuck," Nathan says, staring at Duke, and he can't feel himself blushing, but Audrey is smiling at him in something like triumph, and Duke -

"Oh," Duke agrees. "Now he gets it."