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On the Importance of Communication

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Sometimes when a Trouble popped up, it was immediately and obviously apparent that a Trouble was to blame. The Rubber Duck Incident, for example (Duke had coined the name, glowering. His tomato plants still hadn’t recovered.) Other Troubles, however, were more subtle.

The Walters family Trouble started off as a fairly routine small-town police call. Public indecency, a couple getting frisky in an insufficiently secluded corner of the park.

Admittedly, Audrey had expected a teenage boy and girl rather than a pair of men in their late 40s, sheepish but unrepentant.

Nathan folded his arms over his chest, eyeing the pair sternly as they gave each other sidelong grins. “I shouldn’t have to tell you that you can’t do what you were doing in public.”

“We know, we’re sorry,” the stouter of the two said quickly, running a hand over his balding head.   “We won’t do it again.”

“Please don’t get Jeff in trouble. His children would be mortified,” said his partner earnestly, reaching out to take the first man’s hand. His concern earned him a sweet smile from his lover.

“Can I ask why you felt this was the time and place to…express your affections?” Audrey asked.

“It was a spur of the moment thing,” the second man said.

The first man, Jeff, nodded. “Rob’s right, we wouldn’t have planned this. I never would risk getting him arrested.”

Rob leaned over and kissed Jeff’s cheek. “We just couldn’t help ourselves. We’ve known each other since we were kids but I never dreamed he could feel this way about me too. When he said he didn’t want to keep living a lie, that he loved me and didn’t care anymore who knew it, I just…”

“Couldn’t help yourself. Got it,” Audrey said. “How about in the future you go home before not helping yourselves, and thank your lucky stars that it was a pair of college kids who spotted you today and not a mother with young kids. We’d be having a very different conversation right now, I assure you.”

“Behind closed doors from now on, we swear,” Jeff promised gratefully, wrapping an arm around Rob as they hurried away.

Audrey waited until they were gone to chuckle. “I swear, some days the Troubles don’t have anything over ordinary small-town cop life.”

“Just when I thought I’d seen it all,” Nathan agreed. “Could’ve definitely done without seeing that.”

Audrey laughed and patted his shoulder. “Don’t worry, the images will fade eventually, I’m sure. And look on the bright side, it could have been worse. You could have seen-”

Nathan reached over and put his hand over her mouth.

**

The next call, a little while later, sounded more Haven-esque. “Unexplained euphoria?” Nathan asked as they headed out to the address.

Audrey nodded. “Neighbor reported that the women next door have been in a suspiciously delightful mood all day.”

“She called the police because someone’s in a good mood?”

“It’s Haven,” Audrey shrugged.

“Point,” Nathan grunted. He pulled up to the well-kept little house and they headed up the flower-lined walk to ring the bell.

The woman who answered the door was the living embodiment of sweet little old grandmothers everywhere, small and stooped and white-haired, beaming as if Nathan and Audrey were beloved grandchildren. “Well hello, dears! Do come in, I’ve just set some cookies in the oven and Mabel and I would love to have some help in eating them all up. Mabel, dear heart, we have company!”

“Ooh goody, Eloise! I just love company!” Mabel bustled through the doorway, equally old and white-haired but plump and lively with curiosity, bedecked in outrageous costume jewelry. “Why, it’s little Nathan! Oh, I haven’t seen you since you were just a sprout, you adorable thing.” She actually pinched his cheek, and Audrey bit down hard on her laughter.

“Sit down, dears, and make yourselves at home. I’ve got a kettle on and I’ll have the tea right out,” Eloise smiled.

“Yes, yes, get comfy, I love a nice chat,” Mabel patted the couch cushions, her blue eyes sharp and inquisitive. “Whatever could be bringing you two to our happy little home, I wonder?”

Audrey figured that at their age they almost certainly knew about the Troubles, but it never hurt to be circumspect. “Have the two of you lived in Haven all your lives?”

“Why yes, dears,” Eloise told them as she brought out a tray with tea and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Nathan struggled with himself for a moment before taking one with a polite thank you. Unprofessional, perhaps, but the divine aroma was making his mouth water.

“Seventy-five years and counting,” Mabel agreed cheerfully, stacking a plate of her own with cookies. Eloise tsked gently and removed half of them, which Mabel tolerated with an indulgent smile. “I never could say no to too much of a good thing, heaven help me if I didn’t have Eloise around to keep me reined in. Anyhow, we grew up next door to each other, dated the brothers who lived across the street, had a double wedding, raised our kids together, stood by each other to bury our husbands - more than once, for mine – then moved in together for company.”

“It’s been a good life, dear heart,” Eloise smiled at her softly.

“Couldn’t ask for better,” Mabel agreed, putting an arm around her frail shoulders.

“Certainly not in Haven,” Audrey looked at them thoughtfully.

“No indeed, dears,” Eloise agreed. “Is it because of the Troubles you’ve come?”

“Someone was concerned about you,” Audrey said gently. “They said you seemed inexplicably happy.”

Mabel laughed. “Ain’t no Trouble there! We just finally figured out what’s what, that’s all.”

“And what would that be?” Nathan asked.

“We’re…more than friends,” Eloise said shyly. Mabel leaned over her protectively, clearly ready to fly into righteous indignation should either of their guests show disapproval.

Audrey smiled, charmed. “That’s really sweet. Congratulations.”

Mabel sat back with a grin of approval as Eloise sighed with relief. “Took us long enough to get it through our heads,” Mabel chuckled. “All those years and all those husbands, when what we really wanted was right there in front of our noses. We should’ve said to hell with all that propriety nonsense years ago.”

“We wasted so much time,” Eloise agreed wistfully.

“But we’re not wasting a moment more,” Mabel patted her shoulder. “You and I together, we’ll live and love more in every single second we have left than in all the years we wasted. Especially the years I spent married to Morty,” she grimaced comically, making Eloise giggle.

“Speaking of wasting time, we won’t take up any more of yours,” Audrey smiled.

Nathan stood and nodded. “Have a good day, ladies, and don’t hesitate to call us if you need anything.”

“Oh wait, dears, I’ll pack you some cookies,” Eloise smiled.

“You could use some meat on those bones,” Mabel grinned, pinching Nathan’s cheek again.

**

“She pinched his cheek? Seriously?” Duke was almost doubled over laughing.

“And called him ‘little Nathan’!” Audrey told him gleefully, her eyes dancing with merriment.

Nathan glared in vain. He should have known Audrey had ulterior motives for suggesting Duke meet them at her place for lunch. “This is serious. Could be a Trouble.”

“Oh no you don’t, you don’t get to weasel out of this, Little Nathan,” Duke laughed and reached over to try to pinch his cheek – a halfhearted effort that fully anticipated Nathan’s irritable swat.

“I’m not ducking the issue,” Nathan scowled. “Two couples spontaneously confess their love for each other after years of unspoken feelings. Two same-sex couples.”

Audrey considered that. “You may have a point. I’m guessing that someone coming out of the closest isn’t a thing that happens often in Haven.”

Duke shook his head. “Minority groups of any kind are practically an endangered species around here. I’m pretty sure that the last time anyone came out, the Herald ran an article on it.”

“Ouch,” Audrey grimaced, remembering the archived article headlined ‘Black man moves to Haven’.

“Some sort of…confession Trouble?” Nathan mused.

“Anyone with hidden homosexual longings speaks up?” Duke frowned. “That could get ugly.”

Audrey nodded. “The two couples we met today were apparently unattached before this, but if someone who’s still married gets hit with this…”

“Plus those cases were both mutual. Someone’s crush could take it badly and get violent,” Duke nodded.

“All right, so…the Troubled person is probably someone who feels this way themselves,” Audrey said. “Someone with same-sex romantic longing they haven’t confessed.”

“Seems likely,” Nathan agreed. “Scared of rejection?”

“Could be. Or scared of how their friends or family will react,” Duke added. “Could have bigoted neighbors, co-workers, or worse, a bigoted boss. Not like small towns tend to be the most progressive places on earth.”

“Okay, so they’re sitting on this secret, in love but feeling like they can’t speak up, and they want to confess their feelings so badly that it just…”

“Overflows,” Nathan suggested.

“Yeah, I don’t think that’s gonna go so well for everyone as it did for your lovebirds so far, and that’s taking into account the first pair got busted for public screwing,” Duke frowned. “Not to mention the wreck it’s gonna leave when all this is over.”

“We definitely need to look into this,” Audrey agreed, thinking of Eloise and Mabel in the aftermath of this Trouble and feeling slightly sick. “It could still be a coincidence, but I’m not so sure there’s any such thing in Haven. I’m going to call the Herald, see if they’ve seen anything like it before.”

“We’ll clean up lunch while you do that, then you and Nathan can hit the road. I’ll ask around the afternoon crowd at the Gull, see if anyone’s heard anything,” Duke offered.

“Thanks,” Audrey smiled as she stepped out onto the porch to make the call.

**

Audrey stepped back inside to let Nathan know she was ready to head back out, then hesitated. Nathan and Duke stood in the kitchen corner giving one another fiercely intent looks, so much that she wondered if they were about to break out into a fistfight over the dishes.

“Do you have any idea, Nate,” Duke said conversationally, “how much I’ve wanted to drop to my knees and suck your cock until that wooden face of yours comes alive with ecstasy?”

Audrey’s jaw dropped.

“You’re one to talk,” Nathan said. “Every time I’ve booked you, every single time I’ve put the cuffs on you and put you against a wall to search you, I’ve wanted to keep going. Wanted to strip you bare and wipe that damn smirk off your face, fuck you till you didn’t have brains or breath left for any smartass remarks.”

“Yeah?” Duke said eagerly. “Bet you wanted to bend me over that desk of yours too, didn’t you? You like that image, me naked and bent over, legs spread wide, ready for your cock.”

Nathan growled and wrapped his hand around the back of Duke’s neck, pulling him in for a merciless kiss that was most enthusiastically returned.

Audrey gaped for a moment more, some part of her filing away that amazing image for future enjoyment. Somehow she managed to pull herself together, going over and putting a hand on their shoulders, trying to draw them apart. “Guys, stop. This isn’t you, it’s the Trouble. You know that. C’mon, think.”

“Trouble, hell,” Duke said, trying to shake her off. “I’ve wanted this asshole since I was old enough to know what that funny feeling in my stomach meant. If I’d ever for a second thought he’d be game for replacing that stick up his ass with my dick…”

“Should’ve done this a long time ago,” Nathan agreed, slipping out of her grip and pulling Duke in for another kiss.

"Nathan.  Listen to me.  We need to go find whoever's causing this Trouble, we need to stop them."

Nathan hesitated, looking over at her, and for a moment she thought he might snap out of it.  But then Duke really was going to his knees and that captured Nathan's absolute attention, all thought of saving the day lost to more immediate concerns.

Audrey bit her lip. If they were that determined, could she really stop them? Worse, would it somehow hurt them if they couldn’t fulfill the need to act on this? Or perhaps more accurately, would Nathan hurt himself trying to get to Duke if she handcuffed them on opposite sides of the room? It seemed ominously likely, and after a moment’s indecision, she turned to go. She hated to leave them like this, but hopefully the best way to help them would be to find whoever was doing this and stop it.

**

Having tracked down the culprit and coaxed him into confessing his thankfully-not-unrequited feelings, Audrey had left the happy couple and hurried back home. She warily peeked in the window before going in, and it was just as well she did – they were still twined together intimately. She couldn’t help watching for a moment – they were beautiful, Duke’s sleek lithe form and Nathan’s broad rugged one, Duke’s long smooth limbs wrapped around Nathan’s rangy body. And the passion…Nathan’s inability to feel certainly wasn’t impairing his enthusiasm at all, and Audrey wondered if this Trouble had overridden his own.

After a moment she made herself turn her back, and wondered if she should just leave them to finish working through this. Their voices drifted through the window, and after a moment she registered that among the moans of pleasure and cries of one another’s names, there were other words, brief but oh-so-weighted.

“Hated that you left,” Nathan gasped. “That you never understood how I felt.”

“How you felt?” Duke demanded breathlessly. “You – ah, fuck, right there, right like that – you made a choice, Nate, and you didn’t choose me.”

“We could’ve made it work.”

“Don’t – Jesus, Nate! - don’t be naïve. Love doesn’t conquer all and you damn well know it. Cops and robbers was cute when we were five, it doesn’t work at twenty-five.”

“You never even tried, you…mmh… You should’ve known what you meant to me.”

“I’m not fucking psychic, Nate! You never said, not one word. How could I – god, again, harder! – how could I have known?”

“I told you. Not in words, maybe, but I told you every day. Every damn thing I did was for you, Duke. You must’ve been blind, not to see.” His voice was layered, anger and hurt beneath the rich pleasure.

“You were the blind one, you fucking asshole, you…you have no goddamned idea what it did to me when you turned your back on me. You were everything to me, you were all I had, and you left me with nothing!” Duke panted angrily, the same loss and betrayal in his voice as in Nathan’s.

“You have me now. Not letting you go again,” Nathan growled.

“Damn straight,” Duke told him, chuckling breathlessly at the unintended pun. “You’re not gonna be rid of me so easily this time. You’re in for it now, you’re stuck with me.”

“Good,” Nathan said simply, and the words trailed off after that.

Audrey leaned back against the weathered siding, a thoughtful expression on her face. She’d thought, given how the two of them had started out, this was a strictly physical attraction. Something they’d get out of their systems and get over, although perhaps only after being unable to look one another in the eye for a while. But if all of that was true, it certainly hadn’t sounded like this was just about the sex. She’d wondered before if all the growling and bristling had been just a display to assuage wounded male egos. It hadn’t escaped her notice that beneath the snarky comments and the scowls there lay a deep, unshakable core of loyalty and caring, that no matter how they snapped and snarled, they also protected and worried about and took care of each other. And she’d known they were close when they were younger. She’d figured it for merely intense friendship – she hadn’t figured that Nathan at least might entertain the possibility of being with a man. But what she’d just seen had her wondering, had her contemplating a whole new landscape of possibilities for the three of them.

**

She waited until the passionate sounds from inside had crescendoed and faded away, leaving a long silence before the rustle of sheets indicated that one of them was stirring. She knocked on the doorframe, politely averting her eyes. “Everyone decent?” she asked softly.

There was another shifting of sheets before Nathan answered with a monosyllabic affirmative, his voice slightly hoarse. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, Duke sound asleep beside him, the sheet pulled up to barely cover their modesty. Both of them looked thoroughly fucked out – a flush still fading from their sweat-sheened skin, their hair rumpled, their lips swollen, and the most interesting collection of bruises and bite marks adorning their bodies.

But despite that it was the expression on Nathan’s face that held Audrey’s attention, worry and guilt and fear as he glanced up at her. She came over and cupped his face in her hands, bending over to kiss him softly. “I’m not mad,” she smiled reassuringly. “We’ll want to talk about this, but I’m not angry. And I’m definitely not going to leave you over it.”

Nathan sighed in relief, leaning into the kiss. He gave her a grateful look and mumbled, “Sorry about your bed. Run some warm water? Need to clean him up.”

“Don’t worry about the bed,” Audrey told him and stole another kiss before heading into the bathroom, getting the temperature just right before filling a bowl and adding a washcloth. She started the tub filling as well – Nathan could probably use a hot soak, even if he didn’t know it.

She handed the bowl to Nathan and sat at the head of the bed, idly reaching out to stroke Duke’s hair scattered over the pillow. She didn’t watch Nathan directly – she hadn’t seen Duke naked before today, and she’d preserve as much of his privacy as she could – but even out of the corner of her eye she could see how gentle Nathan was being, how careful not to hurt Duke. It was an oddly intimate moment.

Duke didn’t stir at the tender ministrations, nor even when Nathan pulled a pair of his own pajama pants up over Duke’s legs, and Audrey frowned a little. Had they been having sex the entire time she was gone? That was…very hot, but also quite a marathon. “Is he dehydrated? Should we wake him up to drink some water?” she asked softly.

“Not too bad,” Nathan nodded at the water glass Audrey kept by the bedside. It had been mostly full this morning, now it was bone dry. “Needs the sleep more. Be thirsty when he wakes up, though.”

Audrey nodded and went to refill the glass, bringing it to Nathan first and making him drink the whole thing before filling it again and leaving it for Duke. She went to check on the tub and shut off the water, coming back to find Nathan…well, tucking Duke in, was really the only way to describe it. She smiled and went over to run her fingers through Nathan’s hair. “Come on, I ran you a bath. You’re going to relax and get clean and we’ll talk about Duke.”

Nathan allowed her to coax him into the old-fashioned clawfoot tub. “You’re really not mad?”

“I’m really not mad,” she assured him as she pulled up a chair beside him. “Firstly, it was a Trouble. It would be unfair to hold either of you responsible for your actions.”

“Didn’t feel like it,” Nathan said quietly. “Not forced like some of them. It felt…right.”

Audrey took the bar of soap and began gently washing her lover’s skin, allowing Nathan to simply lie back and rest. “Was it true what you said, or was it the Trouble speaking?”

“It was true,” Nathan said softly. “At least, for my part. Can only assume Duke meant it too. Not just the…the physical stuff. I was young and sheltered and didn’t understand half what I felt, but…I knew being friends wasn’t enough. When he left, I felt…” he faltered, and Audrey squeezed his hand reassuringly. “Duke’s right, I should have told him.”

“You’ve told him now,” Audrey rubbed his back comfortingly. “Do you still feel that way? Still want him?”

Nathan looked distressed. “I want you, Audrey, never stopped wanting you. Whole time I was with him, back of my mind I was wishing you were there too.”

“I know, Nathan, it never even crossed my mind that this means you don’t want me anymore or that you never really did,” Audrey reassured him, leaning over to kiss him softly. “I love you and I don’t doubt your love for me, not for one second.”

“I don’t deserve you,” Nathan mumbled, returning the kiss earnestly.

“None of that nonsense, you absolutely do and even if you didn’t it wouldn’t change how I feel,” Audrey kissed his nose. “Let me put the question this way – if you could have us both, would you want that? Or are your feelings for Duke a thing of the past?”

Nathan looked down, not meeting Audrey’s eyes. “Not past. But…to want both of you, that…feels greedy.”

Audrey smiled and tilted his head up for another kiss. “Then call me greedy, because I would definitely not say no to that arrangement.”

Nathan blinked, looking shocked – but also hopeful. “You wouldn’t?”

“Not in a million years,” Audrey chuckled. “I knew before this that you two cared deeply about each other, I just never knew how deep. I gotta be honest, if I’d known this was an option then I’d have been all for it from day one.”

“You don’t have to, for our sakes. I don’t want you feeling like you have to share me, and I know Duke wouldn’t either.”

“This is not a hardship, Nathan. I meant it when I said I’d have asked for it earlier if I’d thought either of you would be okay with it.” Audrey stroked his cheek. “I just never figured you’d be okay with the idea. I had no idea you were bi, much less open to polyamory.”

“Not bi exactly. It’s just Duke,” Nathan mumbled, flushing.

“That is incredibly sweet,” Audrey smiled for a moment before growing more serious. “I hope you won’t be hurt if I admit that I care deeply for Duke too. That this wouldn’t just be a question of me sharing you with him, that you’d be sharing me with him too, that we’d all be equal in this.”

“Sounds like everything I wanted and thought I’d never have,” Nathan admitted quietly.

Audrey beamed and leaned in for another kiss, slow and soft, showing him how much she loved him in the way he understood best – without words. “We’ll talk to him when he wakes up, then.”

“Probably try to run,” Nathan observed, yawning.

“Probably,” Audrey agreed, going back to bathing him. “But we won’t let him.”

By the time she finished, Nathan was sound asleep. It was quite a job wrestling him out of the tub and drying him off, but before too long she was lowering him down onto the bed beside Duke, smiling as the two of them gravitated toward each other even in sleep. She climbed in on the other side, snuggling Duke between them, and thought of what she would say when they woke.

**

After a while Audrey slipped out of bed again. As much as she was enjoying the cuddles, she wasn’t tired herself, and she wasn’t made to lie around and do nothing. She headed downstairs to the Gull and got a hearty dinner to take back up, knowing how hungry her boys would be when they woke. That taken care of, she pulled out some old cases she’d brought home and worked on them for a while. But at the first sign of stirring from the bed, she went back over and lay down beside Duke again, wanting him to have them both there when he woke.

Duke was slow to rouse, struggling fuzzily back to awareness. He was warm and comfortable, weighted down with the familiar feel of relaxed bodies to either side, but this was somehow different from the other times he’d woken with someone beside him. He felt…safe, safe and content on a bone-deep level he couldn’t remember ever having felt before. He blinked slowly and looked around. Nathan, beside him, asleep. What…

“Hey, sleepyhead,” Audrey greeted him with a fond smile. “How’re you feeling?”

And that was even more puzzling, Audrey on his other side. He tried to sit up and failed, trapped by Nathan’s limp form lying half atop of him. But the movement was enough to make him realize how sore he was, and that in turn prompted memory to come flooding back.

“Uh, uh…hey, Audrey. I just…” When had Audrey joined them? He didn’t remember having sex with her too, and that seemed like the sort of thing he definitely wouldn’t forget, Trouble or no. More likely she’d come in afterward. She didn’t seem mad, but she had plenty of reason to be. “I, uh, take it you took care of the Trouble. I’ll just get out of your hair, then.”

“Not going anywhere,” came a sleepy mumble from Nathan, his arm tightening around Duke. He cracked one eye open and looked over at Audrey. “Told you.”

Duke didn’t know what that meant, but he did know when he wasn’t wanted. “Look, Nathan, as cute as it is that you want me for a human teddy bear, I’m sure you’d much rather have Audrey, right? Here, she’s right here, you can cuddle her and go back to sleep, how’s that?” he looked around for his clothes as he tried to gently pry himself out of Nathan’s grip, hoping they were still intact. They’d been a bit…impatient, earlier.

“Duke, it’s okay,” Audrey told him gently, reaching out to brush a stray bit of hair from his face. “You don’t have to go.”

“Audrey, it’s sweet that you’re worried about me but I’m okay, really. I’m a big boy, I don’t need to talk out my feelings or anything like that. And I might enjoy getting a rise out of Nathan,” he stumbled over the words as he suddenly realized how that might sound after the day’s events, “But I know when a topic’s out of bounds. I won’t hassle him about this, I promise. He can blame the Trouble and forget any of it ever happened.”

“What if I don’t want to?” Nathan asked, sounding a little more awake this time.

Duke looked back and forth between them, his expression one of uneasy confusion. “Audrey, you’re sure you cured it?”

“Of course she did,” Nathan snorted. “S’not the Trouble talking.”

“Look, I don’t know what this is, but the last thing I’d ever want is to get between you two. What you guys have, that’s…” he swallowed, “that’s way too good to lose because I came in and screwed everything up.”

“You haven’t screwed anything up,” Nathan told him bluntly.

“Except maybe literally,” Audrey gave Duke a wicked grin as she leaned over and kissed his forehead.

Duke actually went pink at that. “Audrey, c’mon, that wasn’t my fault and you know it.”

“Sorry, sorry,” she said immediately. “We know it wasn’t your fault. We’re not mad. And you’re not ruining anything. Nathan and I talked while you were asleep, we’re okay.”

“You are?” Duke looked immensely relieved.

“We are. You’re not going to come between us. Except maybe literally,” Nathan said, deadpan.

Duke stared. “Audrey Parker, did you teach old stone face here to make dirty jokes?” he asked incredulously.

“I might have had something to do with it,” she said with an angelic smile.

Duke shook his head and tried to sit up again, still in vain.

“He’s not getting it,” Nathan told Audrey.

“Guys, come on. I’m glad you’re not mad about this, but I’m not about to push my luck. I don’t belong here. I know that. So please…” Duke faltered, his gaze dropping, his body curling in on itself as much as possible with the two of them snuggled up against him “Don’t treat me like I do. I can stay out of it, I can be just a friend to both of you, but I can’t handle you acting like I’m something more when I’m not.” It was a difficult confession to make, dragged out against the strong instinct to hide any potential weakness.

Audrey wrapped her arms around him tightly, knowing how much the admission had cost him. “You do belong here, Duke. That’s what we’re trying to tell you. You can have this, if it’s something you want.”

“Can have us,” Nathan nodded.

Duke stared, his throat working soundlessly for a moment as he struggled with words he couldn’t find. After a minute he settled on, “If this isn’t real…”

“It’s real,” Audrey assured him gently. “I’m immune, remember?”

“It was never anything but real, even before today,” Nathan said quietly. “I just never said it. Should have. Should’ve told you years ago.”

“Was it real for you too?” Audrey asked softly. “Did you mean what you told Nathan, about how you felt, about wanting to stay?”

“Doesn’t matter what I want. Wanting and having, that’s not… Look, you two work. You work perfectly. There’s no room for me, I’ll just screw it all up.”

“You don’t know that,” Audrey kissed his cheek coaxingly. “The two of us do work, but the three of us can, too. Won’t you at least try it and see?”

Duke looked like he was about to shake his head, but Nathan rolled his eyes. “If things aren’t ruined yet, they’re never gonna be. You and I did our damndest to destroy everything there was between us, but here we are anyway.”

That startled a little chuckle out of Duke. “Can’t say I thought of it quite like that.”

“He’s got a good point,” Audrey smiled. “If the two of you can overcome everything in your past to share the kind of devotion I’ve seen between you, then I don’t think you could ruin things if you were actively trying to, much less inadvertently. And it’s not like I’d stand by and let things fall apart between us anyhow. If I can talk down a Troubled person then I can sort out you two when you’re being stubborn.”  

“You never do stand for any nonsense from us,” Duke admitted with a wary smile.

“There you have it,” Nathan nodded decisively. “Now, we’ll put together something to eat while you go get cleaned up.”

“Feel free to run a bath if you want to soak out any aches and pains,” Audrey offered. “I got some food from downstairs, we can bring it in and feed you while you lounge in the tub.”

“You’re funny,” Duke said as he got up stiffly, wrapping the sheet around him. Nathan watched him closely, casually near enough to catch Duke’s elbow if he should stumble. They hadn’t exactly taken it easy, and unlike Nathan, Duke would be feeling it now.

“Hey, I wasn’t kidding. You’d never know to look at him but Nathan is a hopeless romantic, he loves that sort of thing.”

“Sure he is, he…Are you blushing, Nate?”

“Nothin’ wrong with being romantic,” Nathan mumbled defiantly.

“It’s sweet,” Audrey smiled, leaned up to kiss his cheek.

“Yeah, okay,” Duke shook his head. “Look, I appreciate the offer, but…I could do with some privacy, okay?”

“Whatever you need,” Nathan agreed.

“We understand if you need some time to think,” Audrey nodded, going over to kiss Duke’s cheek as well. “Just know that we’ll be here when you’re done – no matter what you decide.”

Nathan nodded agreement, and a little of the wariness went out of the set of Duke’s shoulders. “All right. Thanks,” he said quietly, disappearing into the bathroom.

**

Duke sank into the deep tub with a sigh of pleasure, already starting to relax. A piping hot bath with plenty of room for him to stretch out and submerge was one of his favorite luxuries, not to mention the way it soothed his aches and lifted the feeling of uncleanliness from dried sweat and worse.

He leaned his head back and closed his eyes, content to relax and soak for the moment. He could hear the muffled sounds of the other two moving around the kitchen, the faint clink of dishes and the rise and fall of their voices, spiced with occasional bursts of Audrey’s bright laughter.

You can have this, Audrey had said. You belong here.

Every hard-learned instinct he had warned him that this was impossible. Duke Crocker knew better than most that when something seems too good to be true, it probably is. There was no way that Audrey and Nate would ever want him when they had each other.

And yet.

It was always real. I should have told you years ago.

Duke still remembered Nathan’s expression on the day Duke had told him he was leaving. He’d looked so shocked, so gutted by the news that for a wild moment Duke had actually hoped that he’d change his mind about going into the academy. But he hadn’t, and Duke had still left.

Nathan wasn’t the only one who should have said something.

Here we are anyway.

It couldn’t be that easy. Nathan was right about one thing- they’d done their best to ruin everything. Some things just couldn’t be fixed.

Except he had a pocketknife he carried everywhere that said otherwise.

I won’t let things fall apart.

If anyone could, it would be her. Audrey Parker ate the impossible for breakfast and went back for seconds.

We’ll be here, no matter what you decide.

Duke had never liked the phrase ‘it can’t hurt to try’. It could, it often did, and in this instance it would hurt spectacularly if this went wrong.

But there was also the phrase ‘you’ll never know until you try’ and that, that had been Duke’s motto for a long time.

Nathan would hate him if this went south, but Audrey wouldn’t. And she’d healed that rift once before.

Maybe failure didn’t have to mean the end of everything.

Maybe failure didn’t have to be a certainty.

Maybe, just maybe, this was worth the risk.

Mind made up, he grabbed the soap.

**

Feeling oddly shy, Duke wrapped himself in a towel and cracked open the door, peering out. But before he could assume an air of nonchalance about his nudity, he noticed the pile of clothes outside the door. Nathan’s, clearly, but they would fit him well enough. He took them gratefully and retreated, getting dressed before emerging.

Nathan and Audrey looked up from where they were setting the food out. Audrey smiled and came over to greet him with a kiss on the cheek.

“Feeling better?” Nathan asked, his eyes lingering just a moment too long. Seeing Duke wearing his clothes stirred the irrationally possessive corner of his brain in a pleasing way.

Was Nathan…no, Nathan couldn’t be checking him out. Probably just worried he’d burst a seam – a legitimate concern, given that he filled out the seat of the pants rather better than Nathan would have.

Duke shook off the thought, going over to help set the table. “I need to make dinner for you guys one of these nights,” he thought aloud.

“No arguments here. If you make it, I’ll eat it,” Nathan told him. It was gratifyingly high praise – Nathan didn’t eat much as a general rule, and his heightened sense of taste had made him particular about his meal choices.

“I’d love that,” Audrey smiled. “I still feel bad about missing out on the grilled coconut shrimp.”

“You remember what I was going to make,” Duke said, surprised and flattered.

“It sounded so good, how could I not?” Audrey smiled.

“I’ll have to give you a raincheck, in that case,” Duke smiled.

The conversation stayed on the topic of food throughout the meal, and Duke slowly began to feel at ease. It wasn’t just any dinner, that much was clear from Audrey’s casual touches and Nathan’s smiles, but they apparently weren’t expecting his answer on the spot. And as the meal went on Duke realized that this was a deliberate choice on their part, in order to make him feel comfortable.

Duke swallowed around a lump in his throat. It was at once such a small thing and at the same time meant so much. Basic decency perhaps, but still a level of thoughtfulness, of consideration for his feelings and desire for his happiness, that was foreign to him.

They probably would have been okay with it if he never answered. At least, not in words.

But he owed them that. No, he owed himself that. He owed it to himself to do this right, to give things the best possible chance of success, at least as much as he could. And even he knew that communication was important in relationships. Hell, look where lack of it had gotten him and Nathan to start with.

He helped them clear the table and wash the dishes, working up his nerve. Before the after-dinner lull could make things awkward, Duke drew a breath. “So. Is, uh, is that offer still on the table? Or have you guys come to your senses?”

“Still very much on the table,” Audrey confirmed, her and Nathan’s expressions bright with hopeful anticipation, even though they were visibly trying not to be too obvious about it. Still trying not to pressure him, even now. It was sorely tempting to just take a step forward and kiss them, getting the message across without words. But the words were important, he reminded himself.

“It…probably comes as no surprise that I…don’t really have a good track record when it comes to relationships,” he admitted. “Not like I ever had much of a role model in that department growing up, so…yeah. Don’t even remember marrying Evi, we were that drunk. And you saw how that turned out. Sad thing is, that was one of the more successful tries.”

Audrey stepped up beside him, rubbing his back gently. Nathan stood closer too, a silent show of support. Duke gave them an unsteady but grateful smile. “Point is, I don’t know what I’m doing. Wish I did, because I really, really, really don’t want to screw this up. But all I can promise is, I’ll try. I really will try. Because I…I do want this,” he said softly. “If you’ll have me, I’m here.”

Nathan stepped forward and enfolded them both in his long arms, his face lit with joy in a way Duke hadn’t seen since he’d come back from the Barn. Audrey beamed up at him, delighted and a little mischievous. “Here’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” she murmured, leaning up to kiss Duke.

Duke closed his eyes, letting himself get lost in the softness of her lips. He could feel Nathan’s eyes on them, and from the way he leaned in to nuzzle their hair, he didn’t dislike what he saw.

Nathan captured Duke’s lips as soon as Audrey pulled away, kissing with a careful focus that had been entirely absent in their eagerness that afternoon. Duke worried about that – he hadn’t forgotten about that earlier, not exactly, but Nathan sure as hell hadn’t been acting like he couldn’t feel any of what they were doing.

“Nate, I know you can’t feel me the way you can feel Audrey. Are you…okay with that?”

“Wasn’t a problem this afternoon,” Nathan told him, nuzzling at Duke’s neck, enjoying his scent, and the scent of Audrey’s soap on Duke’s skin.

Duke reddened a little, remembering, but still frowned. “That doesn’t count and you know it.”

Nathan pulled back a little, letting his eyes travel along Duke’s body. He trailed his fingertips over Duke’s collarbone, rubbing his thumb over the hidden bite mark there, and watched Duke shiver. He felt a sudden possessive urge to add more marks, more signs for anyone who looked at Duke to know he was theirs. “Don’t need to feel. The way you look, how you sound, your smell and taste, just knowing it’s you – trust me, it’s enough. Might be just as well I can’t feel too. Don’t know if I could handle that much overload.”

Duke was a lot more flushed at that, and if he hadn’t been so completely worn out from earlier he’d have been hard as a rock. “I might need you to tell me that again sometime when I’m not so tired out.”

“You don’t have to wait,” Audrey grinned. “I could stand hearing you tell him that a few more times already.”

“Later,” Nathan chuckled, low and touched with heated promise. “For now, I think what we all really need is a quiet evening on the couch.”

“Nathan’s a cuddler.” Audrey told Duke with a playful grin. “A downright octopus. Just try getting up before he does in the morning, it’s impossible.”

“Never heard you complain,” Nathan said, just a touch smugly, as he lit a fire in the fireplace.

“Fair enough,” Audrey agreed cheerfully, shaking out the throw blanket that was draped over the back of the couch and patting the cushions invitingly.

Duke settled down and Audrey tucked herself comfortably against his side. Nathan came over a minute later and sat on Duke’s other side, stretching his feet out on the coffee table and wrapping an arm around the both of them. “Could get used to this.”

“Yeah, well. Just as well. Really not planning on going anywhere,” Duke told him.

Wrapped up in each on the couch in front of the crackling fire, the hours vanished quickly in recounting funny stories and tall tales. Before any of them realized how late it was, they all were yawning.

“You’re welcome to stay of course, but don’t feel obliged if you’d be more comfortable at home,” Audrey assured him.

Duke eyed her bed. “Would we all fit?”

“Be cozy. Don’t see how that’s a problem,” Nathan shrugged.

“I agree, cozy sounds good to me. We can get a bigger one but for now this will be fine,” Audrey nodded.

“Sounds good to me, too,” Duke admitted.

They sleepily went through their nighttime routines and climbed into the freshly made bed, Duke once more in the middle.

He settled down between them, readily pulling them close.   But he didn’t quite relax, much as he tried.

Audrey felt the tension and kissed his shoulder, combing her fingers through his hair. “Duke, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong,” Duke protested quickly. After a moment of feeling the weight of their skeptical gazes, he squirmed and added, “I mean…if you guys wanna do more than cuddle, you don’t have to hold back, you know? Shouldn’t have to go without just ‘cause I’m here. I can give you some privacy, or I’m game for whatever you might want. I’ve been tested, so you don’t have to worry about that, and I’ve done just about everything, so you might as well put me to good use, y’know?”

Audrey exchanged a worried glance with Nathan. Flippant though the words might have been, it didn’t make the implication of them any less ugly. She leaned up and gave Duke a firm but chaste kiss. “We’re not using you, Duke.”

“Not now, not ever,” Nathan agreed. “That’s not why we want you with us.”

“I didn’t mean it like that, I know you never would. It was a joke,” Duke protested – but he still relaxed at the reassurance.

“It’s not just about the sex, and we plan to prove that every day for as long as you need us to,” Audrey kissed him more gently.

“You don’t need to prove anything, I believe you,” Duke said. “I know you’d never lie, not about this.”

“But you can’t be sure it’s real,” Nathan said quietly. “No shame in that. It’s Haven.”

“Reality is pretty subjective around here,” Audrey agreed, cradling the nape of Duke’s neck in her hand and massaging gently. “You have nothing to feel bad about. Honestly, this just gives us an excuse to spoil you rotten, and that sounds like an awful lot of fun.”

Duke sighed softly, bowing his head beneath her hand. It was a remarkable gesture of trust, which Audrey rewarded by kissing his hair. “Besides,” she added, “Even if you weren’t here, Nathan and I wouldn’t be getting up to anything frisky tonight. He might not be able to feel it the way you can, but you guys wore each other out, you looked rough when it was over. Pretty sure the both of you ought to be giving at least a full week’s rest to your below-the-belt bits.”

Duke supposed she might have a point there. He’d be fine, he could take it, but Nathan would never even know if he pushed too hard and hurt himself. Still…”What about you?”

Audrey smiled and kissed him. “Your thoughtfulness is charming, but I got along just fine before I had either of you. Why do you think the detachable showerhead has such a long hose?”

“Parker!” Nathan yelped.

Duke couldn’t help laughing.

**

The next morning Duke woke to the same sense of contentment and comfort he’d felt the previous day. Audrey was still curled up against his side like a kitten, Nathan draped over him and clinging – he really was an octopus – and both had expressions of quiet bliss that Duke imagined had been on his own face as he slept. He probably wouldn’t see this often, they were both disgustingly early risers while Duke preferred to lounge in bed sleeping in. He took the time to study their sleeping faces, memorizing every detail.

A fresh wave of uncertainty hit him hard, a renewed conviction that this was fleeting, that they would come to their senses and realize that there was no room for Duke in this relationship. That he had to keep hold of this memory because this was something he could only lose, and then the memory would be all he’d ever have. The idea tore at him deeply, all the more painful for having had a taste of what he stood to lose. He closed his eyes and focused on his breathing to quell the rising panic. His insecurities were just that, Duke struggled to remind himself . That little voice inside his head telling him that they couldn’t possibly want him and that he would ruin everything, that voice was not his own. It was the voice of his father and the Chief and all the other people who had ever told him he was worthless, and he did not have to listen.

After a few repetitions of this he managed to calm down, if not convince himself. The thought popped into his head that Audrey and Nathan would quickly tire of such doubts, and he didn’t know whether to laugh or rage that he even had insecurities about his insecurities.

Luckily the cycle of negative thought was disrupted by the soft press of lips against his own. He blinked and found Audrey leaning over him, stroking his cheek gently. “Struggling with your inner demons?” she asked softly.

“Always,” Duke tried to make a joke of it, the humor falling flat.

“It’s okay to have doubts,” she murmured, giving him another soft kiss. “Anyone would. Just remember that even if you can’t trust yourself, you can trust us. We’ll never hurt you again.”

“That’s easier,” Duke admitted, closing his eyes with a sigh. Despite everything that had happened between the three of them, despite his innate wariness, trusting Nathan and Audrey was still second nature for Duke.

“Good. We’ll make sure we never give you reason to regret it,” Audrey snuggled a little closer, scattering tender kisses all over his face.

“Hey, no fair,” Nathan protested sleepily. “I wanna turn.”

Duke couldn’t help laughing as he turned to Nathan. “Are you even awake enough for that?”

Nathan pulled Duke close, and as his lovers smothered him with affection Duke decided that as soon as they let him up, he’d make them something special for breakfast. Pancakes, of course.

**

The next few days fell into an easy routine. Nathan and Audrey woke early, kissing and cuddling Duke until he was awake enough to know they were heading off to work and not simply deserting him. After that Duke would catch a little more sleep, wander over to the Rouge for a while, then head to the Gull to prep for opening. At some point he stopped by the station to bring Nathan and Audrey lunch so that they wouldn’t forget to eat in their focus on the case of the day. When they got done for the day Duke would slip away upstairs to make them dinner, heading back down again afterwards just long enough to make sure that closing was going smoothly. The rest of the night was cuddling and conversation on the couch, followed by more cuddling in bed until they drifted off.

They greeted him with kisses openly in public, which surprised Duke. Audrey seemed to genuinely not care what anyone thought, while Nathan stared a challenge at anyone nearby, daring them to object. It went over better than expected. Audrey remarked at one point that after all they’d done for Haven the town had better accept that they deserved their happiness, and it seemed that the residents mostly agreed. Mostly. Duke found that he really enjoyed watching Nathan give an earful to narrow-minded detractors. Judging by Audrey’s grin, she did too.

“I think someone deserves pancakes for dinner,” Duke laughed as the man stalked off in a huff.

“I think you’re right,” Audrey leaned up to kiss Nathan’s cheek.

"It was nothing," Nathan muttered.  "What kinda boyfriend would I be if I let him talk to you two like that?"

"Even so, we appreciate it," Audrey told him, Duke nodding in agreement.

“I gotta say, I’m surprised more people aren’t telling me they always knew I was a pervert,” Duke mused as they headed back to the Bronco. “Didn’t think I’d managed to hide my interest in men that well.”

“I certainly had no idea,” Audrey told him.

“Always seemed to hate my guts,” Nathan pointed out. “Never saw you with any other guys.”

Duke snorted. “Not dumb enough to parade around town with ‘em, Nate. Small town gossip plus small-mindedness is a bad combination, and my reputation around here stunk enough as it was. When that’s what I was in the mood for I shipped down to Portland, there’s a gay bar down there I’d hit up. Not exactly the quality of place you’d go looking for a soulmate, but good enough for picking someone up for the night.”

“Bet you never figured you’d find your soulmates right here in Haven, though,” Audrey smiled.

“Never did,” Duke admitted. “Never been so glad to be wrong in all my life.”

**

Audrey and Nathan were careful to let Duke decide set the pace of their physical relationship. When Duke protested that they didn’t need to coddle him, Nathan pointed out, quite reasonably, that Duke was the only one who’d be able to tell when he and Nathan would be properly recovered from their soreness.

Duke conceded that was true, but he didn’t for one second think that was the only reason. Still, he wasn’t exactly complaining. Excessive, perhaps, but it was still a touching novelty having anyone be so considerate of him. And while he would have been willing to push his luck, he wasn’t willing to push Nathan’s, so he waited until he really was completely over their little marathon.

As they settled into bed that night, he kissed each of them in turn and tried to give voice to the words he’d been thinking about all day. “Audrey, Nate, I…thank you for being so patient with me.”

“Nothing that needs thanks,” Nathan ran a hand through Duke’s hair. “Just the decent thing to do.”

“Yeah, maybe. Still, it’s…not the sort of thing I’m used to. Having someone else put me first. Caring that much about what I need. And I’m not looking for your pity, you know I hate that. I just…want you to understand how much it means to me.”

“We do understand, and we were happy to do it,” Audrey told him gently. “We always want to treat you right.”

“It’s not pity,” Nathan agreed, thinking that sometimes the things Duke said made him want to go find everyone else who’d ever been with Duke and punch them. “It’s what you deserve.”

“He’s right,” Audrey nodded, seeing Duke’s skepticism. “We know you don’t believe that, may never believe it, but it’s true and we’ll keep telling you.”

“In the meantime, accept that it’s how we feel, deserving or not,” Nathan told him.

“Accepted,” Duke gave them a crooked little grin before pulling them in for kisses, wondering – not for the first or last time – how he’d managed to end up with these two absolutely amazing lovers. It could only be karma apologizing for all the shit he’d dealt with, he concluded.   Nothing else made sense.

“We’ll wait as long as you want us to,” Audrey reassured him as they pulled apart, “Even if you decide that’s not a step you ever want to take.”

Nathan nodded. “Know you might not wanna go there again. What you feel for me isn’t the same as wanting sex with-”

“Don’t be an idiot, Nate,” Duke didn’t even let him finish the sentence, softening the words with another kiss. “That’s what I’ve been trying to say. I appreciate that you’ve waited, but you don’t need to anymore.”

“You sure?” Nathan frowned faintly.

Duke would never get over seeing Nathan worrying about him. The little furrow of concern crossing Nathan’s forehead made Duke melt a little inside, every time. “I’m sure. 100% rested and recovered from our…excess. And I do want this. I want you, and I mean both of you. Not one bit of my enthusiasm that afternoon was fake.”

Nathan relaxed a little, looking relieved as he pulled Duke close for a kiss.

Audrey moved in to take Nathan’s place as soon as they pulled apart, the two of them taking turns kissing Duke. Their hands rested on his chest, and Duke loved the contrast, Audrey’s delicate and smooth and clever, Nathan’s big and calloused and a little awkward.

They touched him so gently, their kisses soft and sweet over his lips and cheeks and forehead, treating Duke as if he were the most precious thing in the world. Duke thought that it shouldn’t surprise him, this infinite tenderness, not when they showed him every day in a hundred little ways how precious he was to them. But it still did, still caught him off guard, disabling his defenses and crumbling his walls. Their gentleness pierced him to his core, left him raw and nakedly vulnerable. He didn’t notice the low, broken sound he made, too mortified to feel tears slipping down his face.

They reacted immediately, hugging him tightly, kissing the tears away, stroking his hair soothingly.

“We love you, Duke,” Audrey murmured reassurance.

“Want you here with us,” Nathan agreed.

“We want you to stay.”

“Not gonna let it go bad.”

“We’ll never hurt you.”

“Never abandon or betray you.”

“We’ll always take care of you.”

“Like you do for us.”

“We’ll treat you right.”

“We’re not going anywhere.”

“No matter what.”

Duke was completely overwhelmed, crying openly, shaking, falling to pieces between them. Audrey and Nathan held him close, holding him together, letting him cry against their shoulders and kissing away his tears.

Duke kissed them fiercely, frantic and needy, tasting his own tears. They accepted and returned the kisses, slowing and gentling them, rubbing his back and caressing his face. The same tenderness that had broken Duke soothed him now, easing the raw and shattered edges of his soul. He sighed and let them gentle him back to calmness, knowing with absolute certainty that some of his broken pieces were now theirs forever, to hold and cherish or to destroy utterly. It should have terrified him, and yet he felt safer with his heart in their keeping than he ever had when it was his own.

Audrey used her water glass to dampen a corner of her nightshirt’s sleeve, washing away the remnants of Duke’s tears, the cloth cool and smooth and just what he needed.

“Better?” Nathan asked worriedly, combing his fingers through Duke’s hair.

Duke nodded. “Sorry for scaring you,” he murmured. He was calm in the way that only follows a complete storm of emotion, and it let him see more clearly than ever. He reached up to touch their faces, feeling everything fall into place. “I love you. Both of you.”

It was like a sunrise, seeing their faces light up at those words. They leaned down to kiss him, the press of lips full of joy and love. Duke kissed them back, pulling them against him, wanting them close. He wanted to be with them, give himself to him, consummate their emotional intimacy with its physical echo.

“I want this,” he told them, his kisses growing more insistent, more heated.

“No arguments here,” Nathan gave him a slow smile.

“Hell no,” Audrey agreed, her hands already sliding down Duke’s chest. “How do you want it?”

“Nate taking me, me taking you?” Duke said hopefully. He needed that, needed to feel them twined together inextricably.

Nathan made a low sound of desire, nuzzling at Duke’s neck, nipping at the tender skin. He tugged at the waistband of Duke’s sleeping pants, waiting for Duke’s nod before sliding them over his hips.

Audrey helped pull them off, enjoying the view. “Have we told you that you’re gorgeous?” she asked Duke. “Because you really are.”

Duke bit back the impulse to brush off or deny the praise. “Good thing, I’ve got some pretty stiff competition in you two.”

Audrey chuckled wickedly. “I’ll bet Nathan’s some pretty stiff competition right now.”

“Funny, Parker,” Nathan snorted. She wasn’t wrong, though, Duke could feel that much.

“Nate, I’m guessing you’ve never been with a guy, yeah?” Duke asked, his voice stuttering a little as Audrey’s fingers traced over the ridges of his abdominal muscles teasingly.

“Except for the other day,” Nathan nodded.

“Yeah, well, we skipped a lot of steps we really shouldn’t have that day. That’s why it took us this long to recover. We’re gonna do it right this time.”

“Tell me what you need,” Nathan said simply.

Audrey was already rooting around in the bedside table for a bottle that she handed over with a grin before shifting back down to thoroughly kiss Duke’s chest.

“Okay, teaching safe sex while distracted, this should be fun,” Duke said breathlessly. “Yes, lube is important, more so for guys obviously. Stretching helps. I usually like to get a good few fingers in me before I try to fit a dick up there.”

“Jesus, Duke,” Nathan groaned, flushed with both embarrassment and desire.

“I think he likes your sex ed class,” Audrey laughed.

“You’re terrible,” Nathan told her, leaning over Duke to steal a kiss, and that was a sight Duke would never get tired of.

“You love it,” Audrey told him cheerfully. “Besides, it could be worse, I could be telling him about your little ‘naughty schoolboy’ fantasy. Oh whoops, I just did.”

“His what?” Duke spluttered.

“Story for another time,” Nathan told him hastily. “I’ll make sure to get you ready, I don’t want this to be painful for you. But I can’t feel what I’m doing, so you’ll have to direct me.”

Duke was taken completely off-guard by the surge of desire that hit him at the idea. “…Yeah, yeah okay.”

Audrey laughed. “And Duke likes your response to his sex ed class,” she told Nathan. “God, I swear I could get off just watching you two. No seriously, I want to actually try that at some point.”

“You guys are gonna be the death of me,” Duke predicted.

Audrey grinned, completely unrepentant. “You could both do the prep, your fingers twined together. Ooh, or are you flexible enough to do it yourself, Duke? You could put on a show for us.”

“Parker,” Nathan meant it for a light reprimand but it came out as more of a groan. “We’ll have all the time in the world to try new things.”

Duke liked the sound of that – both the idea of trying new things and having all the time in the world.

“Right, tonight is for Duke. First night privileges,” Audrey smiled, sitting up to shimmy out of her nightshirt.

“Did you two talk about this?” Duke managed to get out before the view derailed his brain.

“Of course,” Nathan told him, slipping off his own pajama pants. “Wanted this to be perfect for you.”

That got Duke’s attention, and he turned to kiss Nathan.

Audrey settled against his other side, all warm smooth skin and silky hair. “Nathan, if Duke lies on his side and you’re behind him, will you have a good view?” she asked.

“Pretty sure any view of what we’re about to do will be a good one,” Nathan said, making Duke chuckle.

“I need twice as many hands and eyes in the back of my head to appreciate both of you properly,” Duke said, running his hands down Audrey’s arms, back up and trailing his fingers over her breasts, cupping them in his hands.

She grinned and twined her legs with his, pressing their hips together. “Nope, just a little creativity and flexibility, and I’m pretty sure you have both of those in spades. Maybe Nathan and I should take up yoga with you, I bet you’d love if we were that flexible too.”

“Nate, is she trying to get me off just by talking?” Duke demanded. “Because I’m not sure it wouldn’t work.”

Nathan chuckled, his hands sliding over Duke’s skin. He might not be able to explore the textures beneath his hands but he knew Duke would enjoy it. And Duke’s reactions were something he definitely could enjoy, he thought a touch smugly, watching Duke gasp and shiver as Nathan grabbed a handful of his ass and squeezed.

“Here, let me…” Duke stretched a leg up over Audrey’s hip, leaving himself spread for Nathan.

“Nice view,” Nathan murmured appreciatively, spreading some lube on his fingers. He couldn’t feel its temperature, but he’d learned to give it a minute or two to warm. “If I’m doing anything that doesn’t feel good, you tell me, understand? I don’t want to realize later that you were just putting up with it even though it wasn’t good for you.”

“I’ll be fine, I’m not that fragile.”

“Duke, it’s not just for you,” Audrey said gently. “Of course we want this to feel good for you, but think how badly Nathan will feel if he finds out he was hurting you and didn’t even know.”

“…Okay, fair. Feedback is important. Got it,” Duke admitted.

“Good,” Audrey patted his shoulder. “Plus, think how much it’ll turn him on hearing you talk about how good it feels.”

“You make an excellent point,” Duke grinned.

Nathan was glad Duke had agreed. He really didn’t know what he was doing, despite the other day. In hindsight, he had to admit that probably just shoving it right in hadn’t been the best idea on either of their parts. But without the drive of raw animal instinct, he felt a little lost.

Audrey saw it, and leaned over to give him a reassuring kiss. “Duke, why don’t you start off by showing him how you do it?”

“Yeah, okay,” Duke agreed, already feeling his blood race at the thought of their eyes on him as he opened himself. He grabbed the lube and applied a generous amount, not waiting for it to warm before reaching around behind himself and spreading it over his entrance.

“Wow, you really are that flexible,” Audrey admired. “Think we can have some fun with that, Nathan?”

“Think so,” Nathan said a little hoarsely, his eyes fixed on where Duke’s finger was already sinking in.

“I got no end of ideas, guys,” Duke chuckled breathlessly, arching his back just to show off a little more. “Feel free to join in any time you feel comfortable with it, Nate,” he invited, his voice hitching a little.

His hesitation forgotten in light of the display Duke was putting on, Nathan shifted closer to him. One large hand splayed over Duke’s back while the other reached down, sliding a finger in alongside Duke’s own.

“Mm, yeah, you’re doing great, feels good,” Duke panted, shivering.

“He looks good, Nathan, doesn’t he?” Audrey purred, “All flushed and breathless. Look at his face, you’re making him feel so good.”

“God, you two,” Nathan groaned.

“You can add another, Nate, I’m ready,” Duke encouraged him. “I want more, want to feel you inside me, getting me ready for you.”

Audrey leaned over Duke’s body to watch, her soft curves pressing and sliding against his heated skin, making him moan.

Nathan obliged Duke, pressing a kiss to his shoulder. He did wish he could feel this, but Duke looked amazing like this, sounded incredible, and it was more than enough for Nathan.

Duke gave a little eager sound and pressed back against the intrusion. “Curl your fingers a little, Nate. There’s – ah, god, like that, yes!”

Nathan repeated the action, watching raptly as Duke moaned and writhed. “Tell me you’re almost ready,” he pleaded. “Don’t think I can take much more of this.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m ready, Nate, never been more ready in my life,” Duke panted, “I want you in me right goddamned now.”

Nathan hastily spread more lube on himself and lined up, slowly pressing inside. He couldn’t feel a thing but the way Duke moaned, deep and without restraint, the way his head fell back, eyes closed, expression pure pleasure – that was almost enough to tip him over the edge.

“God, you guys are gorgeous together,” Audrey said breathlessly as they stilled for a moment, both adjusting. “Just the glimpse of you I caught the other day was enough for a month of fantasies, but this…Duke, please tell me you’re ready for me too, I really really need you.”

“Yeah, absolutely,” Duke opened his eyes, dazed with pleasure, reaching for her. “Can’t guarantee I won’t come on the spot, though.”

“Think of Margaret Thatcher,” Audrey laughed as she unwrapped a condom and rolled it on him. She shifted until she could get a leg over his, stretching up to kiss him as she got in position and sank down on him, drawing another desperate groan.

“Seriously, no one move,” Duke gasped frantically. “I really will lose it. I just…gimme a minute, okay?”

“Anything for you,” Audrey reassured him breathlessly.

Duke closed his eyes and focused his breathing, trying not to be distracted by the incredible pleasure of his lovers in and around him. It took him a minute but he was able to get himself under control, to pull away from the teetering edge. “Okay, I’m okay. Sorry.”

“As if staying like this this is a hardship,” Nathan smiled, kissing his cheek.

“Seriously, I could do this all day,” Audrey agreed, “It’s flattering, too, that you’re enjoying yourself that much.”

“Trust me, you never have to doubt that I’m enjoying myself,” Duke chuckled unsteadily. “I’m okay now, if you wanna keep going.”

Audrey leaned up for a kiss, reaching across Duke to rest her hands on Nathan’s hips, coaxing the three of them into a gentle rocking rhythm.

Duke moaned softly, one arm around Audrey, the other reaching back to Nathan even though he couldn’t feel it. “This…you…good, so good.”

“That’s it, Duke, just relax and let yourself enjoy this, we want to make you feel good,” Audrey murmured, kissing him softly, caressing his skin.

“Always,” Nathan agreed quietly, rubbing Duke’s back, kissing his neck and shoulder and hair.

Duke made a quiet sound of bliss, arching between them. Now that the initial burst of intensity had faded, the languid rhythm drew him deep and deeper in pleasure until it soaked into his very bones.

Duke had always though the term ‘lovemaking’ was a laughable euphemism for sex, a ridiculous attempt to romanticize the needs of the flesh. Sex was nothing more than simple, base lust, love had nothing to do with it. And yet, he had sex a hundred different ways, but this slow, gentle, deeply intimate connection was something new to him, and for the first time he thought he understood the difference.

He gave himself over to it, lost himself in the meeting of skin and flesh, the confusion of hands and lips and limbs. He moaned and gasped, breathless broken words of love and devotion and pleasure. He ran his hands over every inch of skin he could reach, needing more of his lovers, needing all of them, feeling them give all of themselves without restraint.

The pleasure was slow to build, but it kept building long past the point Duke would have thought possible, turning his words to whimpers, pleading little fragments of sound. Judging by Audrey’s equally incoherent moans and Nathan’s restless hands, they were right there with him.

“Close…can’t…gonna,” Duke managed.

“Do it,” Nathan panted in his ear, and that was all it took. His climax triggered theirs, drawing a shuddering gasp from Nathan and a cry of ecstasy from Audrey.

They melted into a puddle of loose limbs and sweaty skin, still entangled, uncaring in their bliss.

Nathan stirred first, relaxed and smiling, his stern features soft with quiet delight. “How’re you feeling?” he asked his lovers, kissing them gently.

“We need to do that again, a lot. Like every day,” Audrey said happily.

Nathan gave her a smile but his eyes were on Duke, and they would have been worried if not for the complete contentment on Duke’s face.

Duke lazily reached up and drew Nathan down for a kiss. “That was amazing,” he said softly. “You two are amazing, that was…that was a whole world away from anything I’ve done.”

Nathan grinned, relieved and happy and bright. “We’ll make it that good for you every time,” he promised.

“Absolutely,” Audrey agreed, her eyes twinkling. “Better be careful or we might wear you out.”

Duke chuckled. “You two really will be the death of me. But it will absolutely be worth it.”

**

“You know, I wonder why the Trouble affected everyone sort of differently,” Duke mused a little while later, yawning. “Everyone else seemed to get it out of their system pretty quick. I mean, we were the youngest people hit, so far as we know, but it’s not like I’d normally be up for that much of a marathon. Even with someone as hot as you,” he grinned at Nathan, who turned faintly pink.

Audrey looked thoughtful. “I would guess it’s because the release you needed wasn’t physical, but emotional. This Trouble was about people voicing their feelings, right? You acted on your sexual attraction because it was the easiest way for you to process what you felt for each other, but it was never really about the sex. What you needed was to tell each other ‘everything I did was for you’ and ‘you were everything to me’ and ‘not letting you go’ and ‘you’re stuck with me’. Until you could be honest with each other about that, it wasn’t over.”

It was Duke’s turn to flush, and Nathan decided he could never get enough of that. “You heard, huh?”

“You guys weren’t exactly being quiet,” Audrey said apologetically. “I got back from taking care of things and checked if you were okay, and – well, there you were. With the windows open and all.”

“It’s okay,” Nathan reassured him. “Not your fault.”

“Kinda glad you did, honestly,” Duke confessed. “I don’t think I could’ve ever gotten my shit together enough for this on my own. You always know exactly what to say to untangle the mess in my head.”

Nathan nodded. “Two of us could’ve never worked it out on our own. We needed you. Still do.”

“And we love you,” Duke said quietly, marveling that this was something he could say, now.

“Love you both,” Nathan agreed, kissing each of them in turn. Never again was he going to fail to say those words.

Duke pulled him close for a lingering kiss. “Love you too, Nate.”

“My boys,” Audrey smiled, hugging them tightly. “I love you as much as you love each other, and that’s saying a lot.”

Duke laughed and watched the two of them kiss, their arms around him and holding him close. He felt like the luckiest person in the world.

**

[epilogue]

“I checked on our original two lovebird pairs while I was out today,” Audrey greeted her boys with a kiss.

“Oh? How are they doing?” Duke said curiously.

“Are Eloise and Mabel okay?” Nathan added.

Audrey nodded and smiled. “Just as sweet and adorably in love as ever. I didn’t say anything to them, just said there had been a Trouble in the area and we wanted to check on them and make sure they were okay. I did tell Jeff and Rob that the Trouble was responsible for their poor impulse control, though. Figured they shouldn’t have that on their conscience. They’re still together, too.”

“Pretty sure this is the best trouble we’ve ever had,” Nathan mused.

Audrey looked between them and grinned. “I really, really can’t argue that.”

[bonus scene]

“Can I ask you something?” Audrey asked Duke one morning while Nathan was in the shower. Duke was stretched out on his stomach and Audrey lay atop him back to back – using her boys as furniture was one of her favorite pastimes, a habit they tolerated with amused indulgence.

“You can always ask,” Duke grinned. “Can’t promise an answer, though.”

“Fair enough.” Audrey took a moment to appreciate that the playful comment was no longer underscored with wariness, as it once would have been. There was nothing but cheerful affection in Duke’s voice now, and she rolled over to reward him for it with a kiss.

“Is that the question? Because if so, the answer is yes,” Duke laughed when they pulled apart.

“Like I even need to ask,” Audrey chuckled. She reached up to trace her fingers over his face, causing his eyes to slide closed in relaxed contentment. “I love how open and expressive you are when we’re intimate,” she murmured. “You never hold anything back, not in your face, not in your voice.   And that’s amazing, you look breathtaking and I’m pretty sure your voice alone would be enough to get either of us off.”

“Audrey, stop, you’re embarrassing me,” Duke grinned, a blush faintly visible on his tanned skin showing that the words were not purely in jest.

Audrey grinned unrepentantly and stole a kiss. “So here’s my question. Are you always like that in bed, or is it a deliberate effort to give Nathan a way he can enjoy sex with you?”

“Always so observant, aren’t you?” Duke’s smile grew softer. “Little more complicated than that, though. I do make a point not to hide what I’m feeling because I know Nate enjoys it. I don’t see his Trouble as any kind of handicap in bed, getting someone off without touching them is something a skilled lover can do for almost anyone – and it’s hot as hell, I might add. So yeah, being with Nate I keep in mind that he’s all about sight and sound, and to a lesser extent taste and smell. But I’m not …it isn’t…” he paused to sort out his thoughts. “I’ve never been that open with anyone else. I never could be. Sex and intimacy aren’t the same thing, you two taught me that. Before you, I was always holding a part of myself back. The masks I wore never came off, not even in bed. It’s because it’s you that I can let myself go and just feel, without holding back. It’s not a performance, being open with you and Nate. It’s choosing not to make a performance of it.”

At those words Audrey pulled him close and kissed him breathless – a sight that Nathan very much enjoyed when he emerged from the shower a minute later.