Welcome to the fic! It's the longest thing I've ever published and I am moooooderately insecure about it, so reviews and constructive criticism are always very appreciated. This chapter has some violence and swearing. Onward!
It worked like Charlotte said, and none of them were really prepared for it.
Actually, it worked better than Charlotte said- Audrey is much more than a drop in the swirl that is now her- but it's all there. She's not just Audrey Parker anymore, if indeed she ever truly was. She finally feels like a real person- with parents and a birthday and a history- but it came at a very heavy toll. She's Mara now. She is the creator of the Troubles.
No one around her can handle it.
Now Nathan is driving them back from the first callout of the morning. This one was easy, fortunately, but there will be more- the Trouble bomb has made their job exhausting as of late. It's silent, but not the comfortable silence that used to rest gently around them. No, this is a wall of stiffness and discomfort, the sort of wall that Nathan frequently throws between himself and the world but never before used on her. His knuckles are white against the steering wheel, his body language rigid.
Audrey doesn't blame him.
Oh, he'd claimed it wouldn't be like this. Swept her into his arms and professed undying love, all of that. But professions of adoration are easy. Abstract concepts like love are easy. Actually dealing with the fact that his girlfriend used to be a monster is probably less so. Audrey can barely tolerate it herself, and she isn't Troubled. But Nathan is Troubled, is of Haven in a way she has never been. She's acutely aware that Nathan's life is miserable, and that every ounce of it can be traced back to her. She can't do a whole lot about it now. But it's more than that, really. Nathan sees the world in black and white, right and wrong. He is trying so hard to see her as right. Trying so hard to deny that she and Mara are one and the same. He's much too close to reality to distort it the way he is trying so desperately to. He clings to her, tells her he loves her with a nearly hysterical force, holds on as tightly as he can- even as their very natures tear them apart.
Audrey has come to sarcastically think of their current situation as the glacial breakup. Eventually, he will be forced to recognize the Mara in her. And he'll never be able to handle it, not as a lover.
Audrey sighs and realizes that she's twisting a bit of her hair through her fingers (Veronica Hidgens, who'd had long and absurdly curly light brown hair) and stops.
Nathan slows, jerking her out of her reverie. "Looks like she could use some help."
It's a teenager with engine trouble (trouble with a lowercase 't', which should be a relief to Audrey but always seems to bore her instead. This particular flaw belongs to her, to all of them, to Mara, to every piece of her that exists). Despite having been a dozen and a half different people, Audrey knows nothing about cars, so she lets Nathan take it.
Audrey sits in the truck and watches Nathan solve it, much to the smiling appreciation of the driver. He comes back and is fiddling with the radio when another car pulls up beside them.
Nathan rolls down his window and looks over questioningly.
"That was a good thing you did," says the middle-aged man in the car. "You're a good person. Is there something you'd like? Some reward?"
Nathan squints. "Uh, it was nothing."
"No. You will be given a gift. Oh, I know!" the man says decisively, and drives off.
Audrey has a bad feeling about this. "You don't think he's-"
She's cut off when the truck and Nathan vanish, dumping her abruptly onto the road.
Audrey lands hard on her ass, cursing. The Bronco is nowhere to be seen, predictably, and this just stinks of a reality-altering Trouble.
Right, so she's doing this in reverse. She knows the Troubled person's face and car already. She can fix this, whatever this is.
Audrey stands, still mumbling curses to herself. She's in walking distance of the Gull- she can enlist Duke's help, hopefully. She walks briskly, very grateful to have shoes this time. It's still called the Grey Gull, which is good news- it's definitely Duke's restaurant. She walks nervously inside.
Duke glances over and immediately drops a couple of plates with a crash. "Audrey! Holy shit, you're here!"
"I- yes. That is true," Audrey replies. "Hi, Duke."
"Hi!" he embraces her eagerly, and she hugs back tightly. Tears prick at her eyes- it's been ages since anyone has touched her without reservation, as if the blemish of Mara rests on her skin instead of in her soul. The Duke she's grown used to is reserved and on guard around her, glad to have her back but not willing to trust her quite yet. This is Duke as he was before all of this.
This Duke does not know about Mara.
"How did you get here?" he asks.
"Listen, you know how sometimes when there's a Haven thing, I'm the only one who knows it's a Haven thing?"
Duke's face crumples. "They're not over? I mean, don't get me wrong, it's really, really good to see you, but… damn."
"The Troubles? Why did you think they were over?" Audrey hones in expertly.
Duke sighs. "Aw, they're really not over. The Barn. Isn't that what it's for?" Audrey stops, absorbing this, and Duke adds, "Look, I'm gonna call Nathan. He'll be really glad to see you."
Audrey's first response is to tell him not to- Nathan circa de the Barn loves her without reservation, and it seems wrong somehow to allow him to be that now, knowing what she now knows about herself. She doesn't say anything. Nathan can help, and if it will be a mix of guilty and excruciating for her, well, it's so much less than what she deserves. He never has to know about Mara.
"He's on his way," Duke says, hanging up. "Audrey! It's so good to see you! And you remember me and everything! God, it's been… Has it really been a year?"
Audrey grins back at him. "Okay, I need to know what happened with the Barn in your timeline."
Duke shrugs. "I don't think there's much to tell. I wasn't there, though. Nathan- he wasn't okay with you going in there. You know how much he wants to fix this town, but not at that cost. So you told both of us the Barn was somewhere else. It's okay, by the way- I know why you did it. I know you were helping."
Audrey wonders if the Barn is the gift- if the man in the car had offered Nathan freedom from his greatest mistake. Too bad her immunity mucked it up.
She grimaces, rubs her forearms (Mary Drake, who'd had the memories a woman with bad circulation and developed the habit) and waits. Duke is still beaming at her as he leads them to a booth and it still aches, a little, the phantom pain of a friendship in danger.
"I'm really grateful for you, Duke," she says, because right now his first reaction won't be suspicion.
He grins. "Yeah, me too. Gotta say, having you back… Even if things turn into a disaster movie again, it'll be great to have you around."
Audrey sighs, shakes her head. "I know you don't remember this, but they've never stopped, and it's… it's bad, Duke, really."
Duke looks at her. "Audrey. We missed you. It sucks that you had to be the sacrifice. Never sat right with me, even less so with Nathan. Whatever it is, we'll deal with it, because you shouldn't have had to do that." He means this, but it twists something inside her.
Nathan walks in. Audrey's struck by how he looks- he's several pounds heavier now; many of the lines in his face are gone; he's missing a few scars. He smiles easily at her, leaning over to give her a hug before sliding into the booth beside Duke.
"It is really good to see you," he says, grinning at her.
It's instantly obvious. His affect is all camaraderie and partnership.
Nathan is not in love with her, infatuated with her, desperate for her- whatever he is in the real world, he's not here.
The breath goes out of Audrey all at once. Too many emotions hit her at once, too much to deal with right now. What surprises her the most is how incredibly refreshing it is. She needs a friend, a supporter. Things with Nathan are intense, high-stakes. Loving Nathan is like walking a tightrope. This is not that. This is so much more manageable.
Lately she's felt like a character in a fairy tale, torn between being the Chosen One, the princess or the wicked witch. Here she doesn't have to be any of that. Here she can just be Audrey.
The thought that maybe this is Nathan's gift- life free from the burden of loving her- only tempers this relief slightly.
"Hi, Wuornos," she finally says, beaming at him. "Good to see you."
"You, too. Work's been lonely without you," he says.
"How about some food?" Duke suggests. "It is Taco Tuesday."
"Pancakes for me," Nathan asserts.
"Seriously? Wasn't Lucassi bitching about your blood sugar, like, yesterday?" Duke says.
Audrey snorts quietly into her hand (Marie Gibb, who struggled to be as ladylike as she was expected to be) at Nathan's returning pout.
"Lucassi isn't even my doctor, and it's borderline. Gimme pancakes," Nathan says.
Duke considers this. "Fair enough, but sugar-free syrup."
"Ha. We both know you love me."
Duke clutches his heart dramatically. "You wound me! Audrey, you want food? Traveling through alternate realities must make a gal hungry."
Audrey rolls her eyes at this whole exchange. "I'll take tacos, thanks."
Duke nods and whisks off.
"So, how's it been in Trouble-free Haven?" Audrey asks.
Nathan grins easily. "Good. Lots of cats in trees, drunk fishermen, giving the sex talk to wayward teenagers. The life of a small-town cop. It's dull, sometimes, but I really don't miss the adventure."
Audrey shakes her head. "That sounds hellishly boring, but I'm glad you're enjoying it."
"Yeah, I remember the last time I sent you after a bar fight. Normal doesn't work for you, huh?"
She thinks of Mara again, of the woman she used to be. A woman who'd created destruction and enjoyed it. She thinks of how stifling she finds life without a solid dose of weird.
She wonders if, trapped in a world without intrigue, she would get bored enough to make the same decisions Mara did- the decisions she once made. The thought makes her shudder, but she feels it, the darkness inside of her, the darkness that swelled in Mara until she became a full-blown monster.
"No," Audrey tells him, because it's the truth and he deserves it, "No, I'm not."
Nathan smirks. "Let me know if you get too bored. I'm sure Duke would love to go Scooby-Doo villain and rig up some fake Trouble for you."
Audrey laughs. "Only if I get to pull off his mask at the end."
"He'd've gotten away with it too if it weren't for those meddling cops," Nathan says, deadpan.
"Story of my life," Duke says, walking in without context, and she and Nathan dissolve into conspiratorial guffaws again as Duke quirks an eyebrow at them and unloads the food.
Nathan takes a bite of pancake and makes a happy noise. "This is sugar-free syrup?"
"Yeah. Got my syrup guy to get me some that's passable," Duke says.
Nathan grins. "I'm remembering why I put up with you."
"Is this the part where I swoon?" Duke asks dryly, and a kicking war ensues.
Audrey rolls her eyes and eats a taco, watching them. They look good. It's more noticeable in Nathan- how easily he smiles, how all the tense lines in his body are gone. But Duke, too- both of them are clearly doing better than Audrey has ever known them.
She lets out a deep breath and settles into the booth.
Audrey isn't good with normal. It's established, by this point. But she isn't Mara, not anymore. She's grown past her destructive phase. She can deal with normal, if it means they can keep this.
"I'm not going back," she says out loud.
They stop kicking and look at her. "What, now?" Duke asks.
Audrey grins at them. "The Trouble that brought me here- I'm not gonna fix it. We're gonna stay."
Duke grins. "So we get you back, and no Troubles to boot?"
"Can we really do that? Just stay here, abandon reality?" Nathan asks.
"This is reality," Audrey asserts.
"I'm with her," Duke replies, wrapping an arm around Nathan's shoulders. "Nate, this is real. Okay?"
"It was caused by a Trouble. She remembers other things," Nathan replies. His brows crease. "She remembers reality, because she's immune."
"I don't care if it was caused by a Trouble. All sorts of things were caused by Troubles," Duke argues. "I like it here. We have Audrey back, we don't have to fight giant raccoons. It's good."
"Duke's right," Audrey says. She rests her hand on Nathan's, nervously, but he doesn't react except to look at her. "I remember something different, which is how I know that we're better here. All of us. You probably feel more real here than there. Nathan, you trust me, right?"
Nathan nods. "I do, but... Can you really do that? Abandon the Haven you know?"
"It's not even hard," Audrey promises. It might be hard, later. To watch Nathan and remember how he loved her, remember how they were together, knowing both that she can never have that here and that it will never really work anywhere. But now, him treating her as a partner to be counted on is a breath of fresh air.
"How long ago did the split happen? How far back do we have the same memories?" Nathan asks.
Audrey bites her lip (Lucy Ripley, who'd had a penchant for flavored lip gloss). If she's right, the gift Nathan received from the man on the road is that he has never loved her as more than a friend. She's not sure when, exactly… maybe the first time she touched him.
"Not sure. We can probably trace it back, though. Did you ever have a fling with Jess Minion?" Audrey asks.
Nathan's face scrunches. "The… non-witch who likes to graffiti other people's property?"
Audrey laughs. "One and the same. I take it you did not."
They're still chuckling when the radio on Nathan's hip buzzes. "Nathan, hon. I just got a report…"
"What is it, Laverne?" Nathan replies, immediately businesslike.
"Giant lobsters over at Mitchell's," Laverne says.
"He said the biggest is about fourteen feet. Nathan, we're not supposed to be getting these kinds of calls anymore."
"Giant lobsters," Duke repeats. "If I help, can I keep, cook, and serve the corpses?"
"Sure," Nathan says, dazed. "Okay, Laverne, we'll be right there." He turns off the radio and looks woefully at Duke. "They're back."
"We had giant lobsters last week," Audrey says. "Mitchell's daughter is doing it. She's six. Tantrum."
They both stare at her.
"Oh, and the lobsters just shrink back to regular size. You stay- I can handle it. Oh, can I borrow your truck?" Audrey asks.
"No. Might as well get back in the swing with an easy case. C'mon," Nathan says. His face is set, ready for action. They set off for the door.
Duke sighs. "Nora! Man the restaurant!" and scurries after them.
"I don't understand," Mitchell says once the lobsters are no longer looming and terrifying. "No one in my family has ever been Troubled. And my wife is from Vietnam; it can't be her side…"
"It's new," Audrey explains heavily.
"What? No, my best friend is Troubled- they always run in families."
"Not anymore," Audrey says. "Mitchell, your kid is Troubled. You need to accept that."
Nathan and Duke are staring at her, confused as to how such a thing could occur. Frankly, Audrey is too- this Trouble was one of the ones that went off shortly after Duke let off the bomb. But that didn't happen in this timeline- it couldn't have.
Audrey is not immune to those Troubles, because they came from Duke. Apparently, those Troubles are also resilient against the influence of other Troubles. They broke through the change in reality.
As they walk away from Mitchell and his shell-shocked kindergartener, Audrey delivers a very abbreviated version of her conclusion.
"A Trouble bomb? How does that even happen?" Duke demands.
There are no forces, supernatural or otherwise, that will ever get her to tell him the truth on that particular matter. Audrey replies, "Long story. It happened."
"How many Troubles? How bad?" Nathan asks worriedly.
"Lots; bad," Audrey sums up grimly.
"Jesus," Duke says. "And here I was worrying about mine coming back." Nathan puts a hand on his arm.
"We can deal with this. I guess we should call the B-Team," Nathan says.
"I have no idea where Dwight is," Duke says. "Hopefully he still takes our calls."
Nathan laughs. "He's not gonna be happy."
"Well, he likes you better, so you call him. I'll get Claire."
Audrey twitches. "Claire? Claire Callahan?"
Duke raises an eyebrow. "Have we been working with other Claires in your Haven?"
"Did we lose her?" Nathan asks, quietly, reading something in her face.
Audrey nods, shortly. "Yes. And I'm trying to figure out why you didn't."
"How'd she die?"
"Arla Co… Ah, right. Okay. Never mind, I've got it," Audrey realizes. In this universe, Nathan never slept with Sarah, James Cogan does not exist, and Arla Cogan presumably does exist but is not their problem. Claire is alive, as are the Bolt Gun Killer's other victims.
Duke lets out a shaky breath. "Claire. Damn, that sucks. Do we tell her?"
"No. We're not going back, remember?" Audrey says forcefully. "She's alive." A smile spreads across Audrey's face as she remembers her friend. "She's fine. Call her!"
They dial and Audrey grins, delighted. They can do this. This is still okay. She feels the urge to dance around (Lilly Drew, ballerina) but doesn't. The solution was a random Trouble giving Nathan some unknown gift. She doesn't know whether it's dumb luck or whether it makes sense that the solution would be a Trouble.
Nathan hangs up first. "He's not thrilled. And he's in Taiwan, so it might be a day or so," he informs them. "Dwight's not dead in your timeline, is he?"
"Nah, he's fine. Alive and well and banging my mom," Audrey reports with an eye roll. Duke's eyebrows shoot up. "Also, it doesn't matter what happened in my timeline. Your timeline is vastly superior."
"Your timeline is real," Nathan murmurs.
"Thanks, Claire. You have a mom? You've been an adult since 1955, at least! How old is this woman? Does Dwight have a geriatric fetish?" Duke demands.
Audrey ignores Duke. "This timeline is real too. What, just because there was the intervention of a Trouble? Believe me, there's plenty of impossible shit happening in mine too."
"I don't feel like we can really do this," Nathan murmurs. "Just leave the real world for one concocted by a Trouble."
"We can. We will. Trust me, it's better here. You're better here," Audrey tells him, squeezing his arm. "Both worlds are real. This is real. Your memories, they're real. Even if I remember something different."
Nathan doesn't look convinced, but any further argument is interrupted by his radio.
"Nathan, doll, the candy at Ye Olde Haven Sweet Shoppe is attacking people."
"Can I keep and eat this Trouble?" Duke questions.
Nathan grabs the radio. "On it, Laverne."
Audrey, relieved, frantically waves her over. Her social skills have improved vastly since she came to Haven- she knows most of the cops' names now!- but crying teenagers are not her favorite.
Claire smoothly takes over, all grace and saying the right things. Mike- the Troubled kid- is quieting in half the time Audrey had been trying with him. Damn, Audrey's missed her.
"Nicely done," Audrey murmurs, smiling. "God, it's good to see you!"
"You too," Claire says, smiling brightly. "And I've got to say, as long as it sticks to violent lollipops, I think I can deal with this. I was doing marriage counseling, Audrey. Marriage counseling."
"A waste of talent," Audrey agrees. "The guy this morning seemed pretty distraught. His six-year-old threw a tantrum and turned nearby lobster into the size of horses."
"So lobster special at the Gull later?"
"Sadly, we just shrank them," Audrey replies. "Though that was Duke's first thought too. How are they? Duke and Nathan?"
"Good. You know them; bad habit of having dumb proxy arguments when they're having an unrelated issue. I have been known to assist in communication. Unsolicited. I know I said I hate marriage counseling, but they're a special case… Please never tell them I said that," Claire says cheerfully.
Audrey's nearly doubled over laughing by the end. "Aww. Yeah, I'll never say a word."
"Thanks. They're good though, really. Had a difficult time with you leaving. They both hated it. I hated it too, but I got it. They... Well, Nathan's a moral absolutist. Believes that the right thing should be done even when it sucks. He compared your situation with the Barn to human sacrifice- wrong, even if it was necessary. Wrong that you were put in that situation. And Duke, well, he's much more morally flexible, but he doesn't like to see his friends in a no-win situation either."
"And you?" Audrey asks.
"I was busy dealing with them," Claire jokes. Then she smiles, wraps an arm around Audrey's waist. "I understood why you did it. They did too, but they were too caught up in the unfairness of it all… I visited patient after patient, told them all that it was gonna be all right. That you'd saved them. That their private hell was over because you made a tough sacrifice. The situation was terrible, but what you did with it was incredible."
"Even if it did land you in marriage counseling."
"Ugh. Welcome back."
Things get worse.
Audrey and Claire are still chatting amicably in a wrecked candy shop when Nathan walks over and reports that they've just been dispatched to an 'alarming situation' at the moose farm. Furthermore, two other cops have been put on unusual Haven-type calls in the past hour.
"Stan and Rebecca know how to handle things. They'll be fine, as long as it's not too bad," Nathan says. "But it's growing."
"We'll figure it out," Audrey says. "To the moose farm."
The moose farm situation, Audrey has to agree, is somewhat off-putting.
"Did your grandmother pick out those shoes?" a particularly large one nearby asks her mockingly. Nearby, a baby moose is calling an amused Nathan a dumbass and Duke's hair is being criticized by an entire half-circle of them.
"I understand, sir, but we don't want this to be a tourist attraction," Claire is arguing with the owner. "Your moose will end up confiscated by scientists. Haven will be found out."
"But it'll be good for business! The Magnificent Mean Moose!" the farmer exclaims. Audrey can just see the capitalization.
"Sir, make your moose shut up or I will arrest you," Nathan interrupts.
"Ooh, tough guy!" the baby moose jeers at him.
"The calf has learned sarcasm. We need to end this," Audrey asserts. She steps menacingly toward the farmer, accidentally landing one of her grandma shoes in a moose pie.
"They're better this way! Y'know how hard it is to bring repeat tourism to a moose farm? Usually they just eat and shit!"
"You aren't much better, and we aren't drunks!" contributes one of the moose previously engaged in mocking Duke's hair.
Nathan's phone rings. "What, Laverne? Not yet. Yes. Sure. Okay. Be right there." He hangs up and turns toward Audrey. "Claire and Duke have got this, right? I think Claire and Duke have got this. Let's go!"
"What? You can't leave us here!" Duke insists.
"Sure can. Call me when the moose shut up," Nathan says, grabbing Audrey and steering her toward the gates.
"You are a blessing," Audrey mutters. "Where are we going?"
"Town center. Rose from the Art Center just lit herself on fire. She'll live, but there are a lot of panicked people."
"Shit," Audrey replies. "Well, hopefully it's just her Trouble and it won't spread. The hospital will still have her sedated, so we can deal with preventing a repeat later…"
"That's what I was thinking," Nathan agrees. "Let's just deal with the panic before it causes actual activations." He starts the truck.
Audrey hadn't considered that aspect. All the old Troubles have been dormant in this timeline since the Barn, but presumably a traumatic event can activate all those too. And with a whole host of new Troubles manifesting out of nowhere in a previous time of peace, there will be plenty of those.
Nathan's talking to a particularly hysterical older fellow with two prosthetic arms. There's no crowd, but there are several people hiding in corners, in shadows, whispering frantically to one another or just staring at the burn marks on the concrete.
"Oh, god, you're back. You can't be back, not yet," says a familiar voice.
Audrey turns. "Jordan!"
Jordan actually looks pretty good, despite the horror. Her face has a healthier color than the sallowness Audrey had come to expect. Her outfit involves some color. Her bare hands hang at her sides. She has a manicure- it's a surprisingly girly and elaborate one, with multiple colors and rhinestones.
"You were supposed to go. And stop all of this," Jordan cries, outraged. "I was supposed to get twenty-seven years. I was supposed to be normal again!"
"Jordan, it's gonna be okay," Audrey says, trying to be soothing.
She should have known better. Jordan's a soldier at heart. She straightens and glowers.
"Don't tell me it's gonna be okay," Jordan spits. "You have no idea what it's like to be like me."
"Troubles like yours require some kind of traumatic event to activate," Audrey replies, her voice returning to normal. "As long as you're able to keep away from stressors, you should be okay. Whatever situation triggered it last time? Try to avoid similar ones."
Jordan looks a bit reassured and also a bit like she's just been slapped. "Fuck you. You were supposed to fix this," she snaps. A man moves past her, too close, and she abruptly slides her hands under her armpits. "If the Barn comes back, you're going in it. No matter what I have to do."
"It's not coming back," Audrey replies heavily. Jordan, still glaring, walks away.
"Uh, do we know her? She looks sort of familiar," Nathan says from behind her.
Audrey turns, squinting at him. She grabs his left arm and pushes the sleeve up past his elbow. It's bare. She nods decisively and drops his arm.
"Did you just check me for track marks?" Nathan asks confusedly. "I know my coffee addiction is pretty serious, but I haven't graduated to mainlining it yet."
"I was looking for a tattoo. That's how you know her, in my timeline," Audrey tells him.
"Oh. Is she helpful, there?"
Audrey, who believes strongly in giving credit where credit is due, replies, "Yeah, sometimes. Sorta unpredictable, though."
Nathan nods thoughtfully. "Well, let me know if you want to get her in on helping with these. If we're having several at a time…"
Audrey lets out a huff of breath. "I will let you know." Frankly, she figures this to be an unlikely event- she doesn't want to deal with Jordan, and she figures that Jordan deserves better than to have to deal with them again.
Nathan checks his phone. "Duke and Claire fixed the situation with the moose and promptly got dispatched by Laverne to deal with a 'very angsty winged elderly man.' I think Laverne deputized them."
"Oh, yeah. Jimmy Rue and his bat wings," Audrey muses, remembering dealing with him earlier in her timeline. "Tell them to have him call his granddaughter. She's in flight school and he's worried about her."
Nathan calls and relays this information. "They thank you."
Audrey hums in response. "So, I'm thinking we should set up a perimeter. Everyone here seems calm enough, but any panic could set off more Troubles."
"Okay. Are you going to keep telling people that traumatic activations are still usually required?" Nathan asks. "Because if it were me, I'd get out of Haven."
"Point. A mass exodus of Troubled people waiting to blow… It could expose us," Audrey says worriedly. She'd told Jordan the truth, and Jordan might tell the Guard, but Audrey decides she's fine with that. Jordan deserves a chance. "And what do you mean, 'if it were-'"
She is cut off from this by someone screaming. "Give me the money or I'll kill her!" a masked man screams, pulling a terrified (and, oddly, male) hostage down the street. "I have a bomb! This whole place is wired to explode!" His accent is a bad imitation of something vaguely European.
He doesn't follow this up with any further threats, so he apparently just wants them to know. Audrey sighs and pulls her gun and badge. Nathan, beside her, does the same.
"Haven PD! Let her go!" Audrey yells.
The man doesn't even glance at them.
"Stop what you're doing, Dr. Von Bauver!" a nearby man yells, running into action. His hands are braced on his skinny hips and his face is so pimpled it appears to be boiling, but there's confidence in his posture.
"James Drake! So we meet again," the villain sneers. "You will never defeat me."
"Your plans will never succeed. The police have been notified. They know where you put the money, Von Bauver."
"Ha! A decoy. It will be moved by my Mistress Debra Delight before sundown. That's right, James, Debra was working for me the whole time!"
Nathan leans over toward Audrey. "You take the hero, I'll take the villain?"
"Nah, we both go for the hero. He's the Troubled one. Everyone thinks of themselves as the hero," Audrey says. The words burn coming out, but she doesn't have time for philosophical Mara musings right now.
"Villain has a gun," Nathan points out.
"He won't use it. Would go against the plot," Audrey says.
"Point. Oh, hey, I think she might be involved."
"Her. The tattoo artist, or whatever."
And Audrey spots it. Jordan, with the bottom third of her shirt tucked away, is creeping sexily toward them from a nearby alley.
Audrey groans. "Change of plans. You grab her, prevent her from advancing. I'll take out the Troubled hero." Nathan nods and darts off. Audrey sighs and runs toward 'James,' blocking his view.
"Listen, I know you want to be the hero, but this isn't the way. You can't create terrible situations just so you can fix them," Audrey begins.
He looks at her, panicked. "Go away! You're not part of the story!"
"Come on. Let them go, and I can talk to you about being a real hero."
"I'll never be a real hero! I'm just this dorky kid with pimples who isn't ever gonna be the hero. I just wanna do that, just once. I wanna save the day and get the girl. No one's gonna get hurt," he whines.
"Yes, they will! Listen to me. You mentioned getting the girl. It's Debra Delight, right? She's your character's love interest? Well, you put her in the body of a real woman, a woman named Jordan McKee. And I know Jordan- if you touch her, do anything to her, and she finds out you used your Trouble to do that? If she knows you used your Trouble to whammy her for your own nefarious purposes? She will… well, shoot you repeatedly. And probably worse."
He looks over, conflicted, at the alley where Nathan is holding Jordan back by both arms. She's struggling, but seems unable to turn and look at him because he's not in the scene.
"She's not your friend right now. She's Debra," he says vehemently.
"She might think that, and she might act like that, but underneath she's the same person she's always been. Nothing, supernatural or otherwise, can make that go away," Audrey says.
He straightens. "I have the power to control people. Turn them into characters," he hisses. "I wasn't gonna hurt her, or anyone else, but if you don't get out of my way I will turn you into a character and get you killed!"
"James Drake! You think you can take everything from me? Well, watch me take everything from you!"
Audrey frowns and turns, primarily because the voice is a pretty good German accent. She turns to see that Duke has taken the place of Dr. Von Bauver, and is holding a visibly annoyed Rebecca Rafferty as a hostage. Claire, nearby, is talking to the original villain and hostage, bringing them out of the trance. Stan is setting up a perimeter.
"Ha! I have already taken everything from you," the Troubled faux-hero shouts. "Debra will never move the money. She's on my side now."
"You fool. Of course you think that!" Duke cries. "I told her to trick you, earn your trust… She turned you on, and now she's going to turn on you!"
'James' looks a little annoyed that his villain is saying action-movie catchphrases instead of him.
"No, no," he says, frowning. "That isn't how it goes. Get it right."
"Get it right?!" The former hostage is standing now, and furious. Claire is frantically trying to silence him, but it's clear he's beyond listening. "I'm not a character, and I don't deserve to have a gun to my head! Also, I am not a girl!"
"Shut up. There wasn't a convenient actor. The new one's better," the fake hero muses. "Blonde and everything." Rebecca looks even more annoyed at this sentiment.
"Actor? We weren't acting! You're the one who's acting, you maniac! Come on, we all know you're not a real hero!" the kid exclaims.
The Troubled man, outraged, reaches for his waistband.
"Gun!" Audrey hollers.
Rebecca jumps out of Duke's grip and tackles the former fake hostage around the knees, covering him.
The man draws.
Claire dives behind a garbage can.
Audrey grabs at the gun.
The man twists away, pulling the gun out of her grasp but pointing it well clear of the former hostage.
He's pointing it right at where Nathan and Jordan are struggling in the alley.
Audrey tries to cry out a warning.
She's drowned out by the gunshot.
Nathan yells and collapses.
Audrey runs toward him, forgetting the rest in her urgency to get to her partner. "Nathan!"
Duke is right behind her. "Nate! Nate, baby, c'mon!"
Nathan, on the ground, groans. "Ow. It's just a graze. I've had worse."
"Jesus, don't do that again!" Duke orders, grabbing at Nathan's hand.
"What, get shot?"
"Yes!" Duke insists.
Claire's there, checking the bloody line just below Nathan's hip. "It's relatively shallow," she says. "You got lucky."
Audrey, calming down, catches up to the situation and spins.
Jordan has reached the Troubled man and has her hands curled in his shirt. "Oh, James. Dr. Von Bauver was lying. He knew he'd lost. He knew I want you too much to betray you."
"Oh, shit," Claire says.
But his face is conflicted. Jordan's leaning up, fluttering her eyelashes, clearly trying to get a kiss- but he has several inches on her, and he's not leaning down.
Finally, he lets out a sigh. "Bye, Debra." The illusion drops.
Jordan jerks back. "What the- oh, you sick, slimy, son of a-" She elects not to finish that curse and, instead, kick him in the dick. He crumples.
Audrey approaches him. "What's your name?" she asks him.
He looks up from the ground, pitifully. "Edwin Dunabita," he whimpers. "She kicked me!"
"I warned you," Audrey says unsympathetically. "Don't do this again."
Edwin groans. "Okay."
Audrey rejoins the group. Nathan is sitting with his back to the wall, while Claire fusses over his leg. Duke hasn't moved.
"Someone needs to give him a talk about consent," Audrey grumbles. "That there is a date rapist in the making."
"Agreed," Jordan says. Audrey wonders if Jordan has ever publically agreed with her before.
"I'll take care of it as soon as he's off the ground," Stan offers cheerfully.
Jordan snorts and looks at Nathan. "You're the one who… stopped me, right? From getting in the scene?" Nathan nods. Jordan smiles, tight-lipped. "Thanks."
"No problem," Nathan says.
"Uh, do you need a ride to the hospital or anything?" Jordan offers.
"No need!" Duke says. "I already called an aid car."
Nathan frowns at him. "I'm fine. Claire, you went to med school. Tell him I'm fine."
"Duke cares about you, and you just got shot. His concern is entirely warranted, by your relationship if not the actual injury," Claire lectures.
"Ugh, shrinks," Nathan says.
Claire gives in. "The wound should be cleaned and he could do with some stitches, but this isn't a problematic injury." She redirects without preamble. "Jordan."
"Don't even start with me, doc," Jordan grumbles. "That was a completely appropriate expression of anger."
"Oh, yes," Claire agrees. "And good form besides. But you should think about letting your rage go- not for their sake, but for yours."
"Fuck right off," Jordan replies, and stomps away.
"Right," Claire sighs as the aid car pulls up. "I'm gonna go talk to Jack- the kid Edwin used as a hostage."
The paramedic hops out and the necessary explanations are given. Soon Nathan is in the back with his jeans yanked to his knees while a paramedic pours antiseptic on the wound.
"Agh. This is actually worse than the getting shot," Nathan says, wincing.
"Ha. Miss it yet?" Audrey asks jokingly.
"Miss what?" Nathan asks, apparently still distracted by the stinging.
Any levity drains out of his face as he slowly looks at her, deadly serious. "Who told you about that?" he growls furiously.
Audrey retreats a little, eyes widening at his tone. "You did," she tells him. "In my timeline."
"Why? It doesn't matter. It was a medical condition, when I was a kid. It's gone. It doesn't matter," Nathan hisses.
"It never came back?" Audrey demands.
Audrey sits back, nodding to herself as she remembers how Nathan was when she met him- desperately clinging to science and reason, denying the Troubles despite what he saw, and calling his condition idiopathic neuropathy.
The paramedic, looking sort of uncomfortable, is sewing Nathan's leg closed very quickly.
"Well, hopefully it still won't, but just so you know, you're Troubled," Audrey tells him.
Nathan stubbornly shakes his head. "No. I'm not. It's just a medical condition."
Audrey raises an eyebrow. "Nathan. Trust me; we've established this."
"No. With the exception of the Trouble bomb, which is recent, all Troubles run in families. Both of my parents had other Troubles. If I was Troubled, it would be one of those. That had to be something else," Nathan replies stubbornly.
"Ah, by the way," Duke cuts in, "if you suggest that there might be a numb mailman out there somewhere, he might hit you. Just, FYI."
Audrey lets out a long breath and makes a face toward the corner of the aid car. "This is weird. Nathan, you're adopted. We discovered this. There was a whole thing. Your biological father is named Max Hansen. He's numb too. Don't chase him down for any reunions, though- he's terrible."
Visibly, Duke reacts more to this news than Nathan, pulling back out of surprise before leaning in around Nathan, pulling closer to him. Nathan just stares at her.
"Max Hansen. The guy who murdered that family," Nathan finally says flatly. "He's my father."
Audrey sighs and nods. "Yeah."
"And the Chief never said anything?" There's a note of resignation to this question that makes Audrey certain that, despite the change in timeline, the Chief didn't make it.
"He never found the right time," Audrey says gently. "He loved you, Nathan."
"I know," Nathan says. He grimaces and looks up at Duke. "You gonna be all right with this?"
Duke pauses for a moment. "If it weren't for my Trouble, I wouldn't care. Nate…"
Nathan huffs and leans against him. "Let's hope we don't activate, then."
"We'll be careful," Duke whispers. "It's okay. Do not get shot again."
Nathan snorts. "Nothing happened this time. A row of stitches, is all. I can probably go now. Where'd the paramedic go?"
"Outside, casually surveying the surroundings while we have deep meaningful conversations," Duke replies promptly. "Nate, you okay?"
"Fine," Nathan growls. "Let's go."
"We do still have to deal with Rose," Audrey points out. "Hopefully it's her Trouble and it won't happen to other people."
"An immolation Trouble. That would be unfortunate," Duke says grimly. "Hopefully you can talk her out of trying again."
"I'll do it," Claire says, leaning around the door. "You three go get dinner. I'll talk to her and send you in if I have any difficulty."
Duke squints at her. "How long have you been here?"
"Just got here. Started walking back over when the body language got relaxed again," Claire replies cheerily. "Do you wanna talk about it, whatever it is?" She is looking at Nathan, because she is good at her job.
"No," Nathan replies coolly. "Thanks for agreeing to talk to Rose."
"Sure," Claire says. "I'll let you know." She hesitates for a moment. "My schedule can be rearranged whenever, if you want."
"Noted," Nathan says through gritted teeth.
Claire, looking fondly exasperated, pats him on the shoulder and leaves.
"So. To the Gull?" Duke suggests.