Summary: Nathan waits. Nathan/Audrey. Duke, Julia, ensemble.
Rating: PG-13. Shamefully, unabashedly, massively angsty. Character death, of a sort.
Spoilers: Season One, especially for the pilot and Spiral. Will become a complete and utter AU once the second season airs.

Hereafter, in a better world than this, I shall desire more love and knowledge of you.

Another day, another morning. Nathan goes through his daily morning ritual—shower, shave, coffee, and newspaper, in that specific order—all the while trying not to feel.

The feel of the coarse carpet under his feet, the sprays of cool water running over his skin, and the heat from a clay coffee mug imprinted on his fingertips—every morning, like clockwork, he renews his struggle with the now-familiar onslaught of these feelings. Nights are easier, with their promise of an end, but he's long ago learned even such finality is just an illusion, to be shattered at the coming of another day.

On the way out, he grabs his badge. When he reaches for his gun in the holster, he's reminded, once again, it would be easy, too easy, to end this.

But a promise is a promise is a promise.

For the first three days, he did not get up from the bed.

On the fourth morning, Audrey appeared at his bedside.

"Get up, sleepy-head."

A hand ruffled his hair, and another ghosted along his cheek. When he tilted his head up, he could see one edge of his old, faded flannel shirt she'd taken to wearing instead of her PJ. He wanted to reach out, then, to hold fast to this illusion for another moment. But he knew, and knew it too well, that reaching out meant shattering that very illusion. "I can't," he said, thickly.

"You have to," she said, and her voice still resonated with that same sweet and mulish tone that would get him do anything, anything at all.

"No," he swallowed, "no, I don't." Because you're not here, he didn't say. He didn't have to.

The feel of her fingers running through his hair gradually became faint and dim, like a dying candlelight flickering on the window sill, until it disappeared altogether.

There was a pillow under his head, a blanket over him, and a bed sheet covering mattress underneath him, and he felt them all, every squeak of the mattress and every tattered thread on his pillow—all of them, except her touch.

This was a cosmic joke.

He clutched at his bed sheet and tried to breathe.

By the time Nathan gets into his office, Lavern is already pulling up the plastic drapes of his office window.

"'Morning, Lavern."

"'Morning, Chief." She steps back to squint at the clear dawning sky. "Wasn't there supposed to be a snowstorm this week?"

Nathan settles behind his desk and spares a glance outside. There's not a single hint of cloud to be seen. "Doesn't look like it."

"It doesn't, does it? Well, thanks goodness for small favors." In no time, Lavern brings over a hot cup of tea to his desk right along with additional paperwork to be added to his ever-growing pile. This is yet another morning ritual. "Had breakfast?" she asks.

"No, not yet." His answer is sufficiently sheepish. Lavern asks the same question almost every single day, already knowing the answer. It can't be helped, he thinks. Ever since starting as a dispatcher for his father back when, she's been in the habit of mothering the Wuornos men.

She shoots him a look of disapproval, but her eyes are knowing and kind. "Take it easy, Nathan."

He smiles back, just a little. "I'll try." This isn't a lie, at least not yet, so he can meet her eyes with only a minimal amount of guilt gnawing at his chest. He takes a sip of the tea and savors its swirling warmth on his lips before getting on with the business at hand. "The autopsy result?"

"Dr. Carr will bring it over this morning." Lavern sorts through the mountains of files and points him to the ones that he should deal with immediately. "The department meeting's in an hour. And Andrews wants to talk about the tourist case."

Andrews has just made detective, so he has a lot of procedural questions. The Haven PD is small, so its Chief gets to handle all sorts of questions, small and big alike. "Give me half an hour and send him in."

"Sure thing, hon."

Nathan thanks her before she leaves him to his own devices for the morning. He knows, without a doubt, a bran muffin will somehow show up on his desk by the time Andrews shows up.

In the next twenty minutes, he goes through the first couple of the expenditure reports. When he reaches for the third, he pauses over an old notebook kept away at the bottom of the pile. When he looks out the window again, the sky is in cobalt blue without a spot of cloud anywhere.

No expected snowstorm. And for the dead of winter, the weather has been unseasonably mild for the last week.

It may be nothing—it's always been nothing.

But then he's long ago learned not to ignore that pull of instinct, so he reaches for his notebook.

"Something's off about these cases."

Nathan looked up from the paperwork. On the other side of their office, his partner threw a ball of crumbled paper at the ceiling and caught it in mid-air as it fell. It was an impressive feat, considering she was also balancing a pen on her nose. "What is?" he asked. "And that's a criminal misuse of office supplies, by the way."

He easily dodged the paper ball Audrey threw at him, and she flashed him a quick grin, almost like a reward. "I don't know what, exactly," she answered. "Maybe the timing? The timing just seems, you know, off."

"This your instinct talking again?"

"Hey, we should always listen to our instinct," Audrey mock-protested. "It's saved our shapely butts in more than one occasion."

Nathan couldn't actually disagree. He leaned back in his chair, slowly working out the possible implications. "We had seven cases this week," he said out loud, "and about five before that. Most of them were minor incidents, but—"

"—but why so many of them, and why now, suddenly getting control of their powers?"

It was an alarming line of thoughts. "You think there's a reason behind the sudden insurgence of the Troubled?"

"I haven't been keeping stats exactly, but this," she paused and waved at the piles of folders on their desks, "seems a little too much for it to be natural. It's as if—"

"—something's triggering the powers," he finished.

"Yeah," she sighed.

Nathan rubbed his temple. It was a habitual gesture that achieved nothing. It didn't help ease the headache, because he felt nothing, not his own fingers, not the pen in his hand and not—he stopped and shook his head. "It's too late in the night for this kind of speculation," he suggested quietly, hoping it would lift the weight that suddenly seemed to have settled on her shoulders. "Let's finish writing up the Morgan file for now. We can test out your theory tomorrow morning, bright and early."

His unspoken prayer must have worked. She met his eyes, and she even mustered a little grin that actually reached her eyes. "Okay. Tomorrow, then."

They went back to wrapping up the last bit of paperwork. When he looked up a few minutes later, though, Audrey was watching him with a thoughtful frown on her face, feet on her desk and arms crossed.

When she got that mischievous, speculative look in her eyes, trouble was the only expected outcome, along with some trepidation on his part. He leaned back in his chair and raised an eyebrow.

"I want to try something," she declared, answering his unspoken question.

Yep, trepidation was here. "Should I be worried?"

Her only answer was a wide grin.

"So that would be a resounding yes." He watched her get up and make her way around his desk to stand up in front of him. His eyebrow stayed up. "Okay?"

"Get up," she ordered.

Despite all the standard warning signs, he did, in fact, get up, albeit somewhat begrudgingly. "All right, what now?"

They were standing almost eye to eye, with her head tilted up to meet his, and she reached out to pull him close.

"Uh," he said, inarticulately. "Audrey, I—"

"Come on, partner," she tugged at his shirtsleeves and pulled him even closer until he was flush against her body, "don't you want to figure out how this, all this, works?"

Before he could argue otherwise, she pushed past his half-formed protest and put her arms around his waist.

Hesitantly and slowly, he did the same. He didn't feel her arms around him through his jacket and shirt, but he felt a brush of her hair across his cheek when she rest her chin on his shoulder, and he could even feel her breath tickling his ear.

And the sheer newness of the sensations left him frozen.

"Seriously, Nathan, relax," she said, laughter in her voice. "I won't bite."

As if on command, he felt himself smile. "Well, then, you're no fun, are you?"

He ducked away from her playful punch. When they broke apart, his lopsided grin met her wide, careless one. They shouldn't fit, but they always had, and they did now.

And the touch lingered, imprinting warmth on his arm that he had not felt for a long time.

"Thanks," he said, thickly, and wondered if she knew how much this meant to him.

"No." She shook her head. "Thank you."

"For what?"

"For being my partner," she said, her voice oddly caught. "For being here, for being you. You don't know how much—just, for everything."

She bit back her words and covered them in silence, and he wanted to tell her he did know, he knew exactly, but he couldn't form any word or sound, either. Instead, his hand slid up on its own volition until it reached the side of her face, until he felt her warm skin under his fingertips.

And he tipped her chin and kissed her.

To say he hadn't wanted to know what this felt like would've been a lie. He had imagined it in his head more than once, sometimes desperately, and yet never once had the courage to risk what they already had. It was like accretion, how layers of feelings were compressed and wound tight until it led to this single moment.

He opened his eyes, and Audrey looked like how he felt, just as startled and just as breathless.

And he let go. "This," he breathed, "this could be a bad idea." This particular brand of fear had always been a part of him, but now it gripped him entirely, the possibility of losing her hitting perilously close to home. If this didn't work out, if they lost their partnership and friendship altogether—

"Nathan," Audrey interrupted the downward spiral of his thoughts and pulled him back toward her. "What's your instinct telling you?"

A sparkle of humor made her eyes even more mischievous than he'd dreamed possible, but there was no trepidation, not this time. "That I should shut up," he suggested, "and kiss you again."

A smile lit her face, erasing all the remnants of worry he'd seen there before. "Like I said, Nathan—always listen to your instinct."

He didn't need to be told twice.

"Someone's in a prissy mood."

When Nathan looks up, Duke is leaning against the doorframe of his office.

Nathan feels a wry smile on his face stumbling around to find its usual place. "That bad?" If Duke can saunter into his office unannounced and uninvited, it means Lavern has let him pass, which happens only when she deems the situation dire.

Duke shrugs non-committally. "Apparently you've been repelling the natives with your scowl."

"So you came over to cheer me up."

"But of course." Duke strides in and sinks onto the couch next to the window. Two bottles of beer clang against each other in his hand.

Nathan shakes his head slightly. "It's not even lunch yet."

"I didn't bring lunch, did I?"

Nathan taps at the folder in front of him with a pen. "Got work."

Duke twists open the bottle caps and hands one over. "And?"

It's rather difficult to argue with that logic, so, after a moment, Nathan gets up and joins Duke at the couch. Mercifully, the beer goes down smooth, and it even works to diffuse some of the tightness in his shoulders.

"I'm fine," Nathan offers, when they're both about halfway through their beer.

"Sure you are."

"So you don't have to check up on me so often."


"I mean it, Duke."


"...There are times when I really would like to beat the crap out of you."

"Ah, but you still love me anyway."

Duke gives him a crooked grin that looks almost the same as the one from when they were eight—or at least, it ought to, but it doesn't, not anymore, because it's become weighted, edged and fractured in unseen places.

They've been through a war, and no one came out unscathed.

Whatever Duke might have seen in Nathan's face makes him turn away. Duke swallows the rest of the beer in one gulp before he says, "I told Audrey I'd look out for you, once."

Time does seemingly impossible things, because somehow the mention of Audrey no longer cuts Nathan into pieces. It only clenches, sharp, somewhere his chest. "You," Nathan says, more amused than offended, "Looking out. For me."

"Hey, it's possible she found me more reliable."

Nathan can't not laugh at that. It comes out more strangled than mirthful, but it's better than indifference.

Duke does an excellent job looking scandalized. "Oy, I'm hurt, hurt, Nathan. I'm known to be counted on. At times. Admittedly not very often, and only when I feel like it, but it's known to happen."

Nathan doesn't dispute the point. Time really does impossible things. For the longest time they have known each other, "reliable" has never been an adjective Nathan would've picked to describe one Duke Crocker, but the last few years have changed that. It's even possible they might feel more than just amused tolerance toward each other.

Still. "Can't think why she thought you'd stick around long enough," Nathan adds.

"Because I'm a survivor and I've got longevity on my side. You, my friend, on the other hand, have this disturbing tendency to run toward a fire to drowse it out, not run the hell away from it like all other sensible people."

Nathan can't really argue with that, either, so he goes back to the rest of the beer. He should probably stop soon. There's an unaccountable headache forming at the back of his head, and he still has at least half a pile of paperwork to finish. There's also something about what Andrews brought up regarding the last homicide that ungraciously tugs at his memory, and he should be once again going through his old notebook that he's been keeping on everything mysterious and unsolved in Haven.

He should be doing so many other things.

"No, you don't," Duke cuts in sharply. "Stop thinking."

Nathan blinks. "You read minds now?"

"Nothing's easier in the world than reading you. Doesn't take a special skill."

Nathan's lips curl in amusement. "For you, maybe."

"Yes, so do me a favor, Nathaniel, and give it at least a try at taking easy once in a while," Duke snaps, a little more sharply than usual—Nathan must look a sight to incur this kind of roundabout expression of worry from him. "It will do wonders for your overall countenance."

"I tried that once," Nathan counters, unthinkingly. "You wouldn't let me."

He doesn't begrudge Duke, not really, but the words spill out, unbidden, and it's too late to take them back.

Duke says nothing to that.

They finish the beer in silence.

On the sixth morning, Duke knocked down Nathan's front door.

"Get up," Duke said quietly, contradicting the vehemence he showed when he kicked open Nathan's bedroom door and whirled inside. "Right now."

Nathan didn't move. The world outside didn't exist. He could will it to blink out of existence. There was nothing easier.

"Don't make me beat the shit out of you, Nathan."

Nathan opened his eyes. His vision was blurry, which was fine because there wasn't anything there he wanted to see. "Be my guest," he said.

A second later, Nathan hit the floor, hard, and Duke was standing over him. "Things are falling apart out there. People are losing their shit so thoroughly they don't know what to do with themselves." Duke's low and composed voice was bellied by the fury contained in each word. "Now, get the fuck up."

Nathan would have laughed, completely unhinged and utterly hysterically, if he had any strength left in him. "They're welcome to ask the Rev for help," he croaked out, laughter in his voice.

"You actually think the bastard would've stuck around?" Nathan could hear Duke taking a long, frustrated breath. "The Troubled lost their powers, and now the half of them are either fucked up or hurt. The town needs you, don't you get that?"

Nathan stared at his bleeding knuckles. There were still stark bruises on his wrists, rope burns snaking along his arms, but there were fresh cuts, too: his hand had broken the fall but hit the lamp on the side table on his way down, and now there was a sharp, stinging pain. It was unfamiliar.

And it was something he needed to get used to.

Had Duke said anything about how this wasn't what Audrey would've wanted for him, Nathan would've struggled and fought until one of them, preferably Nathan himself, was bleeding out. But now—

"Who was hurt?" Nathan asked, unfurling his fist.

There was a long pause. "Jeanine Stephens," Duke said, eventually. "Rick Stephens had some sort of a freak-out and took off with a shotgun afterward, and they're still looking for him out there. Daniel Lawrence somehow contracted hyperthermia in the middle of July. Anna Ortega slipped and fell over absolutely nothing. Want me to go on?"

Nathan closed his eyes. Rick Stephens. Nathan didn't know the type of Troubled affliction Rick used to have, but Rick was a poacher who knew how to hide in the woods.

Nathan staggered onto his feet and ran his good hand through his hair. There was ash in his mouth, in his throat. "Give me half an hour," he said.

When Nathan came out of the house, Duke was waiting for him outside. In the harsh sunlight, he could see the tired lines on Duke's face framing the dark, sunken eyes. Duke still had a cast on his left arm, one that Nathan hadn't even noticed when they were inside.

Something caught in Nathan's chest. "You look like how I feel."

Duke snorted, and this was once again the Duke Crocker that Nathan had known for almost two decades. "Speak for yourself. Now what?"

Nathan opened the door to his truck. When he looked back, Duke was standing where Audrey used to be.

Another thing he would have to get used to.

"Now," Nathan said, after taking a deep breath, "we go find Rick Stephens."

There's a knock on his door, and Julia pokes her head in. "Got a minute?"

"A few." Nathan signs the last expenditure report and shuts it close. "You got the autopsy report on the tourist case?"

"Yeah, sorry it ran so late." Julia walks into his office and flops onto the chair across from his, looking thoroughly harassed. "The paperwork got mixed up again."

"The new intern?"

The exasperated sigh she lets out as she hands over the report is enough of an answer. Not many medical students want to start out their internship in a backwater town like Haven, so more often than not Julia gets to suffer through not-the-sharpest tools in the drawer.

He thumbs through the report and pauses over the cause of death. "Exsanguination?"


"There wasn't a single drop of blood at the scene."

"And there wasn't a single puncture wound anywhere on his body, either." At his raised eyebrow, she shakes her head. "Believe me, I checked and re-checked. He could've bled through other orifices, sure, but I didn't see any marking on his body to indicate that, either."

Nathan reaches for the file that Andrews left with him and flips through the crime scene photos. The body was found near water, but not close enough to have been submerged completely at any point in time, so the blood couldn't simply have been washed away. And that wouldn't explain the lack of any external injury, either. "Could it have been some sort of medical condition?"

"Nothing I've ever heard of, but I'm running more tests, so we'll know if anything pans out."

"Andrews is the lead on this one, but keep me in the loop."

"Will do," she says, looking somewhat distracted. Nathan follows her eyes to the couch, to the empty beer bottles that Nathan's neglected to get rid of. "Was Duke here this morning?" she asks, almost hesitantly.

"He thought I could use beer."

"Ah," she says, and falls silent.

It's probably ill-advised, but there are dark circles under her eyes and Nathan has witnessed firsthand how hard she's been trying, and none of them deserves this. So he says, "He'll come around."

"No, he won't." There's no bitterness or anger in her eyes, nothing except certainty. "And I don't blame him."

"You didn't have any choice." It's something Nathan himself has been struggling to accept, so it's not a great consolation. "None of us did." This part, at least, is true.

There's a weak smile tugging down her lips. "And what difference does that make?"

Nothing, he thinks. Absolutely nothing at all.

Julia is still in Haven, struggling everyday with subpar equipment and staff, even though she could've easily moved on and taken her practice anywhere else in the world. Duke's still here, his wandering streak forever shackled by a ghost. Nathan wants to tell them penance isn't necessary, that they can't always live as hostages to their past.

Except it'd be the kind of hypocrisy Nathan isn't capable of.

Instead, he asks, "Had lunch yet?"

"Nathan," she berates him immediately, "it's already three in the afternoon."

He shoots her a look, and she deflates.

"Okay, so no, not yet." She eyes him over the mountain of folders on his desk. "Rosemary's?"

He nods and gathers the folders on his desk. "Meet you there in five."

When Nathan woke up, two voices, loud and familiar, were arguing somewhere over his head.

"Uh-uh, no, you're so not going. But if you are, I'm so going with you."

"And fulfill the prophecy about a tattooed man killing you? No, not gonna happen."

"Audrey, Audrey, Audrey, I'm offended—you think I'd just let any of those wackos kill me? Offended, insulted, even."

"Well, tough, because you're staying put, and that's final."

Once Nathan managed to suppress the rattling in his head long enough to conclude that the voices weren't actually coming from inside his head, he croaked out, "What happened?"

There was a collective movement around him.

"Well, look who's awake," Duke's voice said, sounding strangely relieved.

Nathan blinked a few times and finally focused on Duke's face peering down at him. Audrey was on his other side, relief also plain on her face. When Nathan tried to push himself up, his body sank, like there were invisible boulders tied around his limbs. Audrey's hand was immediately on his shoulder.

"Don't even think about getting up," Audrey said fiercely. "I'll get Julia."

She quickly disappeared through the door before he could stop her, and Duke unceremoniously pushed Nathan back onto the bed before he could get another word in. "You got concussed, and of course you didn't even realize it until you fell flat on your face," Duke said. "Seriously, try to act like a real boy sometimes, Pinocchio. Who asked you to jump in front of a car hurtling down the road at full speed, you dumbass?"

Nathan remembered, then. Jenkins had tried to run them over, and for some mysterious reason, Nathan had thought it was a good idea to step in between the car and Duke. It had been a spectacularly stupid moment in Nathan's life that was already filled with many of similar moments. "You're welcome," Nathan said.

Duke grunted something that might have sounded grateful in another language and settled on the chair next to the bed.

"How mad is she?" Nathan asked, when he thought he could lift his arm without it falling down on him again.

"Ah-ah-ah, that would be telling."

There was pure glee in Duke's voice, which almost made Nathan wince. "That bad?"

"Let's just say I'm even more glad at this moment that I'm not you."

Nathan tried to trace the jumbled thoughts in his head. "Jenkins?"

"Got away."

That wasn't good news. "How many more cracks?"

There was a longer and more meaningful pause this time. "Six."

Nathan froze. "Crap."

"Yeah," Duke agreed, with feeling.

Jenkins was the last lead they had left, the last person who could've answered their questions, and the cracks—now coiling around the town like cobwebs—were not showing any sign of stopping. They were running out of time as quickly as they were of leads. "So, what's our plan now?"

Before Duke could answer, Audrey walked in with Julia in tow. "Not something you should be worried about right now, that's what," Audrey said, worry still tightly wound in her every little gesture. She turned to Julia. "How's he?"

Julia approached him, expertly wielding a penlight, and Nathan patiently weathered her poking and prodding, which thankfully he didn't have to feel. His condition, as it were, was at least convenient that way.

"Mild contusions, mostly," Julia concluded after what felt like hours, not minutes. "Nothing seems broken. You should be fine."

Nathan stopped his fidgeting. "Great, then—"

"—eventually," Julia added firmly. "Just because you can't feel pain, doesn't mean you don't actually need to rest and get better. You'd better not be thinking of leaving the bed any time soon."

"And he'd better not be jumping in front of a moving car again anytime soon."

Nathan did wince at the withering look Audrey was giving him. "I will never to try to save Duke's life again, I promise," he said, and ignored Duke's extravagant eye-rolling.

Audrey's lips were pressed into a thin, hard line. "I'm serious. Don't ever, ever do that again, do you hear me?"


"And no, don't you tell me you're fine, when, clearly, you're not."

There was that something in her voice, in her eyes, and in the way she studied his face, that gave him a pause. Nathan reached out and pulled her close until he had her hand in his. "Don't, Audrey. We're not giving in to him, not now, not ever."

Audrey swiveled around to glare at Duke. "Did you—"

Duke put his hands up in mock surrender. "Didn't say a single word about your boneheaded plan, I swear."

"Duke doesn't have to tell me anything," Nathan said mildly, "for me to be able to guess what your next move would be."

Audrey looked guiltily at him for a moment, but that resolve in her eyes was still present, not to be swayed; he was reminded once again how much he loved her fierceness, even when it was leveled against him. "This can't go on anymore, Nathan. We're at this ridiculous stalemate that we can do nothing about. We can't stop Haven from unraveling, and if he really knows the way to stop this, then, maybe—"

"And offer what in exchange? Put you up there on his sacrificial altar so you could fix everything with some mysterious power you might or might not have?" God, the idea did not even bear thinking about. "No. Just, no."

"Hate to agree with Pinocchio here," Duke cut in, almost irreverently, "but he's right. Don't do anything stupid when we don't even know what these tattooed bastards are really after yet. And you're not going to have a grand throwdown with the Rev while Nathan's down for the count."

Audrey looked between them, faintly amused. "Did you two really just agree on something? You must be worse off than I thought."

Nathan said, plaintively, "Audrey."

She met his eyes, and her expression softened. Somehow, that was all it took. "All right, Nathan, you win. I will restrain myself, but only if you promise to stay in bed without a single complaint."

He suppressed a crooked smile forming along his lips. "Promise."

She let out a long, beleaguered sigh. "Try that again, and with your fingers uncrossed."

"He promises," Julia said, before Nathan could respond. "He promises, because otherwise he will be subjected a number of tests that I deemed unnecessary but could very quickly change my mind on."

"Uh," said Nathan. Audrey cracked a laugh at his expression, and Duke put a hand on Nathan's shoulder. "Face it, buddy," Duke said, some of his previous glee coming back to his voice, "you lost this one."

"Soundly," Nathan admitted. He never claimed to be smart, but he was at least smart enough to know when he was defeated.

"Now that's settled," Julia said, exchanging a wry grin with Audrey, "you should be getting some sleep—all of you. Doctor's orders, and no exceptions."

Nathan put up only a token protest, because if he were honest, he couldn't deny the lure of sleep was threatening to pull him under and he had little will left to resist it. "Get some rest," Audrey murmured in his ear and placed a quick kiss on his cheek. Julia placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder and said, "Everything will be fine," just before she ushered Audrey and Duke out of the bedroom.

Under the spell of sleep, everything around him felt hazy and granular, so it didn't really occur to Nathan that he might've seen a telltale blue tattoo appear on Julia's wrist like it was pulled to the surface by an unseen force, just as she closed the door behind them.

Might have, or then again, maybe not.

Either way, it was too late.

"There," Andrews pointed at an alcove hidden behind a rock cliff, "that's where McGill was found."

Nathan thinks back to the crime scene photos he's examined this morning and takes a second look at their surroundings. "How did he end up inside?"

Andrews lets out a frustrated sigh. "That's just it, Chief. I've been trying to figure that out for the last couple of days and I still haven't a clue."

A tourist getting lost in the woods and stumbling onto wrong paths isn't exactly uncommon, but even at low tide the entrance is covered by rocks slick with moss and weeds. And most of the locals know about the cave, and kids often use it as a make-out spot on Friday nights, so it doesn't make a good place to dump a body, either.

When they climb back up and get back on the trail, Dave and Vince saunter over to them. "Hey there, Chief," Dave waves with his camera, "any statement from the police?"

"No official statement yet, sir," Andrews, a good detective in making, says politely.

Dave's shoulders sag in disappointment. "Not even a single quote?"

"You know the drill, Dave," Nathan tells him gently. "There really isn't anything we can tell you yet. We'll let you know the moment we have anything to release to the media."

"Any chance that'll happen before the end of the week? There's absolutely nothing, nothing at all newsworthy lately," Dave grumbles. "At this rate, we're going to have to move up the obituary and the buy-and-sell column to the front page of the next Herald."

"There's always the lost and found," Vince suggests hopefully. "Oh, wait, how about interviewing Marion and Conrad?"

"Marion's back in town?" Nathan asks absently, his thoughts drifting back to the trail over the cliff. The layout of the path doesn't make it easy for anyone to drag a body down there, either, so the perp and the victim would have to have walked down together. That seems like the most likely possibility, except there are no usable tracks left on the path to confirm the theory. And there's still that cause of death which have them all stumped.

"Oh yes," Vince says. "Last week. They're thinking of settling back here again—said they want Teresa to grow up in Haven."

"How old is Teresa now?" Nathan asks, though he's seen pictures of Marion and Conrad's daughter.

"Four, and cute as a button." Dave is beaming at the memory. "She's asking for a younger brother, and they're definitely in the mind to give her one. And Conrad, that man can't be any happier. It works wonders on a single man, you know, settling down and starting a family."

Dave coughs meaningfully, and it takes a second longer than it should for Nathan to realize where Dave is getting at. Nathan isn't unused to this by now, but what he is unused to is how to come up with a right response.

Thankfully, Nathan is spared from the pain, because Vince elbows his brother non-too-subtly. "Oh, you old, insensitive geezer."

Dave waves his fist, semi-indignant. "Hey, who you calling a geezer?"

"You," Vince retorts pointedly before turning to Nathan. "Don't mind him, Nathan. He gets nosier as he gets older, is all."

The brothers exchange barbs back and forth, good-natured and without any heat behind them, until they finally decide there's no article-worthy material they could tease out of Nathan and Andrews. When Nathan offers them a ride back to town in his truck, they wouldn't hear of it. "Oh, shush," Dave says, "we're ancients, but we can manage a bike ride back down. It's such a mild day out, and we're going to enjoy what's left of the sunlight."

As they watch the brothers leave, Andrews blurts out to Nathan, "You know they're thinking about selling the Herald?"

Nathan turns to Andrews in disbelief.

Andrews nods sympathetically. "I know, sounds impossible, but that's what Rosemary told me this morning. They're thinking of retiring to somewhere warmer."

Nathan can't imagine the Haven Herald without the Teague brothers—and Haven without the Herald. But Nathan turns around to watch their retreating forms and notices, perhaps for the first time, that their steps lack the usual bounce, that they are slower, heavier and older.

The sun is slowly setting, dipping gently on the horizon, and Nathan feels the time slowly ticking away.

On the twelfth day, there were several funerals.

Once the townspeople gained some semblance of normalcy, the first thing to be done was to mourn many losses of their own, all of them deemed as freak accidents, as they had always been.

There was no headstone, no marked grave for Audrey. Just as well, because there was no body there to bury.

There hadn't been, Nathan remembered absently, one for Lucy Ripley, either.

For all intents and purposes, neither of them had ever existed.

And it was the way it was to remain.

Duke was nothing but a whirlwind of rage, set out to rip everything apart in his way. "No one in this town has any right to ask Nathan of this," Duke paced along the deck's edges, each step precarious and unsteady. "Come to think of it,I don't think I appreciate this, either."

Julia's eyes were red-rimmed. "Don't be a selfish git about this, Duke."

Duke whipped around. "Oh, that's big, coming from you."

In one corner of his mind, Nathan was aware that he should probably step in between them, stop Duke from doing something he would eventually regret, and do something, anything, other than sitting crumpled at the corner of the Grey Gull. He was deliberately watching the sunset, so that he didn't have to watch the town he had grown up in, the town he'd loved. The town that was now intact, unbroken.

Haven was now whole again, without the spider webs of cracks that threatened to tear everything apart.

Yet Nathan turned his eyes away.

"We're so sorry, Nathan," a voice said, an eternity later.

Nathan watched two shadows fell over his. He had filtered out every voice other than Duke's and Julia's, and there was no reason for this instance to be any different, except this was Dave—and Vince, both wearing black and solemn expressions.

Their regret was genuine and deeply felt, Nathan saw it, but for the moment, unbearable loathing almost chocked him.

Everyone was sorry. So sorry.

This is what you gave your life for, he wanted to tell Audrey. People are sorry, but they would sooner forget your existence, mangle it into oblivion, just so that they could carry on living. This is what you gave your life for.

"How long?" Nathan asked, unfurling his fists.

He could see Dave visibly restraining himself from stepping back and away from Nathan, like one would from a wounded wild animal. "How long what?"

"How long until the next cycle?" he asked again.

Dave did take a step back this time, looking stricken. "Nathan."

There was so much pity there that Nathan couldn't stand to look at Dave anymore. "You know, you must know, because you've known it all along," he said, accusation and blame leaking from his words every which way, and he didn't care. "Tell me, then. How long until the next cycle?"

There was suddenly a wall between him and Dave. "Don't do this to yourself," Vince said, with a surprisingly hard grip on Nathan's shoulder. "Don't do this, Nathan. Nothing good can come out from this."

Nathan dug his fingernails into his palms. Pain, something that still felt so new to him, helped him calm his voice. "And why is that?"

"She wouldn't remember, Nathan," Dave said, like the words had been wrung out from him. "You know she never remembered being Lucy Ripley—she never was Lucy Ripley, and she certainly never was Audrey Parker. Even if, even when she does come back, she won't be your Audrey anymore."

Nathan almost laughed. "You think I care? I don't care what she is, what she isn't, what she remembers, what she doesn't—as long as she comes back."

"Wasn't," Vince said, with steel in his voice. "What she wasn't, Nathan. You can't—you can't do this to yourself. She's never even existed, and if this fix has been done correctly this time, there may never be a next cycle, and she will never come back. We all liked her, you know that, you must know that, and I know you don't want to hear this, but there's nothing you can do, do you understand? Do you understand, Nathan? You need to grieve and let go."

Nathan wanted to reach out, then, and shake all of them by their shoulders until he rattled something loose. "How can I grieve? Tell me that. How can I grieve, when you're telling me she's never even existed? Tell me that, then I will."

Somehow, in one moment to the next, Duke was at his elbow, his face turning pale. "Nathan," he said, grasping his arm, "let the man go."

Nathan turned and saw, belatedly, that his hands were already fisting Vince's collar. Vince watched him, quiet and still and with too much understanding in his eyes, and made no move to untangle himself Nathan's grip. Julia was watching from the far corner, sobbing freely, and Dave looked on uncertainly.

Nathan's arms fell away, and he staggered backward.

"That's it," Duke said, almost gently, like Nathan was going to break soon if he pushed any harder. "Easy, buddy."

Once Duke let go of his arm, Nathan sank onto the floor.

Audrey, he thought.


How could I grieve, when you've never even existed?

And how could I bear the world in your wake?

Haven was saved—Audrey had saved it.

Yet Nathan shielded his eyes with his freshly-welted palms, so he didn't have to look at the town and the people he—they—had once loved.

From the patio of the Grey Gull, Nathan watches the refracted lights swaying gently and rhythmically along with the dark waves. Half-finished plates of fish and chips and empty shot glasses are scattered on the table in front of him.

For hours, he's been working on every angle he could think of on the tourist murder case but yielded absolutely no result. There's a fresh headache tearing in his head, and it's also possible that he's also had one shot too many, so he doesn't stop himself from saying, "There's no shackle around your ankle. I don't think she would've wanted it, and I don't want it, either. If you want to leave, you should."

Duke, across from him, wordlessly refills his glass with more whiskey. After a moment, he says, "I didn't realize big self-sacrificing gestures were patented by one Nathan Wuornos only."


"If you're that eager to get rid of me, just say the word."

That doesn't even merit a response. Nathan stares at Duke, hard, until Duke looks away.

"Got a call from New York this afternoon," Duke says eventually, and downs another shot. "One of my contacts saw the Rev somewhere down in Queens."

Nathan's hand, reaching over to stop Duke from pouring another glass, freezes altogether.

Duke flashes him a wide and terrible smile. "So, you see, Nathan, now—well, now the hunt's back on."

Persuading Duke otherwise would be pointless. And Nathan isn't sure if he's got the right to, or if he even wants to. "Don't go alone," he says, as a compromise. "Wait until this weekend. I can go with you, then."

"Aw, is that a hint of worry I'm detecting, Nathaniel? Think I can't handle it alone?"

"I know you can. I just don't want you to." This is as far as Nathan can go without actually having to spell out he's not interested in losing Duke, too.

Duke's grin turns somber. "Don't worry, Nathan. I'm really not stupid enough to try something by myself."

"What's the plan?"

"Gonna scope out the situation first. Will let you know if I need backup."

Nathan runs a hand down his face. He's tired, all so tired, untethered and unmoored. "None of this is going to bring her back."

"No," Duke concedes easily, "but it will make me feel so much better. You should try it sometimes."

Nathan can't continue this conversation while he's anywhere close to sobriety, so he gives in and pours another drink. Then another.

"I won't stop, Nathan," Duke says, just before emptying a bottle of whisky into his glass. "Not until every single one of them pays for what they did."

What they did, Nathan knows, was trying to save their own lives—and trying to save their town that Nathan couldn't save. Nathan doesn't remind Duke of this fact, because Julia is right.

It hardly matters, in the end.

Nathan watches, in silence, as Duke drains another glass.

Nathan woke up in darkness and found that he couldn't move.

And that there were voices, loud and familiar, somewhere around him.

There was an obvious pattern developing here that he didn't exactly like.

"Is there a way to stop it?"

It was Audrey's voice he recognized first, echoing across what seemed like a wide-open space, maybe in the middle of the forest. But it was stiff, brittle, and so unlike Audrey that he knew instantly something was wrong.

Something was terribly, terrifyingly wrong, and it wasn't just Audrey, because he couldn't move. There was dirt in Nathan's eyes, dirt clogging down his throat, and he was breathing in wet soil, and yet he couldn't lift his head, or will any of his limbs to move. Something held him down, and Nathan strained against it with all his might, and he still couldn't.

"You can repair the cracks," another voice said, and Nathan's heart sank. It was the smug, knowing voice of the Rev's now echoing through the woods. "You can fix all of this that you and your accursed kind brought to this town."

"I didn't bring this to Haven," Audrey said, so calm, too much so. Panic made it even more impossible for Nathan to breathe. "It's always been here, and time and again I come back to fix it, all over again. Isn't that how it works?"

"Perhaps," the Rev said stiffly, after a long moment of posturing. "Regardless, we'll all die if you don't fix this. The cracks will swallow us all, and trust me when I say I'll make sure it will begin with your friends. Maybe it would be a kindness, to save them the trouble now."

Nathan didn't feel it, but he knew it anyway, when someone's boot made a contact with his back hard enough for him to roll on the ground, once, twice, and he coughed out dirt and blood.

"Don't—" Audrey's voice cracked horribly. "Leave him alone."

"This would be so much easier, if you just accepted your fate."

"Shut up," someone else screamed. "Don't listen to him, Audrey."

Duke, Nathan thought, and hope fluttered somewhere at the corner of his mind. Whatever hope that Nathan felt at the recognition of that voice, however, slipped away from his grasp when he heard the sickening sound of a bone breaking. And two.

Duke was deadly quiet again.

"You bastard," Audrey said quietly, without a single change in her inflection.

No, Nathan thought. No, Audrey, don't. Because he knew what she would do. He knew. And he would have said no, he would have screamed it on top of his lungs, if he could form a sound, if he could make himself talk, if he could breathe other than the bloody bile forming at the back of his throat.

"Julia," Audrey said, still so calm, "is there anything that can be done to stop this?"

That was when Nathan saw, from underneath the dirt, that there were other shadows moving against the trees, all huddled together in the shape of fear.

And that no one stood up to help them.

"Julia, is there anything else that can break this cycle?" Audrey asked again, ferociously. "Julia, look at me, don't look at that man, and answer me. Is there anything at all that can be done?"

"N—no," Julia's voice shivered and shuddered. "If there's been any other way, I would've, we could've—I'm sorry, so sorry, Audrey, but I can't, we can't, stop any of this. No one can, except—"

"—you. This is what you are meant to do, this is why you even exist," the Rev said. "Face it, and accept it."

"I'm not doing this for you," Audrey said, her voice icy cold and unyielding. "Not for you. So ask me nicely."

There was a long silence. Then the Rev said, "Let Wuornos go."

Then there were scrambling feet and limbs and hands until he was lifted and rolled forward, and Audrey was there, Audrey was at his side. Audrey was at his side. "Hey, Nathan," she said, and she was smiling while he watched in incomprehension—god, how could she be smiling, how could she be— "Shhh, it's all right," she murmured, holding her palm against his cheek and rubbing away the grime in his eyes with the sleeve of her shirt, "you'll be all right, Nathan. Everything will be fine."

He tried to reach out with his hands and failed. Something was tied around his arms and wrists, and there was still so much dirt in his throat. "Audrey," the word came out splintered, shattered.

She was smiling through her tears. "You'd better keep your promise. Otherwise, I'll be back and kicking your butt, okay?"

And then he was lifted back onto the ground and she was gone, she was gone, and Nathan could do nothing, nothing except to drag his unmoving body and claw through dirt and soil and rocks, so he could move forward, so he could follow after her, into the darkness of the forest.

It didn't matter, though, because when he reached the end of the path, the only thing Nathan saw was a silver glint reflected off the knife just as the Rev brought it down.

"Don't worry—this won't hurt a bit," the Rev told Audrey, voice syrupy sweet.

No, Nathan thought, because no word formed with his lips. No. Please. God, no.

From somewhere that seemed so far away, Duke screamed.

And this white-hot something, so alien and foreign, crushed and cut into almost every inch of Nathan's skin.

For the first time in years, he recognized it for what it was.

It was pain.

He woke up in the empty bed. He was alone in the room, and the window was slightly ajar.

"Audrey?" he called out, cautiously trying to reel in his heart beginning to beat faster than it should.

"Up here," came the muffled voice, somewhere from the roof. "I'm up here, Nathan!"

Relieved, Nathan dutifully followed the breadcrumbs of her voice until he was standing in the dark of the night, until he reached the top of the ladder on the side of his house. And there was Audrey, sitting on a roll of blanket spread in the middle of the roof. She was wearing his old flannel, her knees pulled up to her chest and her eyes on the night sky.

"I heard this rumor," she said, waving him over, "and I just had to see it for myself."

He carefully made his way across and sat next to her. "A rumor?"

"Uh-huh. According to this rumor, this was a prime go-to spot for a teenage Nathan Wuornos whenever he wanted to get lucky. Something about the falling stars, the romantic moonlight, all the works."

He hid a smile, probably very poorly. "That so?"

She leaned against his chest when he put his arms around her. "Mm-hmm."

"Is it working, then?"

"Ask me again in ten minutes, and I'll let you know."


She laughed. "Okay, all right, five, since obviously you are not going to play fair."

She burrowed into his arms, relaxed and content. "Couldn't sleep?" he asked, even knowing the answer. She hardly slept, not since they had discovered the increasing number of the Troubled. No, it had been long before that, since the Audrey Parker, FBI, had come into town and left, taking his Audrey's identity with her. It was a small miracle that she got any sleep at all.

"Yes," she said. "Well, no. I've just been thinking."

Of course, he thought. "Jenkins or Phillips?"

It didn't even take a second for her to answer, "Jenkins. He's more likely to crack than Phillips, I think, and he owes Duke. Maybe Duke can lean on him a bit."

"Jenkins belongs with the Rev. We don't know how reliable his information really is."

"Do we have a choice?" she asked, quietly, and there was no good answer to that question. None of it felt right. She was still here, with him, but at times she felt so ephemeral, ready to drift away. "Nathan," she said, as always reading his mind, "I'm not afraid of what we'll find out. Whatever it is."

"But you're never afraid." No, that wasn't true. He'd seen her go through so many feelings, including fear. "You never let fear get in your way," he corrected himself.

"It's only because I know you're always there to back me up," she said, her voice forced light. "Hey, promise me something?" She shifted in his arms and pulled him closer by the lapel of his jacket. "Promise me you'll take care of yourself, always, no matter what."

"Don't," he said, shaking his head as if that would change anything. "Don't say that."

"I want you safe, Nathan."

"Whatever happens at the end of this, whatever you do, or don't do, I won't be the factor that would force your choice. I can't be that reason."

"But you already are."


"That's just the way it is, Nathan. Because, well—I love you, you know," she said, and stopped.

Nathan saw her eyes widen, and he thought his, too, probably did the same.

Audrey looked away, flushed, and self-consciously adjusted the edges of the blanket at their feet. "Wow, did I just blurt that right out or what? I mean, I've wanted to tell you for a long time, but then I wasn't quite sure about the right moment, and, um, this isn't exactly going as I planned, but anyway, it's better late than never, right?"

"Hey," he said and caught her hand, once his heart started beating again. "Hey," he said, as softly as he dared, "me, too."

She smiled so wide, her open face in complete wonderment. "Really?"

How could she not know, he wondered incredulously. How could you not know? He didn't ask. Instead, he kissed her until they breathed the same air, until he could say, "I love you."

He felt it when she stopped breathing, and when she started to breathe again. "I might not be who I think I am," she said, her eyes still closed, leaning in until their foreheads nearly touched, "and I might not be Audrey Parker, but I wonder how that can be, how that can even matter, when I'm here with you, so alive."

She opened her eyes and reached out to hold their palms together. He felt where their palms touched.

He knew it was nothing short of a miracle.

"Your five minutes are up," Audrey said and watched him smile. Her eyes sparkled more than the lights that graced the night sky. "Ready to hear your verdict?"

There was no falling star that night; still, that didn't matter.

Later, much later, he would wonder, time and again, if she had known that night had been the beginning of the end.

Because, next morning, a crack appeared, worming its way around Haven.

And another.

And then another.

After dragging Duke back to his yacht for the night, Nathan stumbles back to his empty house, feeling alcohol in his breath and every step wavering.

Another day has ended, and the night, much more bearable, is just beginning. Another day will come, another day that he would have to wait out. There are so many days, and nights in between, and he doesn't know how long he can sustain all this.

Nathan makes it through the door and staggers into the living room, but he doesn't make it to his bedroom. He ends up prone on his couch for a long moment, slipping into and out of sleep and consciousness.

What eventually wakes him up is the familiar, metallic tang of something in the air. It's weak, but he can almost taste it on his tongue, so he shifts and opens his unwilling eyes to search out the source of the scent.

There are droplets of blood on the carpet.

His coffee mug lies broken along the side.

He lifts his hand and watches the blood ooze from the cut in his hand. He observes it with a curious sense of detachment. The why of it comes to him a few moments later.

There's no pain.

And now, he's suddenly awake. There are fragments of his clay mug on his living room floor, some of them gleaming with glossy red sheen.

He reaches out for a piece of broken clay and, ever so slowly, runs his fingers over the jagged edge. Blood seeps from his fingertips. He doesn't feel it. He doesn't feel any of it.

He drops down on the couch again and places his hands over the handles. Nothing. Nothing at all.

He stares at his hand, at his blood-stained fingers.


He thinks: this unseasonably warm weather, Marion and Conrad back in town, and the strange murder that points to no conventional solution. And this.

Marion, who once could control the weather according to her whims.

A murder that should have been impossible.

And now this.

He's known there would come a day like this, and what it might mean. He has imagined this day countless times.

Five years. Five years, seven months, and sixteen days.

It's too soon, too early, too unanticipated. He expected perhaps a decade of wait, or more, or even never. Why so early, he doesn't know. What it means, he doesn't know, either.

Still, he doesn't care. He can't, because—

I love you, you know, she told him once. I've wanted to tell you for a long time.

"Audrey," he sounds the name, and his throat burns. Audrey.

The Troubles are returning.

Which means, so is she.

And this time, this time it will be different. He will make it different, because he will break the cycle.

There's this thrumming in his chest, in his heart. For the first time since that fateful morning he woke up without Audrey at his side, he feels the anticipation for the coming day.

The Troubles are returning.

So is she.

And so, Nathan waits.