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Every Purpose Under Heaven - 2 of 5

Disclaimers and information are in the Master Post.

~~~~~

Tony sat on the couch, still stiff and sore from his abrupt arrival in Haven, and still unable to believe the two men in front of him had never heard of him, Iron Man, Stark Industries, or the Avengers.

Nathan asked now, "Do you know anybody in Haven, Maine?"

"No," Tony replied.

"No long lost relatives? Somebody you might have pissed off? A spurned lover?"

Tony slowly shook his head, although for the first time since he regained consciousness, he felt his face crease into his habitual arrogant smirk. "I'd never heard of Haven, Maine until yesterday, and I have no long lost relatives that I know of. There may be a spurned lover or two...or, you know, ten or so...and God knows I have enough enemies to - literally - sink a battleship, but honestly? I can't remember any of them unless they're right in my face." Tony paused, considering. "Or trying to kill me."

Duke's eyes widened. "Seriously?"

Tony shrugged with false modesty. "I do have a reputation with the ladies. Or had, actually," he added hastily. "Not since Pepper." He paused, something dark flickering in his eyes. "Not since I came back from Afghanistan, actually."

"Afghanistan?" the other two asked simultaneously.

Tony nodded, still staring at something only he could see. "It's where I got this," he tapped his chest. "Saved my life."

He blinked and glanced at the others. "Long story," he said briskly. He refocused on the problem at hand.

"So, what now?" he asked.

Nathan and Duke glanced at each other.

"This may be what we call a Haven Moment," Nathan drawled in his slow, careful voice.

Tony raised an eyebrow.

"So, when you're saying this might be a Haven Moment," even Tony could hear the capital letters as he used the phrase, "are you suggesting I might be known outside of Haven?"

Nathan shoved his hands into the front pockets of his jeans and shrugged. "Maybe."

Tony frowned. "You...have no contact with the outside world?"

"It's...complicated," Nathan replied.

"Let's just say that things that happen in Haven may not be exactly what you think," Duke added.

Tony nodded slowly, and not for the first time wondered if he'd been taken captive by two personable but definitely unhinged escapees from an insane asylum.

"Can you let me use a phone?" Tony asked. "I'll just phone Pepper and be out of your hair in about an hour."

Nathan shrugged. "Sure. We're in range of a cell tower here."

He handed Tony his cell phone.

Tony thanked him, then frowned.

"What's the matter?" Duke asked.

"I'm trying to remember the number," Tony muttered sheepishly. "I usually just tell Jarvis to make the call." He shook his head. "Pepper's right. I can't even make it five minutes without her."

Nathan and Duke exchanged amused albeit somewhat puzzled glances.

"Well, there's always Information," Nathan suggested.

Tony shook his head. "Won't work. All the numbers are unlisted."

"You can't remember the number at all?" Duke asked.

"Well, it might come back to me," Tony sighed, "but the last time I used it was the first time I programmed Jarvis, and that was...a long time ago."

"Well, there has to be a public phone number for Stark Industries," Nathan argued.

Tony was suddenly energized. "Yes! And they're even accepting my calls right now!"

Duke and Nathan exchanged another wary glance.

"Didn't you say you owned the company?" Duke asked cautiously.

"Oh, yeah. But I've been, uh...ignored every now and then. How much and how long I'm ignored depends on the amount of damage and the number of women...and what, exactly, can be proven by the pictures."

"O-kay," Duke drawled.

"But since Pepper, that hasn't been much of an issue. Well. At least the women. What's the number for Information?"

Nathan told him, in the tones of one humoring a person who might snap at any moment.

Tony pointedly ignored him as he punched in the numbers. He busily worked his way through the prompts that would reconnect him to Pepper and get a retrieval team on its way, muttering the whole time about ways to make the system simpler and, above all, faster.

"No such listing."

Tony pulled the cell phone away from his ear and frowned at it.

He hung up, redialed, and repeated the steps more carefully.

"No such listing."

Tony stared at the phone. "No such listing," he muttered. "According to Information, Stark Industries doesn't exist."

Nathan shoved his hands in his pocket and hunched his shoulders.

"I don't know what to say," Nathan said quietly, exchanging a concerned look with Duke. "If this is someone's Trouble -"

"Yeah, it's someone's trouble! It's mine!" Tony snapped.

Nathan half-smiled. "That, too," he murmured.

Nathan and Duke thoughtfully considered Tony.

"You know, maybe he's just delusional," Duke suggested.

Tony's eyes widened. "Hey! I'm sitting right here!"

Nathan cocked his head to one side as he thought about it. "Wouldn't that be a relief?" he said.

Duke chuckled and clapped a hand on Nathan's shoulder. "Sure would. It means he's not likely to kill us with his mind or, I don't know, turn the town into a snow globe."

Nathan's lips twitched into a reluctant smile.

Tony stared, his eyes huge but his face expressionless.

"Snow globe?" he asked reluctantly, and now he was the one sounding like the other two were about to snap at any moment.

"Long story," Duke and Nathan told him simultaneously. Tony nodded carefully and decided not to pursue the subject.

Nathan sighed. "I have an idea, but it'll take a few hours to pull together. Which means it will be to late to do anything else today. Tony, please try not to worry. Get some more rest. We'll have a plan in the morning."

Tony opened his mouth to protest, but closed it again when he realized that, at the moment, he didn't have a lot of options. More than that, he still didn't have a lot of physical stamina. Even if he made a break for it, he saw nothing but trees outside this cabin - and Duke and Nathan weren't acting like kidnappers. They likely wouldn't come looking for him if he ended up lost in the middle of the forest.

He took comfort in the fact the suit would be safe enough, with enough built-in security and fail-safes to stop even Dr. Doom.

He was more worried about Pepper and the rest of his extended family. He needed to let them know he was safe. He needed to know they were safe.

He nodded slowly.

"We'll figure this out, Tony," Nathan said quietly, "and we'll get you home."

~~~~~

Nathan walked Duke to his truck and Duke leaned close.

"You're just going to let him go?" he demanded.

Nathan shot him a puzzled look and nodded.

"You can feel him!" Duke blurted. "Maybe he's part of the solution to the Troubles! Like Audrey!"

"Maybe - but that doesn't give us the right to keep him here against his will!"

Duke opened his mouth to retort, then he closed it with a sigh. His shoulders slumped in defeat.

"You're right," he conceded. "I'm just -" he shook his head.

"You're thinking about the worst case scenario, aren't you? If we don't find Audrey?"

Duke stared steadily at him. "No," he said firmly. "No, Nathan. We're going to find Audrey. I was thinking we could use all the help we can get - and he's supposed to be a superhero."

Nathan slowly smiled. "That would stack the deck in our favor, wouldn't it?"

Duke grinned his toothy, crocodile grin. "It definitely couldn't hurt."

"Well," Nathan said, "maybe I'll ask him to come back. And bring his superhero friends with him."

"Now you're talking!" Duke said and got into his truck.

"But you've got to remember, Duke," Nathan said, leaning in the driver's window, "superheroes fight crime and turn in criminals. No matter who they are."

Duke's grin widened as he started the truck. "You mean like you do?"

He laughed as he drove away, and Nathan shook his head as he watched him go.

~~~~~

Early the next morning, Tony limped out of the bedroom. He was still stiff and sore, but he was moving - and felt - better than he had the day before. As early as it was, Nathan was already sitting at the kitchen counter, sipping a cup of coffee and reading a newspaper.

Tony gestured towards the newspaper as he poured his own cup of coffee. "We've had company?" he asked and took a sip of his coffee.

Nathan nodded and held up some keys.

"There's a truck outside. It's got a full tank of gas and there are maps in the glove department."

Tony's eyes lit up. He set his coffee down and took the keys with a grateful nod.

"When I get back home and get a status update from the others, I'm going to come back," he told Nathan. "I'm curious about this place now. Tell Duke I said good-bye."

Nathan smiled a little and nodded. Tony turned and headed towards the door.

"Tony," Nathan called.

Tony stopped and turned to look at Nathan with one eyebrow raised in question.

"There are some shoes in the truck; hopefully they'll fit," Nathan said diffidently. "And you're gonna need money." He held out a roll of bills.

Tony's gaze flicked from Nathan's eyes to the money and back.

"There's a thousand dollars here," Nathan added. "It should keep you going for a while."

"On a normal day, that wouldn't even buy my supper," Tony sniffed with a smirk, even as he blinked surprising moisture from his eyes.

Nathan's expression didn't change. "Well, it'll at least buy gas until you can get to your supper. And if you really are a billionaire, I'll expect it all back. With interest."

Tony stared at Nathan's honest, handsome, boy-next-door face, then at the cash Nathan was holding out. How much could a small-town cop make, Tony wondered. How hard had it been for him to come up with a thousand dollars?

But Nathan was right. Tony would need cash.

"With interest," Tony promised softly as he slowly reached out and took the money.

Nathan inclined his head almost regally, and Tony realized that to Nathan, a man's word truly was his bond. Promises meant something to the younger man.

Nathan stuck out his hand.

"Good luck," he said.

Tony shook the proffered hand, and wondered at the the look on Nathan's face as their hands touched.

"You, too," Tony said, "and once I've let Pepper know I'm okay, and after I've retrieved the suit, I'll be back." He grinned at Nathan's frown. "I'm curious now - and as Pepper will tell you, that's always a dangerous thing."

Nathan shoved his hands in the pockets of his jeans, and said, "I hope you will come back. And bring your superhero friends with you. We can use all the help we can get." He paused, then said, "Just follow the trail; you'll come to a dirt road after about ten miles. Turn right, and keep going until you hit the highway. That'll take you right into Derry."

Tony nodded. "Thank you," he said again, then turned and walked out of the cabin.

~~~~~

Tony pulled into the outskirts of the bustling city, and felt his soul expanding as a weight lifted off his shoulders. Derry, Maine, he read on the welcome sign and sighed with relief. Now he'd be able to call Pepper, connect with Jarvis, and find the suit, wherever it was hidden in the forests of Maine. Then he'd find out what happened with Dr. Doom, and the rest of the Avengers. Then he'd figure out what was going on with those two charming but definitely crazy young men who'd helped him out.

The most important thing, though, was to get back to Pepper.

Tony pulled into the first gas station he saw and stepped out of the truck. He glanced around, his hands planted firmly on his hips as he stretched. It had been a long drive from the cabin.

He strode into the gas station with his trademark swaggering grace and arrogance, only slightly marred by his continued limp. He surveyed the store, then smiled his most charming smile at the bored teenage girl reading a magazine behind the till.

She barely glanced at him as she told him where to find the pay phone. He raised an eyebrow as he walked to the back of the store.

Perhaps the people of Maine simply didn't like him, he thought, although he couldn't quite see how that was possible.

He paused at the newspaper rack, and noticed Fury and Pepper had so far managed to keep his disappearance off the front page of the papers. He'd have to give Pepper an extra special present for that achievement alone. He grinned wickedly at the thought.

Of course, he hadn't been gone that long - two, maybe three days at most - and he supposed he'd been thrown a few hundred miles or so from Dr. Doom's lair. But he was still in Maine and once he got in touch with Pepper, he could find out what happened. Find out if the trap had worked.

Find out if she knew what had happened to the suit.

Tony dialed Information and once again impatiently navigated his way through the prompts to identify the state, city and the name of Stark Industries, and waited for the number.

"No such listing."

Tony slammed the phone back into the receiver.

"Hey! You break it, you buy it!"

Tony spun around and blinked at the bored teenage girl behind the till, who was now glaring petulantly at him.

His head spun.

"Do you know who I am?" he demanded.

She flicked disinterested eyes over him.

"I don't care who you are. Don't break the phone."

"Look," he stopped, took a deep breath and carefully gentled his voice. "I'm...I just need a favor."

The girl rolled her eyes. "Yeah, I'll bet you do."

"I'm serious," he said as he walked a little closer to her. "I just want you to take a good, long look at me, and tell me if you've ever seen me before."

He stared earnestly at her, his eyes wide and dark, scared and vulnerable. Her own eyes widened and she put down her magazine and finally gave him her full attention.

To her credit, she carefully considered him, her eyes searching every feature of his face, and Tony struggled to stand still and let her take her time.

She slowly shook her head.

"Am I supposed to know you?" she asked curiously.

Tony swallowed past the lump in his throat and shook his head.

"No. No. I guess not," he murmured.

The girl frowned. "Is this, like, for a reality show or something?"

Tony blinked at her. "Sorry, no. Thank you."

"Are you in trouble?" she asked more gently. "Do you need the cops or something? Maybe a doctor?"

Tony shook his head and forced his lips to move into something that might pass for a smile. "No. I'm okay."

He walked numbly towards the door. He paused, and turned to find the girl watching him with a confused frown.

"Could you tell me how to find the library?"

~~~~~

Tony staggered out of the library five hours later.

Nothing.

Not one news article about Stark Industries. Not one editorial about Iron Man. Not a single scandalous picture of Tony Stark. Not a single word about the Avengers.

He made his way back to the truck Nathan had found for him and leaned against the driver's door, roughly scrubbing his hands over his face.

If it weren't for the arc reactor nestled in his chest, he'd think he was as delusional as Duke had suggested.

But it was there, and that meant...what he remembered, what he knew, was real.

Somewhere.

~~~~~

"Not open," Duke called without looking up from the glass he was polishing as the door to the Grey Gull opened.

"I'm...just looking for a place to sit down."

Duke's head snapped up and he stared at a deflated Tony Stark. Duke raised an eyebrow.

"I thought you'd gone home," he drawled.

"I apparently have no home to go back to," Tony muttered, his voice tight, not quite meeting Duke's eyes.

Duke paused, taking in the look on Tony's face, then said lightly, "Well, pull up a chair. The Gull's been home to many a lost soul. I'm sure I can find someplace for you to stay until you catch your breath and figure out what to do next. We'll head out when Tracy gets in."

Tony nodded, his eyes blank. "I'd appreciate that."

He moved stiffly to the bar and took a seat.

"What can I get you?" Duke asked, his eyes watchful even as he kept his voice light.

"Scotch. Make it a double."

"You got it," Duke nodded, thumping a glass on the bar in front of Tony then filling it with a generous splash of liquor.

He leaned closer and murmured, "Don't mention Nathan."

Tony frowned and focused on Duke's face for the first time.

Duke straightened, picked up his cloth and another glass, and said, "So, the wife kicked you out, did she?"

Tony winced, then nodded as he raised the glass to his lips. He saw Duke understood he was nodding to more than just Duke's question.

"Left me with nothing," Tony muttered. "Literally."

Duke whistled and shook his head. "That's rough. Sorry to hear it."

"Me, too."

Tony took a sip of scotch and closed his eyes in relief at the taste and the burn as it slid down his throat.

Duke's cell phone rang, a shrill sound that seemed to slice through the peaceful air of the closed bar. Duke froze in mid-swipe, his eyes riveted to the phone,

Tony was suddenly alert as he watched Duke's face become grim and drawn as he listened to whatever was being said on the other end of the cell phone. Tony suddenly saw the danger that lurked beneath the friendly facade.

The conversation was far from enlightening, however, consisting of terse yeahs and no's, until Duke finally said, "I'll be there," and ended the call.

"I'm not going to be able to wait for Tracy," Duke told Tony as Duke began to type out a text. "Are you ready to go now?"

Tony drained his glass and stood without a word.

~~~~~

Duke led the way out of Haven, driving like a speed demon on the unpaved back roads that criss-crossed the area.

Tony forced his borrowed truck to speeds it had likely never experienced before, but he kept up with Duke.

Duke screeched to a halt, stepped out of his truck, and stood with his hands on his hips as Tony joined him. He surveyed Tony with a skeptical frown.

"Okay, superhero - you can either come with me, or stay here and guard the trucks."

Tony blinked. "I...need to know what's going on, first."

Duke gave him a glimmer of a rueful smile. "Sorry. A friend of ours, Audrey Parker, was kidnapped - the day we found you, actually. It's why we were in the woods that day. That call I got back at the Gull? Was to tell me where she was."

"Why -?"

"We really don't have a lot of time for explanations. Nathan's on his way to the old barn now, and he's about ready to firebomb the entire town. Things may get violent and bloody." Duke stared challengingly at him. "So, what's it gonna be, superhero?"

"I'll come with you."

"Do you know how to use a gun?" Duke demanded.

"Uh...yes."

"Do you really know how to handle yourself in a fight?"

"I've been in a battle or two, yes," Tony replied drily. He kept the fact that he'd always been in impenetrable body armor to himself.

"Good to know," Duke said, and opened the back of his truck. "Hopefully that means you're not going to panic, or end up shooting the wrong person."

With a deft flick of a hidden spring, he revealed a hidden compartment neatly filled with handguns, rifles and ammunition.

Tony raised an eyebrow in appreciation.

"I hope we won't have to use these, but -" Duke shrugged as he handed Tony a handgun and ammunition.

He watched Tony carefully as Tony handled the firearm, then nodded in satisfaction. He closed the compartment then turned and plunged into the Maine forest. Tony quickly followed. They silently made their way through the trees, and Tony wondered what, exactly, they were going to find, and if 'doing what needed to be done' was as ominous as it sounded.

After a half hour of rapid hiking, Duke held up a hand as he slowed and they quietly crept closer to peer through the trees at a weather-beaten, dilapitated barn.

Tony turned sharply as Nathan glided up beside him.

"See anything?" Nathan asked, his eyes cold and intent on the weathered building in front of them.

Duke shook his head, and the three men carefully considered the apparently deserted building.

"The caller told me she'd be here, so I could 'do what needed to be done'," Duke told Nathan quietly.

Nathan's face tightened, the muscles straining in his jaw.

"Not today," he said grimly.

"No," Duke agreed, equally grim. "Not today."

With a glance at Tony, the three men ran towards the barn in a half-crouch. Even with Tony added to the mix, they worked like a well-oiled machine, rapidly searching the bottom floor of the building and coming up empty.

They met in the middle, shaking their heads. Then, as one, they lifted their eyes to the hayloft.

~~~~~

Nathan cautiously poked his head above the floor of the loft, wondering if he was about to get a bullet in his brain. Well, at least he wouldn't feel it, he thought.

The loft was empty except for a layer of dust, old hay - and Audrey, lying motionless on her back, her face turned away from the trapdoor.

Nathan's heart stuttered to a halt, then began beating so fast he could see his hands shake. He forced himself to glance around the hayloft again, wondering what the trick was. Then he reminded himself this was Haven.

While what someone dreamt might come true, or all the males in a family might need to live under the sea, there was no one Nathan knew who was high tech or sophisticated enough to hide a booby-trap in an empty room.

Well. Not a mechanical one, anyway.

"She's here," Nathan called down to the others, and finished clambering up the ladder. He fell to his knees beside Audrey, and pressed his fingers to her neck. He felt the jolt of sensation as he touched her, and went weak with relief.

~~~~~

Nathan settled in a chair beside Audrey's bed and stretched out his long legs.

Duke poked his head around the door, then leaned against the jamb with a slight grin.

"You know," Duke said, "you should follow the advice you just gave Tony, and get some rest."

Nathan nodded absently, his eyes never leaving the sleeping blonde on the bed.

"In awhile," he murmured.

Duke sighed, and left. He returned with another chair which he placed on the other side of the bed. He settled into it with an exaggerated struggle to get comfortable.

Nathan glared.

Duke shrugged.

"She's my friend, too, Nathan."

"But you're supposed to kill her."

"Yeah, and a man with a maze tattoo on his arm is supposed to kill me. You had that tattoo, Nathan. Back on the Cape Rouge. And I'm still here."

Nathan frowned and glanced at his unmarked arm. He shook his head, his face stark with exhaustion.

"Go to sleep, Duke."

"When you do, Nathan."

~~~~~

Audrey opened her eyes.

One moment she'd been asleep, dreaming odd dreams filled with floating and cold and discomfort and of being held safe in arms that were somehow familiar and strange at the same time.

She blinked at the ceiling, then turned her head to her right. She frowned a little when she saw Duke, his lanky frame folded awkwardly on a chair, his neck at an uncomfortable angle. He'd be stiff and sore - and complaining loudly - when he woke up.

She turned her head to the left, and her heart did a funny flip when she saw Nathan, his long legs stretched out in front of him, his head resting on the back of his chair, his neck looking exposed and vulnerable. He'd be stiff and sore tomorrow too, only he wouldn't know it.

Audrey shifted carefully, her own muscles aching, her body stinging in a hundred places from small scratches and stings. She realized she was wearing a flannel shirt over her delicate camisole, and she was still in her pants. She flushed, remembering the first time she'd met Duke, waking up naked in his bed after he'd rescued her from drowning. She wondered if this time Nathan had dressed her.

She somehow found that thought to be amazingly sexy. And almost unbearably sweet.

She grinned, then frowned.

What had happened to her?

She'd been making pancakes, nervously getting ready for Nathan's arrival for what was supposed to be their first date. She'd been giddy, anticipating the evening, wondering if the pancakes would be for dinner, or if they really would be for breakfast.

She frowned as she tried to remember. Someone had come to the door, and she'd thought it was Nathan. She'd hurried to let him in, a thousand butterflies taking flight in her stomach.

And then...a glimpse of a male figure, a sudden shock, pain - and blackness.

She slowly and carefully looked around the room. The bed was huge, almost taking up the entire room. The rest of the sparse furnishings were simple but the overall effect was cozy and warm. Comforting. Welcoming.

Safe.

Audrey's eyes fell on Nathan again and her expression softened.

She winced at her protesting muscles as she quietly crept from the bed, and crouched in front of him. She held her breath as with the tip of one finger she delicately traced the long, strong line of his neck.

Nathan startled awake with a loud, sharp gasp, leaping to his feet, which caused Duke to jerk upright and cry out as his stiff neck made itself known. He, too, scrambled to his feet, frantically searching the room, his eyes wild.

Audrey looked from one to the other, a fond grin on her face.

Nathan stared at her, worried, his eyes vulnerable.

"Audrey?" he said cautiously. "Are you all right?"

She nodded, then threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly, blinking back tears.

Nathan rocked back, shocked as always at the sensation of touch. Then he closed his eyes, slowly wrapped his arms around her, and carefully returned the hug, a hug that grew tighter the longer it went on.

Duke rolled his eyes.

"I'm here too, you know," he groused.

Audrey chuckled as she reluctantly released Nathan and walked around the bed to Duke.

"I know," she assured him and hugged him.

Duke hugged her tightly, lifting her off her feet.

"Now," Audrey said briskly when her feet were once more firmly on the ground, "I need a bathroom, then some food, and then you can tell me what the hell happened."

They nodded and followed her out of the bedroom.

They reconvened in the kitchen, where Nathan had put on the coffee and was scrambling eggs.

Audrey smiled at him as she sat at the counter, her chin on her hand.

Duke playfully bumped her shoulder with his and leaned in close.

"Your heart's in your eyes," he murmured into her ear.

She glanced at him. "I know," she replied softly, then turned her eyes back to Nathan. "But I can't help it."

~~~~~

Nathan and Duke were disappointed to learn Audrey had only gotten a glimpse of her abductor - about six feet tall, ski mask, white, known because the hands holding the stun gun had been bare.

"The next thing I remember, I woke up in that bedroom," Audrey said, inclining her head towards the room in question.

She finished the last of the eggs, and sighed with appreciation.

"How long have I been gone?" she asked.

"Three full days," Nathan said quietly, not quite meeting her eyes as he took the empty plates and put them in the sink.

"Three days!"

"And they - whoever 'they' are - tried to frame me for it," Duke added. "Don't forget that part," he said to Nathan.

"You still might have done it," Nathan snapped.

"And then framed myself?"

"Hey, that's what I would do."

They all turned to stare at the owner of the new voice.

Audrey saw a darkly handsome man leaning against the door jamb to a bedroom, his thick black hair standing on end, his brown eyes wary, and a little vulnerable. He stood with an air of arrogant confidence that contradicted what his eyes were saying. He was dressed only in jeans that were both too big and too long, held up by a belt snugged tight at his waist.

Well.

Hips, actually, and Audrey took a purely hedonistic moment to appreciate his flat stomach and the lines of his hipbones.

But what really caught and held Audrey's attention was the stranger's smoothly muscled chest. More specifically, the disc that glowed brightly over his heart.

"Then again, I'm devious like that," the stranger continued and nodded at Audrey. "You must be the infamous Audrey."

Audrey nodded slowly, dark blue eyes wide.

"Who are you?" she asked. "And what the hell is that?"

Forty-five minutes and another batch of eggs and toast later, Audrey and Tony were eyeing each other with careful interest as Nathan poured more coffee.

"Hey, you're pretty good at this serving stuff," Duke grinned as Nathan Audrey's cup. "Maybe I should hire you at the Grey Gull."

"Once a cop, Duke, always a cop," Nathan warned absently as he refilled the cup in front of Tony, who nodded his thanks.

"Good point," Duke conceded and Audrey chuckled as Nathan gave Duke his coffee.

Tony said to Audrey, "So, you've never heard of me either."

Audrey took a sip of her coffee then caught Nathan's eye and gave a slight shake of her head. He lowered his cup, his grateful eyes never leaving hers. Her face and entire demeanor softened as they stared at each other.

Tony watched the interplay with interest, and caught the rueful smirk on Duke's face. They both quickly hid their grins behind their cups.

Nathan and Audrey suddenly seemed to recall they had an audience and refocused on the subject at hand.

"No," Audrey said, flushing slightly as she turned to face Tony. "And you say you're a superhero?"

Tony shrugged and nodded.

Audrey considered him carefully. "I'm not sure what to think. You could be a Trouble - or you may not be connected to the Troubles at all."

Nathan glanced at Duke then turned his clear, calm blue eyes to Audrey and said, "But I can feel him."

Audrey whipped her head around and gaped at him.

Tony's eyes widened.

"Uh...you can feel me in what context, exactly?" he asked cautiously.

Nathan said, "I have no sense of touch. That's my Trouble."

"You seem fairly well adjusted to me," Tony joked weakly.

"No," Nathan replied, "I mean -"

"You can feel him?" Audrey blurted.

Nathan nodded and Audrey returned her attention to Tony with a new speculative gleam in her eyes.

Tony frowned. "I think you guys really need to explain to me what's going on in this town," he said.

Duke snorted a laugh. "If only we knew what that was," he said drily.

Tony frowned. "So what's next?" he asked, as Nathan once more looked to Audrey as he lifted his coffee. She checked her own and nodded.

Nathan sipped from his cup, and turned his attention to Tony.

"We go back to town," he said simply.

"And let everyone know you played them for fools?" Tony asked.

Duke nodded, his dark eyes blank.

"If they're angry, they'll make a mistake," he said, distant and cold.

"They might," Tony agreed. "Then again, they might not."

"Well, if they're angry enough, it might even trigger a Trouble," Audrey mused.

Duke turned his curiously blank gaze towards her.

"What difference does that make?" he asked.

Audrey's eyes widened. "None, I guess."

"Are you ever going to actually explain the Troubles to me?" Tony asked.

Audrey glanced at him, then at Duke and Nathan before she looked at the clock.

"Tomorrow," she decided. "It's almost two a.m., and I don't know about you, but I'm...well, not exhausted, but I'm tired, and I want to sleep while I feel safe."

Nathan put down his cup, his eyes worried.

"The bedroom's yours," Nathan said. "Tony, you have the other bedroom. Duke and I will bed down in the living room."

Audrey turned and looked skeptically at the small living room behind her. There was a couch, an armchair and a rocking chair. She turned back to face Nathan, and raised an eyebrow.

"You and Duke gonna share the couch?"

Nathan and Duke stared at each other, slowly leaning away like two cats.

"I'll sleep on the floor," Nathan said, tucking his hands beneath his arms. He shrugged. He glanced from Audrey to Duke and back again. "Don't look at me like that," he said quietly. "I won't feel it anyway."

Audrey shook her head and heaved an exaggerated sigh. She looked at Duke.

"You can take the couch," she said firmly. She turned to Tony. "You can have the other bedroom. You -" she pointed at Nathan, "come with me."

Nathan's eyes widened, but he dutifully followed her into the bedroom.

Audrey winked at Duke as she quietly closed the door.

Duke sighed and turned to Tony with a rueful grimace.

"Got any extra blankets?"

Tony clapped a hand on Duke's shoulder.

"Let's see what we can find," he said with a grin.

~~~~~

Nathan turned as the door snicked closed. He shifted uncomfortably at Audrey's amused annoyance. He shrugged again, and tucked his hands more tightly under his arms in his familiar defensive posture.

"What?" he asked slowly, a slightly nervous smile curving his lips.

"You're not sleeping on the floor in the living room," Audrey said firmly. "Just because you can't feel it, doesn't mean you're not hurt! I don't know how many times I have to say that to you."

Nathan shrugged diffidently. "We have to make due," he muttered. "And it's only for one night."

Audrey walked over to him.

"I don't care if it's only for five minutes! I don't want to see you in pain, even if you don't know it."

Nathan ducked his head and looked at her almost bashfully.

"I'm glad you're okay," he said softly. "But you need to get some rest. Some real rest. We'll watch over you."

Audrey smiled slowly. "I know," she said. "And Duke can sleep with one eye open out there," she tilted her head towards the living room. "And you can sleep with one eye open in here."

Nathan blinked, his lips curving in a slight smile.

"That...may not be a good idea," he murmured.

Audrey moved closer and deliberately placed a hand on his bare forearm. He sharply sucked in a breath, and his eyes widened, then darkened as he looked at her.

"I think it's the best idea I've had in a while," she murmured. She slowly, deliberately stroked her thumb against his skin and was rewarded with his shiver. "Nathan, I'm still here - and I still remember you - and I'm not willing to gamble that we have enough time left to play hard to get. When we get back to Haven, and whoever kidnapped me realizes Duke's on our side, all hell's gonna break loose - and God only knows where it's going to end."

"We know where it's going to end," Nathan said, his voice tight with emotion. "It's going to end with your disappearance, and the end of the Troubles, and waiting. For the Troubles to return; for you to come back. As someone else. And you won't -" he swallowed, his throat clicking. "You won't remember me then."

She whispered his name, her voice breaking.

Nathan stared solemnly at her. "It's the way it's always been," he muttered and shrugged.

Audrey dropped her hand from his arm.

"Do you want to sleep in the living room?" she asked softly.

Nathan slowly shook his head, his eyes never leaving hers.

"No. But I've had a lot time to think these last few days. I know you, Audrey. I know you. And I...want to be with you, if you'll have me. But I also know you'll leave unless we find a way to break the cycle, and rid ourselves of the Troubles once and for all."

~~~~~



Part One                        Part Three

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Quotes

"All right," said Susan. "I'm not stupid. You're saying humans need...fantasies to make life bearable."

REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

"Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little --"

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

"So we can believe the big ones?"

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

-- Susan and Death in Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

---------------------

"And no practical definition of freedom would be complete without the freedom to take the consequences. Indeed, it is the freedom upon which all the others are based."

-- Lord Vetinari in Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

---------------------

They thought the Library was a dangerous place because of all the magical books, which was true enough, but what made it really one of the most dangerous places there could ever be was the simple fact that it was a library.

-- Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

---------------------

As a wizard, it was something that Ponder had only before encountered in acorns: a tiny soundless voice which said, yes, I am but a small, green, simple object - but I dream about forests.

-- Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett

---------------------

In the 24th century, there will be no hunger. There will be no greed. And every child will know how to read.

-- Gene Roddenberry, as repeated by Jonathan Frakes in the documentary How William Shatner Changed the World

---------------------

We've got two lives, one we're given and the other one we make
And the world won't stop, and actions speak louder
Listen to your heart, and what your heart might say
Everything we got, we got the hard way.

-- Mary Chapin Carpenter, The Hard Way from the album Come On, Come On

---------------------

Cause when they own the information, oh
They can bend it all they want.

-- John Mayer, Waiting on the World to Change from the album Continuum

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Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says, "I'll try again tomorrow."

-- Mary Anne Radmacher, as seen in Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Tales to Inspire

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I never loved the soldier
Until there was a war.
Or thought about tomorrow
'til my baby hit the floor.
I only talk to God
When somebody's about to die.
I never cherished freedom
Freedom never cries.

-- Five for Fighting, Freedom Never Cries from the album Two Lights

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It may sound absurd: but don't be naive
Even heroes have the right to bleed
I may be disturbed: but won't you concede
Even heroes have the right to dream

-- Five for Fighting, Superman (It's Not Easy) from the album American Town

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Had a dream last night took a time travellin' ride
Back to my childhood where those monsters reside
They snack on innocence and dine on self-esteem
But I like to be in touch with what makes me scream
Vampires, mummies and the Holy Ghost
These are the things that terrify me the most.
No alien, psychopath or MTV host
Scares me like vampires,mummies and the Holy Ghost.

-- Jimmy Buffett, Vampires, Mummies and the Holy Ghost from the album Fruitcakes

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"I want to believe that... the dead are not lost to us. That they speak to us... as part of something greater than us - greater than any alien force. And if you and I are powerless now, I want to believe that if we listen, to what's speaking, it can give us the power to save ourselves."

-- Fox Mulder, The X-Files from the episode The Truth, pt. 2
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