He’s not the only one being cautious. Duke pauses by the bar for too long on his way to the door, and there’s another pause when he’s standing behind it. Eventually, though, the door opens, and there’s Duke looking out at him with a smile that’s probably only partially faked. Probably.
They’ve stood like this on too many occasions, Duke holding a door open and Nathan standing outside it, not knowing what to do next. He’s walked away so many times, and yet the door keeps opening. He’s only just beginning to realize what that means, and how lost he would have been if he’d ever arrived to find the door closed.
Something in that fake smile softens, turns more real as Nathan approaches. It’s still guarded, though; Duke knows as well as Nathan the way this usually goes. But not today. Blood rushing in his ears, Nathan marches himself straight up to the door, gives Duke a gentle nod, and very firmly and deliberately steps inside. “Hi,” he says in a murmur that seems to echo off the rafters.
“Hi,” Duke repeats, not much louder. His face is a swirl of worry and cautious hope, and it’s clear he’s not going to say anything more until Nathan does.
He has an amazing face. Nathan doesn’t want to look away from it. But he has to, so that he doesn’t fumble too terribly when he reaches out and takes Duke’s free hand in his. “Is there... somewhere we can talk?”
The way Duke smiles then is soft and clear and all-enveloping, the spring sun that melts the last of the winter snow. “They can manage without me for a while,” he says, and tilts his head towards the tree line, and the one tree that doesn’t quite match the rest of the woods. He lets go of Nathan’s hand as he follows him outside, but a moment later Nathan recognizes the rustle of cloth that means there’s an arm around his back, a hand resting on his opposite shoulder. They’re silent as they approach the trees, a place where they can speak freely without the fear of anyone overhearing except the squirrels, and they’re no longer able to tell anyone else. Nathan doesn’t actually know what he’s going to say when they get there, but he thinks he’ll start with “It wasn’t just the Trouble” and see where they go from there.
It’s not a happy ending. But it might be the start of something.