Nick was tucked away at the far end of the bar, staring at the dark TV screen in front of him as if it held all the answers to his questions. He didn't seem to realize that it was switched off.
It was late; Straightaways was almost empty. Straightaway unnecessarily pointed towards Nick when he caught Cody's eye and Cody nodded, heading over to his friend.
Nick didn't look up when Cody took the seat next to him. "Hey, buddy," he said.
Nick jumped a little, startled, and whirled around on the barstool. His momentum nearly propelled him to the floor and Cody had to grab Nick's arm to keep him upright. Nick didn't seem to notice and his slightly unfocused gaze slowly found Cody. "Cody? Whaddaya doin' here?"
"I'm taking you home, my friend," Cody said, patting Nick's arm. "Think you've had enough for now."
Cody hailed the bartender to see if he had to pay for any of Nick's drinks – and by the looks of his friend, there had been a lot of drinks – but the people working at Straightaways had been smart enough to take the cash up front this time.
"All right, Nick, here we go. C'mon." Cody stood, keeping an arm on Nick as Nick slid of the barstool and promptly stumbled against him. Cody caught him easily enough and steered him towards the exit.
Nick's efforts at walking were disastrous. Cody could see the Riptide from where they were standing, struggling to keep upright, but they'd most likely end up flat on their faces before they got there. Nick kept tripping over his own feet, stumbling into Cody in the process. As if on cue, Nick stumbled again and Cody couldn't get a good enough grip on Nick to stop him from dragging him down when he fell. Cody sighed and sat up, checking that Nick was okay.
"Okay, here's what we'll do, Nick." Cody managed to get Nick back onto his feet and moved to stand behind him, wrapping both arms around his friend. "Just do as I say. Left foot, right foot, come on, that's it." They were moving, wobbly and a little uncomfortably, but Cody could use his body to balance Nick's drunken stagger and move them both in the right direction.
They reached the gate down to slip 7 and Cody cursed. "Okay, Nick, hang on. Gotta get the gate open," Cody said. Nick hummed agreeably and swayed a little, making Cody fumble with the lock while trying to keep Nick from slipping out of his grasp.
"This is nice."
It came out as "dissssnice", but Cody had seen Nick drunk enough times to decipher even Nick's most slurred words. Cody stilled, one hand wrapped around the padlock, the other on Nick's wrist. "What is?"
Nick let his head fall back onto Cody's shoulder. "You know," he said, head rolling from side to side.
Cody stood stock-still, feeling Nick's nose brush through his hair, his lips skim against his cheek. "Why don't you tell me, buddy?" he whispered, not really daring to think about what he was doing.
"Noooo," Nick moaned. "Can't."
"Shhh!" Nick put a finger on his lips. "'S a secret. Not supposed to tell. Not supposed to tell you."
Cody unconsciously tightened his grip on Nick. "You can tell me, Nick. You can tell me anything and I'll still be your friend. Promise."
But Nick didn't seem inclined to talk any more. He stopped rolling his head on Cody's shoulder and instead buried his face in the crook of Cody's neck, nuzzling the bare skin just above the collar of Cody's turtleneck sweater. He murmured something unintelligible, lips against Cody's neck, and Cody closed his eyes for a second.
The truth was, he and Nick were dancing around each other, had been for years now. Neither of them had taken that last step, the one that would catapult them out of their comfortable friendship into the no man's land of attraction and romantic relationships. Cody wasn't sure he wanted to cross that line, not yet, not unless he had some sort of guarantee that coming on to Nick and starting something more wouldn't destroy their friendship along the way.
Nick squirmed until he'd turned himself around in Cody's arms. He put his own arms around Cody, and Cody's eyes almost watered from the strong scent of whiskey on Nick's breath. That alone meant that the decision making had to wait until the morning. No matter what their bodies had decided – and, pressed against each other as they were, it was plainly obvious that whatever it was between them was a mutual thing; the fact that Nick's body could rise to the challenge even in his inebriated condition was more than enough proof that attraction wouldn't be a problem – Cody knew that nothing could happen between them unless they would both remember it in the morning.
"'S really nice," Nick mumbled, putting his right cheek against Cody's. "I love being in your arms."
Cody took a deep breath and, even though Nick made it a challenge, pushed all thoughts of Nick in his arms away. With great difficulty, Cody got Nick into his bunk – into his own bunk at the other end of their cabin, alone, and hadn't that been the real challenge? – and at some point, he fell into a dreamless sleep.
The next morning, Cody found Nick in the Riptide's bathroom, looking pale and a little queasy. He was brushing his teeth, one hip propped against the sink, his eyes drifting closed every few seconds.
"You look like shit, pal," Cody said, nudging Nick until he made room for Cody. Nick rolled his eyes, mumbling something into his toothbrush that Cody didn't get but could interpret pretty well anyway. Cody grabbed the aspirin from under the sink and stepped back to let Nick finish up.
"Do you remember anything from last night?" Cody asked, eyebrows raised. He studied Nick in the mirror as he washed his face, pulled himself together and swallowed the two aspirin Cody handed him.
"Um… not much," Nick eventually said, his voice rough and a little hoarse. "How did I get home?"
"Straightaway called me. You were pretty out of it." Cody grinned. "You know, stumbling and babbling, like you get when you're drunk off your ass. You don't remember?"
Nick froze at the tone in Cody's voice, eyes darting around to look at everything but Cody while his expression settled somewhere between utter panic and stoic resignation.
Cody decided it was up to him to make a move. He stepped closer, only stopping when he could feel the heat of Nick's body against his. Nick stood still and tensed when Cody slipped his arms around him, putting them in their positions from the night before. "Relax, Nick," he said, voice low. "You're right; this is nice."
"Cody--" Nick started, but Cody cut him off with a shake of his head. Whatever Nick had to say, any justification, rationalization or excuse, he just didn't want to hear it. He wanted Nick, in his arms. He wanted Nick, telling him that this was nice and that he loved being in Cody's arms. He wanted Nick, no two ways about it.
"Hush, Nick." Cody let his forehead rest on Nick's shoulder – no need to see Nick's face if he decided that he didn't want to want this when he was sober, no matter what his body wanted, no matter what he wanted.
"I really hope I'm not screwing everything up between us, but last night you told me how nice it was to be in my arms." Cody took a breath and tightened his arms around Nick. "I didn't tell you how nice it was to hold you. I didn't tell you how much I wanted to kiss you and touch you and be with you. I didn't tell you," Cody said, slowly raising his head. He met Nick's gaze in the mirror, more nervous than he'd ever let on. "I didn't tell you, but I wanted to."
Nick swallowed loudly, and Cody could feel Nick's fast heartbeat fluttering against his ribcage where he had his hands pressed against Nick's chest. Then, much to Cody's relief, Nick finally relaxed, his body downright melting into his embrace.
"It's nice being in your arms," Nick said with an almost shy smile on his lips. "I love it."
Cody grinned. He released Nick and turned him around, crowding him against the sink. "Good. Think you can kiss me now?"
Nick's smile widened and when Murray got up a few minutes later, he found his two best friends kissing in the bathroom.