It was almost, but not entirely, a secret that Nate had a running correspondence with Jeremy Archer separate from, um, Jeremy and Simon's...thing. Which was to say that Nate sent and received highly coded emails from his home computer, encrypted from here to infinity, no Bureau connections at all, and if some of his hacking and explosives ideas started to get a distinctly Jeremy-tinged flavor, Simon just looked at him and then said nothing.
Whatever Jeremy told Simon when they were...whatevering, was not the point. Except this time it kind of a little was?
Nate looked over his shoulder even though his door was closed and locked and he could hear his mother doing the dishes downstairs. The email in front of him looked like a perfectly normal (Nate-normal) rant about continuity in Doctor Who (Jeremy complained that he'd had to start watching the show just to keep up with the code, but Nate was pretty sure that was just because he hadn't figured out a way to make his own sonic screwdriver yet), but was actually part of a long ongoing discussion about remote triggering devices. Nate had some great new ideas for--not the point.
He took a deep breath and typed the code for "no longer in code," and then stared down the blinking cursor for a second.
Can I ask you something about--well, about dating, I guess?
Jeremy's reply, when it came, skipped the explosives part entirely.
Am I to take it you've finally decided to take action regarding our epigrammatic mutual friend?
Nate hit dictionary.com for "epigrammatic."
How did you know?
The reply took a bit longer than usual. I’m rather perceptive.
"Oh," Nate said out loud.
It helped Nate to think about a mission: how to attract Johnny in five easy steps, or something.
Jeremy had suggested what he called "courting gifts," which had given Nate a minor fit of...something. Still, with a bit of thought and some poking around in the right corners of the Internet, Nate thought he might have something.
“What is this?” Johnny asked, picking up the disc from the top of his laptop.
“Porn?” Mike asked from where he was kicked back in his chair, eyes closed. He might actually be asleep for all Nate could tell – that kind of stuff was practically a spinal reflex for him.
Nate accidentally-on-purpose bumped Mike’s chair as he walked past. Mike went down, flailing, and managed a glancing blow off Nate’s kidney as he fell.
“No,” Nate grunted. Ow, breathing. “TV.”
“Television porn?” Mike asked from the floor.
“Star Trek,” Sandy guessed from her seat across the table.
“Doctor Who?” Simon asked.
Nate froze. Did Simon--? But Templar was just looking at him with no particular interest.
Meanwhile, the discussion of nerdiness seemed to have attracted attention from the other end of the room. “Did you say Doctor Who?” Dave’s head swiveled around.
“No,” Nate said. Man, everyone was staring at him. “It’s. It’s, um, Sons of Thunder?"
Johnny turned the disc over a couple of times. “Seriously, Sons of Thunder?"
"Yeah, the Walker Texas Ranger spinoff," Nate said.
"They never released this on DVD."
"I know. I torrented the .avi files off the--"
Johnny just looked at him.
"I downloaded the files off the Internet," Nate said weakly.
"Huh." Johnny looked at the disc again. "Thanks, Specs. So I can just put it in my DVD player?"
"Well, it depends on the player. Or you can watch it on your computer. Do you have VLC?"
Johnny just looked at him.
Which was how they ended up at Nate's house, watching it on his TV while Nate's mom cleaned loudly upstairs.
Nate had never actually watched Sons of Thunder, or Walker Texas Ranger, except for a couple of episodes in the hospital when Johnny was taking his shift sitting with Nate and there was nothing else on. Not that it really mattered. He was pretty much watching the Johnny Pilgrim Is Sitting Next To Me On The Couch And Our Legs Are Touching show. He liked this show. It could run longer than original Who and he'd be just fine with it.
He was processing some of it, though, and he turned to Johnny at one point. "You know that's not how computer searches work, right?"
"Just watch the ass-kicking," Johnny said around his ever-present toothpick.
Nate looked back at the screen just as a dude kicked someone in the head. "Okay, that's hot." Then he heard himself and felt his face go bright red. Damn it.
"That so?" Johnny asked. Nate realized in a rush that Johnny's arm was resting on the back of the couch behind him.
He opened his mouth to say something, he'd figure it out when he got there, and nearly fell off the couch when he heard his mom clattering down the stairs.
"Nathan, you should really learn to fold your shirts better," she said, and headed into the kitchen. "Would you boys like some chips and dip?"
And then I got cockblocked by my mother, Nate wrote to Jeremy the next day. I'm thinking about selling my house and moving into the mat room.
Any good strategy has a secondary plan, Jeremy wrote back. Johnny has a perfectly good condo.
Johnny did, indeed, have a perfectly good condo, with a propane grill on the shower stall-sized balcony. And Nate just happened to have an idea for an improvement to propane that would make it burn hotter and faster. It was an experiment in the making!
And by experiment you apparently mean "secret date," I suppose? Jeremy wrote. There is such a thing as too subtle.
Nate didn't even bother to reply. At least not until the propane turned out to burn so hot and so fast that the steaks were ashes on a bone and the inside of Johnny's grill hood was permanently scorched.
Is there such a thing as a tertiary plan?
He could almost hear Jeremy sighing in his reply. Oh, Nate.
"Do we have crime to fight? Computers to hack?" Nate asked the next morning, hoping his desperation didn't come through in his voice. Anything to keep him busy until he figured out what to try next, or how to give up entirely.
He watched out of the corner of his eye as Johnny leaned in the doorway of the mat room and stretched, his shirt pulling tight around his biceps and shoulders. He wasn't going to give up quite yet.
"Nothing yet," Simon said, and it took Nate a second to remember what he'd asked. "Upstairs is still waiting for things to calm down after the Stern case."
"That was a completely appropriate and justified use of kick-ass!" Mike was pouting, which looked completely terrible on him.
"Yes, he so appropriately spat out three teeth," Simon reminded him.
Mike's face got gloomier.
"Don't worry, we'll deal with it. In the meantime, let's take advantage of today. Springheel, take Honda into the mat room and work through his issues.” Mike opened his mouth; Simon glared at him until he shut it. "Stonewall, you and I are going to deal with the Stern paperwork."
For once Dave was listening. "But I didn't even punch the guy!" he protested.
"Yes, but I'll kill Mike if he tries to do it, so it's you," Simon said.
Dave's pout mirrored Mike's.
"I can--" Nate started, but Simon waved a hand at him.
"Specs, Texas, firing range. Get your hours in for the month." Johnny perked up at that, which pretty much translated to chewing on his toothpick a little faster. "Texas, see if you can poke at Specs a bit--" Nate's face went bright red. "--see if you can get his stance to look a little less shitty."
"Thanks?" Nate said.
Simon clapped his hands. "On it, team!"
As Nate followed Johnny out of the room, he caught Simon looking at them a little more intently than he should be.
"Okay. So." Nate took his stance, aimed, and looked over at Johnny. "Is this really that shitty?" he asked, over-enunciating to compensate for the ear protection they both wore.
Johnny waggled a hand at him. Nate sighed. Johnny's mouth quirked up in a half-smile. "Hang on," he said, and went to stand behind Nate. One (large, warm) hand slid along Nate's arm, changing the angle just a fraction. The other (also large, also warm) hand moved to adjust Nate's torso. Then Johnny's (very large, very warm) leg came up flush behind Nate's--
And Nate jerked and fired into the range floor.
"Um," he said, sliding his finger off the trigger where it shouldn't have been in the first place, no one would ever let him hear the end of it, "I--sorry."
Johnny rested his forehead on Nate's shoulder. From the way it shook, he was either laughing or crying. Nate kind of didn't blame him for either.
"Try it again?" Johnny asked, and put his damn hands back on Nate. Nate closed his eyes and counted to twenty in Klingon.
He didn't shoot the infrastructure again, but that was about all that could be said for it. He ejected the magazine and glared down at it. He was going to do something nasty and untraceable to Simon in the very near future.
"Okay," Johnny said, taking the gun out of Nate's hand and turning Nate around. "I know you're better than this under pressure. Chill."
"I'm really not," Nate said.
Johnny shook him by the shoulders a little. "Seriously. Relax a little."
"Maybe the range is relaxing for you, but--hey!" Nate shoved Johnny's hand away from his shirt. "Stop that!"
"Nate." Johnny held his hands up, shoulder-level. "Come on. You don't have to hide this shit from us."
"I want to," Nate said, and closed his eyes. "I mean--never mind. Just do it."
He kept his eyes closed as Johnny stepped closer again. He popped them open wide, though, when Johnny laid his hand flat against Nate's chest, outside his shirt. His fingers brushed the edges of two scars. Even if he couldn't feel it through the fabric, Nate was sure Johnny knew where they were.
"Don't hide," Johnny said, his voice barely audible through Nate's ear protection.
"I don't want you to look at it and feel guilty. I know you do."
Johnny's hand pressed in tighter for a second, then slid away. "Maybe you should ask me how I feel," he said.
Nate watched him walk to the far side of the firing range, speechless.
FIX THIS, Nate sent to Jeremy in all-caps at about 3:00 the next morning, after fighting his way out from a dream where Johnny was tracing his scars and Nate was--well. I think he might be interested, except when I think he thinks I'm a moron or when I think he thinks I'm some kind of penance or something.
"Also I think I'm twelve," he said out loud.
You know what? Just tell me this is hopeless so I can go hide under a CPU until we all forget this ever happened.
His phone rang seconds later, a string of numbers that meant nothing to Nate.
"Nate," Jeremy said before Nate could even get a word out, "I have a confession to make."
"Oh-God-what?" Nate asked in a rush.
"I'm fairly certain Johnny doesn't think you're a moron, but my estimation of your intelligence is being revised sharply downwards."
"As he is neither a medical professional nor planning to arrest you--to the best of my knowledge--I think you should interpret Johnny putting his hands all over you as a man putting his hands all over you."
"Nathan." The two syllables were loaded with both affection and exasperation. "Are you male? Are you currently in possession of a pair of balls? Find them and ask the man out."
Nate took the phone away and blinked at it. "Um," he said, pressing it to his ear again, "I think you've been spending too much time with Templar."
"You have no idea," Jeremy said on a sigh. "You really do not."
"So, when you usually go to museums I know you go to real ones, with art and stuff," Nate said as they walked out of the parking garage and into the sunlight, "but this one makes me laugh every time."
"Is it a comedy museum?" Johnny asked. For some reason he was keeping his toothpick in his hand today, flipping it over and over. "A circus museum?" He stopped short and looked up at the sign. "The Spy Museum." He looked over at Nate, who was maybe holding his breath a little. "I see your point," Johnny said, and half-smiled.
They stood companionably near each other in front of ninjas, bumped shoulders through codebreaking, and by modern technology and cyber attacks, Nate was draping himself half over Johnny to point out all the things that were wrong, wrong, wrong.
"That has nothing to do with actual--an EMP wouldn't--seriously, I need to have a talk with someone." Nate started off towards the gift shop, but Johnny yanked on his sleeve and spun him back around. "What?"
Johnny looked over Nate's shoulder and marched him backwards into--a very dark room. Nate looked wildly around as some sort of World War II propaganda film started playing, illuminating the empty seats.
"What am I missing?" he asked.
"Shut up," Johnny said, and kissed him.
After one startled second, Nate flailed out blindly for Johnny - one hand landed on his hip, one on his shoulder - and kissed him back as thoroughly as possible. Johnny's grip on his arm tightened, and Nate vaguely registered the sharp point of a toothpick digging in. He ignored it and tried to pull Johnny even closer.
There was a sudden noise behind them, and they pulled apart enough to see a group of teenagers standing in the doorway, gaping and giggling. Johnny freed one hand from Nate, dug in his pocket, and flashed his badge at them. "Official FBI business. Move along."
"Holy crap," Nate said breathlessly as they edged out of the doorway, giggling even harder. "That is so illegal."
"Didn't I tell you to shut up?"
"Sorry," Nate said, and reached for him again.
You were right.
"Three tens," Mike said, tossing his cards down with a flourish. Simon, Sandy, and Nate threw their cards down with greater or lesser amounts of profanity, depending. Johnny had folded already and was finishing off his beer with single-minded focus.
"Dave," Simon said. "Stone!"
"What?" Dave blinked over at Simon. "Oh. Um." He set his cards down. "Full house?"
"Motherfucker," Mike said, and punched Dave in the arm genially. "Sandy, give me some chips."
"No," she said.
"Sandra. Love of my life. What's mine is yours, vice versa, etcetera. Please?"
"I will punch you in the face," she said without changing expression.
"Another round?" Nate asked, standing up. He looked around the table, his hand on the back of Johnny's chair, as the room generally agreed (except Dave, who'd gotten distracted sorting his chips). He shifted his weight a bit, then leaned down and kissed Johnny before he could talk himself out of it again.
He felt Johnny smile against his mouth as the room exploded around them. When he pulled back, Johnny had his full deadpan on again, and Nate strolled into the kitchen casually. Well, faking casual.
Sandra was laughing hysterically. Mike was demanding details in higher and higher pitched tones, and Dave just kept saying "Oh," over and over.
Nate started loading up with beers from the fridge and fought the urge to giggle. A hand reached over his shoulder and grabbed a couple from him. Nate turned and faced Simon.
"Jeremy wanted me to thank you for the sonic screwdriver."
Nate blinked, turned bright red, and grinned in quick succession. "It's the least I could do," he said.
"Apparently. Although he also said something about a laser screwdriver?"
"Oh, no." Nate said. He cocked his head to one side. "Although..."
Simon laughed. "That's the two of you in a nutshell, isn't it?" He slapped Nate on the back and reached past him for another beer. "Let's get back in there before Honda scars me for life."
"So how exactly does the slide rule work, Texas?" they heard as if on cue.
"Well," Johnny said, the first time he'd spoken since Nate kissed him, "I take it, and I shove it straight up your--"
"Oh," Dave said again, and maybe Nate snickered just a little as they rushed back in to prevent trauma and bloodshed. Just a little.