It's getting late, the hazy Los Angeles sun glowing a dirty orange through the windows. Nate wanders slowly up the stairs, rubbing at his eyes.
"Hey," says Eric, looking up from his computer. He fiddles with the keyboard and the screen flashes to something more official, less Facebook-y.
Nate snorts. "Too slow," he says, sinking into an empty chair.
Eric looks guilty but clicks back to his Facebook page.
"Just don't let Hetty catch you doing that," adds Nate, yawning.
"Catch you doing what?" says Hetty. Eric jumps. Nate grins at the ceiling.
"Um," says Eric eloquently.
"Doing something you shouldn't be?" Hetty takes a step closer, peering at Eric over her glasses. His fingers twitch on the keyboard. "Socialising on agency time, perhaps? Talking to your internet friends?"
"Well technically they're not internet friends, you know, they're people I know in, uh, in real life, I mean, I've met them before, and, uh."
"Mmm hmm," says Hetty, watching him with that particular curious, predatory look of hers.
Nate takes pity. "Hey, Hetty," he says, "I thought you were down berating G about that shirt he ruined."
"Oh yes," says Hetty, turning her attention to Nate. "Mr. Callen has been sufficiently." She pauses, tilting her head only very slightly. "Educated."
"By which you mean-- "
"He is currently up to his elbows in saline solution and suds."
"Ah," says Nate.
"Yes," says Hetty, stepping towards Nate this time. "You, on the other hand, Mr. Getz, I don't see you doing anything."
"Well," says Nate, darting a look at Eric, who's biting his lip, eyes fixed on the screen, "I, uh." He pauses. "I'm just going to go find something to do."
He feels Hetty's eyes on him all the way down the stairs.
Nate's sprawled in his chair downstairs, drinking his morning coffee when Eric wanders in, bag slung over his shoulder, eyes bleary behind his glasses. "Hey," he mumbles.
"Hey," says Nate.
Eric stops, leaning against the side of the table and pulling his glasses from his face, rubbing at his eyes. He's abandoned his slightly more ridiculous shirts today, Nate notes, just a plain t-shirt instead, loose but clinging about his collarbones and hips.
Okay, thinks Nate, blinking, and clears his throat. "Don't let Hetty see you like that," he says.
Eric points a finger at him. "Don't say that," he says. "You say that and she always appears. It's like a curse. Like in Harry Potter, you know, and, uh." He stops, dragging a hand over his face and sliding his glasses back on. "Never mind."
Nate smiles into his coffee, tipping the chair onto its back legs as Eric trips upstairs.
He spends the rest of the day in the boathouse with a witness Sam and G deliver for him, trying to calm her down while they head out again, and in, and out, and back in-- he loses track somewhere around mid-afternoon.
"How is the poor girl, Mr. Getz?" asks Hetty when he finally makes it back long after the sun has set. He jumps. It's easy to get lost in that place, absorbed so thoroughly in another person. It always takes a while to blink awake.
"She'll be okay," he says tiredly.
"Ah, good." Hetty peers up at him. "And for you, I would advise a good night's sleep, and perhaps a cup or two of herbal tea. Leaves, of course, none of that bagged rubbish."
"I'm not a big tea drinker," says Nate.
Hetty eyes him for a moment. "Pity," she says finally. "Well, I think sleep is in order, in any case."
"Yeah," says Nate. "Thanks, Hetty."
She nods. Nate spares a glance at the staircase before he leaves.
It's late morning two days later and Nate's flicking idly through the newspaper when he realises that Eric's yet to pass him on his way upstairs. He frowns.
"Eric?" he calls, ascending the staircase slowly.
"Yeah," says Eric.
Nate blinks. "How long have you been here?"
"Um." Eric runs a hand through his hair, glasses askew. "Since yesterday."
"You didn't go home?"
Eric shakes his head. "Couldn't," he says. "G's still undercover, I've hacked into the surveillance cameras to keep an eye on him, and also these accounts, they're the only way we can get these guys and get him out of there, but I've never seen anything like them." He bites down on his lip.
Nate steps up and peers over Eric's shoulder. Eric glances at him. "Yeah." Nate crooks his mouth in a half-grin. "I don't know, it means nothing to me. I do know though," he says, curling a hand over Eric's shoulder and squeezing lightly, "That you should get some rest."
"Can't," says Eric distractedly.
"Seriously, like an hour even," says Nate. "Is it going to make that much difference? G knows what he's doing."
Eric twists his mouth, then shakes his head again. "I'm close,” he says, leaning towards the computer screen, nose almost touching it, "I know I am."
He watches Eric almost stumble down the stairs ten hours later. "Close, hey?" he smirks.
Eric scrubs at his eyes, knocking his glasses askew again, and says, "Shut up. That was like, record time. I doubt anyone else could've done it at all."
Nate nods. "Yeah," he says. "Hey, good job. Without, you know, reinforcing the bad behavioural pattern of not sleeping."
Eric smiles, soft and tired and happy. "Thanks," he says.
Eric's twirling thoughtfully in his chair when Nate sneaks back upstairs after their next briefing, staring at the suspect's ID still up on screen.
"Could I get a hard copy of everything we've got on him?" asks Nate, hanging back with his hands in his pockets.
"Sure thing, Doc," says Eric, turning to grin at him.
Nate finds himself oddly fixated on the careless sprawl of Eric's legs in the chair, the way his shorts ride up over his knees, their hard pointed bones.
"Thanks," he says, swallowing past his surprise.
Eric's smile is bright in the shadowy room as he hands over the file.
He takes it to a quiet corner of the building to read, noting slowly, methodically. When he wanders out Sam, G, Kensi, Hetty, even Eric, are all crowded around the big table.
"What is that?" he asks, stepping closer. He slots himself between Eric and Kensi and peers down at the table and what appears to be a thoroughly destroyed laptop.
"We think it might be some kind of bomb," says G.
"What?" Nate takes a stumbling step backwards. "Why is it in here? Shouldn't we leave? And like, call a bomb squad, or-- "
"Relax," says Sam, shaking his head. "It's just a laptop. G stepped on it. Several times."
"Oh," says Nate weakly, moving furtively forward again.
"While wrestling the guy with the gun so he wouldn't shoot you," says G, folding his arms.
"I could've taken him," says Sam, eyes fixed on the laptop, lips twitching.
"Oh, that's right, I forgot, Navy SEALs are immune to bullets."
"Gentlemen," says Hetty. Sam closes his mouth over a retort, rolling his eyes at G instead. "The question now is not how it happened or who did it, but rather can it be fixed."
Everyone turns to look at Eric.
"Uh," he says. "Guys, that's-- that’s a pretty smashed-up computer."
"We need to see what's on there," says G. "There could be something linking our suspect to the murder."
"I could probably still get to the data, if the hard drive isn't too damaged." He glances at G. "It might take a while though." He looks back at the mess on the table.
Hetty nods. "Well Eric, then I suggest you get started."
"Right," says Eric. "I'll. Okay." He pushes slightly into Nate's side as he leans towards the laptop, and there's this weird moment Nate thinks about how warm he is, the bare skin of his wrist brushing against Nate's sleeve as he reaches out, and how he smells vaguely salty, like the sea. Surfing, Nate guesses.
He shakes his head, stepping backwards. Sam's, "You should've let me take him," and G's mock-serious, "Why can't you just accept that I've got your back without getting so macho about it? We're partners, it's what we do," sound strangely distant.
"You really need to get a better handle on working overtime," says Nate, trudging upstairs somewhere around midnight. Eric's jerking back and forth between two computers and the destroyed laptop, fingers flying double-time, legs twitching incessantly.
Eric glances up at him, harried. "It's the coffee," he says. "I'm fine."
"No, really," says Nate, sliding into a chair and folding his hands. "So much unnecessary sleep deprivation, it's not good for you. Thought processes are less clear, you get more irritable, less happy, everything."
"It's not unnecessary," says Eric.
"It's not totally necessary, either," says Nate. "If we're working against the clock, yeah, but you’re just looking for evidence. It can wait."
"I," says Eric. He palms at his neck. "Okay, yeah, you may have a point. I just." He shrugs. "I get a bit caught up, you know?"
"Yeah," says Nate. "It's okay, you're allowed to." He grins. "That's why I'm here."
Eric shakes his head but he's smiling.
He looks decidedly more well-rested the next time Nate sees him, stepping through on his way upstairs, the early-morning sun touching his hair golden-white.
"Better?" he says, raising an eyebrow.
Eric grins. "Your advice worked wonders, Doc," he says. "I'm impressed."
"You sound surprised," says Nate, "Which implies that your faith in my abilities has previously been lacking."
"I've never doubted your abilities," says Eric, feigning hurt. "I was just particularly impressed on this occasion."
"I told you to get some sleep," says Nate, nodding. "It was pretty impressive, I must admit."
Eric laughs. "Keep up the good work," he says, heading on up the stairs.
Nate watches him, the tendons behind his knees stretching each time he takes a step.
He thinks about it afterwards, Eric's crooked grin, the tilt of his head, the way he bites down on his lip.
The thing is, Nate's great at the objective stuff, psychoanalysing people he doesn't know and debriefing people he does mission after mission, talking them through it, getting them back on track. None of it relates directly to him and his feelings. Or well, it does; the stuff with the team is harder, haves him more anxious and leaves him more drained, but it’s not, well. It's not this, catching himself picking up on strange little details, like the way Eric's hair curls back from his forehead or the way his eyes brighten when the light hits his glasses just right, and if anything it focuses him more, doesn't leave him feeling vague and distracted and generally disoriented.
Nate's trying and mostly failing not to think about it, lying back on one of the couches, feet up, hands folded over his stomach when Sam finds him, collapsing onto the other couch with a heavy sigh. He's silent for a moment, staring off at nothing, and Nate feels some small twinge of professional obligation, and a more overwhelming sense of laziness, but then Sam turns towards him and says, "What's up, Doc?" and snickers.
Nate rolls his eyes. "Funny," he says dryly.
"I thought so," says Sam seriously. He tilts his head. "For real though, you okay?"
Nate shrugs. "It's a common misconception," he says after a pause, "That psychologists have completely problem-free personal lives."
"I always thought it'd be the other way 'round," says Sam. "You spend so much time dealing with other people, you end up neglecting yourself."
"It's not so much neglecting," says Nate, "As being severely inept at self-analysis."
"The Doc has a weakness." Sam grins.
"Tell anyone and I'll have to kill you." Nate yawns.
Sam snorts. "Get some rest, man," he says. "You're delirious."
"Yeah," says Nate. He pulls himself heavily to his feet.
"Hey," says Sam, just before Nate's out of earshot. He turns. "Not to be psychoanalysing the psychoanalyser, but. Just don't worry about it too much, yeah, whatever it is."
Nate smiles, weary. "Yeah," he says again.
The problem with working in such a specialised unit is that much as the on days are on, there are also long, lulled periods of nothing interspersed between all the danger and excitement. Nate sits back in his chair on one such day, eyes clouded over, drowsy, rubbing at them to clear them.
He glances at the staircase, then back at the paperwork in front of him, that boring stuff everyone forgets about when they have a case, then pushes to his feet.
"Hey," says Eric, turning when Nate slips into the room. "You need something?"
Nate shakes his head and sinks into an empty chair.
There's a silence. "Slow day?" says Eric eventually. He's half-smiling when Nate glances at him, soft and comfortable.
"Maybe," says Nate, stretching his legs out in front of him and tipping his head back, closing his eyes.
"Where are the dead marines when you need them?" says Eric. Then catches himself and adds, "Uh, I mean, not that we ever need dead marines, not a good thing at all. Um."
Nate shakes his head, chuckling at the ceiling.
He's actually busy when Hetty calls his name and gestures for him to come into her office.
He blinks, confused, folding the pile of papers in front of him carefully shut, and follows her inside.
"You've been spending a lot of time upstairs," says Hetty. It isn't a question.
"Um," says Nate. He's always been particularly fascinated by Hetty's ability to render all manner of people-- the toughest, the most highly-trained-- completely ineloquent. It's even crossed his mind once or twice to do some sort of study, maybe publish a paper. Only there's the whole problem of, you know, Hetty being completely terrifying.
Hetty eyes him silently for a moment.
"It's. I haven't, really? I just, uh." Nate cuts himself off.
"Far be it for me, Mr. Getz," says Hetty finally, "To offer advice in your particular area of expertise, but, a suggestion. While Eric is famous in his own brand of clueless, you have the advantage of, I think, understanding your feelings, if not the skill or the conviction to act upon them."
"I," says Nate. "What are you saying?"
"I'm saying," says Hetty, picking up a pen decisively and dismissively, "Do something, Doctor, for all our sakes."
He thinks about it after he's shoved the paperwork aside, frustrated, but he can't just, he doesn't even know, go up there and, and tell Eric, or. He's not like that. He may be clueless about a lot of things but he knows himself well enough to know that. It's stupid. There's nothing even to say. He can't be all, Hey, I stare at you sometimes, probably definitely inappropriately, and I kind of think it'd be nice to kiss you, especially in the mornings when your skin's still damp from the sea, just to see if you taste like salt.
He laughs to himself. There's no end to that hypocrisy.
He's on his way out, his bag heavy with unfinished paperwork, when Hetty steps up in front of him. "Mr. Getz," she says in that slightly singsong but no less authoritative voice.
"Yeah?" he says.
Hetty purses her lips and eyes the staircase meaningfully.
"What, now?" says Nate, then shakes his head and says, more level, "Hetty, look, no offence, but you don't-- I can't, okay, not now. There's nothing to say."
She's silent for a moment, head tilted. "How soon 'not now' becomes 'never,'" she says at last. "Martin Luther, I believe."
Nate sighs. "Maybe never is good," he says, "Because there's nothing actually to say."
Her lips tighten in the particular fashion that means she's holding back a smile. "Perhaps there isn't," she says. "Another common idiom: actions, Nate, speak louder than words." She turns then, and heads slowly, calmly, towards the exit.
Nate blinks after her, mouth open.
"Hi," says Nate.
Eric jumps, whirling to peer owlishly at him. "I thought everyone was gone," he says.
"They are," says Nate. "I'm on my way out now."
"Oh," says Eric. "Okay."
"What are you still doing here?" asks Nate, shoving his hands into his pockets. "Didn't we have this conversation already?"
Eric quirks a smile. "I'm nearly done, I promise. Just clearing up a few last things."
Nate eyes the barely-touched coffee sitting on the table. "I don't believe you," he says. "If I leave now you'll still be here in the morning."
"It's not like I'm torturing myself," says Eric, half-laughing, half-defensive. "I love my job."
Nate rolls his eyes. "Contrary to popular belief, love is not actually all you need. Turns out you need sleep too, and food, and water, and-- "
"Oh my God, okay." Eric holds up his hands, laughing for real now. "Consider your point made."
"I'll consider it made when I actually see you walk out of here," says Nate, grinning.
"Seriously," says Eric, taking an absent sip of his coffee, "Five minutes, I've just got to-- "
Nate surprises even himself when he steps up and kisses Eric soundly on the mouth.
It's an awkward kiss mostly, a little too wet, and Eric's glasses are digging into the tops of Nate's cheeks, but the inside of his mouth is hot, too-strong coffee and sugar-sweet, and he makes this soft little surprised noise in the back of his throat, hands closing over Nate's hips.
"Um," he says when Nate pulls back.
"Um," agrees Nate.
"You, uh. What?" says Eric, blinking slowly, confused.
"I should. Should I go?" Nate takes a step backwards. Eric's hands slip from his hips.
"I don't." Eric clears his throat. "Do you want to go?"
Nate swallows, hard and audible, and then says, "Maybe, uh, maybe not really, no."
"Oh," says Eric. The corner of his mouth hitches upwards, just the tiniest hint. "Oh, okay."
"Okay?" says Nate slowly.
"Okay," says Eric.
It is, as far as getting-togethers go, not the most flawless, especially for a trained psychologist, but, Nate thinks, stepping up close again, kissing Eric with a careful hand curled around the back of his skull, acutely aware of his long legs framing Eric's, his neck tilted down to reach his mouth, he doesn't really care, because it's kind of awesome.