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"You sure you're okay?" Jake asked as he pulled the car into the campgrounds. It was the third time he'd asked since they left town, but Nog hadn't relaxed at all. If anything, he looked even more uncomfortable now that their goal was in sight, eyes squeezed shut and hands white-knuckled against his armrests. "We don't have to do this today. It can wait, Nog, you said so yourself!"

Nog gritted his teeth and started to nod, but it turned into a jerky shake at the last second. "No. I mean, yes, it can wait, but I can't. I have to do this, Jake, to prove it to myself before I have to prove it to your father."

"Okay," Jake said, and he tried to keep his skepticism out of his voice, he really did. But looking at the shore, he couldn't help remembering how twitchy Nog got yesterday when he'd spilled some salt on the table. If he could barely manage to resist counting that, how was he going to survive a beach?

Still, it was what Nog wanted to do. Or, at least, it was something he needed to do to be able to do what he wanted. And as his best friend, it was Jake's duty to help him out, however he could. Grabbing towels and the cooler from the backseat, he gave Nog's shoulder a shake and climbed out of the car. "Come on, Nog, we're here."

He was halfway to the beach before he realized he wasn't being followed. He glanced back to check, and sure enough Nog was exactly where he'd left him, clutching at his seat, eyes still shut. Sighing, Jake walked back to the car and rapped a fist against Nog's window. "Come on, Nog."

"In a minute," Nog bit out. "I just - I need some time to adjust."

Holding back a frustrated, not very friend-like laugh, Jake pulled open the door. "Adjust to what? You haven't even looked at it, Nog!"

"I know! I just - I'm nervous, that's all." He cracked open one eye to look up at Jake. "What if... what if my uncle's right, and I'm never able to stop counting things? There's no way I can get into the Navy like that, let alone the Marines! I'll be stuck working at that stupid bar the rest of my life."

"The bar's not that bad," Jake lied. Nog gave him a flat look, but at least now he was looking at something. "And anyway," he added, reaching across Nog to unbuckle his seatbelt, "you'll never know until you try."

Nog made a dismissive noise. "I thought authors were supposed to avoid cliches."

"I'm not a real author, Nog." Not yet, anyway. Not until all the contracts were signed. "And just because it's cliche doesn't mean it isn't true." Grabbing Nog by his upper arms, Jake tugged him up out of his seat. "Now come on."

"Alright, alright," Nog grumbled, shoving him off and hopping out of the car at long last. "No need to push."

Jake snorted, and grabbed the stuff he'd left on the hood of the car. He followed Nog onto the sand and got their towels set up, the cooler open between them, before he realized Nog was standing stock-still. For a second Jake was afraid that he'd been right, and Nog was gonna fall over himself trying to count the grains of sand getting kicked up all around them.

Then he realized what Nog was actually staring at.

"Oh, wow," Nog breathed, "I had no idea - look at them! Those human females - "

"Out here in the real world we call them girls, Nog," Jake sais dryly.

"They're wearing practically nothing!" Jake couldn't tell if Nog was more awed or scandalized. Either way, he definitely wasn't being distracted by the sand anymore. Jake picked up a handful and dropped it right in front of Nog's nose, and he didn't even blink.

"I don't know if this is an improvement," he muttered, pulling out his journal, "but it's definitely something."