Somehow, Clay and Nick’s wires have gotten crossed.
If Clay could pinpoint exactly what caused it, he might be able to figure out how to fix it because, really, it’s getting a little ridiculous.
Nick is picking fights with him on purpose, Clay knows that, but he keeps rising to the bait on pure reflex. They’ve been arguing with increasing sharpness since the last case, over stupid things, over things they agree on, over things that wouldn’t have even come up if Nick wasn’t in Clay’s space so much. It doesn’t make sense, Clay can’t figure out what spawned the abrupt and relentless antagonism that’s following them around.
A weird, buggy part of Clay’s brain that’s fixated on how much he’s enjoying Nick’s attention thinks the fact that he’s enjoying the attention is the problem. Because while it hadn’t been on Clay’s mind when the crook of the week put a gun to his head, once he’d been rescued, once he’d gotten to see the unfettered relief break across Nick’s face, the thought had crossed his mind that at least he hadn’t died before he got the chance to figure this out.
This, of course, being the unnamed thing that kept he and Nick snarking at each other, itching to fight but not quite, backing one another up against the world but gleefully throwing each other under the bus in front of their friends, and just…
There’s something there or, rather, Clay wants there to be something there. Maybe Nick saw that and is trying to warn him off? But no, why would he stay so close to warn him off? Even at their meanest, they haven’t crossed any hard lines, they aren’t really trying to hurt each other. Nick doesn’t hate him, isn’t revolted by the affection he may or may not even know about, but there’s a tension to him any time Clay is in the room now that wasn’t there before he…
Clay gingerly scratches at the gash on his head where he got pistol whipped, watches Nick catch the movement, watches his face twist as he launches into another rant.
Before Clay gets the chance to say anything about that, though, Gibbs has had enough of both of them. Clay knows this because he shouts “Enough!” loud enough to startle everyone in the bullpen. Apparently, their uncomfortable silence was not a sufficient response because at the end of the day, they wind up locked in observation together. There’s a note taped to the glass of the interrogation room, “Figure it out.”
“Great,” Nick says as he snatches it down, crumples it, all without looking at Clay. “Fan-freaking-tastic.”
Clay just watches him for a moment, feeling a tightness in his chest that has nothing to do with getting roughed up. Nick is a professional; worked undercover for years and loved it, probably feels at his best covered up. Clay hadn’t recognized it right away, because it’s not there, it’s hidden, but he thinks he gets it now.
He’s less afraid of his own death than Nick is and it’s screwing both of them up to realize that.
Nick catches him looking—how could he not in a space this small—and rolls his eyes. “What? We gonna braid our hair and cry together now?” he snaps, but tenses up when Clay just steps closer. “What?”
“Nick…” Clay begins, and maybe it’s his tone, maybe it’s the look on his face, but whatever it is, that’s all he has to say.
“Clay,” Nick cuts in sharply and, yeah, that’s fear, plain as day on his face, a quick flash before he can look away. “Reeves,” he corrects firmly, “don’t do this.”
“I’m not doing anything,” Clay says with a shrug, “We’re just standing here, having a chat.”
“You’re standing real close for a chat, man,” Nick says, pointedly eyeing the half step between them.
“Yeah, yeah, I am,” Clay replies, keeps his hands in his pockets. “Tell me to back off, then.”
“Is that not what I did?”
They stare at each other silently, head-on and unwavering.
Surprisingly enough, Nick breaks first. “You don’t want this.”
“So you think you know what I want, ah?” Clay asks, because he’s just figuring it out himself.
Nick opens his mouth to reply, but cuts off with a laugh that’s more than a little wry. “I think I have a pretty good idea, yeah.”
“Oh yeah?” Clay laughs, but it quiets quickly as he leans back slightly. “M’ I overstepping?”
“I… I mean, I like you,” Nick says, which eases the tightness in Clay’s chest even as he hurries on. “I mean, I guess. You’re annoying as hell and I still want to fight you, just to see, but far as coworkers…” He stops, shrugs, “Far as friends go, you’re…you’re good, man.”
Clay nods, but he still looks confused. “That the problem, then? I’m just a swell bloke?”
Nick nods a few times, but it seems like he’s nodding to himself. “Never dated a guy. Good or otherwise, but…” he shrugs, smiling in away that doesn’t reach his eyes, “but all the good girls I dated got their hearts broken. Every single one.”
“Well,” Clay scratches his head, “being undercover probably had something to do with that.”
Nick raises his eyebrows. “Nothing saying I won’t go back under.”
“Nah, but I figure knowing before the fact isn’t half as bad as finding out after,” Clay replies.
“You’re doing a lot of ‘chatting’ for a fling,” Nick deflects.
Clay gives him a mock-surprised look. “Oh, I thought flings were what you were good at.”
“But that’s not what you want,” Nick says and, well, he has a point.
“Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t pass up on it,” Clay laughs, bites his lip with a wince, “because I think it’s a little late for me to not be stuffed up on you either way.”
Clay had been expecting Nick to get smug, but the genuinely flattered look that crosses Nick’s face pulls him up short. “Yeah, I am pretty, uh, ‘stuff-up-able’ I guess,” he teases, making Clay laugh.
“Yeah, you are.”
They’re laughing at each other, but Nick leans his head back against the window eyeing him searchingly. Clay stands there and lets himself be looked at, a weird electricity in his stomach at the way Nick’s eyes sweep over him before holding his gaze.
“I don’t… want a fling with you, Clay,” he says, shaking his head without standing up right. But before Clay can fumble for the words to say that’s okay, he raises his eyebrows and chuckles. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, you’re hot and I kinda want to run you through that wall which is low-key freaking me out, but that’s… not all I want,” he admits haltingly.
Clay nods, licking his lips. “Then why don’t you try asking for that, mate?”
Nick seems to weigh his words for a long moment before coming back to himself. “You wanna go on a date with me, Clay?”
“Sure, Nick,” Clay answers easily, with a false casual shrug, “Like to the gym or—?” Nick rolls his eyes, starts laughing. “Or rock climbing or something?”
“Yeah, sounds fun,” Nick replies sarcastically, but also one hundred percent seriously. Then he draws himself up properly so he’s standing boldly in Clay’s space. “Got another question for you, though?”
“Yeah?” Clay says, barely daring to hope this is going where he wants it to go. “What’s that?”
“Ok, it’s not really a question, actually, I just—” Nick yanks Clay forward by his jacket, kisses him before he can think any harder about it.
Clay lets himself be pulled, but catches himself on the window behind Nick before he can get pressed against him, just to prove he can. Still, their hearts are beating pretty hard and they can’t not notice it as close as they are. At some point, Clay stops caring about the pretense of strength and lets himself lean against Nick, emboldened by Nick’s hand in his collar. They don’t quite move back even when they stop kissing.
“You know…” Clay starts breathlessly, face scrunched in thought, “Honestly—”
Nick cocks an eyebrow at him, stroking his own jaw. “Beard’s hella weird, isn’t it?”
The bright laugh that startles out of Clay makes Nick smile and, wow, close up that’s a lot to process.
“Yeah, it is, ‘s a little rough, mate,” Clay says, stroking his own beard. “You know they got beard butter for that?”
Nick scoffs loudly. “I look like the kinda guy who uses beard butter?”
“You get pedicures!” Clay exclaims, delighted to watch Nick’s face fall as he blushes.
“I do not!” he shouts, “Who told you that? Was it Bishop?”
Clay snorts. “Your perfectly manicured hands were a clue,” he chuckles, but it backfires when Nick smirks in his face.
“Oh, have you been scoping out my hands, Clay?” Nick says, his hand slides from Clay’s jacket up to cup his neck. “What a sly dog! I thought you didn’t want me for my body?”
Clay is glad he doesn’t blush, but Nick is probably close enough to feel the way he flashes warm, anyway. He doesn’t have to try hard to look annoyed, though. “You’re a cocky bastard, you know that?”
“Speaking of co—”
The sound of the door unlocking has them both flying away from each other with a lot less grace than either of them will ever admit to. If Tim notices the awkward atmosphere when he sticks his head in the door, he probably connects it to a scuffle, not an impromptu make out session. Or even if he doesn’t, it suits them all fine to pretend he does.
“Boss is calling it a night,” he says, glancing between them. “You all good?”
Nick and Clay share a quick look, shrugging with some of their old casualness. “We’re good.”
They both feel a little bad when McGee sags in genuine relief, so they crowd him, harass him on their way out of the door until he’s amused and annoyed, too. When he leaves them in the elevator, they find themselves standing at ease with each other again, even if there’s an unfamiliar sort of anticipation buzzing happily between them.
“So.” Nick starts.
Clay turns to him, arching an eyebrow. “So?”
“My gym or yours?”
The goofy smiles they give each other in that moment should be framed.