what they could be
His name is Eric and Nell might be in love with him - Eric//Nell
She meets a beautiful boy on her birthday. She’s twenty and he has the most beautiful eyes and they’re on a beach. He’s new in town, just out of college (He’s twenty four, but it was MIT and he couldn’t bring himself to leave, he tells her) and he has a job interview in the morning but right now he’s learning to surf. He loves Los Angeles more than he loved Massachusetts and more than he loved Oklahoma and she’s not good with new people but she likes him.
He buys her a beer, even though she’s only twenty because he won’t tell if she won’t, and it’s not like she hasn’t drunk beer before but she’s never drunk beer with a boy like him before and she’ll probably never see him again but it’s her birthday and she’s alone in Los Angeles (except for Nate, but Nate has to work because Nate always has to work and all she knows about Nate’s work is that he’s lying to her about it and she doesn’t know why.) and it’s nice to spend her birthday with someone even if he’s a total stranger.
They talk until the stars come out, about movies (he loves Back To The Future as much as she does) and games (she agrees to play Call Of Duty with him some day) and life (neither of them grew up here but it already feels more like home) and then they talk some more and it’s almost sunrise when they finally stop talking and go their separate ways.
They forget to exchange numbers.
(His name is Eric and Nell might be in love with him, and that’s okay because there’s ten million people in Los Angeles and she’ll never see him again.)
She spends her twenty first birthday with her family in Nebraska and she buys beer and drinks it because she’s twenty one and she doesn’t think about the boy on the beach, except she does, and she wonders what would have happened if she had gotten his number.
(She doesn’t connect the boy that Nate talks about with the boy from the beach until years later after she’s all but forgotten the encounter and nothing in her life is making sense, and she knows she’s in love with a man named Eric Beale but she can’t bring herself to admit it out loud.)
It’s September, and she turned twenty two a while ago but her twenty third birthday is still far away enough not to think about it. She’s at a party with Nate because he said it would be fun and she thinks he might have to leave soon even though he hasn’t said anything to her about it.
She has an interview at NCIS in two weeks if she passes the background check (she will) and being an intelligence analyst sounds like the perfect job for her because she won’t have to shoot anyone but she will get to solve problems and she likes that because she’s good at solving problems as long as they aren’t her own.
The beach encounter on her twentieth birthday is a foggy memory now, but when Nate introduces her to his friend Eric, there’s something so familiar about him that she just knows she’s had to have met him before, and she tries not to stare but she can’t quite place him and it’s going to drive her crazy, she just knows it.
He’s looking at her like he can’t quite place her either, but they can’t spend all night staring at each other, so she covers up whatever weirdness she’s feeling and introduces herself and he gets her a beer from the bar.
They talk until the party’s over, about movies (they debate the proper viewing order of the Star Wars series) and games (they both agree that Reach is the best Halo game yet and they make a date to play together sometime) and life (Nate’s a good guy, and a great friend, even if he sometimes gets into their heads a little too much).
They forget to exchange numbers, and Nell leaves with the strangest feeling of déjà vu.
(She tells herself she’ll get his number from Nate, but then Nate’s gone off to some Middle Eastern country and he promises he’ll come back but he doesn’t know when, and she promises to look after his apartment for him.)
She meets Eric Beale, officially, at work on the first day of October. She got the job at NCIS and Nate is gone now and it’s her first day. She’s following a woman even shorter than she is and everyone seems to fear the woman (Hetty, Nell reminds herself. The woman is named Hetty and she is in charge here and she is ridiculously scary.) She takes Nell past a bullpen, if it can even be called that, where three men and a woman who looks more like she belongs in a Victoria’s Secret catalogue than a federal agency are watching her and whispering to each other and judging her and she’s no longer sure if this was the best idea.
And then she’s in a room with more technology than she’s ever seen and he’s there and she wasn’t expecting this but she’s been thinking about him since the party so it’s very likely he’s not even real, except Hetty is introducing them (his last name is Beale and maybe she’ll finally remember to get his number) and Eric’s shaking her hand and she looks at how his hair seems to defy gravity and she absolutely does not think about running her fingers through it because she’s a professional and it’s her first day.
She wants to be charming and make him like her. She wants to show that she’s more than qualified for this position. She wants to say something witty and make everyone want to be her friend.
What she manages to say is “So there’s no dress code then?” and she doesn’t mean it like that because she’s wearing a too constricting pencil skirt and she hates it and if he can get away with board shorts, maybe she can get away with floral dresses but Eric still pulls a face like he hasn’t heard that one before and Hetty barely manages to hide her smirk before she leaves the room (Ops, Nell reminds herself. The room is called Ops and she’s going to be stuck here with people who are looking at her like she doesn’t belong for a number of years because she feels like people don’t leave this place without a bullet in them.)
The rest of the team comes in and she introduces herself while Eric finds a spare headset, and a spare tablet, and a spare everything, and the team acknowledges her but they don’t accept her and tomorrow she’ll learn their names but right now she’s quiet because it’s officially the worst first day of work ever.
(She tells her brain to quash any form of attraction to Eric because he’s so far off limits that she doesn’t want to be able to risk it; her brain hides it away somewhere she can’t see but misses some and she hates her brain for betraying her.)
She tries to resign three days in, because the team hates her and Eric hates her and she can’t handle being looked at like they’re judging her every move and Hetty looks at her with a calmness that makes Nell want to go back in time and never even type up her resignation letter when she goes to turn it in. She drinks the tea she’s offered, and Hetty assures her that the team will warm up to her and that none of them are very good with new people, and she understands that, doesn’t she? She takes the letter, and places it in a desk drawer Nell thinks must be full of secrets, and asks her to reconsider. Nell nods, and hurries off because she can actually feel Hetty getting inside her head and she just needs to make the older woman stop looking at her.
She emails Nate because she’s not allowed to call him, and he calls her in response because he’s allowed to call her. She tells him that the team hates her and Eric hates her and that Hetty won’t even let her quit and he tells her the same thing Hetty did and she doesn’t even get tea out of it. Then he tells her that the Nell he knows wouldn’t try to run away from a challenge like this and she sighs, heavy and a little angry because he’s right but she doesn’t have to like it. The conversation has to be short even though both phones are more than secure and he promises to email her and she reminds him that he said he’d be back and he reminds her that he said he didn’t know when and when she hangs up, she decides to stop acting like the shy new kid in school.
(She tries to stop finishing Eric’s sentences for him but it’s difficult and she can’t help but notice how attractive he is when he sets his jaw like that and she tells herself that it’s a purely objective observation.)
She sleeps with Eric one night in November. It’s not the best idea, and it’s never going to be the best idea, but he makes her stop thinking and no one has ever been able to make her stop thinking and she wants to explore that.
Kensi invites her to drinks with the team, and she’s surprised, even though they’ve finally started warming up to her (and she shouldn’t be allowed to know that Eric’s heartbeat is seventy two beats per minute but she does and she can’t forget about it no matter how hard she tries). No one drinks too much but they all drink enough that Callen has to fulfill his promise to be the designated driver and Eric and Nell stay after he takes the other three home because they’re still the youngest two on the team and it’s acceptable for them to stay out later.
They end up in a cab together and she’s got enough of a buzz to ignore the voice inside her head screaming that this is a bad idea.
She’s not sure who makes the first move but they’re on the stairs that lead up to his apartment and his mouth is on hers and her fingers are in his hair and her cardigan doesn’t even make it inside with them. She’d be amazed that he can unlock the door without taking his hands off her waist but she’s too busy trying to memorize the way he kisses her to even notice his hands.
They end up in his bed and she wouldn’t be able to tell you how they got there if she tried but there are hands everywhere and she doesn’t know where her dress went and she’s making noises that he shouldn’t be hearing and she hasn’t felt this good in a long time (and tomorrow she’ll realize what a mistake it was but right now she just needs him).
She freaks out in the morning and leaves before he wakes up and they don’t talk about it. They act normal at work because they have to, because they can’t afford not to. He doesn’t look at her like he wants to talk about it even though he does and she doesn’t look at him like she’s terrified of what this means for them even though she is.
(And if she doesn’t notice the way Eric looks at her when he thinks she’s not looking, then she can’t feel bad about leaving.)
He calls her first on Christmas morning and she calls him last on New Year’s Eve. She’s back in Nebraska and he’s still in Los Angeles and when he asks her if she’d be his New Year’s kiss, provided they were in the same state, she laughs it off because he’s with Kensi and Deeks and has probably had too much champagne and she promises him that she would, provided they were in the same state.
(He texts her an x at midnight, and she texts one back, and she doesn’t remind herself that he doesn’t like champagne.)
They manage not to talk about November until April, and then he almost dies. They send him undercover and it was her idea, or at least partially, and she hates herself more than anything because of it. He almost dies and she’s not there but Callen and Sam get to him in time and he comes back alive (he doesn’t even look shaken but she can’t read him and that scares her)
He shows up at her apartment in the middle of the night and she’s thankful for that because she’s tried sleeping but after the first nightmare she gave up. And there’s something in his eyes that’s changed, and he looks more broken than he did back in Ops, like he’s finally realized that he almost died, and she hates when he looks like that so she kisses him and then it gets out of control.
She doesn’t stop him because he needs this (needs to know that he’s alive and he doesn’t have to go undercover again and she saved him and he can’t thank her enough) and she needs this (needs to know he’s alive and breathing and that his heart is still beating and it doesn’t even have to be seventy two beats per minute as long as it’s beating), and he has her out of her shirt and against a wall before she pulls her mouth away to ask “Again?” Instead of answering, he moves his lips away from hers, and then he’s kissing her neck and she stops talking in favor of working on getting him out of his hoodie.
It occurs to her (when it’s too late to stop and her legs are too tangled in her own sheets to run away and his mouth is moving against her skin in an almost sinful way and she wouldn’t stop this for anything) that she should have gone to him because he’s the kind to still be next to her in the morning and she’s not sure if she’s ready to handle the consequences of that.
(But he’s gone in the morning, and she covers up the slight pang in her chest with the intense sense of relief she feels because they’ll continue not talking about it and he’s not ready to handle the consequences either.)
There is absolutely no reason for her to be jealous, because she has no claim to Eric. He’s her friend and her partner, but that’s it. He has every right to work with other women if he wants, and it’s not like she’s been very available to him since Hetty’s shooting, so it only makes sense. But she still watches him when she can, trying to see if he looks at this other woman (she doesn’t bother learning the woman’s name because she’ll be gone soon, or at least that’s what Nell tells herself) like he looks at her, and she clenches her teeth when she sees the woman looking at Eric in a way that only she is allowed to look at Eric.
(She lets herself feel a bit smug when she shows the woman up because Eric is looking at her in a way that he’ll never look at the other woman and she doesn’t need to be jealous anymore.)
She wants to ignore the look in his eyes when she tells him the flowers are from herself. She tries not to notice how relieved he sounds when he tells her that it’s great. But he won’t stop smiling and he took a flower from Hetty’s desk because of her (because of someone that doesn’t exist and he doesn’t seem like the jealous type but he is) and she tries, but she’s a fairly intelligent woman and it’s really difficult not to notice everything and realize exactly what it means.
(And maybe she’s not ready to act on it just yet, but it’s nice knowing that when she finally is, he will be too.)
She’s stays in Los Angeles for the holidays that year because she has to. There’s no time to catch a plane back to Nebraska after the case and honestly, she’s just not ready to deal with the aftermath of that video call. She’s been deflecting texts and calls about “that Eric boy” and if she’s not in Nebraska with her family, then it’s easier to avoid their interrogations.
They spend New Year’s together at his apartment, and she kisses him at midnight because she promised him she would and they’re in the same state this year. He’s surprised because he doesn’t remember but she does and she’s not the type to break a promise. He kisses her back and for just a moment she lets herself pretend, to act like this is normal, kissing him in his apartment at midnight. She lets herself realize that she could kiss him whenever she wants if she’d just start acting like an adult about her feelings, because he’s been waiting for her and he’ll keep waiting for her and he’ll be there when she’s finally ready.
(She kisses him again four days later and it’s not a special occasion but it’s the only way she can think to apologize because he has as much a right to be jealous as she does and it’s not much of a right at all.)
She spends her birthday with a beautiful boy. She’s twenty four and he still has the most beautiful eyes and they’re on a beach. Neither of them are new to town, and some days they need a break from their job (they save the world sometimes, and they can’t imagine themselves leaving) and they’ll go back in the morning but right now he’s teaching her to surf. They love Los Angeles more than they loved Oklahoma and more than they loved Nebraska and neither are good with new people but they don’t have to worry about that anymore.
He buys her a cake, because she’s twenty four and they need to celebrate and she kisses him because she can and because she’s finally ready to face her feelings. He kisses her back because he’s been ready for years and he doesn’t have to worry about waiting anymore. She can’t imagine life without him anymore because he knows her better than she knows herself and he’s the only one she can talk to for hours and it’s almost sunrise when they leave together to get breakfast.
There’s no need to exchange numbers.
(His name is Eric and Nell is in love with him and that’s okay because there’s ten million people in Los Angeles and he’s in love with her too.)