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Heart’s a Mess

Chapter Text

It was around ten o’clock one rainy evening when Nick heard the sharp knock on his door.

He’d been putting away the dishes from dinner and was contemplating going to bed earlier than he had been the past couple of nights when it had shattered the soft stillness and startled him. ‘Who on earth could it be at such an hour?’ He’d thought, hastily tightening the sash around his robe and crossing the threshold towards the door. Pulling it open revealed a very wet and bedraggled-looking...Gatsby?

“Good evening, old sport,” He greeted, and he sounded thoroughly miserable.

“Oh!” Nick exclaimed, surprised and a little concerned. “Is everything alright?”

“No,” The man replied. “Are you busy, old sport?”

Nick glanced back over his shoulder, where his dishes awaited, then turned back to face Gatsby. “I, uh…” He awkwardly adjusted his robe. “I don’t think so?”

The shadow of a smile ghosted upon Gatsby’s lips for only a moment. “You wouldn’t mind keeping me company for a little while then, would you?” He asked, and he didn’t really need an answer, for Nick was already stepping into his shoes and grabbing his umbrella.

“Of course, Jay,” Nick replied anyway, and off they went.

✼ ✼ ✼ ✼

The cup of coffee sat comfortably warm in Nick’s hands, and outside, the rain drummed steadily against the windows. Gatsby toyed with the ring adorning his pinky and occasionally glanced up to where Nick sat across from him, before he’d furrow his brow and cast his gaze back down again.

After several moments of this quiet, Nick asked, “So...what’s wrong?”

Gatsby heaved a mighty sigh not fitting for one so young and buried his face in his crossed arms. His coffee sat, neglected, beside him.

“Oh, old sport, it’s just...well, I don’t rightly know. I just feel so conflicted, and I can’t figure out why,” He muttered. In spite of himself, Nick became distracted with a curl of golden hair coming loose from where it had been sleekly combed back, brushing delicately against the fleece of Gatsby’s sweater. Only when Gatsby sat up again and met Nick’s gaze did he self-consciously drop it to the surface of his coffee, the brown pale with an almost embarrassing amount of cream.

“And you were the first person I thought of, old sport. You put my mind at ease, and I need that reassurance tonight,” Gatsby added, his leg nervously jiggling beneath the table.

Nick blinked, his cheeks feeling a little warm. He was the first person on Gatsby’s mind? Knowing that made his heart skip.

“Well, I’m glad to help in any way I can,” He cheerfully replied, and the radiant smile that finally lit up Gatsby’s face was a sight he was glad to see.

They continued to talk late into the night after that, enjoying their coffee and each other’s company. The downpour outside had eventually petered to a stop, and the crickets emerged hesitantly from where they had taken shelter and began to sing.

“Say, old sport. What do you say about going for a swim in the pool?” Gatsby suddenly asked, setting down his empty cup. “I know it’s late, but you don’t have work tomorrow, and I haven’t used that pool all summer.”

Nick thought for a moment, absently running fingers through his tousled hair. “I haven’t got a bathing suit,” He fretted, but Gatsby shook his head with a dismissive wave of his hand.

“I’ve got one you can use, don’t you worry about that.” He pushed away from the table and stood, gesturing for Nick to do the same. “Come along, I’ll show you where you can get changed.”

✼ ✼ ✼ ✼

After awkwardly slipping into the slim-fitting black bathing suit he’d been given, Nick thoroughly checked his reflection in the floor-length bathroom mirror to make sure absolutely nothing was out of place. While it was a little tight and made him feel as if he were naked, he simply concluded that it had been too long since he’d gone swimming and he’d get over himself eventually. Taking the luxurious, insignia-stitched towel Gatsby had offered him, he pushed open the door and padded out into the grand house, heading in the direction of the pool.

Eventually making it outside, he shivered as the cool night air ghosted over his skin, and he absently rubbed at his upper arms. His wandering gaze soon alighted upon Gatsby, squatting at the edge of the pool and nudging the air mattress that had humored his guests at one of his parties out into the water. Nick couldn’t help but shyly admire the man’s physique, to which his tight bathing suit attractively clung. Only when his face began to grow uncomfortably warm did he avert his stare. After a moment, he cleared his throat to make his presence known.

Startling, Gatsby quickly looked over his shoulder, before his face broke into a radiant smile. “There you are, old sport! Took you long enough!” He cheerfully teased, rising to his feet and rolling the kinks out of his shoulders. “The water’s perfect tonight. Come on, don’t just stand there!”

Before Nick could say anything in response, Gatsby bent his knees and raised his arms over his head, then dove into the pool with such graceful ease that Nick could only stand and gape in admiration for several moments afterwards. When Gatsby surfaced with a deep gasp and tossed his streaming golden hair out of his face, Nick got into the water himself in a far less impressive fashion; by carefully climbing down the ladder. Gatsby watched him, looking amused, before he swam over and steadied himself with a hand on the edge of the pool.

“You like it, old sport?” He asked, hopeful. Nick enthusiastically nodded.

“It’s great, Jay!” He emphatically replied, before he kicked off from the ladder and into the water. “I’m going to go get on that mattress thing you’ve got over there.”

Well, he tried to, at least.

His first several attempts resulted in hilarious failure, and after the mattress flipped over on top of him for the third time, Gatsby finally helped his flustered and thoroughly drenched friend up onto it...once he’d finished laughing, that is.

The two of them relaxed after that little excitement, lapsing into a comfortable silence broken only by the soft splashing of water and the singing of crickets. Nick lay on his belly, his chin on his crossed arms, and he gazed out over the water of the bay, upon which the green light of Daisy’s dock danced. He didn’t notice how Gatsby, who was reclined against the side of the pool with his arms resting on the edge on either side of him, studied him. His gaze roved slowly over Nick’s smaller shoulders, then along the gentle curve of his back, noting how the water delicately beaded on his pale skin. Then he studied Nick’s profile, fascinated with the way small droplets of water glittered on his lashes and on his parted lips, and how his damp hair had begun to curl at the ends.

And then, as if he’d felt the intensity of his gaze, Nick turned to face him, soft brown eyes meeting his vibrant blues, and Gatsby was unable to look away. There was so much in those eyes. How had he never noticed this before? How had he never really noticed /Nick/ like this before? The man himself was starting to look a little flushed under the attention, and Gatsby noticed with a little ache of affection how his ears had gone adorably red.

“Jay? You feeling alright?”

But, with that soft inquiry, Gatsby was drawn from his daze. Color came to his own face, and with an awkward clearing of his throat, he attempted a reassuring smile. “Of course I am, old sport! Why wouldn’t I be?”

Nick shrugged a shoulder dismissively, before sitting up on top of the gently rocking mattress. He looked rather tired. “Oh, you looked a little lost there for a moment, is all.” He politely lifted a hand to his mouth and yawned. “It’s pretty late though, Jay. This has been great, but I think I should start heading home.”

As he clumsily slid from the mattress and into the turquoise water, Gatsby was overtaken with a sudden sort of urgency. The thought of being alone in this house, with no company except for that of his servants, filled him with unease.

“Wait, wait,” He frantically whispered, swimming out and taking a confused Nick’s arm, gently tugging him over to the ladder so that they could both hold on and not tread water. “I...I can’t be alone tonight, old sport. Will you stay? Please? I’ll have the guest room prepared, and if you need anything, my servants will attend to it. I-“

Nick put two and two together, then laughed a little. Reaching out and laying a hand upon Gatsby’s wet shoulder, his touch alone effectively silenced the man. “I’ll stay, Jay. I don’t need convincing.” He smiled. “But I’m going to need a change of clothes, if that’s alright with you.”

Gatsby was filled with immense relief, and he reached up, laying his hand over Nick’s in a gesture that perhaps may have been a little more intimate than intended, for that faint color was tinting the other man’s face again. Choosing instead to not give it much thought, he replied, “Of course, old sport. Of course.”

✼ ✼ ✼ ✼

“This is...wow,” Nick breathed, turning in a slow, small circle as he took in the grand guest bedroom he’d be inhabiting that night. Behind him, Gatsby smiled, thumbs tucked in his pockets.

“All for you tonight, old sport.” He replied, leaning against the doorframe as Nick approached the bed and, with a weary sigh, flounced down onto it. The soft white robe he’d been given billowed around him, before it settled on top of his still form and the now-rumpled blankets. “And if there’s anything you need, my butler and servants will be more than happy to assist you.”

“Thank you, Jay,” Nick called, his voice heavy with impending sleep. “Goodnight!”

Gatsby smiled fondly, stepping back from the doorway and out into the hallway. However, he lingered for a moment, watching as Nick pulled the thick comforter over himself and nestled into the sheets. “Goodnight, Nick,” He replied softly, the use of the man’s actual name foreign but sweet on his tongue.

Once the door was shut, he stood for a few moments, hands splayed out on the polished, painted wood. His heart was in turmoil. The tenderness of which he had gazed upon Nick he had only given to one other person; Daisy. She was such a sweet, lovely, golden girl...the object of his undying affection. But now, his heart protested.

With a sigh, he drew himself away, wandering down the hallway. He had the uncharacteristic urge to drink, but, always a man of his word, he ignored it. Instead, he’d retire for the night. It was late, and his mind needed rest.

Before he slipped between those plush, expensive sheets, Gatsby stepped out into his deck, the first few fallen leaves of an ending summer crunching underfoot. He turned his sight out, across the bay, and there it was; the green light, that damned light at the end of Daisy’s distant dock. However, this time, it was different. He felt no clench in his heart as the emerald glow shone through the fog. He didn’t lift his arm from where it hung at his side and reach for it. He simply looked on for a little while, before the chill drove him back inside, and into his bed.

But sleep did not come to him.

And as he lay there, staring into the darkness of his room, his mind began to wander, as it often did when he gave it nothing else to do. It vaguely dwelt on Wolfsheim and the business, but it didn’t stay on that subject for long and instead turned to a far more attractive option; Daisy. Gatsby shifted beneath the comforter with a soft sigh as images of soft, pale skin, coy doe eyes, and plush rose lips plumped in a perfect pout danced behind his closed lids.

It seemed as though tonight would be the same as the previous night, and the one before that.

Nevertheless, Gatsby’s hand traced a familiar path down his taut belly within his forest-green robe and dipped down between his thighs, his breath hitching in anticipation. Deciding that it was suddenly too hot beneath the comforter, he gracelessly and irritably kicked it off, tilting his head back against the pillows with a soft sound as his hand found its destination.

“Daisy…”

He imagined his hands roaming over her slender, soft curves, her shapely legs locked tightly around his waist. He imagined her delicate hands reaching up to tangle fingers in his golden hair, her lips on his own, her bare breasts pressing to his chest.

But the closer he got to the edge, the more the image began to change. The body beneath him lost most of those curves, and the hips grew narrower. The skin was still soft, but it was slightly darker, and it was more firm with muscle. The hands in his hair instead raked down his back to clutch at his own hips, and the voice now gasping in his ear was deeper; it was masculine. Although there was still a sort of femininity to those lips leaving a trail of kisses down his jawline, and in those large eyes framed by long, dark lashes, there was no doubting it. This was a man.

When Gatsby finally tipped over the edge upon which he’d been teetering and into sweet orgasmic bliss, it wasn’t Daisy’s name on his tongue.

It was Nick’s.

Chapter Text

Gatsby was the first to rise the next morning. After swiftly bathing and dressing in his favorite rib-knit sweater and linen slacks, he ordered for a small but lavish breakfast to be prepared, then for Nick to be gently woken. His heart did a little skip in his chest at the thought of seeing him again, but he firmly chastised himself for being foolish. Whatever happened that night was something to be kept in the back of his mind, and he would not let such feelings interfere with their breakfast.

In fact, he had just convinced himself of this when Nick finally wandered into the dining room, yawning into the back of his hand. He had slipped on his favorite of Gatsby’s sweaters: that navy blue one, with a band of white around the chest. It was a little big on him, as were the casual pants he wore, which rested loosely upon his hips.

The young man himself looked so...soft. His chestnut hair was a tousled, fluffy mess, and his cheeks were rosily flushed. He squinted slightly in the golden glow of the sun, which streamed through the grand windows, and when he paused in his slow meander to stretch, the sweater momentarily crept up his torso to bare a slip of his belly.

Gatsby’s mouth went dry. He awkwardly searched for something to say as Nick approached the table, admiring the breakfast laid out upon its cloth-draped surface.

“Everything here is so nice, Jay. Even the food is pretty!” Nick quietly exclaimed, a teasing tone to his voice. Gatsby quickly smiled, laughed a little, and replied,

“Well, I wanted only the very best for us, old sport! Why don’t you sit down, help yourself. There’s plenty to go around.”

So, Nick did, and Gatsby followed suit, lowering himself into the cushioned chair opposite him. As Nick began to fill his plate, Gatsby waved over a servant to pour each of them coffee (while Gatsby only wanted a little cream and sugar in his coffee, Nick blushingly asked for a generous amount in his), and worked on getting his own breakfast ready. Nick settled for buttermilk waffles laden with strawberries and cream, while Gatsby enjoyed ham, eggs, and an assortment of fresh fruit. They didn’t talk much while they ate, but occasionally Gatsby would catch Nick subtly licking away a small spot of cream from his bottom lip, and he would duck his head to hide the ruddy flush he could feel spreading over his cheeks.

The rest of breakfast went by without a hitch. When they finally finished, Nick pushed away from the table, dabbed the corners of his mouth with a napkin, and sighed contentedly.

“That was amazing, Jay. Thanks so much for having me over,” He graciously said, neatly folding the napkin by his plate. “But I should get going. I forgot I was invited to a lunch later today and I’ve got to go get ready.”

Gatsby lowered his coffee cup, swirling the last few dregs in the bottom. “Lunch? With who?”

“Daisy, Tom, and Jordan.”

Gatsby stiffened. “Oh,” He dumbly replied. The mention of both Tom and Daisy’s names had struck a particularly sensitive spot in his heart, but Jordan? Wasn’t Jordan Nick’s girl…?

Playing it casual, he asked, “That reminds me, old sport. How’re you and Jordan…’holding up?’”

Nick understood him immediately, and to Gatsby’s surprise, he cheerfully laughed. “Oh, Jay. We’re not, you know, ‘together.’ I mean, we tried, sure! But I found out that she’s not my type. Turns out, I’m not her type either. So, I guess it all works out, doesn’t it?”

Not sure why he felt so immensely relieved, Gatsby nodded in agreement, doing his best to keep from grinning. “I suppose it does, old sport,” He kindly replied. “Now I won’t keep you from getting ready. I’d love to see you later though, if you can.”

Nick got to his feet, and after setting his cup down, Gatsby did the same. “I’d love to, Jay,” The younger man enthusiastically said, taking the hand that Gatsby offered him and shaking it. “See you later!”

As Nick pulled away, stepped into his shoes (which the butler had graciously fetched for him) and headed towards the foyer, Gatsby suddenly called after him, “You can keep the clothes, if you want!”

Nick smiled, warm in the face, and replied as he stepped through the doors,

“Thank you! I think I will!”

✼ ✼ ✼ ✼

Nick was just stepping into his shoes, freshly bathed and dressed in appropriate attire for the occasion, when he heard the distinct crunch of gravel as someone pulled up into his driveway. The blaring, insistent honk that followed was a clear sign that the arrival could be none other than his cousin Daisy’s husband, Tom Buchanan.

Nick sighed.

However, he knew that Tom was not a patient man. He wasted no more time, quickly settling his straw boater upon his head and ducking out into the soft morning sunlight, where the blue coupe waited.

“Mornin’, Nick,” Tom loudly drawled from the driver’s seat as Nick approached, impatiently beckoning him over to the sleek, purring automobile. “In case you were curious, Daisy sent me all the way here to pick you up. Haven’t a clue why, since you’re perfectly capable of taking the train.” He shrugged one of his heavy shoulders in a gesture of dismissal as Nick slid into the passenger’s seat. “Oh well. Let’s just go.”

As the engine rumbled from a soft purr to a revving roar and Tom pulled sharply out of the driveway, Nick couldn’t keep his eyes from wandering up to one of the windows of Gatsby’s magnificent home, one in the study that overlooked his property. It may have been naught more than his wistful imagination, but he thought he saw one of the curtains swishing back into place, as if someone had just been standing there moments ago.

Tom didn’t miss this, and his lip curled in the slightest expression of distaste. “Acquainted yourself with Gatsby now, hm?” He remarked in an unpleasant, almost disappointed tone. Nick startled. Then, his stomach sank.

“Yes. Yes I have,” He awkwardly replied over the roar of the wind as they sped down the street, Tom swerving giddily around other cars. “We’re friends.”

Tom sneered. “I don’t like that fella. In my rightful opinion, I believe you should stay away from him, Nick. I just know he’s bad news.”

Nick said nothing, knowing that there was no swaying Tom once he’d set his mind on something. Instead, he watched the houses and people whizz past, all a blur of color and sound, and heaved another sigh.

It seemed as though hours had passed before they finally arrived at the Buchanan residence. Nick was immensely grateful to get out of that car, and as he hopped down onto the gravel, he firmly concluded that no matter how much his hosts insisted, he would be taking a taxi back home. How Tom had spoken of Gatsby made his blood boil.

He followed Tom into the cool interior of the grand house, quietly thanking the servant holding the door open for them. He perked up at the sound of Daisy’s familiar, light laughter, coming from the closed doors at the end of the hallway. It would be refreshing to see her, and to get away from Tom, who was lighting a cigar. Nick absently watched him stick it between his teeth and hold the flame to the end, sheltering it with his hand.

And then the doors were being pushed open, and Nick was greeted with a familiar, joyous voice squealing his pet name.

“Oh, Nicky! You’re finally here!”

He bashfully smiled as Daisy flounced off of the couch in a flurry of silk and perfume, throwing her arms around him. He glanced over her as he returned the embrace, meeting the cool gaze of Jordan Baker. She was draped elegantly on the other side of the couch, a cigarette held between her long fingers. She smiled at him, taking a draw from her cigarette-holder, before turning away and exhaling smoke through parted, rosy lips.

“I hope you didn’t have any trouble getting here, sweetie,” Daisy crooned as she reached up and removed Nick’s hat. “Tom was a little bothered that I asked him to go pick you up, but I just couldn’t wait for the taxi to arrive. Besides, we all know he’s a fast driver.”

Tom, busily preparing drinks on the other side of the room, made a dismissive sound around his cigar.

“So, how are you?” She continued, leading Nick over to the couch and playfully pushing him down onto the cushions. He opened his mouth to reply as she flopped down next to him, but Tom beat him to it.

“He’s friends with that Gatsby fellow. Never would’ve thought a man like Nick here would associate with a man like that.”

Daisy went suddenly and uncharacteristically quiet at that. Before Nick could inquire as to why, Jordan leaned forward, settled a hand on his shoulder, and whispered, “What’s he like?”

Nick wanted to say a number of things. That he was gorgeous, both in personality and in looks. That he was sentimental and empathetic. That he was romantic.

But instead, all he said was, “He’s a real nice fellow.”

Jordan cast him a look that implied she knew more than he was letting on, but simply leaned back and tapped the end of her cigarette-holder against her bottom lip. He turned back to face Daisy then. She was gazing out the window, her forefinger resting upon her chin, and her eyes were distant.

It was almost reminiscent of the way Gatsby gazed at that green light.

But then Jordan announced, “I’d like to speak with Nick a moment. Alone.”

Daisy gave a little start, turning to face Jordan, and a sly look replaced the distant one on her face. “Of course, Jordan!” She chirped. Across the room, Tom cocked a brow, but said nothing.

Jordan then tugged a confused Nick up off the couch. “We’ll be in the gardens if you need us,” She added, and before Nick could begin to protest, she swept him out of the room and into the sunlight outside.

✼ ✼ ✼ ✼

“You can’t hide a thing like that from me, darling.”

The roses around them nodded their heavy heads in the stirrings of a lazy afternoon breeze, their perfume sweet and thick. Jordan had taken him where she was sure they wouldn’t be overheard, and the look on her face made Nick a little nervous.

“Like what?” He asked, genuinely confused. The woman rolled her eyes, blue tendrils of smoke from the cigarette lazily drifting off with the breeze.

“You’re head over heels for Gatsby, Nick. You may have been able to hide that from Daisy and Tom, but not me.”

Nick was...shocked, to say the least. Of course, his very first course of action was to vehemently deny such a statement. “I...what? No, no. That’s not true! We’re friends, and that’s all.”

But Jordan laughed. “I saw the look on your face the very first time we met Mr. Gatsby. Trust me, Nick. I know! But you’ve got no reason to worry, because we’re in the same boat.” She paused, taking another draw from her cigarette. “You and I need each other, Nick.”

Defeated, Nick hesitantly replied, “Need each other…?”

“You do remember me telling you that you weren’t my type, yes?”

“Yes, I-“ And then it dawned on him. “Oh!”

Jordan smiled, a clever gleam in her slender dark eyes. “So you see? You watch my back, and I’ll watch yours.” She tapped some ash from the cigarette tip into the grass. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about this, and I’m glad I did. Now let’s head back inside before your cousin comes looking for us.”

✼ ✼ ✼ ✼

The rest of that afternoon went by without any other notable instances. But no matter how hard he tried, Nick couldn’t get the exchange between him and Jordan out of his mind. She occasionally winked at him if he spared a glance her way, and he would attempt to smile back, but his nerves couldn’t settle. No one had figured out his secret before, and the fact that she had so easily done just that made him a little uneasy.

Afternoon soon waned into evening. After several drinks had been poured and lunch had long since been eaten, Nick found himself longing for home…and for that promised visit with Gatsby. He said his farewells, politely declined Daisy’s offer for Tom to take him instead, and had the butler phone for a taxi.

The ride home was quiet. Much better than the earlier ride, he thought to himself.

The driver eventually pulled to a stop in front of Nick’s dark, quiet house, and Nick paid him, thanked him, and wished him a good night as he stepped out onto the lawn. He was briskly hurrying up the stepping-stone pathway leading up to his front porch, eager to change into something a little less stiff, when a familiar voice startled him and stopped him in his tracks.

“Good evening, old sport!”

Nick turned on his heel to see Gatsby emerging from where their properties met, smiling broadly.

“Jay! You spooked me.” Nick laughed, getting over the initial surprise. “What’re you doing out and about?”

Gatsby cleared his throat, self-consciously smoothing a hand over his hair. “Oh, well I saw the cab, and thought it’d be nice to meet you out here.” He awkwardly chuckled. “Didn’t mean to startle you though, old sport.”

Nick shook his head. “No, no, it’s fine! It was a pleasant surprise. Your company will be much appreciated after the day I’ve had. Want to come inside for tea?”

“Of course!”

And so, Nick lead Gatsby into his humble little home, apologizing for the fact that it wasn’t nearly as grand as Gatsby’s. The man kindly dismissed those apologies with compliments, saying that it was perfect as it was. Nick, much to his embarrassment, blushed. He pretended to fix his hair in order to hide it.

Then came tea. Nick busily worked in the kitchen to prepare it as Gatsby lounged in the living room, admiring all the little details of the house. It had just as much character and personality as its owner; Gatsby found that he didn’t want to leave.

“Here we are!” Nick announced then, entering the living room and bearing a tray laden with the teapot, cups, honey, and sugar. “I don’t know what you like in your tea or how much of it you prefer, so I’ll let you manage that.” He set it down. “But I’ll be back in a moment. I’ve got to go get changed.”

Gatsby’s heart did a little skip. “Changed?” He casually inquired, preparing his cup of tea.

Nick nodded. “Into something a little more comfortable, yes. I’ll only be a moment.”

And then he was gone.

Gatsby waited several minutes there on the couch. He sipped from his tea, tapped a finger on his thigh, and did his very best not to dwell on the fact that his host was undressing just a small distance away. Oh, he tried, and mightily so. But his curiosity was soon too much to bear, and, setting his tea down upon the end-table, he rose from the couch, stepping quietly over to the stairs. Taking hold of the railing, he went up.

The hallway upstairs was dimly lit and quiet. Gatsby could make out the silhouette of an open door just a short distance away, and, taking care to tread lightly, he slowly approached it, ignoring the small voice of warning in the back of his mind.

Finally approaching the door after what felt like hours, he peered into the small, faintly lit room from around it. At the sight his eyes were met with, his heart leapt into his throat.

Nick was clad in only his unbuttoned undergarments, standing by the bed, pawing through a few clothes laid out upon the comforter. The sleeves of his attire had traveled down his upper arms and were baring his shoulders, and his back was to the unnoticed Gatsby, who was taking in every inch of Nick’s form with his lips slightly parted. The way the light of the setting sun outlined the younger man and shone upon his combed-back hair was breathtaking.

Gatsby wanted to step in, to approach Nick and embrace him. He looked so soft, so gentle, so lovely…

And then, upon stepping forward to see just a little better, Nick happened to turn around at the same time and saw him. He did nothing to try and make himself more presentable, nor did he demand an explanation. He simply stood there, growing redder by the second, and met Gatsby’s equally embarrassed stare unwaveringly.

“I came to inquire as to where the bathroom may be found. I didn’t mean to intrude,” Gatsby croaked after a long stretch of heavy silence.

“It’s, ah...down the hall and to the left.”

It took all of Gatsby’s damned willpower to keep from bolting down the hallway. But he awkwardly nodded in reply, turned, and strode away, only cursing himself and burying his heated face in his hands once he was safely behind the closed door of the bathroom.

Flushed and taken aback, Nick turned back to his clothes and settled on the outfit with his favorite green sweater, unable to still the swift beating of his heart.

Chapter Text

Nick gazed down into the golden surface of his tea, listening to the faint and steady thump of Gatsby’s heel against the carpet as he bounced his leg. It was a nervous habit of his that Nick had seen only once before, and he found it rather charming.

But he could not bring himself to look up into the man’s face. His own still burned whenever the image of Gatsby, standing in the doorway and raptly staring at him in that state of undress, came to mind. He couldn’t make sense of it, and the only reasonable explanation he could think of was one he didn’t dare humor for long. After all, Gatsby loved Daisy. He loved her more than anything, and he had told Nick this himself.

And it was with these thoughts that he remembered something- Gatsby’s request to have Daisy over for the very same thing they were doing now. He steeled himself and finally looked up, nervously meeting Gatsby’s brilliant blue stare. Perhaps it was merely the lighting, but the man looked just as flushed as he was. Clearing his throat, he tentatively began, “Jay, I...I wanted to ask you about your request.”

Gatsby seemed to startle out of his thoughts, his fair brow furrowing minutely. “My request?” He asked, stilling his leg and resting a hand upon it. His tea sat, neglected, on the end-table beside him.

“Yes.” How could he have forgotten something like this? “Don’t you remember? Your request for me to invite Daisy over for tea. I wanted to ask you when would be a good day for me to do so.”

A strange look fell over Gatsby’s handsome face at that, and Nick watched as he restlessly ran fingers through his sleekly combed golden hair. “Oh...oh yes, I remember now,” He eventually replied, and the good-naturedness in his tone sounded forced. “I suppose whatever day is good for you. I would hate to inconvenience you, old sport.”

Nick smiled a little, tapping a finger against the rim of his teacup. “You wouldn’t inconvenience me, Jay. How does next Saturday sound?”

“It sounds fine.”

They lapsed back into silence then, Gatsby seeming to lose himself in his thoughts yet again. Nick was even more confused than he was when he’d seen Gatsby in the doorway upstairs; shouldn’t he be a little happier to have this reunion with the woman he had loved ceaselessly for five years? Nick could understand being nervous, but that wasn’t what this was. Gatsby was conflicted, and he was upset. Nick had known him long enough to understand that look in his eyes, and the occasional twitch of muscle as he clenched his jaw. Something was clearly bothering Gatsby, and alongside his confusion, Nick soon grew worried.

So, he set his tea on the table beside the couch, shifted forward on the patterned cushion until he was sitting on the very edge, and reached out, very tentatively placing his hand over the one resting on Gatsby’s thigh. Expecting to be politely brushed off, his heart leapt into his throat when, instead, Gatsby lifted his fingers and interlocked them with Nick’s.

He noticed they were trembling.

“I don’t know what I’d do without a friend like you, old sport.” Gatsby quietly said, his voice thick with emotions Nick couldn’t understand. “I am very, very thankful that you’re right next door.” A smile finally softened his features, and he squeezed Nick’s hand. “Now, let’s finish this lovely tea you've prepared for us.”

Nick reluctantly pulled his hand away, unable to hide his own smile. “Yes. Let’s do that.”

✼ ✼ ✼ ✼

It was later that night when Gatsby, his spirits lifted and his belly warm with several cups of tea, regretfully informed Nick that he had to be on his way home. Ever a good host, Nick accompanied him to the foyer, fetched him his decorative walking cane and his hat, and continued to talk with him as the man got himself ready to leave. However, when Gatsby opened the front door to step out onto the porch and into the cool night air, he suddenly paused, hat in his hand. Nick’s cheery stream of conversation trailed to a halt.

“Is everything alright, Jay?” He asked, approaching him and politely taking the handle of the door. Gatsby looked at him, opened his mouth to say something, then hesitated, his face coloring.

“Nick, I…” He eventually began, then paused again and cleared his throat. “I wanted to apologize for that little incident upstairs. I hadn’t known you were still dressing.”

Nick blinked. Feeling his own cheeks warm, he waved his hand in a dismissive gesture and laughed a little. “Oh, don’t you worry about that. I don’t mind,” He said, about to extend his hand for a shake when his eyes were drawn to a minuscule speck of lint upon the breast of Gatsby’s suit. Knowing that the man was oh-so-meticulous when it came to his appearance, Nick decided to do him the small favor of brushing it off. Gatsby looked a little puzzled as the other man halved the distance between them, then carefully brought his hand forward and pinched the speck gently between his thumb and forefinger, casting it to the side. “There you are.”

“Oh! Thank y-“ The words died in Gatsby’s throat. He had become acutely aware of the lack of space between them; he could practically feel Nick’s breath, warm and sweet, upon his lips. The younger man seemed to be experiencing the realization as well; his eyes were trained on Gatsby’s mouth, and his breathing was rather unsteady.

Something suddenly flickered between them as they stood there, inches apart, at the threshold of Nick’s house. Something electric.

And then, as soon as it had appeared, it was gone.

Gatsby hastily donned his hat and took a step back onto the porch, and a rosy-faced Nick politely cleared his throat and extended his hand. “Goodnight, Jay.” He murmured. Gatsby took it, lingered for a few seconds, then shook.

“Goodnight, old sport. I’ll call you, alright?”

“Oh! Yes, alright.”

And Gatsby was gone, stepping gracefully down the stone path and then across the yard, the cream and gold of his suit fading into the shadows on the outskirts. But Nick did not see how the man paused in his brisk step to cast a glance over his shoulder, watching almost wistfully as his neighbor stepped inside and slowly closed the door.

Sighing and feeling an uncharacteristic weariness beginning to settle upon his shoulders, Gatsby returned to the grand lavishness of his property, his mind dwelling longingly on the image of Nick’s hand curled so affectionately in his own.

✼ ✼ ✼ ✼

The next week crept by at a snail’s pace for both of the men. Wall Street beat out its steady golden roar and left Nick feeling exhausted when he returned home, and Gatsby continued to manage his own “business,” taking care that loose ends were tied and everything was running according to plan. When night fell, Gatsby tried to turn his thoughts to Daisy, as he had done so many times before. But they always returned to the tea date with Nick instead, focusing on the memory of the flustered, undressed man and the enticing curve of his back until he was guiltily sated and his mind was again tumultuous.

As for Nick? On the occasion, he thought of Gatsby - the rich, honeyed baritone of his voice, the strength in his arms, and the solid span of his chest. Curled in his blankets, sweat soaked and shivering, he would quietly gasp into his pillow until he brought himself sweet release, a steady plead of Gatsby’s name on his tongue and an ache in his heart. But most nights, he was simply too tired.

Gatsby did stay true to his word though, and he called Nick one late Friday afternoon - nearly a week since their tea date and the day before the scheduled reunion between Gatsby and Daisy. Nick had just gotten home from work and was battling a particularly strong headache when the phone rang, and he all but scrambled over to it, fumbling as he lifted the receiver to his ear and inquired, “Hello?”

“Afternoon, old sport! I told you I’d call.” Came the cheerful voice from the other end.

Nick grinned, lowering himself down onto the armchair beside the table upon which the phone sat and drawing his legs up onto the cushion.

“Hello, Jay! How’re you?” He warmly greeted, hoping he didn’t sound as tired as he felt.

There was a pause, some shuffling, and then, “Well, I will admit that I’m a little nervous about tomorrow.” Another embarrassed pause. “And by that I mean, well...I’m incredibly nervous.”

Nick smiled sympathetically at the tone of the other man’s voice. In spite of himself, he couldn’t help but feel a warm swell of pride in knowing that Gatsby trusted him enough to confess.

“Oh, Jay. What are you nervous about?”

Gatsby drew in an audible breath, and then answered, “You see, old sport…I haven’t seen her in five years! Things and people can change a lot in that amount of time, and even though I’ve got the money and the riches, what if she doesn’t like the man I am now?” He hesitated, before quietly adding, “What if she isn’t the same…?”

Nick sighed, rubbing his aching temples. He longed to lay down and get some well-deserved sleep, but Gatsby clearly needed to talk to him...even if the topic of conversation was something the young man didn’t particularly favor.

“I understand what you mean, Jay, but I don’t think you’ve got anything to worry about! This is Daisy we’re talking about, remember? This is the woman you love, the woman you’ve waited five whole years for, and the woman who loves you back.” He stifled a yawn. “And I’ll be here for you, alright? Things will turn out just fine. I promise.”

On the other end of the line, Gatsby worried the end of his cigarette-holder between his teeth, having felt a tremendous surge of guilt overtake him at the words “the woman you love.” In truth, the sound of Nick’s voice in his ear, so soft and gentle and reassuring (and a little tired, which he found oddly cute), had stirred up a fierce longing in his heart, while Daisy’s name had left naught more than a faint echo. He sighed, took a draw from his cigarette, and replied,

“Thank you, old sport.” He smiled, then continued with an affectionately teasing tone, “Now, why don’t you go and get some rest. You sound like you’ve had a pretty long day at work.”

There was a surprised silence, and then a sheepish laugh. “Am I that obvious?” Nick replied, and Gatsby could hear the smile in his voice. “But that does sound like a grand idea.” There was the sound of a barely-muffled yawn, and then a sleepy, “ Goodbye, Jay! Take care.”

“You too.” Gatsby murmured, almost wistfully, before reluctantly hanging up the phone.

He stood there for a little while, smoking his steadily dwindling cigarette, before he - simply out of habit - approached the window of his study that overlooked Nick’s property and brushed aside the curtain. Of course he couldn’t see his neighbor, but just gazing upon that lovely little cottage was enough. He could practically see - in his mind’s eye - Nick undressing upstairs in his room, pulling on that well-loved green robe he was so fond of once his stuffy attire had been cast aside and forgotten. He could see him then climbing into bed and curling up in those blankets, his locks of dark hair coming loose to brush against his cheeks as he rested his head upon the pillows and closed his eyes.

Gatsby felt his throat tighten as a thought - a cruel, cruel thought - suddenly crossed his mind; he imagined himself crawling into that bed with Nick, embracing him and pulling him close. He imagined himself pressing a kiss to one of the man’s cheeks while his hand slid up underneath the robe to clutch one of his hips. He imagined-

No.

Gatsby, his mouth dry and his hands minutely trembling, firmly put a stop to that thought before it could progress any further. He stepped away from the window and dropped his cigarette (which was really only a cylinder of ash now) into the ashtray, and practically fled his study. He needed a moment within the privacy of his bedroom, much to his dismay; he was starting to feel a little uncomfortable in his suit.

✼ ✼ ✼ ✼

The fated day soon arrived, and Nick was awoken by the sound of some sort of commotion taking place in his front yard. Bleary-eyed and a little disoriented, he hurriedly rolled out of bed, threw on his robe, and stumbled downstairs. He found that, upon stepping out onto his front porch and rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Gatsby had had the forethought to clean up his lawn for the tea date. Men were everywhere; trimming bushes, cutting the grass, and managing the flowers. He had to admit that it did look quite nice, but because this favor had rather rudely woken him up, he was unable to keep from being slightly miffed.

“Good morning!” One of the men trimming the trees cheerfully called, having noticed him standing there on the porch. Nick mumbled a greeting in return, stifled a yawn, and headed inside to get dressed and prepare for the day ahead.

Gatsby and the flowers arrived a little later just as it began to rain. Nick, not knowing what else to do to prepare for the afternoon, had made a cute little batch of cakes, and he bore the small tray of them rather awkwardly as he held the door for the steady stream of umbrella-carrying, flower-bearing servants.

Gatsby, at the end of this procession, was the last to arrive. Nick noticed with a touch of concern that he looked...stressed. His mouth was curved in a tight frown, his brow was furrowed, and his handsome face was drawn and somewhat pale. When he noticed Nick standing at the door, the tightness of his frown lessened; but his eyes remained as dark and stormy as the skies above.

“The flowers are lovely!” Nick cheerfully praised, attempting to lighten the mood as Gatsby approached him on the porch. Stopping beside him, the older man absently glanced at the baked treats his friend presented, and Nick could’ve sworn he saw the barest hint of a smile on his face. But as soon as it had appeared, it was gone.

“I don’t think I can do this, old sport.”

Nick was taken aback by the sound of Gatsby’s voice. The charm and confidence it normally emitted were completely absent, and it sounded thin, strained.

“What do you mean? Of course you can,” He replied, the smile he’d been wearing beginning to waver. “You’ve been looking forward to this for five years, haven’t you? This is what you’ve wanted for so long!”

Gatsby stared at his friend with a look of bewilderment, before he suddenly took Nick’s arm and bustled him inside. Before the younger man could get in a word of protest, he took the little plate of cupcakes and clumsily set it upon the table by the door, then took Nick by the upper arms and held him tight. “That’s the thing, Nick!” He whispered, his voice quivering. “I was looking forward to seeing her again. Oh, I was! But something’s happened and now I...I can’t.”

Oh, no. Nick wanted to shrink away. Gatsby’s words were giving rise to foolish hope, and his desperate affections - the ones he so desperately tried to smother and extinguish - were resurfacing. He suddenly pushed Gatsby away and took a small step back, wincing at the look that came over the man’s face in response.

“Get ahold of yourself, Jay. You’re just nervous, is all,” He said, regaining his composure and smoothing the front of his shirt, which Gatsby had rumpled. “I promise, everything will be just fine.”

He didn’t know if he was reassuring his friend, or himself.

“Yes...yes, alright,” Gatsby replied, looking and sounding thoroughly miserable. “I’m sorry.”

Nick rested a hand on his shoulder for a moment and smiled as kindly as he could manage, before he stepped around the man and retrieved the plate of treats. “Let’s just get through the day, okay?” He said over his shoulder, before exiting the foyer and making his way into the flower-adorned living room.

Gatsby sighed.

✼ ✼ ✼ ✼

The afternoon had been, in Nick’s eyes, a thoroughly embarrassing disaster.

Daisy had shown up not long after their little encounter in the foyer. He’d walked her up to the front door, umbrella held courteously over her pretty head, and she’d been bubbly and talkative (as usual). The short time they spent together had lifted his spirits, and he was sure that the reunion would go well! Surely Gatsby would realize how silly he was being. His good mood had lasted all the way until they were inside...when he discovered that the older man, to his dismay, was nowhere to be found.

Daisy had been puzzled to see her cousin throw up his hands in frustration. “What’s the matter, love?” She’d lightly asked, cupping the blossoms of one of the flowers (the amount of which she’d commented on upon arriving) and smiling with delight. He’d looked at her, heaved a mighty sigh, and stared hopelessly at the tea set waiting prettily on the table.

“Nothing.” He’d finally replied. “Let me pour you some tea.”

She’d abandoned the flowers and flounced over to one of the chairs, perching herself daintily upon the cushion. “That’d be lovely, darling!” She sweetly chirped.

“Lemon or sugar?”

“Neither.”

And that was it. Not once did Gatsby show up, though Nick never stopped casting wistful glances at the door while Daisy prattled on about Tom and Jordan and this and that. When it was time for her to leave, he walked her out to her ride and bade her farewell, waving until the car had vanished around the bend. Then he turned on his heel and began to march across his wet lawn to the path leading to Gatsby’s property. That man was going to get a piece of his mind.

The butler had been expecting his arrival. Once they were inside, he lead a fuming Nick through that grand house and back outside, stopping once they’d reached the pool. Gatsby was standing there, staring at the illuminated water, his golden locks of hair mussed and hanging carelessly in his eyes. As soon as the butler politely bowed and exited, leaving the two of them alone, he turned to face Nick and practically winced at the look on his friend’s face.

“Nick, I-“

“No, Jay. Let me talk.”

Nick drew in a steadying breath, then approached. He found his anger slowly whittling away the longer he stared into those tormented eyes, and by the time he opened his mouth to continue, his words lacked the bite he’d originally intended.

“We talked about this, Jay. Everything was fine! You had the flowers, you had my yard all prettied up. I even made tea!” He pushed a hand through his hair in exasperation, then let his hands fall carelessly to his sides and heaved a weary sigh. “You had a perfect chance, Jay. A chance to reunite with the woman you love..and now you may never get it back.”

Gatsby was silent for a moment. Then, he drew in a breath and hesitantly placed trembling hands on Nick’s slumped shoulders, gripping them tight.

“I don’t know how to tell you this, Nick,” He murmured, his voice quiet and unsure. “And I don’t think I can tell you. I...I think it’s best if I show you instead.”

And as soon as he finished speaking, before Nick could express his confusion, Gatsby leaned forwards and pressed a soft kiss to the younger man’s mouth.