Word count: 1,329
Summary: Follow-up to Common Ground (Read that first and it’ll make a whole lot more sense). Claudia and Ryan take the decision out of Nick’s hands.
“We’d like a few answers…”
Claudia watched the expressions on Nick’s face, eyes widening as he realised what they meant.
“Tell me, Nick,” she began. “Did you ever intend to choose, or were you just going to string us both along for ever more?”
“What? No, it wasn’t like that.”
Ryan folded his arms across his chest. “So what was it?”
Nick sighed, raking his fingers through his hair, leaving it sticking up in all directions.
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I know I look like a total bastard at the moment but I promise you I wasn’t playing with you. I meant it when I asked you out, Claudia, and I didn’t intend to get close to Ryan. It just sort of happened and then I didn’t want to give either of you up. I’m sorry.”
Claudia glanced at Ryan, the soldier nodding back at her. She believed Nick; besides the fact that the man looked guilty as hell the moment he tried to lie, he really did seem sorry. Maybe it was time they gave him a break.
“Since you can’t seem to make up your mind, we’ll just have to do it for you,” she told him.
“Yes, Nick. From now on, we’re making the decisions,” Ryan added.
The look on Nick’s face had Claudia trying not to laugh; he looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights of a bloody big truck.
“I don’t understand-”
Claudia smiled. “That’s alright,” she told him, leaving him looking even more confused. “Just be at my house tonight for dinner. Six o’clock. You like Italian food, don’t you?”
Nick nodded mutely, watching as they both stood.
Claudia followed Ryan out, passing Stephen in the hallway. The other man was lurking near the door, his eyes studying them both curiously but he never asked, even as Claudia informed him it was safe to go back inside.
“That went rather well, I think,” she said, linking her arm through Ryan’s. “Did you see the look on his face when you told him that we were taking charge? Poor love.”
Ryan laughed softly. “He did look a bit shell-shocked, didn’t he?” His demeanour turned serious then. “Are you sure about this?”
Claudia paused, turning to face him. “Yes,” she said, curling a hand around the back of his neck and pulling him down close enough to press a kiss to his lips.
After a second, Ryan slipped his arms slipped around her waist, holding her close as his lips parted, allowing the kiss to deepen. Eventually, Claudia moved back to look him in the eyes.
“Did that feel like I have any doubts at all about this?” she asked.
It was only as they were talking the other day that they realised that there was a simple solution to this. Neither of them wanted to give up on Nick, nor did they want to step on the other’s toes. And it wasn’t as though Claudia hadn’t thought on more than one occasion just how good looking Ryan was. She’d even considered asking him to dinner when he first arrived at the ARC, but then he had started showing an interest in Nick. It had been a welcome surprise to find out that his interests ran toward male and female, and even more of one that he was interested in her.
“You always seemed so unobtainable,” he told her. “I didn’t think you’d have the time for someone like me. Then we became friends and I didn’t really want to risk messing that up.”
So, a plan was hatched and now it all hinged on Nick’s reaction when he came to dinner tonight.
The doorbell rang and Ryan went to answer it as Claudia finished making dinner. After a short silence, she heard Ryan’s amused voice ask,
“You going to stand there and gawk all day, or are you coming in?”
Claudia laughed, seeing the surprise on Nick’s face as he followed Ryan into the dining room.
“You made it. Fabulous,” she told him, going to give him a kiss on the cheek in greeting. She saw him glance uneasily at Ryan as she did so, cheeks flushing slightly. “Its fine, Nick; don’t worry so much. Right, dinner will be ready soon so I’ll leave you two to it.”
She could see them from the kitchen and she watched as Ryan decided that a proper greeting was in order, pulling Nick into a toe-curling kiss. Nick let out an alarmed ‘hey!’, before lowering his voice and whispering angrily to Ryan. She heard her name mentioned as Ryan gave him the same advice she had.
“Calm down; it’s fine.”
Looks like we’re going to have to have the talk before we eat, she thought, putting dinner back in the oven to keep warm and going back out to join the two men. Nick looked angry, arms folded, glaring at them both.
“Okay, that’s enough,” he told them. “I get it; I was an arse but this whatever-it-is that you’re both playing at stops right now or I’m leaving. I get enough of these stupid mind games from Helen each time she shows up so I don’t need it from you two as well.”
Claudia glanced at Ryan nervously. Maybe they shouldn’t have teased him for this long, just told him straight out. What if he decided to walk away?
“Nick, you’ve got it wrong; we’re not trying to humiliate you or anything like that and I’m sorry if we’ve taken things too far.” She indicated to one of the empty chairs at the dining table. “Please, sit down and we’ll explain.”
When he was sitting down calmly, Ryan spoke.
“Okay, here it is; we like you, both of us, and we had a long chat the other day and we’ve realised that we don’t want you to choose.”
Nick just frowned at them. Claudia saw the confusion on his face and sighed. She was going to have to spell it out, complete with diagrams, before Nick would cotton on.
“We both want you, and each other,” she said, “and we hope that you’ll want us both, too. The three of us, Nick. Together.”
He blinked a couple of times, looked between them, and then smiled. “Really?”
The look on his face reminded Claudia of the expression her nephew got when presented with a rather large Christmas present.
“Yes. Now can we please have dinner? I’m starving,” Ryan said, sniffing the air for the aroma of pasta sauce. His stomach grumbled loudly as though to emphasise the point.
As she went into the kitchen to serve, Nick followed. He hovered about nearby until she told him to help or get out of the way.
“Go on, ask.”
“Are you really okay with this? I mean, and I don’t mean to offend you here, but I never took you for someone who would be comfortable with what you and Ryan are proposing.”
Claudia laughed. “Nick, I could tell you stories from my University days that would even make Ryan blush.” She handed him a plate to carry. “If I wasn’t comfortable with this, I wouldn’t have suggested it. Come on, let’s go and feed Ryan before he starts gnawing on the table and we can sort all of this out later.”
Claudia awoke as Nick shifted next to her, his nose twitching as a strand of her hair tickled it. His arm was draped over her waist tightening around her as he got comfortable again. On her other side, Ryan lay on his back, snoring softly. Her mind drifted back to their earlier activities, thinking how comfortable it felt with her boys asleep beside her now. Things couldn’t have turned out better if she had actually intended this outcome.
At the very least it would get her mother off her back about finding herself a boyfriend… Claudia smiled in the darkness; that was going to be an interesting conversation.