Author's Note: So this is my first fic for SEAL Team and my first on . I've kind of jumped on the Clay/Emma bandwagon. He is really too old for her, but there's just something about them. However, I've set this in the future because I just don't see him dating a high schooler. I'm putting Emmas birth date in Juneish of 2000, so that would mean she's turning 20 at the end of her first year at NYU. Also, I'm totally ignoring the new guy (he came around after I started this) and the whole SAVIS situation.

More Than Friends

Clay lay back in his hammock and relaxed. Their current mission was successfully completed, and he was happy to be headed home. With one leg hanging over the side, he was able to reach the floor with his toes to keep the hammock swinging gently while he observed his fellow team members. Jason and Ray were sitting on some equipment trunks and enjoying beers, while Brock and Cerb were already asleep in Brock's hammock. Trent was lying in his hammock reading a book. If Clay had to guess, he would say it was some kind of medical text. He couldn't see Sonny, but his voice was just loud enough over the noise of the C-17 for Clay to make out its playful tone. He assumed Sonny was teasing Davis about something.

Clay thought about getting out a book of his own. In his bag he had two that he was reading, but neither one appealed to him right now. As he lay there debating whether he wanted to read or see if he could just fall asleep, he saw Ray get up from his position opposite Jason and wander back up to the front of the plane. This opened up a new option for Clay to consider. He really needed to speak to Jason privately, and this might be the right time. Just before they had been spun up for this mission, Clay had decided he needed to approach Jason about Emma.

Emma hadn't been thrilled when Clay told her he needed to speak to her dad before Clay would feel comfortable asking her out for an actual date. She had pointed out that this was the 21st century and that at the age of nineteen, almost twenty, she didn't need her father's permission to date. While Clay understood her annoyance, he knew that Jason finding out after the fact would be a real problem for the team.

Once Clay had laid out his reasoning to Emma, she had been more understanding. She still wasn't happy exactly, but she could see his concerns about the team and how difficult it would be for the two of them if her father found out after they started dating. He also thought he heard some relief in Emma's voice when she agreed to wait until after he spoke to her father for their first real date. From her comments and that tone in her voice, Clay realized Emma had thought he was stalling on asking her out because he wasn't interested in anything more than friendship with her.

Telling himself it was now or never, Clay started to sit up in his hammock. Just before he swung his other leg over the side to stand up however, he saw Sonny join Jason with another beer for their team leader. Clay fell back into his hammock and sighed. He never meant to end up in this position. Maybe if he hadn't gone to New York City back in March he wouldn't have this dilemma now. He would never have bumped into Emma in that coffee shop, and then he wouldn't have gotten to know her better or realized how perfect she was for him.

He had only gone to New York to support a former teammate who was going through serious rehab for an injured shoulder. After his own experience with the rehab on his leg he understood better than most how challenging getting your strength back could be, particularly if you had doubts about whether or not you would ever be able to rejoin your brothers on your team. He and Mike had served together when Clay had first become a SEAL, so when he heard that Mike had been injured on a mission Clay had given him a call. Mike, who was staying with his family in Brooklyn, sounded pretty down and his family really didn't understand why he wanted to get back on the teams. So, when Blackburn told Clay he had a week's leave on the books, visiting Mike seemed like a good way to use it.

Mike's family may not have understood Mike's commitment to the SEALs, but they were more than welcoming to one of his Navy buddies. His mother seemed to make it her mission to fatten Clay up. The first part of his visit was spent giving Mike the encouragement he needed. Clay had taken a page out of Swanny's book and harassed Mike during his PT.

Towards the end of Clay's visit Mike had an appointment at NYU Medical Center. His Navy doctor wanted him to see another specialist. Clay planned on accompanying Mike to his appointment and staying with him for the variety of tests the doctor had scheduled, but Mike insisted that there was no reason for Clay to waste his day sitting around waiting for Mike. Instead, he suggested Clay come into Manhattan with him and then spend the day checking out the city. Clay only agreed once Mike promised to call Clay if he needed him for any reason.

Once Clay left Mike at the hospital, he had slowly started walking down 1st Avenue toward Lower Manhattan. He really didn't have any specific destination in mind. He was just enjoying the energy of the city. He thought he'd eventually stop and look on his phone for places nearby he might want to check out, but initially he was happy just meandering along.

Eventually he realized he was getting hungry, and the chill of the March day was seeping into his bones. Not thinking about the fact that March in New York City was a lot colder than March in Virginia Beach, he really hadn't brought a warm enough jacket on this trip. He had been following signs pointing the way to Washington Square Park, but now he started to keep an eye out for a place to grab some lunch and maybe a hot drink.

Another block or so along he spied a coffee shop that looked good to him. He liked that it wasn't a chain, and when he looked in the window, he could see a menu that listed a variety of soups and sandwiches. As he stepped inside his stomach growled at the delicious smells and he was very happy to feel the warmth of the space surround him.

Concentrating on the menu, he wasn't looking where he was going as much as he should have been. He bumped into a young woman who was stepping back from the counter with a hot drink in her hand.

"Oh my God," the young woman exclaimed. "I'm so sorry. I wasn't looking where I was going."

"No," Clay immediately responded. "It's my fault. I was looking at the menu and not paying attention." Although, Clay had thought to himself, I'm not that sorry to have bumped into a beautiful young woman. From what he could see as she turned away to grab some napkins from the counter, she had long, blond hair and curves in all the right places, which he had already noticed when he bumped into her.

"You didn't burn yourself with your drink, did you?" Clay asked as she wiped the sleeve of her sweater.

"No, no," she replied. "Just spilled a little on my sleeve." She tossed the damp napkins in a barrel by them and then pushed her hair off her face as she looked up at him.

Clay's breath had frozen in his throat.

"Clay!" She said with surprise.

"Emma!" He replied equally taken aback. Holy shit, he had thought to himself, I was just thinking about Emma Hayes' curves. Not good. "Um, let me buy you a fresh drink," he stammered. "Half that one is on the floor."

"Um, okay," Emma replied looking uncertain. "It's just a Mocha latte with cinnamon sprinkled on top, with skim milk."

"Great. I'll order it along with some food for me."

"Okay, thanks," Emma replied, then hesitated by him. "I'm just going to my seat. I got a place on the couches and I don't want to lose it." She waved her hand in the direction of a seating area near the fireplace.

Clay smiled at her. "No problem. It's the least I can do. I'll bring it over when it's ready."

Emma had nodded and headed back to her spot on one of the couches. Clay watched her as she walked away and then mentally shook himself before going to the counter to place his order.

Once he had a tray with Emma's drink and a soup and sandwich along with a water for himself, he had headed over to where she was sitting. As he approached, she smiled up at him and began collecting all the papers she had spread around the coffee table in front of her, by her laptop, and on the couch next to her. He could see some were printed music scores, but others looked like handwritten music notes on paper lined with music staff.

"I spread my things out to save you a spot," she said with a mischievous smile. "I hope you don't mind using the coffee table instead of a regular table."

"No," Clay answered as he lowered himself to an armchair by her spot at the end of the couch. "This looks great. Much more comfortable."

As Clay settled himself back into the armchair, which was very comfortable after his long walk around Manhattan, Emma watched him with smile playing around her lips.

"So, Clay Spenser. What are you doing in New York City? You're the last person I'd expect to see here. Wait, scratch that. My Dad is the last person, but you're a close second, along with Uncle Sonny."

"What?" Clay laughed. "You don't think I'm hip enough to be hanging in the City? I'm too redneck?"

Emma grinned. "No, no. You're hip enough. Uncle Sonny, definitely too redneck, but I can see you here. It's just that I always assume you're off with my Dad on secret missions in foreign lands."

"Well now, Miss Hayes," Clay teased her, "you know what happens when you assume."

"I know. I know." Emma said shaking her head.

"Jason not a New York City fan, huh?" Clay asked.

"No," Emma replied ruefully. "Last fall he told me he hoped New York didn't ruin me."

Clay laughed and Emma joined in. That sounded exactly like something Jason Hayes would say.

"So, no secret mission in the city, then?" Emma asked.

Clay smiled. "No, just had some leave so I came up to Brooklyn to visit a buddy. He's over at NYU Medical Center today, so I'm doing some sightseeing."

Emma's expression became more serious. "He's okay though, your friend?"

Clay was touched that she was concerned about Mike even though she had never met him. "Mike, my friend, has a shoulder injury that he's rehabbing, so his doctor wanted him to see another specialist at NYU. Mike ordered me to go sightseeing instead of hanging around the hospital waiting for him." Clay paused before continuing, "I think he's going to be okay. I feel like his Navy doc is just being cautious because Mike will eventually want to return to duty as a SEAL."

A look of comprehension, and amusement, had flashed across Emma's face at Clay's statement about Mike wanting to return to the Teams.

"What's that look mean?" Clay asked.

"Nothing, nothing," Emma said. "I just know you SEALs."

"I guess you do," Clay conceded, and Emma just smiled at him over the rim of her mug. "So, what you are doing in this coffee shop out of all the places you could be in New York?" Clay asked her.

"Clay," Emma began chidingly, "this coffee shop is about three blocks from my dorm. They have great Mochas and it's a good place to get some work done when my roommate is being, uh, annoying."

"Hmm, I wasn't even thinking that Tisch would be nearby, but I guess I should have realized since NYU buildings are all over this part of Manhattan," Clay mused. "Roommate problems, huh?"

"Not problems, so much," Emma replied. "We just have nothing in common and our study habits really don't mesh at all. But it's okay, the semester will be over in a month and a half and I've already picked a new room for next year with a friend."

Clay nodded, being in the Navy had given him experience with not so great roommates. "That's good. So, other than the not great roommate you like it?"

A big smile immediately lit up Emma's face. "I love it. Being able to study music and just talk about it with other people who love it as much as I do is, I don't know, I don't even have the words to describe it. And even the liberal arts requirements I've had to take, like literature and stuff, have been great. And I've gone to a bunch of shows, school gets us discounted tickets." Emma beamed as she talked about how much she was enjoying her program at Tisch. Watching her talk about it made Clay smile too. She glowed with happiness, and Clay thought how beautiful she looked when she was this happy.

Eventually Emma blushed. "I'm sorry, I'm totally gushing."

"Don't be sorry," Clay reassured her. "It's great to hear how much you're enjoying it. I love what I do, so I always want to hear other people are passionate about what they're doing. Otherwise, why do it?"

Emma nodded. "Yeah, I am passionate about it, and I feel like here I can really pursue that, which is even better than I expected it to be." Emma paused for a moment to collect her thoughts. "It's funny, I think I get that from my Dad. He's so passionate about being a SEAL, but I feel like he doesn't understand my passion for music at all."

"Well, I think that has more to do with him being a dad and worrying about you." Clay smiled at Emma's sigh of frustration at his comment. "But he's really proud of you. He's always telling us about how great you're doing here, and he played a clip of you singing at some performance you did a couple months ago."

"Oh my God, he did not!" Emma's blush colored her cheeks prettily as she looked at him with embarrassment. "He made you all watch me singing? That is so mortifying!"

"No reason to be embarrassed. You sounded pretty good to me." Clay then added with a smile, "Besides we like watching everyone's videos from home. Ray must have showed us the recording of RJ taking his first steps about ten times. We all watched it like it was the first time every time."

"Oh, so now my singing is on the same level as RJ walking. Thanks, Clay." Emma huffed.

Clay grinned at her. "I didn't say it was as good as RJ walking. I mean, Emma, he took five whole steps."

"Ooooh! Clay Spenser, you are mean!" Emma exclaimed as she threw one of her crumpled-up papers at him, hitting him on the center of his forehead.

Clay laughed hard. He couldn't help himself. "Sorry, Em, I can't help teasing you."

"Hmpf." Emma snorted, trying to pretend she was angry at Clay, then she began to laugh with him.

Finally, their laughter petered out, and they sat quietly for a moment recovering. Emma glanced at the clock on the wall and sat up. "Oh damn, it's after two. I have to go, or I'll be late for class." She began shoving all her papers and her laptop into her bag. "Will you be in the City much longer?"

Clay had been disappointed to see her pack up to go. He hadn't even realized how much time had gone by. "I'm in Brooklyn through the weekend, but I'm not sure what our plans are."

Emma held her hand out. "Give me your phone."

"My phone, why?" Clay asked.

Emma began motioning with her fingers. "Hand it over. I'm giving you my number so if you come back into the city and need suggestions on places to see, where else to get great coffee, whatever, you can contact me. You know, because you're not that hip, Clay Spenser." Emma smirked at him while she waited for him to hand over the phone.

He gave it to her unlocked and she entered her number. "Okay, gotta go." She handed him back his phone as she stood up.

Clay stood up as well. "It was good seeing you, Emma. I'm glad I bumped into you. Enjoy your class."

"I'm glad I bumped into you too, Clay. Take care of yourself on those secret missions," she said with a ghost of a smile. Then she turned and wove her way between the tables and chairs and headed out the door.

Clay sat back down and picked at the remains of his sandwich. Somehow some of the sunlight had seemed to go out of the day once she left.

Clay and Mike met up again once Mike was done at the hospital. The new doctor felt a full recovery was possible, but he suggested another minor surgery to repair a little more of the damaged tissue. Once Mike's Navy doctor discussed the procedure with his colleague from NYU, he agreed with the treatment plan and on Friday Mike was ordered to report to Balboa Naval Medical Center in San Diego. He would have to catch a flight early Saturday morning.

Clay had planned to stay at Mike's until Sunday morning, but with Mike leaving on Saturday Clay decided to do the same. Mike kept apologizing for the change in plans, but Clay understood only too well how the Navy worked.

On Friday night Clay was looking at his phone to see about changing his train when he pulled up his contacts and saw Emma's number. Before he could think about it too much, he sent her a text.

202-555-1212

Hey, it's Clay. I suddenly have tomorrow free. Any sightseeing advice?

After what seemed to him like a century, but was probably only five minutes, she replied.

Emma H

That depends…

Clay S

On what?

Emma H

Are you just looking for some suggestions or do you need a tour guide?

Clay S

A guide, definitely

Emma H

Well, it happens that I know a guide who's available tomorrow. :)

Clay S

That's handy. Where should I meet this guide?

Emma H

The coffee shop?

Clay S

Works for me. 10am?

Emma H

Perfect

Do you want to go to the 9-11 Memorial and Museum? If you don't that's okay. Might be a downer for your vacation.

Clay S

Actually I'd really like that.

Emma H

C U at 10am!

The next morning Clay and Mike said their goodbyes, and Clay headed into Manhattan. Clay needed to stop at a luggage storage place near Penn Station to store his bag before he met Emma in Lower Manhattan. He arrived at the coffee shop a little before ten so he got in line to order them drinks.

As he picked up the drinks Emma bounced up beside him. "Hey Clay! Ready for your tour?"

"Ready," he replied. "And here's a drink for my guide. One mocha latte with skim milk and cinnamon on top."

Emma gave him a big smile as she took the drink. "Thank you," she said and gave him a smacking kiss on the cheek.

Clay was a little surprised but was more than willing to be caught up in Emma's good mood. "So, you're pretty cheery this morning."

"I know. Sorry if I'm a little crazy. I had a performance for one of my professors yesterday morning and he sent me the critique with my grade last night. He gave me an A and had really good things to say. He also gave me things I should work on, but he was really positive, which was great because I kind of thought he wasn't happy with my work."

Clay grinned at Emma. She was practically dancing in place she seemed so pleased.

"That's great. I'm glad it went well."

"And now I have today free to be a tourist," she added. "So, let's get a move on."

"Lead the way. You're the guide for this outing," he said, opening the door for them to exit the coffee shop.

They took the subway down to the 9-11 Memorial. Before entering the museum, they walked around the Memorial looking at the names around the fountains. Emma stopped at one point and was running her hand pensively across some of the names carved into the stone.

Clay stepped up beside her. "Hey, Em, what are you thinking?"

"Oh, I don't know," she replied softly. "You know, I've been in New York since the beginning of summer and this is the first time I've come here."

"Didn't you want to before now?" He asked her.

"I did and I didn't," she explained. "I was little when this happened and I don't really remember any of it, but because of my Dad it has affected my entire life."

Clay nodded because he could understand that. "It's affected my entire career in the Navy too."

Emma turned to look at him. "I didn't want to come here alone, but I haven't felt like my friends would understand. Not because they're not nice or sympathetic, but none of them have anyone close to them in the military. They don't get it. It's one of the weirdest things about being here in New York. In Virginia a lot of the people I know have a family member in some branch of the military. They understand about deployments and worrying about that call in the night, you know. But here it's a whole different world."

Clay knew exactly what she meant. When he was dating Stella and he met her friends from the University they couldn't understand why anyone would want to be in the military. It was as if they had come from another world where a commitment to duty and fighting for your country were foreign concepts.

Emma sighed, and Clay slid his arm around her shoulders. "Growing up I used to get so angry at my Dad. I couldn't understand why he needed to go away and miss birthdays and family events and just not be there when I needed him. But then I stand here, and I see all these names and I think of all the people they represent and all the people that loved and needed them and I understand why it's important."

Clay squeezed Emma's shoulder, and she leaned her head into his. They stood there for a while just listening and watching as others made their way through the Memorial. Finally, Emma lifted her head from Clay's shoulder and gave him a faint smile.

"Let's go into the museum."

Emma and Clay spent the rest of the morning going through the museum. At times it was sad, but at others it was uplifting. Clay could not think of anyone else he would rather have toured the exhibits with. He was glad she had suggested it as he probably wouldn't have visited on his own.

Once they finished at the museum they stopped for lunch and then spent the rest of the day playing tourist. First, they went down to the Battery and walked around the park before hopping on a ferry out to the Statue of Liberty and then Ellis Island. After that they took a train back uptown and walked around Central Park, and then finally as dusk was falling, they went to the top of the Empire State Building. Emma told Clay that the observatory at One World Trade Center was higher, but the Observation Deck on the Empire State Building would always be the classic one to visit.

Clay had been sorry to see their day together end. Even now as he rocked gently in his hammock in the belly of the C-17, he smiled as he remembered how much fun he had had with Emma that day. He had found out that Emma was funny and had a wicked sense of humor. They both had spent most of the day after visiting the 9-11 Museum cracking jokes. One recurring joke between them was about how different things in New York were going to "ruin" Emma.

After a hug from Emma, they had parted at Penn Station, Emma to catch a subway train to her dorm and he to board his Amtrak train home. Clay had watched her disappear down the escalator until he couldn't make out even a glint of her blond hair. Then he had turned with a sigh and headed to the Amtrak waiting area.

A day or two after he had returned to duty in Virginia, a photo from Emma of a bowl of noodles with vegetables and something else mixed in popped up on his phone. It had quickly been followed by a text.

Emma H

So I think New York has ruined me. I eat tofu now. A lot. ;)

Clay S

Emma! Are you turning into a vegetarian?!

Emma H

I sometimes think I should. But then I remember how good steak tips taste. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Clay S

Not ruined yet then. We'll need to schedule a tofu intervention though.

And from there it had just grown. Whatever it was. If anyone had asked Clay at the time, he would have told them he and Emma were just friends. They often texted each other for no special reason, just because something happened that Clay thought Emma would find funny. Or Emma would share something that happened in class. If the thought of Emma's curves had sometimes crept into Clay's head, he just pushed it away. She was Jason Hayes' daughter after all. And if he sometimes looked at the selfie of him and Emma on the ferry in New York Harbor, he told himself it was just because he needed something happy to see when he was decompressing from missions. Nevermind that he was in Virginia doing training ops some of the times he stared at it.

Then in late April something happened that made Clay realize how important Emma had become to him. The team had gone on a mission to Algeria in search of human traffickers. Mandy had solid intel that the group was responsible for the abduction of two female American college students who had been traveling in Morocco. Bravo team went in and were able to rescue the students along with about fifteen children who were going to be sold into slavery.

Clay had seen many terrible things during his time as a SEAL, but the images of those children and those two young women would not leave his brain. He believed the young women and some of the children had been sexually abused. The haunted looks in their eyes were almost more than he could take.

Once they returned to the base, Clay hit the showers, but the thought of food made him ill. He went back to their C-17 to wait for their departure. He sat down on one of the crates waiting to be loaded into the hold and took his phone out. He saw that Davis had set up wifi for them to use if they wanted. He pulled up Whatsapp and sent a message to Emma. He thought she might be asleep due to the time difference, but he hoped not.

Clay

Hey Em, you up?

Emma

I am. Study, study, study. That's me.

Clay

I don't want to disturb you.

Emma

You're not. I need a break. What has you up in the middle of the night?

Clay

It's not the middle of the night where I am.

Emma

Oh

Everything okay?

Clay

Not so much

Instead of a message in reply, his phone rang. It was Emma calling through Whatsapp.

"Hey, Em," he answered the call.

"Clay," she said gently. "What's wrong?"

Clay debated how to put into words what he could say. "Well, we just returned from a mission and…" He trailed off not sure what to say next.

"You're not hurt, are you?" Emma asked.

"No, nothing like that," he replied. "We're all fine. No injuries."

"That's good." Clay could hear the relief in Emma's voice.

"There were just… kids…," he said slowly. "It's always worse when there are kids. And two college students, they reminded me of you." Once he said that Clay realized why this mission seemed so terrible. Sure, it was always worse with children involved, but those young women made him think of Emma. And the thought of Emma ever being hurt like that…

"Oh, Clay," Emma softly breathed through the phone. Clay squeezed his eyes shut, focusing on Emma's voice. "I'm fine. I'm safe here in my bed, in my dorm room, on the female only floor of the dorm. Nice and safe."

Clay pictured Emma sitting in her dorm room, cozy in her bed. He had a vague idea of what it looked like. Emma had once texted him a photo taken in her dorm room of her posing in a costume she had on for some school event.

"Wait," he said with a little smile in his voice. "The female only floor?"

"Get your mind out of the gutter, Spenser." Emma chided. "It's nowhere near as good as what you're imagining, particularly when we all need the bathroom."

"I wasn't thinking anything like that," Clay protested.

"Uh huh. Sure," Emma said. "Of course, there are those times when we all have a big pillow fight while we're wearing skimpy pajamas. That—"

"Emma!" Clay exclaimed starting to laugh as he cut her off. "Stop it!"

"Well, that cheered you up fast," Emma said with a little chuckle.

"You're a smart ass, you know that?" Clay asked her.

"Mmmm, it's been mentioned before," Emma retorted. "But you do know whose daughter I am, right?"

That was a sobering thought for Clay. Yes, he knew exactly whose daughter she was.

"Seriously though, Clay," Emma continued. "It's practically a convent here. That's how safe I am."

"A convent, really?" Clay snorted.

"Really," she replied. "Even when I try to date, it turns out to be platonic. I might as well be a nun, except I'm not Catholic."

Dating, Clay thought, who is she dating? She never mentioned dating anyone. "Who is this guy you're dating?" Clay asked.

"It was a single date, not dating," Emma answered. "Or I thought it was a date, but I obviously read the signals wrong. He asked me to have coffee with him, and—"

"Coffee? At our coffee place?" Clay questioned.

"Oh, I didn't realize we owned it now. But it was somewhere else, since you're so concerned." Emma continued, "When he asked, I thought, why not? He's cute. He seems nice. He's in the music program. So, I agreed."

Clay had the strongest urge to punch this guy in his "cute" face.

Completely unaware of Clay's annoyance with her date, Emma went on. "I met him at the coffee shop. The chairs, by the way, were not as comfortable as the couches at our coffee place. He bought us drinks, and—"

"Did he get a you a mocha latte with skim milk and cinnamon on top?" Clay interrupted.

"No, Clay, he bought me a caramel macchiato," Emma replied sounding just a little annoyed. "Do you not want me to finish this story? We can talk about something else, if you want."

"No, no," Clay replied hastily. "I want to hear the rest." He needed to know what had happened on this date.

"Okay," she continued. "Like I said, he bought us drinks, and we sat down. I'm just going to point out here that I hate that what happened next totally reinforces a stereotype and makes me look like an idiot."

What the hell, Clay thought. Did he slip something in her drink? "Don't leave me hanging here, Emma. What happened?"

"In one of our music classes we were assigned partners for duets. Rob, my so-called date, just wanted to pump me for info about my partner, Kevin." Emma sighed.

"Wait, what?" Clay asked.

"He's gay, Clay. He wasn't interested in me. He was interested in Kevin." Emma let out a more frustrated sigh now. "Here I was thinking some cute guy asked me out, and it turns out he isn't even interested in women. And I didn't even realize!"

"But, Emma," Clay said trying not to laugh at her. "You're in music. Aren't most of the guys—"

"Oh see," Emma cut him off, "that's the stereotype. Not all guys in music are gay."

Now Clay had completely lost the battle to hold in his laughter. He finally gasped out, "How would you know, Emma? If you couldn't tell this guy…" His laughter took over again.

"Clay Spenser," Emma practically shouted over his laughter. "If you were in front of me right now, I would be strangling you. Just know that."

"Sorry, sorry," Clay gasped as he finally got control over his laughter.

"Humph, I think you'd be more appreciative of the fact that I told you a very embarrassing story about myself just to cheer you up." Emma said, sounding a little miffed.

"I am, Emma," Clay replied much more seriously. "Appreciative, that is. You really helped me here. I know it must be frustrating for you that I can't even tell you where I am or what we're doing, but just hearing your voice has really helped. The embarrassing story only made it even better."

"I'm glad," Emma replied softly.

Clay sat there on the crate just smiling. Neither one of them spoke, but neither was ready to hang up the phone either. But sooner than Clay would have liked he saw crew starting to load the plane. One of the crew members gestured to the crate Clay was sitting on, so Clay hopped down and walked a little away from the plane, but not moving too far from the wifi signal.

"Emma, I have to go. They're loading the plane now, so we're going to be wheels up soon."

"Okay, Clay," Emma replied, the rest of her response interrupted by a big yawn.

Clay smiled softly. "Go to sleep now. Save the rest of the studying for morning."

"Hmm, 'kay," Emma murmured as she fought drifting off to sleep. "Text me when you get home safe, okay?"

"I will. Sweet dreams," he whispered before ending the call.

That, Clay realized, was the point where they were more than just friends. He just didn't want to admit it to himself at the time, but it was obvious to him now that that phone call was the tipping point. When the plane landed back in Virginia, he texted Emma to say he was home safe, and after that he always let her know when he was spun up and when he returned home.

Things had become more serious between them, but it wasn't until Emma told him she was coming home to Virginia Beach for the summer that he recognized how serious. Initially he had been excited about her coming home for the summer, then he was worried. Was she coming home for him? Did he want her to? Was he reading way too much into this? And she was still Emma Hayes. He shouldn't even be thinking about Jason Hayes' daughter like this.

He decided the only thing to do was ask. Not that he planned on asking outright if she was interested in him and if she was coming home to be nearer to him. He had some standards, after all. The next time they spoke he listened to her chat about her upcoming finals and final projects for a bit and then he took the plunge.

"Hey Em, what made you decide to come back to Virginia Beach this summer?" He thought that was a good compromise. Get some intel without exposing himself.

"I'm worried about my Dad," she replied. "I think he's not doing well without me and Mikey there."

Clay did not disagree with that. Maybe having Emma around would get Jason to lay off just a little in training.

"Also," Emma continued, "I miss the beach. I love New York, but it was crazy hot last summer with no great beaches close by."

A thought occurred to Clay. "Where are you going to stay? Your Dad's current place isn't that roomy."

"Oh, I thought I told you," Emma answered breezily. "I got a job with one of the little hotels on Virginia Beach. I'm going to work the front desk and my pay includes a room. It won't be as nice as the rooms in the hotel, and I'll probably have to share, but it should be fine for the summer."

Emma's answers had given Clay a little more information, but he still had no idea what she was thinking. He decided the best thing to do was wait and see what happened when she returned to Virginia Beach. As a SEAL, Clay had a need to control things, which made taking the wait and see approach challenging for him. His brain was wired to work the problem for a solution, but he was not sure there was a solution here. Whatever Emma was thinking, she was still Jason Hayes' daughter, which put her firmly in the off-limits category.

Clay shook his head. He could see now how foolish he had been to think that he could just find out what Emma was thinking and then decide what would happen. Also, he now realized he had underestimated his own feelings for Emma and how much he wanted to belong with her.

Once Emma returned to Virginia Beach, she was like a magnet for him. After a day of training he wanted to take a left out of the gate and head toward the beach where she was instead of taking a right to go to his apartment. He really tried to keep their meetings to a minimum. He grabbed a meal with her one night to welcome her back to Virginia, and another time he helped her get her friend Hannah back to Emma's room. Hannah had been upset over a guy and had too much to drink. Clay helped Emma practically carry Hannah back to Emma's room.

He thought he was doing so well keeping his distance, but then they spent the day at the beach and his carefully constructed wall separating them fell apart. About a week after Emma was back in Virginia, Clay was spun up on a mission in the Middle East. The team spent way too much time sitting around and waiting on that one and he had spent a bit of that time messaging with Emma. From her messages it was obvious she was enjoying a great day at the beach. He told her there was a lot of sand where he was but no water. She had sent him back a picture of the ocean on a beautiful stretch of beach that he didn't recognize. Emma told him it was a smaller beach off the main drag that only locals in Virginia Beach really knew about. She promised to take him there when he got back.

Once he got back from the Middle East, it took a little while for them to actually get days off that coincided. They finally did, and the trip to the beach was planned. Clay picked Emma up at the hotel and right from the start he knew he was in trouble. As he pulled up, Emma was waiting for him with some towels and a bag of food and drinks to put in his cooler. She was wearing a pretty yellow sundress over her bathing suit with her hair pulled up into a messy bun on the top of her head. When she smiled at him in welcome, he thought she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

While Clay added Emma's food and drink contributions to the cooler, she got settled in the passenger seat. They drove away from the hotel and Emma began giving him directions to her beach. The drive wasn't too long, but the beach was definitely off the beaten path. He could see how it was more a of a locals kind of place.

They arrived and unloaded everything they had brought. Clay laid out a blanket and Emma arranged their shoes, towels, and the cooler on the edges of it to keep it from blowing around. Then Emma took off her sundress. Clay had thought her curves looked good in jeans and a sweater back in March, but now in a bikini in May he was overwhelmed. He thanked his maker she had put on sunblock before they came out in the sun, because there was no way he could have helped her with that without giving himself away. He had a hard enough time not grabbing her and kissing her senseless when she spread sunblock on his back and shoulders.

Their day at the beach had ended up being a lot of fun, once Clay was able to relax. A quick dip in the cold water on his own helped him out with that.

At the end of the day he drove Emma back to the hotel. He pulled his truck up around the back near the employee quarters, and he turned to Emma. She smiled at him, and he could see the freckles that had come out on her nose from the sun. Pieces of her hair had come loose from her bun, and he reached out and pushed some behind her ear. Then without even thinking about what he was doing, he leaned down and kissed her.

It was a spectacular kiss, and the only thing Clay could think when he lifted his head and looked down into Emma's beautiful face was that he was so screwed. This wasn't just any girl for him. This was the girl. And so, he did the only thing he felt he honorably could. He told Emma he couldn't date her without her father's permission.

To say Emma wasn't happy was an understatement. He did his best to explain to her why he felt that getting Jason's permission was the only thing he could do. He must have laid it out well because when he was done Emma still wasn't happy, but she understood. Although that didn't stop her from telling him sarcastically as she hopped out of his truck that he should get in touch with her once he had his permission slip.

And that is what brought him to his current predicament, waiting to see if he could catch a moment with Jason alone. What the hell was Sonny talking so long about? Maybe, Clay thought, if I go sit with them, I can wait Sonny out. Clay decided to give it a shot. He rolled out of his hammock and headed over to Jason and Sonny. Grabbing a beer on the way, he settled on the equipment case next to Jason.

"Hey, kid," Sonny greeted him. "Can't sleep?"

"Something like that," Clay replied.

"Need to get your beauty sleep, Clay." Sonny told him. "I'm going to hit my hammock now so I can be ready for the ladies when we get home."

Jason laughed. "I don't think there are enough hours left in our flight, Sonny, to get you beautiful."

"Hey, now," Sonny answered. "There's no call for that." Then he toasted his beer can at Clay and Jason and headed to his hammock.

Clay watched Sonny walk away and realized now was his chance. He racked his brain trying to decide the best way to broach the subject with Jason. He kicked himself mentally for not having come up with an opener for this conversation. Why didn't he think of what he wanted to say?

While Clay's head spun with thoughts and possible ways to approach this. Jason sat quietly and looked at his rookie.

"Something on your mind, Clay?" Jason asked.

"Yeah, um," Clay stumbled with his reply. Just say it, he thought. "Yeah, boss, I, um…" He took a deep breath, straightened his back and said it. "I would like your permission to date Emma."

He exhaled a deep breath. There, I said it out loud, he thought.

"What!" Jason barked at him.

"I would like your permission to date your daughter," Clay repeated.

"Oh, I heard you," Jason snapped. "I'm just wondering if this is a joke. Is Sonny behind a crate recording this, waiting to jump out, so you can all laugh at me?"

"No, boss, I'm serious," Clay stated. "I want to date Emma."

Jason didn't say anything else. Clay could see Jason's throat work as the older man swallowed hard, multiple times. Clay also noticed Jason's hands clenching where they rested on the trunk. The tension between the two men grew as neither one spoke. Just when Clay decided he better say something else to break the stalemate, Ray joined them.

"Everything okay here?" The 2IC said, breaking the moment. "Jase? Clay?"

"Okay?" Jason snorted. "Ask the kid here."

"Clay, what's up?" Ray asked.

"I just asked Jason for permission to date Emma." Well, Clay thought, I've said it out loud enough times now that it's a lot easier.

Ray's eyes widened when he heard Clay's answer, and he looked at Jason to see his team leader's reaction.

"I don't even know what to say to this," Jason said through gritted teeth. "How could you even think… This is my nineteen-year-old daughter."

"She's going to be twenty next week," Clay pointed out.

Jason glared at him. "She is my little girl, and the thought that you would take advantage—"

Clay immediately cut Jason off. "I would never—"

"Who's taking advantage?" Sonny's voice cut Clay off. "Things seemed a might tense down here, so we thought we'd see what's up."

Sonny, followed by Trent, Brock and even Cerberus, approached the three SEALS locked in their tense conversation.

Great, Clay thought, it just needed this. What happened to my private discussion with Jason? I really did not need the entire team to be involved in this.

Jason continued as they had never been interrupted. "Take advantage of my daughter—"

"Whoa, wait a minute," Sonny interrupted again. "The kid here is taking advantage of little Emma?"

Now Clay was getting pissed. This was the second person who had accused him of taking advantage of Emma. "I would never take advantage of any woman, particularly Emma. And it's pretty shitty that the men I fight with, that I think of as brothers, would even think that I would do something so low."

Ray, ever the peacemaker, jumped in. "Now, brother, no one really thinks that. We're all just surprised by this. None of us were aware that you and Emma even knew each other more than to just say hello at a team barbecue."

Both Jason and Clay looked at Ray skeptically. Funny, Clay thought, it sure seemed like they believed it to him.

Jason blew out a loud breath and spoke. "Ray makes a good point. How is it that you even know my daughter well enough to know she wants to date you? I'm assuming she's aware of your interest."

"Of course, she is," Clay replied. "You think I'd go through this on a whim?"

"At this point, Spenser, I have no idea what you'd do. Obviously." Jason stated.

Ray jumped in again to get them back to the point. "Clay, tell us how is it that you and Emma got so friendly."

Clay took a deep breath. He could do that. He focused solely on Ray as he spoke. He found it easier that way.

"Back in March, when I went to New York to visit my friend Mike—"

"The SEAL from team 2 who was injured in that ambush?" Trent cut in.

"Yes, him," Clay replied. "He was rehabbing his shoulder and I went up to see him and give him some support. One day when I was in Manhattan, I bumped into Emma at a coffee shop. I mean, literally bumped into her. I made her spill half her drink. I bought her a new one, and we sat down and chatted while I grabbed some lunch. She told me about Tisch. I told her about Mike. It was nice."

"And?" Sonny asked. "That can't be it."

"No," Clay continued, "then Mike ended up being ordered out to Balboa early for more surgery and I didn't feel right staying with his family after he left, so I went to change my train. I could only change it to Saturday night, so I had a free day on my own in New York. Emma and I met up and we went sightseeing together, the 9-11 Museum, Statue of Liberty, Central Park. That kind of thing. We had a lot of fun, and after that, I don't know. I guess we were friends."

"Friends," Jason huffed.

"Yeah, friends," Clay repeated. "So, then we would text, you know, nothing serious, just joking around, and talking sometimes. And then Emma came back to Virginia Beach and we just…". Clay's voice faded out as he wasn't sure what to say about what had been happening since Emma had returned home.

"Why Emma?" Jason burst out. "Tell me that, why my daughter?"

Clay looked at Jason in surprise. Didn't Jason know? This was his daughter after all.

"Emma…, I…," Clay stopped. He gathered his thoughts, and then started speaking, more deliberately this time. "Emma is smart. She's beautiful. She's funny. She makes me laugh. She listens to me. She understands all this." Clay figured he could go on and on about all the things that made Emma so perfect to him, but he didn't think that would convince Jason.

He took a deep breath and looked Jason Hayes straight in the eye.

"If she were anyone else, anyone else, I would have already asked her out, and now I'd be spending my time convincing her I'm good enough for her to be with, which I'm not. But she's not anyone else, she's Emma Hayes. She's your daughter, and I have too much respect for you to sneak around with her behind your back. And I have too much respect for Emma to ask her to keep secrets from you."

Clay continued to look straight at Jason when he finished saying his piece. He wasn't really sure what else he could say to convince his team leader.

Jason looked hard at him and said in a low voice, "And if I say no?" He paused and then continued. "If I say no, you can't date her and you need to stop this texting and talking and whatever else you've been doing? What then?"

Clay took a deep breath. Being denied permission was an outcome he never imagined. Sure, he figured Jason would give him a hard time, but he had never let himself consider failure. What would he do?

"Then I'd stop." Clay answered firmly, even though the idea of it broke his heart. "I'd have to tell her first. I couldn't hurt her like that by just cutting her off, but then I'd stop. If that's what you really wanted." Clay hoped like hell that wasn't what Jason wanted.

Jason looked away and blew out a big breath. No one else said anything, even Ray. The team all looked at Jason and waited for his response. Except Cerberus. Cerb pushed his way between Sonny and Trent to sit in front of Clay and place his head on Clay's knee. Clay was happy he at least had Cerb's support, even if he had no one else's.

Jason rubbed his hands through his hair and turned to look at Clay. "Fine," he spat out.

Clay's eyes widened. Did that mean? "Fine, it's okay if I—"

"Yes," Jason ground out. "You can date her, if that's what she wants." Jason leaned in close to Clay and gave him a hard stare. "But hear this, if you hurt her, in any way, any way at all, I will end you. End you. Understood?"

"Understood." Clay could hardly believe it.

Jason rose from the trunk he had been sitting on and stalked away. The rest of the team with the exception of Ray and Cerberus followed him. Ray sat down on the trunk in Jason's place. Clay barely noticed he was so astounded by how things had turned out. He continued to scratch Cerb behind the ears, and a smile slowly broke out on his face. He had permission to date Emma. He wished he could call her right now. As soon as they were on the ground he would.

Ray broke into Clay's tumbling thoughts. "You look like you can't believe your luck," Ray said with a smile.

Clay grinned at Ray. "I can't. I really thought for a minute there that he was going to say no."

"You were pretty convincing there though," Ray stated.

"I meant it all. I wasn't saying it just to be convincing," Clay said.

"I know, brother," Ray replied. "That's why it was convincing. When you said the part about Emma being smart and beautiful, it was obvious you really felt that way. That's what convinced me you were serious, and I know it's what convinced Jason."

Clay blushed a little. He hadn't meant to wear his heart on his sleeve, but he hadn't known of any other way to show Jason how serious he was about this.

"Nothing to be ashamed of," Ray added. "I'm a father and when my girl is old enough, which won't be until she's forty at least, I hope that the man she's with believes those things about her. That he feels like that for her."

Ray got up, but before he walked away he clapped Clay on the shoulder. "One other thing, Clay, don't ever think you're not good enough for anyone. You are." Then he headed off toward his hammock.

Clay smiled wider as he looked down at Cerberus. "What do you say, boy? I have a date to plan." Cerb hopped up and placed his front legs on Clay's shoulders and licked his face. Clay grabbed one of Cerb's toys that had been abandoned nearby and tossed it down toward where Brock was sitting. Cerb chased away after it, and Clay got up and headed for his hammock. He only had about an hour left in this flight to figure out where he should take Emma for their first official date. He laid back down in his hammock and began rocking it gently while he made his plans.