kubis: (GK people - sgt and his lt after hours)
[personal profile] kubis
One foot in front of the other
Rating: R
Word Count: 11713
Pairing/Characters: Brad/Nate, mentions of Brad/OFC; Ray Person
Summary: High school!AU. "He's awesome! Let's adopt a stray, Brad."
Disclaimer: This story is based on the characters from the HBO miniseries Generation Kill. It's fiction.
Notes: Written for [livejournal.com profile] yagkyas exchange as a gift for [livejournal.com profile] irisgirl12000.
Many thanks to [livejournal.com profile] idrilka and [livejournal.com profile] noelia_g for the beta.



One foot in front of the other



Ray will later call this day the day he almost went gay for Nate Fick ('Almost' is most fortunate here, because that would be weird afterwards, with all this true love and destiny and stars aligning between dear Nathaniel and Brad, you know?), but for now it is just the second day of their sophomore year and the news about the new guy hasn’t spread around yet.

This is high school, though, and everyone wants to know everyone else's business, so as soon as Encino Man leaves Nate in the basketball team locker room after a quick introduction, the guys start their inquisition. What Brad’s most interested in is if Fick is a good player and a team player, but he still listens. There are the standard questions: where he's from (Baltimore), why he's here (the whole family moved after his mom got promoted), which year he's in (he looks like he's twelve, but either looks are deceiving or he's Doogie Howser 2.0, because he's a sophomore), does he have a girlfriend (no)...

"I had a boyfriend, though, but we broke up before I moved here. We weren't up for a long-distance relationship, you know?"

Brad looks up at that. Fick's voice got quieter at the end and Brad would bet it's not because he's mourning the relationship. He lowered his voice, because everyone else stopped talking. Brad looks up and sees Nate facing the group, his locker on his right and a shoelace loose in one of his sneakers.

The locker door behind Brad slams loudly.

"Don't worry, homes, there's a lot of dicks here, I'm sure you will find one you like," Ray says and Brad snorts.

"Lucky for you, Person is a big pussy. We wouldn't wish him on anybody." Mike claps Nate on his arm and points at the untied shoelace.

A moment later Godfather comes in and there's no more talking, except for Ray, who leans in and whispers, "He's awesome! Let's adopt a stray, Brad."

Brad doubts anybody who has balls like that needs adopting, but he nods nonetheless.


*


The sad truth about life is that most people are assholes and narrow-minded idiots. Brad knows this and he usually tries to ignore it, but sometimes it's just jarring on his nerves.

The team is mostly okay. Manimal and Chaffin calm down after the third practice, when it's obvious Nate isn't groping anybody, and start to talk to him. Trombley doesn't, and he's getting pushy about it.

"I don't want to shower with him," he says on Tuesday, three weeks into the semester. Nate just went to the showers and the rest is on their way.

"Shut up, sicko, and clean yourself up," Ray says, passing him by. "You stink."

"Fuck you, Person," Trombley growls.

"But, honey," Ray turns around. "I thought you weren't gay?"

"I'm not! And I don't want to shower with a faggot!"

"I'm not going to look at your dick, Trombley," Nate says, standing in the door. "A: I'm not interested in the least. B: I forgot to bring my magnifying glass. Get over yourself."

And that would be it, but then Encino Man has to step in. After Trombley's request to be allowed to use a different shower, he not only permits it, he holds an after-practice meeting with the whole team and asks if someone else is feeling that way. Nate sits there quietly, rolling the ball in his lap, and Brad wants to punch somebody (Trombley, for being a giant fuck-up of a human being; Encino Man, for being an idiot; Casey Kasem, for not even trying to hide his smirk; Godfather, for not being there to stop this bullshit). No one says anything and the coach lets them go, but no one says anything in the locker room either.

Nate leaves without taking a shower and Brad feels sick in his stomach.


*


Ray starts to kiss Nate on the mouth at the beginning of every practice and every game. They both find it hilarious and it's their thing; Brad just shakes his head and hides his smile.

"You should worry about catching something," he warns Nate at lunch one day.

"I’m going to worry when he starts humping my leg, and I warned him about the tongue, so we should be fine," Nate says, grinning. "Besides, let's be honest here, there’s no way he would’ve had a chance to catch anything in the first place."

"You wound me, Nathaniel," Ray collapses into the seat beside Brad.

"It's called reality check, Person." Brad turns to grin at Nate, and then he notices Natalie sitting at a table two rows away. She's talking, flailing her arms around, and he wants to listen to whatever she’s saying, even if it's... whatever.

Nate starts to turn around to see what's Brad's looking at, but he kicks him under the table.

"Hey!"

"Don't."

Nate shrugs and goes back to his food, but Ray isn't that easy.

"Aww, Brad! Did you find someone to warm your cold heart and feet? Because, dude, your feet are icy-cold. But anyway, who is it?" He starts to look around, making a huge spectacle of himself, as always, and Brad just doesn't want to deal with it.

"Fuck off, Ray," he says warningly. "I mean it."

Nate looks as if he's too busy chewing to pay attention, and Ray just rolls his eyes.

"You never really mean it, homes. You love me. But have it your way, I will find out sooner or later."

"There's nothing to find out."

"Yes, yes, of course. Just tell me it's not Natalie Williams again."

Brad doesn't move a muscle. He doesn't.

"Fuck, homes, still?" Ray whines. "It's so freshman year, seriously. I thought you got over your crush."

"Ray, do you want the rest of my fries?" Nate asks suddenly and moves his plate in Ray's direction, not waiting for an answer. "I'm full."

"You are forgiven for everything you said earlier, Nathaniel," Ray announces, forgetting the previous topic instantly. "You know how to win a guy over, I can give you that."

Brad smiles at Nate and gets a small smile in return. When he looks up after a few minutes, Natalie is already gone.


*


They get together in January, Natalie and Brad. It's almost an accident that he asks her out, an accident fuelled by Ray's speeches and Nate's lifted eyebrows, both challenging him.

It's good. It's great even. Brad thinks falling in love makes you stupid, but he's weirdly okay with that. It's not like he will ever be as stupid as Ray on his best day, so he will live.

He is lying on Nate's bed, looking at the ceiling and trying to find a solution for the bug in the open source project he is working on. The sounds of Nate writing his paper are comforting. Brad has learned that this place and their shared semi-silence do wonders for his creativity. It seems to work well for Nate, too, so now Brad has an open invitation to come and think in peace. But today his thoughts are wandering and Brad can feel himself quiver inwardly with something that he can't identify. Natalie comes to mind and his concentration is for shit, anyway. He closes his eyes and sees her eyes and her smile with a dimple in the left cheek, and her fingers in his. He has different thoughts, too, but he suppresses them. Nate would certainly not appreciate Brad getting hard on his bed.

He opens his eyes and rolls onto the side, propping himself up on one arm and looking at Nate. He doesn't look like he's in the zone, so he probably won't mind an interruption.

"Hey," Brad says quietly, in case Nate is in the zone and not ready to throw something at the wall like Brad thinks he is.

Nate turns to him with a hint of a smile, the kind that's too lazy to really come up, but still wants to be noticed.

"Hm? Solved?"

"No, not really." Brad grimaces. "This one is harder than I thought."

"You will crack it," Nate says like it's obvious, and for him, it is. "I, on the other hand, am about ready to print this shit," he points back to the screen, "only so I can tear it into small pieces."

"Nice," Brad chuckles. "It's time for a break then."

He moves a bit, making room for Nate, who falls onto the bed with a sigh. They lie in silence, looking up at the ceiling.

"So, what's up?" Nate asks and it takes Brad a couple of seconds to stop concentrating on their breathing and focus on Nate’s words.

"Nothing is up."

"Something is up," Nate says, but it doesn't sound like he wants to argue. "You don't have to tell me, of course, but it is."

Brad feels like there's fog in his mind, and he tries to remember what he was thinking about before.

"Natalie."

"It doesn't tell me much."

"I don't know what else to tell you," he admits.

"Okay."

Brad looks at him out of the corner of his eye. Nate’s eyes are closed, his eyelashes dark and short. His mouth is slightly open.

"How long had you and your boyfriend been together before you moved here?" Brad asks, looking back up.

"A little over three months," Nate answers after a long moment. "Why?"

Brad doesn't really know. Does he want relationship advice? It's not like Nate has a lot of experience (unless he's just not saying anything) and Brad's quite sure a guy and a girl are different in more ways than one.

"Oh please, Colbert, tell me it's not about sex."

"It's not about sex." Even if it was meant to be about sex, it isn't anymore.

Silence.

"Okay, I'll say it once and we're over this," Nate says and pauses for a moment. "Make sure you're willing, make sure she's willing and make sure you're safe. That's it. No, wait, two more things. One, if you want to talk, I'll listen, just spare me the details, but two, never, ever, talk about it with Ray. Now that's it."

"Thank you, Mom."

"You're welcome, sweetie. Just be a good boy and don't make me a grandmother."

"That's just disturbing, Fick."

"You love disturbing."

"No, I don't. You confused me with Ray and now I'm really offended."

"No, you're not. You love me, you love Ray and you love disturbing."

"... That sounds like I'm in some kind of a twisted threesome with you guys."

"Now who's disturbing?"

"Why are you not in a relationship?" Brad changes the topic so suddenly it startles them both. Nate opens his mouth, but before he says anything, Brad clarifies, "Not in a twisted threesome with us. Just... you know, a normal relationship."

"First of all, it's not like a lot of guys are openly gay at our school..."

"I'm sure you could find somebody. You're a catch, Fick."

"I'm flattered," he deadpans. "And second, I'm not really looking right now either." He stops. "It's complicated and demanding, you know?" Nate shrugs. "And I don't trust that many people."

Brad considers it for a moment and nods.

"Yeah. Neither do I."


*


Brad has sex for the first time at the beginning of July and that's just a start of the most awesome summer he has ever had. His parents work a lot and his sister is backpacking across South America with her friends, so he has the house to himself. Natalie comes over almost every day, they play computer games, watch movies and have sex, and sometimes they hang out by the pool where Nate works as one of the lifeguards. To top it all off, Ray was shipped to his poor grandparents and he's not there to make Brad's life miserable.

He knows he's neglecting everything and everyone that's not Natalie a little, but he's trying. He spends time with his parents, who are extra clingy now that they are worried about Sarah. He goes to Nate's house every Friday afternoon to hang out and work on his projects while Nate reads, writes and talks about people at the pool.

"I have a date tonight," Nate says one extremely hot day in August. Judging by his own life, he really shouldn't be surprised that someone's dating, but somehow he is. He remembers Nate saying he didn't want to have a relationship, but that was months ago and well, one date is not yet a relationship anyway.

"Brad?" There are three lines forming on Nate’s forehead now and Brad shakes his head quickly.

"You surprised me, that's all. Who's the guy?"

"You remember Arthur from the pool?"

Brad remembers, because the guy wasn't really subtle about ogling Nate. Someone could have drowned and he wouldn't have noticed, too busy flirting.

"Hard not to notice when he's around you all the time."

Nate looks at him with lifted eyebrows, his mouth twitching.

"Dude."

Brad shrugs and grins.

"Yes, I know, I know. Pot, kettle, I get it."

Nate grins back.

"He's smart and funny. Not to mention hot. I didn't mean to, because he goes away to college once the summer's over, but it's just a date. A couple of them, at the most. Why not, right?"

Why not, indeed.


*


He says "I love you" into Natalie's neck, warm and a little sweaty, in the middle of September. A month later it all goes to shit and Brad thinks that maybe it was just too good to be true.

He's not sure how they let this happen, how it got to that point. They should have gone out a few times, date casually for a while and then end it before it got too serious, before... before now. But you can't seriously talk about a future together when you have only just started dating, so it's only when you're already invested, already head over fucking heels, that you discover you don't really have a chance.

And that hurts like a motherfucking bitch, because it wasn't supposed to go like this.

It's Friday night and he sits at the desk, staring at his laptop. There's a goldfish swimming back and forth on the screensaver, over and over again.

Someone knocks on the door and it's Nate, in too long jeans and a red t-shirt, and when did he get so tall, when did they all get taller and older?

Wait, what the fuck?

"You didn't show up, so I tried to call you," Nate says, coming in. He closes the door and lies down on Brad's bed. "Then I called Natalie. And here I am."

"I think I was getting into a weird mood," he admits.

"You're entitled to weird tonight." Nate sits up, with his back propped against the headboard. "Speaking of, Ray's coming over, too."

"I hate you," Brad groans, sitting next to him.

"You love me. And you love Ray, too."

"You're sadly mistaken on both accounts."

"One time you'll admit your love, I just know it."

"Well, I tried that one time and it didn't really go that well in the end," Brad says and looks away.

Nate apparently gets that they're not talking about him or Ray anymore, because he stays silent.

"This is so stupid," Brad almost chokes on the cliche of it all.

"It's really not," Nate says softly and nudges him with his knee. Their arms are pressed together and it's quiet. Brad starts to talk.

He told her about his biggest dream, he wanted her to know first. I want to join the Marines after graduation, he said, and she didn't take it well. No. No, you can't, she said, and it all went down from there. Who would have thought that a nine-month-long relationship could end just like that.

"Do you think maybe you will—"

"No." Brad shakes his head and closes his fingers into a fist. "There are things we can't get over and that's it."

"People say things in anger..."

"Nate."

"I'm sorry," he says, running his fingers on the side of Brad's thigh before letting his hand drop between them.

"It's okay. I know what you're trying to do, it's just... I'm really sure it's over." Brad takes a deep breath and if it hitches a little, neither of them comment on it. "The stuff that came up, we should have known better. It'd be still good now, tomorrow, next month, but we wouldn't make it in the long run. It's... it's really better that we found out now."

"Broken heart is still a broken heart," Nate says, a little unsure and awkward. Brad's insides clench in agreement.

"Hey, and what would you know," Brad says, smirking, partly defensive and partly trying to lighten up the mood. "You and your 'no serious relationships' policy."

It doesn't help the mood at all. Nate face closes off and Brad wants to apologize immediately, but he's interrupted by a tight smile and a shrug.

"Doesn't mean I don't know what a broken heart feels like," Nate says looking at Brad's chest.

"You never told me," he whispers into the sudden silence between them, willing Nate to look back at him, but he doesn't.

"You never told me about the Marines," he shoots back.

Brad nods.

"We don't have to tell each other everything," Nate says quietly. "Not everything is meant to be talked about." He looks back at him now, smiling softly. "It's just the way it is."

"There's no one I trust more than you," Brad hears himself say and he realizes it's true. No one, not Natalie, even before today, not Ray, even if he is the other one of Brad's best friends.

"There's no one I trust more than you, too," Nate says and they grin at each other, because for a moment everything is okay.

Five seconds later the door opens and it's Ray with his, "Hello, ladies," and the sound of glass hitting glass coming from his backpack, and Brad thinks, Fuck, my parents are going to kill me.


*


People who tell you that getting over your broken heart is a pain the ass, well, Brad agrees with them. It is a fucking pain in his ass, at least.

He goes through the motions. School, practice, his on-line projects for which he even gets paid now - he still does everything he used to do before. He isn't a people person and Natalie and he have never had any mutual friends, so thankfully no social circles are broken or some weird high school etiquette disturbed, or whatever.

Trying to ignore her existence may not be the best way to deal with things, but it's the one he's sticking with for now.

Sometimes he feels like he's observing the world instead of participating in it. He observes his teachers, his teammates, his friends and his family, and he can't figure out what's missing. He starts to come around at the end of the winter break, then the day of not-anniversary comes and goes and he feels good.

He starts running with Nate. Brad's doing it to get in shape, Nate because he's apparently unable to sit still. Basketball practice, being the vice-president of the student's council and the star of the debate club, and working for the school newspaper is clearly not enough for him. Brad thinks he's a little insane. Ray agrees and rolls his eyes a lot, but he still kisses Nate before every game they play, because he adores giving people an aneurysm and Nate still thinks it's funny.


*


The thing about Nate is that he's... well, he's insane, yes, but he's also the most determined person Brad knows. He started talking about organizing the Day of Silence at their school last year and the idea was dismissed. But now he isn't ‘a crazy new student who wants a free pass from the teachers’. He is well-known, well-liked and well-prepared.

And the Day of Silence is, indeed, happening.

Some teachers weren't happy about it and Brad thinks a few of them asked more questions than usual, but the principal supported the cause, so they couldn't do anything. Brad is willing to bet that the students who stayed silent today will be questioned thoroughly next week, though.

It's almost over now. The one thing left is the Breaking the Silence event, organized for the people from their school as well as those from Winston High.

"There you are," Ray says, sitting next to him on the grass, and looks around. "Wow, this is a lot of people. Nate sure knows how to throw a party."

Brad automatically looks for Nate - he's still standing next to that guy, Adam, who organized the Day of Silence event at Winston High and co-organized this one with Nate and their GSA. They are still not allowed to talk, but there are smiles and little touches and standing a little too close to each other involved.

"So," Ray starts and Brad makes it a point to stop looking at Nate. "I guess this my perfect opportunity to talk some sense into you. The fact that you can't speak makes it perfect, that is. Because there's nothing else even close to perfect about this whole thing apart from that."

Brad lifts his eyebrows and starts to get up, just to show Ray that he really doesn't have to listen to him if he doesn't want to, but Ray holds his arm.

"It's about Nate, Brad. It's important."

He sits back down.

"This is totally crazy and I'm going to die," Ray mutters, looking around, but then he seems to make up his mind. "I wasn't going to say anything, really, I wasn't, but this shit is getting old and you're over Natalie, and you're blind, homes, you really are, and you should know and he shouldn't have to..."

Brad snaps his fingers in front of Ray's face. If he doesn't get to his point fast, Brad will punch him.

"Nate is in love with you," Ray blurts out and makes a face, and Brad... Brad sort of freezes.

"Fuck, there's really no delicate way to say this," Ray continues. "Believe me, I tried to think of one."

Ray actually planned this conversation. And Nate is in love with Brad.

If Ray is fucking with him right now, Brad will kill him, slowly and painfully.

"I wasn't going to tell you anything, because sometimes even I understand the whole 'not your business' shit, but homes, it's Nate and it's you. When I was sure it was never going to happen, I kept my mouth shut, because you're fucking soulmates, platonic or not, I don't care, and I didn't want to mess it up. You were happy with her, so we were both, you know, happy for you. Not that Nate would say something if he wasn't, of course, he would just fucking smile brighter and bigger... I mean, anyway. I kept my mouth shut, because I didn't believe something might happen. But now I'm telling you this. So I hope you know what that means. Oh hell, I'm not sure you know, and I'm sure as hell not doing it again, so I will spell it out for you. I think you just never thought about this, about the possibility of it. And you should, because probably no girl will ever come close to Nate for you, not where it counts."

Brad can't take any more of this, so he holds his hand up to stop Ray.

"Yeah, okay," Ray agrees quietly and he slumps down a little, deflated. He sounds more serious than ever before. "Just... whatever you do, don't fuck it up."

Brad wonders how exactly he is supposed to manage that.


*


He wishes he could take a break from his life. Go somewhere and think it through, make a plan or something. Anything. But he can't take a break and the place where he always has the best ideas is Nate's bed.

A ride to Nate's house isn't probably the smartest idea, but it's Friday afternoon and it's their thing, no matter what, and Nate left Adam with a handshake and had the biggest smile, looking at Brad, and. Brad doesn't want to break the routine, he feels like changing anything could destroy his zen. And he fucking has his zen, he does.

"Thanks for today," Nate says, his voice a little lower than usual after the whole day of not speaking.

"No need," Brad answers, turning left onto Nate's street. "I just wish you'd talked Ray into it. We all could use a break from that mouth."

Nate laughs. He doesn't know the whole truth, just like Brad didn't, and Brad wonders if it’s still okay, those not-lies they tell each other.

"You have to give me points for trying, though," Nate says, grinning. "Homes, I love you, you know that, but I'd end up with an aneurysm."

Brad chokes, and it has nothing to do with the fact that Nate's pretty good at impersonating Ray.

He parks in Nate's driveway and they go in, just like hundreds of times before. They pass the kitchen, where Beth and her fiancé are apparently cooking dinner. Simon's kissing her brow and she's grinning at him with that Fick smile before they notice the newcomers and say hi. Brad smiles back and goes with Nate to his room, like always, like it's the same it has always been.

And maybe it is the same, for everyone but Brad. He doesn't have words for how much this isn't what he knows.

Fortunately, there's nothing weird with Brad being silent or lying down and staring at the ceiling. They have a routine, established well over a year ago and played out so many times it's all just different versions of the same song.

Brad thinks of kissing Nate here, in this room, on this bed, and wonders if it would be just a new riff that wasn't there before. He doesn't think so. He can picture it, it looks so easy in his mind, like a memory of something that has already happened.

The truth is, there's really nothing easy about it at all.

Nate sits cross-legged next to him on the bed, and Brad notices that the palm of his left hand is covered with barely visible handwriting. He catches it and turns to look at it, fingers clasping Nate's wrist without thinking, because it's normal, it's allowed.

There are many things Nate allows him to do without question and Brad never noticed, because he does it, too.

"Never enough time to find some paper," Nate says and shrugs a little self-consciously, but he smiles, looking at their hands.

It would be so easy, Brad thinks again, looking up at him. He doesn't do anything, because he can't now, not yet, maybe not ever. Not until he knows what he wants, because it can turn ugly, like it usually does, and Nate is anything but disposable.


*


For the next week Brad questions everything he does after it happens. He discovers that he's a tactile person and that he seems to touch Nate more often than anybody else. Or everybody else combined.

He waits for a freakout, but it never comes. It's not anything they haven’t already done. And caring for Nate isn't really a problem here, because he does that already.

But caring and innocent touching aren’t gay sex. So, after a week, Brad does the only thing he can think of - he goes looking for porn. It doesn't go as well as it could, to put it mildly. Brad has seen more assholes from up-close that he had ever wished for. Basically, it's like the regular porn minus pussy and breasts, so not like one at all.

He decides he's had enough and he wants to exit the site, when he notices a comment about ‘cocksucking lips’. He clicks, feeling a little bad, because he heard that comment directed at Nate in situations that weren't about anything fun at all, but...

The shots are mostly of a cock disappearing in some guy's mouth. Mouth that vaguely resembles the one Brad knows quite well, even from a distance.

He's hard in less than a minute. Somewhere in the back of his mind there's a thought that it can't possibly be that easy, but he freezes the video and pulls down his jeans. He jacks off thinking of Nate's lips on his cock, Nate between Brad's thighs, with his eyes closed and his eyelashes dark and short, and his freckles that show up only in the summer. His hips shoot up when he comes, thinking of Nate pushing him down.

So. There's that.


*


"Brad?" Nate asks, sitting next to him on his bed. It's Friday again, two weeks after the Day of Silence. Brad doesn't stop staring at the ceiling, he just hums to let Nate know he's listening. "Is everything alright?"

Brad looks at him then, sees the furrowed brows and concern in Nate’s eyes, and he has this stupid thought again about how they all got older while he wasn't paying attention. He wasn't paying attention to many things and it bugs him.

But while they might have gotten older, they're still only seventeen. And Nate is still the closest person to Brad.

Brad tugs Nate to get him to lie down and rolls on one elbow, so he's looking down at him. He stares, he knows he does, and anyone else would get impatient and ask or move, but Nate just looks back at him, waiting. There really isn't a choice to make, Brad thinks and kisses Nate. It's just a touch at first (he's a tactile person, remember?), but then Brad's hand comes up to Nate's neck and Nate kisses him back. They're not rushing it, there's no urgency, just slow getting to know each other, like their mouths are catching up on the acquaintance, late to the party.

When they part, Brad's hand is on the back of Nate's neck, thumb caressing the skin behind his ear. Nate's fingers are in Brad's hair, and he looks uncertain for a moment, opening his mouth, but he closes it when their foreheads touch. He smiles the kind of a smile Brad has never seen before, happy, unguarded and in love. Brad remembers Nate saying that they don't tell each other everything and that it’s okay, and he knows, he knows it's true, but he still feels cheated a little for not getting to see this Nate before.

"So," Nate says. Brad gets that he has questions which Brad should answer, and they should talk, they have to, really, or this is going to implode, and Nate's giving him an opening.

"Yeah," is the only thing he says, because for now the one thing Nate needs to know is that Brad's in, a confirmation and not a freakout. Now is not the time for talking.

"Okay," Nate agrees before kissing him again.


*


"So," Nate says again, two hours later. They are lying on their backs, with their arms touching, like they were hundreds of times before, but Brad was right. It isn't the same. There are their puffed lips and hooked feet, and Nate's face, and the feeling inside of Brad he can't name.

"I didn't know," is the first thing that comes out of his mouth.

"I didn't want you to know," Nate admits. He had quickly adapted to Brad's way of speaking without preamble and learned to figure out what Brad didn't say before he started talking.

"I never considered it." Nate being in love with him, him being attracted to Nate, starting a gay relationship, a possibility of having gay sex - any of those.

"I think most guys don't, unless they are prompted. Either by their feelings or by someone saying something..." Nate pauses and look at Brad expectantly.

"Ray got tired of me being stupid," he admits. Nate laughs at that and Brad has to kiss him again, because he might have been stupid but is not anymore.

"We need to talk about this," Nate says, his lips still touching Brad's.

"Yeah."

They move around, so they're lying facing each other.

"I'm not fooling around," Brad says first and lays his hand on Nate's hip.

"I know that." Nate smiles at him. "You wouldn't. So I guess we are, for lack of a better word, dating."

"How does 'being together' sound to you?" Brad asks. He can see that Nate is careful with him and he's grateful, but he also doesn't want to go too slow just because Nate thinks he's freaking out.

"Sounds great." Nate grins and touches Brad's stomach. "I'm really, really grateful to Ray right now. Even if he's going to be insufferable when he finds out."

"He already is, he's Ray," Brad says out of habit. "But Nate, listen, I can't..." And this is the hard part, the one that made him question this time and time again over the last two weeks. "I can't be open about it at school. Well, anywhere and to anyone, really, with the exception of Ray and maybe our families." Brad's talking fast and Nate's silent. "It's not... There's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell', and I want to be a Marine, I just can't..." be gay, "be open about this."

Nate's watching his fingers trace the letters on Brad's t-shirt while he breathes in and out.

"I know, Brad," he says, looking back at him. "I get it. It's... well, I won't say it's okay, but I understand. I can live with that."

"Are you sure?" Brad asks, even if he has no idea what they would do now if Nate wasn't.

"I'm sure. It's a small price to pay, considering." He shrugs and brings Brad in for a kiss, a little harder than before.


*

Part II

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