kubis: (GK - Brad and Nate bw)
[personal profile] kubis

Part One

Brad missed surfing. He missed the ocean, too, that open space that looked like it would never end, and that feeling of solitude he got when he swam far away from the shore on his board. Just him and the water, the same as just him and his bike on the road.

For some time after Iraq he had to force himself to go out on the beach. There was nothing easy and carefree about going surfing then and surfing was an easy and carefree part of him for as long as he could remember. It was a hard few months.

But he got over that and before his trip to England he was once again spending hours on the board. Which was the exact same thing he promised himself when he got back to California. Weeks of surfing, just him and the ocean.

Then he found out about Nate, hopped on his bike and didn’t look back.

And now he was still in Quantico, Virginia, sleeping in a guest room of his former ex-... something. His mission, even if not entirely planned, had been to find out what happened to Nate and he had accomplished that. Now he could go anywhere, further east or back home, fuck, he could drive to fucking Mexico, if he wanted to. But the thing was, he didn’t really want to go anywhere. He didn’t have a plan for where to go next, so for now, he stayed where he was.

He enjoyed the company, that’s for sure. Nate was a busy man and most of the daytime he spent at work, while Brad was driving around, going to the gym or not getting out of bed for any trips farther than to the kitchen. But they spent most evenings together, watching tv and drinking beer and generally just relaxing. It was starting to gnaw something at the back of Brad’s head, the notion that it was too difficult to be that easy, but Brad ignored it and let himself drift a little.

“When I was a teenager and trying to figure out what to do with my life, I watched this movie and decided to become a lawyer,” Nate said one night, a few minutes after Jack Nicholson told Tom Cruise he couldn’t handle the truth. “Didn’t last long.”

“Did it help you decide you’re gay, too?” Brad asked, amused.

Nate laughed.

“Fuck you,” he said, kicking him lightly. Brad still couldn’t believe he was going around the house in warm socks in bright colors. Today’s choice was red. “Top Gun helped, though,” Nate added, trying not to laugh.

Brad looked at him incredulously.

“Please tell me you’re kidding.”

“Hey, Tom Cruise was hot.”

“You’re ridiculous.”

“I was a teenager.”

“It’s Tom Cruise, you have no excuse.”

“And you’re starting to talk in rhymes.” A pause. “Who was your teenage crush then?”

Brad shrugged.

“Every woman, or girl, with big breasts and killer smile. I was easy.” He didn’t look at a guy and found himself wanting him until the last year of military school, when Bryan Tardy couldn’t take his eyes of Brad’s fresh tattoo. Brad’s first erotic experience with a guy was said guy brushing his fingers on his back, tracing the lines of the design in the locker room after a shower.

Nate was looking at him, giving his beer bottle a blowjob in the meantime. Brad could feel his body temperature going up. The fucker wasn’t even doing it on purpose. Not his fault his lips looked like they starred in every porn movie worth watching.

“What?” Brad asked, looking from Nate’s lips to his eyes. Nate’s nostrils flared and Brad knew he was busted.

“Nothing,” Nate said, turning away.

Saturday morning, Brad was browsing on his laptop to the noise that Nate made in the kitchen. Brad didn’t remember him being so loud in the past (not including sex, because then it was most welcomed). Now it seemed like Nate was making sure everyone in the close vicinity knew where he was at any given time when he was moving around.

Like right now.

“Come in,” he said, shaking his head, when he heard knocking.

“Hey, if you want to go play, we need to leave in half an hour.”

“I’ll be ready,” he nodded. Apparently Nate and the rest of Wringley’s staff liked to meet every three or four weeks to relax a little and play basketball. It was open to family and friends, and Nate invited him along. Maybe he noticed Brad’s restlessness.

Brad expected a dozen people, maybe a couple more. But when they arrived, it turned out that the game was much more popular than he thought. There were over thirty people around the court. Fortunately not all of them came to play.

“Some people bring kids,” Nate said, tilting his head in the direction of a woman with three little girls sitting on the bleachers. Brad saw Ben and Meg at the top and waved back when they noticed them, too. “Wives, husbands, friends, whoever wants to come. It’s not always this big, but we’ve had worse. One time we had to make a tournament out of it, because there were over twenty people willing to play.”

He was smiling, stretching and looking around. There were new freckles on his face and the weather looked like it was going to give him a few more before the day was over.

And Brad was probably staring. He turned away and noticed the tallest guy he had ever seen coming their way.

“B.J.!” came from behind him. Nate sounded like seeing this guy here on old basketball court was the greatest fucking thing to ever happen to him.

“Nate, you are a sight for sore eyes,” the tallest guy ever said, before he hugged Nate, almost lifting him up.

Brad was not amused.

“Don’t pretend you miss this place,” Nate laughed, pulling away. He gave the guy the once-over. “California treats you well, I see.”

“It’s not the weather I miss, that’s for sure,” the guy said, still smiling. “You, on the other hand...” he paused for an effect and looked at Brad like he just remembered Brad was there. “You make me forget my manners.” He extended his hand to Brad. “Hi, I’m B.J.”

“Brad Colbert,” he said and didn’t turn the handshake into a pissing contest. A win.

“B.J. was my mentor when I first got here,” Nate explained.

“And later he took my job as a thank you.”

“Liar. You almost forced me.”

B.J. opened his eyes in exaggerated shock.

“Baby, I would never.”

Brad was torn between amusement and irritation, but Nate. Nate laughed so hard he threw his head back and his whole upper body shook.

This was what they all missed out on in Iraq. Nate being open like that. Even after, there were only two times Brad had seen him laugh like that. The first time, at the paddle party, Ray and Poke were bickering like the old pussies they were and Nate lost it. That shut them up for a moment and then they just grinned at Nate like they had accomplished something and gotten the prize. The second time was in Brad’s bed a few months later. He didn’t remember now what he said to make Nate laugh so hard, but he understood then how Ray and Poke might have felt.

Now he could see that feeling on B.J.’s face.

“Guys,” Monica shouted. She was a vice-president of Wringley’s and she spoke with the confidence of a person who knew how to make people do what she wanted. “Come on, let’s play.”

“We’re coming,” Nate shouted back and turned to B.J. “We’ll talk later, okay? If not, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Find me when you’re done.”

“You’re not playing?” Brad asked when Nate turned to go.

B.J. patted his left leg.

“Not my kind of fun anymore. I’m a referee slash head cheerleader, though.”

Brad nodded and went after Nate.

“Good luck, boys,” B.J. said from behind him. “Kick their asses.”

They were cooling off after the game, shooting shit with members of the opposite team, when Ben and Meg appeared near their bench.

“Hi, guys,” Nate said, smiling. “Did you enjoy the game?”

Ben shrugged, looking down to the ground. Meg let out a small sigh, but when she looked at them she grinned enthusiastically.

“You were great! It was a well-deserved win.”

“Of course it was,” Nate stated, reaching out to put a hand on Ben’s shoulder, but Ben moved away. Nate let the arm drop, acting like nothing happened.

“Okay, I have to go,” Meg said, handing Nate the Spider Man backpack. “I will pick him up around nine tomorrow. Thanks again for doing this.”

“It’s nothing. We will have a movie marathon and eat unhealthy. You know, the usual.”

“Uncle Nate’s special, I guess,” she smiled before turning to Ben. “Be good, buddy.”

She hugged them all, not minding the sweat or having to stand on her toes to even try to reach Nate’s and Brad’s collarbones.

When she left, Nate put his hand on the back of Ben’s neck and steered him in the direction of the parking lot.

“Come on, grumpy,” he said quietly. There was no snark or irritation in his voice, just acceptance. “The popcorn isn’t going to eat itself.”

“Sweet popcorn?” Ben looked up from admiring his green sneakers.

“Have I ever let you down when it comes to the food? Never. Of course I have sweet popcorn.”

Brad thought he was going to throw up, if forced to eat a monstrosity like that. He would take any of the MREs over it any day.

Nate patted him on the back.

“Don’t worry,” he whispered, when Ben was getting into the car. “I have other kinds, too.”

“That’s why you’re the best, sir,” Brad said with a smile and got in. Nate stood outside for a few seconds longer before following.

The excitement over sweet popcorn didn’t last very long. During the ride home Ben was silent and staring outside the window and when they got home, he went straight to the guest room, saying that he wasn’t hungry.

“Well, I guess the fight over the guest room bed is over before it could begin.”

“I can take...”

“Shut up, you.” Brad rolled his eyes. “I was joking.” To avoid you looking like that.

“Fine by me,” Nate said, rising his eyebrows. “Don’t come crying when you pull something.”

“I’ve slept in worse conditions, as you may know.”

“I might have heard,” Nate quipped. They smiled at each other.

“Okay, I need a shower,” Brad said after a moment and Nate nodded as if he made a decision.

“And I need to talk with Ben.” He looked at the guest room door and back at Brad. “If I’m not out of there in half an hour or so...”

“Plan a rescue mission?”

“... feel free to eat without us.”

It took forty seven minutes for Nate to come in to the living room and fall on the couch.

“Suddenly remembering why you don’t have kids?” Brad tried for a joke. He got a small smile for his efforts.

“He misses his dad,” Nate said, looking at the coffee table. “Rick is in Afghanistan again and he’s not coming back for at least another four months. Try to explain that to a kid.” He shrugged. “He loves that his dad is a hero soldier, but he wants him to be a hero soldier whom he can watch play basketball and go home with later.”

Brad nodded. They both had friends who were going through hell every time they had to leave their kids behind. Some of them never really got them back, if the wife or girlfriend decided she had enough.

“I would probably want the same thing if I were him,” Brad said, drinking his beer. Since he got over that thing with Jess, he was actually relieved he didn’t have a wife and kids. They would all probably start to resent him really fast.

“Yeah,” Nate said and looked up at him. “I guess it’s me and you for that popcorn.”

“As long as it’s not the sweet one. Or you’re on your own.”

On Tuesday evening Nate came home two hours later than usual. Brad was checking his RSS feed, mindless chatter on TV keeping him company, when the door opened and he looked up to see Nate almost dragging his feet through the entrance. When he noticed Brad, he straightened up a little, but he still looked exhausted.

Brad was instantly reminded of Nate in Iraq, keeping it together for his men, because he had no other choice. He wondered once what would happen if Nate lost it in Iraq; it was not a train of thoughts he wanted to repeat any time soon. Still, there were times in the theater when Brad had seen how tired and quietly furious and helpless Nate was, just like the rest of them.

Right now Nate was in his own house and there was no need to put a mask of any kind. No need to ‘be there’ for anybody or ‘be ready’ for anything.

“Come here and sit down,” Brad said, getting up. “I’ll get you something to eat,” he added, and went to the kitchen without giving Nate a chance to protest.

He had made dinner earlier, so he just had to heat it up. He grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and went back to the living room. Nate was slouching on the couch with his head propped on his hand and his eyes closed. He opened them when he heard Brad coming closer and looked at Brad like he was trying to figure out what he was doing.

“Dinner time,” Brad said, handing him his plate with chicken, vegetables and rice. “Unless you’d rather just go to sleep right now.”

“Thanks.” Nate lifted up a little, so he could eat. “I’m hungry as hell and too tired to sleep just yet.”

“Hard day?” Brad asked, giving Nate the opening. He closed the lid of his laptop, where he was reading an article about the development of a new unmanned aircraft. The skin on the back of his neck itched with the fact that he just spent another day doing nothing, when everyone around him was going on with their lives.

Nate nodded, swallowing his food.

“We’ve had a couple of new people, it’s usually hard. They want to get help and don’t want to be here at the same time,” he explained. “And they’re pushing us a lot harder than those who are with us for a while.”

“Testing you.” Brad knew this. Every Marine, every soldier, tested anyone who was in charge of them, or had a power over them, to see what he, or she, was made of. If he or she could be trusted.

“Exactly. And it’s even worse than usual when it’s someone who doesn’t trust anybody anymore.”

“You are a masochist,” Brad stated and Nate chuckled.

“Every Marine is, I suppose.”

“There’s that,” he admitted. But Nate could do anything he wanted after leaving the Corps and he had chosen this. Maybe it wasn’t his first choice, maybe he got here because he had to, but it was still his decision to stay.

Nate finished eating and he put the plate on the coffee table. He turned so he had an armrest behind him and they were sitting face to face on both sides of the couch. Nate looked at Brad’s short hair and threaded his fingers through his own, like he was checking out the difference.

Do you miss it? Brad wanted to ask, but it wasn’t something he felt he could ever say out loud.

Apparently he didn’t have to.

“I don’t miss it,” Nate said suddenly. His fingers were still playing with the hair at the back of his neck and he was looking straight at Brad. “I don’t regret joining up, and I hope I never will, but I don’t miss it.”

Brad didn’t really know what to say to that, so he nodded and looked down on his legs.

“I miss the guys, though,” Nate added, his voice a little more energetic. “Did they throw you a welcoming party?”

“Ray decided it was necessary to ‘celebrate our bond’. I just went for free booze.”

When it came to Ray, people usually reacted with either worry, irritation or amusement. Nate almost always went with the last option.

“I’ve heard he proposed to Miriam?” he said, smiling. “I met her last year at Stafford’s wedding. She seemed… capable of handling him.”

“That would be a first.”

“You managed to do just fine in the past, as I recall,” Nate pointed out.

“I threatened to shoot him on daily basis,” Brad admitted. “That’s different.”

“Let’s hope,” Nate laughed and the lines on his face shifted from worry and exhaustion to amusement.

Brad wanted to kiss him so badly. Put his thumbs on the corners of Nate’s eyes to touch the wrinkled skin.

Nate had one leg folded under him, the other stretched to rest on the floor. Brad didn’t give him time to change when he came back home, so he was still in his dress pants and a blue shirt with rolled up sleeves. Brad was sitting there in jeans and black t-shirt that had seen better days or years and couldn’t take his eyes off Nate now.

They just sat there for a few seconds, looking at each other and trying to silently decide on the next move, whatever it was.

In the end, it was Brad who moved his arm resting on the back of the couch and turned his hand palm up in an invitation. Nate looked at it for a long moment, until he hesitantly reached out to slide his fingers between Brad’s.

Brad pulled and Nate went, moving across the couch. He rested on one knee between Brad’s legs and put his hand on the armrest, crowding him. Brad tilted his head back a little, his free hand reaching to Nate’s side.

Nate ran his tongue over his lips and Brad didn’t even finish a thought that he wanted that too, before Nate kissed him. There was a split second when they just stayed like that, unmoving, but Brad moaned and opened his mouth, his tongue licking Nate’s taste from his lips. He put both hands on Nate’s neck to make sure he was where Brad wanted him to be. They shifted to get more comfortable, Nate straddling his hips without stopping the kiss for more than taking a breath. And there was no way Brad could let go now, before he would have Nate properly and fully again, before he would lick and bite across his chest and down, down the smooth skin of Nate’s abdomen to the dick he longed to feel on his tongue again. Before he could sink his teeth in Nate’s thigh and his dick in Nate’s hole, and before he could see Nate’s face when he came.

There was no way Brad could let go now, except if Nate said no.

But Nate was nipping on Brad’s neck and his hands were mapping the AO on Brad’s stomach and chest, so they were both probably on the same page now.

Impatient and afraid of breaking the mood, Brad didn’t mind doing it (anything, everything) on the couch, but after a couple more minutes Nate pulled away, breathing a little faster and rolled his hips down, fuck, one more time before getting up.

“Come on.”

Brad was one step behind him, hands twitching to reach out and touch again, but that would only slow them down on the way to the bedroom and Brad was already picturing Nate spread and naked on the bed. So he fisted the hem of his own t-shirt and started stripping in the hall.

Time between that point and having Nate where he wanted him, under him and naked, and with his head thrown back and a moan on his lips, seemed to go on forever, but the moment was there now and Brad breathed in deeply, amazed. His nose led the way for his lips on Nate’s neck and Brad was inhaling the scent and leaving his own marks, while Nate’s hands were running up and down Brad’s back, and gripping his ass to pull him closer.

“Fuck.” All the previous plans vanished, leaving only the need to be inside of Nate as soon as possible. “Lube.”

And a moment later Brad had to bite his lips to stop himself from coming, when his slicked finger entered Nate, tight and hot and finally. He pushed in the second one just a moment later and could feel Nate’s muscles tense, then relax.

“Brad,” Nate’s voice was soft and quiet. He reached up to run his fingers through Brad’s hair and pulled him in for a kiss, messy and uncoordinated, because they were both too far gone.

He lifted himself on his forearms to look at Nate when he started to push in, the head of his dick going deeper and deeper. Nate’s eyes were half-closed, but he was looking at Brad too, alternating between his eyes and lips. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but he changed his mind and just lifted his hips, hurrying Brad.

There was a moment of stillness, there and gone, before their movements became faster and faster. Nate’s nails were scratching Brad’s back and the nape of his neck and Brad reached down to pull Nate’s thigh higher. Their skin was slick with sweat and Nate was leaking pre-come on Brad’s stomach and they were making a mess of each other in more ways than one.

Feeling his orgasm coming, Brad clasped his fingers around Nate’s dick and started jacking him off fast and hard.

Nate’s eyes opened wide when he came and Brad didn’t even try to look away when he followed.

Brad felt loose and sated, relaxed in a way he hadn’t felt for weeks. He was warm, there was a nice mattress under him and he had his arm thrown over someone he had felt comfortable sleeping next to. He was half-awake and glad to stay that way as long as possible, but it wasn’t meant to be.

It took him a few seconds to remember where he was and what happened last night, but when he did, he tensed and went on high alert while still keeping his eyes closed. The sound of slow, regular breathing indicated that Nate was probably still asleep. Still there and still asleep. Not bad. Brad relaxed a little and opened his eyes.

Nate was lying close, but not touching The only point of contact was Brad’s arm thrown over Nate’s side. They were facing each other and Brad was able to look closely now, compare all the changes and similarities to the Nate he remembered, but who was mostly replaced by this new version in his mind now.

He got restless after a few minutes. Not something he experienced often, after all he could stay put for hours, but now it was a nagging feeling he had to leave, an instinctual response to the challenge that was lying before him.

He didn’t even remove his arm properly before Nate’s eyelashes fluttered and he blinked three times before looking Brad in the eyes. He stared for a moment, not really awake, before closing his eyes again and shifting closer to Brad, humming quietly. He put his hand on Brad’s chest and pushed his foot between Brad’s calves, as if keeping him there, and went back to sleep again.

That was... unexpected.

Brad tried to relax again, concentrating on every muscles group one after another. He was staring at the wall and counting his breaths and somehow between one and the next, he drifted to sleep again.

When he opened his eyes the next time, Nate was staring at him. Brad turned his head to the side and looked back. The hand still on his chest pushed down for a moment before relaxing.

“So, that happened,” Nate said and Brad wanted to laugh, he could feel it inside of him before he pushed it down. He smirked, though. Nate rolled his eyes in reply.

It was almost easy.

“We should talk about this.”

And then it wasn’t, of course.

“I’ll do better at this after I have coffee,” he said. Not to mention he didn’t like talking about anything serious in bed, without his clothes on. But he didn’t move until Nate nodded and rolled to get up. He stood with his back to the window and looked mostly relaxed. And fully naked. Brad’s eyes zero-ed in on his dick for a second and then three more on the hickey he left on Nate’s thigh. He turned away and got up himself.

“Meet you in the kitchen in a few?” he asked, grabbing his boxers and looking up to see Nate’s nod.

After a quick visit to the bathroom, he went to the kitchen, where Nate was putting the milk back in the fridge. The silence was a little suffocating for Brad and he was surprised how not-nervous Nate looked. Wasn’t he supposed to be the one to freak out about this? After all, he got hurt last time around.

Yeah, that thought didn’t help Brad in the least.

“Listen, Brad,” Nate started, leaning against the counter and facing him. “I just want to know what do you think, what do you want with this, with me. Is it an one-time thing, revisiting old times to put it behind you, or is it something else?”

He was circling his mug in both hands, looking between them and Brad’s face. Maybe he wasn’t as calm about this as Brad had thought.

“I didn’t come here because of this,” Brad started, but it didn’t feel right. “Not because of wanting to revisit your bed, that is.” He made himself relax the hand gripping the counter tightly. “And it wasn’t like I didn’t want you, either, it was just... not my objective.”

“Good,” Nate said, shifting a little. “Okay. But it happened. We both wanted it to happen last night. What I’m asking is, what do you want now?”

I want us to stop talking and go back to bed. There are so many things that I want to do to you, you have no idea. He could say it and it would be honest, but it wouldn’t be what Nate wanted. And most probably wouldn’t give him what he wanted either. Whatever that was.

“I don’t want this to be an one-time thing,” he settled with in the end.

“Good,” Nate said again, looking up at him with a little smile. “I don’t want this to be an one-time thing either.”

“Okay,” Brad nodded and put his empty mug on the kitchen table behind him.

“Wait,” Nate raised his hand to stop him from coming closer. “We both want to continue this and that’s great. But I need to know what’s next. I...” he flushed, but kept his eyes somewhere on Brad’s collarbone and continued. “I didn’t ask then. I should have and I didn’t, and I regretted it later.”

“About...” Brad started, but Nate didn’t let him finish.

“We wanted different things. It’s nobody’s fault. The things is, we made a mistake not talking about it then and I don’t want a repeat of that.”

“If you pushed me then, it would have ended after the first time,” Brad said before he could stop himself.

“So I shouldn’t regret it, you mean?” Nate asked with a self-deprecating smile.

“I’d prefer not to be your regret,” Brad said, suddenly wishing to be as far away from here as possible. “But I can’t stop you from feeling that way, can I?”.

Nate’s eyebrows furrowed.

“Wait. You got me wrong. I didn’t say I regret everything with you. I meant I regretted not talking to you about this.” Nate crossed his arms on his chest. “If I regretted ever sleeping with you, I wouldn’t have done it again last night.”

“Okay,” Brad said, leaning back against the kitchen table. His back was starting to hurt from the tension in his muscles, but he couldn’t get himself to relax.

“Okay. But coming back to the whole point of us suffering through this conversation,” Nate threw him a crooked smile, “I want to know where we stand with this. Where you stand with this,” he corrected himself.

“And what about where you stand?” Brad asked. “It’s not just about me, you know.”

Nate shifted as if he wanted to come closer, but in the end he stayed where he was.

“At the risk of scaring you to death,” he started and paused. “Okay, fuck it, here it is: I want you as long as I can have you. Today, this weekend, the next week, until you leave, after. So I need to know what you want, so I can,” he shrugged, “adjust.”

It would be probably much easier to do, if he had any idea of what he wanted. Nate, yes. That was a no-brainer. But trying to come up with a plan, something more or less permanent or at least not completely impulsive and stupid... Well. The only sure thing he saw ahead of him was the date he had to report back to Pendleton, which was still seventeen days from now. What happened before or after that wasn’t even remotely clear.

It was a thought he had been ignoring for some time now and being here, with Nate, definitely helped with mental distractions. But now when the realization struck, although maybe not earth-shattering, it was still difficult to accept.

“Brad,” Nate’s voice came through the white noise in his head. “Brad, come on, breathe in, breathe out.”

Years of training kicked in and his body responded to the command before his conscious mind had a chance to catch up.

It was a long two minutes, but Brad was back on-line. He found himself sitting on the nearest chair and breathing harshly. He accepted the bottle of water from Nate.

“Sorry,” Brad said, between one small swallow and another.

“Nothing to be sorry about,” Nate assured him, resting his hand on Brad’s arm for a moment. Brad’s hair stood up. “Nothing I haven’t seen or done myself,” he added.

Not very reassuring, giving Nate’s line of work and personal history, but Brad nodded.

“I will make us breakfast,” Nate said and turned to the fridge. “Scrambled eggs okay?”

Brad nodded again before realizing Nate couldn’t see him.

“Yes,” he said, rubbing his forehead. He was sweating as if he went on high speed for hours.

Nate worked in silence, his back still turned, so Brad could look at him without being noticed.

“Listen, about...” he started.

“You don’t have to...”

“Nate,” he said more firmly. “Listen to me for a minute.”

Nate relented with a nod, but he only half-turned towards Brad, his eyes still locked on the frying-pan.

“I don’t have a good answer for you right now,” he said and watched as Nate’s shoulders tensed. “Not because I don’t want to tell you. I wish I could. I don’t enjoy hurting you more than I already did, you know.”

Nate opened his mouth to argue, but Brad shook his head.

“Wait, let me finish,” he added quickly. “I wish I had an answer for you that would satisfy you. I don’t. What I can tell you is this: I don’t want this” he waved between himself and Nate, “to end after one night. I want you. Fuck, this may be the only thing I am sure of right now.” He paused and had to stop himself from reaching out to reassure himself, or Nate, Brad wasn’t sure. “I want you. And it’s not just about sex, even if yes, I’m not going to lie, I want to fuck you again today and make you fuck my mouth. I can’t help wanting that.” Nate turned to face him and Brad noticed his skin started to flush. He got up and clasped his hand on Nate’s arm and squeezed once before letting go. “But this is not all I want.” This is not like the last time. “I want this, and more, today and hopefully I will want it tomorrow. But that’s just it. I don’t have any idea about tomorrow, even less about next week. I’m not avoiding the answer. I just don’t have one.”

Nate was looking at him in silence and Brad made himself stay completely still, eyes fixed somewhere over Nate’s shoulder. After a long moment Nate gave him a small smile and a shrug, turning off a stove.

“You just gave me one.”

“I’m pretty sure...”

“You told me you want this today,” Nate explained, speaking over him. “And you will probably want it tomorrow.

“It can’t be enough for you,” Brad argued. Because he was just that stupid, yes.

“Trust me, it can,” Nate said, shrugging again. “It’s much better than nothing.”

Brad wasn’t so sure, but he wasn’t going to argue anymore. There were limits, after all. Nate smiled at him more openly and reached out, tugging Brad closer to him.

“So for now we will take it one day at the time.”

“Oh, we will?” Brad said, starting to get amused. He let his arms circle Nate’s waist. At the feel of Nate’s body so close, Brad relaxed his shoulders and felt the tension disappearing slowly.

Nate grinned and kissed him light and quick before pulling away to go back to the eggs.

“Yes. One day at the time for now. But,” he added, putting the plates on the table and sitting down next to Brad to eat, “we’re not doing that infinitely. There’s a deadline. Two weeks from now, if you’re still not sure before that, you have to decide. In or out.”

“Two weeks,” Brad repeated. Until he would have to leave for Pendleton.


“We could be sick of each other by then,” he pointed out dryly.

Nate shrugged, looking down on his plate.

“Then the decision will be that much easier, right?”

Brad felt as if he regressed to his teenage years. He dove into sex with Nate as if he had just learned what exactly his dick was capable of and was trying to perfect it as often as possible.

Nate needed to leave for work usually around ten in the morning, so they had time for morning sex, breakfast and after-breakfast blowjob in the shower. In the evenings there was sex before sleep preceded by groping on the couch.

In short, they had sex a lot. What’s more, they were touching almost constantly when they were alone together and inside the house. And Brad was thinking of touching and fucking Nate whenever they weren’t.

Like right now.

“If you two aren’t fucking yet, you’re wasting your time,” B.J. was saying not-so-quietly. “But I get the feeling that you’re not.” A pause. “Wasting your time, I mean.”

“We’re not talking about anybody fucking anybody else tonight, B.J.,” Nate said seriously, warning in his tone. “I mean it.”

“So you don’t want to hear about that time when me and Tracy did...”

“No!” Nate interrupted him quickly. “For the love of everything, don’t finish that sentence.”

There’s only so much eavesdropping a person can do when he was supposed to be ‘right back’, so Brad came in to the kitchen.

“Everything ready?”

“Everything is perfect,” B.J. announced, grabbing the six-pack of beers and a bottle of whisky. “Let’s get drunk.”

Brad rarely refused an offer like that.

It turned out to be a pretty decent evening, he had to admit. B.J. was an okay guy when he wasn’t being overly affectionate with Nate. They drank, they talked, shared some stories and drank some more.

“Fuck, I’m going to bed,” B.J. said around midnight, after emptying his glass and putting it on the table with a click.

Nate didn’t bother lifting his head from the back of the couch, he just rolled it in B.J.’s direction.

“The guest room is occupied, you have to take the couch.”

B.J. rolled his eyes.

“I can play the cripple card, if you want. Let’s say that Brad was nice enough to take the couch, so I can sleep in a bed.”

“You’re not a cripple,” Nate kicked him to make his point. Very mature, Brad thought.

“Nor an idiot,” B.J. tossed back.

Nate shrugged and nodded.

“Take the bed, then.”

Brad raised his eyebrows, but decided not to comment.

“Great,” B.J. said, getting up. He was drunk, that was obvious, but it was also the only problem with walking that he had. “Wet dreams,” he added, disappearing down the hall. They could hear him move, first to the bathroom, then to the guest room.

Nate finished his beer and moved to kneel between Brad’s spread legs. He put his hands on Brad’s thighs and bend down to bite lightly at his hardening cock under the denim.

“Fuck,” Brad groaned, when Nate looked up and smiled. The sight of him, smiling and on his knees, was enough to make Brad hard, drunk or not. He reached out and put a hand on Nate’s head, without pushing or pulling, just there.

The heat and the smoke, and pieces of metal and flesh flying around. Still nothing was worse than the darkness of it all.

He jerked and twisted, sitting up suddenly in a bed he didn’t recognize. It took him a few minutes to slow his heartbeat again, eyes adjusting and moving through the room all that time, cataloging everything.

When he lay down again, Nate’s eyes were open and he was looking at him silently, not touching. He just lay next to Brad, facing him, his regular breathing helping Brad get a hold of himself.

“What do you need?” Nate asked quietly. One of his hands was turned palm up between them, the other tucked around his stomach.

Brad shifted to face him and put his hand on Nate’s neck, finding the pulse point with his thumb and rubbing it.

“We’ve got lucky in Iraq,” Brad said, not louder than a whisper.

“We all came back.”

“Not so lucky this time.”

Nate brought his hand to rest on Brad’s chest, telegraphing every move along the way. Probably so Brad wouldn’t deck him.

“What happened?”

“A mine on the road. The humvee ahead of ours blew up.”

Dean, their driver, made an immediate turn, josting them all in their seats and probably saving their lives at the same time. The pieces of Gordon’s humvee - and his team, too - were flying in every direction.

Brad turned to lie on his back and Nate’s hand followed the movement.

“There was nothing to recover. Even one guy’s dog tags were partially melted.”

The light in the room was enough to tell the shapes of it, and them, apart, but not much else.

“There were ten, maybe fifteen minutes right after the explosion when I couldn’t see anything.”

There. He said it. Aside from Captain Wilkinson and Major Willis, who were probably the only two people to read the after action report, no one who wasn’t there knew about it. Nobody even mentioned it to Brad after, aside from their fucking irritating corpsman who decided that Brad needed to be asked if his sight was okay every hour. He stopped when Brad told him he could shoot him from two hundred meters if he wanted proof.

Nate was silent for awhile before scooting closer to Brad and moving his hand to rest on his neck, putting a pressure, so Brad would turn and look at him. Even if there wasn’t much either of them could see on each other’s faces.

“You can see now,” Nate said quietly, thumb and forefinger running up and down on Brad’s jaw.

“Yeah,” he whispered. He couldn’t see Nate’s face, but he knew it well. “I can see just fine.”

Nate kissed him then, tongue pushing inside immediately. He moved even closer, his whole body plastered to Brad’s.

The kiss was slow and warm. Suddenly it made them both fragile in Brad’s head, too open and raw. He covered Nate with his body, pushing him to lie on his back. He hovered over Nate for a second before moving his hand slowly down his chest and taking a hold of his dick. Nate responded with his hips moving in tune with Brad’s strokes and quickened breath warm on Brad’s skin.

Nate reached down to Brad’s dick seconds later and now they were both grinding into each other’s touch. Nate’s fingers were in Brad’s hair, tugging him in for a kiss and Brad was leaving finger-shaped bruises on Nate’s hip.

Brad was looking into those crazy beautiful green eyes when he came, his forehead resting on Nate’s. He moved aside to lie on his side and Nate gasped, coming as well, his muscles giving up, making him melt into the bed. He turned to look at Brad, but Brad was already moving, snatching his boxers from the floor to wipe both of them. He hesitated for a moment afterwards, but Nate’s fingers ran over his lower back and he really didn’t want to move away from that.

They fell asleep quickly after and Brad slept like a baby for the rest of the night.

It was good, until it wasn’t.

He was fine in the mornings, when Nate was still home, but after he left for work, Brad couldn’t find a place for himself. He tried working out, sleeping, running, reading, biking around the city, but everything worked only for a little while. He felt more and more restless with each upcoming day, but the thought of leaving - even when he knew he had to, anyway - was even more upsetting.

There were two days left until the ultimatum when Terry Quinn arrived.

It was nine p.m. and Nate just got home and showered after another late night at the center. The doorbell rang when Brad was in the kitchen, putting the food on the plates.

“I got it,” Nate said, coming out of the bedroom, his hair still wet and t-shirt sticking to his skin.

“Hi, Nate,” Brad heard. The kitchen was close to the front door, so he didn’t have to eavesdrop at all to hear everything. “I’m sorry to bother you. I wanted to call first, but I... I really needed to see you.”

An ex. Brad was cooking them dinner and there was an ex at the door. Fantastic. He sat down and dug into his pasta, trying to ignore the thought that it was him a few weeks ago, the ex standing in Nate’s door, unannounced.

“Terry,” Nate sounded surprised. “Come in.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t call. I just... Maria threw me out of the house and I didn’t... I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t go to the bar, though. I wanted to, but I...”

Terry stopped short, when he entered the hall and noticed Brad in the kitchen.

“Calm down,” Nate put his hand on Terry’s shoulder and squeezed. “You did good. Relax.” When Terry did what was asked of him, Nate turned to look at Brad. “Terry, this is Brad, my friend from the time I served. Brad, this is Terry, I was his mentor over a year ago.”

Brad figured Terry was not an ex around the time the name of the wife was mentioned, but it was still nice to hear. He got up and came closer to shook Terry’s hand.

“Nice to meet you,” Terry said, sweaty hand quickly letting go of Brad’s.

“Likewise,” Brad said before turning to look at Nate. “I will let you two catch up. Let me just grab my dinner and I’m off to my room.”

“I’m sorry to...” Terry started, but Nate interrupted him.

“Don’t worry about it, Terry,” he said.

“Your dinner...”

“I can eat it later.”

Half an hour ago you came in through the door saying you’re starving, Brad thought. He looked at him from the kitchen doorway and Nate sent him an apologetic look and a nod of thanks for stepping out.

Two hours later a knock on his door saved him from throwing his laptop through the room. Stupid shit.

“Come in,” he barked, laying the laptop on the floor next to the bed.

Nate opened the door and leaned on the frame.

“It’s me,” he stated the obvious. “I just wanted to tell you that Terry left. I’m sorry about the evening, he didn’t know what to do, so he did what he remembered working.”

Nate didn’t have to explain anything to Brad and Brad told him just that.

“He didn’t stay?” he added, raising his eyebrows.

“No.” Nate was looking at him questioningly, which didn’t help Brad’s mood. “He has a sister here. Why would he stay?”

“I just wondered if it’s another stray you let in to your house.”

Nate straightened up at that.


“Well, it’s hard not to notice that you’re taking in everybody that shows up at your doorstep.”

“I do not take everybody in,” Nate said, crossing his arms. “And fuck you for calling them, and you, for that matter, strays. Who do you think you are to me? Or Ben?”

“Good question.” Brad felt too hot and too closed in. People going crazy over the “ice” in Iceman would be surprised. He got up and started pacing.

“What the hell crawled up your ass?” Nate asked, coming in to the room.

“Not you,” Brad threw at him and felt a little sick when Nate stopped where he stood.

“Is that your problem?” he asked like he couldn’t believe it. “We’re not fucking for one evening and you’re going nuts on me?”

“Don’t flatter yourself,” Brad snapped. “I’ve managed just fine for over two years.”

Things were clearly going downhill really fast.

Nate took a step back, face blank and whole body tensed, probably just as hard as Brad’s.

“You should cool off. Maybe we both should.”

“Is that your professional opinion, Nate?”

Nate’s fingers flexed as if he wanted to make fists. He gripped his thighs instead.

“You have something to say to me, or accuse me of,” he said slowly, narrowing his eyes, “just fucking say it.”

Brad turned to face him now, his arms crossed.

“You let me in when I came unexpectedly, after two years of nothing and not exactly the most amicable goodbye before that. You don’t want anything, you don’t ask me anything. You’re... accommodating me. You take me to the center so I can ‘check it out’. You’re a Recon Marine and you move through the house, especially at night, as if you were blind, so I can hear you.” Brad felt like the fight was leaving him with every thing he mentioned, but the confusion was still there. And the anger didn’t really go away completely, either. “I don’t know what you want. I don’t know if you want to be with me or to treat me.”

“If I want to...” Nate started, disbelief in his voice. “You know what, fuck you.” He moved closer to Brad, slightly looking up at him. “I was so accommodating, because I love you. And I was careful, because I know how that is, after you come back and every fucking noise makes you look for your gun. It was a small thing I could do to help. So fuck you, Brad. I’ve never treated you like...”

Brad kissed him then, because he couldn’t not. Nate resisted at first, but Brad didn’t let go and soon they were kissing each other hard and a little painful. Nate’s hands were gripping Brad’s sides, leaving marks, and Brad’s fingers were digging into the nape of Nate’s neck, making sure he wasn’t moving away.

In the end, Nate did pull away first. They were both breathing harshly, still holding on to each other.

“Brad, listen, you can’t...”

“I feel like I’m stuck here,” Brad said quietly looking straight into Nate’s eyes. “I don’t know what I want and I can’t figure it out.” Not here. “I need to do that.” He held on when Nate wanted to move away. “Listen to me. It’s not that I don’t want you. I do, of course I do.” He tightened his grip on Nate’s neck and it had to be painful, but Nate didn’t say anything, didn’t push him away. “The problem is that I can’t figure out myself. And I have to report back at Pendleton in less than a week.” Ready for anything. As if.

They stood like that, not moving, for a minute, before Nate moved away and this time Brad let him go. He watched how Nate ran his fingers through his hair before looking back at Brad.

“When we made that last deal, we knew it was coming. Pendleton, I mean. I just...” he shrugged, “I guess I was hoping you’d make up your mind about us.”

“Nate, I want you,” Brad repeated, tugging at Nate to bring him closer and circle his waist with his arms again. “I just don’t know what I can offer you right now. I don’t know where I will be when I’m back from my leave.” He shrugged. “Not to mention that I seem to be unable to decide what to do with my afternoon, let alone foreseeable future.”

“I understand,” Nate said, but he didn’t sound too happy. More like resigned. Brad waited, but when Nate didn’t say anything else, he put a hand back on the nape of Nate’s neck and fixed his eyes on his thumb tracing the shape of Nate’s ear.

“Nate, you have to make a decision here. I’m bound to make a stupid one or not make one at all and you’ll think I don’t care.”

“What do you expect me to do here, Brad? I know what I want - I want you.” Brad looked up and Nate was looking straight at him again. “I get that you have to go back. But I’ll deal, if that means there are going to be times we spend together, between your job and mine. It could be like every other long-distance thing I’ve heard people can have,” he said, a small smile appearing for a moment, there and gone. “But I can’t make that decision for you. I just can’t. It’s not how it works. Even if I’m also scared that if I don’t, you’ll decide you don’t want this.” Again went unsaid, but Brad heard it just fine.

“I need to go. That part is clear,” he said into Nate’s forehead, lips touching the skin. “You want me and I want you, that’s clear, too. The problem is, I can’t commit right now and you’re scared to trust me that I will.”

Nate nodded and shrugged at the same time.

“I don’t want to get my hopes up. And you said it yourself, you don’t know what it is that you want. So maybe that won’t be me in the end.”

Unlikely, Brad thought, but didn’t say it. He disappointed Nate once, that was more than enough. Until he wasn’t sure, he couldn’t give Nate more.

He left the next morning.

There was a slight chance that Ray was a psychic. Not that Brad would ever say it out loud or believe in it, or anything like that.

Still, there was a possibility.

“Hello, dear,” Ray said when Brad opened his front door to see him on the porch. “I brought reinforcements,” he added, showing off his bags, the sound of glass hitting glass coming from the inside.

“Couldn’t you, I don’t know, use your phone to let me know you’re coming?”

Ray shrugged.

“What for? You’re here, so it’s good.”

“Maybe I wanted to be alone,” Brad said, but he was already emptying the bags. Tequila and beer. Nice.

“To brood, yeah, I know,” Ray rolled his eyes and sat on the couch.

“I don’t brood.”

“So you didn’t spend half of your day working on your bike? Which is, I’m sure, perfectly fine?” Ray asked, raising his eyebrows.

Brad put the glasses on the coffee table and sat on the other end of the couch.

“I don’t know how that’s connected,” he shrugged.

“Yeah, sure thing,” Ray snorted, opening the bottle. “Your leave is ending and you have to go back, so you had to cut back on your little romantic getaway...”

It was a good thing Brad wasn’t drinking at that moment.

“Oh, please,” Ray handed him the beer, “like you and Nate Fick weren’t fucking when you were there.”

“Ray,” Brad started, warningly, but he didn’t actually know what to say.

“Let’s agree that yes, I already know and no, as far as I know nobody else knows, and move on from there.”

Move on from there. Sure.

“Ray, what are you doing here?”

“I’m making sure you weren’t too stupid this time.”

Brad honestly didn’t know what the fuck was going on.

Ray let out a sigh.

“I’m not stupid, Brad. You were sleeping with him before England, then you weren’t. And then you come back, you find out he got fucked up, and what do you do? You go on a road trip.”

“I didn’t intend to visit Nate,” he said, gripping his beer hard.

“Hopeless,” Ray muttered, shaking his head.

“Fuck you.”

“Don’t you have your dick full of Nate already? Don’t be greedy, Brad.”

Brad reached out for the tequila. He was going to need it.

“Okay, you know me and Nate are fucking. Congratulations. What’s next? Walt’s sex life? Trombley’s?”

“I don’t want to think of those poor animals, please.”

“I don’t want you to think about Nate and me, either.”

“But Brad,” Ray turned his fake innocent eyes to him, “I have questions...”

“And I have a gun.”

Ray grinned and sat back. They drank in silence for a few minutes.

“What are you going to do?” Ray said, looking at the label on the bottle and picking it with his fingers.

Brad shrugged.

“No idea.”

“Well, whatever you do, don’t repeat your mistakes.” Ray reached out for his glass and downed his tequila. He made a face, before looking at Brad. “Nate is a good guy. And he would be great for you.”

I don’t know if you want to be with me or to treat me. Brad winced. He wasn’t so sure he was good for Nate.

“Don’t make that face. I’m not your fairy godmother, I’m just stating the fact. Don’t let him go because you’re stupid. Now drink.”

He did. They both did. The subject was closed, so they covered everything else.

“I went to see the major today,” Brad said an hour later, looking at his white wall between the tv screen and a bookshelf. “Looks like I’m on a training duty now.”

Ray laughed, that drunk kind of laughter when it would start like a babble and then erupt.

“Oh fuck, you will scare them all to death.”

“No, I won’t.”

“Yes, you will.”

“Well, since it’s that or a desk duty for me, they will have to learn to deal.”

“Sure, sure,” Ray was nodding, the laughter died down. “You, too.”

He didn’t have much choice, did he?

“You’re moving now?”

“Transferring,” he corrected. “For a year.”

“You really can’t stay still, can’t you?” she said with a sigh. She turned and opened the fridge to look for something. “Fine.”

For fuck’s sake.


It looked like she was rearranging the shelves.


“I heard you, Brad.”

“There are opportunities for me in Quantico that I don’t have here,” he said to her back. He would make her listen.

“Like what?” she said, closing the fridge door and turning to him. “You don’t want to train people here, but you will be training them there. What’s the difference?”

Different people. Not fresh recruits, but special ops. All the tech he could dream of for him to learn how to use.

But neither of those reasons could convince her.

“There’s someone there,” he said instead and watched as her eyebrows rose and she started to smile.

“Oh. There’s someone there,” she said, grinning at him.

“That’s what I just said.” He stood up straight.

“Is it Nate Fick?” she said, crossing her arms.

Apparently they were covering a coming out in this conversation, too.


When she grinned at him at that, he grinned back.

“I expect you both at Hanukkah this year, though,” she said, hugging him.

“Don’t push it,” he tossed back, bending to kiss her head. She stamped on his foot in retaliation.

It was like a déjà-vu all over again, down to the same Spider-man pajamas.

“Hi, Ben.”

“Hi,” the boy said and moved away to let him in.

“Ben, what did I tell you...” Brad could hear Nate’s raised voice from the bathroom.

“It’s Brad, uncle Nate,” the boy shouted and there was a loud thud behind the bathroom door. “I know him.”

Nate came out two seconds later dressed only in sweatpants, the hair still wet and skin flushed from a hot shower. And seriously, Ben shouldn’t be in the same neighbourhood when Brad saw Nate like that, because Brad really couldn’t control his thoughts. Or his dick.

“You came back fast,” Ben informed him, looking at him from head to toe. Brad resisted shifting his feet.

“Yes, I did.”

“Cool,” Ben decided with a smile. “Mom said…”

“Go back to your movie, please” Nate interrupted him, coming up to Brad.

Brad put his hands on Nate’s hips immediately after Ben turned around. The skin was still a little wet there. He tightened his grip.

“They told me I can train new guys or sit behind the desk,” he started, distracted by all the skin on display. He spent a couple of seconds staring at Nate’s collarbone where he made a mark just before leaving. There was nothing there now, just a soft, flushed skin Brad wanted to bite again. He made himself look Nate in the eyes. “Didn’t much care for either, so I talked with Steve, my friend at Quantico.”

Nate stood there, staring at him, at his lips, like he wanted to make sure he would get it right.

“I’m transferring for a year.”

Nate moved then, suddenly, he pinned Brad to the front door with his body, away from Ben’s line of sight. He ran his hands up Brad’s arms and down his chest, resting on the stomach.

“God, Brad.”

Brad grabbed the side of Nate’s neck and pulled him into a kiss, fast and hard. He nipped at Nate’s lower lip and got a quiet moan for his efforts. He slowed down then, leaving a line of small kisses on Nate’s jaw. Nate’s hands found their way beneath the back of Brad’s t-shirt, stroking the skin. Brad was riding all day and he was dirty, smelling of sweat and bad coffee, while Nate just showered. But he obviously didn’t care, if the way he hooked his foot over Brad’s ankle to bring them even closer was any indication.

Fuck, Brad wanted him so badly. But there was Ben in the hearing distance and a few things that needed to be said.

“We have a year to figure things out,” was what he went with, his lips on Nate’s forehead, because he didn’t want to pull away. “I thought that was a better deal than the one we made last time.”

Nate’s body shook a little with laughter.

“Yeah,” he said, lifting his head, bright green eyes that would probably never stop making Brad stupid looking straight at him. “I think so too.”


It was the nicest Sunday in a month, the perfect day for another Wringley’s get-together. Brad was sitting on bench under the shadow of the trees, far away enough from main events to have some peace and not too much as to not have Nate looking for him and dragging him to the middle of it. Last time he made Brad manage the grill after he found him waiting it out in Nate’s office.

There was a guy sitting on the next bench, but they sat in the comfortable silence.

“Did you serve?” the guy asked suddenly, turning to look at Brad, as if he heard Brad’s thought and decided that no, silence would not do.

“Still do,” he said. “I’m a Marine. Working at the Quantico base now.”

“Getting old?” the guy smirked and Brad would probably take offense on a different day, but he didn’t even raised an eyebrow now. He heard worse.

“Not even close.”

“Any trip overseas?” was the next question. Easy enough.

“Three. Afghanistan in ‘02, Iraq in ‘03 and Afghanistan again two years ago.”

The guy nodded.

“You?” Brad asked. It was good to be polite. Or so he had been told.

“Two tours in Iraq, ‘04 and ‘06.”

They were back to silence for a few minutes and Brad was considering closing his eyes, when the guy spoke again.

“After I came back last year, I couldn’t stand the beach,” he said quietly, almost whispering. “I moved away from California because of that.”

Brad didn’t turn to look at him. He tried to locate Nate in the crowd instead.

“I had the same thing for months after Iraq,” he admitted softly after he noticed Nate sitting with Will and Rachel, laughing at something she said. “Every beach was a desert.”

“And what did you do?” the guy asked. “Move away too?”

“Went there every other day,” Brad shrugged.

The guy laughed at that and Brad turned to look at him.

“A masochist, huh?” the guy joked.

Brad smiled, showing his teeth.

“Like you wouldn’t believe.”

“Trust me, man,” the guy said, looking away, “I’d believe almost anything now.”

Brad thought that he just might as well.

“Any particular reason you decided to tell me that?” he asked. The guy didn’t look like a sharing and caring type.

“My homework,” the guy said dryly. “I’m supposed to tell three people about something that happened to me during or after.”

Brad nodded.

“And how’s that going?”

“Well, you’re my first,” the guy said with a small smile, feeling behind it just enough to make it real. "So far, so good.”

Brad thought for a second of cracking a ‘that’s what she said’ joke, but he didn’t know the guy, so he let it go. He turned away to see Nate looking at him with a smile.

He stood up.

“I didn’t go every day,” Brad said as a goodbye. The guy nodded and looked away, closing his eyes.

Brad grabbed two pieces of chicken from the grill and a salad for Nate before coming over to him.

“Hey, you,” Nate said, shifting to make a room for him. “Are you in a lot of pain?”

Will and Rachel snorted and Brad elbowed Nate in the ribs.

“No, but you can be. Also, shut up. I’m socializing.”

“I’ve seen,” Nate said before taking the salad from Brad. “I’m so proud.”

Brad rolled his eyes.

“I’m not three.”

“Three-year-olds usually actually like to play with others,” Rachel said, when Nate was busy stuffing his mouth with lettuce and small tomatoes. He did however look up at that and grinned at Brad who raised his eyebrows. Brad’s lips twitched at one corner.

I like to play with you went unsaid, but Nate heard him just fine. He smirked.

“For an anti-social individual, Brad’s actually not bad.”

Brad shook his head and elbowed him again, only to be poked in the arm with a little plastic fork that broke at the contact. Nate threw his head back while he laughed.

Yeah, Brad thought. Not bad at all.

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