noelia_g: ([gk] nate/brad :: b&w)
[personal profile] noelia_g
Title: Crossed in the places that you never knew to get through (part one)
Fandom: Generation Kill
Characters/Pairings: Nate/Brad (Ray/Walt in later parts)
Wordcount: 7979 for this part
Rating: R
Disclaimer: Based on fictionalised portrayals as seen on the HBO miniseries.
A/N: NaNoWriMo fic, part one. Based on Kink Meme Demons AU, but more of a remake than a sequel: same world but with some details changed (very important plot-related details ;)).



It starts at a crossroads.

(It's not the real beginning. Things have happened before that led to this, things thousands years in the making and things quite recent, like the wound still bleeding, dark blood seeping into the dirt. But it's a beginning nonetheless. Right here, right now, this happens.)

Where do you turn in your darkest hour? When all seems lost, whose help you seek? Do you pray and hope and wish, or do you take the matters in your own hands?

The matter at hand being a sharp knife, a handful of animal bones, a strand of hair severed off unevenly with hands that never shake when they hold a knife.

It's a story his grandmother told around the fire, after the kids begged her for a scary tale. A tale of a man who had lost everything but his bones and his soul. And a sharp knife. He went to a crossroads at night, a handful of bones, a strand of hair, a few drops of blood, all that he gave to the earth and he looked at the sky and he waited. Waited for a demon to appear, to grant him a wish, in exchange for what little he had left.

What little he had left was the most important thing you had, the one thing all demons want.

The man got his wish and returned to his village. He was wealthy and respected, but he wasn't happy. He could feel the time slipping between his fingers, ten winters passing quickly, too quickly. He tried to run and hide, he tried to get away from the demon, but demons always find you, once they've tasted your blood.

They rip you to shreds and they take away your soul, the only thing a demon will care about. They rip you to shreds and they take away your soul.

The children covered their faces with their hands and groaned in appreciation. One of those children grew up into the young man, not yet aged one and twenty, who is kneeling at the crossroads now, blood trickling down his arm, fingers digging into the dirt, digging up a hole. Blood seeps into the ground, into the earth. He looks up at the sky and makes a wish.

He waits.

(His story will be told by someone else's grandmother one day. His name is Brad, but they'll forget this. No one will mention that it was deep winter and the ground was frozen, that his fingers bled when he dig up that hole. No one will know that the sword at his side wasn't his, as his was broken on the battlefield and he picked up the first one he could lay his hands on. No one will ever be told that there were twenty three men who headed out from his village and that twenty two bodies were now strewn across the field. That's not what the story is about. Not that story.)

"Twenty two lives for one soul?" the demon asks. "It doesn't sound very fair."

Brad looks up. He's not sure what he expected, but the demon isn't... He's beautiful, for one. Otherwordly, yes, with dark green eyes that seem young and ancient at the same time. But demons can look however they want, Brad thinks, it's part of the trick.

"One soul," he nods. "All that I have left," he adds, his voice sounding more sure than he feels. His hands grasp at the dirt, blood dark against the pale skin when he clenches his fists, knuckles white, blood red.

The demon reaches out, his hand unexpectedly warm against Brad's cheek, and Brad tries not to flinch away but withstand the searching gaze calmly, return it even. He waits until the demon is done with his perusal, the line of his mouth tight and...unhappy?

One thing all demons want. One thing Brad has left. It has to be enough.

"Usually the trade is different. Wealth, respect, love. Lives, yes, life of a loved one, health to be returned, love to be brought back," the demon says wonderingly. Brad flinches now, he might be ready to trade in his soul but he's not quite expected to have it looked at like this, inspected inside and out, measured.

Trade is a trade, you'd look at a horse before you bought it, wouldn't you? He holds the gaze and doesn't blink.

"You could throw in some wealth," he offers coldly. It seems to amuse the demon somehow, the corner of his mouth curling up in an almost-smile.

"And a love brought back? You seem to have it in your reach."

"Twenty-two lives. One soul," Brad repeats. "That's the only deal to be made here."

"I'll be back in ten years." It seems like the decision has been made, but the demon doesn't let go of Brad, his fingers curled on Brad's neck now. Gentle pressure, tilting Brad's head back.

"I'm ready now." Nothing left. Truly nothing now.

"It's customary," the demon says. "Ten years to think and regret," he adds. His lips are warm against Brad's, everything is warm now even though Brad's breath still comes out in puffs. "Ten years to rage and bargain and run."

"I won't run."

"I know." There's something strange about the demon's smile, sad and broken and unexpected. Brad isn't sure what it means, isn't sure why he cares.

He's kneeling in the dirt at the crossroads and the demon's gone. The night air is cold again, the ground underneath him frozen solid, no trace of the hole he dug, no blood on his hands. No wound in his side, nor in his shoulder. The sword next to him is his, there's a fire blazing thirty feet away, some of his men sleeping peacefully, some talking in hushed voices.

The back of his neck burns at the point of contact. A reminder, like he needs it. He won't forget and he won't run, a deal is a deal.

(This is how they will tell the story: a man dug a hole at a crossroads in the middle of the night. A hole he filled with his blood and hair and a handful of animal bones, and all the desperation in his heart. He looked up at the sky and made a wish. A demon appeared to grant it, but he demanded the man's soul in return. The demon would return in ten years to take what was his. The only thing a demon wants. He'd rip the man to shreds and take away his soul.

This is how they tell the story.

It's true. It's a lie. It's a story.)

Brad will forget. Not in the ten years, but later. You forget a lot when you die. He will forget but he won't run. A deal's a deal.

*

Brad's freezing his ass at a crossroads.

Well, not really. Technically, he doesn't have to feel cold if he doesn't want to. He doesn't have to feel anything if he doesn't want to.

The last one is a lie, though. He feels quite a lot, whether he wants to or not. Right now, for example, he feels annoyed. "Yeah, okay, he's a no-show. We can go."

He bet Ray that the idiot musician would show up and hand his soul over. It's a sucker bet, every time, they never fucking show up and you always have to send the hellhounds after them. Fortunately, the bet was for peanuts. Well, dollars, but that's almost the same thing and equally useless to a demon.

"Every fucking time, Brad," Ray shakes his head and whistles low. "Your turn, my pretties," he says to Tango and Cash.

Yeah. Brad doesn't even know. Then again, what are the appropriate names for a couple of hellhounds who reach up to his shoulder?

"What's the point of selling your ass at the crossroads if all you get from is is your girlfriend recovering from a fatal illness and then dumping your sorry ass for the hot doctor who 'cured' her?" Ray asks, shaking his head. "Mortals are retards."

They're back at the bar, a ratty place in Buttfuck, Tennessee. It's probably the closest dive to the crossroads in question, but Brad's pretty sure it's mostly to fuck with him and make him listen to the fucking country music. The travel between one place and the other didn't take more than a fraction of a second, but it's the same thing to travel to London or Hong Kong or fucking Los Angeles.

"I would drop this motherfucking business like a piece of shit it is if I didn't owe Poke a few more souls. Remind me never to play cards with the asshole ever again, he cheats, every damn time."

"Souls are not currency," Brad says with distaste and downs his whiskey. One of the few things humans actually know how to do.

"Where have you been for the last few centuries, homes? Souls are the only currency. Bought, sold, traded and stolen. Am I right, or am I right, Nate?" he asks, tilting his head to the left, where Nate seems to be comfortably seated in the chair that was empty a fraction of a second ago. "Souls are what makes this whole motherfucking hell business go around."

"Wouldn't know," Nate says, matter-of-fact and calm. "Don't have one. Brad, a moment of your time?"

Ray looks away, pointedly studying the cracks in the ceiling or whatever the fuck is interesting right above him. Brad doesn't answer, just calmly sips his whiskey. Doesn't mean he just finished the glass, the glass is always half-full when you're a demon.

"Nate," he says finally, nodding magnanimously. "Long time no see. What's it been, a decade?"

"Two," Nate supplies pleasantly. His jaw is clenched, the only thing that betrays he's anything but perfectly calm. "Ray, if you could..."

"Yes, sir," Ray mutters and disappears, giving them fucking space or some other bullshit, just because Nate asked for it. Then again, it's Nate.

Hell doesn't have ranks.

And if you believed that even for a second, you deserve to have the core of your being slowly roasted in the hellish fire, which is the traditional punishment for all of those who dare to disobey an order from someone who outranks them. Even if technically, there's no ranks, they're all a scrappy band of exiled and rejected and outcast. Kumbaya.

Brad raises his eyebrows. "Must be serious for you to make it into this neck of woods."

There's something weary about Nate's expression. He looks worried and tired. Not tired like someone who probably hasn't slept for a few years, because Nate takes the whole evil-never-sleeps thing rather literally. Tired like he's had enough.

"Walk with me," Nate mutters, and when Brad stands up instinctively, his next step is in St. James' Park in London.

Brad wants to mock that, say that he didn't think Nate was such a sentimental pussy, except he can't quite make himself form the words.

It has been two decades, he hasn't forgotten at all. He can pinpoint it to a second, to less than that even. You're really aware of the time when you're a demon, maybe it has been designed as a perk of the job, but it's really fucking annoying when you're trying not to think how long you hadn't seen someone, how long it has been since...

"How you've been?" Nate asks, like he doesn't know.

"Smalltalk? Really?" Brad shakes his head in mock dismay, like he can't believe he's getting this bullshit. It's a little better than trying to answer the question because fuck, he doesn't even know what the answer is.

Nate offers him a knowing smile. "I didn't want to offend you with the pleasantries, I'm sorry," he pauses and looks away, at the sun coming up over the trees, warm and slow. "It's starting."

Brad doesn't need to ask what he means. Every demon in the world would instantly know what he means. They all talk about it often enough, and going on those talks you'd think the apocalypse will be like a never ending frat party. All the souls you can eat buffet with free booze.

Nate has never mentioned it before, never spun one of those fanciful 'when the world ends, I will' tall tales. Most of the time he acted like he didn't care whenever the subject came up, whenever other demons talked about it in hushed, reverential tones, like it was the demon equivalent of fucking Christmas and they were writing letters to Santa.

A dog runs past them, happy as you please, followed by a rushed young woman yelling the dog's name, her voice hoarse and a torn leash in her hand. Nate whistles low and the dog stops in its tracks, a little confused, and waits patiently for the woman to tie the torn end of the leash around the loop of its collar. Nate watches it, head tilted, and it gives Brad a moment to study Nate.

Same body as twenty years ago. Come to think of it, same body as two hundred years ago, same body as in all the time Brad has known him. It's not unheard of but it's rare, most demons burn through the bodies rather quickly. Maybe Nate just takes more care with it.

Except now he looks downright ill. He looks like he's lost weight, which is really impossible, and his skin is thing, almost translucent. Illuminated by the morning sun he seems otherwordly, unreal.

It's funny, if you know the joke. He's as otherwordly as they get, after all, but there was never anyone who was more real to Brad.

"When?"

Nate shrugs. "Soon. Time is relative, downstairs, but soon. A human year, maybe two."

"2012? Fuck, the mortals will be impossible to deal with, after they're proven right."

"Impossible and dead," Nate supplies. The regret in his voice isn't surprising at all, Nate has always liked humans. And not in the way some demons, Brad included, enjoyed the world and the human creations, like jalapeno and cheese and cable tv and motorcycles. Everyone pretty much admitted that the mortals were imaginative and entertaining to have around at times, but Nate liked them, genuinely and with a degree of bemusement and worry, like he wanted the things to work out for them crazy kids.

"Pity," Brad says flippantly. "I was gonna buy myself a new bike for Christmas."

"There's a certain irony in you celebrating Christmas."

"All the more reason to do so. Fuck with everyone's expectations," Brad looks for the familiar grimace flickering across Nate's face. It's comforting that he can still read Nate easily. Comforting and downright fucking annoying.

He sits down on a bench and Nate has no choice but to stop in his tracks, hands in the pockets of his coat, possibly to hide the clenched fists.

"Solid intel?"

"I have been assured the operation is underway, the preparations have been made. The armies are gathering."

Fucking ace, Brad thinks. The armies of hell, now that's a clusterfuck waiting to happen. Gather millions of beings that by their very nature aren't going to follow any rules and will rebel against any authority. It's sort of fucking brilliant.

Nate tilts his head, his gaze searching and wary. Uncertain.

Some odd twenty years ago Brad had told him to fucking get out. Said that if he saw Nate again in a thousand years it would be too soon. He half expected Nate to ignore him, thought Nate would act like the stubborn fucking asshole he can be and plead and try to explain and fight tooth and nail.

Nate went.

Twenty years later he's back because it's the fucking end of the world. It takes Brad some time to indentify the feeling buzzing underneath his skin, the flush in his face and the heat in his stomach. He's angry.

No, that's not quite it. Not angry.

Really fucking pissed, that would be it.

Mostly at himself of course, for being disappointed that, of all things, this is why Nate seeks him out. That he needs something, be it Brad's expertise or his forgiveness or whatever fucking closure he's looking for, it's not because he needs Brad. Pissed at Nate, too, for... for pretty much everything, and he has a lot to choose from, considering it's been a thousand years, give or take.

"What's your role in all of this?" he asks, sticks to the matter at hand because it's easier.

Nate smiles, wide and broken. "I am to lead the first wave of hell's soldiers. I have been assured it's quite an honour."

"I don't suppose you told them where they can stick it?"

"You know, I've said something like that to my superiors once. Didn't quite work out well for me," Nate shrugs and sits down next to Brad, close enough that their thighs are almost touching. A shiver runs up Brad's leg. It would have been nice if it stopped there. "If I am to burn more bridges, I should be at least a little less obvious about it."

"You sound like you have a plan."

The smile he gets for those words is simply unfair. Brad had spent centuries working for smiles like that one.

"You hate country music," he says, a non sequitur if Brad heard any, but he's not done yet, it's just a prelude to whatever he sought Brad out to say.

"Your insight into my psyche is uncanny. It's as if you actually knew me." It's a cheap shot, and Nate closes his eyes for a brief second, hiding the flicker of pain pretty quickly. When he opens them again his gaze is clear and trained on Brad, unflinching and steady. It's almost too much.

"You love your bikes and you love jalapeno, you maintain that Apple must have been downstairs' invention and you don't like mornings even though you hadn't needed to sleep since you died and that's been a long fucking time ago."

"You'd know," Brad agrees, almost pleasant, except there's sharpness underneat, designed to cut quick and deep.

Nate nods, serious, not quite ignoring Brad's words but choosing not to deal with them right now. "You like this world."

"Can't leave it without going back downstairs and everyone there is just tragically devoid of sense of humor."

"Want to save it?"

It's nothing less than Brad expected. Going against the armies of hell and possibly against God's plan, if he even has one. The last few hundreds of years make Brad doubtful.

Maybe Brad's mostly pissed at himself because he can't refuse Nate anything he asks, not even now.

"You could have bought me dinner first," he mutters. "How many do you have on your side?"

"Counting you and me?"

"Two, then," Brad guesses.

"Two."

*

Brad's not sure how old Nate really is. He wonders if Nate really knows, if it's possible to know, to remember, after such a long while.

Time changes, after all. It's measured in nanoseconds now, broken down to the smallest shards. Brad remembers when it was measured in changing seasons and the growing of the crops, when it was measured with the phases of the moon. People hurried then too, lost time and bought time and spent time, but it felt different. Seconds weren't sharp like steel, hours stretched like molasses.

Brad's own human life is a hazy dream, one he's not sure he actually lived through. For a long while he didn't remember anything of it. It's what happens to all humans-turned-demons. Maybe it's like mortals, who never quite remember much from their childhood, just scraps of half-gone images.

He can recall some things now, through the fog and the time. Faces of people he can't name, places that don't exist anymore. Some days, he wishes he didn't remember any of it. There's at least one thing he wishes he never remembered at all.

"How much do you remember from your human life?" he asks Nate now, picking up a thread of a conversation they never quite had.

They're waiting for the fucking Encino Man to show up. Always a a pleasure. Brad's a few minutes from suggesting they should repeat the summons and this time use smaller words and bigger letters, but Nate probably wouldn't appreciate that.

Brad thinks he should be over considering what Nate would and wouldn't appreciate but some habits are hard to shake off.

"I don't..." Nate starts with the slightest shake of his head. He seems to contemplate Brad's expression for a moment before he speaks again. "What brought this on?"

"Never heard of making conversation?"

"It's not exactly small talk, Brad."

"I could ask you about the fucking weather but no one really cares and it's going to be raining fire pretty damn soon anyway," he says pleasantly and the corner of Nate's mouth twitches, in exasperation or amusement, but it's familiar enough for Brad to almost smile in response. It feels comfortable, and so of course he does his best to ruin the moment. "For some reason I have been doing some thinking about that one time I sold my soul."

Not a muscle tightens in Nate's face but his expression changes all the same. Brad might have just as well punched him in the gut. "And you want to compare notes?"

"Something like that."

Nothing like that at all.

He looks at Nate now and feels like he doesn't know him at all, for the first time in... he's not sure. Eight hundred years, maybe. Something like that. He's not sure when they met, or at least, he's not sure when they met for the second time. It was probably sometime in the thirteenth century, maybe closer to the beginning than to the end. They've done Italy, the first time, sometime in the fifteenth century, and that must have been more than a hundred years after they've met.

Nate spoke Italian like he has done it all his life. Not in the purely utilitarian way demons speak every language under the sun, but like he loved the words and the sounds. He speaks every language this way, from Latin and Ancient Greek to English.

The first time they went to Greece together, Nate stood on a hill, eyes closed and breathing steady, hands at his sides. Calm and relaxed, beautiful. Brad didn't even feel him shaking until he wrapped his arms around Nate.

Some four hundreds years later they travelled across America just because they had nothing else to do, or nothing else they wanted to do, and Brad finally talked Nate into travelling by car. The cars had just gotten fast enough for Brad's liking. They rolled the windows down and Nate tilted his head back, eyes half-closed and lids heavy, the line of his neck unbelieveably inviting, his hand warm on Brad's thigh.

"What's the real question?" Nate asks now, his hand on his own knee, fingers digging into the jeans.

"I guess it's why?"

"You know the rules. When it's offered, you make the deal."

Brad looks away, at the crowd of people in the bar. Someone just started the jukebox and a couple is dancing, her hand in his jeans' pocket. A guy at the bar drinks whiskey straight up, the bottle in front of him. He'll be dead in three months, Brad can tell, although considering how the things are going, it might be the case of leaving early to avoid traffic. The bartender is fiddling with the tv above the bar, trying to get something else than static.

"Not what I was asking about," Brad mutters.

Nate turns to him with a sigh and leans back in his chair. "What were you asking about?"

"I don't remember," he says, like it's an explanation. It's vague but he's pretty sure Nate will get it anyway, twenty years couldn't have destroyed centuries of learning how to read each other's thoughts from a single glance.

"Twenty-two lives," Nate says. "That's what you traded it for. Twenty-three counting yours, to be honest," he adds quietly. "You would have bled out in a couple of hours."

The song on the jukebox changes into some upbeat country shit, a few more people dragging their asses onto the dancefloor. He doesn't know who picked this place for the meeting but it must have been done to fuck with Brad.

"And you gave me ten years regardless? What the fuck was it, your first deal ever?" Brad shakes his head. He doesn't remember the men he traded his soul for. Maybe it's a good thing, they're all dead anyway, long time gone.

Nate bites his lip and doesn't answer. His fingers twitch a little, like he's turning something in his hand, and it takes him a moment to speak. "There's something I should..." he starts, words fading when the fucking Encino Man chooses right that moment to show up, that little shit Griego in tow.

"Nathaniel," Craig says, glancing towards Brad but not lowering himself to offer any other acknowledgement. "I don't have much time, we all have our orders."

"Isn't time fucking relative for us?" Brad mutters, not quietly enough to even pretend no one was supposed to hear it. Nate sends him an exasperated look but there's no annoyance, only fondness in his eyes.

"My orders are to lead the first wave. It's a little hard to prepare not knowing when or where," Nate offers earnestly, not a single false note in his voice.

"That's the problem with you upstairs boys, you overthink everything," Griego says. For some reason it makes Nate flinch, almost unnoticeably. Brad certainly wouldn't have caught it if he wasn't looking straight at Nate, and maybe even not then, if he wasn't him, if it wasn't Nate, if he didn't know Nate's face much better than he knows his own.

"You'll have the details when Ferrando decides you need them, Nate," Craig offers with what he probably thinks is sympathy but what mostly makes him look like he needs to go to the toilet badly. "Nothing important will happen before the horsemen ride out anyway."

"Horsepeople," Brad corrects before he can stop himself. He might have heard Ray's rants a few more times than he'd like to.

"Horsepeople, Brad? Really?" Nate says a few minutes later, after Craig and Griego has fucked off, offering some final moto bullshit (Craig) and cryptic warnings that somehow border on insults (Griego). Brad shrugs. He'd try to look contrite but he doesn't give a fuck.

"Fuck you. I could call on Ray and he can give you the spiel. The fucking Cliff Notes version takes a few hours."

"I think I'll pass, but thanks for the offer," Nate nods, all serious, like he has considered it.

Brad takes a sip of his drink. It's better than anything he could get in this bar. No, he hasn't bought it, there's no point in paying for the booze when you're a demon. That's one of the perks. "Now that was what I'd call an exercise in futility," he offers. "What was the point of this, again?"

Nate grins at him. Actually fucking grins, like Brad has missed something important. "You weren't really listening, were you?"

"I've always found it better for my sanity to ignore the wit and wisdom of Craig fucking Shwetje." Nate raises his eyebrows at him and Brad sighs. "I'll bite. What did I miss?"

"The horse- people," Nate offers, and Brad's pretty sure the significant pause shit is just to mess with him. "They hadn't ridden out yet."

Well, okay. He might have missed the significance. Not like he's an old hand in stopping the motherfucking apocalypse, alright? "Alright. Where do we start?"

"I have it on a good authority that you might know someone who could know where War is."

Brad snorts. "Fair warning, he's going to complain."

"That might be an understatement," Nate agrees. Brad starts to stand up but Nate reaches out, his fingers closing around Brad's wrist. His skin burns at the point of contact.

"Don't," he says and tries to jerk his hand away, but the attempt feels half-hearted even to him, Nate doesn't have to make a real effort to hold on to him.

He doesn't have to, but he lets go anyway. "I'm sorry. Brad, I need to give you..."

"Let's just go. There's not much time, right?"

"Time is relative for us," Nate reminds him, not unkindly, but he lets it go. He closes his eyes on the disappointment and when he opens them, he's matter-of-fact and decisive again. "Let's go, then."

One day, Brad thinks, he'd like Nate not to listen to him.

*

Brad had gotten his first bike in 1947. He has had seventeen bikes since then, four cars, one tank and one plane. He got his pilot's license in the 70s, the hard way, done the classes and the necessary flights. Created a whole identity just for this, because it was fucking fun.

He liked his third bike the best, it was the first one that actually let him feel the speed, the wind on his face.

Sometime in the spring of 1957 Nate has leaned against it, one hand on the handlebar, and looked down at Brad working on the engine. "You're gonna kill yourself on that thing one of these days," Nate told him reproachfully. Like he worried.

Brad reached out absently, picked up the screwdriver from the floor. His wrist brushed against Nate's ankle, leaving a smudge of oil on the cuff of his pants. "That could be fun, hadn't done that in a while. Last time I kicked the bucket was in 1498, right?" he caught Nate's eye, took in the serious gaze and the frustration behind it and shrugged. "Then again, requisitioning a new body is a bitch," he said lightly.

Nate caught his hand, fingers sliding across Brad's palm, thumb caressing his wrist, slow and gentle. Brad's hands were dirty but Nate didn't seem to care. "I happen to like the body you have now."

Brad's body certainly returned the affection. Nate's simple touch, just their hands and fingers, it was enough to make it abandon all conscious thoughts, his legs all but buckling.

Brad figured he might as well listen to his body and use the momentum to drag Nate to the cold concrete floor, their legs tangling in an ungraceful heap, Brad's elbow hitting something hard. Nate was laughing before his head hit the ground and then he was laughing even harder, clawing at Brad's shirt and pushing it up as Brad moved to straddle him.

"There's a good joke somewhere here," Nate muttered, his mouth wet and warm and slick on Brad's neck.

"A dirty one?"

"Of course."

"About rough rides and such?"

"And tools. Definitely tools," Nate supplied, cupping Brad's dick through his pants. Brad's body reacted like a well tuned instrument, like it had for the past few centuries.

When you lived (or not lived, as the case might be, but Brad didn't have time for semantics) for that long, it didn't pay to get attached. Not to material things, not to anything at all. They fucked that one up a long time ago.

Nate's fingers traced Brad's jaw, along the line of his throat. His head was tilted as if he was listening carefully, and maybe he was. A hitch in Brad's breathing made him press harder, lean up to follow his fingers with his tongue. "Oh, God," Brad groaned and Nate shuddered, his head falling back. When he looked at Brad it was with familiar wonder and, still, with shock.

Brad could remember the first time the word had slipped from his tongue, a long time ago, when they fucked for the first time.

Brad's body had been virgin, he wasn't. It was an interesting experience, to say the least, to remember the way he had been touched before and yet have Nate to be the first to kiss him, to put his hand between Brad's legs and nudge them open, stroke Brad's cock slowly.

No one was tossing around terms like muscle memory back then, but everything felt new, strange. The words spilled unbidden, a litany of pleas and constant repetition of Nate's name, and then, thrown in for a good measure, the low and guttural God, please.

It was a verbal tick mortals had, one you just picked up after a while, with the speech patterns and local curses of choice.

And yet, Nate's whole body seemed to shake with it, and he looked shocked and mortified and furious and elated at the same time. "That's sacrilege," he whispered, lips dry.

Brad shrugged and raised his eyebrows. "Should I point out the demonic nature part and how sacrilege seems to be contractually required?"

"I don't- I can't-" Nate tried to say, abandoning the words or being abandoned by them.

"Besides," Brad drawled, hand curling on Nate's hip. "You've been around for a very long time, weren't demons confused with minor deities way back when?"

Nate shook his head and tried to smile. "Something like that."

"Can't say I blame them. I mean, I know some demons who would fit right in with those half-goats sort of deities, but you..." He moved swiftly, off the bed and dropping to his knees, nudging Nate's legs apart slightly, to fit in between them. "I could understand why someone might want to worship you."

"Brad," Nate whispered, reaching out tentatively, his fingers caressing the shell of Brad's ear. "Don't, please," he closed his eyes and breathed out, slowly. "I need to tell you something."

Brad mhmed at him. "It sounds entirely too serious a subject to concern ourselves with right now," he announced, leaning in, cheek resting against Nate's thigh. "Dealing with serious matters has been postponed until tomorrow. Maybe even later."

"Brad."

"I do like the way you say it," Brad nodded and nosed along the line of Nate's cock, Nate's hand fisting his hair as he tried to steady himself. "Not quite sacrilege, but I feel we're getting there. Say something more."

Nate smiled then, finally, the curl of his mouth a little uncertain but unmistakably there, and pulled Brad up for a kiss.

Some time later, hours, minutes, days maybe, who could tell... Some time later Nate was spread on their bed, eyes half-closed and mouth parted, his chest rising with unnecessary breaths, and when he rolled his head to the side he had this look of utter amazement on his face.

"I've always thought you'd need a soul to love anything," he said, his hand seeking Brad's, entwining their fingers together so tightly, Brad would be hard pressed to say which belonged to him and which were Nate's.

"Souls are overrated," he said, mostly because if he said anything else, if he allowed himself to confess even a fraction of what filled his chest, the spill might never end. Everything he was could seep through, bleed into Nate, complete the process that has already started when Nate was inside him, filling him, undeniable and overwhelming and so fucking beautiful Brad's heart hurt.

"I have," was all that Nate managed to get out before Brad was kissing him again, slow and lazy, swallowing the words not spoken.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and Brad sees all those moments now. He wonders where would they be if he noticed before, if Nate pressed harder, tried harder. Maybe it would be better now. Maybe it would all fall apart much earlier and Brad wouldn't have all those memories, wouldn't remember the flat in London or the concrete floor in San Diego or the way Nate's eyes always seemed brighter when he looked at Brad.

Hindsight is over-fucking-rated.

*

"It warms my dark and evil heart to see you crazy kids together, it really does," Ray tells them cheerfully. Brad briefly considers ripping his vocal cords out, but they don't have the time to wait until Ray acquires a new body and besides, it wouldn't stop the bitching.

"We need your help," Nate says, ignoring the look Brad gives him.

Fuck, normal people, normal demons, don't just walk around asking for favours. The whole system of who owes what to whom is complicated and fragile and takes a while to maneuver your way through. It's not that simple.

"If it's about couple counseling, you'll have to set up an appointment like everybody else, homes" Ray offers and then takes in Nate's expression and sobers up. "What do you need?"

It's not that simple unless you are Nate.

Then again, he just had to say a word and Brad signed up for a suicidal mission before Nate even explained what the plan was. And Brad is still fucking pissed at Nate. And yet, here he is.

"We were hoping you could get in touch with your ex," Brad explains. He can see the exact moment when the understanding dawns on Ray, the panic settling in is pretty damn hilarious.

"I seriously fucking hope you don't mean who I think you mean."

Nate shrugs. "I thought you might know where she is these days."

"Watch some fucking CNN, they'll tell you where she is," Ray mutters. "You know, if any of you has a rusty old knife on hand I could de-ball myself right here, save us the trip and the trouble."

He's fighting a lost fight. Brad could tell him that, but it's more entertaining to watch and see the look on Ray's face when Nate leans in, his face earnest and open. "Please," he says. "We need to talk to her."

"Yeah, okay," Ray mutters and looks at Brad with some reproach, as if Brad was responsible for the fact that Ray can't say no to Nate. There's not many who can, to be honest.

Unfortunately, War seems to be one of them.

"No," she says and downs her shot, automatically refilling the glass once she's done. The liquid turns interesting colours.

"That's it?" Brad asks, unimpressed. War gives him a look.

"Well, how about no, no fucking way?" she asks. "That works for you, honey?"

They're sitting in the lounge bar of the best hotel in town. The walls are plush and richly decorated but the floor is covered in soot and two windows are missing at the front. The bar is favoured by war journalists, Brad can count three of them here, despite the early hour.

From time to time, the ground shakes. Imperceptibly for humans, but Brad hasn't been human for a long while.

"I'll get more booze," Ray offers.

"You stay right where you are, Joshua Ray," War smiles. Her teeth are incredibly white and sharp. "How you've been?"

Ray shifts in his seat uncomfortably. This might be the first time ever Brad has seen him flustered and he watches with interest. "You know, same old same old. Still in the crossroads business. But I hear you're doing well."

She flicks her hair over her shoulder and shrugs. "Yeah, things are going fine. I've been having such a good time I've almost forgiven you for leaving me out in the cold in... what was it, 1947?"

"Yeah. I'm glad," Ray says. "Not only because it might mean you won't be ripping my spine out, you know."

It probably passes for sweet talk. Brad can't even. "Back to the point? You will have plenty of time to flirt once we deal with the whole Apocalypse Now business."

War narrows her eyes at him. "You have a warrior spirit," she tells him. Brad isn't sure if he should thank her for noticing or whatever the fuck, but she continues, unfazed. "I can respect that, darling, which is the only reason you get an explanation. I couldn't do what you ask even if I wanted to. Riding out is my nature. Can's stop the waves of the ocean, can't stop the wind or rain."

"When the day comes, you'll ride out," Nate supplies. It's the first thing he said since they arrived, Brad has almost forgotten he was there.

It's a lie. He can always feel Nate, hyperaware of the touch and the presense and the way Nate's breathing, unnecessary but always there, makes his chest rise and fall. So, it's a lie, but it's not the point. The point was, Nate has been strangely quiet.

"What if the day doesn't come?" he continues, voice low and steady.

War smiles. "Then I won't," she says, like it's that simple. "I can't do what you ask, but I can offer you advice, angel. You're meddling in things you can't. It's God's plan and Lucipher's war, and it's not your fight."

Brad shakes his head. "This is useless. We should go."

Nate's fingers close around his wrist, stopping him from moving to his feet, but Nate doesn't look away from War. "Whose fight is it?"

"Figure it out, angel," she smiles and glances at her watch. "I have seventeen minutes before an ambush goes down seventy clicks from here. You interested in a quickie, honey?" she asks, glancing at Ray.

Ray blinks sheepishly. "I guess I'll see you later, homes," he tells Brad and nods at Nate before following War out. Brad rolls his eyes.

"What a nice girl," he says dryly. "And what a fucking waste of time."

"I wouldn't be so sure," Nate says thoughtfully. "Meddling in things we can't. Not shouldn't, can't," he repeats, more to himself than to Brad. "She said it's not our fight, Brad. The question is..."

"Whose fight is it," Brad finishes and Nate nods.

His fingers are still around Brad's wrist. They both act like they hadn't noticed, but Brad knows better. Nate's thumb moves slowly, caressing the thin skin on the underside of Brad's wrist. He looks down and follows the path with his gaze, along the vein under his skin.

His pulse is rushing, almost defeaning. Makes it hard to hear Nate's words when he starts to speak, even though his mouth is only a few inches away from Brad's.

"I'm sorry."

It's not the first apology. Nate had apologised profusely, repeated those words over and over again, twenty years ago, to the point where they've lost all the meaning.

They sound different now.

"What are you sorry for?" Brad asks, quiet and careful. He's afraid to break the moment. It's not the right moment and it's certainly quite inconvenient, but he doesn't think he's all that angry anymore. Disappointed, still. Hurt, yes. But he wants to keep on touching Nate, grounding himself.

"Dragging you into all this."

Brad laughs. Nate looks at him strangely, but shit, it's fucking hilarious. "You are really late on that one."

"I meant, the apocalypse. But," Nate shrugs. "Yes. Everything else too."

"Let's concentrate on the apocalypse bit. Deal with everything else later."

For the first time in a good few years he thinks there might be a later for them.

*

A girl is kneeling at a crossroads. Her hands are dirty, fingernails broken and fingers bleeding. Her face is streaked with tears.

She doesn't think it'll work, but she's desperate enough to try, desperate enough to have driven here in the middle of the night, to have dug a hole in the frozen ground. Her hair is wild and her skirt is muddy and her shoes are ruined. She digs her fingers into the ground and looks up. "Please," she says. "Please, please, please," she keeps repeating, each word filled with more desperation.

The demon appears.

She has heard the story from her grandmother, about the sad and desperate men who bargained their soul, who lost everything and still had this one thing to give, one thing only. One thing a demon could want.

They rip you to shreds and they take away your soul.

"Please," she repeats one more time.

"That's what you want?" the demon asks, reaching out to take her hand. Her legs shake when he pulls her up, steadies her gently. He's beautiful, she didn't expect that. Beautiful and tall, with piercing blue eyes, blue like she had never seen before. Maybe in the way the sky would be clear after a long storm, but not in anyone's face, never.

"It's my fault," she says. "He just wanted... now he's dead and it's my fault. He's everything... Mother can't go on without him, he's everything to her."

"And what are you?" the demon asks, sounding... irritated? Worried? She can't tell.

It's not going like the stories said it would.

"I'm not that important," she says. "My soul for his life, that's the deal," she adds. She shives when the demon reaches out, two fingers under her chin to tilt her head up, so he can look at her.

"It doesn't sound very fair," he mutters, something strange in his eyes. "But it's lady's choice, I guess. Are you sure? Is this your wish?"

"Yes," she says, and her voice doesn't break at all.

"Very well. I'll come back in ten years, then," he says and kisses her forehead, her skin burning for days later.

*

"She wanted to save her little brother. That much and that little," Brad shook his head. He wasn't sure why this one worried him, why this one bothered him. He's taken souls before, every demon goes through this gig at one time or another.

"They want different things. It's..." Nate shrugged, lost for words like he rarely was. His hands were shaking, Brad noted with surprise.

"I wonder if it's worth it. They all want things so badly, whatever it is. Life of a loved one or a record deal, one price. Fits all," he said mockingly. "Do you remember what you sold your soul for? I've been trying to remember my deal, but alas, no luck."

"I don't remember mine." There was something wrong with Nate's voice, like he was lying. Except he wasn't, Brad would be able to tell. "I remember yours, though."

Brad wanted to ask what the hell he meant but it clicked before he could. He had forgotten, before. You forget a lot when you die. But he remembered now, like you'd remember a dream, hazy and unreal, but there, at the edges of your mind.

"You," he said. It wasn't a question.

Nate looked up. He was sitting at the edge of the bed, elbows resting on his knees. He must have gnawed on his lip because it was angrily red and swollen. "I'm sorry."

What for, Brad wanted to ask. A deal is a deal, when offered you're required to take it. Everything else is just haggling.

"Brad, I'm sorry," Nate said, reaching out. Brad flinched and stepped away, out of Nate's reach. Nate's hand dropped to his side. "I'm so sorry."

It didn't mean a thing. "Get out," Brad said. "Get the fuck out of here."

"Brad, you need to listen to me. I still have..."

"I don't need to listen. I don't need anything at all from you," he shook his head. Almost a thousand years. Almost a thousand fucking years and Nate never said anything. He tried, maybe, Brad could give him that, would give him that, but that didn't matter. He never said anything. "I don't want to see you."

"I'm sorry."

"It doesn't fucking fix it, Nate. It doesn't... I don't know. A thousand fucking years might be too soon. Just get out."

Nate went.

Brad let his legs do what they really wanted and give up from under him. He slid onto the still warm bed, to the spot where Nate had been moments before. He hid his face in his hands and laughed, fucking laughed until he couldn't anymore, until his throat was dry and his eyes were wet.

They rip you to shreds and take away your soul.

Fucking ace, on both counts.

part two

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April 2011

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