noelia_g: ([irl] stark sands :: white shirt)
[personal profile] noelia_g
Title: Find a place to start to gamble everything
Fandom: Generation Kill
Characters/Pairings: Nate/Brad
Wordcount: 9889
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Based on fictionalised portrayals as seen on the HBO miniseries.
A/N: Sabrina AU. Yes, you've read that right. I blame Ray and his comment in the last fic. And [livejournal.com profile] kubis. I always blame [livejournal.com profile] kubis



Nate Fick is six and a half years old when he declares with complete certainty that he’s going to marry Brad Colbert when he grows up.

His mom smiles indulgently and ruffles his hair. “Don’t you think you should get to know him a little better?” she asks and Nate shakes his head.

He knows everything he needs to know about Brad. Brad is eleven (almost, just two weeks short of eleven, but two weeks don’t matter that much), likes bikes and math and computers, and he spent three and a half hours looking for Nate’s lost cat in the gardens before climbing a tree to get Marty down and hand him over to Nate.

The cat didn’t want to let go, comfortably curled up in Brad’s arms. Marty’s pretty smart, when you don’t mind the whole climbing-up-the-trees-he-can’t-climb-down-from thing, he knows good people, and Brad’s good people.

Brad’s at home only for a few weeks before first he goes with his grandparents to Europe and then goes back to school. It’s not the same school Nate will go to in the fall, Brad’s school has uniforms and they play weird sports Nate doesn’t quite understand the rules to, even when Brad takes time to explain them to him.

It’s also the kind of school where kids don’t come back home every day, but stay there for the whole term. It’s like something out of a book, Nate thinks.

“I’d like it better if they had a better soccer team,” Brad tells him. “Still, better than the school in England Grandma wanted me to go to. Can you believe it? England.”

Nate wants to go to England one day, even though Brad says it’s nothing special. He’s been a few times already, there and other places in Europe.

When Nate asks his mother when they can go, she always says “when you’re older. One day you’ll be able to go wherever you want.”

Nate can’t wait. Maybe he and Brad can go together, after they’re married.

*

When Brad’s fifteen, his favourite place to hang out is the garage. He’s out of everyone’s way and, even better, everyone is out of his way. Except for Mr. Fick, but Mr. Fick doesn’t seem to mind, he even lets Brad help if any of the cars need maintenance.

Mom despairs of him when he comes back with his hands black with oil, but it’s pretty much the most awesome thing to do while he’s stuck at home.

Even when Mr. Fick isn’t in the garage, Brad likes to hang out there. It’s spacious enough, and he can place his laptop on the work bench or spread out on the floor, or just lie down in the backseat of one of the cars.

Except now his favourite spot, the back seat of his Mom’s convertible, is occupied.

Nate Fick blinks at him owlishly from over a thick book he’s reading by flashlight.

“You’ll ruin your eyesight, kid,” Brad tells him sagely and turns on the main lights. Nate just shrugs at him.

Brad feels like he’s intruding. Which is ridiculous because, hey, his garage, his mother’s car, and Nate’s just a kid. Except that Brad kind of likes Nate, which is surprising, because kids Nate’s age are usually a pain in the ass. Brad should know, he has cousins. Many of them.

He’s about to ask what’s new, or what’s up, he hasn’t decided on the phrasing yet, but then he remembers what Mom told him during the last phonecall before he came home. About Mrs. Fick and the accident.

“So, what are you doing here this late?” he asks instead and Nate shrugs again. He’s awfully quiet for a kid. This kind of silence usually means trouble when coming from Brad’s cousins, means they’re scheming something and usually it involves making Brad partake in tea parties and when he complains his Mom or Aunt would say ‘but Bradley, they are just so fond of you’. Fond his ass.

The silence from Nate seems just like he’s thinking over his words, like he doesn’t want to say too much or say it wrong. Brad can respect that.

“I hate cars,” Nate says finally.

“Hate to break it to you, but you’re sitting in one.”

“It’s okay when they’re not moving,” Nate confides and closes his book, making sure to mark his place. “Grandma says I’ll get used to it. She sighs a lot,” he adds. He sounds like he doesn’t really want to get used to it, but feels it’s expected.

Brad nods. “Get in the front seat,” he says and picks up the right keys before sliding into the driver’s seat himself.

“You can’t drive,” Nate says, sounding scandalised. It’s sort of cute, he’s, wait, what is he, nine or ten? And he sounds positively scandalised.

“Sure I can, Dad lets me drive on the grounds all the time.”

“I mean you can’t, you’re not even sixteen yet.”

“Relax, we’re just rolling out of the garage, okay? Not going anywhere. I’m pretty sure your dad would have my head on a pike if I took you outside the grounds, okay?”

“Okay,” Nate agrees. When the car starts moving he grips the armrest tightly, knuckles white. Once they’re in the driveway, Brad pulls the handbrake, puts down the roof and turns off the ignition, but leaves the radio on. It’s set to some indie shit his Mom likes to listen to and he fiddles with the control until he finds something that doesn’t suck.

“It’s not the cars,” he tells Nate who has relaxed slowly and stopped holding to the armrest for the dear life. The book is on his knees and he’s looking up at the starry sky. “It’s the idiot drivers.”

“I know that,” Nate says.

“Okay. How’s school?” Brad asks instead and Nate peers at him.

“Everyone always asks that. How’s yours?” he shoots back.

“Everyone always asks me too. Okay. What are you reading?”

Nate doesn’t answer but turns the book front cover up. People always do that, no one ever just tells you what they’re reading, they’ve gotta show you. Brad tilts his head, there’s not much light for him to make out the letters easily. “Which one’s your favourite?” he asks and Nate takes a moment to answer.

“Orpheus. He goes to Hades to...”

“Yeah,” Brad nods quickly. “I know.”

They sit in silence for a few minutes, the only sound the quiet music from the radio and the trees moved by the wind. After a while, Nate says something about Zeus, and Brad counters with a story he heard about Heracles, deliberately mixing him up with Perseus. Nate takes time to correct him and even points out constellations when he gets into the story.

After a while he starts yawning more than he’s talking and Brad half drags and half carries him to the Ficks’ house, Nate practically dead on his feet by the time they reach the front door.

*

The summer after his sophomore year of college Brad brings Jess home for two weeks before they go visit her folks and then head off to Florida.

Nate’s expecting to hate her on sight, and he does, for the whole grand five minutes or so, before it turns out she’s smart and funny and Brad is obviously crazy about her. If Nate has any issues with her it might be that she doesn’t seem sufficiently infatuated with Brad, but well, Nate had years to perfect it, she could still get there.

Their last night home, there’s a party at the Colberts’. Marty runs away once again late in the evening and when Nate goes to climb the tree to get him down (all those years and the damned cat still hadn’t learned hot to climb down) he catches the glimpse of the party and somehow stays up for a much longer than he expected to.

Marty seems happy with that; he likes the tree, he just doesn’t know how to get down when he needs to, and so he curls up on the branch, his head on Nate’s thigh, and falls asleep. Nate doesn’t mind being temporarily unable to move (Marty’s vicious when he’s woken up, he has claws and knows how to use them), because his eyes are pretty much glued to the sight of Brad Colbert in a tux.

The dance classes Mrs. Colbert made him take when he was eleven or twelve must have really paid off, because the way he guides Jess around the dancefloor is completely natural and easy, a little different from the way Brad usually holds himself in check. Jess’ dress is long and silver, the skirt twirling around effortlessly when she dances. She looks like she belongs.

And Nate’s sitting on the tree with a temperamental cat using him as a pillow and getting fur all over his pants. It kind of drives home the point, doesn’t it.

*

Brad’s home for a grand seven minutes before he learns the Great News about Nate. His mother is capable of pronouncing the capital letters, he’d like you to know, she really is.

She sounds proud, like it’s her kid going to Oxford. It’s probably because Brad, while he had the sense of going to the MIT so she’s not completely bitter, chose something that wasn’t, well, law or, if he really wasn’t interested in that, a business degree.

“He didn’t tell me,” Brad says. He doesn’t realise he sounds at all bitter until his mother looks at him searchingly.

“I didn’t know you were close friends.”

They aren’t, not really. They see each other twice a year, maybe, ever since Brad left for college and Nate started doing seventeen different things at the same time, from schoolwork to sports to volunteer work and other such things. Last summer Brad teased him about working himself to a stress-caused heart attack by the age of forty and Nate tilted his head and kindly pointed out that it was exactly why he picked up running track.

There really was no winning with him sometimes.

“So, mom tells me you’re leaving for college,” he says after he invites himself over to the Ficks’ house. It’s a little rude, because it’s not like Mr. Fick will tell him if it’s a bad time, but at least it doesn’t seem to be.

Nate’s room is uncommonly messy, it’s clear he’s in the middle of packing, his clothes on the bed and on the chair, books already in the suitcase. Lots of books, he won’t have much room for clothes left, but that’s the Nate Brad knows.

And right now, Nate is giving him a strange look. “Of course I am leaving for college. There isn’t one in close proximity, I don’t know if you’ve noticed.”

“I’m pretty sure there’s at least one or two in this country, you don’t have to go to England. What, Harvard or Yale not good enough for you?” He doesn’t even consider the possibility that Nate tried and didn’t get into those. He got into the damn Oxford, and on full scholarship, after all.

“I always wanted to go to England,” Nate says and it sounds like one of the reasons, sure enough, but it doesn’t sound like the reason. Brad doesn’t know how to ask about that one though.

It’s not often that Brad feels out of place and awkward anywhere, but right now Nate seems to patiently wait for him to do something, continue with the conversation or maybe leave, and he doesn’t quite know what Nate wants from him. Or what he wants from Nate, why the whole thing bothers him at all.

“So, is it good luck or have fun?” he asks. “Can you even have fun at Oxford or is there some obscure fifteenth century law that forbids it?”

“I’ll be sure to ask during the orientation, but I think the ban is lifted on every second Friday,” Nate says easily and Brad can’t help a smile. “Good luck is good. You too. With... whatever it is you’re planning on doing.”

He seems to want to add something but doesn’t, half turned towards the suitcase. He’s leaving the next day and he obviously wants Brad out so he can finish packing. Brad can take a hint.

Except he can’t shake off a feeling that he might be missing something.

*

On the day Jess breaks the engagement, Nate’s out of town on a trip to Edinburgh. It’s the weekend before his birthday and Colin and Audrey made it their gift.

It’s at the time when Nate isn’t dating Audrey anymore, since as it turns out they’re good friends but rubbish at anything resembling a relationship. He isn’t dating Colin yet, although it might be a matter of time, judging by the way their long arguments about transatlantic security more often than not end up in bed.

“Don’t worry, the whole circle was incestuous to begin with,” Audrey tells him. She’s dating Tom now, who has been sleeping with Colin at the beginning of the term, so she probably knows what she’s talking about. “And I have to say, Fick, it’s good to see you joining the fun,” she adds with certain pride. “The first two months, I thought you’d run for the hills.”

The first two months he’s been intimidated by her, with random intervals of being completely charmed by her accent and the gap between her teeth, and the way she seemed to have a different hair colour every week and still hasn’t run out of colours.

They go to Edinburgh for the weekend, and it’s only when he checks his mail on Monday that he finds out about the engagement. It’s a message from Becky, one of his high school friends who still makes sure to keep him updated on everything back home.

There’s an unanswered phonecall from an undisclosed number on his cell and for one moment he thinks that, well, maybe...

He thinks he could call, or maybe e-mail Brad, but he wouldn’t know what to say. They’re not friends, not really, sometimes you’d be very generous to say they’re casual acquaintances. They also haven’t spoken in a little shy of two years.

There are a few links in Becky’s e-mail and Nate clicks through them, feeling too much like a voyeur. It’s only a few local papers, and as it hasn’t been anything remotely resembling a scandal, all the mentions are in the society pages. It made the business pages elsewhere, but as apparently the merger is still on, it’s not much of a news.

Nate can read between the lines and see that even though the wedding is off, Brad and Jess are going to have plenty of opportunities to meet, considering Brad’s been becoming more involved in the company and Jess works as her father’s marketing director.

He thumbs the digits on his phone for a while, but he only has Brad’s old number, one that’s bound to have been changed a few times already. Besides, Brad’s reported to be off surfing in California, taking two weeks break that is exactly on the time period he was supposed to be on his honeymoon.

Nate still has two unused cards from Edinburgh. He’s not sure what to write, so goes with a generic message and then chickens out over even that and addresses it to the Colberts, not Brad himself.

He should be done with this, he thinks to himself. It’s a childhood crush that doesn’t lead anywhere. He sends the postcard, because once he addressed it he needs to finish the job, but after that, he’s done.

*

“I’m almost on my way, I’m just picking up pastries,” the guy in front of Brad is saying into his cellphone. The suit and the tie don’t exactly scream someone who needs to report to his wife every five minutes, but apparently that is the case. This is why Brad shuns cellphones. “No, I know my way home, honestly. And I only have two weeks before I need to be in DC and I’m not leaving without eating some of Julia’s eclairs,” he continues goodnaturedly.

Seriously. Brad coughs, not at all politely. “Would you mind getting a move on, then?” he asks and the guy turns, pulling the phone away from his ear.

“Oh, sorry. Just go on first,” he says before freezing. “Brad.”

Later Brad would blame many things, the sun getting in his eyes or the fact that it was the first time he saw Nate in anything else than jeans and t-shirts, but that shouldn’t be an excuse. Sure, Nate grew at least two inches and he’s been definitely working out, and the stubble is new but not unattractive, but the eyes are the same. The smile is the same. Brad should have known in an instant.

As it is, he just frowns confusedly before Julia comes out of the backroom and grins widely. “Nate! You’re home.”

“Just for two weeks, sorry,” Nate says and lets himself be hugged. Julia knows every kid in town, they’ve been visiting her store religiously, but Brad can tell she’s especially fond of Nate. “I don’t have much time now, Dad’s waiting for me, but I’ll come by sometime later this week, okay?”

“You better,” Julia tells him sternly. “Bradley, what can I get you?” she asks, like she’s only noticing him. Maybe she is just noticing him, her eyes keep sliding to Nate, like she’s keeping an eye on him so he doesn’t make a run for it.

“Picking up the cake,” Brad tells her, taking the receipt out of his pocket. He hopes his mother didn’t mix the dates again, she’s been going crazy about the anniversary party for weeks.

“Ah, yes. Wait a moment, I’ll get it for you. You,” she points at Nate, “don’t go anywhere.” And with that, she disappears.

“Now I remember why I was so scared of her when I was a kid,” Brad mutters. The corner of Nate’s mouth twitches and he nods in acknowledgment, but that’s the only response Brad gets.

He can’t remember being nervous around Nate Fick ever before. But he remembers Nate Fick the high school kid, who was always reading one giant book or another, or climbing trees to rescue his wayward cat. The man in front of him... well. The feeling in Brad’s stomach, the warmth and the interest steering inside, that’s entirely justified.

Except that it’s Nate.

“The anniversary party is tonight?” Nate asks politely, like he has just realised that they’ve been standing in silence for too long and it’s the high time to make small talk.

“Yeah. The thirty-fifth. It’s their lucky number or something, so mom’s going a little... insane would be a good word.”

“I’m sure it will be flawless. It usually is,” Nate says, and that seems like a final note on that conversation. Brad sticks his hands in his pockets.

“You’re going home? If Julia releases my cake I’m done here, I could give you a ride.”

Something flickers across Nate’s face and he hesitates before speaking. “Don’t take it the wrong way, but I know how you drive.”

Nate hates cars, Brad remembers. Well, not hates, but is strongly wary of, and with good reasons. Brad nods. “I’ll go slow,” he promises.

Nate barks a laugh, shaking his head. “I am pretty sure this could be the first time in your life, Colbert,” he says, his voice warm and teasing. Brad really likes it. “Yeah, okay. Provided Julia releases us,” he adds, scenic whisper as she’s coming back into the room.

“I’ve heard that, Nathaniel. My ears work just fine, even at my age. Here’s your cake, Bradley, give your mother my regards. And this is for you,” she hands a box to Nate and waves him off when he reaches for his wallet. “Do you want me to slap you over the head?” she asks. It’s probably supposed to be rhetorical.

“Thank you,” Nate tells her and leans down to kiss her cheek. “Come on, Brad, if you’re going to drive slowly we should set out.”

“Just for that I’m driving 20 miles per hour for the whole way.”

“You’ll go fucking crazy after two minutes tops,” Nate says. He’s probably not wrong, but now it’s a challenge and Brad sticks to the damn 20 miles even if his hands are twitching on the wheel and he’s going insane.

Nate’s the one to give in after two minutes when the seventh car honks at them and he laughs and shakes his head. “Fine. You win. I’m also getting seasick, so if you could please just drive reasonably.”

Brad grins at him smugly and speeds up. It’s a good thing Nate gave in when he did, because Brad isn’t sure how much longer could he take.

“So, DC?” he asks.

Nate shrugs and leans back in his seat, loosening his tie. Brad tries to pay attention to the road and not to the line of Nate’s neck, but it’s a lost fight, apparently.

“Yes. I start at my new job in two weeks. It’s...” he starts and changes his mind mid-sentence. “Nothing special.”

Brad’s pretty sure it’s quite the opposite, but he lets it go. Nate has probably told his father at least, and so the entire household will know. Brad’s mother will probably fill him in, she always does.

She might have filled him in on the fact that Nate looks like that instead of going on about his academic achievements. It would have been a little more than awkward, though.

“You just got back?”

“Straight from the plane. And, well, the bus,” Nate confirms. “Jet-lag hadn’t yet kicked in but it can’t be too far,” he adds.

“Well, if you’re not too tired, I’m sure my mother would be thrilled to see you at the party,” Brad says, cursing himself inside. Smooth. Except absolutely not.

Nate hesitates. “I don’t think it’s a good idea,” he says, a little strained, and covers it up with a quick smile. “I’ll probably crash soon, the transatlantic flights aren’t my forte. And I’d like to catch up with Dad before I do, haven’t seen him in a year.”

“You weren’t here last year,” Brad says, a little too quickly. But he spent the summer at home, after his own father’s stay at the hospital last spring, and he’d remember Nate if he was here. He’d most definitely remember Nate.

“I took a summer job in DC. Dad came to visit me there.”

“Ah,” Brad says and doesn’t follow it with anything clever. He hates himself a lot.

“But I’d love to see your parents when I get the chance,” Nate rushes to say. “You know your mother kept on sending me care packages? I don’t think she trusts British food.”

“She hates British food. She considers the beans on toast the work of the devil.”

“I was assured they’re perfect when you’re stoned or hungover,” Nate offers, straight-faced, and it takes Brad a moment to catch up, the sudden smile on Nate’s face brilliant and unexpected. “My ex-girlfriend,” he explains. “She was, well, let’s say rather interesting and leave it at that.”

Oh. Well, sure, they can leave it at that. At least Brad knows what’s what.

“We’re here,” he announces unnecessarily as they pull over. There’s already lots of people around, getting everything ready for the party. Nate gets out of the car and stands there for a moment, and everyone keeps moving but Brad feels like everything goes still right there for a moment, something passing between him and Nate.

“Thanks for the ride,” Nate says and reaches out to pick up his suitcase and then stops, hand hovering over it as he looks at Brad. “I could be wrong,” he starts slowly, “but if you meant... the invitation to the party, if you meant it like a date,” he says smiling wryly, the slight shake of his head almost self-deprecating.

“Yes,” Brad confirms, the word out before he even thinks of it consciously.

“Then I have some free time tomorrow,” Nate offers.

“Yeah,” Brad breathes out. “That sounds good.”

*

Well, that would be that, Nate thinks. That would be it for trying to convince himself he wasn’t still harboring a crush on Brad Colbert. Nate honestly thought he was over that phase.

He also thought he’d have days before he saw Brad, if Brad was even home at all. (Not that he thought about it a lot, and he is being honest here.) Seeing Brad first thing and, even more importantly, seeing Brad look at him like that... he couldn’t have been prepared for that.

“This has the potential to be the worst idea you’ve ever had,” he tells himself, but the idiot in the mirror looks quite excited at the prospect. He hasn’t been on a proper date in a while, somehow neither Audrey nor Colin qualified. Especially with Audrey there wasn’t much you could consider going out.

He’s definitely not thinking about that now. Especially not considering the idea of staying in with Brad, who shows up five minutes early than his earlier text message promised, white shirt and a sport jacket, hands stuffed in his pockets like he’s actually nervous.

“Good to see you, Bradley,” Nate’s father says, and well, that definitely puts a stop to any ideas of staying in Nate might have had. Which he hadn’t.

“Mr. Fick,” Brad nods in acknowledgment, trying to hold Nate’s father’s gaze politely even while his eyes keep straying towards Nate. “Is there anything I should know about Nate’s curfew?”

“For god’s sake,” Nate mutters as his father is trying not to smile and seriously telling Brad to have Nate home by midnight or else. Brad gives Nate a smug look that turns into a grin when he’s practically pushed out of the house.

And if Nate lets his hand linger on the small of Brad’s back, well.

“I thought people went to Europe for refinement,” Brad tells him mournfully. “That was really impolite.”

“This is because you didn’t go to your prom, isn’t it?” Nate shakes his head and tries to keep his mouth from twitching at the look Brad gives him. “Fair warning, if I catch sight of an ugly flower you’d try and pin to my wrist, this date is over.”

“It wouldn’t be ugly,” Brad argues. “And it wasn’t that bad. The prom thing,” he adds, almost shyly.

Nate nods. Brad broke his leg two weeks before his prom, trying some sort of a crazy stunt on his bike. The details were hazy and varied depending on whom you asked, the versions of the story strikingly different especially if you got them from Brad and his mother. And it was Brad’s mother who had enough of Brad’s sulking on the prom night (allegedly, as Brad denied it outright) and had Nate come over. They played video games for hours and then watched Back to the Future. Nate’s own prom, few years later, wasn’t nearly as much fun, if he was to be honest.

“I honestly can’t believe you remember that,” he tells Brad, who ducks his head and opens the car’s door for Nate.

“Of course I...” Brad starts and doesn’t finish. “Where do you want to go tonight?” he asks instead and Nate has to force himself to stop watching his lips move. It’s distracting.

“I’m insulted you don’t have an entire plan ready.”

“I seem to remember you were the one to ask me out, Nathaniel. Don’t you have a plan?”

Nate smiles. “I could come up with something.”

*

Brad’s not sure what he expected this thing to be. It’s rather clear that Nate isn’t the kid Brad remembers, except he is. They were never friends, not quite, and yet Nate feels familiar and right, and after the initial surprise it’s easy to fall into a steady back-and-forth.

They end up at the best pizzeria in town, and it’s not a place Brad would ever take a date to, except it’s quite fitting, it’s been one of his favourite places growing up. He’s not sure Nate knew that when he suggested it.

Jess would have frowned at the idea and most of Brad’s other dates would prefer a much fancier restaurant, if not a trendy club their town lacked; you’d have to drive to the city for that. Nate’s idea is unexpected, but not at all unwelcome.

Some of Brad’s surprise must have registered on his face, because Nate shrugs slightly, like he’s trying to defend himself. “Not the obvious choice, granted, but I haven’t really seen you for years. I want to be able to actually hear what you’re saying.”

Brad’s not sure what it means yet, but something in his stomach twists and he has to swallow around the gulp in his throat. It’s something he recognises, had seen in Nate before, only now he has the clarity to appreciate it. The earnestness of the slightly awkward yet charming kid Nate used to be, who grew up to be even more charming, who seems to have lost most of his awkwardness and none of his openness and ease.

“You might regret it after a while, I could be utterly boring.”

“You could be,” Nate agrees readily. “But at least the pizza will be good.”

“Can’t argue with that logic.”

It’s easy to fall into conversation with Nate, and Brad’s pretty sure it could be just as easy to fall... It’s a heady feeling, somehow hazy and yet he feels wide awake, everything in him standing at attention, unwilling to miss a second of it. And Nate’s soon going to DC, Brad’s probably working on a tight timeline.

It still takes him until they’re almost done with dinner to lean forward and hesitate for a moment before speaking. “You know, my mother was seriously disappointed you wouldn’t come to the party. I feel like you should make up for it.”

Nate snorts, his eyes bright with humor. “That’s your line, Colbert? I should go back to your place to see your mother.”

Put like that... “You found me. I have no game,” he admits.

“You must have some game, since I’m actually considering it,” Nate says honestly, something flickering through his face, like he’s surprised he said it out loud. “But that’s only because if we wanted to get a room for the night it would have to be at the Inn, and not only it’d be the talk of the town, but I’ve also been morbidly afraid of Patty since I was seven.”

Brad can’t blame him for that, Patty is pretty fucking scary. And Nate’s right, their choices are limited unless they want to drive to New York tonight, and that’s a little too desperate than he’s willing to show.

Not that he wouldn’t, if Nate suggested that.

*

They do run into Brad’s mother. Nate should have known, his luck is usually just that shitty.

“Fuck,” Brad mutters when he stumbles into Nate after he stopped abruptly in his tracks. Brad’s close enough the word resonates against the skin of Nate’s neck, warm and ticklish. “And we could have driven to the local make out stop.”

Nate would like to point out Brad drives a sports car with no enough room in the backseat, but there’s no way Mrs. Colbert wouldn’t hear him and, well, no.

“Nathaniel!” she says with a wide smile and thankfully, god, thankfully doesn’t pull him in for a hug like she sometimes did when Nate visited home.

On the other hand, just the thought of it took care of Nate’s hard-on. They might have not driven to the local make-out spot but they spent a while in the driveway, the parking brake on, the engine still humming because either Brad forgot to turn it down, or he just liked the feeling. Wasn’t quite bad.

Right. Not the time or place.

“Bradley told me you got here yesterday. You should have come by.”

“I’m sorry. It was a rather long flight,” Nate tries and feels Brad shaking his head behind him, like he can’t believe this either. You’d think they were teenagers, caught sneaking in and holding hands.

Then again, you wouldn’t be that far off, for how Nate feels right now.

“Did Bradley offer you coffee?” she asks next and Nate shakes his head slowly.

“I didn’t have time to do anything, we just got here,” Brad says dryly. He stepped back a little and Nate turns so he can see him, taking in the mixture of annoyance and resignation. Brad catches his eye and shrugs, what can you do, you want to explain that to her?

Brad’s mother gives him a look, but she’s smiling, a little bemused. “Would you like some coffee, Nathaniel? Now you’re here you need to tell me all about that new job of yours, we’re all very proud.”

“It’s nothing,” Nate shrugs and lets himself be ushered into the kitchen. Brad follows, head bowed, and Nate can’t quite tell if he’s trying not to laugh or if he’s annoyed by the whole thing. At Nate’s comment, however, he snorts.

“Sure, working for Seaborn first thing after college, that’s nothing,” Brad mutters and Nate frowns at him suspiciously. He’s pretty sure he hadn’t mentioned that, in fact, they’ve stayed out of work-related topics for the whole night.

“You’ve actually checked up on me?” he asks, and he’s pretty sure he wants to convey an opinion of the whole thing being slightly worryingly creepy, no matter that everyone does it before dates these days. Instead, his voice sounds fond to his own ears, like he’s pleased with that. He might be.

“Oh,” Brad’s mother says and stands up, rather abruptly. Nate glances at her quickly, confused, and she’s looking at Brad as if she’s just noticed something, but when Nate follows her gaze, Brad’s face is pretty impassive. “I think I’m rather tired. I’ll leave you boys alone, and you, Nathaniel, should come by for lunch tomorrow. I will have no discussion.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Nate smiles and she reaches out to pat his hand before, and Nate isn’t kidding about that, she pats Brad’s head in passing. Brad slowly reaches out and runs his hand through his hair defiantly. Nate probably shouldn't find that endearing.

He might have as well said it out loud, probably, because Brad looks up and shrugs self-consciously. “Not the effect I was going for.”

“I suppose it’s the outcome that counts, so you shouldn’t worry so much.”

“Are you implying you’re that easy?” Brad asks, and the mocking tone in his voice seems to be turned at himself and not at Nate.

Nate isn’t sure, but he thinks the vulnerability wasn’t there before. Or maybe he was too young and too much preoccupied with his crush to notice.

And he was wrong before, the crush is gone, replaced by something new. It’s stirring slowly, warm in Nate’s chest, under his ribcage. It’s under his skin when Brad looks at him, or when they touch. Not quite an infatuation, past interest or sheer desire. He wants to know more, have more.

“I don’t know, Colbert, bring out that non existent game of yours and we shall see.”

Brad’s grin is fast, almost surprised. Nate instinctively reaches out, tangling his fingers with Brad’s.

*

Nate hits his hip against the kitchen counter and swear into Brad’s mouth, then laughs about it when Brad licks at the corner of his lips. His fingers are curled in Nate’s belt loops and pulling him closer, and Nate’s hand is warm and heavy on the back of his neck.

It’s almost surprising, how well they seem to fit, how close Brad wants to get, except he’s been thinking of this for the whole day, absent-minded and pretty much useless for anything constructive until it was time to pick Nate up.

He feels a little cheated at not knowing this Nate before, the one who is sharp and quick and smart as a tack and absolutely fucking gorgeous. How had he not noticed it before? But then again, there’s something else, the ease and familiarity, that has been there all along, the reason why Brad never resented hanging out with a kid five years younger than him.

“And I’ve lost you,” Nate draws, tapping his finger on Brad’s jaw to get his attention.

“Not quite. I was still thinking about you,” Brad says, honest before he can rethink it. He’s rewarded by the way Nate’s eyes light up, his lips parting as he breathes out.

That feeling washing over him at seeing Nate happy about something, this should be a clue that Brad’s deeper than he’s usually comfortable with, especially since Jess. Of course, it was Nate, it was going to be something more serious from the get go.

“Good answer,” Nate nods. “But I’m not sure I want you to think coherently at all. Your bedroom’s where it was?”

If his plan was to get rid of every coherent thought except the vague need to get upstairs and fast, Nate has certainly succeeded.

Nate pauses in the doorway to the bedroom, hand flat on Brad’s chest to keep him still for a moment. He turns full circle, taking the room in, like he’s genuinely curious. Brad hasn’t really lived here for a good few years, it’s only his room when he visits, but he finds himself nervous nonetheless.

From all the girls (and not that many boys) he ever brought up to his room, no one took that moment. Some of them drunk in every detail of the house and the grounds, but didn’t seem that interested in the room with a bed, a desk and a bookshelf, and approximately five or six incomplete laptops lying around at any given time. Once here, it was about getting into each other’s pants, and before that, awkward fumbling and kissing.

Brad doesn’t mind waiting now. Nate has been up here before, they played computer games on the prom night, and then few other times when Brad was sick or when he wanted to show Nate the computer he had built.

“Does it meet your standards?” he asks, trying for dry and arriving at uncertain. “There’s a few other bedrooms on this floor alone, if you’re interested in seeing them.”

Nate turns to look at him and shrugs. “Maybe later,” he says matter-of-factly, like it’s a valid option. “This is good,” he adds and pulls Brad in towards the bed, and Brad lets himself stumble and fall into Nate, mouth along Nate’s jaw. “Better,” Nate mutters, the word slurred a little, and Brad smiles against his skin in agreement.

*

It takes Nate a long moment to orient himself when he wakes up. The alarm clock on the bedside blinks at him, the green numbers announcing it to be 4:17 am. He feels rested, but that’s probably because his body is still running on London time.

He feels tired, too. Not tired, worn out. It’s another long moment to take stock of his limbs. His right arm had gone to sleep and the one draped across his stomach doesn’t belong to him. Brad’s sound asleep, head turned to the side, partly hidden in the shadows. Not the line of his jaw, though, or his lips, Nate can see them in the warm light of... something from the outside. The light on the driveway they forgot to turn off, probably.

Nate considers shifting a little down and to the right, it would be easy enough to lean in for a kiss. He’d prefer not to wake Brad up at this hour, but it’s almost tempting enough to risk it.

“I can feel you thinking,” Brad says, only the corner of his mouth moving. Nate doesn’t jump out of his skin but he can’t help flinching. Or maybe shivering at Brad’s tone, rough from sleep and from all the words he muttered and whispered and moaned few hours ago.

“This is a ninja level of creepiness,” Nate informs him.

“Says the guy staring at me while I’m sleeping.”

He does have a point. “I just woke up. Was considering my options.”

Brad opens one eye, eyebrow raised. It shouldn’t be as attractive as it is, not with Brad still looking sleepy and his hair messed up. Well, maybe it is that attractive because of that, Nate isn’t sure. “I certainly hope one of those options was to wake me up with a blowjob.” When Nate doesn’t answer immediately, mostly because well, he’s considering that option now, Brad shrugs, shifting away a little. “Unless you need to be somewhere this morning.”

Nate doesn’t like the way Brad easily schools down his expression. The ease and the quickness comes from experience, comes from having one’s heart broken badly or more than once, or both. “I have a lunch engagement,” he says slowly. “My schedule is pretty open before that.”

Brad nods, his expression still a little too close to a frown for Nate’s liking. “You don’t have to... I mean, my mother is a little insane about lunches, you’re not obligated to show up.”

Nate gives him a look. “She’d track me down to DC if I tried to run and you know that.”

“Probably.” Brad’s tone clearly indicates it’s more of a definitely and Nate nods at him.

“Now that my day plans are established, let’s get back to my options at the moment. I’m not saying no to the blowjob idea, but let’s keep thinking.”

Brad laughs, looking a little startled. Nate can feel the smile under his lips and his tongue when he leans in for the kiss he wanted to begin with. It feels like a good thing to start the morning on.

*

Contrary to some people’s opinions (Ray’s, his own mother from time to time), Brad isn’t blind or stupid, he’s perfectly capable of recognising a good thing when it’s in front of him. Or, at the moment, in the passenger seat of his car, as the case may be.

There are a few things he’s more than capable of grasping. One, Nate’s the best thing that happened to him in... a long while. Two, Brad doesn’t have much time before Nate moves to DC, so he better make the best of it. Three, making the best of it is damn difficult because Brad is used to dating an entirely different sort of people.

Which might have been his problem all along, but he’s not dwelling on that while Nate groans into his mouth because his knee hit the drive stick again. “Don’t you own bigger cars, Colbert?”

“Yes. And also, a bedroom, but someone was adamant about not going upstairs tonight.”

“Because it’s the seventh time in a row, I feel like you should start charging me rent.”

“So many responses to that,” Brad mutters and Nate bites at his lip in retaliation, his fingers digging a little into Brad’s shoulder. If that was supposed to be a punishment of some kind, he should definitely try it again. “You’re damn hard to date,” he offers wonderingly and well, he didn’t plan on saying it out loud but now it’s out there and Nate pulls away, laughing.

“So many responses to that,” he shots back. “Seven nights in a row, Brad. Frankly, I’m beginning to think I’m regrettably easy.”

“Okay, beginning to think? I was under the impression that...” Nate rolls his eyes and shuts Brad up. It’s difficult to complain about that. “We could move this...”

“Fine, my place,” Nate decides swiftly and manages to leave the car before Brad can think of arguing. Or think of anything besides his hard-on.

“Doesn’t your father own a revolver?”

Nate snorts and fishes his keys out of his pocket. “He owns a collector’s piece that isn’t even loaded. Also, I’d like to remind you he’s met you and he likes you. Well, most of the time, he still remembers that time you took apart the engine of the Bentley and didn’t quite put it together right.”

“I did well for a twelve years old.”

“I’m sure,” Nate says, his tone almost fond, as he pulls Brad inside and presses him against the wall. Brad’s back hits the light switch, as if Nate planned that. He might have. “You’re also choosing a strange moment to get skittish about the meet the parents thing, I’m pretty sure he knows what we’ve been up to,” he continues, knee spreading Brad’s legs. He’s nothing if not efficient, Brad has come to learn through the course of the week.

“Nate.”

“I’d like to point out, in addition, that we’re not sixteen and sneaking around. Unless you are into that.”

“Are you trying to fuck me or have a debate? Because if it’s the latter, your arguments are well made but the delivery is a little, well, unorthodox,” Brad says pointedly as Nate brings their dicks into close contact, grinding against him. His mouth is on Brad’s neck and he hums in acknowledgement.

“One more thing. Dad’s out for the night.”

“You should have started with that,” Brad tells him.

“Don’t tell me it wasn’t fun,” Nate mutters, arching his back obligingly when Brad sticks his hand in Nate’s pants.

It was, he can even admit as much out loud. It was, and he could get used to it easily, too easily for what little time he has left before Nate moves on to DC.

“Bedroom,” Nate orders, stepping back and tugging at Brad’s wrist. Brad shakes his head, letting go of the less pleasing thoughts for a while.

*

“So, why am I difficult to date?” Nate asks, placing a mug filled with coffee in front of Brad. It’s black and strong enough Nate’s getting more awake just by being in the same room. Brad, Nate has learned, has Views on coffee.

Brad peers at him over the mug as he thinks back. “I said hard to date,” he points out.

“Yes, but I’m not distracting you with puns again,” Nate says firmly.

“They were tragic anyway.”

“Brad.” It’s not that he’s worried, it was an off-hand joking comment and he’s due a punchline. Hopefully it’s a punchline and not a punch to the gut. There’s still the slight chance Brad has been literal.

“I can’t figure out where you’d like to go,” Brad says after a moment, his words a little rushed, like he wants to get it over with. “Or do. Except for the obvious,” he adds at Nate’s look.

Nate’s not sure what to do about this. Well, he knows one thing he’d like to do about this, but he’s not about to do it on the kitchen table. It’s not sturdy enough, for starters. But there’s the other dimension to the feeling in his stomach, tight and warm and overwhelming.

“Are you worried you’re not courting me properly?” he asks and Brad rolls his eyes.

“Fuck off,” he says. It sounds fond.

“There’s always the soda shop,” Nate supplies helpfully. “Or the movie theater. I think they’re still playing the same movie they did before I went to college, though.”

“They played it before I went to college too.”

Nate nods. “We’ve been doing fine with staying in. And there’s always the bookshop, you can take me there and I’ll abandon you for hours, that could be fun.”

“Certainly sounds like it,” Brad says and looks down at his half-forgotten mug, picking it up and downing a good half of his coffee.

“I could...” Nate starts and stops at the sound of the front door opening. His father heads for the kitchen with a perfect honing sense.

“Mail,” he announces, dropping the envelopes in front of Nate. “Morning, Bradley,” he adds and Brad shuffles awkwardly, like he’s unsure whether he should stand up or reach for a handshake. Nate snorts and shifts through the mail, segregating it into two piles. He turns the envelope from Seaborn’s office in his hands but places it on the table anyway, he’ll have time later, now it seems it’s his father’s comedy hour.

“I take it your evening went well?” he says and Brad starts nodding before he catches himself.

Nate rolls his eyes. “Yes, thank you. How’s Maria?”

“Touche,” Dad says and opens the cupboard, taking out his favourite mug. He peers into the coffee maker and decides there’s enough left. “Are you staying in today? Should I look for ear plugs?”

Nate immediately glances at Brad. He’s not disappointed, the face he makes is hilarious, freaked out and trying to hide it.

“Your taste in music is atrocious,” Nate’s father explains kindly, like that’s what he meant all along. “Both of you, I remember that.”

“He should form a club with my mother,” Brad mutters once Nate’s father is gone. He’s speaking in a hushed tone, more to his coffee than to Nate.

“They’re in a book club together.”

“Really?”

“No.”

Brad’s lips twitch at that. He’s still looking at the table, at the pile of mail in front of Nate. He looks as if he wanted to say something but doesn’t, and so Nate takes the easy way out and ignores the slight worry creeping in.

*

Nate starts packing on Wednesday, everything divided into what stays, what he’s packing into his suitcase, and what is to be shipped. Brad volunteers to help not because he actually wants Nate to pack faster, but because it gives him a little more time in Nate’s presence.

He realises he’s totally fucked here.

“All your ties look exactly the same,” he informs Nate after they duct tape the last box. Well, Nate does, but Brad hands him the scissors so it should count.

“I’d argue, but I’m pretty sure you’re saying that just to get me to point out the patterns and differentiate between the shades of blue. And that’s just like opening the season for mockery.”

“It’s like you know me,” Brad agrees and reaches out, pulling Nate towards the bed. There are four boxes on the bed, so it isn’t exactly comfortable, but they can make do. “Also,” he says after a few moments, when he pulls away from the kiss to catch a breath. “You owe me pizza.”

“That’s for people who actually help with the packing. Not people who shift things around and spend hours tinkering with my laptop.”

“You should buy one that’s not designed by demonic forces.”

“I have an iPad, too,” Nate supplies. He’s probably fucking with Brad, there was nothing of the sort anywhere in the room, in any of the boxes.

The boxes hint at permanency Brad doesn’t like. Sure, Nate will visit and Brad’s home often enough (though not often enough for his mother’s liking, as he’s told), but he’s not sure he could hope for something more. Not sure if he can ask.

“You have someone picking it up for you?” he asks instead and Nate nods, looking for the sharpie he used to write on the boxes. It’s uncapped on the bed, black ink spots on the covers.

“A friend. Becky, I met her during the internship. She found the apartment for me, too.”

“You hadn’t even seen it yet?”

“I’ve seen pictures. I have them on the laptop, you can see them yourself. Unless you prefer to see it furnished when you visit,” Nate adds, like an afterthought. Brad breathes in sharply and tries to cover it up, running his hand over his mouth.

“Yeah, okay.” He chickens out of asking what Nate means by that. A suspicion is dawning that he might be scared of both possible answers. If he... if he gets to keep Nate, that could still be temporary. People have a tendency to get tired of Brad, and he’d rather salvage a friendship than lose Nate permanently.

Nate sighs as he stands up. He’s probably tired, it’s been a long day. “Come on, I’ll buy you that pizza,” he tells Brad.

*

“I could drive you to the airport,” Brad volunteers.

Nate wants that, but it’s probably not a good idea. “Best get the goodbyes over with here. I couldn’t promise not to drag you to the airport bathroom otherwise.”

“And that would be bad.”

“I could miss my flight.”

“And that would be bad,” Brad repeats, drawling his words a little. He shrugs, stopping short of saying something else. “Let me know when you settle in. I could swing by for a visit sometime,” he says lightly.

Nate nods. He wants more than this, but, well, after just two weeks? This is more than enough, trying to get more assurance would be crazy. It’s not the time for declarations or promises.

“I think I’ll actually miss you,” he says, and he knows he’s hedging his words, trying to make light of it. He turns the words he wishes he could say into touch instead, his hand on the back of Brad’s neck when they kiss, his whole body pressing close.

It feels a little like Brad could be doing the same, his hand under Nate’s shirt, on the small of his back. Before it slides lower.

“I see your point about the airport,” Brad mutters against the skin of Nate’s neck.

*

“You’re sulking, Bradley,” his mother tells him. “I could hear the banging from upstairs, what have the poor car ever done to you?”

Brad doesn’t dignify that with an answer. The preceding statement, however, needs clarification. “I’m not sulking,” he says, rolling out from under the car. It proves to be a mistake, because now he can see his mother’s worried expression.

“Of course not,” she says, placating. “Nathaniel’s only been gone for half an hour, I suppose we have time for sulking yet.”

“Can we not... not today.”

His mother sighs and sits on the ground. No, he’s not kidding, she smooths down her skirt and sits on the cold ground of the garage. Brad closes his eyes, there’s no way it’s not a bad thing. He feels like he’s twelve and in trouble again.

“So, what seems to be the problem?”

“Nothing,” he says automatically. “Or there are various problems with me, depends whom you ask.”

She gets this look like she wants to go ‘oh, Bradley’ at him. Brad shifts a little, considering his options. He could always roll back under the car. And stay there until she goes away.

“Oh, Bradley,” she sighs and pats his leg, maybe an inch above his knee. The worried frown that’s been a permanent presence on her face since Jess broke the engagement is even more visible now. But she doesn’t say anything else, and maybe that’s why Brad finally caves into the pressure of filling the silence.

“Two weeks. And he’s just heading for the life he wanted for years. I don’t think I’d fit into that. Why would Nate want to...” that’s enough, he’s said enough.

He has no idea why his mother smiles at that.

“That boy has been in love with you for years, Brad. Maybe that’s why,” she says with a shrug, and it’s a moment until the words connect, until they don’t just echo in his skull and actually make sense.

Except they don’t make sense.

“You can’t be sure until you try,” his mother says. “And it sure is scary, but so are your damn bikes, and you always got back up. Broken bones and all.”

“That’s not the same thing,” he says, because really, he gets the ‘get back on the bike’ analogy? From his own mother?

“No. Nathaniel I like. I always hated your bikes,” she adds and fishes a piece of paper from the pocket hidden somewhere in the folds of her skirt. “Here. Charles Fick gave me the details of Nate’s flight. Yes, we are ganging up on you, it’s not just your paranoia,” she adds.

It’s a ticket to DC. One way, too, because they’re so damn subtle. “I don’t...”

“You still have time, Nathaniel left ridiculously early, if you ask me. Of course, you’ll do what you want. If you’re not going, dinner is at five. But I shall be cross at you if you show up and you won’t get dessert,” she warns him. She’s possibly smiling, Brad can hear it in her voice, but he doesn’t have time to look, he’s already moving up and out.

He rides a bike to the airport. Not quite out of spite, it’s faster than a car, especially at this hour. It has nothing to do with his mother’s analogy, either.

Alright, almost nothing.

*

Nate looks up when someone slides into the seat next to him. Strangely, he isn’t surprised at all. Doesn’t mean his heart doesn’t skip a good few beats, but he’s not exactly shocked.

“Our parents are conspiring against us,” Brad informs him. “Thought you might want to know.”

“That’s why you’re on this plane? It couldn’t wait for, say, a phonecall?”

“Apparently not,” Brad shrugs.

“And if it got you here, it’s not exactly conspiring against us.”

“It’s a figure of speech, Nathaniel.”

“Okay,” Nate says, smiling. He feels elated, almost breathless. The flight assistant speaks through the mike and he doesn’t hear a single word of it. If anything happens, he’s not going to be able to tell where the emergency exit is. “So, did you have to convince the airline people to let you in? Giant romantic comedy finale style?”

“My mom bought me the ticket,” Brad says defensively and Nate laughs.

“Of course.”

“I don’t think I like you.”

“Too bad,” Nate nods.

Brad’s quiet for a moment. Nate looks ahead at the flight attendant, showing them what to do in case of emergency, the routine complete with hand gestures.

“It has been pointed out to me...” Brad starts and shakes his head, like he can’t believe himself. “Were you in love with me?” he all but blurts out, apparently surprising himself.

Nate shakes his head. “I thought I was,” he says, his eyes fixed on the attendant in the front of the plane. He can say it, he’s just not sure he wants to be looking at Brad when he does. It could make for the most uncomfortable flight ever, except that Brad is on his plane. “I’m not sure now. I think I might have just started to discover what that really feels like.”

“Okay,” Brad breathes out. His hand covers Nate’s on the armrest.

Nate can turn and look at him now. In fact, he finds that he can’t do anything else, he’s transfixed by Brad’s expression, by the look in his eyes. “Okay,” he mutters back, then laughs. Mostly, because he’s happy. Partly, because... “Your mother bought you the ticket.”

“I am never going to live that down, am I?”

Nate shakes his head. “No, I don’t think so.”

“I’m good with that,” Brad concludes and leans in for a kiss.
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