Brad misses over a week of school, Nate misses six days altogether.
It doesn't seem like a big deal until you remember it's Nate Fick, who last time missed two days in middle school when he had a stomach flu and could walk only the few feet between his bedroom and the bathroom and only that to mostly puke his guts out.
After they come back from the funeral Nate hangs around before Brad practically throws him out, tells him to go play nice and go to school. Nate purses his lips and nods his agreement, but comes by next day on his way to classes and brings Julie with him.
Change of watch, babysitting duty or a custody thing, Brad has no idea, but it warms his heart that Nate and Julie seem to get along so well now. As in: annoys the fuck out of him. He just tells them he doesn't need people to watch him for any signs of cutting because he's not a whiny bitch who needs constant supervision, but hey.
And it's good to have Julie around, she lays her head on his shoulder when they watch tv, her hand tangled in his shirt, and she, unlike Nate, doesn't need to be told which tool on the workshop table is which.
But Julie didn't have a chance to meet his Grandpa and when Brad finds himself retelling that one story from his years of service, she just looks on with puzzlement. Maybe Brad's not telling it right, but Nate at least would remember and smile, if not laugh, like they laughed when Grandpa told it, Nate snorting into his tea and Brad having to hit his back a few times.
He comes back to school on Monday, starting with the practice because there's nothing like training till you're wheezing to begin your week. A few people awkwardly ask if he's fine, or smile and welcome him back with a pat like nothing happened at all.
Nate just nods and tosses his shirt at him. "We've made amazing progress while you were gone. Think you can keep up?"
"Fuck off, Fick," he says and means 'thank you.'
At the end of their junior year Nate starts dating Andie. Their dates seem to consist of discussing Homer and Virgil and the journey of a myth or other pretentious shit, but it can't be all that they do, judging from the way Andie's hand seems to be intimately familiar with the backpocket of Nate's jeans.
Brad wonders sometimes if she quotes Chaucer in bed but can't quite ask Nate because it's one thing they don't talk about. And he doesn't mean Chaucer.
There's locker room talk and Nate usually just tosses back an insult or two when he's addressed, good-naturedly tells Kevin that if she says size doesn't matter, then it's too small; or just rolls his eyes at whatever the guys are saying. But Brad and Nate, they don't talk about this.
Which is maybe why he's thrown for a loop when he swings by Nate's house on the weekend his parents are out of town and Nate opens the door in just his jeans and even those aren't done up properly.
Brad just raises his eyebrows.
"So, not our pizza," Nate says. "Unless you've taken up a new job?"
Andie bounces down the stairs, wearing Nate's old t-shirt. It covers her thighs and Brad doesn't speculate whether she's actually wearing any panties. He doesn't speculate about anything. "Colbert, hey," she says, a bit confusedly. "Gonna join us for pizza?"
Her hair is a mess and most of her lipstick is wiped out. Brad can tell she was actually wearing lipstick only because there's a soft red smudge right above Nate's waistband. "I don't think so," he shakes his head.
Nate looks both relieved and like he doesn't want Brad to go, or doesn't want him to feel like he needs to go. "You could..." he starts and Brad gives him a look.
"Seriously, Fick?" he says and Nate smiles wryly.
Brad has expected their senior year to hold some college-related panic but he obviously wasn't thinking big enough.
It might be because he's getting it from both sides, Julie and Nate, who both have absolutely no reasons for the panic but work themselves up nonetheless. Nate's the worst. The whole thing with essays is tragic, Brad can't wait for the letters to start coming. And by can't wait he means he's considering moving to Buttfuck, Montana for the time being.
"It's not like people at admissions in Dartmouth and Harvard and wherever the fuck else you're applying aren't jerking themselves over your application."
"That really sets my mind at ease, thanks, Brad," Nate tells him.
Brad nods magnanimously. "You are most welcome."
Maybe there's something wrong with him, because he doesn't panic at all. He applies to the MIT and Caltech and wonders if he'd feel relieved if they rejected him.
He would have better arguments for the idea that's slowly forming in his head.
"I was thinking about joining the Marines," he tells Nate when they're sorting through Nate's CDs after he claimed he needed a new system. Brad guesses it's mostly so he'd stop thinking about schoolwork and college for more than five minutes.
"Marines as in the Marine Corps?" Nate asks and Brad shakes his head.
"No, the Marines as in the travelling circus. Of course I mean the Corps."
Nate falls silent for a long moment, turning the same CD in his hands. He's not looking at Brad but at something to his left, his eyes focused but unseeing. "I didn't know you wanted that."
"Not sure about wanting. I'm thinking I need it, though. I'm probably not cut out for college life anyway."
"Brad, you're the smartest person I know." Nate's looking at him now and Brad prefers he didn't. His eyes are huge and worried and making Brad's stomach turn in quite an unpleasant way. "And even if that bullshit were true, not cut out for college doesn't immediately equal joining military."
"Peacetime military," Brad points out. He has the arguments prepared, he's going to need them if he wants to explain this to his mother in a way that won't make her cry. He can't deal with the crying part.
Nate, however, seems unimpressed. "Not my point," he mutters and sighs, drops the CD and it bounces off the pile. "What did Julie say?"
"Didn't tell her yet," he says quietly and knows Nate will understand, will get that no, he hasn't told his parents either, hadn't breathed a word to anyone else yet. "What do you think?" he prompts, takes measured breaths when he waits for the answer.
Nate leans back against the bed, hands on his knees. He's holding on to the left pant leg a little bit too tight, fingers clenched. "I'm not selfish enough to think that I have any right to try and stop you from doing something you want, or need. I don't like the idea of you choosing a line of work that will prepare you for a war, peacetime or not," he shrugs. "But I realise that we're probably not going to set up a detective agency, and my chances for a presidency are rather slim, and you're not closer to constructing jetpacks than you were in 5th grade..."
"That's what you think," Brad mutters and Nate smiles weakly.
"I'm saying you're going to do what you want to do. And I'm not deluding myself and thinking we're not going to drift apart," he adds, matter-of-fact and calm and Brad knows suddenly that he's been thinking about that, about what graduation means for both of them. They're not even applying to the same colleges, not one, and they might spend the next few years on the opposite sides of the country.
He hates the idea more than he thought he would. "Well, I could still get into the MIT," he offers lightly. "If Harvard knows what's good for you they're going to beg you to come study there, so that drifting apart thing could be minimal."
Nate reaches out and tugs at his sleeve, makes Brad look up. "Don't... Don't even try to make any decisions based on what I am doing, or what you think I want, or what you think I want from you." He sounds a little angry but none of it is in his face or his eyes. Brad's chest clenches painfully and he pulls his hand back carefully. Nate lets go and flexes his fingers.
He wants to laugh it off and say that Nate really thinks highly of himself, but he can't call up the right wry tone, can't make himself joke about this. His head is spinning and he knows that something important has transpired but can't quite identify the sharp pain in his chest, the way he tastes something bitter on his tongue.
"Okay," he says and it feels a little like a promise.
Later he'll think that was the moment he made the decision, even though he hasn't quite admitted it to himself for weeks. Months, in some regards, years in others.
Within five minutes of meeting his new roommate Brad entertains thoughts of throwing him out of the window. Their dorm room is on the second floor overlooking a path of grass that looks rather soft. He probably won't die, but he might break his legs. With any luck, he could fall on his face and shut up permanently.
"And I don't care what fucking lab you were manufactured in and if it says made in China on your ass or not, touch any of my radios and I will fucking end you."
Ray Person has to look way up when he talks to Brad. It's sort of why Brad listens to the entire rant, it's fascinating.
"Are you here on a scholarship? A fucking special one, reaching out to the shortbus kids?"
Ray nods. "I'm taking the bed by the window."
"All the better to toss you out," Brad agrees.
Half an hour later they're talking radio frequencies and Brad's taking apart one of Ray's inventions. He even puts it back together and it doesn't get stuck like it did before. "Yeah, okay, your giant ass can stay," Ray says benevolently. "Now, are you from the school of the tie on the door or do you prefer socks? Because no fucking way do I want you around when I bring pussy home."
They spend the next hour bickering over the rules, including the cardinal one of no fucking country in the fucking room. Ray announces he's going to buy some fucking Patsy Cline CDs the very next day. Brad rolls his eyes and almost forgets he is meeting Nate at a bar over at the Harvard campus. It seems easier to let Ray tag along than try and lose him.
It might be a good thing he did, because Nate sits at a table with a few other people, fitting in seamlessly like Brad knew he would. "Brad," he says and smiles brilliantly, pulls Brad into a brief hug. "Guys, this is Brad. Christensen, Stafford, my roommate Mike and his girlfriend Claire, and that's Susan."
"Roommate, huh?" Brad says, shaking Mike's hand, dry and firm. "All I got is this demented monkey the previous inhabitants of my room left me."
"Maligning me already? Not cool, Colbert. I'm Ray."
"This is Nate," Brad says and feels compelled to add. "My best friend." It's not that he's staking his claim in front of Mike or Christensen or Stafford, not at all. He just feels like clarifying.
"Best friend? Dumping your pal Ray-Ray already for the first nice piece of ass that happens by?" Ray says mournfully and shakes his head at Brad.
Nate smiles, warm and amused. "At least your monkey has an excellent taste, if he appreciates my ass."
Brad sighs. The last thing he needs is for Nate and Ray to fucking get along. He's pretty sure it will only end in a disaster.
Brad doesn't get the whole panic-around-midterms thing. He goes to take his tests, he passes them, end of story. Nate on the other hand, goes absolutely mental, to the point of telling Brad to please fuck off and leave him to die in peace.
By peace he means from caffeine overdose.
Brad just tells him to fucking take it easy and buys him a coffee maker as an early birthday present, then goes to visit Julie.
It turns out to be a huge fucking mistake.
He gets three speeding tickets before he stops just driving around aimlessly and trying his best to beat the speed of light, and before he holes up in his room and tells Ray he's studying and to shut the fuck up. Three minutes later he has to pry the phone out of Ray's hands to keep him from calling Nate because "mommy must know daddy went off the bent and is now on his best way to become the next Unabomber."
It takes him half an hour to convince Ray to keep quiet and not bother Nate, and it still costs him all his razors, "just in case."
He's depressed and furious, not fucking suicidal.
Ray quotes depression statistics at him. Brad gives up and ponders murder.
It goes pretty much like this for the next four days and then there's someone pounding on their doors and Ray lets out a string of invectives before he goes to open them.
"Where is he?" Nate asks and Brad can hear the anger as plainly as he can hear the cheerful note in Ray's voice when he answers.
"His Royal Pussyness is in his bunk, hiding from the world like the little bitch he is. I told him his dick would grow back but I don't think he believes me."
"Could you give us a moment?"
It's not every day that Ray listens to someone. Brad will be sure to mark this one in his fucking calendar, maybe even devote an entire page of his diary to this amazing occurence. "What's up?" he asks Nate, getting a glare for his trouble.
Nate looks furious. More than Brad had ever seen him get. He's pressing his lips together to the point where they are white as a sheet and his fists are clenched hard enough he's probably digging his nails into his palms.
Speaking of fists. "What the fuck happened to your hand?"
Nate shrugs. "Clive's face."
It's... not what Brad expected. "Why?"
"Why..?" Nate stops and breathes out, utter disbelief on his face. "Went out to have a fucking beer, because some people have been telling me I study too much. Tried to call you but your phone is fucking turned off, so I went with Mike and Evan. Happened upon your girlfriend."
"Ex-girlfriend," Brad corrects him.
"Yeah, no shit. I have managed to figure that one out from the way she was all over Clive."
"And you punched him?" He still can't believe that one. Nate has never in his life punched anyone. Didn't even get into fights in the fucking elementary school, he just calmly talked everyone else out of fighting.
Nate shrugs and pulls his hand away, instinctively puts it behind his back. He looks guilty for a brief moment but it passes and the anger remains. "Why the hell didn't you tell me? Julie says you've known for days."
"Yeah. Sorry, didn't want to bother you during the midterms, and since you said there wasn't going to be any scotch for me this time I thought there was no hurry." He knows it was the wrong thing to say the moment the words are out of his mouth.
"Midterms," Nate says flatly. "You didn't want to bother me during the midterms," he repeats, like he's turning the words around in his head. "You didn't... For fuck's sake, Brad." He shifts like he wants to walk away but thinks better of it, takes one step towards Brad's bed.
Brad's not sure he can breathe. Something sticks in his throat and he can't swallow it down, can't push down the rising feeling, something old and familiar and something so different and sudden it scares him even while he still can't quite make the shape of it.
Nate breathes out. "You are a fucking idiot if you think I care about midterms more than... You are just damn lucky my hand fucking hurts after hitting Clive because you would be next."
"I'm pretty sure you hit like a girl," Brad mutters, the joke falling flat somewhere between them. Brad stares at the floor like he could actually fucking find it.
When Nate laughs it falls off his lips in broken pieces. "Yeah, you should probably consult it with Clive before you challenge me. First, though, I need to know if you have some ice."
Brad stands up and reaches out. "Show me," he says and inspects Nate's hand. Judging from the look of it, he probably caught one of Clive's teeth. Brad doesn't want to know how the other guy looks, except he kind of would love to. "Yeah, okay, I'll get ice," he says and scrambles towards the fridge, empties the ice container into a bag. Nate reaches out for it but Brad swats his good hand away and pulls at Nate's jacket, making him sit down.
"Shouldn't have done it," Nate says as Brad turns his hand over, inspects the damage. His skin is broken on one knuckle but that's it mostly it, it probably hurts more from the impact than anything else.
"I still can't believe you did." He holds the ice to Nate's skin and it takes him a long moment to realise they're sitting close and he is, for all intents and purposes, holding Nate's hand.
He's not sure why it strikes him as strange, why it bothers him. They've been this close before, they've slept in a tent together and fallen asleep on a couch many times, woke up tangled in various ways. It never made Brad's stomach turn like this, never made his heart freeze.
"I got thrown out of the bar," Nate says, breaking the moment. Brad laughs with disbelief.
"I'm incredibly proud of you, Fick. There might be some hope for you yet."
"Shut the fuck up and come on. If I'm not studying for the tomorrow's exam anyway I at least demand a beer. Didn't get to drink mine at that bar."
"I don't know if I should go drinking with you. You're clearly a bad influence," he mocks and Nate smiles finally, the anger gone, melted away like the ice is melting under Brad's fingers. He's not quite joking, he's not sure if he should go drinking with Nate, if he's not going to do something colossally stupid.
Like kiss Nate and ruin the best thing he has in his life.
That would be the perfect fucking ending to the week he's having, really.
Brad has imagined the spring break to be a little different. They've had plans involving California and Brad's cousin's place and the beach and surfing. They have also involved Julie, so that was clearly not going to happen.
He definitely didn't consider going through a major freak out over the fact that apparently he is in love with his best friend. Male, straight best friend.
It's as if a dam broke. One impulse, one passing thought, a flicker of desire, and then he was well and truly fucked, because everything else seemed to have followed. He would have been fine if it was just the attraction, but he has loved Nate for years, now he's just realising to what extent, and how.
He can't even delude himself and think it's because he's still fucked up over Julie. He is still fucked up over Julie, sure, but it has nothing to do with Nate.
Except that Nate is now perfecting the art of walking on egg shells around him, as if losing Julie was something tragic and unexpected, and not just a matter of time. Brad knew she was going to wise up some day, that he had a limited time to have her in his life.
It's the other way around with Nate, Brad knows now. Nate's loyal to a fault and he's never going to abandon Brad. He'll move out and move on with his career but Brad's pretty sure he'll be there for Brad when he'll need him. What Brad doesn't get to have is Nate the way he wants him. Nate being truly his.
Brad's okay with that, he's lucky to have Nate at all.
"I have been assured the wave is good," Nate tells him, fresh from the shower he took after his morning run. "And I realise you're putting off teaching me how to surf to protect my feelings when I inevitably suck at it, but we could at least try."
This is what he gets and this is enough.
"Brad?" Nate prompts and it's not just a question whether they're going surfing, it's about the way Brad has been for the last few days, shell shocked and working things through and keeping Nate at arms lenght. At least he had the Julie thing as an excuse.
"I'm fine." Nate simply stares at him and Brad amends it to "well, I will be fine."
Nate smiles. "Good enough."
If God exists, he's a sadistic bastard, karma is a bitch and Brad Colbert can't catch a break.
He thinks it's because he's been doing fine with the whole thing. Sure, every time Nate touches him it feels a little like he's dying of thirst, like his skin is burning and turning to ash, and sometimes, just sometimes, he thinks it might be worth it to dive headfirst into the abyss and taste Nate just once, even if that would mean everything crumbling down later.
But he's been doing fine with that. So of course this happens:
"I've been thinking about asking someone out," Nate says, turning his coffee mug in his hands, sprawled across Brad's couch.
Brad's fingers don't even pause over the keyboard, even though he can't see what he's typing any more and there's something turning in his chest. "Unless it's about one of my sisters, in which case, good luck with that, I don't think I understand why you're talking to me about it."
"It's not about any of your sisters," Nate assures him solemnly.
"Then I have no idea. It's not me, is it? Because I have to warn you, I'm not a cheap date." He can laugh about it. He can joke about it like they did back in high school when Rachel called them an old married couple and when Madison referred to Brad as Nate's Better Half a few times. It's completely fine.
Nate rolls his eyes. "Noted. But no." He's silent for a long time before he continues, making Brad think he abandoned the subject. Which would serve Brad just fine, hearing about whatever liberal arts major leggy co-ed caught Nate's eye is not conductive to Brad's zen. Or his sanity. "I'm thinking of asking out Alex Wells."
Brad looks up at that. He knows an Alex Wells, from one of Nate's classes. He's pretty sure Nate can't be talking about the same person. The name isn't that uncommon. "Who?"
Nate frowns. "I'm pretty sure you've met Alex, he went with us to the pub a few times."
He. Yeah, Brad heard right. To say it was unexpected would be like saying that Ray sometimes likes to talk a little. Brad's head is spinning and Nate is still frowning at him, like he waits for something.
Oh, right. An answer, maybe.
"Yeah, I've met Alex. I just didn't know you..."
Nate laughs. It's just a little off. "Swing that way? Play both sides? Smoke cock?" Brad makes a startled noise, that last one going straight to his own dick.
He's been doing fine.
"Those are my choices or is there an all of the above option?" It gets him a shrug and a smile, but Nate's eyes are serious and searching and Brad realises it's not about asking a guy out, it's about what Brad thinks of it. Nate's hands are clasped around the coffee mug a little too tightly, like he needs something to hold on to, like he needs to keep his hands from shaking. "You told anyone else?"
"Not yet. Not sure there's anything to tell yet."
There is. Nate checks and rechecks everything, deliberate and careful. He usually knows very well what he wants. If he's telling Brad then he knows very well what he's doing, probably done the pros and cons list already. Because Nate would plan it, make a to-do list of the entire process of coming out.
It hits Brad belatedly, Nate coming out and Nate coming out to him first, trusting him with it. There's no one in the world Brad trusts more than Nate, he realised that a while ago when it felt like Nate was the only person who would understand why he thought he wanted to join the Marines. To have any indication that he might be that person for Nate is a heady feeling, warm and slow like the flush on his skin.
It almost makes up for the fact that Nate likes men and he still doesn't want Brad.
"You're right, not much to tell if it's Alex. Nice guy, but honestly, he'll be balding in no time and he could use to get away from his desk once in a while and exercise," Brad says and Nate's eyes soften even while he's trying to glare at him.
"Some people appreciate what is in someone's head, not on it."
"It's a good thing, there's not gonna be much on Alex's head soon," Brad shoots back. He takes the grateful smile Nate flashes him and holds on to it, tries to make it fill the suddenly hollow and cold void inside his chest.
It's almost enough.
Nate gets the flu the first week of November their sophomore year.
It goes pretty much as well as you can imagine.
Brad gets a call from Mike Wynn at seven am. Mike has been kicked out by Nate, who pretty much ordered him to go stay at his girlfriend's place for the few days so he doesn't get sick as well.
"I would stay, but I have a test next week I can't flunk and an essay to write for yesterday," Mike tells him apologetically. "But he shouldn't be left on his own."
Truer words. Nate can be really shitty at taking care of himself. During midterms and finals he exists on about seventeen cups of coffee a day and no food whatsoever, unless he finds a snickers bar in his desk's drawer. When he gets sick he takes some aspirin and calls it a day, bundles up properly but then walks around the place barefoot when he needs something, and most of the time he forgets to eat.
Brad packs a bag for a few days and drives over there, lets himself in. Nate just blinks at him owlishly from under a cover and at least three blankets. "Mike called me," Brad explains, probably unnecessarily.
"Traitor," Nate mutters. His eyes are glassy and his head sways when he tries to move and stand up. Tries being the operative word. "Fine, if you're here, you can be useful. Gimme that bucket."
He probably hasn't eaten anything today so there's not much to puke out, but Nate makes a good effort at trying anyway. Brad brushes his hair away and hands him a tissue from the nightstand. "You look like shit."
"Flattery will get you nowhere."
"But I have just started," Brad tells him mournfully and goes to inspect the supplies. Someone, probably Mike, stocked up rather well. Brad nods with satisfaction and dumps his duffel bag on Mike's bed.
"You don't have to..." Nate starts, his voice resigned, like he already knows it's a lost battle. He should know better than even try, Brad thinks.
"Yeah, I do. You need someone to kick you ass when you're being an idiot."
"In this state a newborn kitten could probably kick my ass," Nate admits and lets his head fall back into the pillow. Brad takes it for the surrender it is and goes to make some fucking chicken soup. If Nate's too tried to argue then he really should eat something.
An hour later Nate is asleep. He conked out quickly, somewhere in the middle of an essay he was proofreading like the stubborn asshole he is. Brad eased the papers from underneath his head and placed them on the table, then covered Nate with his blankets, the ones Nate is restlessly kicking off now. He's flushed and feverish, his face pink and warm. Brad lays his hand to his forehead, his knuckles gently resting on Nate's temple, checks for temperature. Not dangerous but high enough, he assesses and goes to water a piece of cloth, hold it against Nate's forehead.
Nate stills immediately, leans into Brad's touch. Brad sits on the edge of the bed and the heat from Nate's skin bleeds into him, makes his whole body light up. Suddenly even his worn-out and threadbare t-shirt feels uncomfortable and scratchy. He can't help it, he runs his fingertips down the back of Nate's neck, the exposed patch of smooth skin, to his shoulder, bared by the pajama top he tried to discard. His hand is cold and Nate inches towards it, his body arching at the contact.
Brad closes his eyes and presses his palm against Nate's back, over his shoulderblade. He's been holding the wet cloth in his hand for a while and it's cold enough to bring Nate some comfort. He moans, a sound very much like pleasure, and Brad moves his hand back like he's been burned, steps away and leaves the cloth behind. Tries to ignore the disappointed sigh Nate offers at the loss of contact but it worries itself into him anyway, rings in his ears in time with his own breath.
Nate wakes up some half an hour later, the time Brad spends uselessly staring at his computer and the imput panel. His code is getting nowhere today, he can tell. "Where do you think you're going?" he asks when Nate shifts and places his bare feet on the floor, wiggling his toes for a moment as he steadies himself against the wave of what could be nausea or just the fever making the room spin.
"Toilet," Nate says flatly. "I think I can deal with that on my own, unless you think I'm incapable of holding my dick while I pee and want to help with that."
Nate gets really fucking pissy when he's sick, too. Brad remembers that. It used to amuse him, now it just contributes to driving him insane, with the added help of Nate's de facto invitation for Brad to familiarize himself with Nate's cock. Someone, somewhere, has a seriously warped sense of humor.
He listens to the sound of Nate's steps as he pads over to the bathroom. Tries not to listen when Nate takes a leak and flushes, when the water starts running and Nate brushes his teeth. "All done and still standing upright," Nate tells him when he comes back out.
"Well done. Don't you have some fucking slippers? Or socks?"
"Yes, Mom," Nate drawls and gets back into bed. Brad bites back a comment about not even getting to be the Dad because with his luck, it would spin out into a discussion on daddy kink and he just doesn't need it right now. "What are you working on?" Brad gives him an incredulous look and Nate smiles at him. "Yes, I know, but if I don't understand a word you're saying it's all the better, maybe it'll put me to sleep."
"Can't argue with your logic," Brad says wryly and starts to explain his latest project. Nate's still smiling when he closes his eyes, and when his breathing evens out and softens, deep and steady when he falls asleep. Brad lowers his voice and falls silent eventually, watching Nate's chest rise and fall. It's almost hypnotic.
When Nate wakes up again they have a dinner Brad puts together, made of things that shouldn't upset Nate's stomach too much. Nate bitches about it being a tasteless crap, but he catches Brad's wrist when Brad's picking up the plates and looks up with a serious expression. "Thanks," he says. "I know I'm an asshole when I'm sick, so, thanks."
"You're an asshole most of the time," Brad assures him wryly and looks away when Nate's soft smile becomes too much.
Sometime in the small hours of the night Brad wakes up to the sound of Nate's uneasy breathing and the way he tosses around the bed. He must have kicked off his blankets at some point and is now shivering, ice cold to the touch. Brad pulls the blankets back over him but it doesn't seem to help much. He should probably look for the hot water bottle he knows Nate has somewhere, but going through the drawers and shit could wake Nate up right now and Brad doesn't really want to do it if he can help it.
"Brad?" Nate mutters then, rendering the whole point moot. Brad can just as well go and make some tea. He stands up, or tries to, because Nate holds on, tries to pull Brad closer. "I'm cold," he says, sounding like a sleepy child. Brad looks at him and Nate seems to be still asleep, or half there at least. "Brad," he repeats, pulling harder, and Brad goes, still unwilling to wake him.
Nate seems to have decided Brad makes for a better blanket than the ones he has and makes himself comfortable with Brad half-wrapped over him. His face is tucked in Brad's neck and it's probably the best thing that has ever happened to Brad and the worst torture imaginable.
Brad holds his breath for what seems to be hours and then tries to shift away. Nate holds on. "Come on," he whispers. "Nate, please."
He expects pretty much anything but Nate kissing him. He'd sooner expect the room to suddenly collapse and fall through the centre of the earth to China. But it's what happens, Nate's lips on his own, chapped and dry and cold. It's quite probably the shittiest kiss he ever had and he moans into Nate's mouth anyway, closes his eyes and prays for strenght to a god he doesn't even fucking believe in.
Nate mouths his way down Brad's jaw and his neck, stilling with his lips on Brad's shoulder, then buries his face in Brad's chest, his breathing easier and steady, like he's fully asleep now. Brad lets himself relax, just a little, try and calm down his rapidly beating heart. He'll ease out in a moment, once Nate is too far gone to try and stop him again.
Of course, he wakes up in the morning, tangled up in Nate, and sporting a truly impressive hard-on. If god exists, he fucking hates Brad.
He manages to ease out from under Nate's arm without waking him, thankfully. Nate's face is half buried in the pillow, his skin too warm but Brad can't say if it's from sleep or still from the fever, time will tell. His mouth is lush and pink and Brad can still feel the taste on his lips.
Brad wonders what would have happened if he kissed back. How long would he have gotten to enjoy the feeling of Nate's body against his, Nate's mouth on his, before Nate fully woke up and moved away, awkward and surprised and completely clear on the fact that it wasn't Brad he wanted in the light of day, with no fever to cloud his senses and confuse him?
Maybe, Brad lets himself think in the shower, when the hot water hits him, maybe Nate would have kissed him again instead of shifting away. Open his eyes and see Brad and want him still.
When his hand closes around his cock and he starts stroking, Brad doesn't even bother to call up the guilty fantasies of sucking Nate's cock or fucking him. The memory of Nate's lips against his neck is apparently more than enough.
Nate has already woken up by the time Brad emerges from his shower, and he hopes his skin is warmed up from the hot water enough that the guilty flush doesn't show. Nate nods at him. "Morning. I actually think I feel a little better."
"Don't blame me if I don't take your word for it," Brad tells him dryly. "But if you think you can stomach it, we could try something more elaborate than toasts."
"I think I would give pretty much anything for some bacon," Nate admits.
Brad is tempted to ask what exactly would he be willing ot offer, but he knows better. And if he doesn't know better, like the last night shows, then he fucking should, for his own sake.
At the end of the year Nate comes up with a brilliant idea of him and Brad moving in together starting junior year. Mike's already half-cohabitating with his girlfriend and Brad is tired of making himself scarce when Ray brings Hasser home, it seems like the ideal plan.
Brad oscilates somewhere between being really excited and unsure if he's not going to slowly go insane and drive nails through his skull.
"You know what would help you, homes?" Ray asks him and Brad doesn't want to know the answer, or at least the answer according to Ray. "If you finally put on your big girl panties and fucked Fick seven ways till Sunday and then some."
It's not helpful and Ray's too close for comfort. It must show on Brad's face because Ray shrugs. "Like it's a secret."
Still, they start to look at apartments and Brad doesn't even laugh too much when Nate makes a list of pros and cons for every one of them.
"Too far from your campus," Nate writes down about the last one they saw that day and Brad shakes his head.
"Not that far. I have my bike, traffic doesn't matter that much." To be fair, it is a bit far, but Brad can stomach twenty minutes off his morning sleep after he had seen Nate's smile at the view from what could be his bedroom. It's in their price range, not needing more work than a few repairs and a re-paint, and Brad approves of the showerhead in the bathroom, which was pretty much his only requirement.
They take it. Instead of a housewarming party they invite most of the guys over and buy paint and brushes, then promise beer and pizza in insane amounts. Ray proves to be completely incapable of holding a brush and not getting himself, and Hasser, completely covered in paint, but he proves incredibly apt at getting them cable from the thin air.
Few days before they are to move in they're at a bar and Brad's waiting for their drinks by the counter, looking idly around before he gives in and glances back at their table, his gaze as always coming back to Nate. Who is currently writing something down on a napkin and handing it to a guy next to him, who smiles widely and has Nate smiling back.
Brad realises there's one thing he hasn't quite considered in the whole thing. He was worried about seeing Nate over breakfast and fresh from the shower and tired in the evening, his eyes soft and sleepy. He hadn't considered seeing Nate and someone else over breakfast.
Rusty nails to the skull.
"What happened to the drinks?" Nate asks when Brad comes back empty-handed.
"I don't feel that well," Brad lies. Except he doesn't, really, because he feels nauseous and really fucking tired. "I think I'm gonna go home, lie down for a while."
Nate looks at him with concern and stands up, fishes out his car keys from his pocket. "I'll drive you."
"No, I can..."
"Don't even try. If Brad Colbert feels bad enough he is going to turn in early, I'm certainly not letting him ride his bike. Leave it here, you'll pick it in the morning."
"Yes, sir," Brad offers sarcastically and follows Nate out. Few more minutes and he'll be able to crawl into his bed and die. Sounds like a plan. Well, a little more than few minutes, Nate drives below the speed limits, for some insane reason.
"Do you want me to stay?" Nate asks when he pulls over and Brad laughs. He can't help it. Nate looks at him with confusion all over his face and that makes him laugh even harder. "Brad, you're making me worried."
"I don't think we should do it."
"Move in together. I thought I could, but I was clearly delusional. I can't... Nate, I can't do this." He's aware his voice sounds pleading, and that he doesn't make much sense. "You gave that guy your number," he adds, as if that was supposed to explain everything.
Nate's expression shifts, his eyes widening for a moment and then he shifts, suddenly closer to Brad and staring at his face searchingly. Too fucking close for comfort. "What can't you do?" he asks intently and Brad can't look away and, worse, can't lie, not to Nate's face.
"Can't see you with someone else. Not every day, not..."
"That guy at the bar asked for directions," Nate says slowly, still watching Brad. Whatever he sees in his face makes the corner of his mouth lift in a slow smile. "He was out of town, mixed addresses and was waiting for his girlfriend at a wrong place," he adds. Brad doesn't care, except the girlfriend part makes him feel a little bit better. He still can't do this, though, there are bound to be other guys, or girls, in Nate's life and his bed and... "Brad."
"I don't know what to tell you."
"You've been doing well so far."
Brad shakes his head. "I know it's fucking short notice but I'm pretty sure you could find someone else to move in and help with the rent."
"I don't want anyone else, I want you," Nate says, and he sounds frustrated, like Brad is slow at grasping a concept.
"Not in a way I need you to," Brad mutters and there, it's out there, he can't take it back. The words hang heavy between them, everything Brad wanted to keep secret now in the open.
Nate, inexplicably, shifts closer. His breath is warm on Brad's lips when he speaks. "What do you need?"
"Nate," Brad says, the sound torn out from his lips. It takes half an inch to lean in and kiss Nate, brush their lips together for the brief moment Brad's going to allow himself.
And yet, somehow, it lasts, Nate's mouth opening under his, Nate's tongue swiping across his lip before he just unceremoniously pulls Brad closer. Only the pull of Brad's seat belt across his chest makes him believe that this might be really happening. "Wait," he mutters and fumbles to disentangle himself from the thing.
Nate laughs into his mouth. His hand covers Brad's and he leans in, forehead touching the side of Brad's face. "Don't, we're getting out of here," he says and Brad stops trying to figure out the way to get his fucking seat belt undone. He can't quite dare to hope, but Nate's smile is warm and brilliant and then Nate places a small kiss on his jaw and Brad thinks that maybe, maybe this is happening.
"We had a whole apartment for ourselves, last time I checked. It lacks a few things still, but it has a bed," he points out and Brad breathes out.
"I knew there was a reason you were brains of this operation," he offers.
"Yes, because if I left it all to you we'd be doomed," Nate mutters and shakes his head. "I thought you were straight, you fucking idiot."
Yeah, okay, Brad will give him that one.
Nate pretty much disappears from the world when he has a deadline. There's mostly his books and his laptop and so many post-its and legal pads that Brad is pretty sure Nate has single-handedly destroyed more than one forest. Brad might as well cease to exist, unless he's enabling Nate's caffeine habit.
"I love you. Jesus, I love you," he mutters over the coffee cup and Brad shakes his head.
"Are you talking to me, Jesus, or your coffee? It's hard to tell sometimes."
"Coffee," Nate says without giving it much thought. He breathes in, eyes closed. "But I definitely like you more than I like Jesus."
Brad nods. "That's something, I suppose," he says and closes Nate's laptop. Nate looks like he wants to protest, his mouth working silently for a moment around the words that don't form, and then he gives in.
"Time for a break, then?" he says lightly, all fake cheer and bright smile and Brad nods at him.
"Got it in one, Fick. Move," he orders and Nate smiles for real, reaches out and hooks his finger in one of Brad's belt loops, pulls him close.
"Why would I want to? I have pretty much everything I might want, or need, in here," he says and shifts them around, presses Brad against the desk and leans in, nuzzles his way down Brad's neck. "And even better, you smell of coffee."
"Because it was the sixth cup I made for you," Brad offers dryly. "You need a fucking twelve steps program."
"Alright," Nate agrees obligingly. Excuse Brad if he's not quite believing the honesty of that. "One," Nate says and licks a stripe of Brad's skin, on the side of Brad's neck. "Two," he mutters and bites at his earlobe.
Brad laughs and guides Nate's head back up, so he can kiss him quickly. He's pretty eager to see what twelve means.
"So, how was it?" Nate asks, hoisting Megan up into his lap. She leans back and smiles widely at Brad and Rachel.
"Great. First days aren't scary at all, like you said," she admits. She's been going between panic and excitement for days, and Rachel was slowly going insane. Brad and Nate arrived yesterday, after their holidays in California, and Nate sat with Megan on the floor, discussing school and life and work and first days in general and how they always look scary and never really are.
"Your Uncle Nate's pretty smart," Brad says. "Most of the time," he adds, for Nate's benefit, who makes a face at him over Megan's head.
"And how was your first day?" she asks next and Nate smiles, brushing her hair away. Her intricate braids hadn't lasted long.
"It was fantastic. I filled out lots of paperwork."
Brad laughs at Megan's disgusted face. "That's not fantastic, that's boring," she tells Nate. It probably is, to anyone who isn't Nate and who isn't as fucking excited about paperwork as he is. DA's office is a like the fucking disneyland of paperwork.
"But I got to meet some new people. Did you meet anyone new?"
"Duh, the kids in my class. And Miss Susan. She has red hair and is very pretty. And there's Trish, her name is Patricia but she says she likes Trish better, because her older brother calls her Trish. Mom, can I invite Trish over for a sleepover?"
"I'm glad you made a friend," Nate tells her.
Megan gives him a long look. Nate has laughed, on occasion, about how much that look reminds him of Brad. 'It's the inherent superiority' he'd tell Brad. "I didn't make anything. I just met Trish."
Brad laughs at that, leans to ruffle Megan's hair. His hand brushes Nate's fingers and he lingers for a moment. "Hold on to that one, kid, you meet best people in elementary school."
Nate's smile is bright enough to feel like sunrays on Brad's skin.