He thinks better of the whole thing in the late afternoon and calls Nate to cancel, but the only thing that comes is a dry "Just thought I should mention, it's not a black tie affair."
"I'll send back the Zegna suit that just arrived," Nate shoots back, easily. He doesn't seem surprised Brad's calling him, he sounds as if they've been doing this for a long time, like answering the phone and engaging in some banter with Brad is something he expected, maybe waited for.
"And don't overdo on the gift. Don't know what passes for appropriate birthday gift among those who earn up of ten million dollars for a single job."
"Ten million?" Nate sounds like he's smiling. "You really think I'm that cheap?"
"I got a pathetic pizza and beer on the first date. You are beyond cheap."
"Then why would you worry I'd overdo on the gift?" Nate pauses for a moment, and then his voice is all serious and earnest, Brad can tell he's full of shit. "Does your friend have a ferrari yet?"
"You're not half as funny as you think you are."
"I know, it's my greatest regret. SNL never calls me back."
"I have a newfound respect for them. So, six o'clock, don't be late."
In fact, Nate's early, wearing jeans and a white shirt, collar undone and sleeves rolled up, carrying a brightly wrapped gift. He smells like shaving cream and toothpaste when he leans in and kisses Brad, quick and chaste but without any doubt to his intent.
"I've changed my mind," Brad mutters. "Fuck the party, how do you feel about going back to the hotel room?"
Nate nods. "Sure. But I thought you need to be at that party."
"I do need to be at that party," Brad agrees mournfully. His hand is still on Nate's arm, where he grasped it instinctively, his fingers digging gently into the material of his shirt. He leaves it there, reluctant to lose the connection.
Seems like Nate feels something like that too, as he reaches out, fingers comfortably resting on the nape of Brad's neck, pressing slightly. "And you want to go to the party," he points out softly.
"There's no need for such vicious accusations," he says with reproach, but it doesn't change the fact that Nate's right, that he figured that out about Brad already. "Hey," he adds when Nate steps back, smiling. "Just for the record, I'm deeply sorry for that bunch of retards. Well, the bunch of retards and Gina, but I'm even more sorry for her."
"Can't be that bad," Nate says and Brad snorts. Sure.
He's pretty sure Nate is rethinking the validity of this statement a mere twenty minutes later, when they're standing in front of Walt's door and Ray is grinning like a fucking crazy person. With Ray, it's not a stretch.
"Hey, fuckers, you all owe me money!" he yells, craning his head back. "They all thought I was full of shit," he explains to Nate mournfully. "Aspersions were casted and fucking hurtful words were said about my rumoured drag habits. They all should be ashamed of themselves."
"All I said was that you should lay off Ripped Fuel," Walt says, and then comes to a sudden halt in the corridor, almost dropping the dish he's holding, hands clad in over mitts. "Motherfucker," he mutters, then shakes his head. "I meant, hey."
Ray snorts. "Hey, I said the same thing," he says proudly.
"Walt, stop spending time with Ray. All my hopes of you being a good influence has already turned out to be for nothing, and instead he's rubbing off on you."
"Well, I'd fucking hope so," Ray nods, but Brad ignores him. It's the only thing, sometimes.
"This is Nate," he says instead. Nate smiles and offers a slight wave, looking, for all the world, actually fucking nervous. Brad is pretty sure someone who, as google assured him, has done signings at the fucking Comic Con of all places shouldn't get nervous about meeting a couple of strangers for dinner, but that doesn't seem to stop Nate from shuffling his fucking feet and stepping forward awkwardly.
"Nice to see you again, Ray. And I gather you're Walt? Happy birthday," he adds and hands over the gift, fingers skimming the bright ribbon.
"Yeah, thanks," Walt smiles and reaches to tug at Ray's sleeve, pulling him a step back so that Brad and Nate can get inside. "You didn't have to."
"Are you fucking kidding? If you don't like it, we can sell it on ebay and make a ton of money," Ray proposes in a scenic whisper. "Come on in, Nate," he adds louder, as if they couldn't hear the first part, stending two feet away. Brad sometimes doesn't know why he bothers.
"Again, I'm very sorry for everything," he tells Nate, only half joking, but Nate just smiles at him, his hand brushing Brad's as if by accident. But there can't be anything accidental about the way his thumb is placed right over the pulse point, a comforting pressure, however brief.
"Holy fuck," Gina says when they enter the living room and Brad snorts.
"At least there's some variation?" Nate offers under his breath, and he sounds like he's trying not to laugh. "Hi, I'm Nate," he tells her.
This is quite probably the only time Brad had seen Gina Espera speechless. It's something he'll cherish for years to come.
But the strangest thing is, the whole situation seems weird only for the first few minutes. Walt opens the gift, revealing a bottle of a decent whisky, and Nate comments that he thought it was one thing he could bet wouldn't go to waste. His hands are in his pockets and he's smiling slightly, and Gina looks ready to coo over him. Brad shoots her a look and she doesn't, but it's a near thing.
And then they get into a discussion on what's the best scotch they've ever had and Ray tells the old story about that one time in that liquor store... it's only mildly offensive, for Ray, and it makes Nate laugh, head bowed as his shoulders shake. "I can't even tell if you're for real or completely full of shit," he tells Ray.
"What's your guess?"
"Both," Nate shrugs and Ray beams at him, then nods at Brad, quick, like he's giving his approval. Not that Brad fucking needs it, because fuck no, but there it is. There's Nate fitting in at Walt's scratched table, getting into a discussion on some senator's idiocy with Poke, and dodging Gina's questions with well aimed smiles.
It's all maddeningly inconvenient.
"They fucking like you," Brad complains, when they're getting more beer from the kitchen. Well, Nate is, after having offered, Brad has just followed him in.
"I'm sorry? Was I supposed to be aiming for ambivalence, only mild approval, or open hatred?" Nate pushes three bottles into Brad's hands and bends down to get some more from the fridge. "You need to specify the mission objective beforehand, Brad."
"Ah, so that's why you fit in so well. You're a fucking asshole."
What he's thinking is: Nate's going to leave soon. It would be easier if Brad wasn't tempted with what he can't have, what isn't even in the fucking ballpark of what is possible and plausible.
His sister always accuses him of sabotaging himself in relationships and maybe that's exactly what he was going for. He needed to see that he and Nate are fucking worlds apart and that the few days were just an aberration and a pleasant distraction, nothing to overthink or get himself worked up over.
Nate wasn't supposed to be writing down Walt's fucking e-mail address. Wasn't supposed to like Brad's friends, shoot him amused looks over the table, or kick his foot lightly whenever Ray said something outrageous and, according to Nate, pretty damn hilarious.
"That's true, I am," Nate agrees readily. "But you pretty much knew that, so it can't be what's bothering you."
"Forget about it."
Nate looks at him for a longer moment and then nods, doesn't push. Brad's grateful and a little bit disappointed at the same time, and it's a fucking strange feeling.
Gina takes one look at them, her eyes narrowing when she contemplated Brad's expression, and then turns to Nate, draws him into a conversation on Prague and Warsaw and other European cities on his promotional tour last month. It gives Brad a moment to breathe, a moment to think.
He's not in love with Nate. He knows better and it's not as easy as that. But the possibility itself, the thought that the rather obvious attraction and the fondness and the appreciation for Nate's sense of humor and the way he seems to see through most of Brad's bullshit and still wants him... the thought that all of that could turn into love at some vague point, that's petrifying.
A part of Brad wants to get out and leave, get on his bike and drive until he runs out of gas, until it's just him and the night sky, everything else left behind.
Instead he waits until Nate announces he needs to be going, explains that he has an early flight and says proper goodbyes to everyone. Even Poke seems to be charmed, for fuck's sake, he pats Nate's back and tells him to not be a stranger. Brad rolls his eyes and waits on the steps outside for Nate to join him, their arms brushing when Nate steps in closer.
"That was fun," Nate offers and all thoughts of running away seem to fade into nothing, Nate's smile like an anchor keeping Brad in place.
"Of course you'd think so. No one told embarrassing stories about you."
"What dinner were you at? Because all I've heard were tales of your amazing exploits and superhuman feats. Scaling mountains with a broken leg and all that shit."
"Not the way Ray tells it," Nate says, shrugging. "But if you feel you've been treated unfairly, I can introduce you to one or both of my sisters. I'm assured they'll be more than glad to not only tell you all about my awkward phase in junior high but also share a frightening amount of baby pictures."
Nate's clearly aiming for levity, but his words resonate deep inside Brad, make his stomach twist with utter and unexpected want. It means he should cut his losses and get out now.
"How early is your early flight?"
"Five a.m." Nate checks his watch, head bowed and closer into Brad's space, enough so that Brad could lean in just an inch and kiss his forehead. "Which means in four hours. I should..."
"I'll walk you to your hotel," Brad says quickly. He should call for the cab instead, there's no use postponing the inevitable, but Nate agrees readily, his hand twitching like he wants to slip it into Brad's. He doesn't, thankfully, because Brad would be forced to first mock him for being a fucking teenage girl and then admit he doesn't want to let go.
They don't talk much on the way, and it's surprisingly easy to be silent with Nate, no awkwardness stretching between them, no tension apart from the low buzz of regret in Brad's chest, regret that the hotel is so close, that the moment can't last forever.
They're just turning into the right street when Brad gives in and stops in his tracks. It takes Nate maybe half a second to realise and turn, quicker than Brad expected. His eyebrows rise in a question Brad doesn't let him voice, he just covers Nate's mouth with his own, swallows the words forming there.
If there needs to be a goodbye, it's on his own terms, with Nate easily pulling him in, licking at Brad's mouth like he too can't get enough.
"You have a piece of paper?" Nate asks when he finally pulls back, breathless. He licks his lips, dark pink and raw now, and pats his pockets. "I only have a pen."
"Of course you have a pen," Brad shakes his head. "No, I'm all out of random pieces of paper I carry," he adds dryly and Nate shoots him a look then pulls at his hand, twisting it so he can write on it, starting from Brad's wrist and towards his elbow, the first digit curling right over Brad's quickly speeding pulse.
"You have my cell, right? This is the home number for the LA. Just..." he starts and caps the pen, the words coming to a stop in tune with the barely audible click. "I don't know when I'll have time to get back in here. I'm pretty sure the schedule Sandra has me booked on for the next week will require someone inventing a teleport pretty damn fast."
Brad pushes down on the surge of hope rising in his throat, warm and liquid. He swallows the words forming in his tongue, they'd lead him nowhere. "I'm sure Sandra has someone working on it," he says instead.
"Highly probable," Nate agrees, reaching to drag his fingers along Brad's jawline, have them rest on the nape of Brad's neck, curled comfortably, his thumb lightly, almost absently, caressing the skin right under the shell of Brad's ear. "Thanks," he says.
"Nathaniel Fick, so fucking polite."
"What would you have me say, then?"
"You're right, inane phrases are the way to go. It's been a pleasure to meet you," he says formally, schooling his expression down, only the corner of his mouth twitching in a ghost of a grin.
"A pleasure, eh?" Nate drawls, overdone and theatric, and then smiles earnestly, leaning in, his forehead to Brad's chin, his hair tickling Brad's mouth. "Yeah, okay," he says, the whisper something like a caress over Brad's skin. "It's been a pleasure to meet you, Brad Colbert," he adds and it sounds much better when he says it, it sounds like a confession and a secret. "Hope to see you soon."
"Likewise," Brad nods and steps back. He needs to be first to walk away or he'll fucking follow Nate to the hotel and they don't need this. "I'll see you."
He's not even lying, probably. With the way Nate career is going, he'll keep on seeing him, if only on the screen, even when Nate forgets all about him, about this, about those few days.
He nods and turns and walks away.
"Your boyfriend left already?" Ray asks him the next day and laughs when Brad tells him to fuck off. "Apparently so. Don't worry, he'll be back. I mean, the man took one look at the Iceman dick and decided he'd rather spend time having dinner with us and not partying it up with Natalie Portman. Not that we're not fucking awesome but fuck, Natalie Portman."
It takes Brad half an hour of this before he snaps and walks out, tells Ray to mind the shop and goes to get his bike. Sometimes it's the only thing that works, that gets his mind off everything. It doesn't help much now.
His days turns for worse when Jess calls, like she does, asking how he's doing. He's never quite sure what she wants to hear, if she needs him to help her get over the guilt and say he's doing fine, or does she secretly wishes he'd say he feels like crap, that he still wants her.
He doesn't, not really. He wants what they had, a little, but he doesn't even know Jess anymore, not the person she's now, not the woman she became.
His thumb presses on the buttons of his cellphone after he disconnects, scrolling all the way down to N, but he can't bring himself to call.
There are really only two possible outcomes, and he's not in a hurry for either.
Nate could be distant and surprised that Brad took the whole thing for something more than a pleasant distraction, a few days' worth of escape. All it was, and he'd be sorry that Brad confused it with something more.
Or maybe he would be happy that Brad called, maybe the brilliant smile would be audible in his voice. Maybe he'd want this as much as Brad's slowly admitting that yeah, he does.
But even if that was the case, it couldn't last. Brad's life is in this town and maybe Nate could visit once or twice, but never for long, never to stay. Brad's damn tired of people who can't be bothered to stay.
He turns the cellphone off and pockets it, the plastic clinking against something in his pocket. The ring, still there. He almost forgot about the fucking thing.
He throws it away. It's a grand fucking gesture that doesn't suit him at all, but it's better than second guessing himself for the next week, the next month. It bounces against the road and rolls away, maybe someone'll find it and have a better luck with it. He's half tempted to throw his cellphone away, too, but there's fucking melodrama and there's just impracticality, he runs a business and most people use that number and not the landline.
And getting it replaced would be a bitch.
"I'm not your fucking secretary," Ray tells him. "I might be occasionally persuaded into making you coffee, but that's just because it's easier to make the whole pot when I'm making it for myself, and besides, the coffee you make for yourself is a travesty and a tragedy and I pity anyone who drinks it."
"Was there a point you wanted to make?"
"Yeah. Turn your fucking cellphone on, because I'm not taking your messages. Your sister called, something about your niece's birthday. There were three frantic calls from Landon about the latest shipment but I'm awesome and I've dealt with that. And your boyfriend called because he missed you terribly," he adds in the sing-song that usually means he's full of shit.
Brad briefly contemplates asking if Ray's actually for serious, but that would just add fuel to the fire, making sure that Ray has the mocking repertoire for weeks on end. No, thanks.
"I don't suppose you wrote any of the fucking messages down?"
"You didn't get any of the part where I'm not your fucking secretary? Jeez, Brad, how long does the brain damage caused by being fucked by Nate Fick last?"
Sadly, not long enough. Maybe then he'd be able to at least tolerate Ray's mummblings as a background noise.
He turns the cellphone on. There are indeed three calls from his sister, seven from Landon, and three from unknown number or numbers. He hesitates for a moment before calling his sister back and listening to her panicked diatribe on agreeing to invite seventeen eight-year-olds to the party. He gets roped into putting in an appearance, of course, because Hannah rivals their mother in guilting Brad into doing things he'd rather neuter himself with his own K-bar than do.
At least it distracts him from obsessing over the other calls. Not that he is obsessing, despite current evidence to the contrary, he's not a fourteen year old girl with a crush.
The evidence is circumstantial anyway.
Of course, the world insists on making everything difficult for Brad Colbert, and when he settles on his couch with a beer and leftover Chinese, there's nothing decent on tv except for a fucking Nate Fick movie on the fucking HBO. Brad's half-tempted to call and cancel his cable.
Instead, he closes his hand around his cock and tries not to feel like a complete delusional asshole.
He comes all over himself well into the second half of the movie, when Nate, or rather the character he's playing, is delivering the closing statement in the trial, his face earnest and open.
Brad realises he might have a bigger problem than he thought.
The clock on the dvd player blinks at him, red and annoying, announcing it's three a.m. Probably too late, or too early, to be calling anyone, but Brad's listening to the dial tone before he thinks better of it.
He has just fucking jacked off to a courtroom drama. His brain is clearly not functioning at its top capacity. It feels a little like being drunk, except not even slightly entertaining.
"Nate Fick's cellphone," a girl says, picking up, and if Brad was indeed drunk, this would have sobered him up quick.
"Sandra?" he tries and the girl laughs.
"Nope. Do I sound like her?" she asks cheerfully and doesn't give Brad time to answer. "If you wait a minute I'll go get Nate. Can I tell him who's calling?"
"Don't bother. I... It was a bad idea," he disconnects on her "wait" and stares at the phone until it rings, uncommonly loud to his ears. Nate tries three times until he gives up, and Brad's fingers itch to answer it, to maybe hear an explanation that wouldn't mean he's already lost what... what wasn't his to have in the first place.
He doesn't sleep well, wakes up after three hours and goes for a run, run until he's tired. It takes a long fucking time for Brad to get tired.
"Why is Nate calling me and asking if something happened to you?" Walt asks him first thing Brad comes into the shop. Ray's in the back, his voice audible but words undistinguishable, which is probably for the better. Walt's behind the counter, reading a newspaper, sipping from one of the three coffee cups he must have brought in.
"No idea. Why is Nate even calling you?" Brad shoots back and reaches for one of the cups, takes off the lid and downs half of it in one go.
"Maybe because I'm the one picking up."
It's almost impossible to get annoyed with Walt, but Brad gives it a good try anyway. "None of your fucking business."
Walt gives him a look, one that says he has a few good responses to that but isn't going to go for the cheap shots. "I'll tell him you're fine in body but clearly fucked in the head, shall I?"
Brad shrugs, meaning 'do whatever the fuck you want.'
Nate calls twice during the day and then stops. Brad feels the loss deep in his gut, checks his cellphone like an idiot and calls it from the landline to see if it's working. He knows he should have just picked up in the first place, or he should just call back now, but torturing himself is so much more fun apparently.
"He's in New York," Walt informs him, even though Brad hadn't asked and doesn't really care, except that the idea that Nate might simply be too busy to call is comforting. "They're doing some on location shooting."
"Hey, is setting up google alerts less or more creepy now that we've met the guy?" Ray asks like he's actually interested in the answer.
"Less, I think," Walt shrugs. "Or maybe more. Fuck, I don't know, who's the expert in online stalking here?"
"That would be the Iceman over there."
"Have you been dropping acid again? A bit of good advice, get back to Ripped Fuel, Ray, it still made everyone around want to kill you, but at least your braincells weren't disappearing fast enough to do the job for them."
"A bit of good advice, Brad, clean your internet history."
Ray's talking out of his ass, but the mere fact that he's not that far off - Brad has contemplated more than one internet search - is actually really sad, bordering on pathetic.
On the plus side, he's not the one setting the alerts, so there's that.
New York or not, Nate stops calling after that. Brad spends the Saturday at his niece's birthday party, organising water balloon fights and hide-and-seek games and he goes hiking on Sunday, with a couple of guys from his old platoon who happen to have leave.
On Monday he's prepared to accept that the few days with Nate were just a pleasant distraction, a brief interlude in reality, something to look back on and not regret.
Except that he feels hollow in his chest when he forgets to tell himself it's supposed to be a pleasant memory. That a guy on the street who looks just a little like Nate, same heigth and posture, same haircut, makes Brad not only do a double take but hold his breath, for long enough he's not sure he can ever exhale again.
On Wednesday, once he's pretty sure the whole thing is really over, he gets a phone call from Sandra. It's unexpected to say the least, and he doesn't see it coming at all, especially since she sneakily calls the shop and not his cellphone.
"What exactly is your damage, Colbert?" she asks in lieu of a greeting, and Brad certainly could appreciate the frankness and the whole getting-to-the-point thing, except he doesn't think he likes her that much.
"Who's calling, exactly?" he asks, even though he recognises her voice. But fuck it.
"Sandra Dewitt. We've met," she says and sighs. "Do me a favour and don't play dumb."
"I'm not playing at anything. Maybe I really am dumb?" he says dryly and gets a low snort in response.
"I'd be really disappointed in the Recon Marines, if that was the case. Don't burst my bubble," she offers. What she means is: checked you out and you don't impress me at all. "Now, care to tell me why Nate is on my case to clear his schedule for the upcoming week? It took me a long while to work out all the arrangements so there better be a good reason."
It's not what he expected. "No idea what you're talking about."
"Really?" She doesn't sound like she believes him. Brad's not sure he believes himself, so that's probaby fair. "And you're also going to tell me you don't have the slightest idea why Nate is moping around and looking like someone run over his fucking puppy?"
"I thought knowing things about him was in your job description?" he says tersely. "Look, I've just met the guy. It's been..." he starts, but it sounds just like the big fucking lie it is so he abandons it mid-sentence. He doesn't think Sandra takes kindly to bullshit and he doesn't have the time or patience to deal with her. "What do you want from me?"
"Clear rules. You break it, you buy it, Colbert. Or in this case, you broke him, you fix him. Or call him and tell him it's over, whatever the fuck it was," she says and sighs. "Ya know, with other stars all you have to do is prepare contingency plans for dead hookers and sex tapes. But with Nate Fick I worry he's getting his heart broken and shit. I don't even know," she mutters.
He doesn't either. "It wouldn't work anyway." It's not at all what he wanted to say, but he spills out of his mouth, unbidden, and he can't take it back. Sandra makes a low noise, something between a sigh and a groan, like she gets it, like she can sympathise.
"Not if you run away first," she points out. "Well, I'm clearing his schedule like he wanted. Just a heads up," she tells him, the irritation all gone from her voice, weariness bleeding in instead. "Try not to... yeah, nevermind."
She disconnects and Brad's left with a warm phone in his hand and a feeling he can't allow to turn into hope. She's guessing, or reaching, Nate's behaviour might not even have anything to do with him, it can all be about the girl on the phone, or maybe an appointment with his psychic or whatever bullshit craze is sweeping the tinsel fucking town now.
It would be better for everyone involved if it had nothing to do with Brad.
It would be better if he didn't have the sinking feeling twisting in his stomach, like he's losing his balance, the ground moving under him.
It would be much better it he wasn't pretty fucking sure he's been falling in love with Nate fucking Fick when he wasn't looking and it's all so fucking typical.
And then, two days after Sandra's phonecall, just as Brad is making progress in convincing himself she was full of shit and Nate's weird behavior could indeed be explained in a myriad different reasons, none of them concerning Brad, Nate shows up in the shop.
Ray's out on his break, the little shit has a really dicksuck timing, and Brad doesn't even get a moment to gather his thoughts, a moment that would surely be provided by Ray's inane ramblings and Brad telling him to shut the fuck up. It would ensure he got his voice back.
"Ah, so you're still here and not at all abducted by the aliens," Nate says, a slight artificial note in his voice, like the levity has been rehearsed, like he went through the lines and decided on this one before going through a few versions of the conversation stemming from it.
"Couldn't get through to you. It was my working theory."
"Worked long on it?"
"Half of my flight here," Nate says and steps further in, his head bowed. "The other half I've been trying to determine whether I would be able to convince the pilot to turn the plane around."
"You didn't have to come," he stops when Nate looks up then, his gaze pinning Brad down, on the verge of angry, or pleading, or, fuck, a thousand other things.
"Well, I wouldn't have to, if you picked up your fucking phone." He sounds tired as he steps even closer, and Brad doesn't think he has a choice here, his hands are instinctively reaching out, fingers tangled in Nate's shirt as he pulls him in.
It's not supposed to feel like that, to be so easy. Nate isn't supposed to relax against him, whatever anger brought him here melting away in an instant. "I wasn't sure you wanted me to..."
"Why would I even call if I didn't want to talk to you?" Nate shakes his head, his hair tickling Brad's nose. Brad's lips move without forming words, or at least not ones he voices out loud. He can feel the contour of the sentence against Nate's forehead, wonders if Nate can feel it too. "Sandra was right, wasn't she? You're going to be trouble."
"I fucking hate Sandra."
"That's alright, she hates you right back," Nate smiles a little, pulls back anough to look at Brad. "Am I- Should I have tried to turn the plane around?"
"No," Brad says, too fast, or maybe just fast enough, before he has the chance to fuck this up. "Although it would certainly be interesting to see if you could manage that."
"Some other time," Nate shrugs. "You know, you've chosen a fucking weird time to play hard to get. After we fucked on the first date and you introduced me to your friends on the second one."
"What can I say, I like to keep people guessing."
"A little bit too much."
"I'm sorry," he says earnestly, because he's not blind, he can see the soft and tired look on Nate's face, the bags under his eyes. He hates the thought he could be even partially responsible for that, but the way Nate still clings to him, his fingers digging into Brad's forearm, it tells him Sandra wasn't kidding, that the whole week was hard on Nate. "I'm sorry," he repeats against Nate's lips, his voice dropping to whisper, to something like a prayer.
"You better be," Nate nods before kissing Brad lightly, just a brush of his mouth, like he's allowing himself only the slightest touch in fear that anything more would be too much, like he's scared he might not get to keep it. "I cancelled my appearance on the Daily Show for you."
It startles a laugh out of Brad and Nate uses the moment to lick into Brad's mouth, pull him close for a proper kiss, open-mouthed and messy, almost impatient, like they're teenagers making out for the first time, breathless with the strangeness of the sensation.
"No wonder Sandra wants my head on a platter," he mutters, once they pull back, breathing harshly, Brad's honed ability to hold his breath for more than four minutes apparently useless around Nate fucking Fick, whose mere presense sets his blood on fire.
"Sandra can't have any part of you," Nate shoots back and startles at his own words, his gaze flickering to Brad's, uncertain and questioning, like he said too much and too soon.
Brad's not sure how to say that Nate has every right to whatever part of Brad he wants, if he wants them. If he wants Brad. "No, she can't," he agrees.
"Okay," Nate nods, and Brad thinks that maybe he understands. His fingers curl at the nape of Brad's neck, light pressure guiding him closer.
"So I've heard you might have some free time," Brad mutters, his hand on Nate's hip, almost possessive, because maybe he has a right to it.
"Depends what you're asking," Nate shrugs, his voice deceptively light, unlike his gaze. He looks at Brad like he's willing him to understand. "I'm in town for the next four days, then I have to get back. But I hoped you could visit next week."
"Holy fuck, Fick's back," Ray announces from the doorway. "Gotta call Walt, he was really worried about you kids. Like a motherfucking yenta. We were gonna stage an intervention sometime next week, Gina promised to bake cookies."
"Hey, Ray," Nate nods at him pleasantly and doesn't move an inch, if anything, he's pressed even closer against Brad now, like he doesn't care at all that Ray's there.
"Yeah, good to see you, man," Ray nods magnanimously and turns the sign on the door to 'closed'. "So, we're closing for your dry-humping because seriously, we need more exposure but not this kind," he shakes his head. "Fuck, I never thought the Iceman would meet someone more stubborn than he is. This shit is brilliant."
Nate's shoulders are shaking slightly, like he's holding back laughter. "I'm seriously going to introduce him to Sandra."
"You have a death wish?" Brad asks incredulously and really enjoys the sound of Nate's laughter. He can feel it under his palm, when he craddles Nate's skull, the soft tremor, absolutely perfect.
Nate's making plans for them, however insane and bound to cause Brad an endless headache. Brad forgets why this was a bad idea, why it can't last. Nate's here.
"I'm not sure I'm gonna like whatever you're thinking about now," Nate mutters, his thumb skimming across Brad's brow.
"I'm just not sure it's a good idea."
"On the contrary, I think Sandra and Ray would cancel each other out. Or possibly kill each other," he says and nods at Brad's look. "I know it's not what you meant. And I think you're full of shit. I was afraid you might not want this to be anything more than what it was..."
"Never that," Brad shakes his head without second thought. He can't imagine not wanting Nate. That's not the issue.
"Then nothing else fucking matters. I can't- I can't promise you forever, but I want it anyway."
Brad tries for a smile, even if it comes out broken on the edges. "That's fine." More than he thought he'd get.
Nate sighs and leans in, his lips against the skin of Brad's neck, warm and slick. "I won't make you promises I can't be sure I'd get to keep. But I just went through a week without you and I never want to do that again. Alright?"
He breathes out, something unfurling in his chest, the hollow feeling disappearing, as if Nate's warmth is seeping through his skin and filling him up, liquid and amazing. "Alright."
Nate nods, his smile shifting into something that looks just like happiness. Brad thinks he could get drunk on that one. "Since your shop is conveniently closed up for the day, your place or my hotel?"
"My place is a mess and you probably have a fucking penthouse."
"Are you lying about the mess?" Nate asks suspiciously and Brad shrugs.
"Penthouse," he points out.
"Good point. So, not a tactic to keep me at arms' lenght?"
Brad shrugs. "You can fucking move in tomorrow, if you like." He's joking, but the answering look, humor mixed with want, on Nate's face, makes his breath hitch. Fuck, maybe he could get that, get Nate, for real. To keep.
"We'll figure it out later," Nate mutters, tugging at Brad's hand.
There's more than the usual crowd in front of the hotel and Nate stills in his steps for a brief moment, his head tilted in consideration. "I hoped it would take them a little longer to catch up," he mutters. "I did blow off a few scheduled appointments. It draws attention."
"Tell me, do you take Russell Crowe's or Britney Spears' approach?" Brad asks lightly. His skin itches, he's not sure why.
"Neither. I just smile," Nate reaches out and takes his hand, fingers lacing together. Brad's skin stops to itch. "You want to go back to your place?"
"Do you want me to leave?" he asks, trying to keep the surge of fear from his voice.
"Of course not. But it's not something anyone's prepared for, and I thought we'd have more time before, well. I thought I could schedule an interview with Ellen and come out nice and proper on a comfy couch."
"I can make do."
It was the right choice, Brad thinks, judging from the way Nate's smile is bright and clear and almost blinding. "I'll make sure it's better than making do."
"And you don't make promises you can't keep?" Brad mutters right before they cross the street, before someone notices them.