Fandom: Generation Kill
Characters/Pairings: Nate/Brad (Ray/Walt in later parts)
Wordcount: 6191 for this part
Disclaimer: Based on fictionalised portrayals as seen on the HBO miniseries.
A/N: NaNoWriMo fic, two. Part one to be found here. Demons AU based on my kink meme ficlet but with many details changed.
It starts with a fall.
(It's not the real beginning. If you want the real beginning you might have to look further back, to the beginning of time, the moment when the universe was created. This particular part of the story spans thousands of years but things that set it in motion happened a long time before. But you have to start somewhere, and you might as well start with this.)
It's not a long fall. It does feel like it lasts for eons, but it probably takes second, probably doesn't take any time at all. It's metaphorical, too, but Nate's bones feel broken anyway, his whole body aching.
Apart from the pain, he doesn't feel all that different. He expected... he's not sure what he expected. He feels a little hollow in his chest when he looks up at the sky, but that's not so different from the quiet desperation that has been building up for hundreds of years.
("Was it worth it?" Mike will ask him, much later, when they run into each other in Spain.
Nate will shrug, the echo of wings still resonating in his shoulders. He won't miss their weight except when he will. "Don't ask me about worth," he'll say, looking up at the sky, red with the setting sun. He'll feel the warmth on his skin, the heat of a summer day still almost unbearable, so different from the pleasant cool of heaven. "They wanted me to walk into that city and kill all the first born sons. Proof of His might. For what?"
Mike will sigh, his wings folded and his hand tightening on Nate's shoulder. He won't say a thing for a very long while.)
He stayed on Earth for a long time. Can't quite say how long, time has been different back then. Had seen the human cities rise and fall, had seen wars and crimes against everything sacred and had seen love so encompassing, so overwhelming, it seemed at times to be a crime in itself and yet sacred still.
It wasn't something he was prepared to understand. Love was an alien concept to angels, at the time. That hasn't changed much, but nowadays at least it was to be encouraged in mortals, like kindness and charity.
But back in the old days it was mostly rules and trials and rains of fire and locusts. Love or attachment... it wasn't something you troubled yourself with.
(A couple hundreds human years after Nate's fall, the policy changed. The stern and punishing God chose to send his Son to die for humanity.
Too little too late, if you ask Nate. Yes, he's still bitter about Jesus.)
He stayed on Earth for a long while, and after some time he has been given the crossroads job. Everyone did that at one point or another, some demons made a career out of it, if a demon could have a career.
The first one was a man, well, more like a boy, all of seventeen years old. He tried to hide the tremor in his hands by clenching them into tight fists. His chin was jutted out in fake bravado, his voice shaking only slightly. "I want her to love me," he said. "Only me, forever."
What could a boy of seventeen years know about forever? And in his case, forever would be ten years, not a day more.
They all ask for different things. Money, fame, love. Doesn't matter in the long run, price is the same.
Nate has no real interest in their souls. They're hell's currency, of course, but he never cared for it, didn't join the ranks of hell because he wanted to make a career out of it but because that was where you went, after. He never had a soul to begin with, but he traded something in nonetheless.
He stays in the job for quite a long while anyway. His superiors aren't quite pleased with his leniency, his insistance on the ten years deal every time, but choose to overlook it because Nate is the only one who never had a mortal back out of the deal, rethink and change their mind.
They all ask for different things. Sometimes, someone will ask for a life to be brought back, a life to be spared, a life to be saved. Nate closes his eyes when he seals the deal, wonders if he could taste the love and desperation on their lips. Maybe he could understand it then.
(They're the ones who come back of their own volition, the ones that greet him at the crossroads with a brave face and a slight tremor in their hands. The ones who try to smile and never look back, never run. They're the only ones who after ten years still think the deal was fair.)
Brad's not a boy, but he's young, too young. He's the last one. Nate thinks he would be even if the decision hadn't been made earlier, if he wasn't already moving on. One last stop, one last soul. Brad's the last, and in oh so many ways he is also the very first.
Nate knows everything about him the moment his feet touch the ground of the crossroads. The earth is frozen, Brad's blood seeping into the hole in the ground. He doesn't have long, maybe an hour or two of increasing pain until the unsconsciousness claims him. Internal bleeding, broken ribs, a gaping wound in his thigh.
He'll ask for twenty two lives.
Most demons wouldn't offer him a year for it. They'd take his soul, sure, but they'd decide one soul wasn't sufficient, that Brad was asking too much. They'd have it all wrong.
It's easy to ask for one life. Easy to bargain your soul for your mother or brother or the girl you love more than anything. There's no choice in this. Brad's asking for twenty two lives. He's never really got to know seven of them. Most of the time dislikes three of those men. Punched one in the face just last week and the man deserved it.
One of them is his second in command, his best friend, the man who is to marry Brad's intended. The man whose child she'll have soon.
Brad's willing to die for each one of them, willing to sell his soul for each of them.
"Twenty two lives for one soul?" he asks, shaking his head. "It doesn't sound very fair." It's worth so much more.
You take the deal, always. You can negotiate the terms, most of the time, take away a few years off the customary ten, maybe, but that's it. Nate shouldn't feel the desperate want to give Brad anything he asks for and demand nothing in return.
Ten years isn't a lot of time, compared to eternity. Neither is fifty or sixty Brad could maybe have. It is as little as the two hours he does have. This way... this way they might meet again.
When they seal the deal Brad's hand instinctively goes up to touch Nate's face. He probably doesn't even realise he's doing it. His fingers curl on Nate's jaw, his thumb leaving a trace of dirt and blood on Nate's cheek. Warmth spreads from the point of contact and he has to close his eyes for a brief moment.
He thinks he might be beginning to understand.
"I won't run," Brad assures him and Nate smiles, but it feels too sharp, broken, like he'd cut his lip on it.
Brad doesn't run. He lives his life light, never marries, never has children. Nate sometimes wishes he would, that he'd find someone worth fighting for, someone who would maybe fight for him. (It's not that uncommon. There was a family a few years back who bought and sold souls so many times no one could remember what was even going on. It can be done.)
Brad lives his life light, like he doesn't want anyone to miss him.
He's back at the crossroads in exactly ten years. In fact, he's two days early, but then again, the art of telling time isn't yet all that precise.
"Are you late or am I early?" he asks when Nate appears.
"I'm never late," Nate shrugs. He wants to say something entirely different, but this is what comes out. It might be for the better.
Brad nods in acknowledgment and steps forward. He hasn't changed much. There's a new scar on his brow, faint and long healed, and when he stands, he's a little more assured, a little more at ease. His eyes are just as blue as Nate remembers.
"Your soul will be transferred to me when you die."
Brad waits for a moment. "Well? Am I just going to drop dead or do I have to take the matters in my own hands? I didn't bring a dagger to cut my own throat or spill my own guts, so you're shit out of luck."
"That would be so messy and inefficient," Nate offers dryly. Really dryly; the words feel like ash on his tongue. He wants... he doesn't know what exactly. For Brad to be angry, to try and bargain his way out, to be anything but this, accepting and honourable. "Was it all that you wanted?"
"Yes." Still the same flat tone. Nate's fingers itch to reach out, an unfamiliar tremor running up his forearm.
"How is Anna?"
That gets him a response. A flash in Brad's eyes, a quick flicker of anger that's gone a moment later, Brad's hands falling to his sides. "Her daughter will be ten in the spring. You don't..."
"She will have a long life," Nate assures him. It's not a promise, it's a statement of fact. "I can't tell if it's going to be a happy one, it's not exactly my area of expertise."
"Frankly, I'm shocked and amazed at this revelation. Pray tell, what is your idea of expertise?" Brad starts, something like a smile in the corner of his lips, before he rethinks and raises his hand. "Let's just get on with it, shall we?"
"Just answer me this. Was it all that you wanted?" he repeats.
"No," Brad says honestly. He holds Nate's gaze unflinchingly. "But it was all I needed."
Nate steps forward. "It won't hurt."
"Yes, because I was worried about that," he snarks and hesitates. "What happens next?"
"Hellish torment or an eternity as a demon. I'm not sure how the decision is made."
"This whole system doesn't work very efficiently," Brad tells him. His hands are tightly clenched into fists now. It's one thing to go to your death willingly and quite the other to be at peace with it.
Nate reaches out, curls his fingers on the nape of Brad's neck, pulls him closer. Brad moves in easily, no resistance at all, even though his fingers fist Nate's shirt. "I'm assured you won't remember this, not for a long while, maybe never," he says. "But if you do..." he stops, unsure of what he wants to say. If he wants to say anything. "It won't hurt," he says instead.
"Just fucking get it over with," Brad mutters as he moves in, clashing his lips against Nate's.
Brad's soul is warm to the touch. His body is cold now, unmoving. Nate stops by the village, leaving Brad's body in his house, in his bed. He doesn't know why he bothers, he never cared about insignificant details like this before. It's just an empty shell now, but he's reluctant to leave any part of Brad behind carelessly.
He takes the scenic route home, stops at the crossroads. Stays there until the sun comes up. He places his hands on the ground, still frozen and hard, and looks up, makes a wish.
It feels like the longest fall of all.
Whose fight is it?
There's more questions that desperately need answering if they're to have even a slighest chance of averting the apocalypse, but this one keeps turning around in Nate's mind. He feels like he should know the answer, like he knows the answer but can't remember it.
They still have time. Preparations are going slowly, the scuttlebut working the rumours or preparations of the armies and the possible targets. Brad disappears for a few days and comes back with Poke in tow, bringing the news of a possible timeline. It's December 2012, right in time for Christmas.
It might actually be someone's joke at the Aztecs' expense.
They make California their temporary base. Nate doesn't fool himself and pretend it's coincidence and even though he has a ready list of excuses, all valid ones, prepared for the case of anyone asking, he knows better. It's California because this might be the one place on earth Brad actually loves.
The lazy sprawl of the beaches, the open spaces and the light. And the ocean. Brad's village, Nate remembers even if Brad doesn't, was close to the shore. His bones are buried on a hill overlooking the ocean.
But it's not just that, not only the vast expanse of water and the rhythm of the waves that draws Brad in. There's surfing. The taco shop on the corner. The evenings on the pier, when most people are gone already but not all of them, and everything is lazy and slow and unrushed. These aren't remnants of his human life, those are things he likes now.
Just like his bikes, like the jalapeno and cheese, like the godawful music he plays at top volume whenever they're in a car. Like the flat screen tv and the whole Bruce Willis filmography, even the Blind Date. Like his computers, the ones he still keeps in the basement and the ones he can't stop buying and tinkering with.
It happens to all the demons who started as humans. Something intrinsic and undeniable makes them cling to such things, the insignificant silly trinkets, the contrived human activities. There are demons obsessed with baseball, there are demons who can't live without pizza, and there are demons who spend fortune in Vegas, and when you are a demon you can come by quite a fortune to lose.
It happens to all the demons who started as humans, one way or another. Nate isn't sure if it's just him, or if it just doesn't happen to the fallen angels. Data is not conclusive, he hasn't met that many of others, only two. He knows of one more, there are rumours of some others, but they're just that, rumours. Of course there's Lucipher, but Nate isn't quite wild about comparing himself to Lucipher.
All the others are... detached, might be the word. Unconcerned. Like they have given up on any feeling, on any thing, once they have fallen. They're pretty damn good at what they do now, they follow orders to the letter, with an ease practiced through milennia in an angelic garnizon, but they don't care. Not about anything, not about anyone.
Nate thinks he might have been like that, once. Or he might have become like that. After all, he watched human cities rise and fal, watched centuries pass, and all he felt was curiosity at the things he didn't understand.
"You think too much," Brad tells him, sprawled on the couch. They have nothing much to do until Poke returns from his recon mission, after he took it up on himself to spy on the other side. If it's still the other side, that is. It might be more a case of a rock and a really hard place.
In the meantime, Brad has called it a non-working night, saying that he needs to remind himself what he's fighting for. Apparently, it's take-out and the second Die Hard.
"According to you, I always think too much."
Brad makes a noncommital noise. "Are you any closer to figuring out whose fight is it?"
"No," Nate admits.
"Then it's not yours, at least not for the night."
There's no use arguing, really. Mostly because Nate doesn't want to argue.
They have reached... well, they have reached something. An impasse, a contemporary truce, maybe. Brad doesn't seem quite angry anymore. Disappointment still clings to his skin like a shroud, there to see whenever Nate looks at him. He's disappointed with Nate, for the first time ever, and it hurts more than the anger has.
Nate more than deserves it, but that doesn't mean he doesn't wish things were different.
"Does the night have to have Die Hard in it?"
"No appreciation for the classics," Brad says with dry disapproval. "My house, my couch, my movie choices. You don't like it, you can-" He stops mid-sentence, turns his attention back to the tv, fiddling with the remote. He ups the volume by three bars and then lowers it back by two. His mouth works around something he doesn't say out loud.
"Die Hard it is," Nate says quickly. "Is this the one with the fire sale?"
Brad rolls his eyes. "Have I taught you nothing? No, it's the one with the plane. The one with the fire sale was..." he catches on and shakes his head. "I can't fucking believe you've watched it. I've had to promise you sexual favours when the third one came out to get you to watch it."
"What can I say, you must have rubbed off on me."
It takes Brad a long moment to say anything. "In a good way, I hope?"
The uncertainty in his voice stops Nate short. Something in his chest clenches, almost painfuly. "Brad," slips past his lips and Brad closes his eyes, reaches out blindly but his hand finds Nate's easily. "Always. You've made it worth it."
"Everything," Nate offers. The word surprises even him, but it's the truth. Maybe the other fallen become detached and withdrawn because they don't have this. They don't have this to ground them and make their existence actually mean something.
All the demons of human origin find something that they live for (it's a working definition of living), something that makes them almost human. Human in the best and worst sense, and Nate has found the best one. He understands now.
Brad squeezes his fingers. "Just... watch the movie," he says, and what he means is not yet. Neither of them is ready just yet, Nate still has a confession to make and he needs Brad to be willing to listen, and capable of making a decision that won't be dictated by anger.
For now, he allows himself this moment, his hand in Brad's. Brad doesn't say a word when Nate shifts, lets his head fall onto Brad's shoulder. He only turns his head just slightly, his mouth pressed to the top of Nate's head.
The first time they've done California was sometime in the late nineteenth century. Second time was in the twenties, for a couple of years. Lots of people willing to sell their soul in the twenties. Ray started to hang around at that time, following Brad pretty much everywhere. Nate remembers the low pangs of jealousy, even though it has been unsubstantiated.
Jealousy was such an alien and strange emotion he actually enjoyed it. For the first few days at least, before annoyance settled in, before Brad finally rolled his eyes and bitched at Nate for quite a while while simultanously stripping him down and leading him into their bedroom.
Nate thinks it might have been the first time they've actually had a bedroom. Had a house.
But the one Nate remembers most fondly is the third thime in California. They've kept coming back, because Brad loved the place more than Nate could love anything but Brad.
Third time was in the late fifties. Nate has been between assignments, hell was in one of its more hectic periods, and Brad was taking a break just because. Probably just because Nate has been between assignments.
Instead of at the crossroads, Brad spent days working on his new motorcycle, a clunker of a bike he insisted on repairing himself, with his own hands and not with his powers like anyone else would. Nate didn't quite understand why, but he was fascinated by the whole process anyway, by the parts scattered in the garage, by the dark smudges on Brad's fingers and wrists. The oil got onto his face too, got on Nate's face a few times. (Got on his thighs and his stomach once, dark smudges and Brad's fingerprints on his skin. They've washed away quickly, but Nate could see them, feel them, for days.)
He remembers watching Brad work, brow furrowed in concentration, hands sliding gently over the engine. He remembers Brad working and remembers marveling at the love inherent in every gesture. How could someone love a machine?
Then again, how could anyone love without a soul? And yet.
"You think too much," Brad told him, stretching on the floor and looking up. His left foot kicked at Nate's ankle. "And quite probably not about what you should be thinking about, either."
"I'll bite. What should I be thinking about?"
Brad smiled, rising to his feet easily. "How about I show you?"
Later, Brad rolled to his side, head propped on his hand, looking at Nate all too seriously. His other hand was flat on Nate's chest, half an inch away from his heart. It was beating. Bodily functions came and went, not necessary when you were a demon but instinctual nonetheless, gone when you willed them to but back whenever you stopped paying attention.
(When he was with Brad, his heart was always beating, his breath was always there to catch. His hands were suddenly capable of shaking and his pulse coud rush, deafening and mad. It seemed to get more intense with time, too.)
Brad's hand was on his chest and he leaned forward, his mouth close to Nate's shoulder, almost brushing it when he spoke. "Do you remember when we met for the first time?"
A chill run through him, spreading from Brad's fingertips. Goosebumps appeared on his arms, another physical reaction he can't contain. "Why?"
"I've been trying to remember. Must have been sometime in the thirteenth century, right?"
It was the right moment to shake his head, to confess his sins. Except he wasn't sure if Brad would forgive him, and the thought of the warmth in his face turning into cold, the soft touch becoming steel, it was unbearable. One day more, Nate thought, like he had before. A moment more. This moment.
"1238. A summer day, early morning."
"How can you be sure?"
Nate licked his suddenly dry lips. "I remember it felt like I was waking up."
He wakes up tangled in Brad. His head pillowed on Brad's chest, their fingers still entwined, his body mostly settled in the triangle of Brad's legs.
He doesn't want to move. If possible, he wishes he never had to move at all. He's going to live for an eternity, it could be done, technically.
But right now, despite the way every muscle, every nerve and every bone in his body it screaming at him to stay, he needs to disentangle himself, ease out from under Brad's arm before Brad wakes up.
(It feels good to have slept again. He hasn't done it in some twenty years. He doesn't need sleep, after all, but what he needed, always, was the warmth of Brad's body, the rise and fall of his chest, the way he was always flushed and warm from sleep, the way his eyes cleared when he opened them and looked at Nate. He wonders if Brad had slept in the last two decades.)
He starts to pull away, gently, but Brad's fingers tighten around his wrist, the hand resting comfortably on his back now moving to the back of his neck, keeping him close.
"Just stay," Brad mutters. His voice is muffled, Nate's hair in the way. "I need this moment. Before I remember I should still be angry at you."
"You make it really difficult to be angry at you," Brad tells him quietly, then presses his lips against Nate's forehead, chaste and brief.
This time when Nate pulls away, Brad lets him, shifts on the couch to make space for Nate to sit. "There's something you need to know."
"I've figured as much. It can wait."
"It can wait, Nate. There's the apocalypse to worry about, since you've chosen to drag me into this shit," he shakes his head at Nate's expression. "I wouldn't miss it for the world. Well, I would miss it for the world, because it would mean we wouldn't have to, you know, save it," he shrugs. It makes Nate actually smile a little.
Someone clears his throat pointedly and they look up to find Poke leaning against the doorframe. "I'd knock," he says with a wide smile. "But other planes of existence don't have doors."
"Great oversight," Nate admits. "How was it?"
"There's no great mobilization of forces yet, but heaven sent out scouts. You know shit's about to come down when angels walk the earth, ready to dirty their golden sandals and shit."
"Scouts?" Brad prompts.
"To witness the opening of the seals," Nate supplies. "They need to be observed."
"Is this the wrong moment for a voyeurism joke?"
"Fuck this shit," Poke shakes his head. "I'm not saying your plan is doomed to fail, Nate, I'd just love to know what exactly your plan is."
Nate shrugs. "You assume I have one. I..." he stops, remembering. Lucipher's war. God's plan. And not their fight. Maybe not just their fight. "I might have a beginning of a plan," he allows.
Brad watches him carefully. They've moved away from the close contact they've woken up in, but their legs are still touching and Brad's hand is still on Nate's knee, heavy and comforting. "What do we do?" he asks simply.
"Go and find an angel."
Poke sighs theatrically. "Good for you. I'm out, I'm allergic to feathers. But call when you have something."
It's two hours later, give or take a week or so (time is relative, especially when you're waiting for an angel) when Mike appears, half-hidden by the shadows on the roof. There aren't many places an angel can blend in comfortably, but the building has enough winged creatures in its design to be sort of a natural fit.
"It's been a long time, Nathaniel," he says kindly, his expression pleasant and welcoming. Nate relaxes a little, he wasn't sure.
"It's good to see you," he offers and reaches out, his handshake accepted easily and warmly. "Wish the circumstances were different."
Brad gives them both a look, his arms crossed when he regards Mike, his entire body posture loudly procclaiming how exactly unimpressed he is. "Speaking of circumstances, under any other set I would have gladly stood here and watched as you exchanged pleasantries for an entire day, but I feel there are some pressing matters that require our attention."
"Brad," Nate says, trying to contain the small smile. "This is Mike. Mike, Brad."
"Mike," Brad repeats, his eyes a little wide with recognition. "And could one ask how the hell you two know each other? I don't recall any recent heaven-hell mixer parties."
Nate realises he should have told him about this, before, but for some reason he's been reluctant. It's not something he likes to talk about. Brad wouldn't have pushed, it wasn't that. But one revealed secret would start a chain reaction, would make Nate want to reveal all.
He always wanted to tell Brad everything, have Brad know everything there was to know about Nate, but he's been afraid it would cost him Brad's... who knew. Respect, trust, love. It would cost him Brad.
He's free of that fear now. Nowhere worse to go.
"We used to work together," he says now, simply. Brad will get it.
Mike snorts. "And by work together, Nate means he was my commanding officer for a couple hundred years."
"Really?" Brad says dryly. He doesn't seem surprised, not a lot in any case. He looks like a piece of a puzzle slid into place, a shade of understanding in his eyes. "You used to boss archangels around. Nate, has it slipped your mind to inform me that you used to be God?"
Mike shudders almost invisibly, the slight twitch of his wings. It's enough of a sacrilege to make him uncomfortable, Nate remembers the feeling. He doesn't respond to it anymore. He does respond to Brad's dry tone, though.
"It was a long time ago, and before Mike was promoted," he offers matter-of-factly. Brad nods in acknowledgment and Nate knows it for what it is, and agreement to postpone the inevitable conversation. "Mike, I suppose you know why we're here."
"On a futile errand," Mike says, regret tinging his voice. "There are... some of us who would choose a different course of action, but it is not our choice. You know that."
"I'm not asking you to join us," Nate tells him. He really wishes he could ask that, but he knows better. Mike's faith in God's orders might not be unwavering, but he deserves better than having to fall because he followed Nate in this. "I just need some information."
"That I can offer. Three great seals have been broken. The armies are ready."
"Armies," Brad snorts, shaking his head. "You know, even the mortals have given up on the concept of the fate of wars being decided in great battles, have renounced total war. Humans have wisened up decades ago and we're here, stuck in the medieval concept of a turf war."
Mike looks at Nate, his smile a little too knowing for Nate's comfort. "You should have trust," he says, an apparent non sequitur, except it's too pointed to be one.
"In God's plan, maybe. But I know better than to try to convince you to this one. In yourself. In him," he adds with a slight incline of his head in Brad's direction. His expression grows serious and he snaps back to business. "There are some who think like you, that this isn't the time, that the humanity still needs a chance to prove itself."
"But they're not going to fight."
"It's not their fight. Well, unless ordered to march against the forces of evil and meet them on the battlefield, of course," he shrugs. "But it's not their fight. It's not yours either."
"Everyone keeps saying that. Things got too fucking cryptic since I chose to fall."
"Humanity," Brad says suddenly, his voice a little awed. "A chance to prove themselves."
Mike nods. "Could be. Has to be, if your plan is to succeed," he tells Nate. His wings are twitching and he looks a little uncomfortable, as if he said too much already. "I don't suppose you'd take my prayers, so I wish you luck."
"Thank you," Nate says, reaching out to place his hand on Mike's shoulder, just for a moment. Before his fall he hadn't thought what he'd be losing and not having Mike's friendship anymore is possibly the worst thing.
"Always," Mike offers lightly, and maybe Nate is wrong. Maybe he hadn't lost it.
"The wings are certainly impressive." Brad is clearly aiming at levity after Mike's gone, and mostly failing. "Did you have to give yours away?"
"I should have told you."
Brad nods. "Yes, you should have. Let's add it to the whole list of things you should have told me and didn't. We could even go as far as to try and figure out why you didn't."
"I didn't want to lose you."
"How's that working out for you?"
Nate bows his head in admission. "Not that well." He looks at his feet then at the sky, anywhere but at Brad. The sky is clouded, it looks like a storm is coming, the air heavy with anticipation. "There's one more thing."
"Just one," he repeats quietly. "I still have your soul," he says. The words hang between them, heavy and almost unbearable. Nate barges on, trying to fill the silence. "I've always- I've always intended to give it back to you. But when we met again, when I saw you... I don't know why I couldn't then. You didn't remember me at all, at the beginning. I wasn't sure what to even say to you. And later, later I was too selfish."
"I wanted to keep you, for a little while," he says, and damn if his voice doesn't break. "Here," he adds, extending his hand. Selling your soul is as easy as a kiss, passing it on is as easy as a handshake. For something so valuable, something so precious, it's so easy to get rid of.
Maybe that's why it is so precious, when you decide to hold on to it.
"Brad," he says, his hand still in the air, waiting.
"Keep it," Brad says and steps back. His expression is guarded, his eyes unreadable.
"We have more important things to do," Brad tells him. "I... Nate, I need to think. I need time to think. Keep it, for now at least."
"Are you sure?"
"Well, I suppose I can trust you with it. You've managed not to lose it in a thousand of years, so that's something."
He lets his hand drop to his side, the skin on his palm tingling, on the edge of painful and numb, like after touching ice. "Alright."
One of the better things about being a demon, Nate had been told, was the ability to turn off any kind of sensations in the body. Nate hadn't thought it very impressive, angels could do it as easily as they could fly.
Demons couldn't fly. He missed that one a little.
But he didn't quite understand what was so amazing about turning off the sensations, the feelings. Demons who used to be humans found it exhilarating, to never have to feel cold again, never have to burn up in the midday sun.
What was the point? Nate had fallen because he wanted to feel something, something but shame and guilt and weariness.
Now, he looked up at the clear sky, clear and blue, not marred with a single cloud. The sun was up and he felt the sting in his eyes but didn't look away. The air was already hot and heavy and it wasn't even midday yet, the stones under his feet scorchingly hot.
"Would you fucking find some cover? I feel hot just looking at you," someone said and something in Nate's stomach tightened, the voice achingly familiar.
He turned and looked into Brad's blue eyes. Clear and blue. A different body now, a little taller, a little leaner than he had been in life. Darker hair, a more crooked smile. He knew, though. He looked at Brad and knew and his eyes stung a little.
"So, you must be Nate," Brad said, reaching out to shake his hand. "Rudy said I might find you here. Didn't say you were insane, though. Who in their right mind willingly chooses this place in the summer?"
"You can turn it off," Nate told him. "The heat, the humidity, everything."
"I know," Brad shrugged. "Feels fucking wrong when I do, though," he admitted, his lips curling up in a wry smile.
Nate hadn't seen him in two hundred years. Maybe he should have tried to find him, but the first years were confusing enough, when you became a demon, and then he had his orders and hands full with work.
He could feel something stirring inside him. It felt familiar. If he didn't know it to be impossible, he might think it was Brad's soul.
It would be easy now. Reach out again and give it back. Free Brad of him and maybe be free of the feeling deep in his stomach, in his chest, in his fingertips, the lingering ache and want.
"Why did Rudy send you here?"
"Said it was time for me to move up in the world. I would assume it for a lame pun, but Rudy doesn't strike me as the type."
"He isn't," Nate agreed. Brad waited patiently, a hint of a smile on his lips. "My orders will keep me here for quite a while. You sure you can stand the heat."
The hint turned into a real smile, teeth showing. "I can take anything you throw at me."
That was the moment Nate knew. He should have given Brad his soul back, should have walked away then. Instead, he was rooted to the spot, grounded in this place and this time. Content, for the first time. Terrified, for the first time.
He could remember the first boy he met at the crossroads, ready to sell his soul to have that one girl love him back, only him. Nate didn't understand that at all.
He was at a crossroads again. His hands weren't on the ground and he wasn't looking up at the sky. He was looking into Brad's clear blue eyes instead, and he made a wish.
He didn't feel like falling anymore. He already had, and hard.