“And this is Brad Colbert,” says Danielle, whose daily job is that of one of Susannah’s assistants, but whose duty tonight seems to come down to dragging Nate around the hired bar and introducing him to every cast and crew member in turn. After a beat, she laughs. “Oh, that’s right, you guys know each other.”
Nate has an intense desire to borrow one of the bartender’s corkscrews and stab himself with it, turn it a few good times. It would be less excruciating, and quite probably less messy.
“A little,” he tells Danielle, smiling wryly. Plays it like it’s a joke. She nods, smiling, and steps back.
“I’ll let you two catch up, then.”
Nate has been desperately wishing for the mingling tour to end for the better part of the last twenty minutes, but he’s not at all pleased about it now. He doesn’t look at Brad just yet, can’t bring himself to. Instead, he turns the glass he’s holding in his hands, runs his thumb up its side.
“Alright then,” Brad says, shifting like he’s stepping away and Nate looks up sharply then.
“Don’t--” he says and doesn’t finish. He thinks he’d rather eat some broken glass and chase it down with pipe cleaner than ask Brad Colbert not to walk away from him. “We’re going to be seeing each other daily,” he says instead, raises his glass in a mock toast to how fucked up it is. “The least we could do is be civil.”
Brad snorts. “Wouldn’t expect anything else from you,” he says, a statement and not a jab, that’s good. “Civil. Let’s start with small talk then,” he continues, a ghost of a smile gracing his features. There are dark circles under his eyes, he looks tired. Nate knows he caught the red eye to get here, didn’t quite have the time to rest before being dragged to this party. “How’s James?”
Small talk according to Brad Colbert, everyone. Big guns first, then run over anything that survived.
“Good, last time I’ve heard,” Nate shrugs. “Moved to San Francisco,” he adds. Brad looks like the topic is boring him already. He might have been typecasted in the same mold of action flicks, but when he wants to, Brad Colbert is a fucking spectacular actor.
Or maybe he’s just not interested and really making small talk. The thought hurts more than it should.
When the show got cancelled, they had enough of notice for Wright to completely rewrite the ending, wrap it up in a satisfying conclusion. Nate’s great death scene got cut out in the process (he was going to come back next season, but Brad had been, frankly, looking forward to the fandom outcry at the cliffhanger), but Nate didn’t seem to mind all that much.
“Better than doing the death scene and then answering questions about it at every damn convention I’ll ever do,” he said laughingly, sprawled across Brad’s couch. He had more to drink than he usually did, but not enough to get drunk.
Brad nodded and didn’t point out that Nate was unlikely to be doing conventions appearances in the foreseeable future, two days after the news of cancellation he got a part in Mike Nichols’ new movie. Brad knew Nate’s been trying for it, without much hope of being actually able to even work out the scheduling, but now, with the show over, he was going to be able to do whatever he wanted. And Brad was pretty damn sure that whatever Nate wanted, he would get.
“You know what I will miss the most?” Nate asked, sitting up, craning his head to look at Brad, his neck exposed in the process, almost invitingly.
Brad, obviously, had too much to drink, if he was even contemplating this. If he thought that maybe what Nate would miss the most was the same thing Brad didn’t know how he could deal with losing; them, like this, here. After hours, when no matter how tired Nate was, he would find Brad and they would watch a movie, or whatever game was on, or just sit and talk shit. Brad would miss this.
But what he said was: “The middle-of-the-night shoots, when you’re running down a hill at a breakneck pace?”
“You know me so well,” Nate laughed, eyes shining.
“You know what I will miss the most?” Brad asked, bending to put his empty beer bottle on the coffee table, glancing at Nate when he moved back to sit on the couch. Nate’s expression had shifted, turning wondering, expectant. Brad’s breath caught at the look in his eyes. “Nate...”
“What will you miss?” Nate asked, shifting closer, his hand resting on Brad’s arm, Brad’s skin warming up to the touch. He could feel the sensations echo under his skin, starting from Nate’s fingertips. “Will you miss me?” Nate prompted and Brad moved, leaned in and kissed him, slow and searching, his tongue licking at the corner of Nate’s mouth. Nate shifted into the touch, parted his lips obligingly.
“I think I might,” Brad muttered, feeling Nate’s smile start on his lips.
“What the fuck, Brad? Do I need to explain the concept of a cell phone to you again? They have those fucking little chargers that you can actually plug in. And right now, I am seriously contemplating plugging one in. Up your ass,” Ray ranted as he made his way into Brad’s apartment. “What is the point of having an agent or a publicist if you’re dodging their fucking calls? I’m being nice about it, but Mel will fuck you up. Brad?” he called out. “You fucker, I will--” he stopped.
People wondered sometimes what it would take for Ray to shut up.
Apparently one of those things would be Nathaniel fucking Fick, clad only in a towel wrapped around his hips, making coffee in Brad’s kitchen. “Brad’s still in the shower,” he told Ray pleasantly.
“Motherfucker,” Ray muttered. “I need to sit down.”
Nate looked at him for a moment and then reached into the cupboard, took out Ray’s usual mug and filled it to the brim with coffee. “You want to go with it now?”
Ray blinked at him. “Go with what?”
“With the speech. I’m pretty sure you have one ready. I guess it will start with ‘if you hurt Brad, I’m going to fuck you up’,” Nate said calmly, leaned against the kitchen counter, holding the mug with both hands. Ray hated his smug face in that moment, but there was something else, some softness in Nate’s face that seemed familiar. He had been obsessing about the way Brad felt about Nate and apparently hadn’t bothered to think about Nate’s feelings for Brad. Fine. Maybe Fick could stay, if he stayed on his best behavior.
“It starts with: if you hurt Brad, I will indeed fuck you up, starting with a rusty nail through some of your more sensitive parts.”
“Alright,” Nate said, as if they had just made a deal. As if he never intended to hurt Brad. The determination on his face was something Ray could appreciate, but he was a suspicious motherfucker, he wasn’t about to let his guard down.
Walt warned him that it would be going a bit too far, but Ray wasn’t going to let such a tiny thing like the trespassing laws stop him. Or the eventual breaking and entering charges.
Nate, to give him credit, doesn’t look surprised when he gets back to find Ray camping out in his living room. He just leans against the doorframe, arms crossed as he calmly assesses the situation. “Took you long enough,” he says. “Brought all the nails you need?”
Ray blinks at that, momentarily taken aback. “I’m surprised you remembered that.”
Nate shrugs. “That was the morning...” he doesn’t finish, just steps in, dropping his keys in the bowl on the side table. It’s comforting that he looks like something run him over, the way he never looks in the films Brad makes him watch.
And by makes him watch Ray means tries to watch himself even though it just sends him into a fucking bitch funk, so Ray considers it a duty to babysit Brad and sit through the things while imbibing huge amounts of alcohol. He even has a drinking game for every time Nate... never mind.
“To be honest, I expected you a good few years ago,” Nate continues, heading for the fridge. “You want something to drink? I should have some beer,” he adds absently.
He sounds tired, resigned. Anything Ray had planned, and he had a few good ideas, really, seems like a serious overkill now. “Beer’s fine.”
“I didn’t know he was even considering the role.”
Ray snorts. That’s not even the biggest problem here. “Yeah, well. Crying over spilled milk and all that shit, not gonna be helpful, homes. I just need you to... I don’t know, not fuck with his head if you can actually help it. Cut the puppy dog eyes and the soulful looks.”
“Stay the hell away from him and you won’t have to hurt me?” Nate supplies helpfully, his mouth twisting in a half smile, half pained grimace. “Believe me, Ray, hanging out with Brad outside of the set is the last thing I want to do. He walked out on me, remember?”
Ray doesn’t point out it’s Brad, that Nate should have expected it, should have seen it coming. For all the wordless communication and shit, Nate had really missed that one, hadn’t figured out that Brad would do his best to push away everyone he actually gave a shit about. The more he cared, the harder he’d push. Not everyone had Ray’s perseverance.
Maybe if Ray had said something back then, but he was too angry to play the motherfucking yenta. You get what you are given and it ain’t good whining.
“Just remember that I’m watching you,” he tells Nate without venom. He sounds tired to his own ears. “Fuck.”
Nate nods, hands Ray a bottle of beer and sits down opposite him. “So, how’s Walt?” he asks conversationally.
They’ve been friends on the set. Not only Brad and Nate, but Olivia and Poke and Walt and Wright and the rest, and, when they visited, Ray and Mike. They used to hang out and then they didn’t, and at least Brad has Ray and Walt now, no matter how he complains. Olivia has her new show, Poke’s been busy with Gina and the littlest Pokeling, and besides, apparently after that one party Nate didn’t really keep in touch with Poke, apart from the occasional e-mail.
If there was a divorce, it was Brad who got the kids. Ray hadn’t really considered that before. He sighs. “Walt’s planning to take over the company, as always. He’s fucking dangerous.”
Nate watches him for a moment, then nods, smiling slightly. “I’m happy for you,” he says.
Ray shakes his head. “So am I, but don’t tell him that. His head is big enough as it is,” he mutters and takes a swig of his beer. Sometimes he forgets how much he actually likes Nate fucking Fick, when the guy isn’t fucking with Brad’s head and heart.
That just makes everything fucking difficult. Ray’s life would be so much easier if everyone around him weren’t such morons.
Except Walt. Walt’s alright.
The wrap-up party lasted until the small hours, Brad heard, but the six of them moved out earlier, after Poke and Ray got into a heated discussion of their respective poker skills and roped everyone else into playing a game. Nate rolled his eyes goodnaturedly and booked them a hotel room upstairs.
“You just know that at some point, Ray’s going to toss his shirt into the pot, and I’d rather not be in the hotel lounge when that spins out of control.”
Brad laughed at that, his fingers brushing against the back of Nate’s hand when they both reached to press the elevator button. “And when it does spin out of control, and you lose your shirt because your poker face is fucking awful, it’ll assure we have a hotel room I can kick everyone out of,” he added.
“Strategic planning,” Nate agreed pleasantly, his voice sounding a little breathless, probably due to the way Brad moved to press him against the elevator’s wall, their bodies lined up, Brad’s hand sneaking under Nate’s shirt, running up his side. “We’re not fucking in here,” Nate warned him, but since his last words were whispered into Brad’s neck, before he run his tongue down the side of it, teeth grazing the skin at Brad’s pulse point... the warning wouldn’t be difficult to disregard.
But they’d have time for this later, and now Brad was content with just placing a kiss on Nate’s temple, his fingers resting comfortably on the nape of Nate’s neck.
“I am greatly tempted to kick everyone out right now,” he told Nate, eliciting a smile pressed against his skin.
“How about this. If you win the game, I’m going to suck your cock after you kick everyone out.”
Brad gave him a look. “You’re going to suck my cock anyway,” he said, stepping back as the elevator doors opened. “What if I don’t win?”
“You’re actually contemplating that?” Nate asked, his jaw dropping in an overdone show of surprise. “If you lose, I’m going to tie you to the bed and do whatever I want with you.”
“And that’s an incentive for me to try to win?” Brad shook his head. “Honestly, Nathaniel, this is a whole new side to you that I’m seeing now.”
Nate shrugged. “Just trying to make the best use of the time we have before you’re off to shoot that guest spot. Ray’s been talking about it to no end and I’m well aware there’s a sex scene involved. Need to make sure you remember who you’re coming back to,” he said, his tone light and laughing, enough that Brad knew he was joking.
“This newfound possessive streak of yours is...” he paused as Nate turned on his heel, walking backwards as he looked at Brad, eyes laughing. “Very attractive,” he concluded, when they stopped in front of the room’s doors, Nate leaning against them, head tilted up, licking his lips. “And inside, Nathaniel. Or your rule about no public sex is going to get broken,” he said, reaching past Nate to turn the doorknob, breathing out into Nate’s mouth as the shift got them closer.
“More than we wanted to know,” Ray piped up. “Way more. Also, high time, Poke needs to be taken down.”
“Remind me again why I shouldn’t kick them all out now?” Brad muttered and Nate shrugged.
“My room. Play nice. It’ll be a while until we can get together like that again,” he added, sitting down, pulling at Brad’s sleeve to get him to join them.
“Yes. I’m very happy about that one,” Brad muttered darkly.
“Whatever,” Ray rolled his eyes, handing Brad a deck of cards. “Just deal and fucking shut up, you know you’re going to miss us. Especially Nate, when he fucks off to London to shoot his pussy movie of existential pain and shit, okay, but me and Walt, we’re going to Vegas, because, can you believe it, he’s never been. I give it a week, a week, Brad, before you call me up, because sitting in your apartment and eating ice cream and listening to All by Myself is just not cutting it anymore, and it’s either calling me and crying your little heart out, or jerking off to Nate’s sex scene from episode fucking fifteen, and that would be just sad.”
“How much did he have to drink?” Nate asked slowly and Walt shook his head, his eyes comically wide.
“Speaking of London, you called them?” Mike asked Nate quietly, enough that Brad almost didn’t catch it. Nate shook his head, his eyes flickering to Mike’s face pointedly, as if telling him to cut it.
“Didn’t get a chance. I will,” he muttered back, and if Brad wasn’t watching Mike with some curiosity as to what the fucking fuck was going on, he’d miss the flash of a look he shot at Brad, worried and slightly exasperated.
“Brad, there in your hands? Those are cards, not your dick,” Ray said, obviously at the point in his evening where he forgot about something as insignificant as using his inside voice. “No need to fondle them like that, just fucking deal.”
Brad did just that, but his concentration was shot to hell, his thoughts circling back to the look of irritation on Nate’s face at Mike’s comment. It was a puzzle, and Brad fully intended to get to the bottom of this.
Few hours later, he did get to kick everyone out, or at least kick Poke and Ray out, and politely ask Walt and Mike to make sure no one got lost, or humped a signpost on their way home or whatever. Nate was cleaning up, picking up all the beer bottles, because it wasn’t like the housekeeping could take care of that later. That was Nate for you.
Brad came to stand behind him, arms around Nate’s waist. It was enough to provide a distraction and Nate relaxed against him, his right hand moving to cover Brad’s, lacing their fingers together. “Hey,” he muttered and Brad breathed in, his arms tightening around Nate.
“They have this thing called housekeeping. Leave it,” he told Nate and Nate shifted, turned his head just so Brad could catch his eyeroll. “What was Mike getting at?” he asked and Nate looked away again.
Sure. The other one had bells on. “Nate.”
“Brad,” Nate shot back immediately, stepping forward, turning to face him. Brad didn’t like the loss of contact, his body never felt quite so perfect when he could feel Nate all over. But he didn’t move, Nate was being deliberately evasive and Brad felt a sense of dread creeping up; this was important, somehow, and Nate was keeping it from him.
It scared Brad more than he’d like to admit.
“It’s nothing, Mike’s overreacting,” Nate tried again.
“Yes, that’s Mike Wynn, the drama queen,” Brad pointed out. “If you don’t want to tell me, that’s fine. Just don’t fucking downplay it if it is important.”
Nate sighed, his hand twitching nervously, and he raised it up, ran his fingers through his hair, messing it up. It stuck up on his left side, he looked as if he just rolled out of his bed. He could be rolling into it, if Brad wasn’t intent on pressing the issue, and he hated himself for this, but he needed to know what was going on in Nate’s head, what Mike was worried about.
“I’ve been rethinking taking the role. I’m not sure I want to commit to something that will keep me in Europe for that long.”
It didn’t make sense. “You wanted that part. Badly, if I remember.”
“There are other things. In the States,” he added, and the way he was looking slightly to the side, not quite at Brad, told Brad pretty much everything.
“Don’t turn it down because of me,” he said, a cold shiver running down his spine.
“I’m not,” Nate said, too quickly. “Not just because of you,” he amended. “My family is here, my younger sister just had a baby, everyone I love is here. There are other roles here, good roles, and I’m just thinking it over.”
Brad had been punched a good few times in his life, and the sensation he felt when Nate’s lips formed the word ‘love’ was just like that, only more intense. They hadn’t yet gotten to that, but judging by the visceral reaction, Brad’s heart already decided. And wasn’t that just fucking fantastic, considering.
“Alright,” he said, and watched the relief flash across Nate’s face before he stepped forward, his hand on Brad’s chest.
“Stop worrying about it,” Nate said and gently pressed his mouth against Brad’s, not hesitant but careful. Brad held him close, let Nate lick his way into Brad’s mouth, tug at the collar of Brad’s shirt, his hand on Brad’s neck, palm over his pulse point, warm and steady.
He let Nate think the matter was firmly dropped, that Brad gave in. It wasn’t a fair thing to do, but Brad needed to be selfish for a few moments more. Needed to feel Nate all around him, just for now.
Nate was probably going to be fucking pissed at him, later, but that would be good, that would be easier. Easier now then later. That movie was of the kind you didn’t turn down, and Nate needed to take the part. Needed to leave. Brad couldn’t be the one for whom Nate fucked over his fucking career, wouldn’t be able to take it when Nate realized that.
But for now, just now, he could have Nate moan his name into his mouth, kiss Brad like he was chasing the taste of it, his fingers insistently undoing Brad’s shirt. Just for now.
When Nate woke up Brad was already dressed, talking to the room service in a hushed voice as the man brought in the breakfast.
“Morning,” he greeted Nate as the doors closed, when Nate came out of the bedroom.
Something was wrong. Nate couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but something in the tight set of Brad’s jaw, the tension in his shoulders. It was new, and strange, and worrying.
“There’s bacon,” Brad offered, his voice deceptively light.
Nate shook his head, ignored the tray and the smell of fresh coffee. “What’s going on?”
Brad looked straight at him then, and the strange kind of seriousness Nate could see chilled him to the bone. “My flight is in three hours.”
Brad wasn’t due to leave until the next day, same flight Nate was taking. Nate was going to change planes at the LAX but they would have three hours at the airport to, well... “What happened?” he said, a note of worry creeping into his voice.
“Nothing happened. Just catching the earlier flight. No point in hanging around here,” he added calmly, then shrugged. “I’ve been thinking. You should take that job in London.”
It was an apparent non sequitur, except Nate could tell it was anything but. “You’ve been thinking,” he repeated, shaking his head. “Somehow this fills me with dread,” he tried for a joke but it fell flat, lost somewhere in the few feet of the space between them. “Brad.”
“Your family will more than understand, it’s a great opportunity. There’s really nothing keeping you stateside.”
“Nothing?” Nate asked with disbelief, taking a step forward. “You’re here,” he pointed out. He was too confused to play games, to take time and guard his words and school down his expression. Brad’s mouth tightened and he closed his eyes briefly.
“Don’t stay for me, Nate. It’s not worth it.”
“What? This? Us?”
“What we ha--had isn’t worth destroying your career before it properly started,” Brad said, the small slip not unnoticeable but covered up quickly. “And you won’t be burdened by the typecasting either. I thought I’d make it easier for you now.”
Nate was wide awake now, the confusion turning into anger. “You considered asking my opinion?”
Brad looked straight at him, held his gaze. “No,” he said plainly. He might had as well punched Nate. That would probably hurt less.
Nate’s hands balled into fists, clenched tightly enough to be painful, his fingernails digging into his palms. Brad hadn’t moved, still standing next to the breakfast tray, his left hand resting on the edge of the table, completely still.
“I’m surprised you didn’t leave in the middle of the night,” Nate said finally, slowly, his voice somehow completely level and unwavering. He knew, as he was saying it, that it was a low blow, but he wasn’t quite seeing clearly. At that moment, he wanted to hurt Brad, wanted him to lose at least part of his cold calm. See any kind of emotion, something. “You could have done something classy, left a note on the nightstand.”
Brad’s expression didn’t change, Nate didn’t expect it to. But his fingers tightened on the edge of the table, the slightest of tremors making them twitch and Nate felt a shadow of satisfaction.
“Thought about it,” Brad nodded. “But I thought I’d save us a few awkward phone conversations by clearing everything now.”
Nate opened his mouth, the response pressing against his lips, but he stopped himself, bit back the words. He could lash out, yes, but he didn’t have the strength for this. He couldn’t quite understand what happened in the space of the last few hours, but he knew better than to ask.
“Alright,” he said, his own voice sounding distant to him. “If that’s all you wanted to tell me, I’d appreciate it if you left now.”
Brad blinked, as if he didn’t expect Nate to give in so quickly, as if he was bracing himself for an argument. “I wanted...” he started and Nate nodded.
“You made it perfectly clear what you wanted,” he said coldly. “Now you have a flight to catch and I have a call to make.”
“This is it, then.”
“I suppose so,” Nate nodded again, decisively. “It’s been a pleasure working with you. I guess we’ll see each other at some point.” He kept his voice level, almost light. He didn’t see Brad’s reaction, his vision was too blurry for it now.
“See you around, Nate,” Brad agreed, stepping away, the doors clicking shut almost inaudibly.
Nate could still hear Brad’s footsteps moving away, and when the sound faded he lowered himself to the floor where he stood, leaned against the back of the couch and put his head in his hands, breathing slowly. His face was flushed, cheeks burning, but other than that, he could feel the cold from the open window, goosebumps on his forearms. He should get up, put on some clothes other than his boxers, but he couldn’t will himself to move, his legs numb.
The skin of his neck itched and he touched it tentatively, the sensitive patch where his neck met his shoulder, in the space Brad left his mark last night. Few hours ago. When he whispered things against Nate’s mouth, traced Nate’s skin with his hands and his tongue.
There was still time to go after him, run downstairs, still time to catch up with Brad.
Nate clenched his fists to the point of pain and didn’t move.
So, it went like this: Ray went to Vegas with Walt, they almost got hitched, but Walt refused to be married by an Elvis impersonator and Ray refused to be married by anyone else, and then when they came back, Brad was so fucked up he hadn’t left his garage for over a week.
Maybe to go to the bathroom, because Brad had this thing about shitting, but other than that, garage all the way. He wasn’t yet humping his fucking bikes but it was a close thing.
“Fuck, I knew it,” Ray said, shaking his head. “Nate fucking Fick and his fucking green eyes and his cocksucking lips. I knew he would break your heart. Don’t worry, homes, I know a guy, used to work for the Chicago mob. He can deal with the fucker, and cheap.”
“Leave it, Ray,” Brad told him, not even trying for insults or obscenities or any fucking degree of emotion. He just downed his glass of scotch and looked away.
“No, seriously, he’ll do us a good deal. I know Fick’s in England, but I’m sure Joe knows people on the other side of the pond who could drown him in the Thames or something.”
Brad drew himself up and went inside the house. Ray knew the drowning part would cheer him up. He followed Brad to the kitchen and watched as Brad programmed the coffee machine. “I broke up with him,” Brad said after a moment, so quiet Ray almost didn’t hear the soft admission over the sound of the coffee maker.
That was... unexpected. It shouldn’t have been, Brad, after all, had a long and proud history of emotional retardation, but Ray had seen the way he looked at Nate, he was pretty damn sure it would end with a fucking commitment ceremony because they would be pussies who hated Elvis, just like Walt.
“Why the fuck would you do that?” he asked, a stray thought appearing. He didn’t think so, but... “He fucking cheated on you or what?” That would just take a cake, after that bitch Julie.
“No,” Brad said fast, turning on his heel. “No,” he repeated calmly, looking away. “It was my decision, it’s for the better. Now, fuck off, call me if there’s something actually happening with that miniseries and let it fucking go.”
Ray let it fucking go, because when the vein in Brad’s neck started to throb like this, it was time to vacate the premises and look for cover.
“I just don’t fucking get it,” he told Walt later that day. “You saw them at the poker night, they were so wrapped up in each other you could reach into Brad’s throat and pull out Nate’s tonsils.”
“One, that’s fucking disgusting, you hick,” Walt shook his head. “Two, I called Mike. He says Nate refuses to speak on the subject but he’s pretty much a basket case. Mike says he’s not staging an intervention just yet because it’s making Nichols happy as a clown, Nate’s at the perfect stage to angst his heart out and bleed all over the set, which is mostly what they want from him, so...”
“Yeah, that’s fucking great, maybe he’ll have a fucking Oscar to show for it. In the meantime, I have to fix Brad. I fucking knew it was gonna end like this. I only didn’t know Brad was going to be the more retarded one. Should have bet on that one, though, it was high time for his PMS to make an appearance.”
It takes Nate two days to realize it’s not working out. It’s probably less obvious to everyone else, anyone who isn’t aware of how well they used to play off each other, but people notice that their previous chemistry, the one that made Alternate a cult favourite, is pretty much gone.
It’s a no-brainer, really, when they were shooting Alternate Nate trusted Brad implicitly, could open up and let Brad see everything. Now, he barely has the guts to look him in the eye when the take doesn’t require it.
As he said, people are starting to notice. “Maybe you need a few days,” Susannah tells him kindly. “Take the rest of the day off, the weather is fucked anyway. You and Brad go and catch up, find your zen or get stinking drunk,” she smiles and Nate reads between the lines: fix it, and soon.
They’ve been sitting stiffly in the hotel bar for half an hour. Brad barely said a few words together for the entirety of that time. To be exact, he said seventeen words. Nate wasn’t counting at first, but at some point he needed the distraction. He doesn’t know what he’s doing here.
No, he knows. He’s here because he needs to be able to tell Susannah they went out for a drink and talked. True enough.
He’s here because as much as it hurts to be this close to Brad and not be able to reach out and touch him, it’s still something. Like catching a breath after a long run, like regaining balance.
Nate realizes he’s pretty pathetic, but you try to forget Brad fucking Colbert once you had him for even the shortest of moments, when you saw him smile at you like you were the only thing in the world that made him this happy. Lose that and then try to forget.
Brad smiles then, but it’s far from the smile Nate would hope for, it’s sharp and painful. “This is really fucking shitty, isn’t it?” he asks wryly, like he can’t even believe it.
Nate shrugs. “Pretty much,” he admits. He catches Brad’s eye without meaning to, and a shiver runs down his spine, a renewal of the old connection, there even before they started anything. “I keep waiting for Susannah to thank one of us.”
“Well, she’s not going to cut the Academy nominee loose, so I think you are safe. I should just give up and go back to the CGI vehicles,” he adds and stands up, tossing a few bills onto the counter. “See you around,” he says, and it echoes in Nate’s skull.
It also distracts him enough to take a moment to catch up on the whole thing, and when he does, Brad’s already gone.
Fucker, Nate thinks. Motherfucking idiot.
He doesn’t really think about where he’s going, but he’s not surprised when he ends up in front of Brad’s doors, knocking on them hard. Should have done this a long time ago, but that ship has sailed. There’s other things he can salvage, though.
“What the fuck are you doing here?”
Nate nods pleasantly. “Ever so charming. May I come in?” he asks, already stepping forward, and the element of surprise seems to be working, because Brad steps out of his way, letting him in. “You’re an idiot,” he says once the doors close and Brad follows him into the main room.
“Would you like to sit down? Have a drink?” Brad crosses his arms over his chest. “I like to make sure my guests are comfortable before they start insulting me.”
“I think I’ve had enough to drink already, but I could go for a cup of coffee,” Nate says matter-of-factly.
Brad gives him an incredulous look but moves on to make one anyway. Nate watches him for a moment, takes in the efficient movements, the slight hesitance in Brad’s step, the uncertain look on his face he tries to cover with a smirk.
“We were friends first,” he says and Brad doesn’t turn, doesn’t move a muscle, and it must take some effort, Nate can tell from the set of his shoulders. He can tell, and that pretty much is his point. “Before we were together, before everything, we were friends,” he repeats and his voice doesn’t break and doesn’t waver. Nate’s pretty damn proud of this.
He steps around the table and looks at Brad, raises his eyebrows questioningly. Waits for Brad to confirm or deny. Brad nods, slowly, his mouth tight and his gaze almost too steady, almost unseeing. “Yeah, we were,” he says finally.
“Then you need to know this. If you try to walk out on this movie, I’m not even going to wait for them to find a replacement, I’m going to be out of here five minutes after you are.”
“You can’t just do that,” Brad shakes his head minutely, his eyes wide.
Nate shrugs, takes one step forward. It is a bit of a mistake, it’s too close, he could reach out and touch Brad and his fingers ache with the possibilities. But it seems to be disconcerting to Brad too, and that’s something to marvel at. “You no longer get to tell me what I can and can’t do,” he says calmly. “It’s your decision, but I’m not backing out from what I said. So, you can either figure out how to work with me, or you can leave, but in the latter case I’d appreciate if you told me now, so I wouldn’t have to go and look at the apartments on Friday.”
Brad stares at him and Nate can almost feel the heat on his skin. He holds Brad’s gaze and waits, his head tilted to the side, and he can pinpoint the precise moment when Brad gives in, his shoulders dropping a fraction. “Alright,” he says, his voice surprisingly soft. “We were friends first,” he repeats, a gentle admission in a voice that Nate didn’t expect to hear again. “About that coffee, then?”
“If it’s no trouble.”
Brad snorts, shakes his head as he steps back, ducking his head. “Figures. First you offer me a rant worthy of Ray Person and now you worry about causing me any trouble. You’re so full of shit,” he says, and it doesn’t quite hit the right note, the remark awkward and clumsy, but it’s a trial run.
Nate shrugs. “With my day job, how can you blame me?” he says and sits down. It could be the stupidest thing he’s ever done, but for the first time in a long while, he feels a small buzz of excitement in an almost forgotten place deep inside.
It probably is the stupidest thing he’s ever done.