Brad wasn’t going to attend Poke and Gina’s anniversary shindig, for various reasons and most of them not even connected to Nate Fick. He was supposed to be busy with the reshoots, but half of their cast and crew was down with a flu, including the director and two leads, so Brad unexpectedly had some free time.
And Nate was supposed to still be in England.
But then Gina called and asked, and Poke ranted at him for half an hour, and even Ray told him he should be going out more. It was this or getting roped into a fucking bachelor’s auction or some other shit Ray had been threatening him with, so Poke’s party it was.
And then he walked in and there was Nate, in Poke’s backyard, holding a glass of whiskey in his fingers, turning it absently, his thumb stroking the side. He looks... fuck, it sounded ridiculous, but Brad’s mouth watered at the sight. He hadn’t seen Nate in person since he had walked out of that hotel room.
Brad had been right in one thing; Nate needed to take the role. It made him more than recognizable, there was buzz of an Oscar nomination already, it had gotten him a string of other offers. Point for Brad, except he wasn’t really keeping a score, because mostly, he lost, big time.
Because the other worry of his, that any kind of a public relationship they might have started would hurt Nate’s chances of being offered anything but a certain kind of roles... that went out of the window when Nate came out, a few weeks ago, quietly and without a fuss, two interviews, including one for AfterElton, and had been seen out with someone already, a liberal, Ivy League idiot of a writer. Not that Brad followed the thing in the gossip rags, not at all.
That didn’t change the fact that Nate was slated to star in a caper comedy with Zooey Deschanel, so apparently he wasn’t in any danger of being typecasted. Then again, it was Nate, everyone could see how fucking talented he was.
Nate looked up just then, his eyes immediately drawn to Brad’s, as if working with a set of fucking magnets. He started to smile, Brad could see it plain as day, the corners of Nate’s mouth rising in recognition, his eyes shining. The smile that was once just for Brad, was still there for him. And then it disappeared, gone in an instant, when Nate’s brain caught up with the instinct, the brilliant smile replaced by hurt, quickly covered with a mildly polite expression of disinterest.
Yeah, Brad was aware he did that to himself, that he was the one to fuck it all up, but he did feel a momentary flash of anger at Nate, at Nate being there, and with a guy next to him touching his arm absently as he spoke, with familiarity Brad once claimed for himself.
Nate nodded slowly, shifted almost imperceptibly as if he wanted to move in Brad’s direction. Brad wasn’t sure he could take this, if he could stop himself from giving in, throwing all the caution to the wind, kissing Nate senseless and to hell with consequences. He couldn’t, he wasn’t strong enough to deal with the well-deserved rejection, and he was even less prepared for the slight chance that Nate might kiss him back.
So instead of going over to Nate, he turned on his heel and walked away.
It was becoming a habit.
Brad Colbert was doing his very best to put Ray in an early grave.
It’s not like Ray hadn’t had an advance warning, Brad had been threatening to kill him for years, or, when he was in a good mood, to cripple him or rip off his dick. Good times. But this time it seemed that he was on a very good way to give Ray a heart attack.
“I admire your quest to turn the US fucking Weekly into the Brad Colbert newsletter, but you could slow down a little, I’m pretty sure they can’t print shit out as fast as you go through all those girls,” he told Brad pointedly. “If you want variety, try hookers. They’re discreet, that’s the whole fucking point.”
“Weren’t you the one who encouraged me to get out of the house? Besides, Kate’s just a friend.”
“And so was Veronica and Nancy and Jessica and Lynda and Iza. Seriously, I hope you’ve stocked up on condoms. I actually think you’re singlehandedly keeping fucking durex in business.”
“If you think I’m having a safe sex discussion with you, you’re sadly mistaken. If you think I’m having any kind of a sex discussion with you, you need your brain checked, possibly for syphilitic brain damage. And tell Walt to get himself tested.”
“Fuck you, Colbert,” Ray said pleasantly then sighed, tearing off the first page of the People magazine and starting on a paper crane. “I appreciate passive agressive dickery as much as the next guy, but it’s bordering on unhealthy. And if you’re trying to get him back by making him jealous then, well, I weep for you, because you’re a fucking idiot.”
“It has nothing to do with Nate.”
Ray raised his eyebrows. “And yet you knew exactly who I meant,” he pointed out. He knew he wasn’t off by much, it was about Nate. Not an attempt to get him back, Ray knew better even as he accused Brad of just that. It was to reinforce the point, drive a further wedge between them. Brad was making sure he not only burned all the bridges down but also filled the moat with molten lava.
Brad was nothing but thorough, especially now that Nate was back in California, shooting that caper flick in San Francisco. Brad was probably figuring out that it would be harder for him to drive there and beg Nate to take him back if Nate thought him an asshole who couldn’t keep it in his pants. Preemptive strike worthy of Brad Colbert: efficient, deadly, and fucking himself over in the process.
And Ray didn’t mind a strategy like this in a client, all the dates kept Brad’s mug in the press and kept the public interest going, with this and the miniseries the scripts were coming in, Brad even made it to the shortlist for Thor... but when it came to seeing a friend do this to himself, that fucking sucked.
“Hookers would be healthier, Brad,” he muttered.
Brad met Zoe in November, if you believed the gossip rags timeline. Nate didn’t usually, but this time he had little else to go on. The papers had dismissed it as another in the long line of Brad Colbert’s non-relationships and apart from the three pictures of them getting coffee together, it was altogether a non-event.
Nate knew better. Brad didn’t date co-stars, not since Nate at least, and Zoe was different than any other girl featured in the People magazine with him. Brad seemed to actually genuinely like her. Nate couldn’t tell if they were sleeping together or not, if Brad was in love with her or not, but Brad didn’t enjoy the company of many people and he did enjoy himself with Zoe, that much was evident.
Nate wasn’t really surprised when their relationship continued, when they were seen out and about for a good few months, when they allegedly spent the New Year’s Eve in Hawaii. Crushed, sure, but not all that surprised.
“Just let it go, Nate,” Mike told him quietly, shaking his head. It was actually a bit worrying, because Nate had never even breathed a word to Mike about the development of his stalkerish tendencies, but there you were, Mike Wynn knew everything.
And then Zoe was gone from Brad’s life and honeymooning in France with the guy who played Brad’s nemesis in their movie, and the entire blogosphere had a collective fit because no one had seen that one coming.
Nate did the third stupidest thing he could do and called Walt. (The second stupidest thing would be calling Ray. You could probably guess the first.) “How is he?” he asked and Walt sighed loudly and Nate could tell he was shaking his head.
“I’m not sure...”
“Walt, if you don’t tell me, I’m going to call Ray. And he will tell me, because he will take a great pleasure in ranting at me, but that conversation would get back to Brad and I don’t think any one of us wants that.”
“People don’t give you nearly enough credit for being a manipulative asshole,” Walt said not unkindly. “He’s holding up. It’s not as bad as he was after... He’s fine,” he corrected himself quickly and it was Nate’s turn to sigh. When it came to Brad, ‘fine’ meant really nothing at all, or could mean anything.
But he could see for himself three weeks later, at Mike’s wedding. It was the one event neither he nor Brad could avoid, couldn’t talk their way out of it. Well, maybe Brad could, but he wouldn’t, not after Claire called him personally and teasingly asked if maybe he thought himself better than their little ceremony.
Nate both wanted to see him and feared it. Last time they had seen each other had been at Poke’s party, where Brad took one look at him and promptly left. Nate shouldn’t have expected anything more, but it still hurt like fucking hell. Maybe he shouldn’t have taken Peter, but they had known each other since college and it was a nice, familiar feeling to fall back on, and, well, Brad wasn’t even supposed to be there. And even if, he wasn’t supposed to care. He was the one to break up with Nate, after all.
But the serial dating right after that was puzzling in its timing, as if it held a connection. But Brad had clearly moved on, and if only Nate could do the same, everything would be just perfect.
Easier said than done, apparently getting over Brad Colbert wasn’t that easy. Maybe it had to get worse before it got better, but Nate had been waiting for the better for a while now, and it was as much of a no-show as ever. And then, well, Zoe, and Mike’s wedding.
Everything was alright at the church; Brad hang out in the back, a pained and long-suffering expression on his face, growing more strained every time Ray leaned over to whisper something to him. And apart from the growing irritation he did, indeed, seem fine, just as Walt said.
If by fine you meant depressed as all fuck and clearly not sleeping very well. Nate could tell the moment he laid eyes on Brad, and he was really surprised no one else seemed to notice.
“Colbert cleans up nice, doesn’t he?” Laura said, craning her head to look over Nate’s shoulder. Brad’s table was as far away from the one Nate was sitting at as Claire could possibly manage, apparently Mike has been talking to her.
Nate shook his head, quelled the desire to turn and look at Brad himself. He had been trying not to sneak looks at Brad for the better part of the reception and it wasn’t quite working out well for his sanity.
“Yes,” he agreed pleasantly, sure that Laura didn’t even hear him. It didn’t matter, because it was a lie as much as it was the truth; Brad looked fantastic as always, but the weariness and the trace of sadness in his gaze undercut the image, made Nate abandon the thoughts he would usually have at the sight of Brad Colbert in a tux.
At least he was doing well with not going over to Brad’s table and making an idiot out of himself. That was always something to take pride in. He would have probably manage to survive the entire evening with his dignity intact if he hadn’t gone out to get some fresh air, if he hadn’t chosen the secluded corner of the garden, away from the gazebo and the couples sneaking out for a romantic moment, away from the twinkling lights and the music.
He wasn’t the only one to have the same idea, to look for a place to avoid crowds. Of course, because the universe loved to make Nate’s life as difficult as possible when it came to Brad fucking Colbert.
“Sorry,” Brad said, stepping back, turning to walk back into the house.
Nate laughed. “You won’t find a better place to hide. Believe me, I tried,” he muttered and shifted, leaving enough space on the bench for three people to sit. “Don’t worry, you’re not obliged to indulge me with conversation.”
Brad gave him a long look, Nate could feel it against his skin, but he didn’t look up, didn’t shift at all apart from turning his glass in his hands. It was almost empty already.
Brad sat down, as far away from Nate as humanly possible. Nate hadn’t expected anything less.
“Claire looked lovely,” he said and Nate turned to stare at him incredulously.
“Are you indulging me with conversation?”
“I’ve figured, why the fuck not? You’re not sycophantic or pompous or an absolute moron, which I can’t say about most of the guests here. There’s also the drunk contingent, and the nice ladies who want to soothe my broken heart. Sad as it may be, you might be my best bet for a decent conversation tonight. There was Hasser, too, but he fucked off half an hour ago, claiming he was the designated driver for Ray. And Poke’s too busy with the wife and kids.”
“I’m flattered I rate right after Walt and Tony,” Nate nodded. “So. Yes, the bride looked radiant. Mike’s a very lucky guy.”
“That would do,” Brad agreed thoughtfully. “We can now fall into comfortable silence.”
Nothing comfortable between them, Nate didn’t point out. “Is your heart broken?” he asked, surprising himself. But it’s been playing around in his head for a while now, ever since Zoe had left for France, and he had enough to drink now that he could ask.
“Nate,” Brad said, warning plain in his voice. But he didn’t move, didn’t just stand up and walk away, and that in itself was amazing.
“I’ve figured as much.” Nate turned to look at him, really look at Brad, not the stolen glances from earlier, not trying to hide it. “So, she left you. Not counting the flings, because I don’t think you are, where does this leave you? Two for three, and I bet you think I didn’t leave only because you managed to pull a fast one on me and leave first.”
He might have as well punched Brad, judging from the look on his face. This was the worst of places to have this conversation, even if it was long time coming. “I did us both a favor.”
It wasn’t exactly a denial, if anything, it confirmed Nate’s suspicions. He shook his head and stood up. “For future reference, Brad. Don’t do me any more favors.”
He managed about two steps before Brad reached out, hand closing on Nate’s forearm, fingers tightening a little too hard. Nate would be able to feel them the next day, places where Brad’s fingernails dug in, even through the cloth of Nate’s shirt, and he marvelled at that. “It was the right thing to do,” Brad told him.
Nate shook his head, turned in Brad’s grip and faced him, looking up at the tight set of Brad’s jaw, at the way the corner of his mouth turned downwards. “No, it wasn’t,” he said, careful to keep his voice even, gentle. He didn’t feel anger anymore, not this close to Brad, everything had been washed away by the keen sense of loss. “I would have stayed if you let me. For however long you would have me, I would have stayed,” he muttered and pressed his lips to Brad’s, too briefly, chastely.
Brad let go of his arm, his lips going soft under Nate’s, just for a second, before Nate stepped away, shrugged and looked down at his feet on the grass, fitting right in between Brad’s. He turned to walk away.
“Nate,” Brad muttered but Nate didn’t stop, just headed towards the house.
It gets better after that evening, after they sit in Brad’s hotel room and have much more coffee than it is advisable for anyone who should be up bright and early and ready on set. They talk about nothing at all, as far as Brad can tell, but he feels better than he had in months.
It’s still awkward, Nate seems to be carefully considering his words, rethinking the instinctive responses before he chooses his answers and questions, and Brad doesn’t quite like that, but he’s doing the very same thing, so he probably shouldn’t be complaining.
But it’s close enough to how they used to be with each other, sometime when the shooting on Alternate was starting and they didn’t quite read each other’s faces quite that well, when they were still taking each other’s measure.
Susannah notices, so it must be showing on screen, and she flashes them a thumbs up after the first take the next day. Their characters are getting to know each other so it works, but Brad is fairly confident they could pull off the other scenes too.
When he says that to Nate, during lunch, Nate flashes a quick grin at him. “I’m assured of this,” he says.
Brad wants to kiss him.
It’s not a new thought, clearly, despite his reluctance to let himself think of Nate for a very long time now, Nate has featured heavily in his fantasies and at some point, Brad has stopped even trying to reign them in.
But it’s different. Or rather, it’s all too familiar, it’s how he used to feel around Nate when he was first falling for him, light and breathless and like nothing else existed but Nate’s smile.
He shouldn’t be starting this again; if he tried Nate probably would just punch him right in the face, and he would have every right to it.
Brad does know he has fucked himself over with this, but there you go. Story of his life.
He figures he should be content with this, with Nate back in his life and not giving up on him, and sometimes he even manages to convince himself he’s fine like this. That he doesn’t need anything more.
That lying to himself part? Not going so well.
“What the fuck are you thinking?” Ray asks the moment he visits the set, when they’re sitting in Brad’s trailer and Nate is doing a crossword while Brad reads through the revisions to his next scene.
Nate doesn’t even look up. “Nice to see you too, Ray.”
Ray stares at him. “I’ll get to you later,” he promises.
Nate smiles brilliantly and flips him off, stands up and picks at a lint on his jeans. “Always a pleasure, Ray.”
Ray shakes his head. “I can’t even,” he tells Brad, his eyes wide. He doesn’t even launch into one of his rants, just sits down in the chair Nate vacated and glares at Brad like he’s trying to kill him with laser beams.
Business as usual.
Things were busy ever since Brad got the lead in Thor. You’d think it would be more difficult to try and win the part than it would be handling the aftermath, but you’d be wrong. Walt was damn tired and Ray was irritable, more than usual, and that made Walt outwardly calm and sweet as pie, and inwardly seething.
Well, not seething as such. But he wasn’t in the best of moods, and Brad was being fucking difficult.
“I fucking hate those dog and pony shows,” he was saying and Walt rolled his eyes.
“Movie star. You should be kind of over that. It’s less than three minutes of screen time and it’s the kind of exposure we could use to promote the movie internationally. People all over the world watch this shit, Brad.”
“I think you’re right,” Brad said and Walt cringed internally, because this tone of voice never bode well. “It is shit.”
Walt sighed. He didn’t want to resort to this, but there you were. And there was fucking Brad Colbert so, really, no choice. “Kodak Theatre is a really big fucking place,” he pointed out. Brad looked at him, his eyebrows raised and Walt shrugged. “Chances you run into him are minimal and you can easily circumnavigate.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Walt didn’t quite say ‘bitch, please’. Ray would have, but there was a reason why Walt dealt with the majority of their clients. The sane clients, that was. “For the record, you’re an idiot. I’ve been refraining from pointing it out for a while now, but if you think you can spend your entire life avoiding Nate and making the best you can trying not to face the biggest mistake of your life? Change jobs. This town is awfully fucking small, you’re bound to run into each other.”
Brad looked at him for a long moment. “Ray’s a bad influence on you.”
“You’ll present the award?”
“Sure, why not.”
His voice had that certain wooden quality that meant not everything was alright at Casa de Brad, but Walt’s objective had been reached. He bit his tongue to keep himself from saying more, from pointing out that Brad should just fucking get over himself and get back with Nate before it was too late, before Nate really moved on.
It had been a long while, true, and Nate was as fucked as Brad, but between the two of them, he was the more likely to buy a clue and sort out his life, find a girl or a guy and have a nice life. Some days Walt hoped for that, because Nate deserved to actually find some happiness, but most of the time he dreaded the day, because this would be the moment when Brad’s fucking heart would be completely broken.
Some days, Walt just wanted to fucking lock them both in a broom closet for a few hours. Maybe days, considering Brad’s emotional retardation and Nate’s stubbornness. A broom closet with reinforced steel doors. He knew people who could arrange that.
Nate had been told that the Oscars was something you really enjoyed the first time around, with all its excitement and glamour, that it was something to remember.
Certainly to remember, but he wasn’t sure he was quite getting the hang of enjoying everything. Beth was, certainly. Nate invited her on a spur of the moment, partly because she had been spending most of her days at home, changing diapers and being barfed on, and partly because, as Mike pointed out, going solo wasn’t quite kosher and bringing a family member cut down the gossip and the inquires to the nature of the relationship with his guest, and that just wasn’t something Nate was ready for yet.
“You are my favourite brother,” Beth told him cheerfully after she realised their seats were only two rows behind George Clooney. Nate was going to remember to keep this tidbit in mind next time she was yelling at him over the phone for something. Usually for being an idiot and usually concerning his love life and his refusal to be set on blind dates.
She didn’t even go easy on him after he came out, just gave his personal cell number to her yoga trainer’s brother. Sometimes you just couldn’t win with Beth.
“You have your speech?” she asked now, absently folding the skirt of her dress around her so it wouldn’t wrinkle.
“Sure,” he muttered. He wouldn’t need one, the bookies were pricing his win at 13/1, which was actually much better than he would give himself, considering the other nominees. But he had been told in no uncertain terms that he had to have a speech ready and had spent the previous evening revising the one line over and over again, striking it out and writing it back in.
Maybe Beth was right all those times when she pointedly told him he was behaving like a thirteen year old girl. He could at least take comfort in the thought that he wasn’t the only one, he was in a very good company. Walt called Mike, Mike called him, it was very much reminiscent of junior high, but the point of the exercise was that Nate wasn’t unprepared for the sight of Brad Colbert in a tux, looking like a million bucks, smiling from the stage.
“I can’t believe you got to fuck him,” Beth muttered into his ear. Nate briefly missed the times when he could respond by pulling at her pigtails in retaliation. Except he never even did that. “Your life is so fucking weird now, Nathaniel Christopher Fick.”
“Says the woman who had puke in her hair three hours ago and now is sitting two rows behind George Clooney.” He didn’t bother to deny sleeping with Brad. He used to, but it was a battle lost before it started, Sarah and Beth always had ways of getting him to spill everything. In this case, Sarah had shown up with a bottle of tequila a few days after Nate came back from England and he was still jet lagged and adjusting to the time zone change, and, well.
Beth left him after the ceremony, because she was at that stage still when she couldn’t leave her daughter for longer than few hours or she got withdrawal symptoms. Nate put her in a cab, but only after she made him promise he would actually go to the party and not ‘go back home and cry into your ice cream’.
He had begged his parents for a brother, really.
Of course he chose the same party someone made Brad attend, it was just his luck. He spent half of the evening arguing with Zooey, which was always greatly entertaining, but at some point she abandoned him in search of Joseph and when Nate turned around he was staring into Brad’s eyes and unable to look away.
Things like that happened to him.
“So, what is it that one says? Better luck next time?” Brad offered lightly and Nate shrugged.
“It’s an honor to be nominated,” he stated with all the earnestness he could muster, trying not to smile around the line. It didn’t matter that it was true, it was still a cliche.
“Since I don’t think I’ll ever find out, I’ll have to take your word for it,” Brad said, taking a sip from his champagne glass and grimacing. He hated champagne, but apparently it was the only thing served here.
“You could always do a Holocaust movie,” Nate suggested helpfully.
“Ray would love that. Think of all the jokes.”
“Believe me, I’m trying not to.” Ray had a whole array of Hitler knock knock jokes. Once you’ve heard the top ten, you could never be the same. Nate shook his head. “Why are you even here?” he asked, not unkindly, just curiously. It was as far from what Brad would want to do with his evening as humanly possible; he could get roped into presenting an award, but this was stranger.
“Walt yelled at me,” Brad offered, the tone of his voice hinting that it was a joke, but Nate could tell he meant it.
“Must have been very traumatic for you,” Nate allowed, getting a small smile in response. He missed this.
He had promised himself, after Mike’s wedding, to get over Brad. It wasn’t going all that well but he’s been making progress. He could now look and Brad and miss him terribly and yet not feel like he was drowning anymore. Small steps.
Brad looked away then back up at Nate, something shifting in his gaze, the line of his mouth tightening. “Nate,” he said, and Nate pretty much hated this, the way such a small thing like his name forming on Brad’s lips could throw him off.
“How are Walt and Ray anyway? I’ve heard a rumour about Vegas a while back and I couldn’t believe it.”
“Nate,” Brad repeated forcefully, Nate’s eyes snapping back to his. It wasn’t fair, it just wasn’t fucking fair that Brad still held sway over him, that Nate couldn’t look away.
He couldn’t do this, not again.
“I’m seeing someone,” he said quietly. Brad’s eyes widened, then closed. He schooled his expression down but not without effort and Nate ached at the brief hurt that flickered across Brad’s face, but he didn’t want to take his words back. He wondered idly if it hurt a little like Veronica or Jess or Nancy, or did it hurt like Zoe, like Julie.
“And keeping it under wraps, I’m impressed,” Brad said finally.
“It’s nothing serious yet. But James is moving to LA for a while, so I hope it could be,” he added and Brad nodded in acknowledgment.
“So, what does one say?” he asked again, his smile more of a pained grimace, if it was a smile to begin with. “Better luck next time.”
He walked away before Nate could respond. The sinking feeling in his stomach was now sadly familiar.
They’ve been shooting the chase scene for the whole week and Nate can feel it in every damn muscle in his body. There’s a really impressive bruise on his forearm and the makeup girls are going to have great fun with it.
It’s the only really physical sequence in the entire movie, but fuck if it doesn’t make up for the long talky scenes in the first act. Nate’s in a pretty good shape, but he hadn’t done anything this intense since the constant night chases of the Alternate and he has the muscle pain to prove it.
Of course, Brad ‘I do my own stunts’ Colbert is unimpressed. “I should have known all those indie bullshit flicks would turn you into a pussy artiste,” he tells Nate as he hands him an icepack.
“You spend a lot of time considering my artistic choices?” Nate shoots back, only the question comes out less mocking than he aimed for, softer. His fingers brush over Brad’s on the icepack and he shivers. It’s not from the cold.
“Only occasionally, when I feel like something more sophisticated than pay per view porn,” Brad offers and catches on seconds later, his eyes closing like a child’s when they want to disappear, waiting for the earth to open and swallow him whole.
Nate laughs, an edge of hysteria coloring it, and shakes his head. Laughing hurts, he’s discovering, and he presses the icepack to his shoulder. “Did you just compare my movies to porn?”
“Intellectual wanking isn’t that different from the actual one,” Brad mutters, sitting down, fingers pressed to his temple, running down his face in dismay.
Nate gives him a look. “Really? Spend a lot of time comparing the two?”
They’re on a dangerous fucking path here, and Nate should probably back off now, plead temporary insanity due to the painkillers haze and go take a cold shower, but he doesn’t.
Hell, it probably is insanity brought on by painkillers, but they have about three weeks of shooting left, and Nate doesn’t know how he’s going to go back to not seeing Brad every day, not spending every evening playing cards or chess or watching really bad movies together. He’s not ready for it, he never was.
Brad looks at him, his eyebrows raised as he visibly debates his next remark. “Are you asking me if I jerk off to your movies?”
It’s not what Nate expected, but the reaction his body provides him with isn’t surprising. He moves the icepack up his shoulder, to the back of his neck, then to his cheek, hoping it would alleviate some of the tension, help him get his body under control. Brad watches his movement with intent, his eyes dark and glazed over.
“Do you jerk off to my movies?” he asks and Brad’s breath hitches. Neither of them is ready for this, Nate thinks, but he wants it anyway.
“Not to your movies,” Brad says and reaches out, takes the icepack out of Nate’s hands. “Come on,” he says, his voice low, and pushes softly against Nate’s shoulder, indicating for him to turn. He places it against Nate’s back, somehow knowing instinctively where it hurts the most. Nate thinks it serves the double purpose of not having to look Nate in the eye for a moment.
“Thanks,” Nate says after a long moment, after he listens to Brad’s soft breath for so long his own breathing aligns, loud in his ears.
“Are you seeing anyone?” Brad asks, so quietly Nate thinks he misheard.
“It’s a simple question, Nathaniel.”
Few months ago he would have said it was none of Brad’s business. Pointed out that Brad had left him and he lost any right to ask. Few weeks ago he’d maybe make a crack about the fact that if Brad wanted to know, he could read about it on a few chosen blogs. Now, he just shakes his head. “You know I’m not.”
Brad sighs. “I know better than to presume anything about you anymore. Learned my lesson,” he says and stands up, his movements slow and hesitant, as if he was the one with muscle pain. “Alright,” he mutters and returns the icepack to Nate, not really looking at him. “Early morning tomorrow, get some rest,” he says and Nate nods numbly.
He’s well familiar with Brad’s retreating form, but now for the first time he thinks that maybe Brad will make his way back.
In the month or so following the Oscars ceremony Brad went into what Ray took to describing as a ‘funk’. Brad generally thought of it as taking a breather from the madness of the awards season, but a retarded hick with ADHD like Ray couldn’t understand it.
Sure, he worked on his bikes a lot, but they needed care. He couldn’t even drive them as often as he wanted, what with all the time spent on various locations, or with the fuss everyone would be making if he broke something. He was surrounded by fucking mother hens.
Mel sent him carefully worded e-mails which obviously had been redacted to cut out the obscenities and Ray visited every few days, prompting Brad to finally choose something to star in, because this was getting fucking ridiculous.
Brad tried to explain the concept of fucking vacations, but Ray just told him that in this town it was called rehab and the only twelve step program Brad needed was for his idiocy, so clearly that conversation went very well.
And then the screenplay for Screwby arrived. Brad started reading it absently over his morning coffee and completely forgot of any plans he had for the day. On page three something in his stomach tightened and didn’t let go throughout, the same feeling he had when he bought his first bike. Same feeling he got when he saw Nate smile at him for the first time, really smile.
Brad didn’t fall in love easily, no matter what Ray would tell you, but he thought he might be in love with that script. And it would certainly take his mind off Nate, of Nate and James, and the few pictures of them that made it into the papers in the post-Oscars frenzy of interest.
But no matter the need for a distraction, he wanted the part badly. For the first time in a long while he read for the part and waited impatiently for the call back.
“It’s good to see you excited about something,” Ray told him after they got a call he was in. “Now stop, because your smile is freaking me the fuck out.”
The next day, Brad got a google alert on Nate, announcing the new cast members for Screwby. There were a few links to blog entries from the Alternate fanbase, gleeful with the thought of the Fick-Colbert reunion.
Brad should have known something would happen to fuck with him, because that was exactly how the universe worked, but he felt less angry than he should, less disappointed. Somewhere in the back of his mind he has been waiting for the chance.
The last day of shooting doesn’t exactly mean saying goodbye to everyone. There’ll be reshoots, Nate thinks, and then, few months later, the promotion process, the conferences and press junkets and the premieres.
It still feels like an end. And with the wrap-party planned for the evening, Nate grows nervous, his hands shaking when they call the last take. Brad twirls Susannah around and she playfully swats his shoulder, adds a few insults for a good measure, and Nate laughs along with everyone else, but he can’t quite bring himself to look at them.
He doesn’t quite have the best experience with the wrap-parties involving Brad.
He contemplates not going, but that would be a coward’s way out. The last few days, the last three weeks, Brad seemingly ignored whatever passed between them when he asked whether Nate was seeing someone, as if he had forgotten about it, as if it was unimportant.
But there were moments when Nate looked up and caught Brad’s gaze before he could look away, the moment stretching between them like a piano wire. He waited for something to happen but nothing had, and he was slowly going crazy from the build-up.
More crazy than usual. It was Brad Colbert - when it came to him, Nate never quite regained his senses.
There is an easy solution to this, Nate thinks as he changes from John’s clothes for the last time, a little sad to leave the character behind. An easy solution would be to make his way to Brad’s trailer and kiss him the moment he opens the door. It’s not that Nate hasn’t thought about that, for the last few days he barely thought of anything else.
But he’s more cautious with his heart now than he used to be, so he doesn’t. Survive this party, he thinks, and maybe they’ll get through this unscathed, maybe he will count this as a win, as a movie that helped him regain Brad’s friendship if not his love.
There, he said it. What he’s looking for in Brad’s gaze, what he’s been searching for all those weeks is any sign that Brad might love him still. Because he had, back then, Nate’s sure of this, he only doesn’t know if it makes it all better or so much worse.
Brad tries to do the knot on his tie three times before he decides to fuck it and go without; his fingers are fumbling over the material, the slight tremor making him clumsy.
He’s been waiting for this for the last three weeks. In some way, he’s been waiting for months, years. The last three weeks have just been an exercise in torture, every time Nate looked at him with soft eyes, searching and unsure. And yet Brad couldn’t quite bring himself to act, wanted to at least finish the shoot before he started anything, on the off chance that Nate would rightly just turn on his heel and leave.
The wrap-up party, though... there’s some poetry in this, almost a full circle, started when Brad decided to act like a fucking idiot. People had been trying to tell him for years that he was emotionally screwed up in the head, should have listened before he acted. Should have trusted Nate.
Speaking of people trying to tell him things, Ray calls him half an hour before the party and Brad contemplates not picking up, but he gives in in the end. Could be actually important. Turns out it’s Walt, calling from Ray’s phone, probably having just pried it out of Ray’s hands and stopping him from drunk-dialing. Been known to happen.
“Ray would like to tell you he moved your interview with the Empire for the day after tomorrow, so you have tomorrow free,” Walt says, something pointed in his voice and Brad blinks.
“Why would he do that?” he asks carefully, because Ray had been pretty adamant about Brad doing that interview as soon as possible. Of course, maybe he’s doing ‘shrooms again and it’s fucking with his perception of time. And reality. Also known to happen.
Walt’s quiet for a moment, and when Walt is actually taking time to choose his words carefully, you know it’s serious. “Wrap-up. We’re not exactly stupid.”
Ray is saying something in the background and Walt covers the phone with his hand, but his voice is still audible. “No, I won’t put him on speaker. No. No. Fine,” he says and then he’s back to his normal phone voice. “Ray on speaker, brace yourself,” he warns.
“Don’t fuck this up, Brad, we’re all tired. And don’t let Nate fuck this up, either.”
“Ray,” Brad warns and he can hear Ray snort.
“Yeah, I know, fuck you, Ray. Solid copy, homes. But you know what, in case you missed it, your pal Ray Ray has been on the set of your little love child of a movie recently and if you don’t see the way Nate looks at you, even after everything, then you better take...” The rant stops abruptly as Walt turns off the speaker.
“He’s not wrong, Brad,” Walt tells him.
Brad sighs and grips the phone a little more tightly. “Easy to say, don’t fuck up,” he mutters and Walt is silent for a long moment, long enough for Brad to think the connection has gone bad.
“You have one main advantage. Nate already loves you,” he points out, as if it was that easy, and then hums under his breath before Brad can respond. “Empire interview, day after tomorrow. Ray will text you the details later, when he’s not high as a kite and unable to type. Thank Jesus, because the last time he drunk-typed we’ve been almost sued by Oprah. Again,” he adds and disconnects and Brad turns the phone in his hands a few times before pocketing it.
He arrives early for the party, only a few people are already there, but Nate is one of them. He’s always punctual, to the point of being obsessive about it; not something you would expect from a movie star, but then again, Nate.
He looks up when Brad walks in, as if sensing his presence. It’s uncanny, and it’s just how it used to be and Brad can’t help it, he smiles instinctively, nods at Nate with a grin. Nate looks away, but before Brad can really register the disappointment, he’s saying something apologetic to Anne and then he’s making his way over to Brad.
“Anne says someone’s been stealing souvenirs from the set,” Nate tells him, starting with a middle of the conversation because it probably seems easier. Brad nods, he heard that story. Bits of costumes, a few props, someone stole Brad’s chair. Nate gives him an assessing look. “Want to tell me something, Colbert?”
“Why would I steal your shirts?” Brad asks, a smile forcing its way onto his lips but he holds it back for the sake of the line.
“How do you know it was my shirts that got stolen?” Nate counters, as he’s expected to do.
Brad shrugs, looks away guiltily. “Must have heard that from someone somewhere,” he says and makes a mistake of looking at Nate, who’s clearly trying not to laugh, the corner of his mouth twitching dangerously, and Brad can’t help a snort. “You know,” he says quietly after a moment and waits for Nate to shift and look at him. “If I wanted to get your shirts, I would have gone about it the old fashioned way.”
Nate holds his gaze steadily. “Hey baby, nice shirt, it would look great on my floor?” he deadpans and Brad tilts his head.
“Yes,” he says plainly, makes an effort not to look away, not to hide from Nate. It’s been a second nature to him for a long time, to hide every feeling away, store them and keep them unused until he exercises them in a controlled environment, in front of a camera. But Nate has worked through his defences once already.
Now it’s different, however. Now Brad wants to let him in, wants to ask him to please come inside. It’s scary as all fuck and he doesn’t mind.
“Brad,” Nate says and somehow, his voice breaks on that one syllable. There’s no mistaking the look in his eyes, and Brad might have been unsure before, but now Nate isn’t holding back either. Then he looks away and Brad feels the loss physically. “I think we should stay for at least two hours,” Nate points out matter-of-factly. “Meet me outside after that?”
“Alright,” Brad says, glancing at his watch nervously already and Nate shakes his head, reaches out to still Brad’s hand, fingers closing around Brad’s wrist. For all the world it looks as if he’s reading off Brad’s wrist watch, the contraption that has been the butt of many jokes on the set.
“Alright,” Nate repeats, his thumb stroking across Brad’s wrist, right above the watch. Brad’s pulse speeds up in anticipation and Nate smiles slightly, like he can feel it under his fingers.
Nate breathes in the night air, the breeze cold enough against his skin that he wishes he took something else than a light jacket. Still, hadn’t quite expected to stand around outside and wait for Brad to show up.
He doesn’t worry Brad’s not here yet, he has seen Brad inside, trying to disentangle himself from a conversation with two of their wonderful co-stars, whom Nate usually liked quite a bit, but who were annoying him with their current timing.
“You’re here,” Brad says softly and Nate doesn’t startle at all, even though a shiver runs up his spine in response to Brad’s tone. There’s relief mixed with amazement and Nate turns to look at him, to search his face for the accompanying look. He used to be able to read Brad quite well, but it’s nothing compared to now, because now Brad seems to have abandoned the obsessive need to control his every emotion, keep it from showing.
It’s not there for everyone but it’s there for Nate and it’s breathtaking.
“Where else would I be?”
Brad ducks his head, closes his eyes briefly, the evening shadows shifting across his face as he moves, obscuring his eyes for a moment. “I don’t know. I used to think--” he stops when Nate steps forward, reaches out to place his hand on the nape of Brad’s neck, to pull him close. He’s not gentle or hesitant, he hopes he’ll have time for this later.
“I’m here,” he says into Brad’s mouth before he kisses him, licks his way inside and finds what he’s been desperately missing for all this time. Brad makes a sound deep in his throat, stumbles forward, pressed close against Nate, his fingers getting tangled in Nate’s hair. “I’m here,” he repeats and Brad steps back, breathing harshly.
“Your place is closer, I think,” he says and Nate laughs, reaches out once again, his fingers briefly lacing with Brad’s before he steps back and starts moving.
Their steps echo in the rhythm of his heartbeat, getting louder. Brad’s hand brushes his as they walk, it’s not quite hand-holding but it’s close enough and Nate lets himself hope that this time he might not lose it, that this time, he gets to have this forever.
He fumbles for his keys outside the door, distracted by the way Brad’s close behind him, his breath tickling Nate’s ear, the hair on his neck standing up. Brad hesitates in the doorway, reaches out to touch the doorframe as if he’s steadying himself, head bowed. Nate turns on his heel and watches him.
“Come in,” he says, his voice hoarse.
There are boxes everywhere in the apartment. His rent is not up until next week, but he’s been packing his things up for the last few days, whenever he had the time, and with the frantic wrapping up of the movie, there wasn’t much of that time.
“When are you leaving?” Brad asks, like he’s trying for polite conversation, but his voice is breaking over the words, his breathing is uneven and harsh.
“Not for a few days yet. Figured I could at least see the city before I do. It’s been months and I haven’t had the chance,” Nate shrugs. He hovers for a moment, not able to decide in which way he should move, closer to Brad like he wants to, or put some distance between them for just that moment he needs to have to think clearly. “Would you like something to drink?” he asks finally, stepping away.
Brad’s eyes follow him across the room, watching intently. “Some coffee, if it’s not that much trouble.”
Nate snorts. “Of course it’s too much trouble, but I’m too polite a host to point it out,” he offers curtly and Brad rolls his eyes at him. Nate missed that too, the exasperation and the familiarity of their mocking each other. It feels good to have it back.
Brad sits down on the couch, still watching Nate, but there’s seriousness in his gaze now, no less heated but different from the gleam in them after they kissed. “I know I’ve been a monumental idiot,” he offers and Nate shrugs, filling the cups to the brims.
“I’m not going to argue that point.”
Nate sighs, handing him one of the mugs. He debates moving to sit in the armchair, but in the end just perches on the coffee table, his legs fitting in between Brad’s, inches away from touching. “I could have handled some of the things better, but yeah, you’ve been an idiot.”
“Feel free to offer some other invectives too,” Brad mutters, his head lowered. Nate nods, places two fingers under Brad’s chin, making him look up.
“As long as you know that,” he mutters, leaning in, his forehead resting against Brad’s. “I don’t know if it would have changed anything,” he says slowly, his voice automatically lowering, the words more of a whisper than anything else, “but I could have told you.”
“Told me what?”
“That I loved you,” Nate says and feels the shiver that runs through Brad’s body under his hands. There’s a surge of excitement, yes, but there’s also a pained flicker in Brad’s eyes at the past tense. “Love you still. Impossible to stop, you know?” he adds softly.
“I have a vague idea.” Brad’s voice is rough and he takes a moment to put away the coffee mug, still untouched. His remark could be flippant, but what isn’t there in his words is in his voice, in his eyes. “I...” he starts to say, fingers tangled in Nate’s shirt, pulling him close, the shift making Nate stumble forwards. He doesn’t quite fall to the floor, but he drops to one knee, hands flat on Brad’s thighs for balance.
He shakes his head slowly, trying to contain a smile. “You know, if you wanted me on my knees...”
“I want you everywhere,” Brad says simply and leans in, and instead of pulling Nate up onto the couch lets Nate drag him down to the floor, their limbs tangled together, Brad’s lips finding Nate’s.
The leg of the coffee table is painfully digging into Nate’s side but he can’t bring himself to care.
Brad wakes up to the sound of his own cellphone spouting Ray’s ringtone. It’s so much easier to avoid him when Brad’s forewarned and doesn’t make a mistake of not looking at the caller id.
Nate reaches out, his hand neatly circumnavigating Brad’s and picking up the phone before Brad has the chance. He does glance at the caller id and then, slowly, probably so Brad could protest if he wanted to, thumbs up the keypad before answering the call. “Morning, Ray,” he says. “Brad will have to call you back.”
Ray’s voice is loud enough to carry through and Brad could make out the distinctive ‘motherfucker’ before Ray’s laughing and disconnecting. “Should have let it go to the voicemail,” Brad offers.
Nate shrugs, moves to lie back down, propped up on his elbow, skin still flushed and sleep-warm. His eyes are incredibly green. “He would have called again. And again, and then a few times more, until you picked up and called him names, and by that time he would have forgotten what he wanted to talk to you about in the first place, which means he’d be calling again in a few minutes.” His smile is slow and lazy in appearing but no less brilliant for it. “You forget I actually know Ray,” he points out.
It’s a warning as much as it is a joke, Brad knows, it’s Nate reminding him that he knows Brad too. “I’m not going anywhere,” Brad says and Nate gives him a long look.
“Not without your clothes you’re not,” Nate agrees amiably, but the look on his face belies the flippancy. He reaches out, his fingers gently tracing the shell of Brad’s ear, caressing the skin of his neck. “I don’t need you to make promises,” he tells Brad.
“I love you.” The words tumble out of Brad’s mouth unbidden but not unwelcome. He means them, hearing them out loud only reinforces the feeling, but he hadn’t quite meant to blurt them out like this, like they’re not important. “That’s not a promise,” he points defensively and Nate laughs, kisses him on the nose.
“I think that’s where you’re wrong,” he mutters. “But I’ll make you a promise in return. If you ever try to walk out on me like that again, I’m going to tie you up in the basement until you change your mind. And you know that will put us on one of those Lifetime’s True Hollywood Story movies of the week you hate so much.”
“Who would play me?”
“I think there’s something wrong with your priorities.”
Brad shakes his head slowly. “No. I think I have them absolutely right,” he mutters, kissing Nate’s shoulder. “I’ll show you,” he adds and proceeds to do just that.