Fandom: Generation Kill
Disclaimer: Based on fictionalised portrayals as seen on the HBO miniseries.
A/N: Iron Man AU. Started as a comment for a prompt, spiralled a little out of control.
Nate has considered quitting his job only once.
It wasn't after the Colbert Expo, even though pretty much everyone he knew and some well-meaning strangers told him he should. It wasn't after Brad and Ray disappeared for two weeks and the press got a few interesting shots from Monte Carlo and then, inexplicably (even though, well, it was Ray), from Tijuana. It wasn't even after his employer got himself taken hostage in Iraq of all places and left Nate pretty much in charge of one of the largest companies in the world.
("Not like I planned it," Brad told him pointedly. "Besides, I have it on a good authority that you were scarily good at it."
"Ray Person is not good authority, Brad."
"I meant the Forbes magazine."
Nate shook his head. There wasn't much to be said. "Just don't do it again."
"Sounds suspiciously like an order."
"Someone left me in charge of one of the largest companies in the world, that tends to have an effect.")
He considered quitting only once, when Brad was making his way through the lab, shedding the pieces of the suit, most of them dented or charred. A large piece hit the floor with a dull thud, ridden with bullets, a hairbreath away from being a large sieve.
"It looks worse than it is."
Nate nodded. "I'm assured of this. Because I can't imagine it being worse than it looks."
"I could be bleeding out. Or whatever the equivalent is when it's no longer blood you're leaking."
"That whole ice in your veins thing? You're taking it way too far," Nate informed him and picked up the closest piece from the floor, turning it around in his hands. It was warm to the touch. "Sit down."
"Sit the fuck down, Mr. Colbert."
"It doesn't really say 'mother hen' in your job description," Brad said, but he sat down nonetheless.
"How would you know? Part of my job description is revising my own job description," Nate mused, efficiently checking Brad's back for injuries. A few bruises, but the suit held, no bullet actually got through. Luckily, because then Nate might be really annoyed. "That one must hurt like all fuck."
"Yes, by all means, press harder on it, then," Brad muttered, but he leant closer into the touch.
If asked, Nate would say he didn't quit because he couldn't leave Colbert Enterprises in the hands of someone who regularly took time off meetings to fight crime and try and stop terrorism, domestic and abroad.
It's something like the truth.
Nathaniel Fick is the eleventh person Brad interviews that day. Mike threatened to not let him out before he makes his choice and the HR keeps sending him morons who had their sense of humor surgically removed and replaced with a giant stick up their asses.
"But Brad," Ray says in a tone he probably considers reasonable, "HR is just trying to please you, and everyone knows about your giant stick up your ass. Or at least they should, I send them a memo."
"Why are you even here?" Brad asks. It's rhetorical. It usually is, with Ray, even when not intended to be, it's rhetorical in the way that you never get your answer anyway.
"This is because of Jenna, isn't it? I've told you so many times, Bradley, you fuck your assistants, you don't fall in love with them."
Someone clears their throat politely. "I don't suppose there's a chance I got the wrong room?"
Ray raises his eyebrows so high they almost met his hairline. It would be commical if Brad couldn't see the little wheels in his head turning in dangerous ways. "Oh, no. And you've got excellent timing, too. Hey, Brad, remind me to apologise to the HR. They have excellent taste."
Ray leaves, thank heaven for small mercies, but not without making an obscene gesture behind the guy's shoulder. He has to rise to his tiptoes to achieve that, too.
"Out of morbid curiosity, how much do you spend in sexual harassment suits settlements annually?"
"That's..." Brad starts and the guy nods his head.
"Ray Person. I have been warned."
To his credit, he looks completely unfazed. Quite the contrary, he seems gently amused, his eyes bright and his lip on the point of twitching. It's intriguing, if Brad has to be completely honest, and it sends him looking for the right file on his desk.
"Yes." He sits down when Brad gestures to the chair and leans back a little, not quite nonchalant but relaxed, a stark contrast from all the previous candidates who sat as if, well, as if they did have a giant stick up an uncomfortable place.
He's even more intriguing once you read the resume. "Aren't you a little overqualified for this job?"
"Dartmouth? Harvard? And a double graduate degree to boot?"
"I'm more than a little overqualified for this job," Fick says, smiling. "Then again, I don't think you're looking for someone to keep your schedule and make your coffee. And I owe Mike Wynn a favor."
"And what if I'm looking for someone to keep my schedule and make the coffee?" He's not, but he wants the answer anyway. Hiring Fick after two minutes because he can handle Ray and has a nice smile, for fuck's sake, that's ridiculous.
"I need a change of pace anyway."
"You worked for Shwetje?" Not as a personal assistant either, Brad notes. A shadow passes over Fick's face, like there's a story there, one he's not willing to elaborate on. There has to be a story there, if he's willing to take a position with two zeros less at the end of the figure on his paycheck.
"As I said, I need a change of pace."
Three minutes. And he could handle Ray and had a pretty amazing smile. Not that it mattered.
"Besides, you're going to hire me if only to have Mike shut up for a month or so," Fick points out. He's not wrong.
It's not the only reason.
"About the coffee..." Brad draws and Fick smiles.
"We can discuss the terms," he allows.
Nate, as it turns out, makes excellent coffee and despite his vehement protests, he's been known to bring Brad some of it.
To be precise: he draws a clear line at getting Brad coffee and bringing it to the office, he claims that's what the interns are for, or any one of Brad's other assistants (three of them). He'll sometimes bring back a cup from the coffee machine that's one floor down, if he's getting one for himself, but that crap isn't real coffee anyway.
("You're a terrible assistant," Brad tells him.
Nate shrugs and hands him another piece of paper. "Probably. Sign this here and initial here and here."
"Some people wouldn't turn down the chance to spit in their boss' coffee, you know. What am I signing?"
"Your soul away," Nate says, earnest and matter-of-fact and Brad looks at him. "Call Centre's paychecks. Would you like me to go through them for you?"
"Fuck no." He signs and initials where he's pointed at, and the pen against paper is the only sound for a while. He can feel Nate's eyes on him.
"This is precisely why you hired me. To keep you posted on what's actually important and deal with the rest."
"I know," Brad says and he does. He went through seven assistants before Jenna because even while he did know, he didn't trust them to tell their ass from the coffee machine and it took him months to admit Jenna wasn't an idiot.
Nate's been working for him for almost two weeks and Brad doesn't have the compulsive need to go through every document he's handed and read the small print twice. It's a little worrying, to be honest, but fuck, it does save him a lot of time.)
When Nate does bring him coffee, it's usually when Brad's been working in his lab or in the garage for hours, deep enough into the night that when he looks at his watch he has to blink a few times and think hard whether half past five is to mean pm or am.
"Go to sleep, Mr. Colbert," Nate tells him, the same flat tone every time, like he knows it's a lost fight but he has to try.
"Go away," Brad tells him. Sometimes the 'go away' is conveyed through 'fuck off', especially if the program has been uncooperating for hours. Nate's smile is a little wider at the second choice, inexplicably, like Brad's there for his amusement.
"But of course. I'll be taking this with me, though," he offers pleasantly, swaying the coffee mug just a little out of Brad's reach. The coffee swirls inside but doesn't spill, even though the mug is filled to the brim, and the smell wafts towards Brad like a promise.
"Stay," Brad says, every damn time, before he can stop himself. It's the fucking coffee, because Nate has managed to somehow beat Brad's state-of-the-art coffee machine into submission. The coffee machine hates Brad with vehemence and usually manages to produce a shitty brown liquid that is tasteless only when Brad is lucky. When Nate uses it, it makes coffee that is almost as fantastic as Rudy's. Which shouldn't be even possible.
"Stay," Brad says, every damn time. It slowly begins to mean something else and he doesn't quite notice for a long while.
When Brad doesn't check in when he's supposed to, Nate doesn't even blink. Brad's meetings have a tendency to last longer than expected, that's why there's always some space in his schedule to accomodate it. The Q&A always drags out, and people always desperately want to tell Brad Colbert of one project or another.
And then Mike Wynn is calling his cellphone and telling Nate to turn on the tv or radio or, "fuck, any kind of news, it's fucking everywhere."
Nate's used to Mike's calming, reassuring tones, even when the shit hits the fan. Now Mike sounds worried, his voice strained and uneven. It sends him scambling for the remote control to the big screen tv he has in his office and never uses.
He expects a scandal, maybe. One of the Board members doing something stupid. Wall Street crash. Maybe a natural disaster destroying one of the Colbert Enterprises facilities.
He doesn't expect to see a report on an attack on a convoy in Iraq.
It doesn't compute for a long moment. He has all the facts, he fucking knows Brad is supposed to be there. He planned all the details of the meeting and made the travel arrangements. He can recite the fucking itinerary and right now Brad is getting on the plane.
Should be getting on the plane. Should be...
His stomach turns, his fingers clumsy on the remote as he tries to turn up the volume, make out the quickly moving words in the info bar at the bottom of the screen. His vision is too blurry and he blinks a few times. It doesn't help.
"You can't go in," someone says and Nate doesn't even look up. He finally finds the right button and presses it hard, the bars on the screen dark blue, the voice of the anchor getting louder but not more comprehensible.
"Right now we don't have any information on the status of Brad Colbert. Mr. Colbert, the CEO of Colbert Enterprises is..."
"I don't give a fuck, call the security if you need to..."
"Mr. Fick, I'm sorry, he just went right in..."
Nate looks up and breathes out. "It's alright, Sylvia." She doesn't look convinced and eyes Ray suspiciously. "It's alright," he repeats curtly. He's lying through his teeth, because nothing is fucking alright, but she nods and leaves.
"Nate, what the fuck, I heard it on the radio and no one seems to know anything. I called Poke, but they seem to know less then nothing. Or at least that's what the fuckers are telling us civillians. Fuck the need to know, I need to fucking know."
"I should..." Nate starts, but the words don't come. His hand grasps the phone on autopilot, but he's not sure where to begin, and he actually feels like puking his guts out.
It's not quite an epiphany, except for the part where he thinks he couldn't take it if Brad didn't come back. If he didn't get Brad back.
"Oh, fuck," Ray mutters. "Okay, homes, don't fucking freak out on me now, I don't know how to deal with the monster of your switchboard and your assistant hates me for no reason whatsoever. Nate. Fuck, Fick, stay with me or I'll have to punch you, and then your assistant will call the security on me and I pissed them off two weeks ago with that phone thing."
He needs to... he needs Brad.
He forces his hand to relax, his fist to unclench. The tv drones on, reporting that they have nothing to report. Nate looks up into Ray's worried eyes.
"We're getting him back?" Ray asks, making sure. Nate nods.
There'll be time to panic and turn in his letter of resignation when Brad's back, when he's safe.
Nate met Ray Person (properly, the first exchange doesn't really count) three days after he started working for Brad. He's been warned, but he was still unprepared for the mix of charm and insolence and for the complete lack of verbal breaks.
"People always wonder about that, homes," Ray said, nodding at him vigorously, like he was eager and wanted to be helpful and explain. "You know, about me and Brad, about how our epic friendship started. See, my father was the Colbert's driver, and I grew up in a little house on the grounds of the mansion. And I used to watch the parties, and they were awesome parties. I climbed that all tree and watched, and Brad was always there, and he was brilliant and awesome and so I fell in love. But he wouldn't notice me, so I said to myself, I said, Ray, fuck this popsicle stand, blow this fucking town. And I went to Paris and became the refined gentleman you now see before you."
"Isn't this the plot of Sabrina?" Nate asked flatly.
"He got the voyeur part mostly right," Brad shrugged.
"You know you love me," Ray said, smiling winningly.
Now, Ray's bent over one of the consoles in Brad's lab, headphones on, listening intently, watching fourteen screens at the same time. Nate doesn't question how Brad got the access to the intelligence network, he's only grateful he did.
Nate doesn't question why his own password worked to open the doors of the lab either. He's never been here while Brad wasn't, but Ray has been convinced it would work anyway.
"Brad doesn't trust many people," Ray says, and it's not an answer, not quite.
"You don't have the access?" he asks. It's not meant as a dig. It might sound like one, a little, but he's tired and terrified and he needs to sleep but knows he won't be able to. Thankfully, Ray just shrugs.
"He'd trust me with his life, but not with his toys. It's because of that thing I did with that armor that one time."
An hour later Ray takes off his headphones and half-heartedly tosses them through the room. It's probably meant as a statement, but he seems to tired to throw them hard.
Nate's tempted to do the same thing with his cellphone, but he doesn't dare. He's not jumping at every ring now, though, every time it's just more people asking him for the information he doesn't have.
"CIA is fucking useless," Ray says. "I don't know what my taxes are paying for, toilets at Langley?"
"I should put together a press release," Nate tells him. It's a non sequitur, but what the hell. "It's not... People keep calling, and Mike is too busy. The press..."
"Hey, Fick," Ray says quietly, almost soothingly. Nate has to stop talking to hear the words, and that was probably the plan. "It's okay. It's okay if you don't know what to do."
Nate doesn't know how to respond to that. He turns the cellphone in his hands a few times before he finally nods at Ray and takes a deep breath. "Alright," he says, right in time for the phone to ring. "Fick," he answers, and his voice stays level. "We'll have the official statement ready in fifteen minutes, but I can tell you what we know by now," he says.
Ray moves to pick up the headphones, nodding at Nate solemnly as he settles back into his chair.
They still don't know what they're doing, but there are things that need to be done anyway.
Nate has been working for Brad Colbert for four months before he witnesses the first instance of what Ray calls 'the epic Colbert funk.'
The banging of metal against metal can be heard all the way upstairs. The house is eerily quiet otherwise, no music (or whatever Brad thinks passes for music), no news channel on, just the rhythmic clanging.
"You missed your meeting," he informs Brad and doesn't get a response. Well, the next bang is louder, if that's possible, so maybe that counts. "I rescheduled. This is the point where I remind you I'm not managing your schedule, you have Peter for that, but he looked like he could faint before Ferrando's secretary put him through, so..."
"You rescheduled Ferrando?" Brad asks from under the work table. Mercifully, he stopped banging whatever it was against whatever the fuck else. "He doesn't reschedule."
"I asked nicely."
It clearly gives Brad a pause and he shifts so he can look up at Nate, still lying on the floor. "You asked nicely. And Stephen Ferrando rescheduled."
Nate shrugs. "Yes. And don't even try that face, I can pretty much tell you'd rather miss the meeting."
"I still might. I'm pretty sure your magic powers could get me out of it."
"Keep hoping," he says magnanimously.
Brad looks at him for a long moment before picking up whatever tool he's been using (Nate's not a complete idiot, he can tell a wrench from a screwdriver, but this one doesn't even look remotely like something of earth origin) and gets back to work. "So, Ferrando rescheduled. What else do I have planned for the afternoon?"
It makes Brad peer up suspiciously, which is exactly why Nate crosses his arms and waits. "Nothing?"
"I cleared out your schedule."
"Which you insist you don't manage," Brad points out. "Or is today some sort of national holiday?"
Nate bites his lip before he answers. He could treat it like a rhetorical question and it might have even been meant as one. Except Brad doesn't even look up. You could think his entire attention is on the whatever contraption he's working on, but there's tension in his whole body, tight like a piano wire.
"I don't know, Brad. What's today?" he asks finally, moving to sit down on the floor.
He probably would have missed the flicker in Brad's expression if he wasn't looking for it.
"Last time I checked, Thursday."
Nate nods agreeably. "And that would be why Ray Person warned me that I should go easy on you today, because, well he didn't say why. And I'd like to point two things to you, Brad. One is that I'd like to know when I've gone hard on you, and no, this isn't an invitation to a lewd comment," he says, and Brad's mouth twitches almost imperceptibly. So there's that, Nate has been aiming for at least a small smile but he can take this. "And two, this is Ray Person apparently exercising discretion. So you better fucking tell me, or I'm going to have to start preparing for the inevitable end of the world."
"Save for the expletives, you sound uncannily like one of my nannies," Brad tells him.
"That explains a lot, actually."
"Today's..." Brad shrugs. "Today's nothing."
He waits, mostly because if Brad wasn't going to tell him he'd have no trouble stating it succintly.
"It would have been my first wedding anniversary," Brad says finally. "If Jenna hasn't wisened up."
Something twists in Nate's stomach and he chalks it up to sympathy. And he wouldn't say Jenna has wisened up, he'd say she probably lost her mind. Brad...
"Get off the floor, Colbert," Nate says and gets to his feet, already extending a hand. "You're breaking out the good booze and I'm ordering Chinese."
He's not quite sure what else to say, but after a moment Brad accepts his hand and lets himself be pulled to his feet, his hand lingering in Nate's a little longer, not quite a handshake but close.
"I don't," he starts and Nate shakes his head.
"I hadn't met Jenna and I made it a point not to listen to office gossip or read the tabloids, alright? But from what I can gather, she couldn't have been very smart."
Brad holds his gaze for a few seconds before stepping away. "I want Thai, not Chinese," he says lightly.
"Tell you what, if you find the menu in the next ten minutes without using the Internet, then you can have Thai."
Brad waits for a beat. "Chinese it is," he decides.
Brad drifts in and out of consciousness for the first few days. Maybe weeks, it's hard to tell. Most of the time he remembers where he is but sometimes Bryan has to tell him again until it connects.
One day, quite early in if he's any judge, he's dragged out and sat down, and they make him hold up the New York Times from April 17th. His own picture is on the cover. It's been a while, last time he personally, not the company, graced the front pages was after the broken engagement.
There's a camera aimed at him and someone is saying something, but Brad doesn't know the language. Probably couldn't make the words out anyway, over the ringing in his ears.
Mostly, he's cold. Really fucking cold, inside and out. Noone around is dressed for the kind of cold he feels, so whatever's wrong, is wrong with him.
He'd chuckle over that, because well, that's not exactly news, but his teeth chatter too much.
Bryan just keeps covering him with torn blankets. Brad asks him a few times what kind of doctor he is and whether he had gotten his degree from a cereal box, but Bryan just swears right back at him and says that he could maybe do something if Brad found him something else than a rusty spoon to use as a surgical tool.
Brad doesn't say much after that. Partially because it feels like the cold reached his brain, like he got brain freeze from ice cream but a thousand times worse.
"Just fucking hold on," Bryan tells him. Brad might be imagining this, it's one of the times he's more out of it. "They must be looking for you, Colbert, just fucking hold on."
Of course they're looking. Brad's not worried about that. Between Mike and Nate and...
It's the only warm thought he has left, the only thing that somehow seems to penetrate the cold, help at least a little. Doesn't make his veins feel less filled with ice, but it makes the sensation bearable.
It's not a surprise, he can't muster up enough energy to be surprised. It's been... months, probably, maybe more than a year, all that time of second guessing and wondering. He vows to do something about it if, no, when, he gets out of here, but it's a little like a New Year's resolution and he knows that well. He'll back out, but it's nice to think about anyway.
Weeks and one high-tech suit later, Nate's waiting at the airport. He seems more tired than Brad ever remembers, dark circles under his eyes and a suit Brad recognises but which seems a little too loose now.
"Are we counting this as the time off you've been trying to get me to take?" Brad asks and Nate just stares at him, his mouth working for a moment silently.
"Don't ever..." he starts and pulls Brad in for a hug. "Fuck, you're cold."
Brad snorts into Nate's hair and doesn't say anything. He thinks of kissing Nate, right there at the airport, despite the entourage and the press and the military guys, but he doesn't.
That's it for the New Year's resolutions, he thinks.
"It could be worse," Nate tells him after Brad complains about the meetings and remarks that he actually enjoys the crime-fighting part much better. "We could have had you declared dead in your absence, Bruce Wayne."
He sounds just a little bitter, like he's still annoyed about the abduction, as if it was all Brad's fault. Well, fine, he hasn't been taking it easy ever since, but, well, what would you use the suit for?
"The bat thing would be taking it too far," Brad tells him mock-seriously.
"You have the interview with Hasser at ten, try not to say anything tremendously stupid. He might like you, but he's not going to let an exclusive pass if he gets a good quote. At eleven you have the actual press conference."
"You secretly hate me, don't you?" Brad complains. It won't get him anywhere but doesn't stop him from complaining.
"Well, you left me in charge of this whole circus while you were gone, so yes."
"I left Mike in charge, not my fault you are anal retentive and had the need to oversee every single detail. Speaking off, Mike's retiring, you want his job?"
He doesn't quite wait for the answer, mostly because it could be no. He goes to give Hasser that interview, because Hasser might be the only journalist Brad doesn't actively hate. Then at eleven oh four he gets asked just the right wrong question at the conference and quite possibly outs himself as a masked superhero. As you do.
When he looks up he expects Nate to be speaking to his cellphone, already starting on the damage control. He doesn't expect Nate to hold his gaze steadily and nod slowly, smiling like he's proud of Brad, like he understands.
Brad doesn't hear half of the questions shouted at him as he crosses the room and outs himself in an entirely different manner.
"At least that's decided," Ray says cheerfully, much later into the same day. Nate gives him a dirty look and seems to consider drawing the sheet up and around himself but in the end he apparently decides that if Ray isn't embarrassed by the whole thing, Nate as hell isn't going to be.
Brad has to admit it might be a turn on.
"What is decided, Ray?" he asks, because sometimes that's the only way to get rid of Ray, play along and hope he'll get out when he's done.
"I'm going to be your sidekick, homes," he offers in a tone that suggests that it's obvious and Brad is being dense.
Nate covers his mouth with his palm, like he's trying not to laugh.
Brad rolls his eyes. "Go and draw designs for your costume," he tells Ray.
"Just... get the fuck out. Yes. Out."
Nate keeps the laugh in until the door close shut. "I'll pay you five bucks if his costume involves thights."
"I'm pretty sure you can afford to pay me more than that, Fick."
"That rather depends on whether you'll throw in a complimentary blowjob," Nate says, his voice serious and matter-of-fact, the exact tone he uses in the boardroom. Brad's never going to be able to sit through any of the meetings.
"Come here," Nate adds and Brad goes obligingly. Nate's hands are warm on his skin.