Fandom: Generation Kill
Disclaimer: Based on fictionalised portrayals as seen on the HBO miniseries.
A/N: Once Upon a Time inspired fairy tale thingy, in which Nate is Prince Charming and Brad is Snow White. Will probably be continued in one way or another (because I need to write the glass coffin bit, at least ;)), but I needed this OUT of my WIP folder.
The first half of Princess Anne’s journey is uneventful, bordering on boring.
Blame is on both sides, Nate supposes, probably a little more on his. He’s preoccupied with the border conflicts that could escalate into a war and can’t quite muster any interest in small talk. Anne, on the other hand, had been taught to keep her tongue on all matters that do not involve the weather and, well, small talk.
She’s bright and sweet, but they will need a little more time to find a common subject. As it is, they remain mostly silent for the first half of the journey, him preoccupied with the reports and her feigning an interest in her embroidery. She can’t be getting any real work done, not with the way the carriage bumps on the road every few seconds. Nate isn’t getting any reading done for the very same reason.
And then the carriage comes to a slow stop, Anne immediately glancing out of the window to see why. Nate reaches out to lay a hand on her shoulder and shakes his head.
“It’s fine,” Espera calls from the outside, dismounting his horse next to the carriage. Nate opens the doors and nods at him. “Just a tree on the road, we’ll have it out of the way in a moment.”
“I’ll help,” Nate offers, jumping down the steps. Espera looks like he wants to argue but thinks better of it. “If you’ll excuse me,” he says with a quick nod to Anne and she smiles obligingly, her gaze sliding towards Espera just for the briefest of seconds.
Two of the guards are already starting on moving the tree and Nate walks towards them, rolling up his sleeves. He hesitates after few steps, looking back towards the carriage. Something’s not right, he feels like he’s being watched. They’re on the path of road that’s exactly in the middle of the woods, trees on both sides. The one that has fallen...
“It’s been cut,” Espera says at the same moment Nate sees the figured drop from the trees down onto the roof of the carriage. Espera starts running towards it immediately, but the man is in an out in a matter of seconds, holding the pouch with jewels, and of course he’s going to steal one of the horses too...
Nate moves before he can think better of it, practically jumping into the saddle. “Stay with the princess, clear the road and get her safely to the palace,” he tells Espera, stopping the man in his tracks.
“Yes, sire,” is the last thing Nate hears before he sets off in pursuit.
Which is a little more challenging than he thought. Sure, if you’re daring enough to try and rob a royal carriage (and, so far, succeed), you better have some damn good plan of escape.
On the other hand, Nate has a faster horse and, more importantly, has hunted in this forest before. The thief is clearly heading for the river and Nate can get there faster.
He stops on the edge of the forest, waiting, and reaches into the saddle bags. He’s not disappointed, he’s chosen Espera’s horse and that man looks like he packs an extra crossbow. The thief arrives right on schedule, clearly thinking he’s left Nate far behind. He dismounts and pats the horse head, speaking softly to it. Nate strains to hear.
“Hope you can make your way home, friend,” the thief says and checks the saddle bags, taking out a few items before setting the horse free. Nate hesitates for a moment longer, enough for the man to pull down his hood. The face is certainly familiar. Nate has seen it on the wanted posters, with a list of crimes longer than Nate’s arm. The Iceman. That would certainly explain why the man was bold enough to attack the royal carriage.
“Stay where you are,” he says out loud, stepping forward. Iceman freezes for a second before he slowly starts to turn. Never finishes to turn, however, because he sets off running back for the trees, clearly hoping on the element of surprise.
It could work, if Nate didn’t keep his finger on the trigger.
Seriously, the Iceman. He’d be a fool not to take precautions.
“Fuck, you shot me,” the man says, his tone one of complaint. Nate rolls his eyes.
“You robbed me. Frankly, I think I was being generous aiming for your leg, Iceman.”
“You were aiming for my leg? I thought you were just a terrible shot,” he offers lightly, even though his voice is just that little bit strained. He’s holding his hand over the wound, the bolt sticking out. “And it’s Brad. I hate the retard who came up with that nickname. It gets really old after the first hundred or so wanted posters.”
He sounds put upon, more than anything else. Nate hadn’t quite expected that. “If you don’t like the posters maybe you should consider giving up the life of crime? Starting now, with giving me back the jewellery you stole.”
Brad seems to consider it. “No.”
“You do realise you’re already wounded and have slim chances of escaping? And I have a few more bolts and the crossbow aimed at you?”
“And yet, we’re pleasantly conversing and you are not shooting at me. I know your type, you’re not going to kill me. You’d rather bring me back before your king. Plenty of chances for escape on the way,” he offers, almost cheerfully. Almost, because Nate is certain the man is serious.
“I really don’t think I should bother my father with this.”
Brad seems to think it over, then takes out the pouch from the inside of his jacket and inspects it. “Royal jewels?” he smirks. “Now that should fetch a nice price.”
“I still can shoot you,” Nate offers.
“Yes. But you’re not going to, or you would have already. So, why haven’t you?”
Nate’s starting to ask himself the same question. He sighs and lowers the crossbow, putting on the safety catch. “You have not actually committed any crimes in the East Kingdom. That I know of,” he amends. “Well, save for the theft, but I’m willing to forget that happened if I get the items back. Please,” he adds, extending his hand.
“They’re that important to you?” Brad asks, unceremoniously opening the pouch. Nate’s fingers twitch, but he wills himself to wait. Brad looks at him, clearly examining his reaction before fishing out a necklace and tossing the rest to Nate. “Finder’s fee,” he offers with a grin.
Nate nods slowly, then looks through the items for the ring. He picks it up and closes it in his hand, then holds the pouch up for a beat. Brad watches, amused, but the grin melts into surprise when Nate tosses the thing back. “Must be important,” he says, nodding at the ring.
“It is,” Nate says. He looks down at the bolt sticking out of Brad’s leg. “You need some help with that?”
“Really? You shoot me and then offer to help?”
“No, thanks. I’ve had worse.”
“I don’t doubt it. Treason and treachery?” he asks, quoting the top two of the wanted poster’s best. Brad shrugs.
Something about the way he says it... “Any of that actually true?”
Brad looks at him, clearly considering his answer. Different options flicker across his face with a speed of lightning, until he finally decides and shrugs. “Well, the whole part about stealing might have some substance.”
Brad’s mouth twitches at that and Nate feels the answering smile pressing itself against his lips. He’s actually enjoying the whole exchange. It might be the side effect of being tired of the neverending string of discussion over the border conflicts, but the chase and this conversation is the most fun he’s had in ages.
“Shouldn’t you be on your way, Highness?” Brad asks, shifting a little to find a more comfortable position on the ground. “Wedding to get to, and all?”
“It’s not for a few weeks yet,” Nate says automatically. “But I suppose you’re right,” he says. He walks up to his horse. The one Brad stole is standing nearby, clearly not all that intent on finding his own way back. Nate takes the reigns and leads it back to where Brad is sitting.
“And the horse,” Brad shakes his head in disbelief. “I’m starting to doubt you’re fucking real.”
“You can return it later,” Nate tells him and mounts his own horse. He can tell Brad keeps on watching him as he rides away.
He’s not quite sure what he’s been thinking, but he’s in a surprisingly good mood.
Espera got Anne safely to the palace, just as Nate knew he would. She looks up, a little concerned, when Nate goes to visit her in her rooms. When he walks in Espera, who’s standing guard at the door, tenses a little, then leaves, offering a small bow.
Anne smiles softly at him. “Everything alright?”
“Just fine. I got the ring back, at least,” he says, handing her the item in question. “You should have it. For safe-keeping until the wedding,” he adds with a smile. Anne nods. She really is beautiful, especially when she smiles.
“You’re leaving tomorrow?” she asks, turning away for a moment to place the ring in a jewellery box.
“First thing in the morning. I’d ask you to come with me...”
“But these are not matters of concern for me,” she supplies. Nate shakes his head.
“But my mother would kill me. She has been wanting to discuss the details of the wedding with you for weeks now,” he sits down across from her and reaches for her hand. “All matters of the kingdom are of concern for you. If you wish them to be,” he adds softly and she nods, a little hesitant. Her gaze slides away from his face for a moment, fixing on something behind his shoulder. The door, the one Espera left through.
Nate sighs. It is a matter they should discuss, but not now. He’s still not quite certain how to approach this.
“I should bid you good night. I leave early tomorrow, but I hope it won’t take long.”
“It’s the Western kingdom, could be weeks,” she says, shrugging. Then she catches herself and lowers her gaze.
“I’m afraid you might be right,” Nate offers. “We’ll see,” he adds, standing up. “Well, good night, Anne.”
“Good night, Nathaniel,” she nods with a smile and stands up as well to see him out.
Espera’s still waiting outside the door. “Sire,” he says levelly.
“I’m leaving early tomorrow, we’ll probably not see each other then. I’ll have my captain of the guard assign the men to your outfit.”
At least Nate has managed to surprise him. That’s something, he supposes. “The Princess’ personal guard,” he explains flatly and waits. There’s no response, and in truth, Nate has not expected any. Maybe another ‘sire’, which could be made to mean just about anything. The surprise still lingers on the man’s face, though. “You’ve been guarding Anne for three years?”
“I see no reason to reassign you. She trusts you, she needs a friendly face in a new place. Enough will be changing in the upcoming days.”
Espera stares at him, his features carefully schooled down now. Nate called this one right, it seems. “Yes, sire,” he says, after a moment long enough that it borders on uncomfortable. Nate nods and steps away, heading for his own rooms.
The moment he walks in, he can say something’s wrong. It feels like...
“There’s no need to call for the guards.”
Like someone’s there. Nate sighs. “Have you taken the part where I said you’re not wanted in this kingdom as a personal challenge?”
“Your generosity earlier today was really impressive,” Brad shrugs, stepping out from behind the screen in the corner. “Thought I’d check if you were still feeling generous.”
“Burned through the money already? I don’t make a habit out of supporting fugitives, you know.”
Brad gives him a look and then sits at the desk, long legs propped on it. Nate looks on, unamused, crossing his arms for emphasis. “Actually, came to return your horse.”
“Here? You got it up the stairs?” Nate asks flatly.
“It’s in the stables.”
“Thank you for taking the time to come by and tell me.”
Brad nods magnanimously, not moving otherwise. Nate doesn’t want to give him the satisfaction of asking why he’s really here, and normally he wouldn’t mind the staring contest, except he’s actually really tired.
Still, he can’t just give in. Instead, he crosses his arms and waits. Finally, Brad speaks, with a little nod of acknowledgment.
“You should take a different route tomorrow.”
Nate narrows his eyes. Brad’s tone is matter-of-fact, flat. The lightness of the banter Nate’s been beginning to enjoy (fine, long past beginning and full on into enjoyment) has disappeared, replaced by serious insistence. Nate can’t quite figure out the angle here.
Brad sighs, like Nate is making his life difficult. “You’re leaving through the Green Gate, heading west, aren’t you?” He’s not wrong. Nate gestures at him to continue and Brad shrugs. “Let’s agree that your route has been compromised.”
“Are you planning an ambush of some kind?”
“Why would I bother, if I could just steal into your bedroom and do what I wanted?”
It’s... definitely not what Nate expected to hear, and definitely not the reaction he expected to have to anything Brad could say, but he feels heat pooling in his stomach, rushing through his veins. His face is burning and he hopes to gods he is not blushing. And if he is, maybe the room is dark enough that Brad can’t see it.
“I’m not planning anything,” Brad says after moment, once the silence stretches almost uncomfortably. He sighs and ads, “but isn’t it safe to assume that if I know the route, others know it too. Don’t tell me you don’t have your spies in the West Kingdom. And don’t tell me you don’t know they have their own here.”
He also is pretty sure he knows who they are, and they have all the wrong intel about the route. Unless, of course, he missed someone. Then again...
“Why would anyone chose this time to attack?”
“Don’t tell me you aren’t as smart as I thought you were,” Brad grimaces at him. “Your wedding, as you’ve been kind to point out earlier today, is in few weeks. Not everyone is looking forward to the happy event.”
Including the bride, Nate supposes. And, really, the groom. But it’s still the best course of action.
“Fine,” he says out loud. “Thank you for the warning. I’ll keep that in mind.”
Brad nods, standing up. He clearly favors his left leg and Nate feels a pang of guilt at that, which is clearly ridiculous. “How’s the leg?” he asks.
“Great, thank you. Clean shot. Quite impressive, under the circumstances.”
“Your approval is greatly appreciated,” Nate says, rolling his eyes. “Shouldn’t you be going?”
“So I should,” Brad agrees and bows, somewhat theatrically. “Your Highness,” he says and heads for the window, pausing with one leg on the outside. “Just be careful, alright?”
Nate nods silently, a little surprised at his first impulse, which is to stop Brad from leaving. It’s ridiculous. “Brad,” he says finally, once it seems Brad’s about to drop down and disappear into the night. “You too.”
Brad nods, his mouth tightening. He looks like he wants to add something but doesn’t. Nate looks into the darkness outside the window for what is possibly too long a time, and then shakes his head.
They leave early in the morning, at first light, with as few people as Nate can get away with taking without his mother overreacting and his father insisting on Nate reconsidering. He argues, as he usually does, that a smaller outfit is less noticeable, but there’s only so much of his father’s advice that he can ignore.
After some consideration, however, he decides not to ignore Brad’s advice. He’s not quite sure why that is, except the man had apparently broken into the palace just to leave Nate with a warning that he didn’t even seem to really believe would be heeded. And that was after Nate shot him.
It was, to say the least, an interesting thing to ponder.
“Sire?” Stafford asks questioningly when Nate turns his horse in the seemingly wrong direction. Nate shrugs and smiles.
“It’s a lovely day, Evan. We might as well take the scenic route.”
At least the confused expression he gets is worth changing the plans, as is the look Stafford exchanges with Christensen when he thinks Nate isn’t looking. They aren’t even that subtle about it. Nate has been eyerolling at Mike behind his father’s back since he was about seven and allowed to observe the meetings and audiences for the first time. (He stopped doing that when he was about fourteen and better at keeping his opinions to himself, but in the intervening years he got really good in the whole looks-exchanging business. Stafford’s technique needs some work.)
The scenic route isn’t all that scenic, not unless you like woods more than a regular person. Nate isn’t that much of a fan, but it’s a nice ride, calm as anything, and the time passes rather quickly when you’re trying to ignore the song Stafford and Christensen are trying to make up on the spot, about the assets of the Queen’s new maid.
Nate realises he should probably put an end to this, but the worst thing about it are the rhymes, so he holds his tongue for a moment more.
Of course, just as the song is getting interesting and the rhymes spectacularly bad, enough for Nate to groan and try not to laugh, the journey itself gets a hell of a lot more interesting with an inclusion of some bandits. Twice in as many days, it’s getting more than a little ridiculous.
Except these men are too well trained to be bandits, they are a little too good, a little too quick, work together a little too smoothly for Nate to believe they make their living robbing coaches. They’re military men, and Nate should know, he’s been around those for most of his life. Hell, his father was a military man before he needed to become a politician more than anything else.
“Don’t get me wrong, sire,” Christensen mutters as he pulls out his sword and pars the first attack aimed at him, “but I don’t really like the scenic route.”
Nate would roll his eyes at him, but he’s a little busy trying not to get killed, and he needs to pay attention. So instead, he just yells back, “my sincere apologies, Christensen,” and grimaces when the next man attacking gets a little bit too close for comfort.
And then it seems like there’s even more men around, fighting, which wouldn’t be a good thing, not at all, if not for the fact that one of them looks suspiciously like Brad Colbert. He’s moving amazingly fast for someone who got shot quite recently.
An arrow swishing right by Nate’s ear serves as a reminder that this is not the time to appreciate anyone’s swiftness of movement.
Especially not Colbert’s, that way lies insanity and inconvenience.
“Didn’t I tell you to change the route?” Brad asks, his words a little difficult to make out under the sound of metal hitting against metal.
“Should have added a warning not to fucking tell anyone beforehand. Didn’t we discuss spies while we were at it?”
Nate doesn’t dignify that with an answer. If he was to, he’d point out that he didn’t tell anyone about the change, not until they were setting out to move, which is a whole lot more worrying. If anyone was even aware of Nate plans, that was Brad himself. Nate could point that out, but Brad’s currently doing his best to keep the attackers away from Nate, so this argument can wait.
“What are you even doing here?” he asks instead and Brad shrugs, at least as much as he can while wielding a sword. It takes some skill.
“Sometimes we need to let him out to have some fun or he gets grumpy and chews on furniture,” a man to Nate’s left volunteers. Nate narrows his eyes at him before ducking and turning, his sword finding a weak spot in an enemy’s armor.
“And you brought friends?” he asks Brad.
“Friend is a such a strong word.”
“Brad’s not a very friendly person,” the man explains while Brad somehow skewers two men at once.
“It shows,” Stafford volunteers from where he’s currently kicking someone’s head in. Nate doesn’t even bother with a comment.
“Except for you, somehow,” the dark-haired man continues almost thoughtfully, and how he manages that given his current preoccupation is beyond Nate. “I think he wants to be very friendly indeed...”
“Shut up, Ray,” Brad barks, the order followed by one more. “Watch out!”
It takes Nate a moment to figure that the last part is directed at him, but by that time he’s already being pushed to the ground by Brad, the weight a little uncomfortable but somehow not quite unwelcome. He doesn’t have much time to reflect upon that, because everything goes fuzzy, and then dark.
“He’s waking up,” someone says.
Nate would like to say there’s no need for stating the obvious, he is pretty aware of this, but someone else answers before he can say anything.
“I’m pretty sure he can hear you. Also, leave.”
Brad. It takes Nate a moment to place the voice, but it’s not a long one. He relaxes immediately, and then tells himself off for relaxing. He doesn’t actually trust the man, now does he?
“Don’t move, you’ve hit your head something hard,” Brad says quietly and Nate rolls his eyes.
It makes him nauseated and he abandons the action and chooses to grunt instead. It serves as an acknowledgment, general expression of pain, and an indication of his annoyance all at the same time.
His head hurts, he’s going for economical expressions.
“And whose fault is that?” he asks flatly. Brad shrugs, calling up something akin to an innocent look. He’s not very good at that.
“I’m sorry, next time I’m saving your life I’ll try to be more considerate.”
“Do that,” Nate tells him and moves to sit up. Brad leans forward in his chair, as if he was going to help, but clearly thinks better of it and sits back, hands folded over his chest. “I realise I might regret asking, but where am I?” he asks, raising his hands to inspect the source of pain on his forehead. By the feel of it, there could be a scar left for later.
“I’d rather you didn’t ask.”
“Your place, then? Charming,” Nate says lightly, without looking around much. He probably is better off not knowing. He’d be better off if he could deny any knowledge of this place later on.
Why would Brad bring him here? That’s... fuck, he needs other words than ‘inconvenient’. It’s... bad. Bad for his sanity, for Brad himself, bad all around.
“Stafford and Christensen?” he asks.
“Outside. Stafford took a serious kick to his stomach, but it ended on an impressive bruise and puking his guts out. Christensen is a little worse for wear, nasty wound to the shoulder, but he’ll be fine.”
Nate nods. If he strains his hearing, he can make out the voices outside, Stafford taking at length and Christensen trying to interject some corrections. They sound fine. He turns his gaze back to Brad. “And you?” he asks reluctantly.
For a given value of reluctant, where he’s really worried about the answer more than the fact that he’s asking the question in the first place.
A little too quick, Nate thinks. He leans back against the pillow and stares at Brad. It doesn’t even take that long.
“My leg hurts like a motherfucker, but that’s mostly your fault. The additional fall didn’t help, but I’m content in blaming you. A few scratches otherwise, nothing for you to worry about.”
“I wasn’t worried,” Nate lies. It comes out quite convincing, if he can say so himself. He immediately feels a little guilty about that. “Should you be up if you’re injured?” he adds, ruining the entire effect. Brad just shrugs.
“I’m sitting down,” he points out.
“While you should probably be lying down.”
“Except you’re taking my bed,” Brad points out matter-of-factly, but there’s something in his voice implying that he doesn’t mind that at all. Nate would prefer not to have heard that in Brad’s tone, or at least he’d like to be able to ignore the warmth settling down in his stomach, the slight flush in his cheeks.
He’d like to be able to blame that on the nausea and the general dizziness and the blow to the head, except he knows better.
“Don’t expect me to apologise for that one, I was unconscious while that decision was being made. You’re welcome back to it,” he says, moving to get up.
“You shouldn’t...” Brad starts and stops when he catches Nate’s gaze. Instead, he nods, clearly capable of recognising stubbornness. He’s probably damn well familiar with it first hand.
Nate steps up to the window, making sure that what Brad was saying is indeed true and that Stafford and Christensen are alright. They seem fine, sitting by the fire with the man Brad called Ray. A heated discussion seems to be taking place but everyone seems quite friendly.
“All in order?” Brad asks quietly and Nate turns, nodding, not bothering to pretend he wasn’t checking up on them. “Listen, I know you have no reason to trust me...”
“This is a start,” Nate mutters, waving his hand vaguely around the small room. Brad seems surprised at that, whatever words were on his tongue swallowed quickly as he shrugs and looks away. “I’m aware you hadn’t told me half of what you could have. And I’m pretty damn sure I shouldn’t trust you.”
“But you do,” Brad concludes with something like amazement colouring his voice.
“I’d be obliged if you didn’t disappoint me in that regard,” Nate tells him and sits back down, on the edge of the bed. “I didn’t actually tell anyone about my plans to change the route,” he offers.
It takes Brad less than a second. “I didn’t tell anyone either.” There’s an edge to his tone, like he badly needs Nate to know this.
“We’ve established that I trust you,” Nate reminds him. “And again, I kind of wish I didn’t, because the alternative is more worrying.”
To know the route before he decided on it, to know his thoughts if he hadn’t shared them with anyone... that would take magic.
“The Mirror,” Brad says quietly. “The King of the West has one, or at least had one the last time I’ve been in the palace. I assume this is something you hold on to.”
The Mirrors were all rumoured to be gone, long time ago, shattered into million pieces and scattered wide, widely enough to never be recovered. They were dangerous, too dangerous, for everyone, including the one using them.
If one of them is in use, this changes... just about everything.
“You seem to be awfully calm about it. Shouldn’t we be on the move?” Nate asks. The palace is probably safe, no one would dare to attack it, or even try and sneak in. Save for Brad, clearly, but most people would not dare.
In the house in the middle of the forest, with just the few of them and most of them injured in some way...
“He can’t see me,” Brad says quietly. “Part of why I’m still alive and from time to time can even get some sleep,” he adds.
“I thought there was no way to hide from a Mirror.”
“So does everyone else,” Brad says and doesn’t volunteer anything more. Nate holds his gaze, clear and steady, and decides not to push.
Somehow he’s sure that if he did, Brad would tell him. Nate doesn’t know if he’s ready for that.
“I need to get back. Warn my father. If what you’re saying is true...” he raises his hand when something dark flickers across Brad’s face. “I believe you, but you know intel like this will need to be verified. Especially if I won’t be able to divulge the source.”
From the look of it, he once again manages to surprise Brad. Nate doesn’t know which part shocks Brad, Nate’s acceptance of his word at face value, or the fact that he’s willing to protect Brad’s identity.
He reaches out instinctively, before he can stop himself. His fingers close around Brad’s wrist, thumb stroking the skin on the inside. Brad shivers, but doesn’t pull his hand away.
“You’ve come to warn me, and then you rushed to save me, even though you really didn’t have to. This is the least I can do.”
“You could consider those services paid for upfront.”
Nate looks at him confusedly before smiling. “The jewels? Told you to keep them. Besides, honestly, since when is there honour among thieves?” he asks lightly and Brad nods, looking down at their hands. He pulls a little and Nate lets him, loosens his grasp expecting Brad to withdraw completely.
Instead, Brad turns his hand and covers Nate’s. “You’d be safer here than in the palace.”
Nate nods. “I can’t stay.”
“I’ve figured that. You could...” he stops when there’s knock on the open window, Ray standing outside.
“If you and his royal highness done braiding each other’s hair, the stew is ready,” he says with a careful and carefully concealed look at Brad. Nate would miss it if he wasn’t looking straight at Ray for a hint to what he’s thinking.
“A moment, Ray,” Brad offers and waits for Ray to nod and head back for the fire, exchanging some light insults with Stafford. “I could go with you,” he offers quietly, quietly enough that it takes Nate a moment to understand, especially since Brad is not looking at him, gaze fixed on the floor, or his shoes, instead.
He shakes his head, over the low murmur of yes resounding in his head. “It’s safer for you here,” he tells Brad, acknowledging the repeat with a small smile. “You might not be wanted in this kingdom, but we obey the law of the other lands. At least while we’re still at peace,” he adds wryly.
Brad’s smile is broken, in the way that it’s cracked and sharp on the edges, sharp enough to cut. “I shouldn’t be hoping for the war, you know.”
“I shouldn’t be...” Nate shrugs and doesn’t finish. This. This entire thing, he shouldn’t be. Shouldn’t be here, shouldn’t be drawn to Brad like he is, shouldn’t be leaning forward into a kiss that’s waiting for him, that might have been there, waiting, since the beginning of this entire conversation. Since the very moment they met, even though this was mostly a rush.
So is this. A rush. Brad’s lips on his, demanding and yet somehow gentle at the same time, his hand cradling Nate’s skull carefully, mindful of the injury.
It shouldn’t feel so right, he’s pretty damn sure of that.
“Fuck, this is so inconvenient,” Brad mutters as he finally pulls away, before licking at his lips like he’s savouring Nate’s taste. Nate can’t help it, he laughs at that, covering his mouth with his hand.
“It really is,” he admits. He’s been saying that all along.
Growing up, his sister loved the old stories about princes and princesses and Nate had been forced to suffer through more than one rendition of the tales. It was before Veronica grew up, and an important part of growing up was the realisation that the princes she would meet were either a brother, whom she was quite fond of but thought about as close to a romantic ideal as a ton of bricks, and Prince David of the South, who, well. She turned her eyes towards the knights and the baronets, and whoever else their father would soon need to threaten with a sword. Or a prospective beheading.
But she still loved the tales, the silly ones, in which a spell could be broken with a kiss. In which everyone fell in love at first sight and fell hard. In which love always prevailed.
With Brad’s hand still tangled in his shirt and his own breathing still ragged Nate supposes he owes her something like an apology for teasing her so much.
Kisses breaking spells is still an idiotic idea, though.
“Come on, I’ve been told stew is waiting,” Brad offers after a moment, his tone a little absent, as if coming from a long way. “Knowing Ray, it could be rats or squirrels, but it’s going to be good anyway.”
“So, what you mean, don’t ask.”
“I find it the safest way to deal with Ray,” Brad agrees. The man in question looks up at him and slowly extends his middle finger, smiling as he does so. Brad shrugs and leans conspirationally to Nate. “I think it’s some kind of a dwarf greeting.”
“Fuck you, just because you’re freakishly tall doesn’t mean everyone else is a dwarf,” Ray mutters, then continues more thoughtfully. “Besides, I’m just part dwarf, you know.”
“Really?” Stafford asks incredulously, while Nate bites at his lips. He’s been warned not to ask and apparently, it was a wise counsel.
“On my mother’s side. She’s been half-dwarf herself, but Grandpa was pretty hefty with a ladder and Grandma never complained.”
Stafford looks between him and Brad, a little unsure, like he’s not sure he’s being led on or not. Brad nods at him. “Whatever you do, don’t get into drinking contests with Person here. Or let him hit you with his head, it’s like a cannonball, that thing.”
Nate picks up a bowl and stirs it thoughtfully before eating a few spoonfuls. “Any of it actually true?” he asks with mild curiosity. Ray glances up at him, smiling like he’s pleased.
“Could be,” he offers and waits.
“I guess the part about the drinking contests is definitely true.”
Ray smirks and pats Brad on the back. “You could have done worse, homes. He really could be another exception to the rule of all royals being useless bags of shit. We’re still going to die over all this, but it might be interesting while it lasts, at least,” he adds cheerfully.
“Die over what?” Christensen asks and no one answers for a while. Ray is silenced by a kick Brad delivers to his shin and Brad himself stands up to get some more wood for fire, decidedly nonchalant.
“Starting an uprising can be a bloody business,” Nate offers finally, reaching for the ladle and refilling his bowl. He looks up after a moment and smiles guilelessly into Brad’s carefully schooled down features. “Did I say something wrong?”
Stafford’s hand is on the handle of his sword already, just in case. Nate turns to shake his head at him. “It’s fine. Not against us, unless they’re branching out.”
“No,” Brad says, adding wood to the fire, still not looking at Nate. He takes great care to not even glance in his direction, in fact, as if he’s waiting for Nate to react in some way. “There’s only one king we’re interested in overthrowing.”
“One throne is going to be enough for you?” Nate asks with a small degree of curiosity. Everyone else has gotten quiet, Ray is watching the conversation with narrowed eyes, Stafford and Christensen look on with worry, unsure Nate needs them to do.
Brad finally turns to stare right at him, and Nate thinks he might have preferred the previous arrangement, Brad’s blue eyes are a little too piercing for his comfort. Still, he looks calmly back and waits for the answer.
“I didn’t say I wish to take it,” Brad points out quietly.
“True. But isn’t it rightfully yours?” Nate shots back, and it’s a wild shot, but not at all in the dark. He wasn’t sure, not until Ray kind of gave it away, but he had seen the inside of Brad’s house now, had seen the sword resting against the wall, the shield half-hidden away, the ring on the table.
He’s not sure if Brad trusted him with this or if he thought Nate would not notice while recovering from a blow to his head, or if he would not recognize the coat of arms, the markings on the handle of the sword. He hopes for the former, resigning himself to actually wanting Brad’s good opinion.
“Depending what you mean by right,” Brad says. It’s an admission alright.
Nate nods and turns his attention back to the soup. No one says anything for a long while, and even when Brad sits back down after a few seconds, his whole body remains tense, until Nate moves to his feet few minutes later.
“We’ll ride at dawn, so get a good night’s rest,” he tells his knights and gets acknowledging nods in return. “Brad, I’d be obliged for some blankets, if you don’t mind. My head is still a little sore and wouldn’t appreciate the night on the ground.”
Brad follows him with an expression clearly stating that he isn’t going to let Nate get away with this shit. It’s sort of gratifying, to be honest.
He follows Nate back inside and closes the door with care, like the alternative is closing it very loudly. “How long have you known?” he asks, crossing his arms. Nate shrugs.
“Known? A few moments. Suspected? Honestly, Brad,” he says waving his hand around. “This doesn’t really change anything, except for the fact that at some point, I might even be able to support you officially.”
“Well, I’m still waiting for the blankets.”
Brad gives him a look. “You’re getting the bed, your highness.”
“Really? That one? Now?”
“Could be my last chance, so yes.”
“You know this is just going to end with us both on the floor,” Nate says flatly.
Brad shrugs, a beginning of a smirk tugging at his mouth. “You know, I am not really going to turn that one down, if you’re offering,” he says and Nate rolls his eyes before picking up a few blankets, going outside and tossing them to Stafford to divide amongst all three.
He also ignores the knowing look Stafford tries to give him when Nate turns to walk back inside.
Brad has, unsurprisingly, made up the bed and then lied on the floor himself, taking up most of it. Nate kicks his ankle, making sure he kicks the uninjured leg. Instead of answering, Brad fake snores, rather obviously.
“Have it your way,” Nate mutters. “And don’t complain tomorrow that your back or your neck hurts.”
Brad wisely doesn’t answer, pretending to be asleep long enough for Nate to get into bed and close his eyes. He’s been asleep for a while after the blow to the head and so he’s not all that tired, and yet, the sleep seems close enough.
“I could have stolen those,” Brad says. Nate doesn’t answer for a long moment and Brad prompts, “Nate.”
“I thought we were pretending to be asleep,” Nate tells him and waits through the answering sigh. “The thought did cross my mind,” he says finally.
“And I dismissed it promptly,” he offers, without further explanation. Brad doesn’t ask for it, but Nate can hear the way his breathing is still hinting at tension, the stillness of his body not a hint at relaxation, quite the opposite. “Just go to sleep,” he says gently.
He’s not quite sure if Brad listens to him, but the general air eases, as if he relaxed a little at least. Enough so that Nate can relax himself, listening to Brad’s steady breathing until he falls asleep.
It’s more difficult to leave in the morning than Nate expected. Partly because Stafford does a lot of complaining about the fact that they always have to ride out at dawn and what is wrong with waiting for after breakfast.
“You’re better off if you don’t eat the breakfast Person made. Everything is fine when you put it in the stew so you didn’t notice it yesterday, but he uses some shady ingredients.”
“You like rat meat, don’t lie.”
And then there’s actually leaving.
“You could tell me what your plans are,” he tells Brad, who shrugs and busies himself with feeding the horse some treats. “Technically, we are within the borders of my realm. I could make it an order,” he offers cheerfully.
“You’re really going to try that on a bandit already intent on overthrowing one king?”
“I’m thinking I’m going to try my chances with you,” he says, and it comes out a little differently than he intended. He still means it, though.
“How about this, I’ll let you know if there’s anything you need to know,” he says and takes in Nate’s expression before looking away for a moment. “There doesn’t need to be a war.”
“It’s brewing, though.”
“It’s been brewing for something like a decade. Give those negotiations a few more chances, just take a bigger outfit with you, to actually get to them.”
“Stall, you mean,” Nate mutters. “I don’t think the negotiations are really going anywhere, considering the yesterday’s welcoming committee.”
“You’re not going to tie those men to the West Kingdom in any way.”
That is probably true. Still. “You’ll let me know if you need anything.”
“Of course. I am aware you can be quite generous,” Brad says with a nod. He glances to the right, where Ray and Nate’s knights are finishing the breakfast Stafford demanded, busy with one-upping themselves with the stories of the worst things they have ever eaten. They seem quite preoccupied with the discussion and not paying any attention to anyone else, but Brad searches Nate’s gaze anyway, as if asking for permission.
Nate grants it easily, nodding his head a fraction. Brad leans in, brushing their lips together in something that is too short to be a real kiss, but leaves Nate’s lips tingling anyway.
“I’ll be seeing you, then,” Brad says and Nate nods before stepping away and announcing it the time to leave.
“But the rat was so delicious,” Christensen says mournfully. Ray snorts.
“You wish it was a rat.”