cerebellum: ([gk] what can i say it's otp for life)
[personal profile] cerebellum
Fic written for [livejournal.com profile] yagkyas holiday exchange.

Recipient: [livejournal.com profile] emeilia_rose
Title: This Is My Image In Your Mind
Rating: R, probably.
Word Count: ~8,000
Pairing/Character(s): Nate/Brad, Walt, Ray.
Summary: He blinks a few times, because the light is still too bright and because the pain is a little overwhelming--
Notes/Warnings: Quotes are from songs Echo by The Hush Sound and Empty Sky by Simon Wilcox. Also – my beta is an angel and I'd like to thank her for all the hard work she put into this fic. Thanks, [livejournal.com profile] idrilka, you're awesome. I'd like to thank also [livejournal.com profile] eiirene for her support and [livejournal.com profile] kubis for her just write, goddammit. I still don't like this fic too much. But hey. Originally posted here.


Stage one: Forget the past.

i am your thought but the water is amnesia
my name is on the tip of your tongue


There’s this annoying buzz and the light--

his throat is sore and when he tries to lick his lips, a moan escapes his mouth. He opens his eyes and closes them again almost right away--it’s like he’s staring at a white sun--

“Hey, can you hear me?” someone asks, but he can neither locate nor identify the source.

The left side of his head hurts--

“Sir?”




His everything hurts like hell.

He feels like he was run over by a truck (at least seven times) and then thrown from the rooftop of a really high building (twice). Nothing poetic about it, except the fact that he has no idea where the pain came from.

He opens his eyes. The familiar cold, white light blinds him for a few seconds before he adjusts, blinking. He’s lying on a bed under snow-white covers, and there’s an IV hanging above him, dripping slowly.

He closes his eyes to stop himself from puking--

the walls are painted a light shade of lilac.

Judging by the medical equipment lying on the table to his right, this must be probably some sort of a medical facility.

He blinks a few times, because the light is still too bright and because the pain is a little overwhelming--

everything is still blurry, so he tries to close his eyes slowly and open them again, focusing on the doorknob. It doesn’t help… much.

There’s a bandage around his head and when he touches his forehead, it hurts like hell. He lifts his hand and his back feels like someone stabbed him repeatedly. He has to close his eyes again, the wave of pain too much to bear.

He’s alone in the room.

He doesn’t panic.

It’s not like he’s underwater, drowning--

he’s in hospital. Someone had to drive him here. He doesn’t let himself panic, trying to keep his breathing steady.

What the fuck?

Focus, Nate, he tells himself. Last thing he remembers is going to bed with Brad, nothing extraordinary planned for tomorrow, but Brad’s nowhere to be seen--

where is he?

The last thing he remembers is falling asleep next to him. Brad wouldn’t leave him alone for too long if Nate had been in an accident, and he’s pretty fucking sure that’s exactly what had happened.

Nate reconsiders having a panic attack.

“Thank God, Brad,” he says when Brad enters the room seconds later.

“The doctor told me you wouldn’t wake up for another two hours,” Brad says, sounding strangely apologetic. He narrows his eyes, not even trying to close the distance between them. He shifts from one leg to another but doesn’t come forward.

“What happened?” Nate asks and tries to lift himself up to a sitting position, but it hurts too much and he ends up cursing under his breath through the clenched teeth. Brad makes a disapproving sound, reaches out with his hand and steps forward just to stop promptly a few seconds later.

Something is not right, Nate thinks, because he’s not stupid and knows Brad well enough to notice. Fucking anyone would notice.

Nate closes his eyes, trying to stop the wave of nausea and dizziness, but he doesn’t quite succeed. When he moves his hand up to press his palm against the bridge of his nose, the pain in his back intensifies, making the world in front of Nate’s eyes go black for a second.

“You were in a car accident,” Brad says quietly. “A drunk driver. The guy was DOA and the doctors said it’s a miracle he didn’t take you with him,” he continues, shoving his hands deep into his pockets. His shoulders are tense, but it’s probably because Nate almost died today. It sounds surreal, like an account read in a newspaper somewhere, but the pain seems to corroborate Brad’s story.

“I don’t remember,” Nate says, closing his eyes and exhaling. It still hurts like hell.

“I’m going to get the doctor,” Brad says and disappears before Nate has a chance to stop him.




“What day is today?”

“My vote goes to… October 29th?”

“Nate, it’s… May. 12th.”

“Wait, what?”





Diagnosis: concussion and a big fucking cut on his back (Nate’s words, not the doctor’s). Thankfully, his ribs are only bruised and none of his limbs are broken. Oh, and did he mention temporary retrograde amnesia?

It only sounds serious, in practice it just means forgetting over six months of his life. Nothing serious, the doctor says, and Nate’s not sure if he got that one right.

“How can it be nothing serious?” he asks, right on the edge of getting pissed.

“It will pass.”

“When?” Brad’s the first one to ask.

“I don’t know,” he says and closes Nate’s chart. “It depends on the patient. Soon enough, that’s for sure. It’s rare for a memory loss after an accident to be permanent,” he says, smiling, and leaves before Nate has a chance to protest.

Nate closes his eyes for a moment, breathing deeply, and that’s when something in his brain clicks. He opens his eyes and looks at Brad, who’s standing closer to his bed now, but still at a safe distance. Brad looks directly at him, like he knows what’s on Nate’s mind, just like he always does. Nate swallows, afraid of the question he needs to ask.

“What’s wrong, Brad? Tell me,” he says, trying to hide the plea and fear in his voice and failing. For a few seconds they only look at each other, just like they used to back in Iraq, and when Brad decides to speak, he does it without any sign of hesitation in his voice.

“You broke up with me,” Brad says, and it’s so simple that Nate doesn’t believe him at first. Soon enough, the words start ringing in his ears like a bad song on the radio in the shopping mall, impossible to turn down or off.

“What? Why?” Nate asks before he manages to bite his tongue. He feels pain in his temple, and he closes his eyes every few seconds for a little longer than usual, but Brad’s face stays perfectly still at all times, even if the rest of the room gets blurry.

“I’m the wrong person to ask,” Brad says, his voice flat. There’s a sad smile playing on his lips.

Suddenly it feels like he’s drowning.




Five minutes pass, during which Brad’s staring at his shoes and Nate’s staring at anything but Brad. Then Nate breaks.

“Why are you even here?”

“I’m still on your emergency calls list, I think,” he says, looks at Nate and shrugs.

Oh,” Nate breathes out. He wants to laugh. It’s like he has to guess what that guy who broke up with his partner had in mind. “I should’ve changed it,” he states thoughtfully. “The number, that is,” he adds and Brad lets out an irritated huff.

“And here I was thinking that for a minute the Nate I knew was back.”

“What the fuck, Brad?”

“You don’t remember, but it was a civilized break-up, Nate. We didn’t want to kill each other,” Brad says, smiling cheerfully, but the smile doesn’t go anywhere near his eyes.

“What do you mean by ‘the Nate you knew’?” Nate asks again, and it feels weird, like he’s asking about somebody else’s life, like he wants to hear a story. It’s a bit as if he’s hoping that Brad knows why Nate did what he did, what he was thinking when he was doing it. It’s a bit as if he’s hoping that Brad knows what’s going on in his head.

“I was simply wrong and--” The rest of the sentence is drowned out in the noise as Nate’s family starts to pour into the room.

“Nate, thank God, you’re alive!” his mom cries, and Nate’s happy that there’s something he actually knows.




It feels strange.

Things have changed, Nate knows this. Everyone looks the same, everyone acts the same--

stop here. Not everyone.

Brad is himself and a complete stranger at once. It’s the way he looks at Nate and avoids physical contact that makes Nate feel guilty. It makes Nate feel strangely self-conscious and ashamed, because he doesn’t remember if there’s anything to feel guilty about after all. (There is.)

It’s like his life’s falling apart. It’s a cliche and Nate grits his teeth when he thinks of it, but he can’t deny the adequacy. He makes a mental list of things he doesn’t know anymore. The third place goes to the current affairs (he feels like he’s been kept in the cellar for six months), the runner-up is his seemingly invincible relationship with Brad, and I don’t know who I am anymore takes the cake.

He wants to call Brad, find out why they broke up, what changed between them. The first problem is that his cellphone was destroyed in the accident, the second is that he wouldn’t know exactly what to say.

What do you say in a situation like this anyway?


Stage two: It’s your life, can’t you remember?

my image is slipping
but your memory is gripping it
this is my breath in your lungs


“We should be more careful, Brad...”

“We are.”

“Not enough. I think that maybe you should stop coming over here, someone might see us together.”

“I should be offended that you don’t want anyone to see us together.”

“You know what I mean.”





Nate answers his phone without looking at the screen, hoping it’s Brad, but what he hears on the other side of the line is Ray’s angry voice.

“You’re so full of shit, Fick,” Ray says, and Nate narrows his eyes, even though Person can’t see him.

“What exactly do you want, Ray?” Nate asks in a tired voice, rubbing his sleepy eyes with his left hand, using the right one to keep his cell phone between his shoulder and his ear. He doesn’t have the energy to listen to Ray’s tirade after spending the evening wondering if telling Brad what he’s been thinking about lately was the best decision.

“You’re a selfish little piece of shit, you should know that,” Ray says matter-of-factly, not even bothering to make it a rhetorical question. Not that it would’ve changed anything. Nate inhales, trying to form a response, but before he’s ready, Ray continues, “I know Brad well enough to know that he wants you so much he’s willing to risk his fucking career for you. I thought you were smart enough to know how much it means to him. His fucking career, Nate.” The way Ray says his name makes Nate shiver unpleasantly.

“Ray, I--”

“No, homes, you don’t get to explain. Brad fucking Colbert is ready to risk his career for someone he loves and you’re blowing him off.” Ray doesn’t sound drunk. He sounds sure and there’s just a hint of disappointment in his voice. Nate closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. “Make up your mind, homes. Because if you don’t know what the fuck you want, Brad’s better off without you.”

He’s better off.

Oh.

“It’s not a game, Nate. Fuck, you’re in or you’re out, it’s that simple. Make up your mind, because Brad had that shit from Jess and he doesn’t need it from you. He is ready to risk his career to be with you, so don’t you think that you owe him that much?” Ray asks, but Nate isn’t exactly listening to him. The part about Brad risking his career lights a fucking neon in his head, and maybe Ray is right. Maybe Brad is risking too much for him. Brad is risking too much, and Nate has no right to ask that of him.

Maybe Ray is right.

Maybe Brad is better off without him.

“He wants you, you fucking idiot and you’re…” Ray rambles on the other side, but Nate cuts him off.

“I have to go, Ray,” he says and hangs up, not waiting for Ray’s answer. He places his phone on the desk, waiting for Ray to call again so he can dodge it, but it doesn’t happen. Nate rubs his face with his hands and stares at Brad’s t-shirt lying on the other end of the couch.

He’s better off.


Stage three: Digging a hole in y(our) sanity.

you always close your eyes
when you're trying to find the answer


Nate seems to keep his eyes closed most of the time for the first three days after the accident.

He’s not sure if the world will still be there when he opens them.

Nate’s not sure whether it’s easier or harder with his eyes closed. It’s frustrating as hell, that’s for sure. Nate closes his eyes and listens to his own breath, focused. He calms down, waiting for the flood of memories to come, but that’s it. No flood, nothing. He covers his face with his palms, his breathing quickening, but there’s nothing.

Nate thinks he’s going to cry. After that, that he’s going to scream. After that – break things, after that – cry again and so on. Nate does none of these things – he simply opens his eyes and smiles at Pauline. She smiles, too, but her smile is different than Nate’s. He tried that once--he smiled at his reflection the mirror in the hospital bathroom and watched his reflection carefully. The smile was there, sad and somehow hollow. It never reached the pair of blank, green eyes, staring at Nate’s tired face from the mirror. Nate blinked then and closed his eyes again.

Every time he does that, he’s a bit afraid that he’ll forget everything.

How do you close your eyes one minute, lying in the bed with the love of your life and open them a minute later to discover that the love of your life isn’t yours anymore?

And that it’s all your fault?




When they finally release him from the hospital, he’s relieved. It’s only because Pauline swore to take good care of him (as if Nate didn’t already feel like he was using her) and he promised not to injure himself again.
Brad showed up only once after he’d told Nate that they (Nate) broke up (with him). He only stayed for an hour, and they were sitting (in Nate’s case half-lying on the bed) and making awkward small talk about the book Brad brought him.

A hardcover copy of Cat’s Cradle makes Nate’s hands itch with a burning desire to throw it out the nearest window. The book itself is fine. It’s just that would make a great missile.

It has nothing to do with the fact that it was Brad who brought it.




“How are we feeling today?” Pauline asks the second he comes out of his bedroom. Nate lets out a shaky laugh. His back still hurts like hell. The wound is healing now, but the gash is too deep to simply disappear after a week.

“You know that I got out of the hospital just so they wouldn’t bore me to death with these ‘how are you’ questions, right?” Nate teases and inhales the scent of fresh toast Pauline hands him.

“You forget that I know you.” Pauline smiles, pouring the orange juice into the glasses. “You got out of the hospital just so you could start working as soon as you were able to.” Nate stares at her for a minute and settles for taking a bite of his toast.

“I can’t exactly start working again, since I have no idea what’s going on around me,” he says once half of his breakfast is gone.

“Like that’s going to stop you. It’ll just make you work harder. You’re my brother, I’ve seen that happen. You know that forgetting six months isn’t a catastrophe, don’t you?” Pauline says and hands him his juice. Nate blinks and raises his eyebrows in question. She isn’t exactly subtle. “Look, Nate. It doesn’t matter if you do remember this time or not, because it doesn’t change who you are. I’m sure it’s fucking frustrating and all that, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re still Nate,” she says with the same warm and compassionate smile that she’s been giving him since he first saw her at the hospital after the accident. Nate smiles back and then pretends to frown.

“Watch your tongue,” he says, because it’s the best thing he can come up with.

“You forgot to add ‘young lady’.” Pauline giggles and Nate smiles at her.

It’s only after the accident that he suddenly seems to realize how many things can happen and how many decisions one can make in six months. Nate’s surprised he wasn’t completely aware of that earlier; after all, it took them less than that to invade a fucking country. He’s sure Brad would appreciate the joke.




“You need to go to the hospital.”

“I'm not going anywhere, it's nothing. I'm sure it will pass.”

“Sure. Headaches, nausea and dizziness after a severe concussion, it's nothing. You're going to the hospital, Nate.”

“No. I’ll be fine, really.”





“Tom called. Carol is sick. I’m sorry Nate, but I--”

“She’s your daughter. I can take care of myself.”

“You’re an idiot if you think I’m going to leave you here all by yourself, Nate.”

“Don’t even think about calling mom. You know she’s ready to drop everything she’s doing just to come here and lately she’s been so happy with her new work and--”

“I know, I know. Besides, I’m your sister, not your enemy, honey.”





Nate’s surprised when he sees Brad standing on the threshold of his apartment. He honestly thought he was perfectly capable of taking care of himself. (Yes, he tried to change the dressing on his back himself and failed epically, and the nausea and dizziness don’t seem like they’re going to go away anytime soon, but he’s going to be just fine. He’s not a child.)

Brad still reads him very well, though--he raises his eyebrow and huffs, irritated.

“You really thought that your sister was going to leave you all by yourself. In your current state. This concussion must have been really serious.” He shakes his head and leaves his duffel bag in the hall.

“I’m fine. I can take care of myself,” Nate says, even more irritated.

“Sure you can.” Brad shrugs. “You want me to go?”

“No,” Nate says. He’s going to need someone to change that fucking dressing for him, after all. Also, there’s no point pretending he doesn’t want Brad around.

It’s possible that there’s a hint of a smug smile on Brad’s face, but Nate tries not to get his hopes up.




What Nate wants to ask Brad is when and where and what--anything that would shed some light on his reason for breaking up with Brad in the first place. Instead, after his ‘no’ comes an awkward silence, which Nate breaks by saying, “Make yourself at home,” and mentally slapping himself for that.

He’s sitting in the living room, staring at the Newsweek’s welcome page.

“Here I am, being your lovely housewife again,” Brad teases from the kitchen.

“You don’t have to cook for me, you know that, right?”

“And you can take care of yourself. I know how this song goes, Nate,” Brad says and appears in the living room with two steaming plates. “The second I walk out that door you’ll grab your laptop and papers and start working again. Besides, I’m not going to eat pizza again,” Brad says, handing him the dishes, and Nate settles for a heavy sigh.

“You don’t have to be here all the time, you know. It’s enough if you just help me with the dressing and I can stay home alone. I’m not five.”

“You act like you’re five when you’re sick,” Brad says, more to his plate than to Nate.

“I’m not sick. Besides, it’s been years since the last time I was sick. Unless--”

“Exactly, last December. You were acting like some annoying brat. And we couldn't fuck.”

“You’re just making that up,” Nate says, convinced. Brad looks at him and they stare at each other for a while--Brad’s wide smile against Nate’s confused grimace. “Okay, you’re not. So what if I am annoying, it’s even better excuse for you to leave me alone.”

“Pauline warned me. If you try to pull something like this, I’m supposed to call her and she’s calling your mother.” Brad grins.

“Oh, that’s low,” Nate mumbles, staring at his chicken and rice.

“As long as it keeps you away from work, I’d say it’s a fair game. And from what I’ve heard from your sister, you’re still dizzy and nauseated as fuck, but you’re too stubborn to take care of yourself properly.” Brad’s smile fades, and when Nate looks up, it’s almost entirely gone.

“She’s overreacting. I’m fine. The dizziness and nausea will pass soon enough,” Nate says, quietly, like he knows there’s no point trying to convince Brad.

“You forgot to add that you’re also taking huge doses of painkillers because of the wound on your back, and I’m sorry, but there’s no way I’m leaving you alone with your temporarily retarded situational awareness,” Brad says with a serious expression, and for a second Nate feels like it’s Brad ordering him for once, not the other way round.




Nate stands in the kitchen and stares at the fridge. The bottle next to his bed was empty and he got up to take a glass of water, careful not to wake up Brad, who’s sleeping on the couch in the living room, practically open onto the kitchen.

He stares at the spot on the refrigerator where a photo of Brad used to be. He doesn’t remember when he took it and doesn’t know what happened to it, since it’s now gone. He used to tease Brad that they were on their way to becoming one hell of a happy domestic couple - first hanging pictures on the fridge, then getting a dog.

The glass is still full and heavy in Nate’s hand. He just stands there, deep in thought, until he hears Brad’s steps behind him. He probably woke him up despite his efforts to keep silent. Marines always sleep lightly, after all. Nate takes a sip from his glass, waiting for Brad to say something.

It doesn’t happen.

Nate places the glass on the kitchen counter, turns and looks at Brad. It’s dark, but the light coming from the street lantern is enough to see Brad’s slightly open mouth.

“I have no idea why the hell I’d want to break up with you,” Nate says and passes him, going to his bedroom. A part of him wants Brad to follow him inside and start a fight, do something, anything, but it doesn’t happen.

About five minutes later Nate hears Brad enter the bathroom and he still registers his quiet steps as Brad comes back to the living room.

After that he simply falls asleep.




“Stop wriggling,” Brad says, his voice equal parts tired and irritated.

“I’m not wriggling,” Nate complains, shifting for the last time. “Lying in this position is really uncomfortable, you know,” he adds and hears Brad’s quiet laughter. “What?”

“Well, I can recall certain occasions on which this position seemed extremely pleasurable to you.”

“And what occasions were those?” Nate asks before he can think, and he instantly knows he’s made a mistake. He doesn’t feel Brad’s hand on his back anymore, so he turns his head to look at him. Brad is staring directly at him, his eyes darkened and expression unreadable. Nate licks his lips and closes his eyes for a moment, because it’s all like a fucking deja vu. He’s sure he had seen it before, maybe even in the same place, on his bed, but he doesn’t remember how, when and under what circumstances. He closes his eyes, hoping for an image or a memory to come, but it doesn’t happen. The surface of his mind seems like a black hole, sucking everything into the deeper layers of his consciousness, locking it there. When he opens his eyes, Brad isn’t looking at him. Nate blinks and lies down again, waiting for Brad to finish changing the dressing. His back hurts and Nate thinks that maybe he deserves this, all of this.

“I’m sorry,” he murmurs, not knowing if he wants Brad to hear it or not, for him to respond or leave it alone.

“What for?” Brad asks and Nate doesn’t know why he thought that anything could escape a fucking Recon Marine.

“For... everything,” Nate says, finding himself unable to clarify what he means exactly.

“You can’t be sorry for something you don’t remember, Nate,” Brad says with a wry smile and Nate knows he’s right.




“Fuck,” Nate mumbles. Something's wrong, maybe the painkillers are starting to wear off, because every time he tries to put his t-shirt on, his back hurts. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.”

He tries again but ends up with the same result – a t-shirt in his hand and a wave of frustration washing over him.

“Fuck,” he says once again. That's when Brad starts to knock on the bathroom door.

“Nate? What's wrong?” he asks and Nate curses under his breath.

“It's nothing, I'm fine.”

“Nate,” Brad says in a voice that doesn't leave any room for discussion. “What is it?”

Nate exhales loudly and opens the door, showing Brad his t-shirt.

“I can't put the damn thing on,” he says and waits for Brad to laugh at him, but it never comes.

“You want me to help you?” Brad asks and sounds sincerely worried, looking at Nate's bruised upper body, purple and yellow and green.

“Yeah,” Nate says and nods. With Brad's help, putting on the damn thing goes smoothly and then they just stand in the middle of the bathroom, looking at each other. Nate blinks. It can't be that easy.

He takes a step closer and kisses Brad, slowly, desperately, yearning to touch the bare skin and slip his fingers under the hem of Brad’s t-shirt. Brad kisses back, cupping his face, licking and sucking on Nate’s lower lip. Nate’s moan is swallowed by Brad’s lips seconds before they part, Brad placing a hand on Nate’s chest. It’s firm enough to hold Nate, blinded by the sheer want, in his place, but tender enough not to cause Nate’s bruised ribs more pain.

“I can’t,” he says, looking anywhere but at Nate, and takes a few steps back.

“What? Why?” Nate asks, and he becomes well aware of how stupid he sounds the second he says that.

“I can’t. You broke up with me, you never explained why, saying only that ‘it would be better for both of us’. How can I be sure that you won’t do it again once you remember everything?” Brad says, staring at his naked feet, and Nate feels how angry he is. At Brad, at himself, at his other self, at the accident. He wants to tell Brad that he wouldn’t leave him, never, ever, but the catch is - he already did that once.

Nate opens his mouth to say something, but once he does, he realizes that he has nothing to say. It’s not even that he doesn’t know what to say, he simply has nothing he can say to Brad or at least nothing that would make any of this right. He wants Brad to look at him, he wants to hear Brad say that they will be okay (not now, but soon enough), that there’s a way to fix everything between them, that not everything is lost. Nate’s afraid that instead of this, he’s going to hear that Brad doesn’t want him anymore, doesn’t want to have him back, doesn’t want to have whatever they had back, that everything is lost. Nate’s so fucking scared that he wouldn’t be able to prove Brad wrong. He wants to have a chance to show Brad that he knows he’s made a mistake and that he doesn’t want to be another Jessica, whom Brad’s friends know and don’t like all that much.

He closes his mouth, and that’s when Brad looks at him.

And then he just leaves.


Stage four: It’s someone’s life.

echo, my voice is an echo
of places I don't know
and stories I've been told


Nate’s a little surprised when Walt calls to tell him that he’s coming over. They were never close friends. Apparently, it’s just one more thing that changed over the six months Nate can’t remember.

“Walt’s coming over,” Nate says after Brad comes out of the bathroom, fully dressed.

“Oh.” Brad pulls the milk out of the fridge and starts to drink straight from the bottle. Nate sighs; he doesn’t have the energy to fight about it again. Besides, maybe Brad does that just to annoy him.

“You want to hang out with us? Drink beer or watch a movie? I’m on painkillers, it’s like I’m high all the time,” Nate laughs a little, nervous. Brad doesn’t look at him; instead, he bends to pick up the towel that slid from his shoulder. They’ve been avoiding each other even more since the kiss and Nate’s amazed by the fact that it’s even possible in his small apartment.

“You are high all the time,” Brad says, toweling off his hair and shrugging.

“No, I’m not,” Nate says, and Brad just smiles the smile that doesn’t reach his eyes.

“I’m gonna go out if it’s not a problem,” Brad says in a tone that indicates that he has other plans.

“I told you more than once that I can take care of myself, so of course it’s not a problem. It’s not like we’re married or anything,” he says and it must be the painkillers, because he speaks before he thinks once again. Brad’s frown disappears as quickly as it appeared, and Nate decides to let it go. He goes to the living room and boots up his browser--he still has some time to kill before Walt comes over.




“Hello.”

“Walt.”

“Nice to see you again, Brad.”

“You too, Walt. I’ll see you later, Nate. Don’t try to change the dressing on your own, okay?”

“Yes, mom.”

“I’ll keep an eye on him.”

“Thanks, Walt. You know he can be a bigger idiot than Ray.”

“He is here and can hear you.”

“Yeah. See you, Brad.”





“Beer?” Nate asks once Brad’s gone and Walt looks at him curiously.

“Sure.” He smiles, following Nate to the kitchen.

“Seriously, Nate? Orange juice?” Walt teases and Nate just shrugs, smiling.

“Beer and painkillers don’t mix,” he says simply, pouring the juice into a mug and following Walt to the living room.

“Is is just me or is there something wrong between the two of you?” Nate asks and moves his head in the general direction of the door. Walt glances at him for a few seconds and takes a swig of his beer.

“You really don’t remember anything, do you?”

“Very funny, Walt,” Nate replies and studies him for a while.

“This is going to sound weird,” Walt starts and Nate laughs.

“Ray Person level of weird?” he asks, still grinning, and Walt starts to laugh with him.

“No, just weird,” he says, suddenly serious. “You don’t remember, what, four, five months?”

“Six, actually.”

“So, the New Year’s Eve party? Any recollection?”

“None whatsoever. What’s your point, Walt?” Nate asks, tightening his grip on the mug.

“Well, you were drunk and when I say drunk, I mean it. And you, well... Anyway, my point is, you told me that you thought Brad was risking too much for you,” Walt says and looks at Nate, who stays silent for a moment, watching Walt drink his beer. It seems a little like another story of someone else’s life.

“I did?” he asks. Stupid question. Of course he did, it’s Walt, he wouldn’t be fucking with him just for the heck of it. The problem is that back in October, he could count the people who knew about him and Brad on the fingers of his right hand. Walt wasn’t among them.

There’s a smile playing on Walt’s lips.

“Don’t worry, sir.”

“Don’t call me sir,” Nate says, and it’s automatic, he remembers that. “Does Ray know?”

“He does, but I'm not surprised he didn't call you. I haven’t heard from him since we had our little argument about messing with other people’s lives.”

“What?” Nate asks and blinks.

“According to what you said to me, Ray told you that you should make up your mind and--” Walt says something, but Nate stops listening to him. He closes his eyes, his head hurts, and there are some images and random parts of conversations, the ones that he can't quite understand. It's not what Nate figured remembering would feel like

“Wait,” he says and Walt stops talking. When Nate opens his eyes, Walt's watching him carefully.

“Is everything okay?” he asks.

“I remember that,” Nate says, looking at Walt. Everything is a little blurry, just like it was right after he woke up at the hospital.

“What? How?”

“I was-- I was really drunk, we all were,” Nate says, touching his temple with his left hand. It hurts in the back of his head, like someone's trying to drive a nail through his skull.

“Speak for yourself,” Walt says and grins. “But, seriously, Nate. What do you remember?”

“We didn't close the door. We were making out in Ray's bedroom. Jesus, seriously?” he asks loudly and Walt smirks.

“Yeah, you should be glad Ray let it go so quickly,” Walt says, smiling widely.

“Only because Brad told him that if he didn't shut up, he would rip his tongue out.” Nate laughs at the memory.

“Yeah. What else?” Walt asks and Nate glances at him, trying to tell himself that his head doesn't really hurt. But it does, and how.

“You told me that you saw us when we were sitting on the couch and the rest was watching the fireworks,” Nate says, surprised. He didn't remember any of these things.

“And?”

“I don't remember,” Nate says, but it isn't true.

“Don't lie to me, Nate. You told me that once already,” Walt says, and Nate frowns, trying to remember anything more, but it doesn’t really work that way.

“Right. Fuck, my head hurts,” Nate says and lies down on the couch, staring at the white ceiling.

“How much do you remember?”

“Only this,” he answers. It's true. He remembers the New Year’s Eve party, talking with Walt and making out with Brad. Nothing else. He still doesn't remember how or why he broke up with Brad.

“But this means that you're getting your memory back.”

“Yeah,” Nate says and closes his eyes. “I think I need to lie down for a minute.”

“Maybe you should get some sleep? It helps when my head hurts,” Walt says and Nate looks at him.

“You're probably right.”




He’s lying in the dark bedroom, listening to the voices in the living room coming from the tv and trying to force himself to get up and face Brad.

Oh, I like this movie, and by the way, Brad, I broke up with you because I was an idiot. But you probably know this one already.

He never thought he would do something like that to Brad. He didn’t expect that from himself. But what do you know, apparently.

His head still hurts, as well as his back, but it's not unbearable. There's something heavy in his gut, though, that's way worse than any kind of physical pain.

“Hey,” Nate says, entering the living room, where Brad's watching some crappy action movie.

“Hey yourself,” Brad replies, turning to look at Nate. “I didn't want to wake you.”

“You didn't. Pauline gave you her spare keys, didn't she?” Nate asks and drops onto the couch next to him. Brad responds with a smug smile.

“How are you feeling?” Brad asks, and Nate wonders if he's ready to tell Brad what's really going on. Their thighs are pressed together, and Nate wants to kiss him, but he can't. Not now, not yet. He settles for watching the movie with Brad, eating half-burned popcorn and discussing the far-fetched plot.




This time Nate wakes up lying on top of Brad.

“I'm guessing you didn't want to wake me,” Nate teases, looking up.

“Yeah. Now move because I need to use the bathroom,” Brad says, and Nate moans when he sits up. Brad raises an eyebrow.

“It's nothing.”

“Right,” Brad says and exits the living room.

Nate sits on the couch, massaging his neck, and waits for Brad to return. As much as he hates the expression 'to drop a bombshell' that's what he’s about to do. (And it wouldn’t be the first time.)

“So, breakfast and your pretty back or the other way round?” Brad asks once he's back.

“I know why I broke up with you,” Nate says and looks up at Brad.


Stage five: Exit.

you turn to me and smile
"will you come a little closer?"


“I thought you would be better off,” Nate says, and for the first time in his life he doesn’t have the guts to look Brad straight in the eye. He closes his eyes and worries his lower lip, waiting for Brad to say again that he can’t do this. Nate would understand. It would hurt like hell, it’s going to hurt like hell, but he will understand it.

“You’re smart, Nate. I have no idea how someone so smart can have such stupid ideas,” Brad says instead. Nate clenches his jaw, swallows and opens his eyes to look at him. Now, with his memory back, he knows he’s seen this expression on Brad’s face. Slightly open mouth, ready to form a bitter smile and an almost unnoticeable shadow of anger in his blue eyes.

“You were risking everything for me,” Nate says stubbornly, clenching his fists. He feels his fingers go numb, and his blunt nails leave marks inside his palm. His jaw already hurts, his lips form a thin line and Nate holds to that feeling inside him, afraid to let go. Afraid of what might happen if he does let go.

“Because I wanted to,” Brad says and something in Nate’s chest tightens so hard he can’t breathe. He looks away and back at Brad.

He closes his eyes again and inhales deeply. Slowly, he lets his body relax and it must take ages both for him and Brad, because when he opens his eyes, Brad is watching him carefully, like he’s figuring out what to do next.

“What about now?” Nate asks and bites his lower lip, waiting for Brad’s answer. Brad hesitates for a moment before he opens his mouth, but it doesn’t last longer than a heartbeat. Another heartbeat and Brad closes it. Nate feels like he’s choking, his breath held inside his chest long enough, his vision going blurry, and he can’t quite describe Brad’s expression.

“I still do,” Brad says, so quiet that Nate almost misses it and hesitates before he moves to close the distance between them. And even when he does, nothing happens. He thought that it would suddenly become easy, it would be clear what to do next, where to put his shaking hands, if and how to kiss Brad, but none of that happens. They just stand there, Nate only a few inches away from Brad, looking somewhere above his collarbone, Brad’s breath tickling the side of Nate’s face and ear.

Brad kisses the top of his head and pulls him into a tentative embrace. Nate inhales sharply, Brad’s scent surrounding him from all sides once again, and Nate calms down, wrapping his arms around Brad, feeling the warm skin of Brad’s neck under his fingertips. He breathes in and out, just enjoying the heat and the closeness of Brad’s body.

When they part, Nate looks up at Brad and his little smile. He smiles back, his expression equally tentative, and Brad leans in and kisses him, almost chastely, placing his hands on both sides of Nate’s face. Nate lets out a quiet moan. After days of feeling each other out and walking on eggshells, Nate feels like he’s coming home. The light kiss escalates into something more aggressive, and Nate lets Brad part his lips with his tongue, he lets him fuck his mouth like Brad used to every time when Nate was working too much and needed a distraction (according to Brad). Brad swallows all moans and groans Nate lets out, and Nate pushes Brad as much as it takes to move them and pin Brad to the wall.

They part and there’s a silent moment when they both drop their hands to their sides, not sure whether they should continue. Nate breathes out and grabs the hem of Brad’s t-shirt, looking at him. Brad’s nod is so inconspicuous that Nate’s not sure if it actually means what he hopes it means, but Brad just smirks and pushes Nate’s hand away, pulling his t-shirt off. Nate places his hand on Brad’s collarbone and then traces an invisible line on Brad’s stomach. Brad pulls him in for another kiss, deep and rough, and Nate remembers this one, too. This is the way Brad kisses him when he’s back from a deployment, jet-lagged after the flight but still horny. He kisses Nate’s neck and helps him take his t-shirt off, licking behind Nate’s ear; it makes him arch his back and moan loudly, even though Brad doesn’t touch him anywhere below the waist. It doesn’t matter--Nate’s already hard.

Brad laughs, and it comes out hoarse and wrecked when Nate parts his knees and pushes his leg in between. Nate feels that Brad, too, is hard in his jeans, so he presses his thigh up until it makes Brad make a choking sound in the back of his throat. Nate kisses Brad slowly, taking his time at the corner of his mouth, licking and sucking on the lower lip, teasing. He enjoys the feeling of Brad's skin under his fingertips, and the way Brad's hands seem to be all over him, touching his chest, like Brad is glad he's alive and his, like he’s waited for so long to do that. (Nate feels the same way.)

He unzips Brad's jeans and pushes his hand inside, touching Brad through the fabric of his briefs, and Brad's breathing becomes heavy, his breaths short and close to sounding like little moans every time he exhales. Nate rubs the wet spot with his thumb, watching Brad's closed eyes and exposed neck. He moves closer, so they're standing chest to chest, and he can hear each time Brad curses under his breath.

“Stop it, or I'm going to come,” he complains, his eyes still screwed shut.

“Oh? Someone needs to get laid,” Nate teases. It’s something he used to say when Brad got home and tried to debauch him in the hall with their clothes still on. He licks a stripe along the line of Brad's jaw and his neck, and Brad inhales quickly--

Nate feels each sharp intake of breath under his tongue.

“I'm serious,” Brad says, shoving Nate lightly in the chest until he pulls his hand out of Brad's jeans and his leg from between Brad’s legs. Nate licks his lips and stares at the incoherent mess he’s made of Brad, and he can't hide the fact that he's glad he's the one who gets to do this to him.

Brad suddenly takes off and when Nate chases him to the bedroom, he's already on Nate's (their) bed. Nate frowns.

“Your back, Nate,” Brad says, and it sounds like he wants to add 'you idiot' but stops himself. Good.

“Oh,” Nate whispers, more to himself than to Brad. He wasn't thinking about the logistics when they started. But, after all, probably neither did Brad. “We’ll have to make do.”

“Yes, sir,” Brad says and Nate frowns again at the familiar honorific but doesn't try to argue. It's neither the time, nor the place for it. He takes off his sweatpants and climbs onto the bed, touching Brad casually--

there's nothing casual about it.

They kiss - breathless, desperate kisses - and Nate can't quite put his finger on it, but there's something missing. Brad's eyes are darkened with desire, but the way he's looking at Nate has changed. Nate isn't all that surprised, considering. He kisses Brad again, banishing the thoughts from his head, thinking about how to make it up to Brad for all the pain and disappointment.

He doesn't say I love you, because it would sound like a lie, even though it isn't.

I'm sorry,” Nate says and kisses Brad again, this time just ghosting his lips over Brad’s mouth.

“Na--” Brad starts, but when Nate pushes down his briefs and takes him into his mouth, the rest comes out as a loud groan of pleasure.

Brad's cock is hot and thick inside Nate's mouth, but it's a feeling so familiar that Nate doesn't hesitate. He works on taking Brad in completely, focusing on finding his pace and on Brad's hand stroking the back of his neck, soothing him.

Nate likes the sound Brad makes when he slides his mouth up and down the length of Brad's cock. It’s feels good to know that it's still something he can do well – reduce Brad to a state in which he loses self-control completely, even if just for a moment.

Natenatenatenatenate,” Brad says and it sounds like fuckfuckfuck in Nate's ears, but when Brad comes in his mouth and Nate swallows all of him, he hears the soft Nate. He knows that’s what he’s been waiting for--forgiveness.

It’s all pretty unfair to Brad, he thinks. For Nate, it felt like a few days, and the memories he got back seem like someone else’s story and not his own. He still feels rather emotionally detached.

Nate kisses Brad like he used to when they were together, like they never broke up, like the story in his mind isn’t true.

Brad kisses Nate just the same as Nate remembers, like it all never happened, but as soon as they part there’s, a hint of uncertainty in Brad’s blue eyes and his touch, and it makes Nate’s memories come alive and vivid.




“Are we good?”

“No. Not yet. But we will be eventually.”

“Okay.”





It’s not what he remembers.

The tension between them doesn’t quite want to go away, and the silent 'sorry' still lingers in the air.

But they will be okay. Eventually.

*

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May 2012

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