Warnings: As per the show, plus Brad/Nate. Although Ray almost merits a warning of his own.
Disclaimer: Based solely on the characters depicted in the HBO miniseries.
Summary: Brad and his emotions have an understanding: he doesn't talk about, or think about, anything that might affect his combat effectiveness, and his emotions do whatever the fuck he tells them to. 11,000 words written in response to the prompt Ceasefire.
A/N: This fic was previously posted anonymously here as part of the combat_jack Team Day vs. Team Night challenge. The version that appears below is a slightly edited version of the original. I am indebted to oxoniensis for her awesome beta skills and ninja cheerleading, and everyone at After Action Report for the transcripts, one or two lines from which are reproduced here. All wrongness that remains is mine.
Brad and his emotions have an understanding: he doesn't talk about, or think about, anything that might affect his combat effectiveness, and his emotions do whatever the fuck he tells them to.
It's a perfectly reasonable arrangement.
Look at Person, for Christ's sake. Ray's a good Marine, and — Brad would never feed Ray's already-bloated ego by saying so — a goddamn genius RTO, but he simply has no filter between his brain and his mouth. Most days, Ray is just a high-school P.A. system for his subconscious, a conduit for the volcano of anally-expulsive lava that passes for rational thought in Ray's facile cesspit of a mind.
(Brad's own toilet-training was achieved painlessly and virtually overnight at the precocious age of seventeen months, thank you for asking.)
You need to keep that shit in check with a suitable show of force.
So back at Pendleton, when Brad's interest had briefly awakened by their new, barely-popped-his-cherry Lieutenant, Brad had squared that away immediately. Nothing good ever came of paying more attention to the cocksucking mouth of one's superior officer than to the words coming out of said cocksucking mouth. It hadn't been much of a struggle; Brad's emotions rolled over like the obedient little bitches they were, and Brad nodded and saluted and said, "Welcome to Bravo Company, sir".
"Thank you, Sergeant." Lieutenant Fick smiled, and if there was an extra twinkle in his eyes, Brad didn't see it — because if he didn't see it, it couldn't possibly have existed, and Brad always saw everything.
Clean and uncomplicated, just how Brad liked things.
By the time they left Oceanside, Brad was satisfied that their new platoon commander had a functioning brain, which was more than could be said for most of the battalion's officers. Brad had never fully understood the point of having the best-trained recon operators in the world if they weren't also supported by the smartest officers.
"They gotta keep us sharp, homes," Ray said, when Brad opined that half of command was constructed from some seriously retrograde genetic material. They were in the Humvee, in the desert outside Mathilda, getting used to training maneuvers that involved a lot more driving than actual recon. Despite this, Ray's hands spent nearly as much time gesticulating as they did on the wheel. "If our officers were actually intelligent, we'd just get complacent and fuck everything up. So command sends us Captain Fucknuts, to make sure we question every single order, and stay all pissy — ready to make war, not love."
As Ray's theories went, Brad had heard stranger — though he knew better by now than to say anything that Ray might interpret as encouragement.
"The LT seems okay though," Ray continued. "You know, in a totally homo, picking-up-soap-in-the-showers-at-prep-s
"The LT's a faggot?" Trombley asked.
"Fuck, no," Ray said. "Well, maybe he is, but I reckon he just grew those cocksucking lips to piss Brad off."
The small part of Brad's brain that had first noticed the LT's mouth snapped to attention at this statement, and contemplated ordering some kind of precision aerial strike on Ray — but since that part of Brad's brain was most likely just an aberration, at best statistical noise, Brad chose to ignore it.
Ignore it, and say, "Well Ray, if there's an expert on cocksucking in Bravo Company, then that would be you."
"Dude! I am a fucking expert at having my cocked sucked! My girlfriend—"
"—Please," Brad interrupted, "spare us your sordid tales of Susie Rottencrotch and your multifarious, antibiotic-resistant social diseases."
Ray had taken that opportunity to belt out a couple lines of Love Is Contagious, and evidently the subject was closed.
There was no subject, of course. It wasn't as though the LT was an actual topic. Nothing to see here, Marine. Move along.
"So check this out," Ray says, not long after they pass a sign that says Nasiriyah 35km. "Everyone always talks about 'the recon community', like we're one big happy family and have fucking barbecues together all the time and shit."
"We do have barbecues," Brad corrects. "You spilled sauce on my goddamn shirt."
Brad doesn't have a favorite shirt, because what kind of gay-ass Marine assigns a command structure to his clothing, for Christ's sake. But if he did have a favorite, it would have been the one Ray spilled — no, threw — sauce on at Poke's barbecue, rich red sauce that left a completely fucking immovable orange stain that wouldn't shift no matter how many times Brad laundered it.
(No, Brad is not drafting his mother on this one. He is not enabling that woman's caregiver fantasies any further, thank you very much.)
"Anyway," Ray says, ignoring him, "I was thinking — if you replace the word 'recon' with the word 'gay', nobody would believe we didn't all live in San Francisco together in a huge, pink, Big Gay Al house."
Brad wants Ray to keep talking — not because he has any particular interest in what Ray has to say, but because Ray's babbling keeps him awake and just the right side of cranky in a way that Brad's calculated as being more or less optimal for combat-readiness.
(Not that Brad gets cranky; he prefers to think of it as 'alert'.)
So he just lets Ray rabbit on about god knows what, lets it slide until Ray's halfway into some lame-ass tune about a pink hotel.
"That's enough, Ray."
"It's not even country," Ray protests. "I mean, it's not western either, unless you wanna play the California card. Shit, homes, this chick probably designed the California card. I bet she fucking knitted it while smoking a joint the size of the Golden Gate fucking Bridge."
Brad gives Ray a look that, if there were any justice in the world, would be permanently embossed on Ray's forehead by now.
"Dude, it's fucking Joni Mitchell."
"Tell me," Brad says, glassing a berm some two hundred meters away, "why you think your friend Joni, from whatever special education class the state requires that you both attend, qualifies as an exception?"
"Fuck it, man, I don't know," Ray shrugs. "Live a little."
Brad turns his head towards Ray. "I am alive. You, on the other hand, are driving this piece-of-shit Humvee in a manner entirely consistent with a Marine who's been dead for half an hour. Watch the goddamn road."
"All right, fuck," Ray says, smacking the heel of his hand on the wheel. "I was only trying to cheer you up, dude."
"I'm quite cheerful," Brad says, favoring Ray with a shit-eating grin.
"Whatever, homes," Ray says, in that way he has of saying-without-saying.
(And isn't that exactly what Brad needs, yet another goddamn mother.)
Brad gives Ray the look he spares for special idiot children. "Were you actually born retarded, or did your illiterate, under-age mother drop you repeatedly on your head as a child?"
"Nah, my mom was cool," Ray says. "This one time, she let me cut school so we could drive over to Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum in Branson. That was fuckin' awesome."
"And here you are, years later, driving a tin-plated Humvee through a shitty third-world country and fucking underage wildlife in the ass." Brad shakes his head. "Truly a touching human story."
"Fuck, man, that antelope totally told me she was eighteen! Wait ... if she lied about that, what else might she have lied about? Shit, homes, maybe she's not even an antelope! Maybe she's a fucking gazelle!"
Brad sighs. "Ray, you watch too much Discovery Channel."
Ray leans back, talking over his shoulder. "See, Brad's parents never let him watch anything on TV except 60 Minutes."
"Damn, Sergeant," says Trombley. "That must've really sucked."
"We watched television," Brad objects.
"Yeah, shows for middle-aged, liberal dick-sucks," Ray says scornfully. "Name one MTV presenter, I fuckin' dare you."
"MTV is gay-ass television for pathetic, wrist-slashing rock-band wannabes who fantasize about being famous as though it were a career choice, and frat boys who suck dick on spring break," Brad says.
"Ah, but he does not deny the hotness of Shakira," Ray notes.
"I do not deny the hotness of Shakira," Brad concedes. "But growing up watching that shit twenty-four seven damages your brain—" he smiles at Ray, "— so it's too bad your crack-whore, whisky-tango mother didn't know any better, or you might actually have been a functioning member of society."
"Yeah, well, at least my mom never gave me away," Ray says, and then quickly finds something interesting to look at on the other side of the Humvee.
(This is what Brad means by Ray not having a filter. Brad actually finds it quite amusing, but that's not something he feels like sharing with anyone — especially Ray.)
He considers for a moment whether Ray's comment deserves retribution of some kind, or whether that's exactly what Ray is expecting (or even hoping for, the twisted little fucker). But this time, Brad just shoulders his M4 again, eye to the scope, and says, "No more Joni Mitchell, Ray."
"My mom was cool too," Garza offers, from up in the turret. "She taught me to read."
The radio buzzes. "Hitman Two One, this is Hitman Two, take the left turn in approximately one hundred meters, how copy?"
"Roger that, Hitman Two," Brad acknowledges. "They don't teach basic literacy in Mexican school, Garza?"
"Nah, man, it wasn't like that. My mom's smarter'n me — she started trying to teach me to read when I was about five years old. I didn't even go to school 'til I was seven."
"How come, homes?" Ray asks.
"I dunno," Garza says, his voice just audible between crunches as Ray cuts the turn and the Humvee drives over something hard and gravelly. "I guess I was just too scared to go, you know?"
Ray nods. "That's cool, yo. I didn't learn jack in grade school. Fuck, I had to wait 'til junior high to see a woman with tits who wasn't either related to me or older than my grandma."
"You were scared to go to school?" Trombley asks Garza.
"Yeah, man," Garza says. "I was this scrawny little kid, and I was scared the other kids were going to mess me up."
"You could fuck 'em up now, though," Trombley says. He aims the SAW out of the window. "Bam."
Brad and Ray exchange looks while Trombley sits in serene, oblivious belligerence.
Ray shakes his head and gets on the radio. "Two One Bravo, this is Two One Alpha. Did anyone enjoy elementary school?"
"Hell, no" comes Poke's voice. "It was like a six-year indoctrination into the white man's version of history. Learn about this white motherfucker. Learn about that white motherfucker. I was fifteen years old before I figured out that the only reason we learned about Martin Luther King in elementary school was that the state said we had to cover the 1960s, and all y'all white motherfuckers were so stoned back then that you couldn't get shit done. Fuck elementary school, dawg — I grew up thinking my people didn't have a history."
"You heard the man," Ray says. "Elementary school sucks the devil's asshole."
Brad permits himself a minute shake of the head, because it's entirely possible that Bravo Two's quotient of fuckups and the terminally dysfunctional actually exceeds Marine Corps specifications.
(Unlike his sister and her retarded insistence on seeing a therapist, Brad has no time for all that psychoanalytic, navel-gazing bullshit. Brad's perfectly in touch with his needs: a bike, a surfboard, a PCB and a soldering iron, good pussy once in a while, and plenty of room to breathe.)
Ray, though, apparently interprets Brad's gesture as a commentary on the nation's schooling. "Brad! Buddy! Have you been holding out on us? Admit it, dude, you fucking loved elementary school. I bet you were, like, totally the teacher's pet."
As it happens, Brad did enjoy elementary school. He had a big crush on Miss Kaplinsky, his second- and third-grade teacher. He was almost always top of his class. It was in elementary school that Brad had his first proper kiss, aged ten, with Sally McNamara. With tongues. Damn it, Brad loved elementary school.
(Except Music. That was seriously gay. Learning to play the recorder is not, as far as Brad has able to discern, a meaningful life skill.)
But Brad doesn't talk about these things, not least because getting dewy-eyed over some goddamn pre-pubescent smooching from eighteen years ago is really fucking gay.
He's saved from having to answer when the radio buzzes again. "All Hitman Two Victors, pull over after the intersection and align off Two One Alpha."
"Copy that, Hitman Two." They roll across the intersection, and Brad gestures to their left. "Person, park it there."
"Roger that, Sergeant." Ray pulls the Humvee around in a half-circle. "Hey Brad, were any of your teachers hotties? Or, like, where you know she's totally diggin' you, even though you've barely hit puberty?"
Brad tunes Ray out, and climbs out of the Humvee to assess their surroundings. The desert is an endless vista of bleached scrub and sand under acres of cloudless sky, and there's a small low-lying settlement on the horizon to the north.
Then Brad sees the old man's body, crumpled like carelessly-folded clothes into the ditch that runs along beside the road.
Ray sees it too; Brad can tell from Ray's lopsided squint, the too-long pause before he starts talking trash about some TV show Brad has no interest in.
He recognizes that this is on some level entirely, retardedly fucked up. That they're eating Skittles and bitching about MTV while someone's grandfather is lying dead in a ditch ten meters away.
It's just plain uncivilized.
Brad sees Trombley gawking at the body. A small part of him wonders if that's the reaction he's supposed to have. But Brad's a Recon Marine. His role is merely to observe.
"Trombley, come and read the map," he says, sharply.
"Okay, Sergeant." Trombley walks around the Humvee with one last long glance towards the ditch.
Brad's not protecting Trombley — Marines don't need coddling. And it's not that Brad doesn't care about the old man. But it's just smarter not to surrender to all that emotional involvement bullshit. There's really nothing they can do for the old man now, except clean up this fucking country so people can go back to herding their goddamn goats or doing whatever passes for a living here. Action's the only possible recourse; caring too much weakens your protective posture and compromises combat effectiveness.
Brad's seen that shit wear out perfectly good Marines.
Afghanistan was good. In Afghanistan, command just sat back and let Bravo do its goddamn job.
Here, though, command appears to have been lobotomized. Brad's not pissed off enough yet to confront Encino Man — but fuck, Bravo Company's commander is seriously retarded. Brad would have more confidence in bootfuck Trombley to do the job.
(Not that Brad's means to insult Trombley; Brad thinks Trombley will probably make a decent Marine one day. That cold-eyed attitude that freaks Ray out will most likely prove invaluable in combat —Trombley's got some genuine potential, if he can just start exhibiting some goddamn humanity. Brad really, really hopes there's actually some in there to begin with.)
Brad does briefly consider making a stand against their shit-for-brains company commander, but a small shake of the LT's head tells him this isn't the time. Fine — if Schwetje wants to pin this one crappy little mistake on him, Brad will just suck it up.
He won't forget, though; Brad doesn't forget things. But he'll square it away, because you can't be expected to prosecute a fucking war while resenting the fuck out of your CO.
Any more than you can go to war while thinking inappropriate thoughts about your platoon commander.
So Brad doesn't do that.
Al Gharraf isn't exciting, exactly (exciting's not really a word Brad likes to use, mostly because it makes him sound like a goddamn reservist POG), but it does break up the monotony of driving through tiny villages in the middle of ass-backwards nowhere.
They careen away from the town, dust kicking up behind the vehicle and a sudden explosion of chatter on comms. Person doesn't even slow the vehicle below fifty until they're three klicks out and the general mood of hysteria in the Humvee is beginning to abate.
(Brad feels the same way about the word 'hysteria' as he does about 'excited'. But from time to time, it's good to experience things that remind you you're alive.)
(Brad misses his bike.)
He checks them all, makes sure everybody's okay. Rolling Stone's expression is amusingly post-coital.
Ray sneaks a look back, his foot still pressing hard on the gas. "How's it feel, Reporter? The first time I got shot at, I was high as a fucking kite for, like, two days afterwards."
"Weren't you already high anyway?" Brad asks.
"Yeah, but my point is, it was really fucking intense. That's why there's so much war poetry, homes — next to pussy, it's the most intense fucking experience there is." Ray pauses to spit tobacco juice out of the window. "I mean, take War Scribe here — we just came as close to death as most civilians ever get, but does he look like someone who just shit his pants? No way, homes. Dude looks like he just got blown by a whole fucking battalion of Playboy bunnies. Death and pussy, man — all that circle of life bullshit, it's all part of the same thing."
"Hey, maybe next time we could ask those bunnies to, uh, form an orderly line," Reporter says, weakly.
Ray laughs. "Dude, we just bust Rolling Stone's war cherry! We gotta celebrate." He leans back and passes Reporter the dip.
"We fuckin' showed 'em," Trombley says.
Walt says, "Yeah, no thanks to this piece-of-shit Mark-19," but even over the rumble of tires on sand and asphalt, Brad can tell from Walt's voice that he's wearing the same glazed, fucked-out expression as everyone else.
When they pull into camp, Alpha and Bravo Three are already setting up. Ray guides the Humvee into a space beside Kocher's victor, and everyone gets out.
The mood in camp is buoyant, almost giddy: voices a little too loud and aggressive, the physical swagger that's been diminishing in small ways since they went over the LOD now firmly back in every Marine's stride.
Brad's not really into the whole after-action bravado thing, but he allows Eric to pat him on the back, and grins dutifully in all the right places while Rudy tells him, again, about Manimal's wall of fire.
"You okay, homes?" Ray asks him as they roll down the Humvee's cammie nets. The sun's going down, and Brad can feel his body slowing down a little after the day's events. He's tired, of course, but they all are. You have to learn to manage the ebb and flow of combat and respite; it's just basic physical discipline.
"I'm fine," Brad says, which is true in all the ways that matter.
Ray shrugs. "I dunno, man, you just seem a little off." He squints at Brad. "I got baby wipes, homes ..."
"I'm fine," Brad repeats, because whatever's wrong with him, jacking off seems unlikely to fix it. "You should get some sleep."
"Yeah, in a minute," Ray says. "I gotta take a piss. And I need some more Ripped Fuel."
Brad stares. "How the fuck are you supposed to sleep after that?"
"Fuck if I know," Ray shrugs. "It totally helps, though. It's like fucking Xanax or some shit."
Brad shakes his head. "You are a dirty little junkie."
"Dude, I can't help it if you're too tight to buy your Ray-Ray the good shit," Ray says, and takes off toward the bushes.
Fick's been off in a huddle with Gunny since they made camp, but now he lopes over towards Team One's Humvees.
Not that Brad's been watching him.
"Team all okay, Brad?"
"All fine, sir."
"Good. We're on twenty-five per cent watch tonight, so get some shut-eye. Might not have a lot of time for that farther up the road."
"Roger that, LT." But Brad's tiredness has shifted now, burned through into a kind of relaxed alertness. It's not entirely unpleasant.
"Quite a day," Fick observes, as they watch Marines, still high from combat, high-fiving each other in the evening light.
"If you say so, sir,"
Fick tilts his head to look sideways at Brad. "You don't think so?"
Brad shrugs. "We got fucking lit up today, I can't deny that. But I don't need to talk about my feelings, sir, if that's what you're suggesting."
Fick says nothing for a minute, just carries on looking sidelong at Brad, his expression unreadable. But it's not Brad's job to speculate — training keeps him motionless and expressionless, waiting to act on whatever comes down from above.
"You know, Brad," Fick says after a moment, "Gunnery Sergeant Griego is a fully certified combat stress instructor ..."
"Gunnery Sergeant Griego can kiss my goddamn ass, sir," Brad says, with possibly a little too much heat.
Fick does grin then, the cocky bastard.
"Fuck you, sir." It's daring, but Brad's never been a pussy about taking risks.
Fick's mouth twitches and he claps Brad on the shoulder. "Glad today's combat isn't affecting your emotions, Brad."
"Sir, what exactly does the strategic plan say about goading your men?"
The LT's grin is brief but brilliant. "I have it from Godfather that this information is strictly need-to-know." Then his expression turns serious again. "Saddam's fighters have shown us they have no compunctions about blending in with the local populace. We need to limit the enemy's opportunity to create that situation — but we have to be prepared for the possibility of civilian casualties, so keep an eye on your team. I don't want undisciplined shooting in my platoon, Brad. I'm counting on your team to set an example."
"Roger that, sir."
"Get some fucking sleep." Fick's tone is light, but Brad knows an order when he hears one.
Fuck, he shouldn't have given Trombley the order to shoot.
(Part of Brad is thinking How the fuck did the little psycho manage to hit two kids at that range? How can Trombley not have noticed they were children? But another, much louder part of Brad's mind knows that he's responsible for everything that happens in and around his Humvee. That this is not, in any real sense, Trombley's fault.)
This boy is bleeding from his abdomen and there's not a damn thing Brad can do about it, except stand around while Doc Bryan reassures two scared Iraqi women that the children are strong, that they will be okay.
The kids don't look okay. Especially the one with holes in his chest.
Brad's emotions mount an unexpected push over the top. He chokes them back, swallows them down like a peanut butter MRE and no water. They sit in a lump in his throat and Brad fights them with everything he has, because he is a Recon Marine, and Recon Marines do not fucking cry.
He lingers, trying to do something, anything, until Doc snaps, "Stay out of the damn way, Colbert," and Brad retreats to hover, helpless, at the fringes. Useless.
(Brad hates feeling useless. It's just not something he's had a lot of practice with.)
He cries one tear. One fucking tear. That's it; that's all this shitty, flea-infested sandpit of a war is getting out of Sergeant Brad Colbert. His emotions can stand the fuck down.
Night finds Brad out past the edges of the airfield. He can hear the distant rumble of ordnance being dropped, patches of daylight flaring against the night sky.
He's held it in all day, but Brad's a fucking mess. Being emotional will soften the whole team's posture — this is unacceptable. He needs to square this shit away. Brad breathes in deeply; thinks about the ocean.
He becomes aware of a figure behind him. The faint tread of boots on grass and sand.
"Sir," Brad says dutifully, because he honestly has nothing to say to anyone just now, not even the LT.
"Bad day," Fick says carefully.
"Sir, that Iraqi family is having a bad day. I'm fine."
"Not that I doubt you, Brad, but indulge me for wanting to assess that for myself."
"Well sir, here I am." Brad turns to face the LT, arms spread wide. "One U.S. Marine Sergeant, present and correct."
Fick's expression is half-hidden in the darkness. "I have no doubt you're correct, Sergeant, but present?"
"Semper fi, sir." It's suddenly hard to keep his voice from catching, and fuck, if there's one thing Brad doesn't need right now it's a goddamn native uprising. For the second time today, he polices his emotions, pursues the little fuckers with extreme prejudice.
This time, at least, his eyes stay dry, so maybe feelings are still Brad's bitch after all.
"Brad," and the LT's voice actually sounds kind, for fuck's sake. Brad won't risk looking; doesn't need to see pity when he can already fucking hear it.
"I'm fine, sir," he repeats, but the words come out with an edge he didn't intend, and Brad realizes with a sort of grim hopelessness that Fick's not going to miss that. Fick doesn't miss things; it's one of several reasons Brad respects the LT's command.
"So I see," Fick says, dryly. "It's okay, Brad. We train for this, but it's never like the real thing."
Brad closes his eyes for just a moment. Debates with himself the dubious merits of tearing into his platoon commander for trying to teach a Recon Marine how to suck eggs, when he knows Fick's just trying to be a goddamn human being. "Sir, do you ... "
"Do I wish we'd done things differently today? Absolutely. But we can't go back, Brad. There's nothing we can do right now to fix this."
"That's a conveniently tidy summary, sir," Brad says.
Fick's head is tilted to one side, his face sympathetic. "You know, Brad, I understand if you're angry with me right now. I do care more about my Marines than I do about that family today. I have to. Can't be a good platoon commander if I'm still worrying about what happened earlier today, or yesterday. Got to move forward."
"I understand." And intellectually, he does; in the LT's boots, Brad knows he'd look to his men first.
Unfortunately, Brad's intellect is currently in danger of being overrun.
"Being upset is okay," Fick says. "It's important we don't lose our humanity out here."
Brad dredges up, from somewhere, the corpse of a smile. "I don't think there's much danger of that, sir."
"You'd be surprised," Fick tells him, with a rueful expression. He holds Brad's gaze for a long moment; evidently the LT doesn't feel the need to blink very often.
Fick's expression slides into something more resolute, easier to read. "We will do better, Brad. I can assure you of this."
"Sir, it's not your assurances I'm questioning. It's—"
"—Don't worry about it." Fick rests a hand on Brad's shoulder. "Take as much time as you need. Got to have my team leader in working order."
Brad's still not sure how he came to be broken.
He's been in his grave for nearly two hours when Walt comes over the berm yelling that they're being overrun by T-72s. Brad doesn't think he was sleeping; he doesn't know where he was. His brain feels like a rock.
They bomb the shit out of nothing. You really couldn't wish for a better metaphor.
"Before we step off on this next mission, I'm reminding you of who your enemy is ... the enemy."
It's entirely possible that Encino Man has just opened up a whole new frontier of retardation.
"I'm in awe," Brad tells Fick. Seriously, they're a goddamn cunt-hair away from pastiche at this point.
Fick cuts him off. Leaves Brad in the dirt like roadkill.
Well, what the fuck?
Brad finds himself looking around for validation that he wasn't the only one who witnessed this idiocy. But everyone's packing up — Bravo's supposed to be oscar mike in ten.
Ray passes him, and gives Brad a look like a horse pulling at the bit. Pappy spits, his mouth twisting in a glum smile, but he keeps walking.
Rudy stops. "You all right, brother?"
"I'm fine," Brad says, automatically.
Rudy makes a fist against Brad's shoulder. "You have a pure warrior heart, man. Don't let this shit get you down."
Brad trades fist-bumps with him, but it's half-hearted. He doesn't feel like a warrior right now. Warriors shouldn't be taking orders from imbeciles.
He sees the LT again just before Team One saddles up. Brad wants to say Sir, don't leave me alone with this retarded moto bullshit. But Fick gives him a look so sad, Brad can't get the words out.
He doesn't know how to make this better. If the LT's disappointed in him, Brad will just have to try harder. Be a better Marine.
A good Marine looks out for his commanding officer. To hell with Encino Man — Fick is Brad's CO, and Brad's damned if he'll let battalion's stupidity chew up the LT and spit him out.
He doesn't manage to catch the LT alone until they're two clicks south of Muwaffaqiyah. Godfather's showing signs of actually having taken his goddamn medication, since the LAVs are doing Bravo's dirty work for a fucking change.
Brad approaches his target silently, from the south. "Sir, I heard you blew off the other team leaders. They were just looking out for you."
Nate turns, his mouth thinning into a line. "Don't get into this with me, Brad."
"Sir, if battalion ends up disciplining one of its finest officers for trying to unfuck his deeply retarded CO, I'll be the first to stand up and call bullshit." Evidently, this is something Brad feels quite strongly about. He blinks, regroups. "You're the only one in this whole goddamn mess who seems to be able to find his ass without both hands and a map."
"Thanks for the compliment," Fick says dryly. "Now butt the fuck out."
"—Brad?" Fick's tone is gentle, but firm. "Let me be your friend for a minute, instead of your platoon commander — drop this shit."
Brad cracks an ironic half-smile. "You might have noticed, sir, I don't exactly have friends in the platoon." He'll sidestep the issue for now. Brad's patience is ample, his willingness to circle the target infinite.
Fick raises an eyebrow, but evidently he's willing to tolerate the diversionary tactic. "Person doesn't count?"
"Person?" Brad exhales in amusement. "Person's a whiskey-tango retard whose prowess with farmyard animals is surpassed only by his frankly disturbing facility with radio equipment."
Fick's mouth twitches. "Espera, then?"
"Pains in my goddamn ass, both of them."
"You're a terrible liar," Fick says, amused. He waves a hand, wearily dismissing their surroundings. "Fuck it, Brad — talk to me for a minute like I'm not your platoon commander. I'd like to just be Nate Fick for a while." He cocks his head. "I'm assuming you don't have a problem making that distinction, Sergeant?"
"No sir," Brad says.
Fick actually laughs. "Not 'sir'," he says, lips twitching. "Nate. Fell at the first hurdle there, Brad."
"With respect, sir, it was booby-trapped."
Brad decides he might like the grin on the LT's face. "It was," Fick admits. "Well, don't want to want to rush you there, Brad, but maybe on our next tour you'll be able to drop the 'sir' from time to time."
Brad wrestles briefly with his emotions before deciding — fuck it — that being pleased is not a goddamn crime. "Are you fucking with me, Nate?"
Fick raises an eyebrow. "That would be conduct unbecoming of an officer," he says, face perfectly deadpan, and Brad wonders if it's wrong that he notices the tiny kink at the corner of the LT's mouth, the one that means he's joking. The one that seems like it's there for Brad, and only Brad, to see.
Brad needs to distract himself from the feeling that the enemy is setting up multiple recon positions just outside his perimeter. "Unfortunately, sir—"
The LT — Nate — raises an eyebrow.
"Unfortunately," Brad corrects, "you're repeating command's mistakes in this war. You can't just deploy and expect to fix everything right off, like the goddamn army. Unfucking retardation on the scale of our CO requires good intel and careful recon work."
Nate's mouth twitches, but the smile he gives Brad is reproachful. "Just can't help pushing back, can you?" He shakes his head. "Can't go there, Brad, not even when I'm off duty."
"Well—" Brad just about manages to swallow the sir "—what did you have in mind to talk about?"
Nate leans against Brad's Humvee and folds his arms. "Tell me about what you did on libo."
"You may have heard the stories, sir."
"Apparently you're quite the legend," Nate says, clearly amused enough to let that last infraction slide. "Not the girls. Tell me what you did when you weren't locked in your hotel room."
Brad pauses, remembering. "Rented a bike and went to see the Blue Mountains. Fucking amazing." He focuses outwards again, on Nate, wondering if this is really what the LT meant.
"Go on," Nate says, a small smile still tugging at his mouth.
"These huge yellow sandstone cliffs, and trees everywhere. Three hundred klicks of big curves in the road, and total silence, except for a few birds. There was this blue haze across the whole valley from all the eucalyptus." Brad shakes his head. "Never been anywhere like it. Wonderful."
"Sounds amazing." Nate looks almost relaxed, an expression Brad had nearly forgotten; one he associates with California, not Iraq.
"You'd like it," he says, over the rumble of artillery.
Nate smiles. "I think I would." He shoots Brad a sly look. "Especially the silence part."
Fuck battalion for giving them an LT who's smart and looks like a choirboy hoping to be defiled.
Brad breathes. Goes for levity. "Anyone joining the Corps for peace and quiet is shit out of luck."
Nate's headset spits out something in a tinny voice that Brad can't quite make out.
"Never a truer word, Brad." Nate flips the comms switch. "Hitman Two, copy that." He gives Brad an apologetic smile. "Godfather wants us over there to go over the plan for tonight."
"No rest for the wicked, sir," Brad says. Libo's over.
"Funny, I don't remember doing anything particularly bad," Nate says, and Brad sees the brief flash of a grin before Nate's gone, leaving Brad standing in a field, acutely aware of two things: firstly, that this self-appointed mission is a complete goatfuck; and second, that Brad Colbert is so deeply fucked over Nate, he can't even say.
Not Nate. The LT. Shit.
Ray returns, sparing Brad a brief glance before raising his eyebrows. "What are you so fucking pleased about?"
Brad gives him a sardonic grin. "Word came down from Godfather — they're demoting all rednecks to H&S company." He nods towards the Humvee. "Better pack your gear, Corporal."
"Yeah, screw you," Ray says, amiably. "Does Walt know?"
"Fuck you, Person," comes Walt's genial voice from the back of the Humvee, and Brad's heart skips double-time in his chest for just one beat, because he didn't even know Walt was there, and nothing happened with the LT, but still, Jesus fuck, Brad's losing it.
The universe likes to fuck with Brad Colbert. It's not personal — that's just the way it is. Brad's gotten used to tooling up and dealing.
But the law of averages dictates that sometimes, Brad gets the drop on the universe.
At least, that's the only way he can explain why none of his team is dead after the clusterfuck that was Muwaffaqiyah. Half their Humvees should be smoldering wrecks, and a quarter of their men injured — or worse.
(Brad's not being morbid. It's a numbers game, plain and simple: get stuck in a kill zone after dark, and there will always be casualties. There's actually a perverse sort of comfort in knowing the odds.)
He doesn't even want to think about the LT's suicidal dash that got them all out of there and saved their asses. If you want to talk statistical anomalies, Nate's right up there: by all rights, the LT should have been fucked by blue-on-blue if the Iraqis didn't get him first.
But Nate's still alive. Brad lies in his ranger grave and breathes in. Breathes out. Wonders how the universe is going to square this away.
He can't sleep. Brad is so fucking tired, and he can't sleep. It's possible that there simply isn't enough irony to go around in this war.
It's dark, though the dial on his watch suggests it'll be light again in a couple of hours. Since sleep seems to be a lost cause, Brad hauls himself up and out of his grave.
Chaffin and Garza are on guard duty, and seem happy to shoot the shit with him for a while, but Brad's feet are restless, and he leaves Chaffin ragging Garza about his stupid bike helmet. Neither seems particularly concerned that Bravo Two just survived some pretty unpleasant odds.
Brad feels hollowed out, somehow less than himself. He wanders around aimlessly, not knowing where he's going until he runs into Fick. Almost literally — it's pitch dark, and Brad only just hears the LT's footfall in time. Clicks his torch on.
"LT," Brad says, by way of a greeting.
Nate doesn't say anything, just nods.
"Couldn't sleep?" Brad asks.
"Not really." Nate's features are drawn.
It's out before Brad can police himself. "Sir, I'm wondering whether you've put some of that time to good use by re-evaluating the benefits of advance recon patrols before attempting to engage a goddamn target."
"Don't fucking start," Nate says, his voice tight.
"Sir," Brad says, "I'm not the one who agreed to take the bridge without putting eyes on it first. We were counting on you." He's being incredibly fucking unfair. But nothing about this war so far has been fair. Like boyish platoon commanders who were only ever going to get themselves screwed by command for wanting to do right by their men.
Nate steps up to him. "I was doing my fucking job. If you have a problem with that, Sergeant, take it up with Captain Schwetje. You want to go toe-to-toe with Godfather on this, Brad? Be my fucking guest." Nate's so close that Brad can feel the heat of his breath.
"I'll take a pass on that, sir." He maintains eye-contact, not giving an inch.
"Then fucking stow it." There's a feverish look in Nate's eyes. Brad isn't sure how much of that is the red light from the torch.
"Yes sir." It comes out sounding like Fuck you. Brad doesn't understand how they can be having this conversation.
"Why the fuck do you have to make everything so difficult?" Nate gripes. "You stick your nose in when it's none of your fucking business, you won't fucking call me Nate when I ask you—"
"—I didn't realize you were looking for someone to be your bitch," Brad shoots back.
They stand there, facing off, and Brad notes in some corner of his mind that his heartbeat and respiration are up. Post-combat stress response is a well-documented phenomenon: a simple delayed physiological response.
"You don't really seem like the bitch type," Nate says, dangerously quiet.
Brad's heart is beating. A lot. Fuck Muwaffaqiyah.
His smile is cold. "Well sir, I'm not the one who bent over for Godfather tonight." There's a dull burning in Brad's chest. He's fucking this up. He can't help himself.
"Brad—" Nate's voice cracks.
The battery in Brad's torch chooses that moment to surrender. It really is amazingly dark. Brad's accustomed to a certain level of cultural illumination in California. Here, there's nothing.
He can hear the quiet sound of Nate's breathing. It's unexpectedly ragged.
There's no answer.
Once, in BWT, Brad had to deal with three injured recruits. He'd made the mistake of checking on the suspected broken femur first, and the Sergeant-Major had chewed him out for not attending to the recruit lying silently on the ground. What if he ain't breathin'? While this here maggot is bitchin' and screamin' about his leg, Skorkowski over there might be chokin' to death on his own tongue! Is that what you want, maggot? Is it?
Brad's not making that mistake again. "Nate?"
Nate clears his throat. "Forget it," he says hoarsely.
It crosses Brad's mind that the damage sustained by Bravo Two tonight might extend further than initial reports suggest. Starting with a platoon commander whose sense of personal responsibility borders on the martyr-like. Shit.
He hears the shearing of boots on grass. Guesses. Reaches out and makes contact with a handful of MOPP suit, hears the hiss of Nate's indrawn breath.
"Brad, what the fuck?"
"Sir, I need you to listen to me." There's a physical urgency to the words, a tugging in Brad's chest. He has to make Nate understand.
"I think I've heard enough."
"I'm a goddamn idiot," Brad says. Nate doesn't respond. "Sir, feel free to jump in anytime."
"I'm waiting," Nate says, carefully, "for you to say something I disagree with."
"You should have died," Brad says. "Tonight. We were this close to fucked out there, and you saved our asses. But sir …" there's a pulse jumping in his throat, a tension Brad's rarely felt in combat. "I don't understand how they didn't fucking kill you."
There's a pause before Nate asks, "This is meant to make me feel better?" Brad can't discern Nate's tone; he's too busy trying to mount a counteroffensive against the feelings clawing their way up his throat.
"Sir, maybe I'm not making myself clear." The shoulder of Nate's MOPP suit is still clenched in Brad's fist. By his estimate, Nate is about a foot in front of him. Brad lowers his voice. "I can't let that happen. It's unacceptable."
Brad's emotions are through the demilitarized zone before he can return fire. They race, laughing, through his perimeter. Brad can't touch them.
Nate doesn't say anything, but the stiff fabric under Brad's hand shifts fractionally.
"Sir?" He's hopelessly outflanked, but Brad will go down fighting.
There's the faint rasp of MOPP suit, movement under Brad's grip, and then Nate's voice is in his ear. "Damn it, Brad, what do you want from me?" Brad's never heard him sound this raw, this exposed.
"What I want doesn't—" Brad chokes on the words.
Nate's still right there. Brad can't see a damn thing, but he can feel Nate's breath against his cheek. They must almost be touching. The realization jolts him.
"Doesn't matter? Is that what you were going to say, Brad?"
He's just a Marine. Marines do what they're told. "Nate—"
"It matters to me," Nate says quietly, and kisses him.
History will record that on this day, at the moment when all seemed lost, Sergeant Brad Colbert laid down arms and acceded to a ceasefire.
What surprises Brad in this moment is the peace he feels. It's like the moment when arty stops pounding after a long assault, and all that's left is the absence of noise. Brad bathes in the silence, Nate's body pressing against him, his tongue pushing into Brad's mouth. Nate kisses like he does everything else: quietly, deliberately, effectively.
Brad never stood a chance.
"Fuck, Nate," he says, when they pull apart for air. As sit-reps go, he'll admit it lacks focus.
"Problem, Brad?" Nate's breathing is uneven.
"Sir, I don't think this is a very good idea," Brad says, because blue-balling it with your CO in a field surrounded by First Recon, even if it is blacker than hell, would seem to be pushing the boundaries of DADT.
"Fuck." Nate shrinks away from him, sounding unexpectedly young and uncertain. "Brad. Fuck, I'm sorry."
Jesus. "Sir, don't make me revise my estimate of your intelligence. But this AO puts us at a profound tactical disadvantage. Suggest we withdraw and regroup?"
Nate releases a long breath. "That's not a bad idea."
Never mind that there's nowhere to regroup. But at least Brad's situational awareness is still intact.
"One more thing, Brad" Nate says.
Nate leans in close, the emphasis clear. "Don't keep calling me sir — we're not on fucking duty. This is you and me, Brad. If you can't deal with that, I need you to walk the fuck away."
"I think you know I can't do that, sir."
"You are so fucking stubborn."
"Semper fi, sir."
Nate exhales a laugh. "Goodnight, Brad."
There's the ghost of a hand on his shoulder, and Nate's footsteps fade away.
Brad doesn't know how long he stands there, staring into the dark, dick burning a fucking hole in his MOPP suit.
He finds a quiet spot. Jacks off thinking about Nate's mouth, Nate's hands. It doesn't take long.
Brad wonders if, right now, Nate's doing the same.
(Updated sit-rep: Sergeant Brad Colbert is fucked. Further updates as these become available.)
Dawn illuminates fields pockmarked with the residue of battle.
"Last night we pet a burning dog," Nate says, looking around at his team leaders. "I know it. You know it. There's no use in pretending we didn't."
"That's very astute, sir." Brad says, because if he doesn't maintain a hardened posture, it's possible he will give himself away. Good recon is all about preparation; Brad's not committing himself fully until he understands the AO.
Nate's expression twitches, shifts, settles on Don't test me. Fine; Brad will back off. For now.
But then the bullshit starts rolling downhill, and Brad can't help himself. "I think we can take it from here, sir," he says. And this really has got nothing to do with last night: one goddamn clinch in the dark with the LT doesn't make a damn bit of difference to command's retarded decisions, or to the tragedy of a platoon commander too smart to be passing down shit that's still steaming from where it came out of Godfather's ass.
Nate gives him a look that says This isn't over. That's fine with Brad. He'd have been disappointed with anything less.
Godfather denies their request to snatch the suspected roadside jihadis. Nate sounds almost apologetic about it.
Brad, already regretting his earlier dismissal, says, "Roger. Thanks for trying." The conciliatory words feel clumsy; the ROE don't even begin to cover this.
"Lieutenant Fick seems to care a lot about the guys in his platoon," Reporter says. "He really seems to go the extra mile."
"The LT's a good platoon commander," Brad says. "One of the best."
Ray rolls his eyes, not even bothering to hide it. "Dude, what the fuck kind of lame-ass testimony is that? Reporter, take this down: Lieutenant Fick is a fuckin' awesome platoon commander. The other day, Manimal's all, like, "Yeah, I'm fuckin' sick of fuckin' Skittles," and like, right away, the LT went and bartered a porn mag for some Peeps off some guy in H&S Company. I tell you, homes, there's nothing the LT wouldn't do for us." Ray nods wisely. "And I include many impressive sexual favors in that list."
"Is that true?" Brad asks Ray, while Reporter scratches dutifully away on his notepad. "About the Peeps?"
Ray gives him a look that suggests Brad might want to ratfuck himself for any remaining shreds of a fucking clue.
"That was a wounding shot, motherfucker!"
Walt's face is shocked into blankness. He stares at Brad, uncomprehending.
Brad's breath is coming hard and he has to take a breath. Has to slow things right down. This is not about him. This is about Walt. "You okay?" he asks.
"The car kept coming." Hasser's expression is dazed. Brad moves towards him and Walt shrinks back. It hits Brad like a train that, right now, Walt's more afraid of him than he is of what just happened.
He retreats. "Yeah. Come on." He leads Walt to the Humvee. Sits him down. Tries to focus.
Fuck. Brad thought he was signatory to a ceasefire, not a goddamn occupation.
"How's Hasser doing?" Nate asks, stepping around the back of Team One's Humvee.
"He'll be fine." Walt's one of the good ones; Brad wishes it could've happened to someone else.
Nate nods. He fixes Brad with a look. "How's my team leader?"
Brad swallows. Meets Nate's eyes. "Squared away, sir."
"You are so full of shit," Nate says, quietly.
"Well, sir, I learned from the best." Which at least gets a smile.
But all Nate says is, "Don't you fucking lose it on me now, Brad." The words softened by a hand on Brad's arm.
"Hey LT," Ray calls, leaning out of the driver's window, "If we're doing the whole touching thing, can you lay hands on War Scribe here? Seems he's having a problem getting his mortars off — apparently, liberal dicksucks don't get turned on by almost being killed. I mean, what the fuck is their problem."
Nate grins. He spares Brad a last, quick glance, his words quiet enough that Ray won't hear. "Remember to be kind to yourself, too."
Brad doesn't even know how he's supposed to do that.
"So what's up with you and the LT?" Poke asks. "I turn around and suddenly y'all are all tighter'n Sixta's asshole." They're pulling a double shift so Walt, Ray, Lilley, Trombley and Leon can get some sleep.
Okay, so they might not have mentioned the double shift part to the rest of Team One. But Brad would rather deal with Ray's bitching when he's woken up two hours late than watch his team disintegrate through lack of sleep.
Not that he imagines Walt's going to get much sleep tonight.
Brad's gaze remains on the darkness, the flashes of ordnance on the horizon. "Jealous, Poke?"
Poke's face relaxes into a wide grin. "Oh, hell no — I don't need no white-boy asshole to climb up inside. Nah, I'm just makin' an observation, dawg. LT respects you — I mean, you know we all do, dawg, but the LT, he's got some serious motherfuckin' respect for his team leader."
"Well, I am the Iceman," Brad deadpans.
Poke shakes his head, grinning. "You are one arrogant son of a bitch. Maybe that's why he likes you, dawg. You're good and you fuckin' know it."
Brad scratches his nose, meets Poke's gaze. "Did you have a fucking point, or are you just gonna blow smoke up my ass?"
"Hey, I'm leavin' that shit to the LT — you white-boy perverts can entertain your own damn selves." Poke fishes around in his pocket for a cigarette. "He likes you though, dawg. I'm just sayin'."
Brad gives Poke a look that Ray would probably recognize. "He likes me? Is this the part where I'm supposed to chase him and pull his fucking pigtails?"
Poke snorts. "What you get up to on your own time's on you, dawg. I ain't judgin'. Shit, so long as you an' the LT ain't fuckin' each other in the ass when you should be watchin' my back, I honestly don't give a fuck."
Brad gives him a crooked grin. "You kiss your mother with that mouth?"
Poke lights the cigarette. Inhales deeply before grinning back. "Nah, dawg, just yours."
Brad tries to think of something suitably crushing to say in return, but he can't. And he's not sure he even cares. This shit is really fucking with his protective posture.
"The LT's rock-solid, dawg," Poke says, after a while. His smile is kind. If anyone else is kind to Brad this tour, he might scream.
But he doesn't say anything; just lets the noise of arty rounds dropping to the north fill the silence.
"It ain't right," Walt says, greasing the Mark-19.
"What's that, Walt?"
"Trombley." Walt's voice is low and stubborn. "Them callin' him Whopper Junior. It ain't right, Brad."
Brad sighs. "You're right, Walt, it isn't." There's nothing he can do about that. It hurts, a little.
Eric's been demoted to Motor T. Brad cannot fucking believe it.
He tries to reason with Captain America, but it's quickly apparent that the man's too far gone, disappeared inside his little Vietnam fantasy world. The retardedness of command in this campaign is giving Brad a whole new appreciation for Afghanistan. That war might not be over, but at least they knew how to utilize a goddamn reconnaissance force there.
He corners Nate inside the tobacco factory. "Sir, we've got to do something. This thing with Captain America — with Captain McGraw — is out of control."
Nate's eyebrow quirks. "What exactly do you expect me to do here, Brad?"
"Sir, come on. Don't blow me off. You know Kocher and Redman did nothing wrong. It's Captain fucking America who should be suspended pending investigation." Brad doesn't even bother to retract the nickname. "The man's a goddamn lunatic."
Nate's smile is strained, apologetic. "I'm sorry, Brad. I can't help you with this." He makes to leave, but Brad grabs him by the shoulder of his cammies.
"Sir, I'm begging you." It's the least he can do for Eric.
"Take your hands off me, Sergeant," Nate says, his voice quiet but firm.
Nate's speech is low, urgent. "Brad, take your fucking hands off me."
He complies, the obedience ingrained.
"You know I've got no fucking traction with Godfather right now," Nate says, quietly. "You want me to walk in there and say that my team leader says that Bravo Three's commander is unfit for command? You know how that would look? Fuck that, Brad. You want to throw this away over some storm in a fucking teacup?"
"No, sir." Brad's angry, but he's not stupid.
Nate's face relaxes into something like relief. It's only then that Brad realizes just how big a risk Nate's taking. That maybe he's got even more to lose than Brad does.
Brad can still hear the strains of Johnny Cash from the corridor. It's cooler here; the sun doesn't ever reach this part of the building.
Nate is waiting for him; Brad half expected that. But Gunny's nowhere to be seen.
Brad's been compiling a list of things he'd like to do, given some time alone with Nate. He isn't expecting to be dragged into an office; doesn't anticipate Nate carefully locking the door from the inside.
"Well sir, this is an unexpected pleasure."
Nate's smile is tired, indulgent. "It's not what you think."
"Presumptuous, sir." Brad steps forward, his smile dangerous. "How can you possibly know what I'm thinking?"
"Brad, I'm going to be leaving the Corps," Nate says, quickly. "I wanted you to hear it from me."
Brad stands and blinks a few times, because whatever he was expecting, it wasn't this.
"Permission to speak freely, Sergeant," Nate says, dryly, after a minute.
"Sir, is it ... ?"
"Just because you're my team leader, Brad, doesn't mean it's all about you." Brad's expression must give him away, because Nate adds, quickly, "You've been the best TL I could've hoped for." He smiles, a little sadly. "And then some, actually. But what we've done here ..."
"Sir, you followed orders as well as anyone. Maybe better — because of you, these men are still alive. Godfather has his goddamn head up his ass if he thinks you're anything less than the best damn officer in the battalion."
Nate's smile is, if anything, even sadder. "This isn't about Godfather."
"Then respectfully, sir, what the fuck?"
Nate shakes his head. "Couldn't even begin to tell you, Brad."
"If not me, sir, then who?" Until now, it hasn't occurred to Brad that he might actually have competition. He finds it's not an idea he cares for.
(Brad will find out their social security numbers and quietly, methodically, ruin their lives.)
Nate frowns. "You're missing my point."
"Actually, sir, I thought I was making a very cogent argument."
"You should have been an officer," Nate says, a sad little smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
God, the things Brad wants to do to that mouth.
He refocuses. "Command's all retards and pussies. Sir," he adds, as an afterthought.
Nate laughs. He crosses the room and leans against the large desk, arms folded. Breathes out in a long sigh. "I wish things could've been—"
"Different?" Brad layers the word with weary irony. "Of all the gin joints in all the world ..."
"I was going to say 'easier'," says Nate, wryly.
"Easy's for the Army," Brad retorts.
Nate tilts his head in acknowledgement. He stays like that, looking at Brad, until it feels like the silence between them will snap.
Brad has to bridge it. "Nate—"
Two steps, and Nate's arms are tight around Brad, their bodies pressed together. "Brad, just shut the fuck up for one minute."
Brad can do that.
Nate doesn't let go. Brad doesn't want him to.
"Fuck you for leaving us, sir," Brad breathes, his face buried in Nate's neck.
"You know I have to." Nate's voice is warm and sad in his ear.
He does know. Knows Nate would stand up in the face of everything the Iraqis and command could throw at him if it meant saving one of his men. That Nate would stick it out until every last pussy bitch gave up and ran crying to their mothers.
But that doesn't mean the Corps is anything close to Nate's best option. Brad's fairly sure there are jobs back home that reward qualities like Nate's in ways other than retarded chains of command and the prospect of getting your nuts shot off. More money, too, if that's your style, though he doesn't think Nate's really that concerned about income.
Brad can't imagine being anything but a Marine, but he thinks Nate deserves a chance at something more.
They stay pulled together for what might be seconds or minutes, Brad isn't sure. He can feel Nate's hardening dick against his hip, and there's a low hammering in his chest. Apparently the natives are restless.
Brad puts them down with a vigor not seen since Zulu.
(Yes, Brad is perfectly aware that Zulu represented something of a Pyrrhic victory. Stow it.)
Slowly, deliberately, he inserts his hand down the front of Nate's pants. Nate's body tenses, then relaxes as Brad's fingers find skin. Nate's mouth breathes hot and silent against Brad's neck while Brad unzips him, jacks him off until Nate's shuddering against him, eyes closed and mouth open.
Brad wants to remember this moment. He plans to make very good use of it.
Nate doesn't say anything, just kneels down in front of Brad, unzips him, and starts sucking Brad's dick like it's going to save his life. Fuck, maybe it'll save Brad's life, too. Nate's eyes remain on him the whole time, and he barely blinks.
Brad can't look away. Before he knows it, he's thrusting into Nate's mouth, cursing. At Nate's raised eyebrow, he polices his mouth, restricting himself to a grunt and a muttered Fuck as he comes.
Jesus Christ, he'll be jacking off to this for months.
Nate stands, wiping his mouth on the back of his sleeve, and offers Brad a slightly crumpled Kleenex and a wry smile.
By the time Nate unlocks the door and lets himself out, Brad is sure of one thing.
Ceasefire's over. It's time to kick some goddamn ass.
It's been a slow day. They've given out water in two of Baghdad's suburbs and just about managed to stop Doc Bryan from starting a major international incident. The mood in Team One Alpha's Humvee could almost be described as mellow.
Walt has a nice voice, and right now he's belting out Wichita Lineman from up beside the Mark-19, which Brad lets him do — mostly because when Walt's happy, the rest of the team is happy, but also because Brad knows that allowing Walt to sing country songs in the Humvee is the perfect way to piss Ray off.
(Brad actually quite likes Wichita Lineman, but there's no particular reason to mention that to Ray.)
Brad can tell that Ray's watching him. It's not like Ray's being particularly subtle about it, and Brad's peripheral awareness is every bit as sharp as you'd expect from a Recon Marine. Sharper, in fact.
It's actually disappointing how little time it takes for Ray to crack. "How come Walt gets to sing country songs?"
Brad gives him the Colbert-patented shit-eating grin. "Maybe because Walt's not a buck-toothed, sister-fucking hick retard."
"Hey — less of the buck-toothed, dude!" Ray says. "Don't be disrespecting me in front of our little boys."
"Little, my ass," Walt says. "I'm taller than you."
"Don't make me withhold your allowance, young man," Ray warns. "Make nice like your brother James here, or I'll get Nanny Rolling Stone to spank you."
Walt laughs. "This is the most fucked-up family ever."
Brad hears Reporter, in the seat behind him, breathe Nanny?
"Sergeant?" Trombley says.
"Yes, Trombley?" Life is good. Brad is ready for whatever the fuck command can throw at them. Bring it on.
"Are we gonna get to shoot any more Iraqis?"
They are, without question, a bunch of goddamn retards — but they're his retards.
Brad's been all over the world. He's done things civilians would have a hard time getting their lame-ass, liberal dicksuck minds around. Jumped out of helicopters. Shot people. Dived across international borders in the middle of the night.
In between training schools and tours, Brad went home long enough to see his family and sleep with a few pretty girls.
It just didn't feel right, living in that world. The only times Brad felt truly comfortable were surfing, and riding his bike on the freeway.
He figures there are some places a Marine's supposed to be, and some places they're not. Brad's pretty damn sure that his place is here, with his retarded team in their shitty tin-plated Humvee, fighting this lamentably fucked-up war.
(There's another place that Brad might have belonged. Might have wanted, been wanted. But that's all squared away now. It's better for Brad's combat readiness. Better for everyone.)
A mortar smashes down twenty meters to the left of the Humvee, while the radio spits out instructions. "Hitman, this is Hitman Two. We're taking accurate mortar fire from the west, how copy?" "All Hitman Two victors, you are cleared to engage."
Brad opens the door. "C'mon, Trombley. This might just be your lucky day."
"Fuckin' A, Sergeant," Trombley says, scrambling out of the Humvee.
They cross the MSR towards where Poke and Lilley are dug in, watching as mortars rain down haphazardly on what might once have been a wheatfield.
Poke nods. "Hey, dawg. These motherfuckers put as much energy into democracy as they are into shelling us right now, we got a whole new problem. These Iraqis gonna beat us at our own game, dawg. America's gonna come last in the democracy Olympics. We're gonna go home and Iraqis'll be teachin' us how to make a motherfuckin' McDonalds, because ours ain't American enough."
Brad nods. "You, my friend, go to the very top of my special education class for retards."
Poke snorts. "Fuck your class, dawg. I'm'a start a class of my own. It's gonna be called 'Everything you need to know to fuck the white man'. I got a special deal, too — if you sign up now, I'll only break one of your cracker legs."
"Sergeant? Is it okay to shoot now?"
Brad pulls his attention away from Poke. "Yes, Trombley, you may shoot. Just don't fire at any fucking camels this time."
Poke gives him a long look.
"Nothin', dawg." But Poke keeps looking at Brad like he's lost something. Eventually he shrugs and turns back towards Lilley.
Brad grins, digs in, and shoulders his rifle.
A/N: Huge thanks to the very lovely oxoniensis, who read this and gave feedback in several iterations (way beyond the call of duty) and never ran out of patience with it, or with me, despite the fact that I am awful at finishing anything.
I only noticed after this got posted that there's a mistake in my timeline! Bonus points if you can spot it; hopefully it doesn't detract from the story.