After he received his posting, but before he actually met the men of Bravo 2, Nate learned that werewolves were real and some of them belonged to the USMC.
“You were totally cherry,” Ray Person teases. “That’s why your nickname when you first set foot in Wolf Country was Little Red Riding Hood.”
Nate isn’t certain if this is true, with Ray it is often difficult to tell. Apparently, although a good number of the men in Bravo 2 forget themselves and use the nicknames they make up for officers in front of Nate more often than not, they do have verbal filters. Who knew?
“They’re telling you that you’re part of the pack,” Brad explains in his soft voice after Nate snaps at Espera for once again referring to their Company Commander as ‘Encino Man’. Nate feels a little bad when the man actually jolts and shifts away with his shoulders hunched, but he’s told them all more than once about this. “They’re trying to reassure you, sir. They’re letting you know they have your back.”
“It’s inappropriate for them to speak that way in front of an officer.”
“Yes it is,” Brad agrees smoothly. “Which is why I correct them. But you should know, the men will not stop, sir. You belong to them as much as they belong to you.”
Nate presses his lips together and then looks at Brad. “I have to give at least the appearance that I am attempting to maintain order within this platoon.”
“Sir, this platoon is extremely well-ordered.”
Nate lifts his eyebrows because he hears the double meaning. Then holds Brad’s gaze because he knows the other man is deliberately missing the point. They both know that’s not the kind of order Nate’s referring to.
Bravo 2 functions differently than any other platoon in the USMC, Nate is assured of this. Everyone knows this. Nate is also aware that Bravo 2 must be handled differently than every other platoon, and for the most part, he has succeeded in this.
But Battalion actually has specific rules regarding wolves. More often than not, those rules are ridiculous, offensive, or skirting uncomfortably close to violating civil rights. Sometimes all three. Nate’s function, he knows, is to smooth the working relationship between Command and the wolves. He cannot afford to have anyone accuse him of going feral himself.
That is the first thing that Nate learns about werewolves.
More important than that they exist, because that was a moment’s fleeting shock, quickly processed and then moved beyond. This is something Nate lives with every second, of every minute, of every day.
Because when he finds a box taking up space on his desk after they return from Iraq, garishly wrapped in bright pink Dora the Explorer wrapping paper, he knows that it’s from Bravo 2 even though there is no card.
When he peels away the paper and flips the lid off the box to find a bright red hoody, he’s grinning and he doesn’t toss it away.
Getting to know his men is easy. Finding a place among them, finding acceptance, maybe it hadn’t been strictly easy because he’d had to earn it, but it hadn’t required a lot of thought on his part. Mostly, it had been instinctual. He isn’t a wolf, but most days, it feels like he belongs more with them than anywhere else.
The first time it happens in front of him, it’s over nothing.
Of course, it’s over nothing. Bravo 2 is a well-oiled machine, the greater majority of whom belong to a single pack. They’re not savage beasts barely contained by the silver fence that encases Wolf Country in Pendleton. They’re trained Recon Marines most of whom have been working together longer than their CO’s have actually been CO’s.
Nate doesn’t think that’s actually true for all of their CO’s, but it is true of Schwetje, who was promoted just before Nate received his posting. Nate is also aware that Craig being placed as Company Commander in charge of Bravo 2 was not Godfather’s call, and Godfather was not pleased by the decision. Marines make do.
But his Marines shouldn’t have to make-do with Schwetje. Not when the man avoids Wolf Country at all cost, and dances away from his own men like they might give him rabies.
Not when word comes that they’re leaving Margarita headed for Camp Mathilda, and Craig Schwetje stands in front of Bravo 2 for the first time that Nate’s aware of and spouts a bunch of moto bullshit before dismissing the men, and then proceeds to panic when Walt Hasser steps forward instead of back.
Hasser’s actually cutting diagonally across the deck toward Brad, he looks entirely focused on his target, like he has a pressing question only his alpha can answer.
Craig doesn’t know this, Nate thinks, making a pitiful attempt to justify the unjustifiable. There’s chaos across the deck as the men move, falling into conversation, and Craig sees a wolf even if Hasser isn’t in wolf shape, and that wolf is getting closer.
“Sir,” Hasser says as he passes. He’s left a wide-birth between himself and the Captain, Nate notices, because everyone in Bravo 2 knows that Schwetje is sometimes jumpy.
Apparently that wide-birth isn’t wide enough because Craig jerks back and shouts, “Fall in line!”
Hasser reacts like he’s just been slapped. Nate knows that mostly, this is entirely involuntary.
The command-phrase is meant for emergencies. A piece of outdated protocol worked into the tags each wolf wears, back when people worried about a wolf turning on his own team, or being driven mad by agony after being wounded in battle. Wolves are stronger than the average Marine, so Nate could see how the logic behind it might have unfolded to justify something that he personally finds appalling.
Colbert stands there completely rigid, his head tipped low while around him, though training and good sense is keeping them motionless, Nate can hear the deep throaty growls echoing like the rumble of distant thunder. In an instant, the whole deck of Wolf Country has gone from chaos to utter stillness.
“At ease, Hasser,” Nate says, more or less immediately. It’s not fast enough, not for his own liking, or the liking of the other wolves.
“Captain,” Nate says, unable to give an order to his Company Commander, but hoping that for once, common sense wins-out. The men are still growling. He sees Schwetje’s eyes flicker over the group and knows the moment it occurs to him that he acted rashly and made a mistake.
As he turns, Nate sees Colbert still standing in place, his face expressionless but his eyes narrowed. Nate knows the look well enough to understand that if Brad Colbert allowed himself to move even one inch before Craig Schwetje left Wolf Country then there would no longer be a Commander to lead their Company.
Craig turns wide eyes to Nate, and starts back stepping. By the gate, he drops his head and says, sounding breathless, “I thought he was coming at me.”
Nate does not say a word.
After a beat, Craig has composed himself and turns a cool stare toward Nate. “You need to get these men under control before we reach Mathilda.”
“Yes, sir,” Nate says. He thinks: it’s not the wolves that are the problem; it’s the command.
There are some things Nate knows about wolves without having to be told. He would have called it common sense; stuff that anyone would know but Mike Wynn says, “Yeah, not so much.”
Nate’s conclusion that body language becomes increasingly significant when dealing with wolves does not feel like a revelation. It doesn’t even require that much of a change, because generally the Corps does not respect weakness, so Nate tries not to show any.
When he speaks, he maintains direct eye contact and is never the first to drop it. The Corps has pretty much broken him of any ability to slouch, but when speaking to his men he stands full-forward, legs apart.
He absolutely never bares his neck.
“We had an LT who did that,” Garza says happily. “He thought he was being respectful and everything, and walked right up to Sergeant Colbert and dropped his neck down pretty much to the shoulder. In front of everybody.”
“Yeah, that was ridiculous,” Walt says, then pauses like he is surprised he said that out loud. He shifts a little and fixes Nate with a focused blue gaze like he feels he should explain himself. “I mean, we have a legitimately awesome alpha,” he says. “He’s not allowed to be our Lieutenant, but that’s fine, because he’s our Sergeant and our lead dog. If our LT comes in and rolls-over for our alpha, then you can’t pretend anymore that the chain of command isn’t entirely redundant.”
Some things require adaptation.
When he meets Colbert for the first time, Nate finds nuances of meaning within body language that his previous experience with the Corps didn’t prepare him for. Brad simply does not drop eye-contact, but Nate realizes that somehow when he turns away it isn’t translating through the strange non-verbal conversation they are having as ‘I give-in, you win’, what it’s saying is, ‘I trust you to deal with this accordingly.’
For obvious reasons, it is important for him to have the support of his alpha, and though he isn’t sure what he did that earned him that support, he knows he has it. He also knows that Brad’s support goes beyond what the man would give to any officer stepping into Wolf Country.
Brad is enough of a soldier to understand the importance of outward obedience if only to maintain order within the unit. It’s also true that Bravo 2 has been picking up and spitting out Lieutenant’s for a while.
“It’s not always their fault,” Mike says. “We get guys coming through who just make a hell of a misstep, or some who are just too prejudiced to function with the platoon.”
There are also the guys that the wolves simply run-off.
When he reads the reports, trying to piece together the dynamic and hierarchy of his platoon through a bunch of typed files stacked in a cardboard box at the side of his desk, Nate knows that Lieutenant Fitzmaron had seemingly done everything that Nate had from the moment he had crossed into Wolf Country. It hadn’t stopped Fitzmaron from, two weeks later, requesting a transfer.
The men just hadn’t meshed with him; he did not have control of his platoon.
He has to read between the lines, but Nate can envision how it must have gone. He also knows that there is no way that Bravo 2 rejected their Lieutenant without full and complete support from their alpha. Brad has his dogs squared away. Fitmaron’s report, however, states specifically that he had Sergeant Colbert’s support, and the Sergeant never once took any action or made any statement that might have suggested otherwise.
When Nate takes charge of Bravo 2, there is no structure to it. He has no designated team leaders; it’s all just a mess of men. The only two solid things he has to move forward with are this: Mike Wynn is his Gunnery Sergeant and Brad Colbert is the uncontested lead dog of the platoon. Everything else is Nate’s to restructure.
Nate has another one of those common sense moments.
He calls Colbert to his office and says, “Team 1 Alpha.” Brad stares at him for a moment and then, somewhat hesitant, like he might be fighting to quell it, the right side of his mouth picks up and Nate gets a flash of sharp white teeth and the most giddy-pleased expression he thinks he’s ever seen in his life.
Okay, so that’s decided.
“Who else do you want in your victor?” Nate hasn’t yet figured out the social hierarchy of his platoon. He knows that ‘Pappy’ Patrick is an alpha, and wonders why Brad wants him to be a TL for Team 2 and not riding shotgun in Team-1-Bravo, a place Brad gives to a wolf that Nate knows is not an alpha, even if Espera fronts like one.
Brad doesn’t demand anything of Nate; he phrases all of his choices like he’s making suggestions. In return, Nate doesn’t ask for explanations, he just puts through the paperwork and sends the structuring of his platoon up the chain of command to be approved (mostly a formality) by Godfather.
Nate starts looking out his window when he knows Bravo 2 is out on the deck. He’s running recon on his men, he’ll admit it, but it’s not like anyone offered him a book explaining werewolf dynamics and social interactions or anything, and that’s probably something that Nate should know, to stop him from saying or doing something horribly offensive and unforgivable in a wolf’s eyes in the middle of a firefight or something.
Nate listens to a conversation between Mike and Brad while he’s leaning over a Humvee with ‘Dirty’ Earl as the mechanic explains all the things he’s going need to make the damned thing work.
From this, Nate learns that Mike may hold a superior rank to Brad in the eyes of the Corps, but Brad has the greater position within the eyes of the platoon. It doesn’t make for a strained dynamic, Brad doesn’t throw his weight around, and Mike listens and accepts everything Brad says and, whenever possible, moves forward on it.
It’s not unlike what Nate himself experienced when he called Brad in to structure the platoon. Somehow, the wolves have found a way to maintain their own hierarchy within the makeshift hierarchy of the Corps.
He also realizes that there is a shit-ton of crap they’re gonna need if they expect to drive their ridiculous victors anywhere.
He starts compiling a mental list of information, working out the dynamics of the men as well as their quirks, and most of what he learns isn’t that startling, but some of it Nate finds curious.
Werewolves apparently cannot eat anything with peanut butter. They have to wear gloves when handling MRE packages because apparently there is “Just enough silver in there to burn like a son of a bitch, LT,” according to Chaffin.
They bust out of their clothes when they shift like they’re Hulking-out, and can’t see anything that is the color yellow: “Who the fuck put this fucking chair here?” Carisalez demands after face planting onto the deck having tripped over a yellow chair sitting in front of the barracks. “Who let this inside Wolf Country? That’s some unfair, passive aggressive shit right there!"
“Sir,” Brad says, standing in the doorway of Nate’s office, his lips in an entirely straight line except for just the very edges, where Nate can see a smile hiding and waiting. “I feel obligated to inform you that the men in your platoon are fucking with you.”
Nate had grown suspicious of that the moment he had learned that Anthony Jacks’ nickname is ‘Tiny Toes’. He keeps a straight face and gives nothing away, but Brad steps into the room and closes the door. “You can’t out-recon a recon wolf,” he says.
"So noted," Nate says calmly. Inside, he feels a horrible rise of embarrassment that starts a slow-burn up from his toes until it reaches his face. He holds Brad’s gaze and keeps his expression neutral, but there is no hiding the truth. “I suppose I should feel proud at the competency of my men with regards to disinformation and situational awareness.”
Brad smirks and steps forward. He says, “If you are trying to compile accurate data, you could have always just asked, sir.”
Nate knows that. Now. But somehow it wasn’t so simple before. He already felt entirely cherry. He was new to recon, new to these men, new to wolves. The last thing he had wanted to do was underscore how much he simply didn’t know by stumbling around and asking questions.
He has no problem being seen to engage his TLs in tactical conversations in which he is seen as taking their advice or their information and experience into account. That’s what a good lieutenant should do. The rest of it, though...
“Sir,” Brad says. “In my experience, it is not uncommon for a Lieutenant to confer privately with his lead alpha regarding the status of the men in his platoon, as well as current sit-reps on the surrounding area.”
Nate hears it as the offer that it is, and he tilts his head toward the chair opposite his desk, and Brad nods and drops into it.
Werewolves have no difficulty with peanut butter, as it turns out, though Hasser is allergic to it. They shed their clothes when they shift, but not their dog tags (into which are anchored the ‘tags’ that make phrases like “Fall in line” so significant). They do not, however, rip or damage their clothes in any way when they shift. That effect was achieved by performing raids on the barracks of other wolves and stealing clothes, which they proceeded to wear and subsequently destroy purely for one theatrical performance.
Nate feels a little flattered that his men went to so much trouble to mess with him.
Although there is nothing wrong with the MRE packets, wolves are extremely sensitive to silver but can usually manage if they handle it with some form of protective covering. It’s the only type of injury a wolf will be unable to heal from. “Not until all the silver is cleaned out of the wound,” Brad explains.
This is, of course, also not counting a bullet directly to the heart or head because, “That’s a kill-shot no matter who gets hit with it.”
They have no trouble seeing anything yellow.
There are some mysteries that Nate leaves to mull over later. Like why the first thing Brad asked him for was that Ray Person be in his victor when, as far as Nate can tell, Brad spends all his time rolling his eyes at the other wolf and telling him to shut up.
Pappy, though, is part of Brad’s pack, an alpha wolf that still accepts Brad as unquestioned lead dog, who Brad trusts to be always steady, always reasonable. “You want an alpha in every victor,” Nate says, because he’s figured that much, even though sometimes there is more than one per Humvee. “You trust him but you put him in charge of Team 2, and Espera in Bravo. Espera’s not an alpha. There is no alpha in 2-1-Bravo’s truck.”
“Sergeant Patrick,” Brad says, “is Team 2 because he’s in the middle of the line. If something happens to your lead victor sir, then Pappy can take-up the slack.” Nate hadn’t thought of that because, well, he hadn’t wanted to think about it. “As for Espera, he’s not technically an alpha. But the men respect him like he is one. If anything happens, they’d follow him unquestioningly.”
There are other questions Nate has, like why Brad was adamant that Christeson and Stafford be placed with Nate and Mike, and whether Christeson is part of Brad’s pack because he’s as new to Bravo 2 as Nate is, but Nate has also seen Stafford showing him the ropes and taking him around like Christeson is his pup or something, and Nate knows Stafford is one of Brad’s dogs.
He can be patient though; he can learn some things as they go along. “Sergeant Colbert,” Nate asks, halting Brad before he leaves the office. “What exactly is Corporal Jacks’ nickname?”
“It’s Tiny Toes, sir,” Brad answers smoothly.
Then he grins.
In Bravo 2, dark-lensed Oakley sunglasses are not merely a luxury and a running gag (Chaffin’s: “Yo, check out the tits on her!” answered quickly by Manimal’s, “Dammit, give me a minute, I ain’t got my Oakley’s on, I can’t see through that sweater!”), they are part of the standard kit.
“It’s because of our eyes, sir,” Stafford explains, the cocky swagger ebbing out of his voice in deference to Nate’s honest, though softly spoken, question. “When we’re sent on real recon missions, where we’ve gotta be all invisible and shit, sometimes we use these weird little goggle-things, but depending on the locale Sergeant Colbert sometimes gives us a pass. Our eyes can do us good out there, like if someone spots us and we’re low enough to the ground, they think we’re just an animal stalking around in the night.”
Nate knows his men carry most of the advantages of their wolf-form into their human shape. This includes keen eyesight that is not diminished in darkness. It means that at night, perched on the side of a berm watching artillery light-up a town forty klicks away from them, Nate can turn around and count-off his platoon, the light from the explosions making their eyes flare bright and dangerous.
Finding out that werewolves are real is momentarily disconcerting, but perpetually fascinating.
He does not have enough time at Margarita to run the drills and training exercises he wants to, especially when the Humvees come in. As far as Nate can tell, a werewolf drives just like anyone else, none of their unique abilities are showcased when they’re stuck in tin-plated Humvees, which is yet another reason why, when Brad Colbert watches the victors coming through the gate into Wolf Country and says only, “This is an affront to my warrior spirit.” Nate not only understands but also wholeheartedly agrees.
He wants his men out there doing something that only they can do, because otherwise what’s the point? It’s possible that in the small amount of time he has had with his men, Nate has grown inordinately protective of them. Some days, he doesn’t even see that as a problem, convinced that it makes him a better platoon commander.
Most days, though, Nate knows better.
“Sir,” Colbert says, his voice completely steady like every ounce of him isn’t screaming at what Nate has just asked him to do. “Are my men to do a foot patrol first, to get eyes on the bridge?”
Nate mirror’s his alpha’s stillness, holds Brad’s gaze and says, “Negative, Brad.”
It’s not the first time Nate feels like he’s let down his men, but it is the first time that he has let them down and hasn’t even bothered to fight for them. He believes, leaning over the map splayed on top of his victor, that he’s making the right call long-term, even if it means pushing his men out into terrible risk.
It doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel like shit, it just means he expected the feeling and dug-in accordingly to prepare for it. Brad’s utterly still and entirely silent, but it doesn’t stop the others from talking. It’s their alpha being sent headfirst into the shit, and Nate usually has their back. The men want to know what the hell is going on.
When he smacks them down Nate purposely hits them where it hurts. A sore-spot grown out of scuttlebutt both teasing and derisive, and the general perspective of Command when it comes to wolves: “Frankly, Gentlemen, I’m not hearing the aggressiveness I’d like.”
He walks away from his team leaders briskly; hoping they can’t smell the twisting guilt coming off him through the reek of sweat and piss that hangs over everyone in First Recon.
Since he stepped up as LT of Bravo 2, Nate has been siding with the wolves. As far as he can see after arriving in Iraq, this has bought him nothing but trouble, but he doesn’t mind because he knows why it has to be done. Craig’s olive branch, though, feels like an opportunity to prove that, despite the trash Griego is passing along the lines, Nate hasn’t actually gone feral. That he can be a team player and also behave.
Nate’s only ever tried to do the best that he can, but it’s hard to do that when every step requires some kind of compromise. This time, he’s going to try compromising in a different direction.
Unrelated to his growing understanding of weres’, another thing that Nate has had to learn the hard way, mostly by driving through various kinds of shit and coming out the other side more often as a result of luck than skill, and then having to turn around and nod at his men and say something that ultimately boils down to, “We meant to do that. Wasn’t that fun?” is that you cannot win in Iraq. No matter what call you make, it’s always the wrong one.
It is possible that this is because there is simply no right call in this situation.
Brad’s voice is steady when he breaks the news: “We can not continue forward.”
Nate isn’t exactly surprised, because that’s just the way this war has been shaping-up for his men. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t feel any deep-seated anxiety over the update. For a fleeting moment, he feels a vicious kind of satisfaction about it, like he hopes their Captain is actually tuned-into comms and listening and thinking ‘Oops, guess a foot patrol could have come in useful’.
Then of course Ray’s voice comes over the comms asking Espera to back-up. Nate glances over, but Mike has already halted their victor. In answer to Ray, Tony’s on the hook explaining that they’re boxed-in as well. Nate feels nothing but focus lined with dread.
They’re boxed-in, sitting in crappy Humvees in the middle of a kill zone, in the middle of the suspected location of an ambush. Nate thinks: “Jesus Christ.” He thinks: “This can’t get any worse.”
“There are men in the trees.” Brad’s words are followed by shouts announcing contact on the right and the pop of gunfire. They’re still stuck, and now they are also engaged.
Nate is doing what he can to get things moving over the comms.
Ahead, in Team 1’s Humvee, Brad is entirely mute, leaving Ray to man the hook.
Bravo 2 has never before descended into this level of chaos. Nate has the sudden awareness that Bravo 2 has also never been this close to mutiny.
“Hitman 2, this is 2-1,” Brad says. “We are unable to move in any direction.”
Brad is silent because he can’t speak. Brad is silent, because the moment he steps up and gives any sort of direction, no matter how small and insignificant, his men will fall-in line and execute it like an order from on high, and the moment they do they will be what the USMC considers a feral wolf-team.
What Brad is really saying over the comms is this: “I can’t unfuck this, sir. What’s your order?”
The call of a man down pushes Nate into a moment of utter stillness, where time and everything around him is frozen. He knows his men are not listening to him because he didn’t have their backs before. That they’re waiting for someone they trust on an inherent level to step-up, and he knows Brad is fighting every instinctive impulse as their alpha to do just that. To take control, if only to protect his wolves.
There are two paths Nate can see, and in that still moment in his head, he veers down the left one, where there is an explosion of noise and gunfire near the front of their line, which starts to ripple back through the vehicles until it hits Nate’s. Cover fire.
He doesn’t realize it, focused on eliminating the targets in his sector, but he understands when he glances left toward the driver’s side of his victor and finds only an empty seat and the scattered mess of fatigues hanging out of an empty MOPP suit.
Out there somewhere in the darkness are twenty-two wolves, moving swift and silent through the brush. Nate watches his sector and catches sight of one, maybe Garza, though possibly it’s Chaffin, they both move with a similar sharpness, pounce on an Iraqi that Nate had been taking aim on. It’s over in moments, and it could be considered a win.
Only not, because the order to shift hadn’t come from a CO. Schwetje has to explain the rationale behind his orders, and for once Godfather has something solid he can hold-up when he says, “Never let this man work with wolves.” There are serious ramifications to losing a wolf, more so than losing a soldier.
Schwetje gets buried under bushels of trouble, but that still is nothing compared to what comes down on Bravo 2, now considered a feral platoon, a rogue unit. They’re not NJP’d, it can’t even be considered a court martial, not really.
Nate asks Brad to take his dogs and run, but Brad says, “We’re not cowards running away with our tails between our legs.” He says, “I’m going to do what’s right. This platoon isn’t feral.” He still won’t look at Nate.
Bravo 2 is gone before Nate is released from the command tent, his new posting typed out on a crisp piece of paper, clutched between his hands. He never sees them again.
Nate reels back in his seat and turns to Mike, relieved to find the man is still there. “We need to back it up the way we came in.” Mike’s still firing, covering his sector. Nate hadn’t anticipated Gunny losing faith in him as well.
Behind him Stafford is knocked back as an explosion rocks the truck. Another man down. Nate’s timetable is compressing by leaps and bounds.
“Turn it around!” he shouts, and then steps outside of his victor.
He can hear Mike’s “Jesus Christ, Nate,” as he moves out but knows he made the right call because Mike’s turning the engine over and wrapping his hands around the wheel. Nate shouts the same order to Baptista next, behind the wheel of Lovell’s Humvee, which isn’t blocking Nate’s but needs to move just the same.
Baptista fights him, but Nate refuses to budge on this. Baptista is not an alpha wolf. Nate’s stance and his shout are enough to make the man drop his weapon and turn his attention to his victor.
He’d been prepared to face resistance with each victor all the way up to 2-1-Alpha, but when he crouches at the side of Team 2’s Humvee, Manimal jerks his firearm up and says, “Don’t shoot, LT’s foot-mobile!” When he directs them to move, Rudy doesn’t hesitate. Neither does Lilley.
The next day, in the bright warmness of the sun crouching in a clear blue sky, Nate calls his TL’s for a meeting and knows it’s not over when Brad says, “Just about ready, sir,” and takes another bite of his MRE.
It’s never ‘forgive and forget’ in the pack. Nate averted all-out disaster last night, but that doesn’t count for much when he could have just as easily prevented the chaos entirely. When he could have at least tried.
He says, “Last night we pet a burning dog. I know it; you know it. There’s no use in pretending we didn’t.”
What he means is, he knows how close he came to losing his platoon. He knows how hard his TL’s had to fight their instincts to rush forward and pull their alpha out of the shit. Knows how hard Brad had to fight to sit still, concentrate on firing his weapon and watching his sector, and not try to give any orders to his dogs that might have saved their lives, as likely as it would have led to all-out rebellion.
He knows he fucked-up.
What Nate learns is this: his job is impossible.
On his second day at Margarita, before he had crossed into Wolf Country for the first time, he had been called into Godfather’s office. Godfather had a lot to say, but one of the things he made clear was that, as First Lieutenant in Bravo 2, Nate would be expected to function as a middleman, a go-between.
Godfather had made his deep-seated respect for the wolves of Nate’s platoon known. He had said he understood the difficulty of the position in which he was placing Nate, but was also confident Nate was the right person for the job.
In Iraq, Nate is no longer assured of Godfather’s understanding. It is not Nate’s place to direct any complaints or difficulties to the Battalion Commander; he can’t speak to Godfather and seek-out his advice. That is what his Company Commander is for.
His company commander, however, is an moron. What’s more, Griego is whispering nasty little lies into his ear, and Schwetje’s just thick enough to believe them.
When Nate grabs the hook in Craig’s hand and says, “I am merely trying to pass you accurate information” he’s not thinking about anything except that he is damned well not standing aside while his Captain bombs his own company.
Later, though, Craig says, “You’re getting too close to the wolves, Nate.” He says it with wide eyes and a trite understanding expression, like he really feels for Nate.
Just like everything else about this war, there is no right decision. Nate’s attempt to function according to his Company Commander’s expectation almost gets them all killed, almost leads to outright rebellion, and he's still fighting to regain the faith of his men.
Every time Nate does what he believes he is supposed to do as an effective LT he is accused, either publicly or privately, of having gone feral, when in fact he has been doing as much as he can to hold himself separate and apart from the pack.
There’s an avalanche of stupid rolling down the ranks. Nate’s been waffling since they landed at Mathilda, thinking there was a right way that he just needed to figure out. There isn’t. He has a battalion commander that has a respect for wolves, but Godfather himself is taking orders, and Mattis does not share that same respect. There’s chaos and differing opinions all the way up the chain of command.
Nate’s been trying to find that fine-line called ‘balance’, not doing anything that could be construed as insubordination while at the same time making sure that no outright idiocy lands squarely on his men. He’s still searching for that line so he can straddle it and ride it out like a bucking bronco.
Only he can’t win, because all the wolves in his platoon know Nate’s keeping them at arm's length, and though most understand why he is doing this, it means they can’t trust him, not entirely. Meanwhile Godfather remains aloof and even-handed in dealing with the rising tensions within the battalion, refraining from coming down on either side. Craig keeps looking at Nate and shouting ‘Wolf!’
Fuck the line.
Rudy tells Nate that Lovell has taken a team and stepped over the berm to inspect a blown-out T-72. Nate has no recollection of okay-ing that order, and he knows that’s because he never would have. He knows he’s been regaining the trust of his men since the bridge mission, but he’s also aware that it has been slow going, and that’s in large part because Brad has been holding back.
Nate knows Colbert is playing it extra cool because Nate has been running around in circles trying to figure out which way he’s supposed to go. Everyone is giving him a different direction, and he’s getting increasingly fed-up with all of it. So this time Nate picks one for himself.
“You can fuck with me all you want,” he says. “But do not. I repeat: do not, fuck with my dogs.”
It’s the first time he has ever referred to them as such. There is always the potential that Chaffin and Rudy and the rest of Team 2 will hear the word the same way they hear it when Captain McGraw uses it.
Wolves only tolerate pack and other wolves referring to them as ‘dogs’.
But Bravo 2 accepted Nate as part of their pack back at Margarita. Nate has been the one trying to push them back, trying to draw a line and order them not to cross it because Battalion might not understand.
Nate’s through worrying about that, because as far as he’s concerned, it’s just a symptom of ignorance and he’s through enabling it. He is an officer, a first lieutenant and a platoon commander, and he is a part of a wolf pack.
If Battalion wants to believe that poses some kind of conflict of interest, if the USMC, in all its great wisdom, wants to exploit the capabilities of werewolves while simultaneously not allowing them to function to the utmost of their ability, Nate will deal with that later, when they’re back States-side and have to explain all of this.
“I’m putting it down, Gunny,” he says. “You picking it up?”
It takes Nate what, in retrospect, is a shameful amount of time.
There are a lot of reasons he can give in his own defense.
It hasn’t been all that long since he was finding out that werewolves even existed. They’re at war; he’s had other priorities. Back in Margarita, ever since Brad had offered to answer any questions Nate asks, it became habit to stop-by Brad and check-in.
Nate’s the LT, Brad’s the alpha, they need to be able to communicate.
In Iraq, this translated more often than not into standing on the edge of a berm, or leaning against a Humvee. Nate has no reason to wonder at Mike’s careful retreat when Brad turns from the trucks the guys have just finished lighting up and says, “The ROE aren’t a lot of help here.” They’re pack, Nate’s seen the guys do it before, shuffling off so Nate can talk to their alpha alone.
Brad says: "Not to get homoerotic, sir, but I could kiss you."
Brad says: "Understood, thanks for trying."
In Baghdad, Nate watches as Dave steps in front of Brad; their voices are low, but they’re not exactly whispering. Nate knows Brad well enough to see that he’s already found himself another war to fight.
“Something wrong, Dave?” Nate asks smoothly, his eyes holding Dave’s for a moment, before he purposely shifts them down to the hand Dave has wrapped around Brad’s upper arm.
“Nothing,” Dave says, stepping back like he only just realizes what he's doing. “Sergeant,” he adds, too deferential for a Lieutenant, but Brad’s too busy grinding his teeth together to say anything.
“Brad?” Nate says. But Brad only shakes his head and walks away.
What Nate doesn’t know is why there is an angry twisting furious knot in his stomach.
Why Dave’s hand made him react the way it did.
Two months after stepping into Wolf Country, Nate signs the platoon out and they go out to a bar. It’s the sort of thing that Nate doesn’t think he would have done with his platoon unless they’d been wolves, because wolves require a non-wolf to accompany them off base, so Nate doesn't feel like he's intruding.
They talk like they know it’s their last chance to be normal. Somewhere along the meandering, looping arch that is their conversation, Espera says, “Dawg, she’s not my wife she’s my mate.”
Clearly, there is some distinction that Nate is missing.
“I met my lady at an amusement park,” Espera says a bit later, after a few more drinks take the last of the pretense out of their words. No one is trying to play at bullshit moto machismo.
“I was on a roller-coaster, and she was on the Ferris wheel. The ride got to the top of this steep hill and I look over, and she’s sitting on a bright blue bench at the height of the Ferris wheel, and I swear to god, our eyes connected, dog. We had a moment.” Espera pauses, like he’s experiencing that moment again. “Then the roller-coaster dropped down that hill so fucking fast, I was nauseous. I puked in the garbage bin, but then I headed right over to that Ferris wheel and waited. That’s how it is with mates.”
Nate goes a couple of weeks thinking that werewolves have one ultimate love of their life, who they know on sight and will spend their lives secretly pining for if they never meet. It’s maybe part of the reason why he spends a few awkward days with Brad, after Ray explains, “Dude, Brad got dumped.”
He listens to the story and then overlays on it the deep abiding love that he imagines as part of the whole ‘wolf mate’ thing, and has trouble understanding why Brad is still functional. “He was still friends with the fuckers, even!” Ray says. “I shut that down, let me tell you.”
So then Nate starts to wonder if maybe Ray is Brad’s mate.
He’s stuck between these two options, that either Ray and Brad are paired, or that Brad is struggling with some deep wound that can never heal, and he’s not exactly impressed with the sort of sympathetic looks he keeps giving his alpha, but that doesn’t mean he can stop it.
Mike, thankfully, steps-in before it can get any more ridiculous. “I’m thinking Espera’s romantic tale has confused you,” he says. “So let me tell you a story. I met my wife when we were in high school. She was smart and pretty, and popular. I was a jock, but not one of those cool jocks who everybody likes. I was a shy kid. We didn’t get along. Not at all.”
That doesn’t make sense to Nate, so he waits and listens. “I met her again, just after I joined the Corps, and she was going off to school, and that went over even worse.” Nate waits. “When I went into Recon, I went to visit my parents for Thanksgiving, and she was back with her parents just down the street. She was the same girl to look at, but she was different, too. We ended up gettin' hitched.”
“She’s your mate?” Nate asks, because he’s still trying to figure this out.
Mike shrugs. “Yeah, she is.” Nate is trying to find some common denominator between Espera’s tale of romance and Mike’s. “Mates aren’t written in stone. There isn’t only one out there and if you miss your chance it’s done. Wolves might mate for life, but it’s not like we can’t choose.”
“Is she your mate because she’s your wife?”
“She’s my wife because she’s my mate,” Mike clarifies. “Nate, a wolf walks around and meets someone, could be a wolf, but maybe not. They meet, and the wolf thinks ‘maybe’. The next day they could find someone else who also makes them think ‘maybe’. It’s just a possibility. Tony could just as easily have walked up and met Gena and decided it wasn’t a good fit. He could have just gotten off that roller-coaster and left the park.”
“You’re saying there’s no compulsion.”
“No compulsion, no one-chance only. It’s more than a smell and more than a sense, but it’s just a suggestion of possibility. For me, I had to wait. Marie wasn’t right for me, until she was.”
Nate wonders what it must be like to have some kind of assurance when you meet someone. Some mystical sense telling you that there is at least the potential of compatibility beyond a one-night stand, or two years sunk into a relationship that was never going to lead anywhere. He thinks it must be nice.
In Baghdad, they’re billeted to another neighborhood, and Nate is standing with Doc who has a little boy sitting on an upturned crate, providing medical care under the mother’s watchful gaze. Suddenly Doc pauses, his hands moving to hold the little boy in place even though the boy hasn’t moved. Beside him, Mike hunches a little, like he wants to spring out the door, but is holding himself still.
A second later a bomb explodes.
“What the fuck was that?” Nate asks. Mike casts him a glance and Nate already knows he’s not going to get a straight answer from him. Doc is turning back to his work with the sort of focused intensity that Nate knows means he’s hoping everyone forgets he’s there.
There’s a dog barking somewhere down the street.
Nate walks out of the house, his eyes skimming the line of trucks and seeing no sign of his alpha, or of Ray or even Poke. “Walt,” he barks, because he wants answers. “What the fuck is going on?”
“Sir,” Walt says. “Meesh found a bomb in a garden back there,” he jerks his head toward the buildings just behind them. Nate follows the gesture, and then looks back to Hasser. “Sergeant Colbert’s got a det-kit. He’s trying to remove the ordnance, sir.”
Nate’s moving before he even fully processes the words. “Nate,” Mike says, but Nate ignores him, he’s already marching toward the sunken pit where he can see the top of Brad’s helmet.
Nate says, “I will not let you blow yourself up trying to maintain property values in greater Baghdad. That’s a no-go.”
Everyone around that hole has their heads tipped forward, but Nate doesn’t notice that. Brad’s still staring at him like he’s hoping Nate will reconsider.
Nate has no intention of bending on this point.
If Brad wants to make it a thing, then Nate’s ready to throw down with him.
“Up and out, Sergeant,” Mike says, but Brad’s not doing anything but staring at Nate.
Nate jerks his eyebrows up, refuses to drop Brad's gaze. He thinks: “I’m not moving.” He thinks: “Get out of the hole, or I’m gonna get in it.”
Brad climbs out of the hole.
They’re halfway back to base camp before it occurs to him what he just did. Brad is the pack alpha, and Nate shot him down. In front of Poke and Ray and Mike.
Nate would be okay with that, because he always knew there was the chance Brad would ask for something and Nate would have to say ‘no’, and in public. Nate knows Brad’s position among his dogs is not going to be affected by this.
Nate is still upset.
His reason is because he didn’t walk in there with that abstract ‘the good of the men’ type of concern that a good LT has. He marched up to that pit thinking, ‘What the fuck, Brad. Why are you trying to kill yourself?’
Anyone could have been hurt from that bomb, but Nate hadn’t been thinking of anyone.
He remembers, suddenly, the crack of friendly fire as Brad’s voice came over comms: “2-Actual, who the fuck is shooting at us?”
Nate had said, “2-1-Actual, what’s your status?” At the time, he’d thought he was asking Brad to report on his men. That he was an LT asking his Sergeant if anyone had been hurt.
Nate thinks now that maybe that wasn’t it.
“Nate,” Mike says later, cornering him off to the side where they can pretend they have some privacy. “Mates can’t serve in the field together.”
Nate says, “What?” He looks out at their victors, at the guys draped over them, sprawled in the abandoned soccer stadium. He narrows his eyes at them, tries to figure it out on his own. “Who?”
Mike’s face is entirely neutral. Nate hates how Mike can look entirely neutral all the time; even his eyes give nothing away. “I’m not saying anyone specific. I’m just saying. The USMC does not allow mates to be in the same platoon.”
Nate frowns, focuses on Mike and says, “Gunny, do you know of anyone with such a bond within this platoon?”
“No sir,” Mike says, his face still impassive. “I do not know shit.”
Nate feels like he’s been working on this epiphany for a while. Feels like it’s something he’s always known, but has been willfully shoving to the background because he’s the LT, because they’re in the same platoon. Because, because, because…
Too many reasons.
He’s sitting in the bleachers of an abandoned soccer field, Nate’s dogs and their victors taking up space in the stadium. The light is draining out of the sky like a slow-bleed. In his head, he’s hearing Walt’s voice as he says to Ray, “No self-respecting alpha is gonna go for a mate who isn’t entirely down with his dogs."
Brad lopes up the stairs, silent as anything, the bright whiteness of his fur making him almost invisible in the quasi-twilight. He drops to his haunches beside Nate, and for a moment, they just sit there.
“It’s a strange concept,” Nate says after a while. “Mates.”
Brad whuffs, a quiet huff of air. A moment later, he lies down, his head resting on his paws. Nate thinks he might be sulking, like he had been hoping to get through all of this and have Nate none the wiser.
“When we get back, I’m leaving the Corps.” It could be a topic change; it could be nothing at all. Nate has been thinking about this for a while. The one thing that was always holding him back was the idea that he’d be leaving his pack. Now, Nate likes the ‘what if’s’ he can see ahead of him.
Nate says, “You were never going to tell me, were you?” Brad’s tail flops once, half-heartedly.
“Idiot,” Nate says, and rests a hand between Brad’s ears.
Nate signs the papers three months and five days after returning to Camp Margarita. He thinks: “This is the first thing that’s going to go.”
He refuses to think about the fact that Brad Colbert is now technically his property. That, should anything happen to Brad Colbert while he is off-base, then Nate will be held entirely accountable, and have to stand before the USMC and explain himself.
“It doesn’t mean anything,” Brad says casually as they walk off base toward Nate’s car. “Brunmeier has a buddy in Charlie Company who signs him out. The Corps doesn’t raise its eyebrows about it.”
“I’m not worried about DADT, Brad,” Nate says, and then pauses. “Why the hell aren’t you worried about DADT?”
“Because it doesn’t mean anything,” Brad shrugs.
Nate raises his eyebrows and holds Brad’s stare. He says, “It fucking means something.”
Nate goes to school and Brad goes the England.
It seems like it should be more of a thing than it is, but Nate’s busy and doesn’t end-up eating buckets of Ben & Jerry’s while watching rom coms and sniveling his way through a box of tissues. He makes do.
Brad’s got his pack with him, and Nate has left specific instructions with every one of them to make damned well sure they come back with all their parts attached, and with their alpha in tow.
The Corps, at least, has proven itself to be true to its motto. Semper fi.
When the shit hits the fan, the USMC defends wolves with an unceasing battery of facts and statistics proving what civilian wolves are on camera begging everyone understand: “We’re not dangerous.”
England, at least, is second only to Canada with the ease with which they accept the existence of werewolves. Nate doesn’t fool himself that the exchange his pack is a part of isn’t also serving as a way of keeping the men safe. It makes the distance easier to accept.
There was a moment, though he will never admit it, even if Mike has already smirked and guessed at it anyway, where Nate considered staying in California.
There are many reasons for this. For one, there are some very good schools there. It is not just because…
“I miss the water,” Brad says, sitting in his Humvee with the door open, his legs crossed, ankles resting on the door hinge. “Surfing, riding the waves all the way back into shore.”
He sounds wistful. Nate takes a bite of his MRE cookie. His back is resting against the side of Team 1’s Humvee, they’re both looking out at a stretch of sand and dirt. That’s pretty much all there is to look at.
“I wouldn’t have thought wolves would like the water.”
Brad shifts so he can flash a suitably disappointed look at Nate and says, “Sir, all the wolves you know are part of this United States Marine Corps.”
“Point,” Nate concedes.
Brad’s not ready to let it go. “We’re not cats, sir.”
In the end, Nate finds his way north. Ends up attending Harvard, and living in a redbrick townhouse with a heavy wooden front door. His sisters help him with the move, but Brad’s already in England.
Nate sent him a photo of the place that he had doctored with Photoshop, a bright yellow circle around the fire hydrant on the curb and, in the email, said ‘I’m taking into account all of your needs.’
Collette flips open the lid of another cardboard box, still bitching at Nate for not labeling them, and says, “I thought we already unloaded your computer.”
“What did you do,” Patricia asks, peering down into the box. “Smash it with a hammer?”
“That one goes over there,” Nate says, gesturing down the hall to the room on the right. He’s thinking of it temporarily as ‘the office’, it looks out over the street. “Don’t bother to unpack it, I’ll sort through it later.”
Technically, it’s Nate’s home, it’s his name on the lease. It’s his furniture they’re shifting around and trying to find places for. “Jesus, Nate,” Patricia bitches. “This is like, college-kid ‘I have no money and accept charity’ kind of decorating.”
“I am a college kid,” he says. He’s not thinking of settling down in Boston forever. It’s temporary.
Nate does what he can. Every day.
There’s classes and work, holidays that he now spends at home with his family. He signs-up for the spring and summer semester because as much as he enjoys classes and learning, school no longer feels like anything significant in and of itself. It feels more like a bridge he has to cross to get to the other side. Nate intends to cross that bridge as quickly as he can. He makes schedules and writes papers and does the reading, and then pulls all-nighters anyway because he’s writing editorials and articles and sending them off to newspapers and magazines.
There are always phone calls.
He hears from everyone. It means that on weeks when Nate knows Brad has to use what little phone time they have to check-in with his parents, Nate still gets a call and an update. Most times, he gets more than one.
Mike, his voice heavy with exhaustion in a way Nate has never heard it before says, “It’s been a hard week here, Nate.” The quiet admission, and the lack of calls from anyone else, sends Nate out to the grocery store.
He buys three large packs of black liquorice, stuffs a basket full of crap from the candy isle, and finishes it off with porn mags from the corner store, and a lottery ticket. It takes a bit of string pulling, but Nate has a lot of connections, and his package gets shipped out with the promise it will be there before the week’s end. The note he sends reads only: “Let me know if your luck changes.” He knows his pack will understand what he’s really saying.
Nate knows a lot of useless things. Stuff that he’s been taught in school, stuff that he’s picked up along the way. Stuff that gets said a lot, that you roll eyes at all the time but still know to be true: patience is a virtue.
Brad isn’t there, and then he is.
Nate comes home and freezes in the doorway because it’s summer and he’s just returned from his last class of the day, and he’s pretty sure that when he left that morning his sofa was a dark navy blue, not a tragic faded blue-grey.
“I thought Boston was supposed to be cooler.” Comes a painfully familiar voice, brushing across Nate’s senses.
He drops his bag by the door. When he steps further into the room, he sees a giant white wolf sprawled, belly-up on Nate’s bed down the hall, it’s fur being ruffled by the wind coming in from the open window.
Nate’s sheets, once a fresh forest green, look more like muted sage. “I just washed those,” he says.
“Itches.” Brad whines, then wriggles around on the bed itching himself, his legs flopping left and then right, front paws and back always in opposite directions. It’s utterly ridiculous.
Nate perches on the edge of his bed, staring despondently out into the living room where he thinks he can see about an inch of white fur on his sofa. His sheets, he is certain, will never again be the same.
Idly, he wonders if he is allergic to dander or something, he’s never had a pet before.
“You don’t have one now,” Brad says. He flops back onto his belly, starts inching forward until his front paws are just brushing Nate’s thigh. “I smell black liquorice.”
Nate rolls his eyes. “I can’t believe you.”
“You knew I was coming,” Brad says with certainty, inching forward again until his paws are resting on Nate’s legs. Brad drops his head down.
Nate raises his eyebrows, buries his fingers into the white fur as he says, “Yes, there is this striking new technology called a phone. I think it will catch-on.”
“Hm,” Brad says. Nate scritches his fingers between Brad’s ears for a moment, and then he realizes that Brad is inching forward in an effort to sniff-out where Nate has hidden the black liquorice. He shoves the wolf off the bed.
Brad trots over to the nightstand and manages to pull it open, balancing on his hind legs, his front paws braced on the top as he sticks his head inside the drawer. “My, my, what have we here, Captain?” he teases as he sifts through the contents of the drawer. “Are you trying to give me a hint, Nate?”
Nate stands from the bed. “You’re rummaging around looking for liquorice,” he points out. “I haven’t even gotten a ‘hello’ yet.”
Brad pops down from the drawer, the package Nate had put there held between his teeth. Obligingly, Nate rips the plastic, and he feels the corner of his mouth start to twitch upward as Brad settles down with the liquorice.
“Hello, Honey. I'm home,” Brad says, his voice smooth and utterly wry. Then he says, “I didn’t call because Mike called. And then Ray. And then Poke. I figured you must have gotten the message.”
Nate can at least understand that, even if he is still mildly irritated by it. He pulls off his sweater and starts rifling through his drawer for some sweatpants to change into. “Definitely trying to tell me something.”
“Not right now,” Nate drawls. “I have a headache.”
There’s the crackle of the plastic, and the messy-wet sounds of Brad chomping on his liquorice.
This is something Nate knows.
When they’d crossed into Wolf Country their first day back at Pendleton, every single one of Nate’s wolves had yipped and dropped their bags and shifted. Right there.
Nate was left standing amidst a sea of packs and boots and cammies, watching a bunch of wolves run and pounce on each other.
“The longer we go without shifting, the weirder it feels,” Walt says. “Sometimes, if we go for a really long time, it actually hurts. It’s like a muscle you have to keep in shape.”
Brad, lying on the floor of the bedroom in wolf-form and eating liquorice is something else, though. Something Nate learned back in California after he first brought the man home. There is a freedom in that shape that Brad spends all his time trying to duplicate in other ways. Surfing, riding his bike, it all pales in comparison to the exhilaration of being a wolf, of running flat-out on four-legs, faster than any one else can hope to keep-up with. Of reminding himself that the roads and cars and office buildings that he fights to protect aren’t where he really belongs.
Nate snickers when he catches Brad rubbing his head against the carpet. “God, you’re pathetic when you’re shedding,” he says.
“I grew a fucking winter coat in England, Nate,” Brad whines. “I've never grown a goddamned winter coat like this before.”
Nate doesn’t have a dog, but he has a pretty awesome wire-brush that came highly recommended by the woman at the pet store down the road. She’d asked if he’d needed dog food as well and didn’t understand why he’d laughed.
“LT,” Ray had said. “He’s going to be a big giant baby. Fuck it, we’re all totally pitiful right now. Get a fucking brush and do some, like, hand exercises, because it might take a while.”
Nate doesn’t fool himself into thinking he knows everything there is to know about werewolves. He’s picking up new things all the time. This is the last thing he has to fight to learn, though, and he did fight.
From the minute he stepped across the threshold into Wolf Country, through OIF and bullshit commands and fucking moto speeches to rally the men and prepare them to run headfirst into more chaos. Through stacks of paperwork that Nate had to sign, even though he hated every word on the goddamned page right down to “I accept full responsibility for: [print name of werewolf here]”. Two years of living in different countries while the United States went crazy and Nate somehow ended up as the voice of reason for an entire country, pushing and pushing, one inch at a time.
He’s sitting in their bedroom, his back propped against the side of his bed, a full-grown wolf draped over his lap throwing heat like a furnace as Nate brushes and brushes, tufts of white fur floating away like dandelion seeds, clinging to everything.
“I’m thinking our next sofa should be leather,” he says. There’s a low rumbling laugh that brushes across his senses. “I don’t know what to do about the sheets.”
“Silk?” Brad offers helpfully.
Nate huffs. “So that’s what this is really about. You’re picking-up that argument again.”
Brad shifts a little. “Mm. Can it really be considered an argument when both parties agree?”
Nate sets the brush aside and runs his hand down Brad’s back, ending up with a handful of hair for his trouble. He brushes it off his fingers and lets it drift away. He's going to have to vacuum at some point.
“Better?” he asks.
“Mm,” Brad answers, drowsily. A moment later, Brad is a stretch of smooth pale skin sprawled across Nate's legs.
“You lost your tan,” Nate notes idly.
“Come to bed,” Brad says, dragging himself up onto the sheets.
Nate wrinkles his nose. “Those sheets are disgusting. I’m itching just looking at them.”
"Pussy civilians," Brad mutters as he flips the duvet over top of the sheets and drops down, still entirely naked.
"I'm not going to 'make do' if I don't have to," Nate says as he pulls off his T-shirt and kicks away his sweats before he joins him.
“Better now,” Brad sighs.
Nate grins, presses a kiss to the back of Brad’s neck and shifts his arms around the man.
He had to fight for it, and in some ways, they’re still fighting, but now at least, finally, Nate knows.