Ray thinks he actually preferred the retarded clusterfuck that was Operation Iraqi Freedom. Sure, food was strangely reminiscent of shit mixed with dog meat (and Ray should know, he had eaten both, both on a dare, and neither while sober), but at least there was more privacy.
And honestly, when you consider they drove for days cramped into tin cans and wearing adult diapers, and had combat jacks in the close proximity during the rare breaks… well, you have the perspective and the perspective sucks dick.
And not in a fun way, either. Because there is a fun way of dick sucking and that is when you have yours…
Ray stops and reconsiders. There are at least four telepaths on the base, that he knows of, and he has been repeatedly told his thoughts are disruptive and inappropriate for the workplace.
He says, fuck them, it's probably the only time the goat-fucking nutjobs get to have any fun in here, Ray is doing them a huge favor and should be rewarded. Preferably by having someone suck his dick.
In Iraq they at least got to blow shit up from time to time, but of course there's no chance for this now that Ray has been drafted into the Retard League of America because it turned out he was a whole different kind of fucking special than everyone thought he was.
At least he's in good company.
No one exactly knows why powers manifest themselves when they do. There's no rhyme or reason to the timeline, no way to detect them while they're dormant, and those who tried to pinpoint their origins came up empty handed and had to explain their expenses to the higher-ups.
And while at least a dozen theories came up with various explanations of how the powers relate to the personality of the person possessing them, no one brought up anything conclusive, because after a strain of logical cases there is someone with type A personality and a power to heal plants.
Nate considers it to be further proof that the A/B dichotomy is a load of crap, but then again, he's not here for his theories.
He's not sure when his power manifested itself. It's a bit hard to tell with the subtle ones. Not like one day he could hear people's thoughts and had to be isolated for some time, before he learned to filter them out. Or like one day he thought he needed something from the kitchen and the next moment it flew into his hand. Those things had been known to happen, but not to him.
Doc has the best story, as far as Nate can judge, the one about healing a dog that has been run over by a truck and scaring half of the neighborhood with the zombie dog.
There was no fireworks for Nate, just one day it started to dawn that some things were too easy.
"Damn, LT, do you have to think so loud?" Poke asks with a grimace, his tray scraping against the table as he sits at their usual table. "That goes to the lot of you, homes, don't think I don't hear the dumbass who's plotting murder there in the corner," he adds louder, making everyone roll their eyes, used to the daily tirade.
He's probably joking about the murder.
"Not everyone comes with the off switch for their brain," Brad says from behind his laptop.
"Well, they should," Poke grumbles, picking at his tray. "Especially the asshole who had that lady Gaga earworm for the entire fucking day. I'm not sure who that was, but I will find out and exact my revenge, probably in the form of a rusty screwdriver up a very uncomfortable orifice."
"Sharing your fantasies without me?" Ray all but pouts as he sidles up to his usual place next to Brad. "Not fair."
He gets a disgusted look from Cherry, who passes them on her way out of the canteen, wave of cold following her. Ray just beams at her, as he is wont to do. One day she will stab him with an icicle and they will be short one unique teammate.
Brad looks up from his laptop, catching Nate's eye for the brief moment of shared exasperation before he reaches for his donut, breaking a piece off it. His keyboard continues to write by its own, something that Nate used to find surreally fascinating in the early days but now came to consider completely normal.
"So, LT, gonna tell the boys the news, or shall I?" Poke asks conversationally, downing his coffee in one go.
Nate sighs. There's absolutely no point in trying to keep anything a secret, not with Poke around. He has some decency and keeps the private things private, but anything that isn't about someone's family or their sex life is fair game. Of course, sex life and family are fair game too if it's sufficiently embarrassing and relatively harmless.
The research lab is trying to do something about that, but for now their experiments with tinfoil hats seem to be going nowhere and fast.
"You're getting a new friend, boys," Nate tells them. "Mike went to pick him up and he's being briefed right now. Godfather wants you to play nice and not kill him during the first week."
"After a week he's fair game?" Ray asks hopefully. Brad doesn't even look up, just hits him on the back of his head. "What, we hadn't have anyone new in three long and miserable months, and we weren't allowed to fuck with Gina because Poke here said he'd mindfuck us well and proper, and he can actually follow on those threats and there are some things I'd rather not share with you cocksmokers."
"Really?" Nate asked incredulously at the same moment when Brad snorted and said "I thought there was nothing in your perverted psyche you wouldn't inflict on us."
"Apparently, new guy can predict the future. Command is wetting themselves at the thought of the tactical advantage this can provide. They've been having circle jerks over this for the entire last week or so," Poke proclaims cheerfully. "Sorry, LT," he adds automatically.
Nate sighs. He tends to sigh a lot, but at least he has good reasons for it. "This is actually a rather accurate assessment. Metaphorically," he adds, mostly at Brad's look.
"Way to ruin the image," Ray mutters.
"I didn't want that image," Brad shakes his head. "But then again, I don't want any of the shit I get from you guys, but who cares about that?"
Poke shoots Nate a quick look, turning away the moment Nate catches it. Fuck, Nate thinks, he needs to be better at this, at reigning in his thoughts before they even appear, because one of this days someone will hear them and not keep them to themselves like Poke's been doing. It's bad enough that Mike gives him those weird sympathetic looks when Brad is around, which seems to be all the time. Just his luck.
"There's more ," Nate says, getting their attention again, after they diverged into a discussion of whether Brad loves the shit he gets or not and whether he is gay for Ray. You could easily tell which side of the argument Ray was on.
Sometimes it's like running a kindergarten, if the kids were highly sexed, inappropriate, superpowered and with a worrying love for anything explosive and lethal.
"We will be sent on a new mission next week, after Wright settles in. Details are classified for now, so don't even try, Espera," he says and gets a curt nod in return, Poke's eyes just slightly glazed in the too-familiar way. Nate feels the cold settle in his gut at that, but there's a reason for the secrecy and he has his orders.
"Do we get to blow something up this time?" Ray, the man with a mind that may not exactly be one-track but with definite priorities, asks eagerly.
"Give me a minute, I'll find you some C4 you can sit on while the ticker gets to zero," Brad offers. "It will fuck your shit up, quite literally."
"The parameters of the mission are classified," Nate repeats patiently. "You will be debriefed in due time. I can say that the Godfather is very excited about this one," he says with a smile he can't quite contain, getting an answering smirk from Brad.
"Yeah, but Godfather presumably gets excited about goat-fucking, so that's not much to go on," Ray shrugs.
Brad shakes his head. "Fuck, Ray, I know it's hard to remember, but not only the walls have ears but there's also a few mind readers on the premises. One would think you have a death wish."
"They'll never catch me," Ray says proudly.
He's probably right.
Ray loves his job. He really does, there are days he wants to take his job behind the bleachers and bury himself in her pussy.
That doesn't make him workaholic, that makes him fucking awesome at shit.
Not that he didn't enjoy riding around the motherfucking Haji desert and wearing an adult diaper that irritated his ass, but now instead of dodging bullets he gets to stop bullets, so hey, fucking A shit going on here.
Well, stop time, if you're a dipshit stickler for the semantics, not stopping bullets, but who fucking cares as long as he doesn't get hit by the little shits? Yeah.
He only wishes his job would be accompanied by more pussy. All he gets now are Cherry's cold stares, but she must have a warm and chewy center, and he's patient.
Well, no, he isn't, but who cares?
Brad stays behind while the guys file out of the canteen as the morning rush passes and the place empties out. It can be because he's busy typing up the neat lines of code for whatever he's working on, but Nate doesn't think so.
He shuffles his own paperwork but doesn't make a move to stand up yet, just waits.
"Do you mind me asking what worries you about the mission, Sir?" Brad asks finally, closing his laptop with a soft click.
Sometimes Nate wonders if Brad's powers don't extend to mind reading. Ray says that it's the normal Iceman thing, that Brad has been like that forever, always knowing when you'll need to dump a load and what color it would be, even before you decided to ate the stale taco, pardon my phrasing LT, Sir.
It's still unsettling.
"I can't tell you anything," Nate says flatly, his mouth tightening around the words. "Godfather's playing this one close to the vest," he adds, and this is the answer in a nutshell, this is what worries him. If almost everyone is kept in the dark to the last minute, it can't be good.
He takes comfort in the thought that it can't be worse than the time they went to extract Trombley, but then again, if the Armageddon started right this second and Ray was announced the Second Coming incarnation of the Messiah, it would still be better than the time they extracted Trombley, so the comforting thought is actually bullshit.
"Copy that," Brad nods and gathers his things, his tray neatly sliding itself into the stand in the corner of the canteen.
"Brad," Nate stops him, getting a quick expectant look in return. "Do me a favour and look after Wright, will you? Godfather will be pissed if something happens to him," he adds wryly, a dry smile tugging at his lips.
He coats his orders in levels of distancing language, just in case. It's a conscious process, one that sometimes takes more effort than he'd like, but he is rewarded in Brad's gaze remaining clear and focused.
"Yes, Sir. We'll keep the hazing down to the minimum. The worst he'll get will be some uninterrupted broadcast of Ray fucking Person's thoughts on life and the universe as no one sane knows it."
"Cruel and unusual," Nate nods with some degree of approval. "Thanks."
Brad looks for a moment as if he wanted to add something more but seems to rethink it and turns to leave.
Nate shakes his head at himself and thinks that maybe it would be nice to switch powers with Poke. Sure, he'd be exposed to Ray fucking Person's uninterrupted broadcast, but… on second thoughts, no.
There's cruel and unusual and there's a lifetime of Ray's thoughts trashing around in your head. Poke is a saint.
As he leaves the canteen, Mike Wynn catches up with him and they fall into a familiar pace through the corridors leading down to the officer's quarters.
"How's Wright?" Nate asks him.
Mike shrugs. "Worried. Excited. Nervous about the first impression. Still baffled by his abilities. Intimidated. Has a stomachache, too, but I think it's from the nerves."
"That's both succinct and a bit more than I needed to know. Will he be ready for the mission?"
"If your men don't break his brain ten times before Sunday, possibly. He's actually excited to meet them, says they're a group of interesting individuals."
"Really?" Nate shakes his head. "Well, he has that right."
"I'm told those are the benefits of being a psychic. Wouldn't know, all my powers seem to give me are some serious issues and a contagious case of emotional constipation. Can't tell whose company has that effect though," he adds pointedly and Nate is tempted to say something, but he thinks that Mike already got it loud and clear anyway. "Wright is waiting to meet you," Mike adds.
When his power kicked in, Poke was on a date. Not the most impressive of tales, some guys have better ones, sure, but he doesn't care all that much. He knows the real tales behind some of the most impressive ones, after all, and they make sure he has years worth of blackmail material, so all in all, he's the one coming out on top.
The girl, whose name now eludes him, made a comment about the expected length of Poke's dick, and he laughed at that. Which earned him a confused stare over her umbrella-decorated drink, because she never said anything.
It took a few more minutes to click, and then a few good weeks before he learned to filter the constant stream of noise, break it down into individual voices and learn to switch them off when he really needed to. It still takes some effort, and sometimes he's pretty sure he dreams other people's dreams, because the one about a zombie dog can't be his, but it's not that bad, most of the time.
One thing it taught him is to keep his mouth shut. Sure, he'll be the first to gleefully betray who's been thinking of Rudy's perfect abs this week, but there are limits. It's partially because he respects his teammates and honors their boundaries, and partly because Iceman would fuck his shit up if Poke squealed about his not-so-secret girly crush on their LT's fine ass.
If you ask Poke, it would do them good if he did say something, maybe the whole retarded soap opera would end in something R-rated, but he respects their boundaries and shit. He had been to a class about that, with other unfortunate fuck-ups who drew this particular power in the super lottery.
At least he didn't get the ability to leap tall buildings in one jump. That would be too gay.
Theoretically, they are all free to leave the base whenever they wish to.
This is because no one in their right mind would try and keep a bunch of superpowered freaks with attention deficit, good half of whom are highly trained killer machines, anywhere they didn't want to be.
But of course any outside trip needs to be cleared against the missions schedule, training roster, threat assessment and whatever they fuck they come up with to keep you on the base. It's a dick move, but it's smart – there's too much paperwork to bother, and honestly, who needs to leave when most things can be ordered online?
But it still leaves them stewing in their own fucked-up company for way too long, and new arrivals are something they live for.
Nate isn't entirely sure if it's reminiscent of high school or is it just like prison. Possibly both.
Wright takes everything in with wide-opened stare, fascinated. He's been a reporter before the power manifested itself, in a clusterfuck of a scandal, when he wrote an article about something that was just about to happen. Sure, reporters got scoop, but not on something classified from here to eternity that only seven people in the command knew about.
Nate watches him with barely hidden curiosity as he chooses the right route to the rec room without being told, and heads straight for the Iceman table.
It's the Iceman table even when Brad isn't sitting there, that's how Ray called it the first day and that's how it stayed, and no one trespasses on Brad's space. Besides, that's where Trombley sits, too, and no one who doesn't have a death wish sits within ten feet of Trombley and his little bonfires.
There's been a study in how powers relate to chosen career paths, written soon after someone realized that about sixty percent of powered were soldiers or cops. Nate's been in the test group, and results pointed to a connection, citing some A-grade bullshit about honor and fight for justice, but that didn't explain people like Trombley, and it didn't explain Wright or Maurissa from communications, who could hear you breathing from miles away and who liked cats and musical theatre and used to work as a kindergarten teacher.
"Hey, fish," Poke welcomes Wright with a grave expression. Ah, so it's prison today, Nate has wondered. "LT," he adds.
"This is Evan Wright, class," Nate tells them. "Make him feel welcome, but not too welcome, Ray," he adds pointedly, and Ray makes a point of grimacing in disappointment.
"Aww, and I've been in the market for a new girlfriend, LT."
Brad catches Nate's eye and eyerolls slightly. "Your hand finally dumped you, Ray? I knew she'd wise up and move on to Walt."
Walt pointedly shifts an inch away, to the resounding laughter. Brad nods and shifts a little too, freeing up some space on the bench. "Sit down, Wright. What you in for?"
The mood changes a little, Colbert's approval means Wright will be evaluated on different grounds – alright until proven an asshole.
Nate takes a seat in the sole chair at the end of the table; even when the benches are packed, this one is left for him. He's not entirely sure whose rule is that, but he has his suspicions. He nods to Brad in acknowledgment and gets a swift nod in return, before Brad turns away to study Wright as he stutters through his origins story.
They swap stories after that, including that total bullshit one that Ray tells of how he freezed an entire platoon in time just so he could have one uninterrupted combat jack. Maybe it was true of some other moment, Nate couldn't tell, but he has read Ray's file, and that wasn't how his power first appeared.
"And what's his power?" Wright asks, head tilt inclining Brad, who leans back leisurely and waits for the explanation they come up with this time.
Ray doesn't disappoint, he just looks at Wright for a very long moment, which for Ray is about three seconds, before he speaks. "He's Brad fucking Colbert," he says, as if that explained all.
Everyone at the table nods sagely, as if it did explain all. Nate tries not to snort, challenged by a quirk of Brad's eyebrows at him.
"That's it?" Wright asks. He knows he's being winded up, but he's not yet sure what the punchline would be. Apparently, the future-seeing shtick doesn't extend to everything. Which might be good for his mental health, probably.
Ray cracks a grin. "No, we're just fucking with you, fish. But for real, Brad has a magical cock. A magical, healing cock that can cure pretty much anything. Well, maybe not anal warts, we hadn't tested that yet."
"I assure you, anything Ray says about my cock is purely a result of his whiskey tango perverted imagination and wishful thinking," Brad says dryly.
"Even the one where you can carry out a no-hands jack off?" Poke asks slyly.
"That one's true," Brad admits. "Not that Ray has acquired any of this knowledge first hand, pun very much not intended and excuse me while I look for mental bleach to erase any thoughts of his disease ridden, dog-fucking hand."
"You know you love me," Ray nods happily.
"And what about Fick?" Wright asks after a moment, interrupting Ray's creative impression of a hands-off jack that looks as if he was having a stroke.
"Well," Poke drawls with an apologetic look at Nate. "Let's just say, if the LT tells you to go to hell, you're gonna find yourself wandering south for a very long time, at least until you drop dead from dehydration."
"Thank you for that, Espera," Nate nods.
Wright appears to be thinking about it. "Jedi mind-tricking, you mean? Like the Godfather?"
Nate smiles humorlessly. "Something like that."
Brad met Lieutenant Nathaniel Fick on his second day at Camp Freakshow.
First day was the so-called Orientation, which basically meant that he got shown the premises and then spent the entire day fending off a super-excited Ray who figured this was the best thing in the entire history of ever, and that included 'that time in the titty bar with the twins'.
For the first week or so, he's almost convinced that either the LT doesn't have any powers and is just there to mind them because he's the only one with enough patience not to shoot himself after Ray's third rendition of Johnny Cash's greatest hits in two days, or his power is something like understanding the language of cockroaches or something.
(Although, that would be a rather neat power, world could be taken over with cockroaches.)
And his conviction came from the simple fact that Lieutenant Nate Fick never, ever uses his power if he can help it.
This is the fourth important thing Brad learns about Nate Fick.
The first one is that he's almost ridiculously pretty. That one's out there for everyone to notice, and everyone does, but the second thing Brad learns is also the one that keeps Nate's prettiness from becoming lockers' room's number one topic, and stops Ray from creating elaborate jack-off scenarios that he then shares with everyone.
The second thing is that Fick is actually competent. For an officer, Brad adds in his own thoughts for the first few weeks, but then that disclaimer melts away and the competency remains.
The problem with this one is that it's a whole fucking lot more attractive than the pretty eyes and the soft lips.
Then he learns what it is that Nate actually does around here, besides keeping them from killing each other on the daily basis.
Brad's first mission as a member of this whiskey tango inbred crew of X-men morons was described as a cakewalk by the idiots in the command – extracting a kid from an illegal research lab in Arizona. He shits you not, this is exactly the sci-fi clusterfuck his life has become. Cakewalk, he repeats; he'd love to see what the Encino Man actually considers a challenging mission.
By the time they crossed the state lines, the whole thing went fubared, Trombley's power manifested itself even through the drug cocktail they had him on, and the lab went up in flames, and because this was supposed to be the cakewalk, they didn't have the full team, just Brad and Ray and Hasser and Fick.
Hasser made it rain, but that only extinguished the flames on the outside, and it took a long while to get into the lab. They found Trombley behind a wall of fire that defied all the laws of physics and didn't seem to subside or spread, and he was banging one of the doctors' head against the metal wall. When they got there, there wasn't much of the head left.
"Person?" the LT asked grimly, looking around, eyes focusing on the group of other lab technicians huddled in the corner, partially obscured by the flickering fire.
"I can stop it, but that won't help. Fire's still hot as hell when it's still, and besides, I won't be able to get them out on my own, not when they're still like fucking rag dolls, Sir."
"I can probably move…" Brad started and stopped when Trombley, possibly shaken out of his stupor by their arrival, looked around with an unseeing gaze and dropped the body to the floor, focusing again as he turned to the group.
Fick's mouth was set into a grim line as he stepped forward, close enough to the fire that his face was given an almost unnatural glow, with shifting shadows obscuring his eyes. "Stop where you are," he said, voice slightly hollow, and wonder of wonders, Trombley came to a sudden still. "Don't move," Fick repeated, and Brad, who wanted to step closer, found it difficult to even shift in place.
His movement was slow and difficult, and for a moment he thought that maybe it was Ray, doing his time-shifting shit, but it didn't feel like that, and the quickly flickering fire confirmed nothing was wrong with the time's flow.
"What the fuck?" Ray mouthed at him, his expression comically stunned as he, very slowly, turned his face to look at the LT.
It didn't quite feel like Brad couldn't move, it felt more like a bone-deep tiredness that made him not want to move. Weird fucking shit.
LT's eyes flickered to the side. "At ease," he said quietly, clearly addressing them, and it was just as if the weight had been lifted, Brad's whole body again fully under his control. He stepped forward.
"What the hell was that?" he asked quietly. Fick shook his head, clear indication of 'later'.
"Corporal, it's fine," he said louder, inching closer to the fire. "We're here, it's fine."
Trombley looked up, unsure. "Sir?" he asked, eyes glazed over, probably still from drugs, Brad thought. He looked stoned to the gills.
"Clear the passage, Corporal, we're going in," the LT ordered and the fires around them started subsiding, letting Brad and Ray and Walt start getting people out of there. "I need you to stay calm and come with us, we're taking you to the base."
"Yes, Sir," Trombley said, coherent and standing at attention now, the fire around him disappearing. He didn't sound high, but he still looked it.
Ten minutes later everyone was out and the cleaning crew arrived. Trombley was given a sedative, which Brad really thought an overkill, because he seemed really docile right now, walking a step behind Fick complacently.
"Won't last long," the LT said, shaking his head. "He needs a more permanent solution," he added wryly. "The shrinks on the base will have a field day with him."
Brad was silent for a moment. "Permission to speak freely, sir?"
"What the fuck was that?"
"What will be described in our reports as an efficient extraction and a mission that fulfilled its objective," Fick said, his tone flat, but something in his expression made Brad roll his eyes and smirk.
"He just did what you told him to, just like that," Brad pointed out.
"Must have one of those faces people can't say no to."
"With all due respect, sir, no," Brad said, and Fick smiled, an honest-to-god smile. It felt surprisingly good to be the cause of it. "So, the way to achieve the world peace is to get you on tv so you could tell everyone to play nice?"
"Doesn't work like that," Fick said matter-of-factly, as if he already thought of that one. "I need to be physically close for that to work, and the effects don't last forever. Long enough, in most cases, but not forever."
He sounded quite pleased with that last part, which Brad found curious. "To be honest, sir, it still sounds like one badass power."
Nate grinned slightly. "I'll trade you," he said, something depressing about his tone, despite the smile.
Brad thinks, in retrospect, this was the beginning of his troubles.
The new mission is the most hush-hush thing Poke has come across since the whole circus started. It's hard to keep a secret in a tight-knit group like theirs, especially with the empaths and mind readers and, well, Ray, whose additional superpower seems to be his ability to monologue without stopping for a breath.
Wright says it's something in the desert, and that someone's going to get shot in the leg, but he can't say whom. Much good the whole psychic shit does, if that's what they get.
"Some decisions aren't made yet, I can't tell much if the future's still fluid," Wright says defensively.
"Figures," Kocher says, shaking his head. "Poke, you got anything? Because I got nothing."
The LT knows something, probably, at least the general air of determined annoyance says so, but no one reads LT's mind when he doesn't want them to, and it's not just because they respect his wishes.
With the rest of the command… well, that's complicated, and it ties to the conspiracy theory that's been making rounds for the last few months.
They explain it to Wright on his first evening, after the others form of entertainment prove ineffective. It's apparently hard to prank someone who sees the prank coming the moment they start devising them.
"They hide from us," Ray says, nodding enthusiastically. "They're afraid we could use our motherfucking awesome powers on them, and steal their pocket money."
"No one from the command shows up here, and the orders are relied by satellite or whatever techy shit they come up with. Noticed how no one above sergeant has an actual useful power? It's flight, or strength, or distilling alcohol from food…"
"That's a useful power," Ray interrupts him.
"What about Fick?" Wright asks. "Or the Godfather?"
"LT's too polite to plot out world dominance," Walt volunteers, shrugging. "Godfather made his rank before his power manifested itself. But for the last few years, he hasn't engaged in active combat. Some have this theory that the cancer fucked up with his power."
Wright looks at them for a very long moment, clearly thinking they're punking him. "Anything of this is for real?"
Pappy shrugs. "Who knows? Maybe everything. Welcome to the circus."
Wright doesn't look very enthusiastic.
First time Nate knew, not just suspected, not just wondered, first time it clicked without doubt, was at his college friend's stag night, in a bar. Some asshole started a fight, Nate couldn't remember over what, and raised his fist, fueled by anger and booze.
"You really don't want to do that," Nate said, almost too quiet to be heard, but the guy froze instantly, his hand falling to his side, nodding dumbly as his eyes clouded.
"I don't," he agreed.
It shouldn't have worked, things like that didn't happen, and by all the rules of the universe Nate should have been punched for his trouble.
He started testing it over the next few days, small stuff, almost parlor tricks. Having Steve make chicken noises and flap his arms on the quad, proclaiming outrageous things in class and seeing everyone, including the professor, agree with him… Little things like that added to big fucking things, and threw everything in his life into question.
Every academic achievement, every relationship. He couldn't tell when it started, couldn't pinpoint the moment when people started to do things just because Nathaniel Fick wanted them to.
He left the grad school behind and enlisted, signing up for this particular operation, because somehow he couldn't see any other way.
He's still not entirely sure it was the right thing to do, but he saw it like that then, and now he needs to go on as if it was.
There's a knock on his half-open doors and Nate looks up, nodding at Brad.
"You wanted to see me, Sir?" Brad asks, shoulder slightly pressed against the doorframe as he waits for Nate to gesture him inside.
"The orders came down," Nate tells him. "We're going to Nevada. The intel is that there's a terrorist cell using powered soldiers, days away from launching an attack. Everyone who's cleared for combat is going, and Captain Shwetje is in charge."
Brad nods slowly. "Well, I'd say this doesn't have any makings of a fucking disaster whatsoever, Sir."
Nate feels a smile tugging at his lips at that and he bites his tongue to hold it at bay. Brad looks all too pleased with himself.
"We leave tomorrow morning. Since the orders are here in the open, I thought you might want to know. Tell everyone to get some rest, no crazy parties tonight," Nate adds.
"Permission to speak freely, Sir?"
"Granted," Nate says automatically.
"You look like death warmed over. Should get some rest yourself," he says honestly, and only after a long pause tackles on, "Sir."
Brad shakes his head, his slightly annoyed expression clearly indicating the conversation has shifted, and it's no longer his sergeant speaking, but his friend. "Bullshit, Fick, and you know it. If you're not top form tomorrow, you're leaving us in the ever capable hands of the Encino Man, and that can only end in bloodbath or mutiny."
Nate almost sighs. Brad rarely crosses this particular line, even though he has had the invitation to do so ever since his second year in the unit, after they've spent seven hours locked inside a small space underground. But whenever that line gets crossed, Nate always wishes it could be further.
"Nate," Brad says quietly, his expression thoughtful, and Nate feels a familiar cold feeling take residence deep in his stomach. Brad looks normal, his gaze focused on Nate, but Nate can't take any chances.
"I'll finish the report and turn in," he gives in, nodding. "Thank you, Sergeant," he says and Brad frowns at him.
Usually, this would be all, but Brad seems to be in a particularly stubborn mood today. "What's wrong?"
"Just tired," Nate lies without quite lying. "We had a long meeting with Wright, now that decisions were made he was able to come up with some decent predictions. Maybe we'll avoid a complete clusterfuck."
"Wouldn't that be nice," Brad says on the automatic, his eyes fixed on Nate, pinning him down searchingly. His mouth is set into a stubborn line and he's leaning forward a little, as if pulled towards Nate by some invisible force.
Which might be the problem.
"Let it go, Brad," he says pleadingly, his gaze dropping to the papers on his desk, his vision a bit too blurry to make out any of the words on them. He could make it an order, and he could make it an order that would be instantly obeyed, but he turns it into a plea instead.
Brad lets it go.
"Did you tuck the LT in?" Ray asks suggestively, but his question is automatic, most of his attention is on the cards he's holding.
Brad could point out that playing cards with Kocher, Poke and Gunny is the height of idiocy, but he suspects that every once in a while Ray stops the time and walks around checking everyone's cards and shifting the deck, so it's okay.
"It's going to be Nevada," Brad says matter-of-factly. "A superpowered terrorist cell. We leave tomorrow morning and Mommy wants you kiddies up early, bright eyed and bushy tailed, so don't stay up late."
"Does that make you Dad?" Poke asks, glancing at him. "And most importantly, does the LT know he's the Mom?"
Brad rolls his eyes. "Fuck off, Poke."
"Uh-oh, Daddy's angry," Ray says.
Brad lets them be, he's not in the mood for that. He fishes out his laptop and settles on his bunk, stretching his legs out, feet up on Ray's cot as he starts on the particularly vicious piece of code he's trying to tackle. It soothes his annoyance a little.
There are moments when he can't figure Nate out. Usually, he's good at reading the emotions that flicker across Nate's face before he thinks of reigning them in – he's getting better with every passing day, but not good enough to fool Brad. Hopefully he'll never be good enough to fool Brad.
But then come the moments when Brad is at a loss, when he thinks that maybe what he feels could be reciprocated but the second later Nate shuts off, his expression carefully schooled down into polite disinterest.
There aren't many days when Brad is envious of Poke, but the mind reading shit could come in handy right about now.
Speaking of Poke, seems like the boys has drifted off into a heated discussion of whether the LT has been in a foul mood as of late because the command is breathing down his neck, or whether it's because he hasn't gotten laid in a while.
This might be relevant to Brad's interests, just a little.
"All I'm saying is that if he wanted to, there's at least four pretty and single scientists in the research lab that are very interested and outside his chain of command," Poke mutters. "I call," he adds, briefly turning his attention back to the game.
Ray groans at that, then frowns. "And how do you know that?"
"Not everyone is as good at keeping their masturbatory fantasies private as you are, dog," Poke says mournfully.
"Look who's complaining about a daily dose of fucking-A porn being beamed straight to his brain, no fucking charge."
"Depends on whose porn it is, and really, could live without people thinking about LT's dick. Really fucking distracting," he says, and even though he doesn't move, Brad thinks he's talking to him.
Wright clears his throat, and for a moment Brad thinks that they freaked out the fish already, but he seems curious more than anything else. "So what, Fick's just not interested in anyone?"
"Why does that interest you, is all I'm asking," Ray mutters and then disregards his own words. "There's a pool on that, but all of you mental cases are forbidden from entering, what's with the shitty mind-reading advantage."
"I think it's the advantage thing that's the problem with the LT," Poke says, almost absently, shuffling the deck and dealing.
"Research is outside of his chain of command."
"No one is outside LT's chain of command," Brad says, surprising himself with the thought voiced aloud. Fuck him ten ways to Sunday, that motherfucking idiot.
"You got it," Poke nods, sounding all too smug for Brad's liking. "Alright, homes, fifty," he adds, tossing the chips in.
Ray loves the plane they get to travel in whenever they have a mission somewhere far away. It's not quite the Avengers piece of shit, but the machine is pretty sweet, and smooth like a freshly shaved pussy. Usually, he loves those road trips.
But this time the LT is brooding in the officers' corner, which puts a real damper in Brad's mood, which means everyone is pretty much fucked. If they weren't such bitches about it Ray could enjoy his sights and his fucking peanuts, but right now he's just stuck in the seat next to the new guy and forbidden from singing.
And the fucking Captain America tagged along. Fucker can fly, what he needs to hitch a plane ride for?
"Why is he called Captain America?"
"He shits patriotism and rainbows," Ray explains in a hushed tone, so it doesn't carry over to the officers, bent over a map.
"Isn't Captain America name trademarked, or something?" Wright wonders and even Brad rolls his eyes through the bitchy sulk he has going on.
"Better risk Marvel suing our pasty asses than use some of the other names we came up with."
"Wright, what do you know about the mission?" Brad asks quietly, shifting in his seat to lean forward.
"It's not what I know, it's what I see," Wright corrects. "There's an underground building, old military base. Not many guards, but they have a warning system of some kind. Lots of explosives. Not many people that I can see, but there'll be gunfire, and, dunno, lasers, I think. I saw someone carried away on a stretcher, flesh wound to the leg. No idea whom."
"I'm rooting for the Cap," Ray volunteers.
The sun's setting when they land, and by the time they get close to the old base, it's completely dark.
"We're going in," Shwetje tells them. "We can't lose the element of surprise."
"Sir," Nate shakes his head slightly. "If we send the team in, close enough for Poke to pick up on their thoughts, we might get more intel."
"Negative, Fick. We're going in."
There's that look about Shwetje that means he made up his mind, and nothing's going to change it. Nate hates that look, and he bites his lip and steps back. "Yes, Sir."
Shwetje relaxes slightly, it's almost unnoticeable, but he does that every time Nate steps down from an argument, and every time it's leaving Nate worried. Some people tend to react that way around him, not everyone, but enough of them.
"I'll let my men know," he adds and turns on his heel, walking up to where his unit is standing. "We're going in," he says.
"Sir," Brad starts questioningly, probably about to voice the very same doubts Nate has.
"That's the order, Sergeant," he says shortly.
"Copy that," Brad mutters, but he doesn't turn away yet, even when everybody steps away, checking their gear. His gaze on Nate is disconcerting, and both familiar and new. Nate frowns at him.
"Anything else I can do for you, Sergeant?"
Brad smirks and Nate's stomach ties itself up into a knot. "I'll get back to you on that, LT," Brad says and nods before stepping back and walking to his designated post.
Nate is still shaking his head when the order to move comes through his headset. Moments later they're on the move and past the perimeter. The shooting doesn't start until they get at about thirty feet from the building, but it's damn good shooting.
Rudy's in the front, and Nate can hear the sound the bullets make when they're ricocheting from his skin. That puzzles the shooter for a brief moment, but not for long, and the gunfire continues, and he's joined by some friends not soon after.
"Not there," Wright yells behind them, and Nate freezes in an instant. Poke looks at Wright searchingly and then picks up a pebble and tosses it to the ground, few feet to the front, causing the mine to explode.
"Good call, Fish, you're starting to earn your keep," he mutters.
Ray appears like magic by the door, meaning he did his time walking routine. He's discarding a couple of bullets he must have picked up from the air. "Is the door safe?" he asks, half turned towards Poke, who's trying to multi-task and read and shoot at the same time.
"Yeah, go in."
"Person," Nate mutters into the headset. "We want as many of them alive as possible, wait for the backup. Colbert, Trombley, secure the entrance."
By the time they get inside, it's suddenly completely quiet. Too quiet and too still.
"They're one floor down," Shwetje says over the comms. "Scan says seventeen."
"Something's wrong," Espera shakes his head. "I can't pick anything up, it's like they're dead. Or shielded," he adds, impressed. There's not many people who can shield their thoughts, and seventeen of them in one place borders on impossible.
Of course, the other option is one, but frighteningly efficient.
"LT, we going in?" Trombley asks, impatient. Nate hesitates.
"Go in," Shwetje answers over the comms. Trombley shifts forward but hesitates, awaiting Nate's confirmation.
"Don't," Wright says suddenly, eyes closed. "Explosion," he adds, voice strained. "The moment you go in…"
Nate stops to think. "Wright, what happens when I open the door?"
"I don't know."
"I'm going to open the door, Wright," Nate says more firmly, stepping forward. That seems to work.
"The door's fine, not rigged. But when you go in someone will press the trigger," Wright says, opening his eyes, looking shaken up and feverish.
"No, they won't," Nate says firmly. "Nobody move," he says loudly, pressing on the handle, pushing the doors open. Nobody does.
It never is what you expect, he thinks. There are soldiers, yes, with determined expressions slowly melting into the glazed over look he recognizes well, but there aren't the only ones in the room. There's an old man in the chair, looking scared, and two teenagers hiding behind a console. The boy looks afraid more than anything else, but the girl has a look of concentration on her face, her short hair plastered to her forehead with sweat. Not only sweat, he realizes after a moment, there's a gash that's seeping blood on the side of her head.
"Brad, I need you to get her out," Nate says quietly. "Get Doc to heal her up."
"Would love to, Sir, but I find it a bit difficult to move at the moment."
Fuck. Too many people. Seventeen in front of him, thirty eight behind him and upstairs. It's fairly easy to give one order to everybody, but really fucking difficult to pick and chose.
He concentrates on Brad. It's easier than with anybody else. "Brad, get her out. Go with him, please," he tells the girl.
She nods slowly, her head dully swaying as she moves. Brad passes him by, the movement distracting Nate briefly.
He doesn't notice the weapon until the gunshot sounds off, and he's instinctively shifting to shield the girl.
The pain in his thigh makes him think that Wright might have been right about the leg, but was definitely wrong about the flesh wound. "Don't move," he mutters, trying to get the people who should sit the fuck up and not press any damn triggers, but he misses the result when everything goes dark for a moment.
Feels like an instant, but when he opens his eyes again, he's outside, and Doc's hands are hovering over his wound, the familiar itchiness indicating it's almost closed.
"Well done, LT, the only casualty in the whole thing," Doc says dryly, sounding slightly annoyed, probably at Nate for being stupid and getting himself shot. "At least on our side," he adds with a sigh.
"How many?" Nate asks, his voice coming out hoarse and slightly shaking. Probably due to whatever painkillers Doc has him on.
"Three," Gunny says somewhere to Nate's left. "One dead, one with a broken arm, and the girl has a small concussion. Which probably acted to our advantage, since she dropped the shield when Colbert got her out."
Interesting, Nate things. And fucking impressive. He shifts, moving to raise himself up. "I need to…" he starts, but Doc's hand presses against his shoulder firmly.
"Need to rest, I agree. Good thinking, LT."
"Mike," Nate looks up at him, getting a nod.
"I'll check on everyone and let you know. You rest."
"Yeah," Nate mutters. His eyes are flickering shut on their own, no conscious effort necessary, so he doesn't think it'll be a problem.
Frankly, it's pathetic, the way Brad is pacing in front of the LT's quarters, and under normal circumstances, he'd shoot himself for this. But the only one who's likely to discover him doing so is Gunny, and he probably already knows everything there is to know about Brad's special brand of pathetic shit.
"Oh, just go in, take us all out of our misery" Mike tells him when he leaves the room, shaking his head. "Fair warning, he's still slightly out of it, the drugs didn't wear off."
Yeah, Brad can see that the moment Nate smiles at him and doesn't immediately cover it up. Takes him full three seconds, not that Brad's counting.
"You cost me fifty bucks," Brad says instead of a greeting. "I bet it would be Trombley getting himself shot."
"You're betting on Wright's visions now? Creative. Anyone bet on me?"
"No one thought you'd be that stupid," Brad mutters, sitting down in the chair opposite Nate's. Stubborn bastard probably refused bed rest.
"Thanks, I appreciate that," Nate mutters, his usual wry smile reappearing. Brad enjoys that one, but the one that greeted him today was much better. "Everyone else is fine?"
"You know they are. Didn't come here to talk about anyone else," Brad says quietly.
"Nate," Brad interrupts him firmly. "See, I figured it out. I'm quite proud of that, even though it took me fucking years and hints from Poke. Poke," he repeats. "You can see how that's traumatic. See," he continues, reaching out to touch the side of Nate's face, "I figured it out."
"Can't or won't?" Brad asks matter-of-factly. He's not backing off now, no matter how much Nate tries to avoid looking at him. "The only way I'm leaving is if you make me leave. And since you very much avoid making me do anything, I think I'm golden."
He's pretty damn proud of that one. Strategic fucking thinking. And from the way Nate frowns, he really pinpointed this fucker.
"I can't be sure you're not doing this because I want you to," Nate finally says, and apparently Gunny wasn't shitting about the drugs, because no way Nate would admit that in his right mind. Brad's not beyond taking advantage of this.
"Of course I am doing this because you want me to. And because I want to," he shrugs. "Contrary to your opinion, the world doesn't revolve around you, you fucker."
Nate stares at him for a moment, his mouth twitching. There's something starting in his eyes that makes something warm start in Brad's stomach. It's such a touchy feely romantic crap Brad wants to gag, but on the other hand, it feels nice.
If Poker ever reads his mind about this one, Brad's going to feed him some C4.
"No, I suppose it doesn't," Nate admits finally, shifting slightly forward, inching to close the space between them.
"Got that right," Brad says smugly, before Nate laughs quietly, his lips covering Brad's.