Two things Nate never does.
(1) Say to Brad, follow me, at the end of a TL meeting, lead him certainly, weave through the hulking dark of Humvees, lead him far enough that the calls of Marines are ragged and indistinct, press him against the rough bark of a shot-up palm tree, and kiss him. Slip one hand under the damp press of his MOPP collar to find skin - grimy, sweaty skin - already cooling in the shocking cold of a desert night. Slide one leg between Brad's and press tight, too many layers between them for him to know if Brad's as hard as he is. Kiss Brad rough and desperate, bite his jaw, grunt something that's not an order. Tell Brad in every way without words that he fucking wants this.
(2) Fuck Brad in the back of the command Humvee, crates pushed aside as careless as if they're not for his men's survival. Spread Brad's legs open, cammies pulled down around his ankles, tee-shirt pushed up his chest, bare-ass naked between, all on display. Push a dry finger up Brad's asshole, feel the clench of it around his joints, mutter nonsense with his eyes tight to Brad's until Brad's relaxed enough for him to try another finger, spit-slicked this time. Make it three fingers, pushing in to the sound of artillery fire and Brad's rapid breathing, until Brad snaps and says just fucking do it already. Slide inside Brad in one long, slow movement and then fuck him until Nate's dizzy with need and Brad's ordering him to come. Clean Brad up afterwards with a wad of baby wipes, hand lingering as Brad's cock twitches under the ministrations. Watch as Brad pulls clothing back into place and nod at him as he leaves. Sit on his own in the back of the Humvee, the smell of sex still in the air, and wonder how much he's fucked things up.
He often wonders how much he's fucking up, of course, just never with the slick of Brad's come still wet on his belly, or the smell of sex in the air, or the lingering feel of Brad's flank under his hands.
One thing Ray probably never says.
(1) "You should just fuck the LT, you know, Brad, 'stead of pining over him like some pussy faggot wet-behind-the-ears high school kid who hasn't learned what his dick's for. Or haven't you worked out what to do with his asshole yet? Fuck, that's it, isn't it? Brad fucking Colbert, doesn't know what to do with an asshole. Other than shitting, of course. We all know you're the master shitter."
The thing about Ray is that he does censor himself. He knows nobody believes him, but it's true. He's a fucking Recon Marine, thank you very much; he can be stealthy and secret and shit, and keep his mouth shut when he needs to. So even though he knows Brad is fucking distracted, and that it's the LT he's all distracted and moping over, Ray's not gonna say a word.
Two things Brad refuses to admit that he does.
(1) Think of Nate when he's jerking off. Imagine Nate on his knees, in the sunlight with his Kevlar off and the sun glinting off his hair, red-gold underneath the salt-encrusted dirt, a hint of curls at his nape where it's almost beyond regulation length. Visualize Nate looking up at him, eyes ridiculously green under his sandy lashes, a green they haven't seen anywhere else since they shipped here, green like home. Stop Nate as he moves to open Brad's fly and sink to his own knees to bring himself almost level with Nate. Watch Nate's eyes flicker shut and kiss each eyelid, kiss down the sharp plane of his nose to land at his mouth, open and waiting. Taste him. Bring Nate's hand back to the cloth covering Brad's dick, and reach for Nate's dick. Jerk each other off, slow and deliberate and face to face. Lick Nate's come off his fingers afterwards, and watch Nate do the same. Imagine all that.
He doesn't do that when he can picture Jasmine's perky 40DD assets in their full, life-size glory, or Kayla's ass (a perfect handful), or Tiffany's swollen lips stretched around his dick. Brad's comfortable with his Hustler and Juggs fantasies – that's what they're fucking paid for. No guilt.
(2) Count. The beats the LT spends making eye contact with Poke or Lilley or Pappy. The time he spends looking straight at Brad. Count and compare, store and remember, and ask himself what it means.
Because Brad's the Iceman, the best goddamn sergeant in the company. He multitasks at TL meetings, he listens to everything: the LT's words, Gunny's, everything the other TLs say, everything they don't say. Especially everything the LT doesn't say, because he's an expert at not saying the important shit. Not admitting when he knows the orders he's passing down to Brad are fucked up and he hates having to pass them on. Not telling them to be careful, because that's Gunny's job, not the LT's. Brad watches and listens and reads everyone, because that's part of his job, that's the kind of detail that keeps everyone alive.
Anything else would be a distraction. Brad is combat effective at all times.
One thing Nate tries not to do.
(1) Pay more attention to Brad than he does any of his other team leaders, beyond what's necessary. Look at him longer than the others, seek him out more, watch him more, check in with him on the radio more often. Worry more.
Even after it's all over for him, the war, the Marines. He's even less entitled to worry now.
One thing Brad does that he never thought he'd do but will never regret.
(1) Drunk dial Nate late one evening when Brad's just got back from a posting. Still with grime from Afghanistan under his fingernails and the taste of stale MRE crackers in his mouth, and no amount of shots is enough to dull the memory of the clusterfuck of his last few days.
He doesn't remember what he said, and Nate just grins wickedly whenever Brad asks. But it ended up with Nate picking him up from the bar and taking him back to Nate's place, and in the morning Nate gave him Tylenol and kissed him once they'd kicked in.
One especially smart thing Nate does.
(1) Answer the phone when it wakes him up, even though he doesn't recognize the number. Listen quietly as Brad rambles about the fucking country going to the fucking dogs and fucking pussy politicians and not say a word as he segues irrationally into the lack of decent waves and from there to how much he fucking wants Nate on his knees with Brad's dick in his mouth. Brad moves straight on to complain about the piss-poor beer in the establishment, and that's when Nate speaks up. Asks where Brad is, using his officer's voice (rusty, but he still has it) and Brad answers obediently and then carries on rambling. Nate puts his cell on speaker and throws it on the passenger seat of his Volvo. It takes him ten minutes to reach the bar, and in all that time Brad doesn't mention anything more about Nate, about wanting him, and when Nate walks in, Brad only half-heartedly acknowledges him. Nate settles his tab anyway, slings Brad's arm over his shoulder and takes him home.
In the morning, he hands Brad two Tylenol and lets him take them dry. He gives him a glass of water, and then another, and then he puts a second pot of coffee on to brew (he drank the first pot already, smiling to himself over memories of Rudy's exploding espresso maker). Brad's upright on the couch now, alert with the speed of any good Marine. Nate sits down next to him, and waits a moment. Not because he's unsure, but because he's enjoying this moment, the anticipation, and because there's a faint look of uncertainty on Brad's face that's amusing Nate.
When Nate moves in, hand on Brad's chest – not to hold him there but for the feel of it, Brad's heartbeat under soft cotton – it's easy. Brad's mouth opens under his, and there's a quiet exhalation of breath from him when Nate pauses, that sounds something like relief, something like happiness. Nate echoes it.
Nate doesn't give a fuck about everything that didn't happen or didn't get said, or might have been thought but was forcibly ignored. He doesn't give a fuck because everything that does happen is better.
Nate's forgotten how to be alone, forgotten how to bite back the sounds falling from his lips, forgotten how to bite back Brad's name. There's no need.
Instead, he remembers. Kissing Brad's inner thigh this morning, under the covers while Brad was still sleeping. Waking Brad up and saying good morning. Falling asleep again afterwards. Brad's name on his lips. Brad's name falling quietly from his lips as he falls asleep.