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What to Do After Firing

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After the first one, Ray told himself it hadn't been that bad, and the rest wouldn't be any worse. He kept telling himself that, over and over. There wasn't room for anything else in his head--just the words and Navi, still emphatically in heat. Ray's cock was still hard--hard again--and he wanted more, even if--but it hadn't been that bad, and the rest wouldn't be any worse.

Navi wandered over in the course of pacing impatiently around the heat-shack. She licked Ray's face, which was probably salty. From sweat.

Ray smiled and moved so he could sink his hands into her fur and lean his forehead against hers.

"You're such a bitch," he said, like he'd been saying ever since they met. It was possible he'd never understood what he was saying until now. He shook her a little as he spoke, and she pushed back against his grip to show him how big and strong she was, going on two years old. "I love you, Navi, and you are the bitchest bitch who ever bitched."

Navi grinned and licked his face again. Somewhere in all of the need need need now now now he felt that she loved him too, and had no argument with anything he said. Obviously she was a bitch. Obviously she was the best bitch, the most complete and perfect and absolute bitch. She was Ray's sister. What else should she be?

Her beautiful, perfect radar-ears--the ones everyone hoped would breed true no matter which wolf fathered the pups--caught the sound of the next one approaching the door. Listen! Navi pulled out of Ray's grip to go and meet the next wolf.

Ray put his head down and waited for the next wolf's brother.

After the second one, Ray didn't think any words at all. He was flat on the padded floor, and after a while he turned his face to one side so he could breathe more easily.

He was tired, but he'd been tired plenty of times during training. He hurt, but he'd felt pain plenty of times during training. As long as he didn't think anything this wouldn't be any different, and there wouldn't be anything for Navi to worry about.

Navi wasn't worried. Navi was a bitch in heat, and she was starting to realize that she was going to get exactly as fucked as she wanted to be, even if she had to wait through these annoying breaks in the action between one wolf and the next.

Ray could feel little fragments of her attention turning to him, now that there was no male wolf in the heat-shack. She was glad Ray was with her. She didn't like being separated from Ray, not ever, and she especially wouldn't have liked being separated from her brother for this.

She licked Ray's cheek. Ray smiled, because she was his sister, and he didn't want to be separated from her, either. Even for this.

After the third one was done, the third one went again.

After the door closed behind the third one, for sure, Ray pushed himself up to his hands and knees and crawled to the middle door in the heat-shack, the one that wasn't the entrance or the exit. The shower.

He shut himself inside and turned on the water. It didn't go as hot as he wanted, but all he really wanted to do was sit under it and shiver, someplace where Navi couldn't quite smell him. She could still sense him, of course, but the link was still almost completely one way, from her to him, want want want more more more. Anything going from him to her was swimming upstream in a firehose.

Ray thought about actually trying to get clean, but it would mean touching his sticky still-hard cock, or turning and presenting his ass to the shower--up on his knees, head down, legs spread--and all Ray really wanted to do was stay curled on the floor under the running water and not worry too much about what Navi thought was going on with him. He would probably even get warm, eventually.

The water shut off after a while, and a minute later Navi noted with distracted annoyance that some human without a male wolf had come through the door. Ray was instantly on his feet and out of the shower--some stranger was in the heat-shack with Navi, and Navi didn't have the sense to argue with anything anyone did right now.

But the stranger was a corpsman, maybe even some kind of doctor. He was wearing scrubs and had an actual stethoscope around his neck. He was kneeling next to Navi, and she was ignoring him and staring at the entrance door while he sprayed something on a couple of little scratches on her side. Ray could feel it against his own ribs, cool and slightly stinging.

It was weird seeing a Marine without his brother--or sister, maybe, but if he had a sister they'd probably have let her come into the heat-shack with him. Navi wasn't the kind of bitch who took offense from the presence of other bitches. The absence of the other wolf made Ray feel off-balance and suspicious, like the guy was going to steal Navi to make up his own obvious lack.

Ray went over and knelt on the other side of his sister from the corpsman, who kept his eyes on Navi as he said, "You're next, Lance Corporal."

Ray shook his head quickly. "I'm fine. I don't need checking."

The corpsman looked up, meeting Ray's eyes for a moment, and then looked down, running one hand over Navi's side as he said, almost casually, "If you refuse medical attention, Lance Corporal, I have to assume you're concealing a serious injury and halt the breeding."

"Oh fuck you," Ray snapped, and turned away to get on hands and knees right beside Navi, ducking his head to rub his face against her shoulder. "Give me all the medical attention you want, then, let's just get on with it already."

There was a second of silence. Ray realized abruptly that the corpsman had just offered him an out, a chance to end this and walk out the door and be done for a year--maybe more. Some bitches went two or three years between heats during peacetime, and if the pups weren't that great (Navi's pups should logically be awesome, but who knew how these jokers who were breeding with her might fuck things up) they might not even want Navi's second litter any time soon.

That had been Ray's shot and he'd just blown right by it.

He was glad he had, though. Navi wasn't done yet, heat-suppressors sucked, and he could never look any other bitch's brother in the eye if he tapped out early from his first Mike Bravo when nothing had even gone wrong.

"If Navi's good, we're good," Ray repeated into the silence, and then somebody moved behind him and he flinched like a--like a little pussy bitch, yeah. Except the little pussy bitch in the room was having the time of her fucking life and not flinching from anything, and the person behind Ray was just the corpsman.

Ray barely felt the touch on the cheek of his ass, but the wanting reared up in him anyway, all out of sync when Navi was still just bored and impatient. His hips jerked instinctively toward the man behind him, and Ray dropped his head and felt his cheeks go hot, but it was no use telling his ass or his cock to stop that. He'd have to get Navi to stop first, and the only way out of this was through it.

The corpsman just said, "You're doing fine, Lance Corporal. This is all completely normal for a multiple breeding. Two more and you should be all done."

He slapped Ray lightly on the ass, and Ray turned his head to watch the corpsman stand up and walk away, out the exit door.

Navi moved away from Ray's side as soon as the corpsman was gone, toward the entrance door, with her ears tipped forward.

After the fourth one, Ray fell asleep. Fuck it, he was the only one inside his body when it happened; he could call it what he wanted to call it. He fell asleep. Anyway, he woke up when Navi came over and nudged him and whined--he could never sleep through her whining at him--and he stayed awake long enough for them to send in the fifth one, so that was all that mattered.

After the fifth one everything was quiet for a while.

Ray opened his eyes and flinched when the door opened, but it was the exit door. The corpsman stood on the threshold and said, "Whenever you're ready to come out, you come on out. Meantime, hydrate."

The corpsman bent down and expertly rolled a bottle of water directly to where Ray was lying on the floor, curled on his side with his eyes half closed. The bottle hit Ray's hand, and Ray wrapped his fingers around it automatically.

"Drink that," the corpsman said. "If you drink it, I'll go away and let you lie there in peace until you're ready to move."

Navi, Ray tried to say, but no sound came out. Water would help with that, he thought, but Navi.

Navi trotted over to him and nosed at him worriedly. Her heat had finally passed, and she was able to listen to him again.

Ray? Navi's nose was cold against his skin, keeping him awake. Ray? Drink.

You drink, Ray returned, without bothering to try to speak aloud. He raised a hand--strangely heavy--no, holding the full water bottle--to swat at her. Navi dodged easily, and went over to the water cooler in the corner, stepping on the pedal to pour herself some water.

You drink, she insisted, and he could feel the sweet cold water on her tongue, rolling down her throat. It was getting easier now to tell what was her and what was him, but suddenly Ray didn't want anything in the world more than he wanted a drink of water. He got his teeth on the bottle top and yanked it open, squeezing to force water into his own mouth, swallowing fast to keep from choking on it.

He drank until his stomach ached. Being sort of queasy was a pleasant distraction from everything else going on with his body. He opened his eyes, but the corpsman had already vanished from the open doorway.

Ray closed his eyes again. He felt Navi come and lie down between him and the open door. He shifted enough to lay his head on her side, and there was nothing after that for a while.

Ray came fully awake when he felt the pack-sense return. Just like that, he and Navi weren't alone, isolated in the heat-shack. They were plugged in again--that was exactly how it felt, like Ray had finally gotten a shitty, balky radio working and suddenly there were voices coming in clear.

Two voices, in this case, which was two more than Ray would have expected, when his entire platoon was supposed to be at the top of Mount Shasta doing mountain warfare training, seven hundred miles away. At that distance, he and Navi had hardly even needed the heat-shack to cut them off from contact. Except now they were in touch again, and since Ray and Navi were still in the heat-shack, that meant that somebody from Ray's platoon--not just somebody, Frost and Brad--were also in the heat-shack. They had to be in the decontamination area outside the open exit door, or they'd still be cut off.

Ray sat up just in time to see Frost walk up to the open door. Navi was already there; they touched noses without either of them otherwise crossing the threshold. She looked like a half-grown pup next to him, probably half his weight, but she really was done growing. She'd made the minimum height requirement, even for recon, without Ray blowing anybody to fix it.

Ray got to his feet as quickly as he could, expecting the Iceman to follow his brother over to the doorway and look in on him at any second. Instead he heard Brad's voice speaking quietly to the corpsman--the same corpsman? Ray didn't really know how long he'd been lying on the floor. He took a step toward the door, and Navi looked over her shoulder at him with a dubious head-tilt.

Ray looked down at himself and winced. He could ignore how much it hurt to move, but naked and covered in his own crusty dried jizz was not the way he wanted to go say hello to Brad--no matter how happy he was to have somebody from the platoon back in Oceanside, back in the space in his head where the pack was supposed to be.

"I'll take you any way I can get you, Person," Brad said in the next room, raising his voice so it would carry even without being relayed by the wolves. "But your sister's right, you smell awful. Go take a shower. We're not going anywhere."

Ray wanted to be able to yell something back. Three days ago he would have, back before Navi decided that their first day on the mountain was a great time to get ready to go into heat, before Ray had had to go running to Gunny to confirm what he was feeling from his sister. Before he and Navi had gotten cas-evaced to get them away from the rest of the platoon before they started a riot. Before the heat-shack.

Now it was all Ray could do not to pour all of his fucking pathetic whimpering gratitude straight into the pack-sense. Out loud he just said, "Yes, Sergeant."

Ray turned on his heel and headed toward the shower, and started limping even before he got there. He stopped at the locker on the wall and got himself a towel, this time.

He scrubbed down fast, getting at least water everywhere he didn't want to touch--water hurt bad enough. He also discovered all of the bruises and scrapes he'd picked up, from his shoulders and hands down to his knees, and all the muscles he'd pulled that had gotten stiff while he was lying on the floor without moving. He'd done something weird at some point to his left wrist, and now he got shooting pains up his arm when he moved his hand a certain way. It was fine, though--not swollen or bruised or bleeding, and he could move it in all directions, and the shooting pain wasn't worse than anything else he'd felt in the last... however long it had been. Long enough for Brad to get back to Pendleton.

Ray shut the water off on his own this time, dried himself decently, and wrapped the towel firmly around his hips before he stepped back out of the shower. Navi was still waiting for him on their side of the threshold. Ray walked over to her as steadily as he could and finally, finally, stepped through the exit door.

Brad was there, sitting on an exam table, and it was immediately obvious why he was at Pendleton--he'd gotten cas-evaced, almost-but-not-quite just like Ray and Navi. His left leg was encased in a big walking-cast boot.

Ray raised his eyebrows. "What the fuck did you do to yourself, Sergeant?"

Brad rolled his eyes and slid down to stand on his own feet, or foot and boot. "I finished the climb, is what I did. But then someone had to go complain to the corpsman about my twisted ankle. Turned out it was broken, and Doc figured I'd be more use here than there."

Frost gave a whuff out loud, and the pack-sense was full of Frost's very distinct memory of just how badly Brad's ankle had been fucked up by the time he'd let anyone look at it.

Ray winced, but Brad just nodded toward the corpsman. "Come on, Person, get your checkup and get some clothes on, so we can get out of here."

Ray turned to look at the corpsman, who said, "If you choose, Lance Corporal, you may spend your required observation period with an NCO who's had the basic--"

"Yes," Ray said, barely waiting for Brad to turn his back before he dropped his towel. Anything to get this over with and get out of here, to get out of the heat-shack and into the presence of his pack.

There was a pillow on the passenger seat of Brad's car. Brad didn't even look over when Ray hesitated with the door open, just said, "You don't have to sit on it, but you're not allowed to whine about it every time we go over a speedbump if you don't."

"Does that mean I'm allowed to whine every time we go over a speedbump if I do?"

Brad almost cracked a smile, and still didn't look over. "Just this once, Ray."

"Objective one," Brad said, once they'd left the Base. "Solid food. Pizza or In-n-Out?"

Ray hadn't thought about it in--hours? He still wasn't quite sure how much time the actual Mike Bravo had taken, after the cas-evac and all the waiting around in isolation--but he was suddenly starving. "In-n-Out. Now."

Brad nodded and started heading toward the nearest one. "As your designated NCO who has had the basic course in post-breeding aftercare, I have to inform you that anything you eat now you are going to really, really regret later. So you should choose something that's worth it to you."

"In-n-Out," Ray repeated, and had to wipe his mouth on the sleeve of his sweatshirt. He was salivating so hard his jaw ached. He was going to have to take the First Shit Afterward at some point, and he didn't give a fuck what it was as long as he got to eat soon, meaning right fucking now. He could already smell the fries and they were still two blocks away.

"Fuck, all I've had for three days is that no-residue bitch pudding nutritional crap, and there wasn't one single goddamn butterscotch anywhere. It was all fucking chocolate peanut butter, that shit looks like shit."

"But on the bright side," Brad said blandly, "no actual shit. You're sure about this?"

"Animal style," Ray said as they rolled toward the drive-thru. "Extra everything."

"Go wash," Brad said as Ray followed him through the door of his apartment. "I think you have ketchup in your hair--do you even realize you have opposable thumbs? Your sister has better table manners than you do."

"It's not the thumbs, it's the flat muzzle," Ray pointed out, but he headed obediently in the direction of the bathroom with Navi on his six. He turned on the tap and then knelt down to let Navi clean him up. He looked up when he started getting tongue action on both sides of his face at once, and found Brad standing right behind Frost in the bathroom doorway, arms folded.

He leaned over Frost and Ray to shut the tap off and said, "Your stealth maneuvers could use some work, Marine."

Ray just grinned and said, "Does that mean you don't want a lick, Sergeant?"

Brad--who had eaten his own burger in the car one-handed without getting a drop of anything anywhere, like some kind of freak--just shook his head and turned away. Frost stayed where he was, though, so Ray offered him his left hand, where he'd gotten mustard between his fingers.

Ray followed the sounds of human activity to the kitchen while Navi wandered off to inspect the boundaries of their current billet. Frost followed her, so she probably wouldn't get into Brad's porn or anything.

Brad was standing at the kitchen sink, drinking a glass of water with the obvious intention of refilling it as soon as it was emptied. He came up for air when Ray walked in and nodded toward the fridge. "Help yourself, Ray. Whatever you want."

Ray nodded and opened the fridge. There wasn't much inside--logical, since Brad had been expecting to spend a few weeks up at Mountain Warfare--but neatly lined up on the top shelf were a six-pack of beer, a two-liter bottle of caffeine-free Coke, and a bottle of cranberry juice.

"Actually they all kept their condoms on, thanks," Ray said, fixating on the last one in the row, "and I wouldn't be the one pissing blood if they hadn't."

Then Ray thought caffeine free, why the fuck would you drink Coke if they took the caffeine out of it and looked up at the top of the fridge, where there was a bottle of Jack and a bottle of vodka. Mixers.

Ray looked over at Brad.

Brad shrugged. "Cranberry was sort of automatic. They always make us drink it as a precaution even if we're sure the condom stayed on. Drink what you want, Ray. The tap water's fine if you're still dehydrated, but Doc said you should be okay now."

"Sergeant," Ray said, feeling all off-balance, because it was Brad, the Iceman, and Ray had heard a million lectures about how they could not get away with this kind of thing, between the pack-sense and Gunny's sister's nose. She might be seven hundred miles away now, but when the platoon got back she'd know, and Gunny would know. Brad was cruising for an NJP or worse, having this stuff for Ray. "My birthday's not--"

Brad rolled his eyes with enough force to shut Ray up. "I don't care if you're twenty or twenty-one or six-fucking-teen. You had your first multiple breeding today. If the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps walked in and saw what I was offering you to drink, all he'd want to know is if you want me to run out and get some other kind of beer."

Ray looked into the fridge again; the beer was MGD, which he'd never seen Brad drink--Brad was a fucking California cliché Corona drinker. MGD still registered with Ray as being sort of fancy. Anything not warm in a plastic cup was sort of fancy, by Ray's standards. Beer served cold in bottles out of a sergeant's personal refrigerator could taste like actual piss and Ray would still feel lucky to have it.

"No," Ray said, and reached in and took out a beer, swinging the fridge door shut. "This is--this is fine."

He stood there and stared at the bottle, waiting for all of this to make some kind of sense, until Brad took it out of his hands. Ray's palms were wet from condensation. He wiped them on the sides of his sweatpants.

Handing back the opened bottle, Brad said, "You have any idea how long it's been since you slept?"

"Uh," Ray said. "Today's Thursday, right?"

Brad nodded, and didn't even act like that was a weird question. "Thursday about seventeen hundred. Doc told me that the Mike Bravo kicked off around oh two hundred, and the last wolf cleared out of there around fourteen hundred. You were on the floor a couple of hours before I got there. That wasn't sleep, and neither was any other period of semi-consciousness you achieved in the heat-shack."

Ray shook his head in agreement. Navi had been actively in heat for a long time before the first wolf came in. It had seemed like hours, although for all he knew it was going to turn out like one of those SERE stories the guys who'd already been through told him, and that had been ten minutes (except Ray had prepped and re-prepped more times than he thought was physically possible to do in ten minutes, but he didn't need to think about that now). Even before she was in full-on heat, he hadn't been able to sleep while they were in isolation, waiting.

"You piped up around oh eight hundred on Tuesday. You got cas-evaced within a couple of hours and you've been in the heat-shack since Tuesday night. We spent Monday night on a bus. You're something like four days out from your last decent night's sleep."

Ray looked down at the beer, starting to understand. Trust Brad to be supplying alcohol to a minor for strictly medicinal purposes. The thing was, Ray didn't feel like he was anywhere near falling asleep; he felt kind of wired, now that he'd had actual food and wasn't stuck in the heat-shack.

"Wait," Ray said, and turned to leave the kitchen just as Navi and Frost came in. Navi came straight to his side and nosed at his hip worriedly, feeling his sudden spike of anxiety. Ray knelt to get closer to her, like he might need to physically push his thoughts from his brain to hers. Are you all right? Did you get any sleep?

His heart was pounding so hard it hurt, but Navi felt fine. She'd felt fine the entire time. She licked his face. Of course I'm fine. Aren't you fine? Aren't we safe here?

"Ray needs some rest," Brad said out loud, while Frost pushed a strong and wordless certainty of safe, den, stronghold at Navi. Ray opened his eyes and couldn't remember when he'd closed them. He also couldn't remember when he'd locked one arm around Navi's neck. It seemed like a good time to take a long swallow from his bottle of beer, though.

Rest is boring, Navi insisted, nuzzling at the side of Ray's head. Let's go to the beach. The beach will make you feel better.

Navi had been stuck inside a tiny space for days when she'd been looking forward to mountain warfare training, which she was pretty much born for. Both her parents had come into the Corps from international bloodline exchanges--Navi was half Peruvian, half Japanese, and never happier than when she was well above sea level.

Ray could feel her need to run, to move, to do something shivering through her body, and he didn't think about how much different it was, being able to tell where what she wanted left off and he began. If she couldn't have the mountains, she should at least have the ocean. He made himself drop his arm from around her neck.

"You two go ahead," Brad said. "Just don't get any bright ideas about running all the way up to Mountain Warfare without us."

Roger that, Frost confirmed.

Navi opened her mouth in a grin. Of course not. Hitchhiking would be much faster.

Navi danced out of Ray's reach as she said it, but that put her closer to Frost, who bent down to get his jaws on her scruff. She went still in his grip. Of course not! Navi repeated, not joking this time. Not without you.

Frost shook Navi a little just to make his point, and then let her go as they both turned for the door and headed out--there was a switch they could reach to open the door from this side, and there were a thousand wolf-paths through Oceanside to the beach. Unaccompanied wolves didn't raise any eyebrows this close to Pendleton. Frost and Navi would be fine, and if they needed anything Ray and Brad would know it instantly.

Brad's hand appeared in Ray's field of vision, and Ray looked up at his face, then back down at his extended hand, then down at himself, still kneeling on Brad's kitchen floor and holding a mostly-full bottle of beer. Ray put the bottle in Brad's hand, and Brad stepped back, holding it, while Ray put his hands down and pushed himself carefully to his feet. It had been easier in the bathroom, with the counter and Navi to hold on to.

It wasn't until he looked at Brad's hand again--Brad's hand carefully holding the very top of the neck of the beer bottle, so their fingers wouldn't touch when Ray took it back--that he realized. Brad had offered him a hand up. Ray looked at Brad's face, but Brad just shook his head a little and held out the bottle. Ray took it, and took another quick gulp from it.

"Frost'll run Navi around until she remembers she needs some sleep," Brad said. "You and me are going to sit on the couch and watch movies until you pass out."

"Roger that," Ray said, and let Brad take his six as he headed out to the living room. Brad stayed more than arm's length behind him all the way there.

Ray had had two and a half beers by the time they got to the part of Die Hard where McClane and Bullet were temporarily reunited in the bathroom while McClane talked to Powell on the two-way radio. That part--especially the few seconds where McClane, beaten and bloodied, hid his face against his equally-battered brother's neck--always made Ray tear up a little, drunk or not, Mike Bravoed or not. He scrubbed a hand across his eyes and turned his attention automatically to Navi.

She'd been getting quieter, and now Ray realized she was half-asleep in some little hollow in the rocks that smelled like it had been used as temporary shelter by Corps wolves since the Second World War. Frost was lying across the mouth of the makeshift den, head up, wide awake and on watch.

"Frost'll wake her up and bring her back if you'd feel safer having her here," Brad said quietly, without looking away from the TV.

Ray shook his head, even as half his awareness sank into Navi's, enjoying the cool sand and stone, the fresh smell of the ocean after two and a half days with the stale reek of the heat-shack. "She's fine. They're fine. Tide's coming in, isn't it?"

"Starting to, yeah," Brad said.

Frost's scent name--cold salt water rising wave on wave over dry sand--worked out to Tide Coming In, and Frost liked to be on the beach for it every chance he got. Ray didn't know if that had to do with his name, or with being Brad's brother and wanting to keep an eye on the surf for him, but it was one of those things about Frost that was written in big tall letters across the pack-sense. Frost liked to be down at the beach when the tide came in.

"She's fine," Ray repeated. Navi had been fine the whole time. Ray drank more beer and watched the movie.

By the time the movie ended with Powell's sister Ivy taking out the last bad guy--and Bullet and Ivy being just as obviously into one another as McClane and his wife were--Brad was sitting on the floor and Ray was stretched out on the couch. He was more under the influence of Navi sleeping than the beer, which just made him feel like he was about to crack open and start talking or crying or something any second. But he didn't need to talk or do anything else but sleep. It had been four days since he slept properly; he'd be fine once he'd slept. If he went to sleep then today would be over, the Mike Bravo would be over, and Ray could forget about everything except Navi probably having pups in a couple of months.

The credits rolled, and Ray wondered about names. Navi would give the pups their first names, their scent names. As her brother, it would be Ray's responsibility to put each scent into words, and that scent-description would be used to represent each pup's scent name after that--it would be each pup's only official word-name until they bonded with their brothers and got their spoken names. He hoped he wasn't going to end up like the legendary fuckup whose sister's entire litter had wound up with wet grass as their official scent-description because he couldn’t find the words to distinguish between dew and rain and the river's edge.

"Hey, Brad," Ray said.

Brad rolled his whole body sideways to look at Ray, stopping with his head against Ray's thigh on the couch.

Ray completely forgot what he'd been about to ask, feeling that warm pressure through his sweatpants. Brad's eyes stayed on Ray's, but he shifted closer, so it was his cheek against Ray's leg, and Ray could feel his breath through the fabric.

Ray didn't think, he just said it. "Sergeant, no."

He even put his hand out in a stop gesture, exactly like they'd been taught to do in all of those stupid role-plays back in boot camp. And exactly like one of those practices, the guy Ray said no to backed off as soon as Ray said the magic word. By the time Ray realized that he'd put his hand up without thinking about it and wondered how exactly that had become a reflex, Brad was already a couple of feet away, still sitting on the floor but now out of arm's reach, definitely not touching him.

Navi, a mile away, started awake. Ray? Ray, are you safe?

Safe, he assured her--and Frost. And Brad, and himself. Safe, it's all right, everything's all right. I'm safe.

Brad tilted his head, his eyes still on Ray. Ray hadn't looked away from Brad, and Ray's heart was pounding, his breath coming short, and he felt closer than ever to cracking right through his skin.

"Ray," Brad said quietly. "It's okay. You said no. I'm not going to touch you. If you want to go back on Base and spend the rest of the night in the infirmary, the phone's right next to you. You can call and ask for a pickup. Tell the base operator you're still in your observation period after a multiple breeding, and someone will come get you. Tell Navi to come back and she'll stay with you until they get here. You know how fast she is when she's motivated."

Ray shook his head. It all felt familiar, even the fading spike of panic--it was almost like déjà vu. When Ray had been in boot camp he'd woken up one night in the barracks to someone trying to climb into his rack with him. Not just someone--Ray's first panicked glance in the half-dark had caught on the shiny bars at his collar.

Ray had said--whispered, trying automatically to avoid waking everyone around him--Captain, no. It was automatic, they'd been practicing that shit for days, and everyone knew they were going to have to get out one Drill Instructor, no to a pass from their actual DI before they could graduate from boot camp.

The captain hadn't stopped right away, though; he'd put a hand on Ray's chest and shushed him, told him not to be in such a hurry. Ray had hit him hard enough to knock his hand away and bolted out of his rack and out of the barracks, only to find his DI standing with the team on fire-watch out front.

It had been a setup, of course, extra-special for Ray because he was bonded to a bitch and was going to need more practice saying no than nine out of ten guys. Ray's DI had shown him the written order for the special training exercise and asked if the captain did anything beyond what was outlined in it to try to elicit resistance from Ray. Ray had agreed that he hadn't. The captain had come out--with a tiny, furious Navi on his brother's heels--and apologized formally to Ray, shook his hand, and reminded him that he still had recourse to the standard disciplinary measures if he wanted to press charges. Ray had assured everyone that he just wanted to take his sister inside and go back to sleep.

Brad's voice reminded him of that night, everyone working from the same script, going through the assigned motions. No hard feelings, Marine.

"Was that," Ray said, and his voice sounded too loud after Brad's carefully soft words, after the silent communication with the wolves, but he couldn't seem to hold it down. "What, was that a test?"

Brad shrugged, nodded. "Partly. Some guys don't remember right away that once they come out of the heat-shack they're allowed to say no again."

Ray clamped down on his link to Navi, choked it to just basic awareness, and did it fast and hard enough that nothing else got through. Ray could feel himself shaking, suddenly, and his voice cracked wildly as he said, "Partly?"

He was supposed to be safe with Brad--he was safe with Brad, Brad had moved way over there and wasn't trying to move back. Ray was safe, he knew he was safe--he was just also suddenly folded into the smallest possible space in the corner of the couch, no matter how much it hurt to move like that.

Brad didn't bat an eye at Ray's movement, and shrugged again. "Didn't have to be a sex thing, Ray. Other than the corpsman, that was the first time another person touched you since you got out of the heat-shack. I don't know if you've noticed, but Marines are handsy bastards. If you wanted to practice that, we could. But you said no, so now we won't unless you tell me that you want to."

Ray could sort of see the logic in that--if everyone else came back and he was still like this.... They would know he didn't want them to touch him. Ray couldn't decide whether it would be worse if they decided to fix him by all piling on top of him at once, or if they treated him like he was walking wounded, like every part of him was freshly broken and couldn't be touched without hurting him worse. And no matter what they did, all of them would know that he was fucked up, that....

"Ray," Brad said softly. "Look, they put in the one training video of the guy who really, really liked getting Mike Bravoed so nobody feels like a freak when it makes them come. Aside from that, nobody actually enjoys it. It's better than the Old Ways, but you still get fucked by a bunch of strangers. It's okay not to like it."

Ray looked away.

"And it's okay to let your sister know you didn't like it," Brad added. "Unless you're mad at her. Unless you think there was something she did to make it worse for you."

"No," Ray snapped immediately. "Of fucking course not, she's a bitch, that's just how it works. I fucking know that, I knew that the first time I saw her. And the math only works out if you have multiple breedings, or eighty percent of male wolves are lost out of the gene pool."

Brad nodded, and didn't say anything.

"It wasn't that bad," Ray said, and his voice sounded wrong, but he still couldn't control it. "It wasn't--it wasn't like--"

"You didn't get your shoulder dislocated," Brad said, and Ray winced as that training video replayed in his head in a full-color flash. "Nobody got seriously hurt or killed. Navi didn't fight to reject any of the wolves who were sent in for her."

Ray shuddered. Navi was half the weight of most male wolves in the Corps. If she'd made any of them think they had to subdue her....

"It wasn't that bad," Ray repeated. The words had been in his head for hours. He couldn't just let them go.

"That doesn't mean it wasn't bad, Ray. You don't get twenty-four hours of mandatory close supervision afterward because you might up and die of a sore ass. It's okay to hate getting Mike Bravoed. It's okay to be rattled by it. It's not a good idea to lie to your sister about what it did to you."

"I'm not," Ray said, and stopped short, because of course he was. "She doesn't--I don't want to fuck this up for her. I don't want her worrying about me."

"She's your sister," Brad said, and there was a hint of humor in his voice. Ray looked up at him, and Brad gave him a little smile. "She's going to worry. She's always going to worry. It's up to you whether she worries about what's actually wrong or just worries that you're hiding something from her and she doesn't know what, or why, or whether she's done something wrong to make you distrust her."

Ray reached out carefully for Navi again--Brad was probably right, but Ray wasn't going to bring any of this up with Navi when she was a mile away and he was buzzed and both of them were tired. He just had to be sure that Navi wasn't worrying about any of those things right now. As it turned out she was already asleep again. She wasn't even dreaming; she was just a warm, still presence in Ray's head. Ray closed his eyes for a minute, letting everything Navi felt wash over him--her calm, and her total faith in Frost to protect her.

Finally, feeling a little more even-keeled, he looked at Brad again. "You said it didn't have to be a sex thing. So that means it could have been a sex thing."

Brad nodded. "Same as being touched. You just had a lot of sex you didn't want to have with people you didn't want to have it with. If you wanted to, you could have sex with somebody you trust, try and get you back on track. Doesn't have to be me, I'm just the one who's here tonight. If you were in any kind of state to be turned loose on civilians I'd've taken you out to find a nice girl to fuck."

Ray looked away and didn't say anything.

"There's nothing wrong with that, either," Brad said patiently. "Lots of wolfbrothers would rather be fucking women, Ray. Lots of them are fucking women, half our platoon is married to women. Plenty of guys stick to their own hands instead of a buddy in the field."

Ray shook his head and still didn't look at Brad. "I have a sister, Brad. That means my secondary MOS is Getting Fucked, which means--"

"No," Brad said flatly. "You did your job today, Lance Corporal. Navi got fucked. Nobody gets to tell you who you fuck outside the heat-shack. Do we need to have that part of this conversation over again? You said no, just like the Corps spent a lot of time teaching you to, and I said I was glad you remembered that and I would respect it."

"I don't," Ray said, and put his head down on his knees. Everything hurt, and he still wasn't anywhere near sleeping, and he didn't want to be any more drunk than he was, and--and he was jealous of Navi, asleep beside Frost, feeling safe with her packmate and sure in her skin.

Ray rubbed his face against his arm, and then made himself look Brad in the eye as he said, "I don't want you to fuck me."

Brad shook his head. "Person, I wouldn't fuck you tonight if you begged me. Doc doesn't even want you touching your ass more than you have to for the next forty-eight hours."

"Oh," Ray said, because he had honestly expected--that was how it went, in his head. Strangers fucked him, Brad would... unfuck him. But not by fucking him, apparently.

Ray felt himself relax a little bit, and he was suddenly curious about what the hell Brad had planned, then. He was pretty sure Brad had a plan. Brad always had a plan.

"Well, maybe, then. Yes," Ray said, feeling suddenly impatient to do it, get it over with. Brad didn't move. "What, is there a magic word? Please? Abracadabra?"

Brad tilted his head, giving Ray a thoughtful look, and said, "Let's start small, Ray. You mind if I come closer to you?"

"Yes," Ray said promptly, and Brad raised an eyebrow. "No! Fuck grammar, you know what I mean. Simon says come closer, Brad. Ray-Ray says."

Brad smiled a little and shook his head, but he came closer at the same time, scooting across the floor with his boot-cast angled away. He didn't stop until he was sitting right at Ray's feet. Ray wiggled his toes, which were near Brad's eye level.

Brad nodded. "May I touch your feet?"

Ray rolled his eyes and pushed his heels to the edge of the couch. Brad shifted backward so that he didn't actually get Ray's toes shoved into his face. He looked up at Ray and waited.

"Yes," Ray said. "Fucking touch my feet, you gigantic tease."

"As you wish," Brad said, and before Ray could say hey, yeah, let's watch Princess Bride next, Brad's hands were settling on top of his feet.

Ray's breath caught, but then it was just Brad's hands on his feet. He stared down at them, but, nope, just hands on his feet.

Brad's hands curled around slowly, so that he was holding Ray's feet, and Ray felt himself freeze--he wasn't trying to get away, just shifting his weight because his knees hurt so fucking bad, and the guy grabbed his ankle and yanked him back--

"Ray," Brad said quietly, and Ray opened his eyes to find Brad looking up at him, Brad's hands hovering in the air over his feet. "It's just me."

Ray nodded jerkily, trying to catch his breath. He checked automatically, but he hadn't woken Navi that time.

"It's all right," Brad said, "this is completely--"

"Stop telling me it's fucking normal," Ray snapped, hating the wobble in his voice as much as anything else. He reached out and grabbed Brad's hand, slapping it back down on top of his foot.

"Okay," Brad said, setting his other hand on Ray's other foot and then moving both slowly back and forth, stroking open-handed over the tops of Ray's feet. "Well, I wasn't going to mention it because you seem so horribly fucking fragile and I hate getting little pieces of broken whiskey tango E-3 RTO all over my hands, but this is actually the most retardedly unfounded case of post-breeding freakout I've ever seen. Jesus, one totally fucking textbook Mike Bravo and this little bitch doesn't want anybody touching him. He's probably going to be run right out of recon by the end of the week. He'll have to be a fucking POG after this, he can sit and cry his eyes out with the candy-asses in H&S."

Brad said it all completely deadpan, and his hands didn't stop moving the entire time. Ray had to squeeze his eyes shut for a second before he said raggedly, "He's totally fucked if the Iceman ever finds out, that guy will never let him hear the end of it."

"Oh, I don't know about that," Brad said, his hands shifting to run along the outsides of Ray's feet. "The Iceman's not very talkative. Unless you get him going about radio frequencies."

Ray grinned involuntarily, even if his mouth felt as shaky as the rest of him. They'd spent an hour talking about the radios, the first time Brad had hunkered down next to Ray in the middle of a training exercise while Ray was trying to unfuck comms. "Or his fucking bike. He won't shut up about his bike, I think he might try to claim that thing as his shieldmate pretty soon."

"It talks even less than he does," Brad agreed, and his hands shifted slowly, still open, to the soles of Ray's feet. "They're perfect for each other."

Ray opened his mouth, but no more words fell out. Brad looked up at him, and Ray shrugged and offered his hands, instead.

Brad nodded, not making him ask this time. He pushed Ray's hands together palm-to-palm and ran his own open hands over the backs like he thought Ray had gotten cold. The friction-heat actually did feel good, and Ray felt himself starting to unfreeze, muscles unclenching in his shoulders, his legs recognizing that they weren't going to need to jump up and run.

Brad tugged Ray's hands apart, and laid his hands on top of Ray's, palm-to-palm this time. He ran his hands back and forth across Ray's palms and fingers a couple of times, and then turned his hands and let his fingers sag. They'd almost be holding hands, if....

Ray curled his fingers around Brad's hands and squeezed.

"Hands are okay," he said, looking at Brad's fingers. "Nobody grabbed my hands."

Brad met his eyes, and before Ray could regret saying that with his outside voice Brad looked down again. He let go of Ray's hands and Ray just waited, hands dangling open in mid-air. Brad moved the left one until it was hovering palm-down over Ray's knee, and when he let go Ray dropped his hand the last half-inch on his own. Brad gave him a little nod of approval and then put both of his hands on Ray's right hand.

His fingers moved faster this time, touching, pressing, testing. He was more thorough than the corpsman; he manipulated Ray's hand exactly the way Ray had seen him check Frost's feet after a long hike. The same way Ray himself examined Navi's feet. It was a familiar touch--brothers, pack.

Ray shut his eyes and let Brad check. Brad's fingertips skimmed over the scrapes on Ray's palms, the raw, jammed knuckles where he'd gotten his fist under him at exactly the wrong second. He tugged and pushed each of Ray's fingers and his thumb, testing every joint, then flexed Ray's whole hand from the wrist. By the time he was finished, Ray's hand was completely limp in his grip, and Ray didn't even open his eyes when Brad folded his right hand over his knee--still not touching Ray's knee in the process--and picked up his left.

That was the same, down to the scrapes on his palm, but instead of a couple of jammed knuckles, there was the moment when Brad turned Ray's hand in the exact wrong way and pain shot up Ray's arm. Ray didn't make a sound, didn't move, but he felt his whole body tense.

"Ray," Brad said quietly.

Ray opened his eyes and shook his head. "It's not--" that bad. "Broken or anything."

Brad just nodded. "Corpsman would have caught that. Probably tweaked a tendon, though. Have to keep an eye on it if it doesn't get better on its own."

Brad carefully tested Ray's range of motion, watching Ray's face as he flexed Ray's hand, and Ray let himself wince when it hurt, making it that much easier for Brad to spot. Then Brad set Ray's hand back down on his knee and said, "Okay if I come up on the couch?"

Ray nodded, and mumbled a tape-delayed "Yes" as Brad settled in beside him. Ray turned to face Brad--or to get the barricade of his knees in between him and Brad--and Brad shifted around to face Ray, leaving his booted foot on the floor.

"Face okay?" Brad asked, raising his hands.

Ray nodded. "Nobody grabbed my face ei--"

Ray stopped short as Brad prodded his forehead with one finger, sending up a flare of pain from what was obviously a bruise.

Ray wrinkled his forehead, which hurt worse, and felt a cold shock of fear--what don't I remember--but Brad shook his head, and stroked gently along Ray's hairline with that single finger.

"Nobody grabbed your face. They grabbed the back of your head, maybe the nape of your neck. It's a pressure bruise. I can see the weave of the padding from the heat-shack floor."

Ray hadn't seen it; he hadn't looked at the mirror when he went into Brad's bathroom. Maybe he should have checked that.

"Only on the right side, though," Brad said, running his fingers lightly over the bruise on Ray's forehead and then another one on his cheekbone. "So you had your head turned to the left."

Ray shut his eyes for a second, remembering, and then opened them so he could look at Brad and stop remembering. "Navi was over there."

Brad's fingers kept moving, tracing the unbruised side of his face, his nose, his cheeks and chin. "How's your neck? You must have had it twisted around for a while to get those bruises."

Ray tilted his head slowly from side to side--his neck felt mostly about as floppy as he'd expect after this many beers, but when he turned his head to the left and tilted it forward, everything seemed to lock up for a second. "Ow."

"Do you want me to try to fix that?"

Ray nodded, still wincing, and Brad said, "Ray, it's going to mean putting my hand around the side of your throat. And I know for a fact somebody grabbed your neck."

"Yeah," Ray said, taking a deep breath. "Yeah, try anyway."

Brad nodded, but before he did anything else--anything else with his hands, anyway--Ray felt a push through the pack-sense. Brad was reaching out to Frost, through him to Ray. Brad flooded Ray with the feeling of home, pack, brothers, safe, and there almost wasn't room left in Ray's head to be scared when Brad's hand closed on his neck.

Ray kept his eyes open, and Brad held his gaze as his fingers dug in at the base of Ray's skull and pressed down. It hurt, it hurt like fuck, and Ray's breath came short--safe, pack, brothers, home--until something released in his neck. The pain turned into the warmth of a stretched muscle, and Brad's fingers shifted down a fraction of an inch and did the same thing again.

When Brad was done, he ran his hand up the back of Ray's neck, over his head, scrubbing over Ray's buzz cut. He took his hands back and sat facing Ray.

The rush through the pack-sense faded, letting Ray have his brain back. It wasn't really an improvement--it felt like suddenly sobering up, and Ray was pretty sure he was supposed to be drunker than this. But he couldn't actually stay immersed in the pack-sense forever, and if Brad planned on doing anything more interesting than petting Ray, it would be better to keep the wolves out of it as much as they could. Human sex didn't travel through the bond with the same intensity that wolf heat did, but it did agitate the wolves even at the best of times.

This was probably not going to be the best of times.

"So, now what?" Ray asked, because Brad was just sitting there, watching him, and he was pretty sure that Brad was the one with the plan. He hoped Brad was the one with the plan, because Ray had nothing.

"Well," Brad said slowly, and reached out again, setting his hand on Ray's cheek. "One place left on your face that I haven't touched."

He slid his hand down slowly, his thumb shifting around the corner of Ray's mouth and under his lower lip. Ray licked his lips, then dragged his teeth over the lower one.

"Nobody," Ray said, and then bit his lip. No one had kissed him, either.

Brad nodded like he'd heard that, which he probably had. "A Mike Bravo's usually not that kind of scene."

Ray bit his lip again. Kissing was.... Ray liked kissing, and even when he'd gotten fucked by guys--practicing for this, but he'd never understood how little practice would help, how far practice could be from the real thing--there had been some making out before they got down to it. He wouldn't have wanted to be kissed by any of the guys from the Mike Bravo--the kissing would have been as rough and mindless as the fucking, would have been just one more way he was exposed. But now, with Brad--Ray could still feel the thread of pack, home in his head, could feel Navi sleeping and Frost keeping watch. He was already exposed to Brad, even if he was wearing his winter PT gear, but he could trust Brad with that. And he liked kissing, anyway, and he hadn't kissed anybody in a long fucking time.

"Come here, then," Brad said quietly, leaning toward Ray, close enough that Ray could feel Brad's breath on his mouth.

Ray closed the distance, tilting his head and touching his lips to Brad's. There was a minute where it felt like the first time he'd kissed a girl, when he was six, that confused sense of I guess this is how it works? And then he moved a little, Brad moved a little, and it was a real kiss, he was kissing Brad.

Ray laughed a little against Brad's mouth from the sheer weirdness, and felt Brad smile silently back. Ray licked into his mouth, and Brad responded, and they were kissing. Kissing was good. Ray could kiss Brad all night, and it occurred to him that he didn't have to ask permission for everything, he could touch Brad if he wanted to. He grabbed Brad's shoulder, steadying himself, and Brad's mouth kept moving under his, never doing anything Ray hadn't done first.

Ray kept pushing, using his teeth, waiting for the part where Brad would push him back and not finding it--Brad just kept kissing him, taking what Ray dished out and giving it back as something good. Neither of them were going to have to stop and breathe anytime soon, so Ray could kiss and bite and suck and lick as long as he wanted.

Except then Brad's breath went out sharply against Ray's mouth, and Ray pushed back all at once, feeling suddenly cold. He got it instantly--he'd managed to shove his knee into Brad's chest, leaning into him.

Brad rubbed the spot on his chest and shrugged. "Occupational hazard."

Ray could kiss him again, if he just watched where he put his knees. He knew that. He could kiss Brad as hard as he wanted, turn the tables--he could do anything to Brad, and Brad would probably let him go right ahead and work out his fucking--ha!--his fucking Mike Bravo trauma. But Ray didn't want to be that guy, and he trusted Brad way more than he trusted himself. Brad was supposed to be the guy with the plan; Ray was the guy who was busy just trying not to freak out.

Brad held up his hands so Ray could see them, and said nothing, made no move.

Ray took a deep breath and let it out in a great big sigh. No point asking what was next, because Brad would tell him it was whatever he wanted, would sit there and wait for him to make a move. So fine, he'd make a move.

Ray twisted around on the couch, putting his legs down, and pulled up his sweatshirt and t-shirt together, yanked them both off and threw them on the floor. He felt cold everywhere, but he ignored it and spread his arms. "More touching?"

"More touching," Brad agreed, and scooted closer without actually letting his legs touch Ray's. He put his hands on Ray's shoulders and started methodically running his open hands over Ray's skin. His hands were warm, and raised more heat than goosebumps. Brad stroked down Ray's arms and back up, moving gently over his sides where there were scrapes and bruises. His touch lingered on Ray's left side, moving back and forth over one spot.

Ray twisted and tried to see, and Brad dropped his hand and said, "Feels kind of hot."

Ray flexed experimentally, but it didn't hurt, so he shrugged. Brad shrugged back and went on touching him, running his palms briskly over Ray's chest, nipples, belly, right down to the top of his sweatpants.

Then he took his hands back and said, "Are you willing to turn your back on me?"

Ray had to think about that one.

"No is a legit--"

"Shut up," Ray said, flapping a hand at Brad, because he was still thinking. He was willing to turn his back on Brad--he'd done it more than once since Brad had come to get him from the heat-shack. But what Brad was really asking was to be allowed to touch Ray--skin to skin, half naked--when Ray couldn't see him, couldn't constantly reassure himself that it was Brad.


Ray sighed, shutting his eyes, and reached out himself through the pack-sense, focusing on the feeling of being connected again. He couldn’t really forget that it was Brad behind him, not unless he locked his brain down so hard he might as well be a wolfless man. At the same time, even when he was looking at Brad, it was hard not to go back there. Turning his back would only make that worse. More, stronger.

Pack. Ray held on to that awareness. He needed this. Brad wouldn't hurt him, wouldn't even let him stay confused for long.

Ray nodded and turned at almost the same time, settling himself with his knees bent over the arm of the couch. It put his weight on his ass at a new and startlingly painful angle, and Ray spent a minute shifting around before it was halfway comfortable. Even doing that, just moving around with Brad holding still behind him, he could feel the hairs standing up on the back of his neck and his heart beating faster.

Navi stirred in her sleep, and Ray froze for a moment to focus all his attention on her. Shh, shh, it's all right, it's nothing. He felt a gentle, wet-nosed touch on his cheek, his neck, his shoulder--Frost nudging Navi until she recognized him and relaxed.

When Navi was sound asleep again and Frost had returned to watching the waves climb higher and higher up the beach, Ray turned his head. Brad was staring fixedly at Ray's back, and didn't raise his eyes to Ray's right away.


It was only when he saw Brad's face go blank that Ray realized there had been some other expression there--some tension or worry or something. Brad met Ray's eyes, then looked down again, but he raised a hand and laid it on Ray's shoulder--safe territory he'd already touched from the other side.

"Okay if I touch the back of your neck? Open hand, no grip." Brad's voice was completely flat and neutral, no teasing, no comfortable warmth. Even through the pack-sense Brad felt suddenly distant, closed off, like he'd gone behind the layer of ice that Frost had given him as a scent name.

"Yeah," Ray said, and when Brad didn't move, Ray turned his head to face front again, dropping his chin and offering the back of his neck.

"Ray," Brad said quietly, and then stopped. His hand was still on Ray's shoulder. "Fuck. Ray."

Brad touched the back of Ray's neck with one finger, the same way he'd first touched Ray's face, so Ray knew there had to be another bruise. It was low down, where it must have been hidden by his sweatshirt before. After letting his fingertip rest there for a second, Brad pressed down gently. Ray winced--there had been a lot of grabs on the back of his neck, though none of them had been accompanied by a steady hand on his shoulder. He could hold off the memories far enough with Brad here.

Brad had sounded weird, though, and Ray was distracted by worrying about that. Brad had gone away somehow, like he was upset, and that was supposed to be Ray's job tonight.

"I'm sorry," Brad said, and his finger was moving, tracing the shape of the bruise. Some kind of curve, and then another curve, and... oh.

"I've done that to guys," Brad said quietly. All of his fingers dropped onto Ray's skin, moving restlessly over the bruised bite-mark at the back of Ray's neck. "I never saw how bad it looked after. Fuck, I'm fucking sorry."

Ray reached behind his head, sliding his fingers in between Brad's to probe the bruise himself. Memory came back in an irresistible rush--the teeth on his neck, like the cock in his ass, were a direct reflection of what was happening with Navi and the male wolf on the other side of the heat-shack. The bite was more than control, it was a claim. Ray pushed down on the bruise and shivered.

"It wasn't," he said, and his voice came out husky. "At the time, it wasn't. Bad. Actually."

Brad had done that to guys, because Frost had been bred before, and when Frost got bred Brad was the guy coming through the entrance door behind his brother, the guy who didn't--couldn't--speak before he was on some bitch's brother. Outside the heat-shack, they were all just guys like Brad. They'd probably all feel bad if they saw the back of Ray's neck.

Ray pressed on the bruise again, shivered again, feeling an echo of what he'd felt at that second, pushing up into the teeth, up into some guy's cock, wanting all of it and more.

"It's a Mike Bravo thing," Brad said, sounding a little hoarse himself. "They smell the wolves who were there before them, they get ... territorial."

Ray nodded. He knew that. He knew how much better it was than the Old Ways, when all the male wolves were there at the same time. But he wasn't really thinking about that. He was thinking about Brad's fingers on the back of his neck, and the other thing they were supposed to be doing tonight, if Brad ever got finished petting him.

Ray reached over and grabbed Brad's hand, still hovering behind the back of his neck with just his fingertips touching, and tugged on it. Come on, let's go. Even with Brad holding himself apart, Ray knew that that one translated just fine through the pack-sense.

Brad let out a huff of breath that sounded exactly like Frost. Ray smirked, and Brad pulled his hand out of Ray's grip to smack him lightly on the side of his head.

Brad's other hand was still steady on Ray's shoulder, and he pressed down with his fingers just enough to be a warning--not enough to be holding Ray still--before he touched the back of Ray's neck again. One fingertip traced the double curve of the bite mark, and then shifted down and traced out another curve, pressing just hard enough for Ray to feel the bruise. Bruises. There were a lot of them, as it turned out, not just on the back of Ray's neck, but scattered across the tops of his shoulders. Brad traced over each one with the same careful touch, just enough pressure to let Ray feel the bruise, not enough to really hurt him.

Ray closed his eyes when Brad got to the one at the spot where his shoulders met his neck. He didn't think he could forget it was Brad behind him if he wanted to. This was the exact opposite of what the guys from the Mike Bravo had done--not just because they'd left the marks and Brad was being so careful not to inflict any more. Brad was focused on Ray, on nothing but Ray, for however long Ray wanted or needed him to be. The wolves weren't even here. Nothing drove either of them to this. This was a human thing, a thing they did slowly and deliberately with words and hands, to balance the wildness of the wolves.

This was what Brad was offering him, Ray knew, as a sex thing. Ray still didn't know exactly what Brad had planned, but Brad's hands--one keeping still to anchor him, one moving patiently and meticulously over every newly-sensitive bruised spot Ray couldn't see--would be the same. He would talk Ray through it just the same. Brad would be the same.

Ray was nowhere near getting hard, but he could feel the potential for it. His dick was up for it, although in a strictly theoretical way so far. Yeah, I could do that.

Through the pack-sense or the touch on his back or just his knowledge of Brad, Ray felt the answer. Roger that.

Ray smiled a little and let his head hang while Brad's hands moved inexorably over his skin. Brad switched hands for a while--settled his right hand on Ray's shoulder, traced bruises with his left. When he finally (finally, Jesus, Ray's guys had apparently all been serious biters--or their brothers had--but then, who wouldn't want to stake a claim to Navi?) finished with that, his hands finally moved together, in warm, open-handed swipes over Ray's skin.

It wasn't a massage--there was no push behind the touch. Brad's hands just kept moving over Ray's skin methodically, like Brad was going through a search grid. It was exactly like that, like someone was lost in Ray's skin and Brad was going to find him even if it took all night.

He started widening his search area after a while--from Ray's back to his sides, the backs of his arms, up over his shoulders to his chest. Brad was leaning closer now, and while his arms never quite closed around Ray he was moving in that direction. Ray still couldn't mistake this for any part of a Mike Bravo, couldn't mistake Brad for anyone else or Brad's touch for anything else. And there was a next thing, now, a definite next thing that Ray wanted to get to.

He sat up straight and then tipped backward. Brad caught his shoulders and eased him down so he was leaning against Brad's chest. That was weird for a second--not scary so much as it made him feel like gravity had tipped over, like Brad was on top of him even though he was the one leaning against Brad, just because there was another body pressed up against his back.

Brad let go of Ray's shoulders and went back to making open-handed sweeps up and down Ray's sides. Ray tilted his head back against Brad's shoulder and wiggled his ass into yet another not-too-uncomfortable position on the couch. The moment passed, and there he was, leaning on Brad and half-naked and definitely going to have some kind of sex at some point. So why not now?

Ray grabbed Brad's right hand and dragged it under the front of his sweatpants and boxers.

"So that's a yes," Brad said, sounding a little amused.

Ray twisted his head to get a look at Brad's face; all he could really see was the tucked-up corner of his mouth, a stealthy little smile. Then Brad's fingers dragged down the crease of his groin to the base of his dick, and Ray's breath caught.

Brad's other hand kept moving up and down Ray's side while he ran his fingers along Ray's dick, still moving slowly, still taking his time. Ray's hand was slack on Brad's wrist, and his dick was starting to fill under the tease of Brad's touch. It occurred to him that this would be easier if he took his pants off, but his brain was a little bit blank.

"This what you want?" Brad muttered, brushing his thumb over the head of Ray's dick.

"I," Ray said, and he remembered that at some point in the heat-shack, someone had given him a rough, fast reach-around, but he was stuck on Brad's fingers, touching him so lightly that it was a little bit like being in high school, getting hard from rubbing up against the inside of his underwear. Except there was Brad's other hand on his side, and Brad behind him, and when Ray spread his legs a little Brad's fingers slid down to his balls. "Yes?"

"Uh-huh," Brad said, and his lips brushed against the side of Ray's head as his hand came back to Ray's dick, curling loosely around it as it hardened. Ray could feel Brad's breath against his ear when Brad spoke. "Because I was going to blow you, before you said no the first time. You were right there, I was right there."

"Oh," Ray said. His dick jerked in Brad's hand, and Brad gave it a brief squeeze and then went back to that maddeningly slow and gentle stroke. He could see that. Brad had been right there, until Ray had said no.

"You ever had a blowjob from a recon Marine?" Brad asked, sounding actually kind of curious.

Ray shook his head. Hands, sometimes, but that was it except for practice-fucking, and even the practice-fucking had been back before he was in recon.

"Breath control," Brad said, and it sounded like a promise.

"Brad, are you saying you're going to ruin me for women?" Ray's voice came out kind of high and wobbly, but Brad's hand was starting to move a little faster and Ray had had a long fucking day, pun in-fucking-tended.

"That's the risk you take," Brad said. "I mean, if you ever decide to move so I can get my mouth on your dick without tackling you. Or I could just make you come in your pants and put you to bed."

That, Ray thought, as Brad's fingers did something that made his breath catch and his dick harden, was probably true. Definitely true. Brad was a recon Marine. He probably knew as many ways to make a man come as he did to kill a man.

"More, probably," Brad agreed. "We're allowed to practice this one more."

"Okay, stop," Ray said, and Brad stopped, yanking his hand out of Ray's pants and dropping his other hand from Ray's side, though he didn't try to move out from under Ray's weight. Ray sat still for a second--ran his hand over the tented front of his sweatpants, just so his dick wouldn't think they were stopping stopping--and then said, "I'll move. Where?"

"Turn back around," Brad said. "Maybe take your pants off, if you feel like it."

Ray nodded and sat up enough that Brad could scoot back out of his way, then twisted back around on the couch at the same time he was trying to shove his pants and boxers off. He got tangled up for a few seconds, but Brad just sat on the other side of the couch and waited him out.

When Ray was sprawled naked and panting on Brad's couch, he felt weird for a second--Brad was still fully clothed, still looking as calm as he had when Ray first saw him. That only lasted until Brad met his eyes, nodded, and slid off the couch, shifting over to kneel between Ray's legs. At that point Ray stopped caring what Brad was wearing.

"I'm not going to hold you down," Brad said. "Don't worry about me, you can't hurt me. And if you want to close your eyes and pretend I'm Britney Spears, I'll never tell."

"Fuck Britney," Ray said, watching Brad's smirking mouth move closer to his dick. "You're Christina, at least. Fuck."

Brad winked, and then his tongue flicked out to the head of Ray's dick, and Ray bit down on his lip and kept his eyes wide open.

Brad kept going slow--slowly closing his lips over the head of Ray's dick, sucking softly, his eyes on Ray's like he had to watch to know how Ray felt about it. Ray reached out, getting his hand on Brad's head. Brad's hair was a short prickle against his palm, as male as you could get, but Ray didn't really care, because he was doing a thing with his tongue, sucking Ray with excruciating patience. Ray tugged a little and Brad smiled with his eyes while his mouth slid down lower.

Ray tried thrusting into Brad's mouth, except that meant moving his ass in a way that wasn't actually fun at all. Brad shot him a sympathetic look and sucked harder, took him deeper, and Ray's breath was getting fast. He remembered jerking off for the first time, that oh, this feels really good and I can do it whenever I want revelation.

This was sex, this was how sex worked most of the time--except usually he had to do a lot more talking and buying drinks and stuff--but whoever he was having it with, this was sex. It felt good like this, not the crazy scary need but this thing where somebody turned you on and kept turning you on and if you were really lucky they didn't have to breathe more than once every three or four minutes.

"Brad," Ray said. "Please, can you just--please, faster."

Brad, the motherfucker, took his mouth off of Ray to say, "That is actually the magic word."

Except it was seriously fucking magic, because then Brad swallowed him, and Ray made a noise like he was Britney--wow, that was a fucked up mental image--and tightened his fingers uselessly against the back of Brad's head. Brad was on a mission, and Ray sat back and let him run it, because he couldn't quite breathe right or coordinate his limbs to move, or think about anything but Brad sucking him off, fast and hard. There was no sound in the room; Ray was vaguely aware that he was holding his breath, too, and that he probably shouldn't.

Brad hummed something, breaking the silence. The vibration went through Ray's dick, through his whole body, and Ray was already coming as he recognized the tune and started laughing, folding down over Brad's head in his lap. Brad swallowed, which was fucking hot even if he probably did it because it was efficient. Also, Brad knew at least one Christina Aguilera song.

Brad pushed Ray back to slump on the couch and catch his breath, and straightened up on his knees, looking kind of smug. Ray could grant him that.

Ray was still giggling as he said, "Wait, which one of us is the genie? I didn't rub you at all, man, do you--hey, do you want...?"

Brad rolled his eyes. "You're not doing anything that's not what you want, Ray. And if you tried anything you would fall asleep halfway through it and I'd still be stuck with my right hand."

"Fuck you," Ray said, "I can--" except he couldn't finish the sentence without yawning, so Brad was probably right again.

"Mm-hm," Brad said. "Mind if I keep touching you?"

Ray shook his head and closed his eyes, letting himself sink into the couch as Brad's hands settled on his hips--lightly, not holding him down--and then brushed down over his thighs, over his knees, down his legs and then down again and again, to his ankles and his feet. Ray was half asleep already when Brad's hands moved back up to his hips and Brad said, "Why don't you lie down?"

Ray nodded and went where Brad pushed him, stretching out face down on the couch, and he only twitched a little--ticklish--when Brad's hands smoothed over the backs of his knees, down his calves, down the soles of his feet. He came fully awake when Brad's hands settled gently on the backs of his thighs, and Brad took his hands away the second Ray tensed up.

"No," Ray said, turning his head to look at Brad. "I mean, yes, it's okay."

Brad nodded. "I just figured I might as well finish. Wouldn't want the backs of your legs to feel left out."

Ray nodded back, and kept his head turned to watch as Brad's hands came back down, so lightly that Ray felt goosebumps run up his back. Or maybe that was the knowledge that there was one place left. Brad's hands ran down his thighs a couple of times, covering every spot, and then he met Ray's eyes again and Ray nodded as firmly as he could with his head twisted around like that.

Yes, he pushed through the pack-sense, hard enough that he felt Frost and Navi shift restlessly in response.

"Solid copy," Brad murmured, and set his hands on Ray's ass. Ray shut his eyes, and buried his face against his arms. Brad's hands didn't move for a solid minute, and then he started petting Ray again, like his ass was any other part of his body. Ray kept breathing and even shifted his legs apart a little, while Brad's hands went up and down, warm and slow and patient.

"Okay," Brad said quietly. "Last thing, if you want."

Ray nodded into his folded arms, and made himself keep breathing in and out when Brad's hands moved the other way on his ass, opening him up. He couldn't help shivering when he felt the light touch down his crack, and he stopped breathing when Brad touched his hole--there was no way to make that not hurt, but Brad only touched him there for a second, and then his hands were on Ray's back, and he said quietly, "Did I miss anything?"

Ray thought about it for a second while he was making himself breathe again, but he was pretty sure Brad hadn't, actually. He shook his head.

"Good," Brad said. "Then there is no part of your body that anyone else was the last to touch."

Ray turned his head and looked at Brad. He was right again. Ray pressed his face against his own arm, thinking about it. He couldn’t smell it, but the wolves would. Ray wouldn't smell like anything but pack, now.

"Thanks," Ray said, and Brad nodded.

"You want a blanket? Want me to put another movie on?"

Ray mumbled, "No fucking Disney wolves tonight, I saw your collection," as he put his head down again, and he fell asleep somewhere between Brad laying a blanket down over him and Brad explaining what, exactly, was so awesome about the portrayal of wolves in Disney movies.

Ray woke up when the wolves came through the front door. The first thing he saw was Brad on the floor, rolling up to his feet and going to meet them. Navi appeared a second later, jumping up onto the couch and stretching out in the narrow space between Ray and the edge. On top of the blanket, of course. Navi needed a blanket like Britney Spears needed her dick sucked.

Ray was still lying on his stomach, and Navi settled her head on his back, so he couldn't look her in the eye if he wanted to. Ray looked for Brad and Frost, and spotted them over near the front door--Brad was kneeling, and Frost had his head on Brad's shoulder. They looked like McClane and Bullet. Ray was pretty sure Brad would rather fight terrorists barefoot on Christmas--Hanukkah, all eight nights--than be separated from his brother for six hours for any reason at all.

But then, Ray didn't like being separated from Navi, either.

Hey, Ray said, just to her.

Shh, sleeping, Navi returned, with a playful edge.

Navi, hey, listen. Today sucked.

Navi lifted her head and looked at him. Ray could feel her confusion--today had been pretty great for Navi, from the heat-shack to hanging out with Frost on the beach.

Ray reached for a comparison and came up with the last time they'd gone up to Mountain Warfare, when they'd done the mountain comms course and he'd spent five days getting rained on and snowed on and trying to get shitty radios to work through mountains in a blizzard and Navi had thought it was the most fun thing ever.

Like that. He let her feel everywhere that he hurt--that it had been scary and unpleasant, and that Brad had helped him stop feeling bad, so he was all right now.

Oh, Navi said, and laid her head down again much more gently on his back. Wolves didn't apologize--not that Navi had anything to apologize for--and they offered sympathy with touch, not words. Navi squirmed higher up his body and licked at the nape of his neck, nosing gently at his bruises, claiming him all over again as her own. You and Brad unfucked everything? It doesn't suck anymore?

"Yeah," Ray murmured aloud. "We're good now."

Brad and Frost broke apart at the sound of his voice. Navi settled down to sleep with her muzzle across the back of his neck, and Brad and Frost lay down on the floor in front of the couch, Brad's head pillowed on Frost's side.

Falling asleep felt kind of like falling, knowingly letting go and letting his guard down, but Ray knew it was all right. His pack was there to catch him on the way down.