They've exchanged a few emails. There's a Bravo two email list now. Mostly it gets used for birth announcements, deployment news, that kind of thing. Nate's said, a few times, that if anyone's ever in Boston they should look him up.
But it's still a shock to walk out of the Kennedy School after his last day of fall classes and see Brad Colbert sitting on a low stone wall, duffel bag resting at his feet. He's wearing civvies. When he stands up, Nate can't help noticing the way his faded bluejeans cling to his ass.
"You're a sight for sore eyes," Nate says, and they embrace. It's a fast, tight hug that's over too soon.
"Had a little time, figured I'd come say hello," Brad offers.
"You eaten? I just got out of class," Nate says, and Brad shakes his head. "Great. What do you want: good burger? Vietnamese? Thai?"
"Anything that doesn't come in a foil packet," Brad says fervently, and Nate smirks, remembering.
"MREs haven't improved, then."
"Not to speak of, no." Brad shoulders his bag. "Lead the way."
They wind up at one of Nate's favorite pubs. It's pleasantly noisy and not too bright and there are sports screens in most of the corners, but they sit off to one side where they can actually see and hear each other. The burgers are, predictably, excellent. Nate does his best not to stare when Brad licks ketchup off of his fingers.
They start off with news about the guys. Who's where, these days. Who's got kids. Who's still serving. Who said what stupid thing on Facebook.
By the time they're on their third pints, Nate's opening up about grad school life, telling Brad how weird it is to be studying public policy and international development with kids who've traveled the world but never imagined the vantage of a uniform. And Brad gets it. He's somehow both supportive (of Nate) and skewering (of the kids in question), and Nate finds himself laughing more than he can remember doing in ages.
When Brad comes back from the head, Nate asks the question as casually as he can manage. "Where are you staying tonight?"
Brad shrugs. "Didn't actually plan that far ahead. Where do you recommend?" The question is non-committal, but Nate can't help wondering...
Fuck it. He's going to say something.
"You're welcome to stay with me," Nate offers.
Brad's smile makes his toes curl. "Yeah? That sounds great."
But maybe he thinks Nate means on the couch. Or in a guest room, or some shit like that. Which means more direct communication is called-for. Because the last thing he wants is to get home with Brad and make a pass at him and find out he wasn't actually up for that.
"I recognize that you didn't ask," Nate says, "but I'm out now."
"Out of," Brad prompts.
"The military, the closet, take your pick." Nate keeps his spine straight and looks Brad right in the eye, because he'll be damned if he's going to flinch away from this. Brad doesn't blink, doesn't turn away, just sits there looking at him. Cool as ever.
So Nate pushes harder. "And what I'd really like, if it were up to me, would be to take you back to my apartment--" He pauses, but Brad is just looking at him steadily, unfazed. "--And do some really unspeakably filthy things with you."
Nate swallows hard. There's a smile in Brad's eyes that's just beginning to make itself visible on the rest of his face, but Nate can't tell how to read it. "Unless you give me some very clear indication that that's not what you want to do. For instance, saying 'no thanks, Nate.'"
"Solid copy," Brad says, looking right back at him, not breaking eye contact for an instant. He's not giving any indication that he wants to flee, or that Nate's overture is unwelcome. He's just staring right back, as though he could fuck Nate right there in the bar using only his eyes.
Nate clears his throat. "I'm not hearing that 'no thanks.'" His voice comes out raspier than he intended.
"No, you're not," Brad agrees. He's looking at Nate now the way a hungry man looks at his first meal in ages.
"Maybe we should get the check," Nate suggests.
"Maybe we should." Without breaking eye contact, Brad lifts his hand and waves the universal sign of readiness to pay.
Their waitress is there in a snap, batting her lashes at Brad. Nate can't blame her for trying; Brad Colbert is one long tall drink of water. And he's the lucky sonofabitch who's going to take him home and drink him down. Despite his best intentions of staying calm and stoic, Nate can't help beaming into his last gulp of beer.
"Everything okay for you boys tonight?" the waitress asks, offering the leather folder with their bill tucked inside.
"Just fine, thanks," Nate says on autopilot, handing over his debit card.
"I'd go so far as to say spectacular," Brad corrects him.
"Our burgers are terrific," the waitress agrees blithely. "I'll be right back with this."
When she's gone, Nate raises an eyebrow. "Spectacular?"
Now Brad's grin is bright enough to light the room. "If it's not yet, I think it's going to be."
"I am assured of this," Nate agrees.
"This may, in fact," Brad says as he stands and shrugs into his coat, "be the best Hanukkah ever."
"You just wait," Nate promises. As they make their way out of the crowded bar, their hands brush, and then to Nate's surprise, Brad's fingers curl into his own.
The December air is cold, but Brad's hand is warm. Nobody here knows them. They're not lieutenant and sergeant now. Just two guys walking the streets of Cambridge hand in hand.
Nate's thumb strokes over Brad's lightly, once, twice, and he hears Brad's sharp intake of breath. Suddenly Nate is so desperate to get their clothes off, to get his hands all over every inch of Brad Colbert's body, he isn't sure how he's going to stand the walk home. He glances at Brad and sees the same sentiment mirrored in his face.
"How far is it to your place," Brad says, sounding only slightly strangled.
"About a ten-minute walk." They glance at each other.
Brad coughs. "Maybe we should. Walk faster."
"Good idea," Nate agrees, and they pick up the pace. Something really, really good is about to unfold, and after all this time, Nate doesn't want to wait.