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Tooth and Claw

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Ray said once, early on, that they should make a movie of their lives. “Just like Blade Runner,” he said. “The perfect movie. We’ve got everything you need. A little bit of sci-fi, an absent but slightly threatening government presence, a bit of a love story, and an emotionally distant protagonist – Brad, that’s you, by the way. If we get to the end of this and find out we’re not human, well. We can’t say there wasn’t a precedent.”

/////

When Brad gets home, the house is dark, but he doesn’t need any light to guide him through the familiar corridor. Ray is lying on the couch, in the dark, one arm flung over his eyes and his headphones in his ears. He raises his head when he hears Brad stop in the doorway.

“It’s that time of year again,” he says. He sounds like he’s been chewing bitumen, voice hoarse and raw.

“I thought it was next week,” Brad says. There’s a big red circle on the calendar, thick exclamation marks surrounding the date. Ray refers to them as markers of death. He’s exaggerating. Brad was thinking about taking a couple of days off anyway.

“These things don’t adhere to a strict schedule,” Ray says. Even though it’s dark, Brad can make out Ray rolling his eyes, but when Brad starts toward him, Ray shifts, agitated. He can probably smell the takeaway Brad’s left on the kitchen table, and the stench of sweat and oil and sun-warmed machinery – not to mention the smell of testosterone, the unmistakable odor of Brad’s fellow Marines coating him like an extra layer of skin.

“Do you want me to take a shower?” Brad asks.

“No,” Ray says, sounding strangled.

Brad nods, making sure Ray can see him unbuttoning his shirt as he backs out of the room. “I’ll meet you in the bedroom,” he says. “Come in when you’re ready.”

At that, Ray laughs. “I’ll probably beat you there,” Ray calls after him, but Brad gets to their room unmolested.

Ray is a stealthy son of a bitch when he wants to be, though, so Brad’s barely started on unbuckling his pants when Ray’s freezing hands slip around his chest from behind. It’s like the increased blood flow to his dick means his extremities are neglected. Brad’s muscles jump reflexively. Ray rumbles his approval.

“I’ve been thinking about this all day,” he says. Only Brad would be able to tell how close Ray’s control is to slipping; it’s in the minute tremor in his voice, the possessive smear of his lips against the back of Brad’s neck.

“I’m here now,” Brad says, turning around. Ray raises himself on his tiptoes and kisses Brad once, uncommonly chaste.

“Yeah, you are," Ray says, in a low faux-filthy tone, because he's incapable of sounding like he takes anything seriously.

Brad can feel the dry rasp of Ray’s lips as they move against his, and so he opens his mouth, letting Ray in, and Ray sighs, low and exquisite, like he’s Atlas and the weight of the heavens have slipped from his shoulders. Brad’s never asked if it’s painful, going into heat, and Ray’s never told him.

Ray rocks up into him, hips coming together, and says, “Come on, come on, don’t make me wait any longer,” scrabbling at Brad’s fly. He shoves Brad’s pants down, scratching Brad’s thigh as he does so, and shoves Brad backward with enough force to topple him onto their bed.

Brad’s only half-hard, but quickly getting there, watching Ray’s wrecked face, his sharp breathing, the way he tears his wifebeater and sweatpants off because he can’t bear to not be touching Brad. There’s a small part of his brain thinking, woah, hold up, you shouldn’t be so turned on because of your dangerous level of codependency, but Brad can’t help it, he’s attracted to how much Ray needs him.

Ray falls on him, knees framing Brad’s hips, Brad’s cock brushing the crack of Ray’s ass. Ray’s hands, warmer now, reach up to grasp Brad’s face, holding him exactly how Ray wants so Ray can have messy, filthy tongue sex with Brad’s mouth. It’s haphazard and undisciplined, much like Ray himself, but Brad can taste the desperation as clear as the taste of stale cigarettes. Brad permits Ray to savage his mouth until his lips feel sore and chapped, and he wrenches back with a final vicious bite to Ray’s lower lip. Ray shivers and moans, chasing after Brad until he realizes Brad’s holding back.

“What do you want,” Brad says, panting. “Tell me, tell me –”

“Just. Just your hand,” Ray says, “for now, please,” stuttering as Brad closes a fist around him a heartbeat later. Brad can never deny Ray anything he wants when he pleads like that; it doesn’t happen often and it causes a surge of arousal in Brad so strong it’s violent.

Their foreheads are pressed together, the warm puff of Ray’s breath slides along Brad’s mouth and over his cheek. Brad’s grip on Ray’s cock is strong, economical, because he couldn’t tease Ray when he’s like this, he doesn’t have the heart. Ray’s hips hitch and he groans, sneaking his hand between them to place it on top of Brad’s.

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be, like, a backseat driver here, but I just really need to – to –” and they both look down to where they’re joined, Ray’s hand forcing a cruel rhythm, and he mutters, “Oh, Jesus fuck,” into the corner of Brad’s mouth and Ray comes, suddenly and quickly and completely without warning.

There’s a moment of silence between them, which Brad spends thinking about how hard he still is, before Ray laughs. “Man, I would be embarrassed about that were it any other day,” he says, sitting up. Brad makes a stifled sound as Ray shifts against Brad’s cock.

“Don’t worry, babe, I didn’t forget about you,” he says, low and intimate, forgetting Brad hates pet names, hates how coddled they make him feel. But Ray scoots down, opening Brad’s pliable thighs, and Brad’s perfectly willing to forgive him. Ray raises one knee until Brad can plant his foot flat on the sheets, and pins Brad’s other knee to the mattress so his legs are splayed wide. Ray lounges between them, indolent and doe-eyed with orgasm. For the first time tonight, Ray’s missing that vibrating, all-consuming need. It will be back. But right now, there’s nothing of Brad Ray can’t see, and he makes a rumbling approval noise in the back of his throat at the way Brad lets Ray’s possessive hands arrange him as he pleases.

His hand still covered in his own come, Ray runs his thumb along Brad's lower lip, and Brad can't help it, his tongue runs out to lick the taste away. When Ray pushes two fingers inside Brad's mouth, feeding him Ray's come, both of them breathe unevenly, out of sync.

“Are you going to let me do what I like to you? Let me use you?” Ray asks conversationally. Brad can't answer, Ray rubbing his finger's over Brad's tongue, but when Ray takes back his hand and presses a wet thumb behind Brad’s balls, Ray asks again, insistently.

“Yes, yes,” Brad says, arching.

“Good,” Ray says with a greedy smile. Ray pushes his thumb inside Brad, just the length of his thumbnail, and it’s a dry, blunt spark along Brad’s nerves as Ray presses down, applies pressure. Brad’s breath hitches, his heart beating double-time against the inside of his ribcage.

“Ask for it,” Ray says, watching, seeing all the things Brad has left to hide.

“No,” Brad says. Ray circles his thumb, an insistent, throbbing pressure, and Brad’s mouth falls open on his exhale.

Ray raises himself up, propping himself over Brad’s body with his other hand, a bastardised one-armed pushup. He kisses Brad, open-mouthed and sloppy, finishing with a vicious tug on Brad’s lower lip. The skin doesn’t split, but Brad can feel it, raw and tenderized.

“Ask,” Ray says.

“No,” Brad says, again. He smiles, teeth grazing his throbbing lip. His whole body feels hyper-aware: the exaggerated rise and fall of his chest, the sweat beading in the hollow of his collarbones and on the back of his thighs.

“What’s so funny,” Ray asks when Brad keeps smiling.

“You can’t hold off long enough to make me beg,” Brad says, rutting upward so his thigh rubs along the length of Ray’s cock, hard again already.

There’s a silent beat where Brad can tell Ray’s thinking about it, thinking about how he should turn Brad over and eat him out, nothing but his tongue in him until Brad’s thighs are quivering, his voice hoarse with wanting. But then Ray curses, his thumb gone, lifting off Brad in a sudden rush of cool air to scrabble in the drawer of their bedside table.

“You smug motherfucker,” Ray says, and Brad doesn’t say anything, running his hands over what skin he can reach with Ray leaning away.

“I hate you so much,” he says when he’s back, laying flat over Brad so Brad can spread his legs and let Ray rut in between them. “So much,” he says between kisses, Brad’s hands on Ray’s ass, feeling the movement of Ray’s hips. Their cocks slide together; Ray’s still got come on his dick, but it’s a jagged, sticky friction that fizzles and short-circuits beneath Brad’s skin.

“C’mon, Ray, now,” Brad says, pulling back even when Ray’s tongue chases after him.

Ray fumbles with the lube he bought to bed, slicking his fingers and then his cock perfunctorily. His erection jutting out, Ray runs his hands over Brad’s thighs, always watching, always touching. He manhandles Brad, slipping between his legs, trailing a hand from Brad’s calf to his knee and moving Brad’s leg so it frames his hip; first one leg, then the other, so Brad’s toes touch behind Ray’s back.

“I despise you, in fact,” Ray says, and he’s grinning now, too, as he guides his cock inside Brad.

Brad never tires of that heart-pounding first push, where his body just gives around Ray, opening up to let Ray slide home. Brad groans, deep in his throat, letting his head fall back onto the mattress. Ray starts a slow, even rhythm while Brad settles into it, shifting his hips into the best angle to meet Ray thrust for thrust.

When Ray puts his palms on either side of Brad’s face, he leans forward and slides in that final inch. “Jesus, Ray, like you mean it,” Brad says, but it’s only a flimsy token, one Ray sees through like it’s tissue paper. Brad’s legs hitch higher as Ray starts to fuck him in earnest, their skin slapping together with loud, cracking sounds, but it hardly registers with the sound of Brad’s breath punching out of him every time Ray fucks deep.

Ray’s on edge, strung out even though he’s come once already – and will many more times before the night is through, Brad knows. The beginning of Brad’s orgasm comes on fast, aroused for so long already, but he bites it back, clenching down around Ray, tight, whispering, “Come on, come on, in me,” right next to Ray’s ear, and Ray comes in his next few thrusts, getting sloppier and sloppier and losing control with a mongrel half-sob, sounding almost pained.

When the fog clears, Ray’s forehead is pressed against Brad’s, and he’s panting, struggling to even out his breaths. He’s hard again already – or he never went all the way soft, Jesus – and Brad gathers himself, ready to just keep going, but Ray pulls out and Brad feels come trickle out of him.

“Hands and knees, Brad,” Ray says, Ray’s hands firm on Brad’s back when his muscles quiver.

“Yes, sir,” Brad says, and Ray laughs.

/////

When Brad rouses, it’s still dark and the bed is empty. He walks into the kitchen, naked, and Ray turns to face him; he’s holding a glass of water, and it looks like he’s demolished most of the cold remains of dinner. He’s put on a pair of boxers and a shirt, albeit unbuttoned. It’s a soft, well-worn flannel that Brad says makes Ray look like a stripling lumberjack. Ray always says you can’t forget your roots, which doesn’t make sense because Brad doesn’t think there are that many forests in Missouri, but Ray sighs and says, lumberjacks – trees – roots – geddit?

Brad despairs.

“You should be resting,” Brad says. The you must be kidding me look Ray sends Brad’s way is not a surprise.

“So should you,” is all he says.

Brad sighs. He flicks the switch, because some conversations you can’t have in the dark. Across the room, Ray’s pupils dilate, cat-like, at the sudden flood of light. Brad stalks across the room, backing Ray into the pantry door. He takes Ray’s glass and puts it on the kitchen counter, before crowding him so close he only needs to lean forward a handful of millimeters to press his lips to Ray’s forehead. Ray makes a disgusted sound. Grand gestures have never been a part of their SOP, but he doesn’t duck away. It might not be playing fair, but Brad’s well aware of Ray’s absolute craving for bodily affection during heat. He’s willing to use everything at his disposal to get what he wants.

“This isn’t your fault,” he says. He draws back a little, and he’s tall enough that Ray can tuck his head into the vacant space beneath Brad’s chin. His nose is cold.

“No one made me sign the papers, Bradley,” Ray says. His words are muffled by Brad’s clavicles.

“I signed papers, the same as yours,” Brad points out.

“I know. But this –” Ray gestures to himself irritably; they prefer to skirt around the issue of how Ray’s implanted DNA has gifted him with a biological urge to mate “– I hate how this takes away my control of the one thing I should have control over. I’m a Marine, for Christ’s sake. What good am I if I have no say in how my body behaves?”

When they’re in theatre, the Project prescribes certain volunteers medication to suppress some of the changes. The side-effects can be brutal; when they’re at home, the meds aren’t compulsory, so many Marines stop taking them.

Ray pulls back, suddenly angry. “And you,” Ray says. “I’ve seen you popping painkillers. Your headaches are getting worse,” Ray accuses.

“I know, I’ve made an appointment –” Brad says, tired.

“Yeah, and that’ll work until it wears off and it’ll be the same thing again!”

“Ray, you know I’m on the transplant list,” Brad says helplessly.

Ray deflates, his anger gone as suddenly as it came. “Yeah, I know.” He reaches up to touch a finger to the corner of Brad’s eye, letting it trail down his cheek. “I guess it’s a poor investment to have a guy with eyes like yours who can’t really use them.”

Brad smiles, leaning down to kiss Ray again, this time on the lips. It’s been, like, three minutes. He’s entitled.

“Bird brain,” Ray says when Brad draws back, his voice laden with affection. They sicken Brad sometimes, they really do, with all their feelings and emotions and angst flying unchecked in the air. But Ray pulls Brad back down to fuck his tongue inside Brad’s mouth, and Brad’s willing to let it go for now.

“You’re really naked,” Ray declares, rubbing all of his body against Brad, “and I really need you to fuck me until I pass out.” He squirms out from between Brad and the pantry, grabbing Brad’s hand and tugging roughly.

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends,” Brad says, long suffering.

/////

Brad wakes again early in the morning. The light is still grey, shining wanly between the slats of the blinds. He blinks, unsure of what woke him, before his alarm buzzes again, tuneless and insistent beside his head.

“What fresh hell,” Ray groans, rolling onto his back, pulling what’s left of the covers over to his side.

“Sorry, got to call in to work,” Brad says, slapping the sleep button. “Go back to sleep.”

“I’m fucking awake now,” Ray grouses. Then, “All of me is awake, now.”

“You and your metahuman dick can just stand by for a second,” Brad says. He winces when he stands up. His muscles are shivery, overtaxed and overworked, and there’s a lingering ache in Brad’s lower back that signals he bent in ways he was never supposed to bend.

Behind him, still wrapped in his blanket burrito, Ray makes a small, satisfied sound, so similar to a purr Brad almost considers teasing Ray about it. But Ray’s sensitive early in the morning, barely awake, so Brad does this one thing for Ray, and walks away.

He asks for a personal day from the base: there’ll be forms to fill out when he gets back, there’s not really an option for ‘my partner’s in heat and I don’t think I can do PT today.’ The doctors need to be informed of every changing in his condition, every ache and pain, so he’ll just make something up when he gets back to his desk. Ray’s already filed a leave of absence, Brad expects, but there’s no mechanism for him to do the same.

Cady, his lieutenant’s secretary, is brisk and impersonal, calmly asking if his superiors need to be informed of any change in his symptoms, but Brad replies with a negative and tries to be as vague as possible. While, yes, a sick day is more complicated now, they are infinitely easier to get away with.

When he enters their bedroom again, Ray’s pushed the blankets down to the foot of their bed, and is lazily fisting his cock, legs slightly spread. Ray grins at him when Brad stops to lounge against the doorframe, just to watch.

“See something you like,” Ray says, dripping with mock seriousness, one eyebrow raised and his hips rolling up into his palm.

“Once more before breakfast,” Brad says. “I’m a growing boy, and I’ve gotta eat.”

“Twice and I’ll make you pancakes,” Ray says, starting to pant a little.

“Done,” Brad says, crossing to the bed and taking Ray’s cock in his mouth.

/////

They ostensibly signed themselves up as human test tubes for an experimental treatment to create specialized American soldiers. Brad met Ray in group therapy, where ten armed forces personel would gather in a room and talk about their shit. Of course, it’s an empty office block on an Army base, because the Army has shit to spare. There were twenty-seven men and three women participating in the trial in total, all from elite units of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Every time Brad talks to Jerrett, a surprisingly diminutive Navy SEAL, he wonders if he’s been slated to get some kind of sea mammal DNA. Perhaps something to expand the lungs?

Apparently there were five control subjects in the trial, who were being given placebo injections. No-one has undergone surgery yet, so Brad doesn’t know how – or if – they’re going to fake that one. Ray’s currently telling the group – in a ten-part argumentative essay – how he doesn’t think he’s been given a placebo.

“I’m starting to feel a bit like a zombie,” Ray says. “Like in that one movie where men try to exert godlike influence over nature and everyone ends up dead? I’m starting to feel like that’s happening here.”

“Life will find a way, Person,” Brad says, trying his best to ooze sarcasm and derision, but Ray just laughs delightedly, turning a megawatt grin on Brad, and apparently being one of one billion people on the Earth who have seen Jurassic Park is enough to become best friends with Joshua Ray Person.

After everyone’s done sullenly staring at the ground with their mouths shut – those in the military aren’t big on sharing and caring, apparently – there’s a fold-out table with shitty coffee and donuts, just like the ones in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in the movies. Sometimes doctors with clipboards make a round, trying to corner everyone individually, but less often as time goes on.

Brad’s grabbed the last donut – strawberry glaze, but better than nothing – and turns to leave when Ray corners him.

“So, Sergeant Colbert, of First Reconnaissance Marines, what do they plan to pump into your bloodstream?”

“I don’t see how that’s any of your business,” Brad says. They’ve hardly talked more than a handful of times, and each time has left Brad making a mental note never to be drawn into conversation again, lest this time he not emerge with his sanity intact. Person seems like a nice enough kid; he just talks.

“I, myself, have been landed with the bobcat, the common ancestor of most domesticated household cats.”

“So, what, you’re going to wake up one morning, scratch at the furniture, and then curl up in a patch of sunlight and not move for the rest of the day? That doesn’t seem very befitting of a warrior.”

Ray sniffs, unimpressed. “Fuck you, homes, clearly you’re not a cat owner. Those little shits are petty and mean and vicious. Just what you need to win a war over an indigenous peoples.”

Brad takes a last bite of his donut, chews fastidiously, and pushes past Ray without a word.

Ray yells after him, of course. “Wait, I was going to get a glass of water and do the Chaos Theory speech! Brad? Braaaaaaaa –”

Brad shuts the door behind him.

/////

Ray can’t cook many things, so the things he can cook have been perfected through years of experimentation. His pancakes are fluffy and light – misshapen, of course, but you can’t have everything.

“It’s the buttermilk,” Ray says, mouth full. “And did you know that, in baking, you’re supposed to put salt in to help it rise? Salt and bicarb soda, good for thick pancakes.”

“Thank you, Ray, so helpful,” Brad says. Brad’s stomach has just helpfully reminded him he didn’t eat last night, and he’d piled his plate high, shovelling his first two pancakes in so fast he could barely taste them, much to Ray’s consternation. Slowing down for his third, Brad swirls a piece a piece of pancake in syrup, but he doesn’t raise it to his mouth in time to keep it from dripping down his shirt. He swears, looking up from rubbing his thumb over the stain to see Ray laughing at him, a shit-eating grin almost splitting his face in two.

“Don’t say a word,” Brad says, holding his empty fork menacingly.

“What’s your excuse, Bradley? I was raised in a trailer park – were you brought up among wolves?”

“Shut up,” Brad says, but he’s smiling too, he can’t help himself. He shoves his last few bites in his mouth at once, chewing obnoxiously, and Ray laughs. Brad rises to dump his plate in the sink, turning on the hot water so he can wash the pans Ray used that can’t go in the dishwasher. As usual, there’s more mess than is warranted by simple pancakes. Brad clucks his tongue as he wipes up spilled batter.

“Shut up, you couldn’t make pancakes as badass as mine,” Ray says, putting his plate in the sink as well, and shutting off the running water.

Brad just inclines his head, and lets that be his answer.

“Nah, there’s no way you could,” Ray decides, pulling a pack of cigarettes from the breast pocket of his flannel shirt. When he taps the lighter out of the packet, Brad notices his hands are shaking, and it takes him three tries to get the flame to steady.

“Go smoke outside,” Brad says.

“Put the coffee on?” Ray replies.

“I’m not your housewife. Make your own coffee.”

“But Braaaaaaad, I’m on sick leave. I’m sick.”

“Smoke your cancer stick outside,” Brad says, as he grabs the jar full of instant coffee crystals. Why pay for expensive shit when Ray guzzles it so fast he can’t taste it.

“Thanks, wifey,” Ray says. He leans in close to kiss Brad on the cheek; even with a couple of inches between them, Brad can feel the flare in Ray’s body heat.

By the time Brad’s wiped down everything in the kitchen and makes Ray’s coffee, Ray has finished his cigarette and is lounging on their one piece of outdoor furniture, a reclining deck chair set out in the middle of the backyard. The backyard is nothing but a small patch of overgrown grass; Brad can’t be bothered to mow more than once a month and it’s not as if Ray gives a shit. Ray’s fingers are tapping on the plastic arm of the chair, and he’s humming a fast-paced tune Brad doesn’t recognize.

“How are you feeling?” Brad asks, his shadow falling over Ray’s face as he hands him the coffee mug.

“Hot,” Ray says, Brad raises an eyebrow, but Ray doesn’t even glance his way. “That is an easy joke, and beneath you or me, Colbert.”

“I thought you only liked the easy ones,” Brad says, and Ray groans.

“A true maestro of humor, you are. Spectacular effort.”

“It was a moment of weakness,” Brad says, and when Ray looks up at him, squinting in the bright sun, Brad allows himself to smile. Ray snorts.

“Come down here,” Ray says, wrapping his fingers around Brad’s wrist and tugging. With Ray holding his mug above their heads so Brad doesn’t jostle it, Brad arranges himself so he’s lying on top of Ray, head below Ray’s chin and Ray’s feet rubbing just below Brad’s knees, because he’s a shortass.

“This chair is not built for two grown men,” Brad says. “Or even one grown man and a hobbit.”

“You’re killing me,” Ray says, deadpan. Brad hides his smile in Ray’s stupid shirt, rubbing his morning bristle against the worn cotton.

Pressed together like this, neither of them can ignore Ray’s erection anymore, and Ray groans, low and pained, when Brad moves to brace himself properly over Ray, taking Ray’s coffee cup and setting it on the ground. Ray shifts his hips, rubbing wantonly against Brad, but when Brad moves to slide his hand between them, the chair rocks on the uneven ground. Ray groans, frustrated, before putting his hands on Brad’s shoulders and pushing him off.

“What –” Brad says, but Ray says, “Off, get off,” and keeps pushing Brad off the chair entirely.

“Seriously?” Brad says to the cloudless sky.

“Do know how embarrassing it is to have a sex-related injury?” Ray says, rolling off the chair after Brad. “No? Well, good.” Ray straddles Brad’s thighs, pulling down the waistband of his sweatpants enough to get a hand on Brad’s rapidly filling cock. Brad thanks the Lord they have high fences and it’s mid-morning on a weekday.

Ray’s hand is rough and strong, and it’s the sweet kind of amazing where Brad could just lay there and let his orgasm take him without any work on his part at all. Ray could jerk his orgasm out of him and leave him gasping, empty in the sun, but Brad’s learnt sex with Ray during this time of year is about planning and self-control. With a groan, Brad raises his knees, planting his feet on the ground and shoving Ray off. Ray bites off a muttered swearword, but Brad’s already rolled over, his body completely covering Ray’s, his mouth finding Ray’s mid-curse.

When Brad pulls back, scooting down Ray’s body to push his legs apart, Ray, as always, can never seem to keep his mouth shut. “C’mon, Brad,” he whines, lifting his hips so Brad can peel down his boxers. “You can’t keep me waiting, please, you can’t.”

They’ve just been grinding against each other for less than five minutes, sweating in the heat, and Ray’s desperate for it, the need building in his chest, hands grasping impotently at Brad’s shoulders, his t-shirt, his hips.

“Hands above your head,” Brad mumurs, his voice quiet and deep with arousal.

“Brad,” Ray says again, panting.

“Put your hands above your head,” Brad says, "be good for me, Ray, and hold them there."

“Control freak,” Ray says, but his hands go up.

“You're so good,” Brad says, again. Ray's strung out, sinewy muscles jumping in Ray's neck and his arms, where he's held down by nothing but Brad's voice. Brad sticks two fingers in his mouth, gets them gross with his own saliva, and rubs around Ray’s hole before pushing in.

Brad’s already fingered him once this morning, before breakfast, so Brad doesn’t bother preparing him, just fucks Ray with his fingers like it’s his cock, feeling Ray’s greedy hole tight around him. Ray grunts, drawing his legs up higher, exposing all of him for Brad to see: the twitching muscles in Ray’s stomach; the blood-red flush of Ray’s cock, shining at the tip; the filthy clutch of Ray’s asshole with Brad’s fingers inside him, sliding in past the second knuckle and out again. Brad shifts his weight back so he’s sitting on his ankles, his thighs sore from leaning over Ray, and when he thrusts his fingers back inside, he crooks them, searching. Ray exhales violently, making a noise like he’s been punched in the chest.

“Brad, come on, come on, you’re, you’re,” Ray clearly doesn’t know what Brad is, he’s just arching his back and bearing down on Brad’s fingers, whining come on over and over again.

“Can you – can you come like this? Just with this?” Brad says, breathless. Ray can sometimes come without a touch to his cock, but usually only at the very start of his heat, when everything is still bottled up side him.

“What? No – I don’t know,” Ray pants, tossing his head and putting the arch of his neck on display.

“Let’s see, shall we,” Brad says, grinning, bearing down over Ray to kiss the side of his bared neck.

Ray gives an exasperated half-groan, half-laugh. “I hate you,” he says, but he turns his head to give Brad more skin, and his hands stay where they are, crossed at the wrists above his head.

“You love me,” Brad says into the space below Ray’s ear, at the hinge of his jaw.

Ray just laughs again, lying beneath Brad, letting Brad fuck him open with his fingers.

“You’re a contrary little shit,” Brad says, amused, trying to keep his breathing even while it feels like his chest is contracting, arousal tightening his throat and burning his skin. When he draws his fingers out, he tucks in another, stretching Ray out around three fingers.

Ray grunts a little, but takes it, arching his neck so the tendons stand out, his breath puffing out in sudden bursts, his body a long line of taut violence, coiled tension. Brad has a sudden vision of adding a fourth finger, then slipping his thumb up under his palm, working his hand inside, watching Ray stretch around the widest part of his hand and closing around his wrist. Ray would let him, is the worst part. Ray’s so lost in it, Brad wouldn’t even have to ask, Ray would just spread his legs wider, hitch his hips higher. But Brad can already feel the lack of lube, saliva not enough to entirely ease the way.

By this time, Brad’s shoulder is starting to ache, a low-grade burn in the muscle. “Do you think you can?” Brad says, breath blowing hot into the side of Ray’s neck.

“Yes,” Rays says, then, “What? No. What was the question?”

“Can you come without me touching your dick?”

“Ah,” Ray says when Brad fucks his fingers back in, slow. “No, ah shit, I don’t. Don’t think so.”

“You don’t think so?” Brad rubs his thumb behind Ray’s balls, just to hear Ray whine.

“No, I can’t, so you can’t keep doing this to me Brad, or so help me God,” Ray says, but doesn’t finish his threat.

“Okay,” Brad says, shifting back onto his knees, keeping his fingers inside Ray. Ray’s own fingers are still twisted together above his head, white around the knuckles. “I want you to do it yourself.”

Ray’s left hand immediately releases his right, although Brad’s gratified to see his left still stays in the dirt.

“Gotta do everything my goddamn self,” Ray bitches, but his hand takes a hold of his cock, moving quickly, no finesse. It’s all the more filthy for the fact Ray’s not even trying to put on a show, just stripping his cock with his eyes closed, breathing fast. It only takes a few thrusts into his palm before Ray falls into a rhythm, Brad fucking him with his fingers and Ray fucking his own hand.

Ray’s mouth falls open when he comes, back arching into it, the clutch of his asshole obscene around Brad’s fingers. He groans, long and low, and keeps his hand on his cock, working himself through it, although overstimulation sets in quickly, and his hand falls away as his eyes blink open. Brad keeps fucking him anyway, and Ray makes a shocked, needy sound, his ass still working around Brad’s fingers.

Brad could, probably, just keep fucking Ray through it until he’s hard again, but Ray’s sucking down air like he’s just done a ten-mile run with his pack on. Brad pitches back onto his ass, a bit unsteady because his legs have gone to sleep from holding him in the same position, and as soon as they’re separated, Ray’s legs tip over, boneless, and his arms flop down by his side. Without looking over, Ray grasps blindly for something at his side, and Brad passes Ray his coffee cup. Ray looks at it speculatively.

“I don’t think I have the strength to sit up,” Ray says.

“Gotta do everything my damn self,” Brad parrots, grasping Ray’s arm so he can pull him up. Once sitting, Ray slumps forward, his spine a concave curve, his head bowed. Brad notices his arms are slightly shaking when he lifts his coffee mug to his lips.

“My coffee’s fucking cold,” Ray says, frowning at it like it fucked his sister.

“Pull your boxers up, we’re almost in public,” Brad says, rearranging his own over his still mostly-hard erection. It’s going to be a hot day; the sun has moved higher in the sky so there is significantly less shade in their backyard, and Brad can feel the heat on the back of his neck, the sweat on his forehead.

Ray takes another sip, making a disgusted face, before pulling up his boxers so the elastic snaps audibly against his skin. Brad gets to his feet, squinting in the sun, before offering a hand down to Ray.

“Come on,” Brad says. “Up. Inside. Air con.”

“Just give me a sec,” Ray bitches, but Brad makes a show out of tapping his foot, so Ray huffs, reaching up to wrap his hand around Brad’s wrist, letting Brad haul him upright.

“I’ll give you five minutes and then you’ll be all up on my dick again,” Brad says.

Ray shrugs, philosophical. He bumps shoulders with Brad as they walk back toward the house, fingers webbed over the rim of his cold coffee cup.

/////

Person catches up to Brad in the parking lot.

“Hey,” Ray says, jogging across the last few feet of bitumen. They’re all in civvies when they go to group discussions, in order to facilitate an air of individuality – the irony is not lost on Brad, he’s spent his entire adult life, and some of his adolescent life, dressed one way in order to promote a sense of group identity. Now he’s been told to forget about that – he’s just the same as his Ranger brethren, a person with his own thoughts and feelings and symptoms.

“What do you want, Person?” Brad says.

“We’re the only two Marines in that circle-jerk,” Person says. “We have to stick together. There’s no telling what idiocy those Army brats are going to come up with.”

It’s true, there are five Army Rangers in their ten-person discussion group, to two Marines, two SEALs , and one woman representing both the females and the Air Force. Brad doesn’t want to be her.

“We have no rank once we step inside those doors, Corporal,” Brad says, gesturing at his Journey t-shirt. The look Ray gives him is so dry with derision, Brad snorts despite himself.

Person smiles like he’s won, although Brad hasn’t been aware of any battle.

“Seriously though,” Person says, apropos of nothing. “What are you getting? You have to be assigned something by now, because your surgery’s up first, right?”

They reach Brad’s car, and Brad fishes in his pocket for his keys. “Yeah,” Brad says. He waits a beat, pressing the remote to unlock the doors, but Person doesn’t seem to be in a rush. “In a little over a week, I’ll have avian blood running through my veins.”

Person makes an impatient go on gesture.

“An eagle,” Brad says, reluctantly.

“You are shitting me. You are completely putting me on,” Ray says.

“Nope.”

Person looks Brad up and down, slow and deliberate. “You are the most all-American-looking motherfucker I know, but Jesus. This is a new level of moto, Colbert, even for the United States government.”

Brad rolls his eyes, opening the driver’s side door. Brad does not mind squashing toes if Person doesn’t shift himself away from Brad’s personal space.

“Hang on a sec,” Person says, catching the door. “When are you going under?”

“The Wednesday after next,” Brad says. It’s eleven days away.

“Football season’s starting up again that Sunday, isn’t it? They should have released you by then. Do you want to come over? I will have a beer and you won’t because of your meds, but I make a mean plate of nachos.”

Brad’s seen the promos, they’re airing the Chargers versus the Raiders on the local channels, but he doesn’t really follow football. Brad tells as much to Person, and has to swallow around some inexplicable sense of affection at Ray’s overblown disappointment.

“But you can come over my place,” Brad adds, before he thinks about it too much. “There’s a big TV and probably less suspicious stains.”

Ray, for once, doesn’t say much, just releases Brad’s car door once Brad’s rattled off his address. Ray nods when Brad starts up the car, turning around to walk to his own rust bucket with a simple, “Later, Iceman.”

Two weeks later, Ray turns up on Brad’s doorstep with cheap beer under one arm and the most expensive brand of corn chips under the other.

Brad’s eyes get sore watching the television for too long, and he still has trouble focusing on things more than a few feet away, so his gaze ends up flitting to Ray more times than he’s sure is appropriate. The light moves along the couch as the sun sinks below the horizon, and despite all the jokes, Ray ends up curled in the last of it, dead asleep.

/////

Ray tips the last of his coffee down the sink and rinses his mug, letting Brad crowd Ray over the counter, his front pressed along Ray’s back. Brad’s insistently hard now, his cock responding even though it’s rubbing Ray’s ass through two layers of cotton. When Brad sneaks a hand down the front of Ray’s boxers, it’s a bit disgusting: he’s not fully hard yet, and there’s cooled come on his dick, on the inside of his shorts, on the front of his lumberjack shirt.

“Look at you,” Brad rumbles in Ray’s ear, “look at the mess you’ve made of yourself.”

Ray’s breath quickens, but he reaches for the detergent, squirting a bit around the rim of his cup, and wetting a cloth with hot water. He washes it with his eyes closed, head tipped back on Brad’s shoulder, breath hitching each time Brad runs a slow thumb over the head of Ray’s cock.

“Can I fuck you, Ray?” Brad asks, and Ray rinses the mug again, putting it on the draining rack. The mug probably wasn’t that clean when they bought it.

“Yeah,” Ray says, “shit, why you gotta ask?”

“Because it turns you on?” Brad says.

“You do have me there,” Ray agrees easily, pitching forward when Brad puts his hand on the back of his neck and pushes him so he’s bent over the kitchen counter. His ass rubs wantonly against Brad’s cock, and Brad barely pushes down Ray’s boxers and rubs a finger against his hole before Ray gasps, “Wait, stop.”

Brad pulls back, and Ray says, “Not here, my arms can’t hold me. Couch?”

“Couch,” Brad says, pulling Ray’s boxers back up. “I’ll meet you there in a sec.”

Taking a detour to the bathroom, Brad is reminded, yet again, that sex with Ray is about planning and forethought, yet is executed with the fumbling blindness of a barely competent military invasion.

Lube in hand, Brad walks into the living room to find Ray taking off his clothes with a wince. “Gross,” he mutters, kicking them toward the door, and looking up when they land at Brad’s feet. Brad decides not to say anything, and delicately steps over them.

“I don’t care how we do this, as long as you’re on top,” Brad declares, walking over to flop himself down on the couch. He shimmies his own boxers off, and flings his shirt over his head, dropping it somewhere unseen.

“All my muscles hurt,” Ray whines, his eyes tracking the shift of Brad’s muscles before they snap back to Brad’s face.

“You’re young, you can handle it,” Brad says. “I think you broke something in my back last night.”

Ray laughs, just a little, like he doesn’t want to be unkind, but his grin stays stamped upon his face. “Can’t keep up with your boytoy, Grandpa?” Ray says, teasing, but he straddles Brad’s hips with no further argument.

It’s a well-worn joke between them, but the fact remains that Ray is one of the youngest in the Project, especially when the minimum age requirement was raised after what everyone has deemed ‘The Trombley Incident’.

“There’s plenty left in the tank yet,” Brad murmurs, putting his hands over Ray’s, interlocking their fingers and tugging Ray down so they’re chest to chest again, still flushed warm from the sun outside. Ray’s young, smooth cheek rubs against Brad’s, their noses pushing against each other before their mouths slot together. Their linked hands are squashed uncomfortably in between them; there’s a small struggle, Ray laughing into Brad’s open mouth, before Brad wins the tug of war and lifts their hands above their heads, in the dead air over the arm of the couch. There, he loosens their fingers, running his hands from Ray’s elbows to the tips of his fingers and back again while they make out. Even their legs are intertwined, but Brad’s still never sure if it’s enough to satisfy Ray’s cravings.

When Brad moves to rub the back of Ray’s shoulders, down the line of his spine, Ray’s hands cradle the back of Brad’s head, pushing their faces closer together, the kiss turning vicious, a little bit desperate. Ray’s hips start moving, rubbing his cock against Brad’s chest.

“I got you, I got you,” Brad says, the words squashed between them, dying for want of air.

“If you could get to it a little faster,” Ray says back, never missing an opportunity to be a contrary little shit. Ray’s hips lift up far enough for Brad to get a hand between them, slicking his cock with lube and pouring more in his hand to get Ray wet. Ray seems to enjoy the two fingers Brad puts in his ass, his cock fully hard again, but when Ray says, “Come on, I’ve already bought tickets to this show,” Brad puts his messy hands on Ray’s hips and lets Ray guide himself back down onto Brad’s cock. Ray makes a guttural sound next to Brad’s ear. It must hurt more than a little, Ray’s been fucked raw over the last twenty-four hours, and would be ready to just sleep the slumber of the sex-stupid, if only it weren’t for some damned implanted instinct.

“We can stop, just for a little bit,” Brad says, because it really does wonders for his wood when Ray sounds like he’s hurting. Ray’s face is so close that all Brad can see is the expressive quirk of his eyebrow, the derisive roll of his eye.

“You stop now and I’ll claw out your eyes, and leave the stumps of your optic nerve dangling from your empty sockets,” Ray pants, rolling his hips down into Brad’s. This close, they can’t get much friction, but it’s as much of an answer as Ray’s grisly spoken one.

“My erection thanks you for that image,” Brad says, but the way Ray’s moving, there’s no longer any danger of anyone getting a limp dick at this stage of the game. Ray grins, sitting up so he can ride Brad’s cock, giving up words in favor of panting like a freight train. Brad remembers that Ray has been going from orgasm to orgasm – his last was barely twenty minutes ago, and already Brad can feel the telltale twitch of Ray’s stomach muscles when he runs his hands up Ray’s sides and down again, cupping Ray’s ass to help him move.

"God, I love you like this," Brad says, cotton-mouthed. His brain feels slow and sex-stupid, he's saying stuff directly from his lizard brain.

"Tell me, Brad, christ," Ray says, rolling his hips with a fucking - a fucking feline curve of his back, like he's giving Brad the most through lap dance of his life, grinding sinfully down on Brad's cock.

"I love you fucking full of me, so full of me you can't think of anything else but me -" Brad doesn't even know what he's saying, fuck - "fill you up with it so I can see it leaking out of you when we're done -" Ray whines at that, thighs shaking as he lifts himself up barely an inch, and lets gravity pull him back down, hard, "- and then, I, I, I want to eat it out of you, fuck, keep you open for me always, all the time, so all I have to do is crook my finger and you'll get down on your hands and knees for me -"

"Yes, that's what I want," Ray hisses, sitting on Brad's cock, using him like a glorified dildo. When Brad runs his thumb up the underside of Ray's dick and around the head with the least possible amount of delicacy, Ray shouts like it hurts, like he wants it to, rocking up and down like he'll die if he stops.

"Keep talking dirty to me, Brad, let me hear that sweet mouth of yours," and Ray sounds like he's teasing but he's not, not at all, so Brad adjusts his grip on Ray's cock so he's just jacking it, and there's enough lube left on his hands that he's probably not hurting Ray, but it'd be a fine line.

"I think I'd die if this happened more than once a year, I think you'd kill me, fuck, but you get me hot, Ray, like no one else. The way you beg me for it, the way you'll let me do whatever I want to you. I could ask you to lay across my lap so I could beat your ass black and blue, and you'd just do it when you're like this, wouldn't you -" Brad's getting so close to coming, shit, his dick has been at least half-hard since he gave Ray a wake-up blowjob this morning and he's hitting nil to three, trailing behind Ray "- you slut, you're so filthy, all for me,"

and just like that, Ray's coming with a cry, loud, still pumping out semen because of this useless drive to mate. His ass grips wetly around Brad's cock, sinfully tight, and Brad's almost there, so he grabs Ray's hips to lift him up and thrusts up a handful more times, driving deep and hard, listening to Ray's cries ratchet louder each time Brad bottoms out. Brad comes like there's an earthquake beneath him, arched up and shaking. When he relaxes back into the couch cushions, Ray's ass plops back down, forcing one final sob from him, thick and wet.

"Sweet fucking Jesus," Ray says after two minutes, after Brad's dick has slipped from his ass, and they've both caught their breath.

"Yeah," Brad says, weak. He feels like he's been run over by a HumVee, then they slapped it into reverse so they could finish the job. Ray's thighs still bracket Brad's hips, and they tremble with aftershocks, like the aftermath of being zapped with an electric current.

"I think that did it," Ray says. He's flopped down, boneless, onto Brad's chest, and Brad can feel his cheek moving against his skin.

"Really?" Brad asks. He'd asked for another three days off from work, just to be safe.

"For, like, the next hour," Ray says, and Brad groans.

"If I just keep fucking you, continuously, do you think it'll go faster?" Brad asks. It's a toss up: possible sex-related injury, or getting it over and done with so they can have an entire twenty-four hours where they can sleep it off.

"Are you up to the challenge, old-timer?" Despite his fighting words, though, Ray is still unmoved, covering Brad like a sweaty blanket.

"Get on your hands and knees," is all Brad says, and something in his voice must motivate Ray, because he scrambles off the couch and onto all fours, looking at Brad over his shoulder. Brad can see his ass, still fucked open, wide and wet, a bit of come sliding down the inside of his thigh with all this sudden movement. Ray's face is red, the blush blotching down his neck, but he looks at Brad steadily.

"What are you going to do to me, Brad?" he says, voice hoarse and broken a bit in the middle. Brad starts to move behind Ray, spreading Ray's knees a bit further so he can kneel in between.

"I told you what I wanted," Brad says, and because he's really expanding doors with his dirty talk today, he just goes for it, "I'm going to eat you out, get you even wetter, like a girl's cunt -"

"Aw, shit," Ray says, head dropping between his elbows, rocking back when Brad runs a hand up and down Ray's spine.

"- and I don't want you to come, not until I tell you. Can you do that for me, Ray? Just this?"

"'Just this,' he says, because it's so easy," Ray bitches, always got to get a word in, even when he's sex-stupid and possibly oxygen starved, from the way his head is hanging.

"No, because I asked." Brad takes a long look at Ray's open asshole, putting his thumbs either side and stretching it open. "I'm gonna make you forget everything that's not this," Brad promises, slipping two fingers straight inside.

"And Ray?" Brad adds, right before he bends down to put his mouth on Ray. "Don't be quiet. I want to hear you beg me for it."

/////

When Ray gets home, Brad is lying on the couch, in the dark, one arm flung over his eyes. Silently, Ray goes to the kitchen, fishing a compress out of the first aid kit and heating it up in the microwave.

"Here, try this," Ray says, sitting on the edge of the couch and putting the compress on Brad's stomach, wrapped in a hand towel.

"I don't need you to mother me," Brad says, voice tight, but he puts it across his face, covering his eyes and most of his forehead.

Ray ignores him. "I know you hate the horse pills the doctors gave you, so if you stop bitching for a sec, I'll grind them up and put them in soup for you," he says.

"It makes the soup tastes funny."

"Yeah, well, that's what you get for being a princess."

"They call them horse pills because they were made for an animal with a throat the size of a horse," Brad says. It's not bitching if it's the truth. "They make me feel like I'm going to throw up."

"Well, it's one way or the other buddy. You've got to take them, though. Have you taken your antibiotics today as well?"

Brad feels like his silence is enough to answer that one. Ray sighs.

"I'll heat up some soup for you, okay?" Ray says, his hand squeezing Brad's thigh before he gets up. The headache is so bad Brad loses track of time, breathing with each pound of his head, so he starts a little when Ray comes back. Brad can hear the chime of a bowl against the surface of their coffee table, and Ray presses a couple of smaller pills into his free hand.

"You got to sit up, man, okay?" Ray says, and actually puts a hand around Brad's bicep to help him.

"Don't," Brad bites, shrugging Ray off. Keeping the compress pressed to his face, Brad shifts upright so he's reclining across the couch, back propped against the corner of the backrest and armrest. Ray doesn't say anything, again, just pulls Brad's other hand from the compress and filling it with a glass of room temperature water so he can swallow the pills. When he's done, Ray takes the glass and replaces it with the bowl of soup.

With the pain meds crushed into it, it takes medicinal and powdery, but Brad suffers through it. He can feel Ray's disapproving gaze when he tries to give him back the bowl still half-full, so Brad has to take off the compress to see what he's eating for the rest of it. It's dark now, and all the blinds are closed, so there's not too much external stimuli, but Brad's eyes have always adjusted quickly, and after a while, even the ambient moonlight seems too bright. Brad shuts his eyes again, and by the time he's finished eating, Ray has warmed the compress again, and Brad can flop back down to feel sorry for himself.

"Ray?" Ray's not making a sound, but Brad can feel him there, sitting on the coffee table next to Brad.

"Yeah?"

"It hurts," Brad says softly.

"I know, buddy. Surgery's next week, though, yeah? And it'll be better after that."

"Better hope so," Brad grumbles. "Otherwise I'm going to invent time travel and go back in time to stop myself from signing that fucking piece of paper, John Connor be damned. I'm not waiting for some fabled warrior prince to come save me."

Ray huffs a little, reaching over to squeeze Brad's thigh again. Brad covers Ray's hand with his own. He's sick. He can have this one thing. "Don't say that, Brad, you don't know how useful our skills will be after Skynet destroys the world."

"Assuming we survive the initial nuclear blast and subsequent fallout."

"You know me," Ray says. "I always assume."

Brad smiles, just a little.

"Hey," Ray says. "Hey Brad."

"What."

"Braaaaaad."

"What?"

"Do you want me to blow you? I'll make it the super-soppy kind."

"What? Ray, no."

There's a silent heartbeat, echoed by a pound in Brad's head.

"Okay, but give me ten minutes for the pain meds to kick in."

"I knew it," Ray crows, but at least he keeps the volume down. "Let me take care of you this time, Brad, little Ray-Ray's gonna make you feel so good."

"I doubt it," Brad says, but he's smiling.