There are three chairs arranged in a rough semi-circle on the brownstone roof. Brad has apparently ignored all of them as he's sitting with his back against the wall and long jean-clad legs stretched out, eyes closed, catching the last of the fall sun before it slips down below the rooftops. He opens his eyes at the clang of leather boots on metal steps. Nate never attempts to creep up on him. Not after the first time. There's a phantom ache of long-faded bruises and Nate's glad his hands are full so Brad doesn't catch him rubbing the old injury.
He hands over a steaming mug, then pulls over the nearest chair – it reminds him of an old classroom chair, wooden and rickety, worn at the very base of the back legs as though someone spent a lot of time tilting back in it, scuffed at the front from black rubber soles – and sits so he's facing the sun but doesn't need to turn to see Brad. Brad's clasping the mug tight; despite the sun, the air is brisk up here, cold enough that the steam is turning his nose red.
Nate hunches up inside his coat. It's new, bought yesterday. He'd needed a thick winter coat once he made the decision to accept Brad's offer. Surgeons need elegant coats, consulting detectives need warm ones. Brad's offer fit. The work excites him and stretches him and that's what he needs.
And yet he'd put off buying the coat for weeks.
They drink their tea in silence. Brad isn't still or quiet often, just in the aftermath of a case. He'll be peaceful for a day or so, in a post-orgasm-like state of relaxation, and Nate won't need to worry about drugs because Brad won't even think about them when he's like this.
Brad puts down his empty mug and examines Nate, narrowing his eyes a moment. "It bothered you, didn't it?" He doesn't define his question or add parameters. Not that it was really a question: Brad doesn't ask, he observes, he recalls, he states.
He's right, as usual. The moment Nate stepped into the familiar disinfectant-and-illness smell of the hospital he'd felt in charge, in his element. Except that he hadn't been in charge and it wasn't his element any more, and the patient they saw wasn't Nate's patient. They were visitors, Nate was nothing more than an interloper in the hospital routine, and that had rankled.
"Whatever," Nate says, and shrugs. It was a moment, and it's past. He's moved on, maybe not fully, but he's getting there. "What will you do with the hives over the winter?" he asks, changing the subject. He doesn't bother to be subtle. Subtlety is wasted on Brad. That was one of the first lessons he'd learned when they met. That, and he could forget about privacy. The very first morning he'd woken up to find Brad sitting at the end of his bed, impatient, tapping one foot loudly until Nate had groaned and admitted to being awake. Brad had pulled off the quilt and thrown clothes at him – some of which had been in his second suitcase, the one he hadn't bothered unlocking the night before – and demanded he get dressed immediately.
Brad accepts the change of subject with the faintest gleam in his eyes that says he's perfectly aware of what Nate's doing but he'll go along with it anyway. He jumps up and lopes over to the nearest hive. "I've re-queened, and I'm feeding them up," he says, matching his actions to his words before sitting back down next to Nate, knees bent this time, but still calm and relaxed. "Next week I'll wrap them up." He points to a pile of black tar paper held down with a stapler. "They're a hardy variety, so they should be fine. I'll check on them regularly, make sure they don't starve or get damp." There's a rare fondness in Brad's tone, fascination in abundance but a warm affection underlying it. Nate's caught that tone a few times. Once when he was in the next room and heard Brad talking to Clyde – when he's in the same room Brad's as like as not to threaten to make soup from Clyde and use his shell as a serving dish – and several times now at the conclusion of cases when Brad has commented on Nate's own (often small, but increasingly significant) contribution to the case.
Nate finishes his own tea, and moves his chair a few inches to avoid the chill of the rapidly creeping shadows. Brad doesn't move, even though Nate's chair is nudging up against his leg. Nate sighs quietly, aware that he's content when the whole world – or at least his parents and friends, the part of the world who matter to him – would think he should be frustrated. He's content with his new line of work, and he's content whenever he hears that tone, even though he knows he's getting to depend on it, work for it. He ought to consider it a problem – he of all people would never advise dependency on anything (or anyone) – but, somehow, he can't. He's happier than he's been in a long while, in this new home with bees on the roof and a tortoise Brad professes to despise, and Brad. Brad, his prickly, intense, sometimes crazy, wildly tattooed, addictive client-turned-teacher.
Nate's hand is hanging by his side, fingertips brushing the roof. It's the easiest, most natural thing in the world to reach out for Brad. Neither of them say anything when he rests his hand on top of Brad's, thumb brushing against the warm steady pulse at his wrist. And neither of them moves for a long time, even when the sun dips out of sight leaving nothing more than a dim light and the memory of warmth, and the only part of him that doesn't feel cold is the part that's touching Brad.
Next time Nate's in a hospital, he doesn't think it'll bother him at all. That's not his element any more. This is. He holds on.