a liar, a lover, a brother in arms

by templemarker

Notes: I’ll admit that this is a precursor to a much larger, forthcoming, piece. But marcolette assures me it works independently. Colbert/Fick, post-series established relationship. Title from the Anais Nin quote, “If I cannot take you for a liar or a lover, I’ll take you for my brother in arms,” which I nicked from the Porn Skirmish prompt list.

***

Nate was on the phone with Mike Wynn at least once a week, sometimes twice if he needed to be. Mike’s wife Alice was used to laughing when Nate called, passing over the phone to Mike and saying they talked more than the Wynns’ teenaged daughter did on the phone. It wasn’t their fault–Nate was in DC, and Mike was happily entrenched in Texas, and they had shit to talk about.

It didn’t stop Nate from feeling like maybe he and Angie Wynn did have something in common when he called Mike up after Brad’s latest email.

“He’s going back to Iraq, to Fallujah,” Nate said moodily. “I don’t understand why he does this shit on purpose. He could have a pick of jobs. Why does he always choose this kind?”

“What makes you think–Ben, put that damn thing down–that this wasn’t his pick?” Mike asked, so damn reasonably, and Nate held back a sigh.

“You’re probably right,” Nate admitted. “I just wish he’d–”

Mike snorted. “You wish he’d stop trying to push himself further and harder?” he asked. “Nate, I’m sorry now, but have you met your gentleman?”

Nate couldn’t help but laugh. “He hates it when you call him that.”

“And yet for some reason I keep doin’ it,” Mike said, amusement evident in his voice.

Nate heard Alice scolding the kids in the background, and he leaned back in his chair. His study was quiet, half-lit by his desk lamp and the hall light, and he ran a hand over his eyes. He never knew how to respond to these emails Brad sent, when he told Nate that he’d taken postings without ever talking it over first. It didn’t feel like Nate could ask Brad to invite his opinion; somehow it felt like stepping over a line, even though they’d been together for nearly five years.

“Dammit, son, I swear I will get off this phone with your Uncle Nate and come over there if you don’t turn off that video box and do the dishes like your mother told you to, twice now,” Mike swore over the phone, and Nate smiled. Ben was six and had to be pried away from his X-Box.

“You tell him, Mike,” he teased, stretching out the knot in his back.

“Yeah, well, if I don’t call him on it he’s never gonna learn,” Mike said, voice disappearing a little when he switched it from ear to ear. “You could learn a lesson or two from that yourself.”

Nate sighed. “If he were as easy as Ben, I might just do that,” he said, protesting weakly.

“Ben ain’t easy, and neither is Brad, and you’re bein’ blind if you think he’s going to give you anything you don’t ask for first,” Mike said assertively. “I don’t know why I have to tell you this when you spend every minute he has on leave crawlin’ him like a tree–and I will never thank you for makin’ me have to explain that to Angie, Nate, it just wasn’t fair. She was thirteen for cryin’ out loud.”

“I’ve said sorry about a thousand different ways, Mike,” Nate said, holding back a laugh. “We thought that door was locked.”

“Well it wasn’t,” Mike said huffily. “Now she’s talking about gay marriage and Iowa and stuff, and damn if I don’t have her joinin’ the Gay-Straight Alliance at school and talkin’ about going to Sarah Lawrence, so thank you very fucking much, Nate Fick.”

“Sarah Lawrence is a good school,” Nate said, flipping through the papers on his desk. “It’s close enough that I could look in on her.”

“Now that ain’t the point, and you know it,” Mike said.

“And the point was?” Nate said, grinning.

“The point was, you need to tell Colbert that it ain’t just his life he’s affectin’ when he’s taking assignments, and that’s the only way it’s going to get into his fool head that there’s somethin’ as important as his work waitin’ on him here,” Mike said, and in the background, Alice shouted, “You tell him, Nate!”

Nate laughed feebly. “Thanks, Alice,” he said, and Mike repeated it back.

“You know, I think she may have a point,” Mike confided. “I do kinda feel like those Sex and the City re-runs she always watches when we’re getting on the phone talkin’ about your man problems.”

“It could be worse,” Nate pointed out. “Brad could actually be here, listening to us talk on the phone.”

Mike grunted. “You know Person writes him a fuckin’ love letter every week,” he said. “That boy don’t have room to talk.”

“They’re really kind of impressively disturbing,” Nate said. “I don’t know how Ray thinks that shit up.”

“You’re avoidin’ the reason for this call,” Mike pointed out. “I know you miss my kids and all–I can send ‘em to you if you want–but we only shoot the shit when I call you and force you to stop workin’ for an hour. You called me, Nate, and we need to get this off your mind.”

Nate shifted in his chair, looking at the corkboard over his desk. It was covered in the memorabilia of his life, cards and birth announcements and pictures from shitty disposable cameras, a thousand little indications of a life well lived. Shoved in a corner was a picture his mother had taken of him and Brad, last year in Baltimore, when the whole Fick family had gone out to dinner and Brad had happened to be in town. There was a moment that day when Nate looked at his family, taking it all in, and felt Brad’s hand come to grasp his under the table. When he looked over, Brad was talking to his sister, but Brad’s hand tightened in recognition of Nate’s look.

That night, he had unashamedly imagined what it would be like to have Brad there, all the time. Brad was snoring next to him, and Nate could only make out pieces of him in the dark: the column of his throat, the shell of his ear, the regular rise-and-fall of his breathing. Something in Nate ached, a little; something in him wanted this all the goddamn time, and he hated Brad a little for not wanting it too.

There was a space of silence as he thought this all through, the culmination of a year or more of observation and assessment answering itself in a handful of paragraphs in this email, telling Nate that Brad didn’t really want those things at all, and Nate would only be hurting himself over and over and over again to ask for them.

“I don’t think he’d leave for real if I asked for it, Mike,” he said, the honesty making his voice small. “I think he wants the job more than he wants–this. Me. And that’s something I knew, going in, that Brad was the job. Hell, I knew it myself, when I was in it. I can’t hold it against him now.”

“Things have changed, Nate,” Mike said after a moment. “You’re not the same people you were five years ago. You don’t know what he’d say.”

“Hasn’t he already said it?” Nate countered. “I mean, I don’t know what else to think, Mike. He’s spent Christmas with my family, his shit is in my house, his bike is in my garage and he still sent me an email saying he’s going back to Iraq for an undetermined period of time. He didn’t even say whether he’s coming ho–whether he’s going to get any leave before he goes.”

“Are you sure you’re hearin’ the right thing, Nate?” Mike replied slowly. “Don’t talk yourself out of asking for somethin’ you can have just because of fear. I trained you better than that.”

Nate sighed. “I don’t know,” he said finally. “I just don’t fucking know.”

“And what makes you think you’re gonna know anything at all unless you ask?” Mike said. “Use your goddamn brain, Nate, I know you got one. Harvard told you that. You can’t second-guess Brad. You should know this best of all of us.”

Nate closed his eyes for a long moment, and when he opened them, the too-late time was staring back at him from the clock. It was an excuse, but Mike wouldn’t fault him for it. “I need to get to bed, Mike,” he said, tired.

Mike chuckled a little, letting Nate know he saw through the words, but said only, “Alright. You remember to call on the weekend, now, Angie wants you to do up a reference for her college applications.”

“It scares me that she’s doing that,” Nate said truthfully.

“You and me both, Nate. Goodnight.”

“Night, Mike,” Nate said. He thumbed off the phone and cracked his knuckles, eyes roaming the room before settling on his computer.

Brad, he typed. I can’t say I’m surprised to hear you’re returning to Iraq, but I’ll admit I had hoped for someplace more secure than Fallujah…

One Response to “a liar, a lover, a brother in arms”

  1. Zanzando Says:

    I seriously just got to the end and went: “Gah, no, you can’t just – …”
    Out loud. Just so you know. It’s very intriguing so far, and I can hardly wait to see how it continues. [I spy an RSS feed link - score! :D]

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