Dreams With Open Eyes

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Dreams With Open Eyes
by templemarker

Notes: This is the first Generation Kill story I’ve written in a couple of years that didn’t owe it’s existence to a challenge, and for that I thank [personal profile] dira for inspiration and the prompt off the Porn Battle for Brad/Nate, “competence” and “stranded.” This wouldn’t be half as good as it is without [personal profile] samjohnsson‘s patient editing and [info]shoshannagold‘s thoughtful review. Thanks, gang, you’re the best audience a girl could ask for.

There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up.
When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.
Rene Daumal


They figured out the car wasn’t going to make it about a hundred miles out of Sacramento.

The summer sun beat down on the back of Nate’s neck, dust kicking up on the roadside of Highway 49 and briefly clouding his vision. Brad was arms-deep in the Cherokee’s engine, but even his considerable skills couldn’t replace a busted belt.

“I think we’re fucked,” Brad said. Nate turned to look at him; a wide streak of grease marred the sharp lines of his face. Brad pulled the bandanna from his back pocket and wrung his hands with it, not doing much more than moving the motor oil around. He looked burnished in the light, short hair showing off a hint of copper. Nate swallowed, ran a hand through his own too-long hair, and crossed his arms.

“I guess we’ll have to walk it,” he said, trying not fidget.

They had agreed to hike Mount Whitney in the space overlapping between Nate’s summer freedom and Brad’s three weeks of leave. Just them, a bedroll, and the thing between them for ten quiet days. The trip had been great, exactly the kind of release Nate needed after being trapped in the world of articles and papers for most of a year. That’s why he’d planned it–he knew Brad always liked a challenge, and Nate needed to get away from the library. Hiking the highest mountain in California did the trick.

They had relearned each other, the way they always did when they were apart, and for a few sweet days all the world was at bay. The jagged thrust of rock into the sky was marred only by patches of snow here and there, and when they’d zipped their sleeping bags together it was for more than warmth. Nate had seen Brad smile, a flash of white teeth and the crease of lines around his eyes signs that Brad had chosen to relax and not remain the remote, silent man on the other side of a very long distance phone call.

They’d come down from the mountain that morning, and were slowly making their way back to civilization. Nate’s flight back to Boston was out of Sacramento, and he had two days to get there. A day and a half now, for the time they’d lost when the car started smoking in an unpopulated bend of the road, and Brad’s attempt to get it working enough to drive to Jackson. Or to backtrack to Jamestown.

Brad tugged off his shirt and wiped at his hands and his face. Nate watched with unabashed interest, and Brad let him, which was more than he could say for any other time they weren’t on an isolated mountaintop. Nate’s hands twitched even as he held them close to his body. The thing between them had rules he only half understood, but one of them was that public displays of affection were a total no-go–despite there being no public around. Nate had never been that paranoid even when he was still subject to the Damocles’ sword of DADT.

Brad pulled their bags out of the back, leaving most of the camping stuff under a plain grey blanket to deter thieves. Cell phone service was spotty out here, and Nate flipped open his phone to see exactly zero bars. Brad handed him his pack, and Nate shrugged it on, following Brad as they started to hike down the way.

They walked in relative silence for most of an hour, Nate noting some interesting birds but not bothering to point them out to Brad. If they didn’t come with a motherboard, he wasn’t really interested. The road was quiet, no one heading in either direction despite the usual heavy tourist traffic of the summer season, and Nate felt his shirt soak through with sweat though they walked in shade nearly the whole time.

Brad stopped and Nate nearly ran into him, his situational awareness clearly suffering from disuse.

“What is it?” he asked, drawing his CamelBak into his mouth.

“Car,” Brad said, and sure enough a busted-looking white pickup sputtered and rolled around the bend they’d just crested. For a moment, Nate flashed back to another time, another place; but there were no diamonds on this beat-ass truck and his dreams were quiet now. He raised a hand and tried to look non-threatening and friendly rather than the revealing exhaustion and uncertainty that he felt.

Chip, an older guy with an Orioles baseball cap on his head and too few people to talk to, gave them a ride all the way to Angels Camp. Nate’s cell phone service kicked in, and luckily there was a auto shop with the time and tow truck to go out and get the Cherokee. Brad sorted out the details about getting the belt fixed–it was his SUV–and Nate sat in the air conditioning in the front office, feet propped on their stacked bags.

Nate felt a hand shake him, and his eyes cracked open to see Brad, implacable and removed as he’d ever been, towering over him. Some of the grease stain was still there. Nate couldn’t bring himself to smudge it away, not when he could anticipate the flinch that would follow.

Some days he wasn’t sure if things were better left unsaid, if the looks and minor touches that they’d had before they’d been honest with one another could have been enough. But he knew it for the lie it was. Even on the hardest days, he’d rather have been in this than not have it at all.

Brad being Brad, he declined the shop guy’s offer to drive them to a motel for the night and instead led them there on foot. Nate felt ridiculous and grimy but he tried to give the soccer moms a tired smile as they passed. He wasn’t used to the kind of demand the hike had been, not anymore. He also wasn’t used to having everything he wanted for a handful of days and then learning to let it go again.

There was a Best Western on Main Street, and Nate got them a room, slumping in the elevator with one hand threaded through the bag. There were two beds, of course, because god forbid some hotel receptionist in Who the Fuck Cares, California, know that they fucked sometimes. It was only four in the afternoon, but Nate wanted a shower badly, and then maybe some room service and a nap, not necessarily in that order.

He claimed the shower and watched the dirt circle the drain. He washed ten days’ worth of grime from himself, scrubbing away with the hotel’s cheap soap, even getting into the webs between his toes. Nate rested his head against the tile, luxuriating beneath the hot water, until there was an quick knock against the door and Brad’s voice asking if he fell in.

Because of course he wouldn’t just come in, Nate thought, feeling tired in his body and also his mind. Someone might hear the door open. It was a cheap shot, but considering they’d woken up in the same sleeping bag and then Brad all but shut down and shut Nate out on the hike back, he was feeling a little petty.

He wrapped the thin towel around himself and went back into the room. Brad was watching Mythbusters on the television. Nate’s stomach growled at the sight of food on the desk and he raised an eyebrow at Brad. “Was I in there that long?” he asked, sidestepping his pack of dirty clothes and keeping the towel on. It wasn’t like it was anything Brad hadn’t seen.

“You like getting clean,” Brad said, offering up the observation like it was commonplace. “I figured you’d be in there awhile, so I went ahead and ordered from the restaurant downstairs. I got you a burger. The food didn’t suck.”

It was the most Brad had said to him that day, and Nate stifled a sigh and sat at the desk to eat his burger. Brad took his shower next, in significantly less time. To Nate’s surprise, he also threaded a towel around his waist and eschewed digging into his pack for clothes.

They sat there, opposite each other, in their towels in a bland hotel room in the middle of nowhere, and it could have been the ocean between them again for all that they were apart from each other.

Nate pushed his plate away, finished his water and stacked one ankle atop another. “Brad,” he said finally, wishing the answers to everything could be found in Brad’s own name, and knowing it for the untruth it was.

Brad returned his gaze steadily, no evidence that was nervous, no evidence that he was feeling anything at all except clean and fed and cool in the air-conditioning.

Nate sighed, and tried again. “Brad,” he said. “Are you even happy? I don’t know how to tell any more, if I ever could.”

Brad was silent–hardly unusual, but this held a weight to it. For the first time Nate wondered if even Brad himself knew what he was feeling, and entertained the possibility that there couldn’t be an honest answer to his question.

“Yeah,” Brad said finally. “I guess so.”

Nate’s eyebrow went up, and with effort he kept himself from curling into a defensive posture. “Really,” he said, trying not to sound like an asshole, not expecting to succeed. “Because I have to say, when I took two weeks off to go hiking with my boyfriend, I didn’t expect to spend the last couple days of it with him refusing to talk to me or touch me.”

Brad didn’t say anything; his face creased into a scowl, one Nate remembered from firefights and running out of batteries in the field. He suppressed a sigh; somewhere, Nate knew this was worth it. They were worth it. But Brad made it so fucking difficult sometimes. They didn’t need to hold hands and walk around with promise rings, but at the very goddamn least they could actually be together when they were together instead of playing some stupid shadow game.

Nate took a breath to speak, but Brad beat him to it, pinning Nate in place with his stare. “You’re leaving the day after tomorrow,” he said.

“I know,” Nate said, confused. “And you bought the ticket, so you also know.”

Brad’s frown deepened. “I–” he cut himself off. He visibly breathed in and out in the stress reduction technique every boot was taught before a rifle was placed into their hands, and Nate felt his own breath measure against it automatically. The ingrained reflexes never went away; they just dulled with disuse.

“When you go away,” Brad said slowly, as if he was sounding out every word, “or when I go away, or when we say goodbye… Every time it gets harder to do.” Brad’s eyes never left Nate. Brad could make him feel like he was flayed open with the plainest of words, heart beating straight out of his chest. Damn this man.

“So every time, I try to make it easier,” Brad continued. “I figure, if we do it earlier, if we start pretending like we’re not together before we go away, it’ll get easier, because it’s like I’ve lost you before I lose you.”

About par for the course with Brad Colbert: flayed open, and speechless.

Nate closed his eyes for a long moment, and let the thunder of his heartbeat roll over him like the morning tide. When he opened them again, Brad was still there, still unwavering in his stare, and Nate couldn’t help himself. This man, however exasperating, was his. Nate loved all of him.

Nate rose, and with a flick of his hand let his towel drop. He’d been half-hard in the shower, just thinking about Brad, and that hadn’t gone away with him sitting there, skin slightly shuddering in the too-cold air. Brad still met his eyes, and Nate knew he always would. For that alone he doubted he could ever walk away.

Nate placed his hands on either side of Brad’s face, thumb brushing where the grease had been before, when Brad wouldn’t let him get within arm’s length. Brad stilled, and Nate tilted his head up slightly.

“I’m still here,” he said quietly, saying what Brad already knew, what he fought against with everything in him. “I’m not gone yet.”

“But you will be,” Brad said.

“But I’m not,” Nate countered, and watched the war behind Brad’s eyes.

In a swift motion, Brad grasped Nate’s arms and flipped him down onto the bed, bracing himself over Nate with balled fists on either side of Nate’s head. Nate had the wind knocked out of him, but it hardly mattered, because Brad buried his face in the side of Nate’s neck and was making an almost wounded noise that he clearly couldn’t quell. Nate let his hands come to draw up and down Brad’s back, feeling the tension in every muscle.

He couldn’t fight Brad’s battles for him. That had been a hard lesson to learn, and one he was still in the process of understanding fully.

Nate reached a hand to tug away the towel, letting it drop to the floor and cupping Brad’s ass with one hand. He brought them together, grinding up as he pulled Brad down, and almost smiled at the gasp and shiver Brad let out. Brad placed open-mouthed kisses against Nate’s neck, interspersing them with small noises of pleasure as Nate rocked Brad down against his own body. In the light from the lamp he could see the flush creep up Brad’s skin, and he wanted to chase it up from the source just to watch Brad fall apart.

He held Brad close with one firm hand on his ass, and let the other drift around to loosely hold both their cocks together. Brad let out a grunt at that, hips stuttering wildly at the barest press of Nate’s hand. Nate did smile then; Brad wanted him, he always wanted him, but hid it so well it seemed he made himself forget just how much.

Nate never forgot. These were things that kept him awake at night, hand fisted tight around his own skin, Brad away and hidden under need-to-knows all the goddamn time.

Brad bucked against the hold Nate had on him, pulling his face up to meet Nate’s own, and in Brad’s eyes there was everything he kept locked away. Panic, desire, affection. Love. Fear. Nate recognized them all, knowing them for his own as much as Brad’s. It wasn’t that Brad didn’t trust him to come back. It was that Brad didn’t know how to let go of them and keep them at the same time.

“Come on my hand, Brad,” Nate said into the breath between their mouths. “I want to smell you on me tomorrow.”

Brad’s eyes rolled toward the back of his head, and he thrust once, twice, and did as he was told.

It didn’t take much for Nate to follow him over, just a few dirty grinds into his own hand, Brad’s come making it easier, and Brad’s dead weight pressing him down into the mattress.

They probably needed to shower again, Nate thought through the drowsiness.He smiled down at Brad, knowing he’d grumble about inefficiency when he could string two brain cells together again. Nate threaded his arms around Brad’s back and felt Brad’s heartbeat steady beneath his palm. They still had more than a day before he needed to be in Sacramento. Angels Camp was as good as any a place to spend it.


All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night, in the dusty recesses of their minds,
awake in the day to find that it was vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men,
for they may act their dreams with open eyes to make it reality.
T.E. Lawrence

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