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Tracking Time

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Nate glanced up at the clock on the far kitchen wall, an old analog clock made of twisted steel that his grandmother gave him when he moved into his first apartment, and watched as the minute hand ticked over. A few seconds later, since the clock was a little off, a loud blaring sound could be heard throughout the entire house. The sound was followed by quiet cursing, two thumps of flesh and bone against wood, and then creaking plastic before the sound was abruptly cut off.

Just like clockwork, shuffling footsteps disturbed the quiet of the house a moment later. Nate could hear the sink in the bathroom being turned on, and he picked his book back up as the water shut off. The book was one that Ray had lent him, complete with Ray’s commentary in the margins, and Nate used the book to hide the smile on his face as the dragging footsteps moved into the kitchen. Without lowering the book, Nate hooked his foot around the leg of the chair across from him and moved it out of the way before it could be trampled.

The shorts Brad was wearing brushed the side of the chair as he shuffled past, which meant that Nate had moved the chair just enough to keep Brad from tripping over it in his half-asleep state. If Nate wasn’t mistaken, Brad’s eyes weren’t even fully open. He stopped at the counter when his knees banged against the lower cabinets, and his fingers trailed across the countertop before touching the coffee cup that Nate had left out for him.

“Sleep good?” Nate asked as neutrally as he could. Brad was pouring his coffee on autopilot now, and his bare feet whispered against the tiles as he turned around. He was holding the large coffee cup in both of his hands, and Nate could only see small slits of blue as Brad looked in his general direction before raising his cup to start drinking. Nate knew that Brad would need at least another cup of caffeine before forming words, so he just relaxed back in his chair and openly smiled at the way Brad hunched protectively over his coffee cup.

When Nate and Brad decided to become Nate-and-Brad, they both decided to keep it quiet. It was their own personal business, and neither of them saw the point in making a big deal out of it. They weren’t able to hide the change in their relationship, that change from officer-and-subordinate to friends to something more, from Ray though. He was Brad’s closest friend and more observant than people gave him credit for, and Nate could still recall with perfect clarity how Ray had addressed the change between Nate and Brad.

“Please tell me you’ve had sleepovers and have seen Brad’s zombie impersonation,” Ray said as he kicked his feet up on the coffee table and crossed his arms behind his head. Brad was in the kitchen, getting the three of them something to drink now that dinner was over, and Nate had looked over at Ray with a perfectly innocent look on his face. “Don’t look at me like that. You ain’t the boss of me no more, and I don’t give a flying fuck what you two get up to. Unless you break his heart or some shit. Guess I’ll have to kill you then.”

“Ray.” Nate had tried to sound stern, but Ray had been grinning so the situation felt more lighthearted than it sounded.

“Really, I’m happy for you.” Ray paused there and looked over the back of the couch, in the direction of the kitchen. “Good job on banging the LT, Brad!”

“Fuck you very much!” had been Brad’s response. Ray had still been laughing when he looked over at Nate again, and he raised his eyebrows like he was expecting Nate to say something.

“So, have you seen the zombie impersonation?” Ray asked him again. Nate had no idea what Ray was talking about, and he’d heard Brad sigh as he walked back into the living room. He’d handed Nate his drink first before smacking the back of Ray’s head, but the hit had only made Ray laugh louder as Brad sat down on the couch next to Nate.

“Ignore him,” Brad had said before raising his bottle to his lips. It was a little hard to tell from the angle, but Brad looked almost…shy? Nate had seen a wide range of emotions from the Iceman, but he’d never seen him look shy or even slightly embarrassed.

“He hasn’t! Oh, LT, you are in for some seriously funny shit. Like this one time—”

“Shut up, Ray.”

Nate never got to hear what story Ray had been about to tell, because the verbal banter between the two friends had escalated into two full grown men wrestling in a room that was not built for that kind of violence, but he eventually came to understand what Ray had been talking about. So here they were two years later, and Nate could predict Brad’s morning movements with nearly perfect accuracy.

When fully alert, Brad missed nothing. He noticed the smallest details, was completely aware of his surroundings, and nearly impossible to sneak up on. (Surprisingly it had been Q-tip who had been able to sneak up on Brad at their last big get-together, but Nate was sure that he only accomplished it because Brad had been drinking whatever alcoholic concoction Ray had created and Q-tip had jumped from the roof of the house.) First thing in the morning, usually for at least half an hour after waking up, Brad was completely out of it.

Before Nate realized just how bad it was, he’d had full conversations with Brad early in the morning. Brad’s quiet grunts and hums had assured him that Brad had been aware of their conversations, only to realize later that Brad had no recollection of their conversations at all. That was how Nate’s younger sister had wound up stranded at the airport not long after Brad started spending the night at Nate’s apartment, and Nate had quickly learned to leave sticky notes on the cabinet door above the coffee pot if he had to leave before Brad was properly awake.

Now here they were, a couple of years and a few mistakes later, and Nate could read Brad better than the book he was still holding up. Brad had already drained one cup, twisted around enough to pour a second cup, and was taking sporadic sips without fully opening his eyes. It was a sight that Nate had seen enough that he could time it, but that didn’t stop him from watching Brad over the top of his book as the other man slowly started to become more awake.

“Poke called. Wanted to beg us to watch Marisol tonight. I told him we would,” Nate said in an even tone. Brad nodded along and hummed as he took another sip, and Nate watched as Brad’s brows pulled together in confusion.

“Marisol?” Brad’s voice was low but smooth, and his eyes opened a little more fully as he looked across the kitchen at Nate.

“Their sitter canceled last minute, so he called this morning. That’s what woke me up. Don’t you remember me asking you?” Nate had asked Brad before he even got out of bed, and Brad’s answer had just been a long groan against the curve of Nate’s shoulder. Nate had taken that as a yes. He liked Marisol, Poke’s one year old baby girl, and Nate’s current laptop wallpaper was of Brad holding the little girl while she mashed green peas into his hair.

“Nate?” Brad’s voice was a little louder now, a little stronger, and it’d been an entire six minutes since Nate’s last question. So Nate lowered his book and placed it on the table as he met Brad’s mostly alert eyes. “Why is my coffee cup pink?”

“It’s the Hello Kitty cup that Ray got you for last Christmas.” The cup was a bright pink, and it was also bigger than usual coffee cups. Brad squinted down at the coffee cup, like he didn’t understand how he’d come to be holding it, and then he shrugged before draining the last of the coffee from the cup.

“Are you Zombie Brad or—” Nate was cut off as Brad started grumbling his plans to murder Ray, and Nate watched with a fond amused smile as Brad placed his cup on the countertop and then walked towards the kitchen table where Nate was still sitting.

“I know what that look means,” Brad said as he got closer. Instead of sitting in his usual chair, Brad took two extra steps forward and moved into Nate’s space. Nate relaxed into his chair as Brad straddled his lap, and his hands rose up to touch against Brad’s bare ribs. His skin was still warm from sleep, and Nate let his fingers trail against the line of a rib under the muscle that Brad had regained since coming home and staying home.

“What look?” Nate asked innocently as he looked straight into Brad’s eyes. Brad’s back curved as he bent down to press his forehead against Nate’s, so that all Nate could see was the blue of Brad’s eyes, and he felt a rough fingertip tracing along his cheek right under his eye.

“You can fool all those others, but I know you.” Nate could time Brad’s morning routine almost to the second, but knowing went both ways. “Your eyes give you away. What did you do?”

“Nothing that I didn’t run past you first,” Nate answered with a smile. Brad groaned quietly and slumped forward, and Nate pressed his grin against the side of Brad’s neck as he wrapped his arms around his bowed back and easily accepted the taller man’s weight.

“Asking me questions before coffee isn’t allowed. We agreed.” Brad’s nose was tickling behind Nate’s ear now, but Nate held steady.

“I get two passes a month. It’s the first,” Nate reminded him. Brad’s quiet curses were muffled against Nate’s shoulder, and Nate couldn’t help the light laughter that rocked both of them.

There were things that needed to be done, especially since they were babysitting that night, but they had time. So Nate tightened his arms around Brad to secure his hold, felt the way their bodies moved together as they breathed, and then glanced at the clock hanging on the wall across the kitchen. It would still be another ten to fifteen minutes and another cup of coffee before Brad would be fully awake, but there wasn’t any rush at the moment. Right now, as Brad trusted Nate to hold him up and keep them both steady while sunlight highlighted that ridiculous Hello Kitty coffee cup, they had all the time in the world.