December 30th, 2011
|01:51 am - Fic: Diamond Eyes: Part II|
The next week is smooth and easy, and despite Nate’s misgivings about potentially becoming involved with the Bulldogs, he can’t bring himself to back off. The time in the workshop is peppered with little touches and looks. Brad would have to be blind to miss it, and he teases them both mercilessly for a couple of days.
One night, as they’re closing up, Brad wanders over to where Nate is just wheeling in a bike. “Hey, Nate – come back to the clubhouse when you’re done.”
Nate looks up at him, worried, and Brad just grins and walks off. Suspicion piques in Nate’s brain, and the hairs on the back of his neck stand up – Why does Brad want me in the clubhouse? I’m not a Bulldog… – and then he realizes: it’s got to be something to do with Ray. He’s apprehensive, but if Ray needs him, he’ll be there.
Ray’s disappeared by the time Nate goes over to the clubhouse. He finds the front door of the clubhouse open and goes in, expecting Ray to be waiting for him – but he isn’t. Nate frowns, but follows the murmur of talk to the nearest door, opening the door.
It’s a big room. Brad is propped on the edge of a table at the end of the room, arms crossed, and he gestures for Nate to enter. Poke and Pappy Patrick are sprawled at the corners of one couch, Doc and Garza opposite on the other. Manimal and Christopher are propped in one corner by another door, talking quietly, Lilley sitting on the couch arm nearest them and occasionally interrupting. Lovell and Holsey are leaning against the wall behind Brad. Ray isn’t there. When Nate enters the room, the talk dies and suddenly everyone is staring at him.
“Nate. Have a seat.”
Brad’s voice is perfectly level, pleasant, and there’s a slight smirk in one corner of his lips as he gestures to a chair that’s set in the middle of the room. He knows that Nate’s been through SERE and BRC, knows that he isn’t going to be intimidated. Nate sits, looking around the room and setting it in his mind, and then turning back to Brad. “I asked you to come here for two reasons. First, Ray. Second, the Bulldogs.”
There’s a long, uncomfortable silence.
Poke shifts in his seat, leaning forward. “What the Prez means is that Ray’s our brother. You fuck with him, you fuck with us. You hurt him, we hurt you.” He grins, and there’s something shark-like about it, cold and predatory. “You got that, dawg?”
“Yeah, I get it,” returns Nate, quiet, allowing a slight smile to tilt his mouth. This feels like it’s for form’s sake, and there is slight awkwardness in the way a couple of the guys are holding themselves – and he suddenly gets it. This is the kind of speech they’d give a guy who was dating one of their daughters. And it’s for Ray. He fights the smirk, manages to keep a straight face. Brad’s smirk widens, and Nate knows that Brad clocked his realization. He’s very observant, he must’ve been a good Marine.
“Second, the Bulldogs,” says Doc. Nate looks over to him. Doc is someone who’s struck him as holding himself away from things, slightly aloof – but he has a certain authority to him. His face is absolutely serious, and Nate’s smile fades. This is more important. “The Bulldogs have certain … trade secrets. You will not talk about them.” There’s a note to his voice that is totally sincere, completely hard, and in an instant Nate knows that these are the kind of ‘trade secrets’ that people kill over.
“Okay,” he says quietly, holding Doc’s gaze. “Understood and accepted,” he adds, just to make sure.
Brad leans forward. “Now, I’d ask you if you want to be a Prospect, but I think – given your previously stated opinions – that you wouldn’t be interested in that.” The smirk is curved into a wicked, hard-edged grin, and Nate knows that Brad is just yanking his chain.
He returns a wry smile. “You’d be right,” he replies. “You know – or can guess – my reasoning already. I don’t need to spell it out to you. I won’t be one of you, but I will keep your activities and movements quiet.” He looks around the room, meeting each man’s eyes deliberately, almost challenging them to object.
“Good,” says Brad, after a minute, and the hard edge drops off his smile. He pushes off the table, stepping over to Nate’s chair. Nate stands as he approaches, looking up at the tall, blond man. “Understand, Nate, that this is absolutely serious, and there are consequences.”
“Fatal, I’m guessing,” replies Nate, his tone bland. “I understand.”
“Good,” Brad says, his voice low, practically a purr. He steps into Nate’s personal space – a common intimidation tactic, especially when you’re as tall as Brad is. Nate’s seen – felt – it before. “Just because you are involved with Ray does not preclude you from punishment.”
Nate nods, chin tilted up and shoulders thrown back, absolutely not moving. You’re not getting to me like that, he thinks. Judging by the smirk that’s back on Brad’s lips, he knows it too.
After a moment of silent staring, Brad steps back, gesturing to the door. “You’re welcome in the clubhouse, and of course the workshop,” he says, “Thank you for your time.”
Nate nods and turns, skirting around the chair and leaving, closing the door quietly behind him.
He feels overwhelmed – he hadn’t expected that. He’s quietly glad that the Bulldogs care enough about Ray to give that kind of speech to him. He understands about the Bulldogs’ secrets needing to be kept, but Ray had come first. He smiles as he walks through the back lot to the workshop, going finish some cleanup while he waits for Ray.
“Ray, come in.” Ray hears Brad’s call, and he does so, coming past Manimal and Christopher. “Well, that went well,” he says, smiling over at Ray. It’s an actual smile, the Iceman façade down for a moment, and Ray is suddenly encouraged.
Poke is grinning, “You got a good man there, dawg. Smart, and he’s got balls.”
There’s a murmur of agreement, grudging on a couple of parts, but there. Ray returns the grin, relaxing immediately; his brothers’ approval and support means a lot. Of course Nate hadn’t had any problems with the Bulldogs, he’d been a Recon Marine – but it hadn’t stopped Ray from worrying from the moment he’d heard the other door creak open. He looks around – the guys are smiling, or at least neutral.
“Ray,” says Doc, and Ray turns to him. His face falls as he realizes that Doc is wearing a serious expression. “You keep him away from the gun runs. He doesn’t even hear about it. You don’t mention it – don’t even think about it around him. In fact, you don’t mention Club business at all.”
Ray nods, suddenly aware of exactly what he’s doing. “Okay,” he says through a dry mouth. “I can do that.” He looks over at Brad, who nods just once, his eyes giving his response.
Doc’s face clears, and he says, “Go after him.” He’s wearing a small smile, and Ray reads a little hope in it. It’s rare for Doc to smile, and – right now – it’s welcome.
Ray grins in response. “Great – I’ll see you later,” he says, and turns, heading out of the clubhouse. He dashes across the backlot, heading for the workshop.
“Nate!” he yells.
Nate’s head pops out from the backroom. “Yeah?” He’s wearing a wide grin, his eyes sparkling green; so handsome. Ray charges in, catching him around the waist and crowding into his space and kissing him. Nate laughs as the kiss breaks, and says, “You heard the Inquisition?”
“Yeah,” Ray rolls his eyes, “And before you ask, I didn’t put them up to it, Brad thought of it all by himself.”
Nate cocks an eyebrow, “He’s the MC President, yes?”
Ray nods. “He’s a badass motherfucker. Don’t cross him.”
“Wasn’t planning on it,” Nate replies, “Don’t we have somewhere to be?” His smile is mischievous and makes the non-sequitur an invitation.
“We do now,” grins Ray.
Days come and go, and despite Nate working hard at the plant and at the workshop, he never really feels tired. Ray’s firecracker energy feeds his, and he can always go another round with him. Their relationship is a give-and-take that is full of both Ray’s quick energy and Nate’s steady brightness. In bed, Nate dominates and Ray lets him but gives as good as he gets, and sometimes Nate will submit. Ray pushes him down into the mattress, pins him, and Nate feels owned – controlled. They always fuck hard, leaving marks sometimes, and Walt raises an eyebrow every time Nate comes into the office wearing a morning-after smile.
They never say ‘I love you’ or make hollow promises, because this is just a transitory thing, and they both know it. Accept it.
Ignore it, because it’s all about the here and now.
It’s a pretty good way to go along, and Nate’s desperately trying to ignore the fact that his time here in Mathilda is ticking down. He’s happy to indulge himself with Ray as long as possible and see if something else can happen later. Increasingly, he hopes that something does – but that’s something that can be discussed later.
Until, suddenly, it can’t.
He’s in the backroom of the workshop, just changed out of his work suit into jeans and t-shirt, flicking through the manual for the Harley Fat Boy as he waits for Ray to finish ‘business’ in the clubhouse with Brad. He hears voices in the workshop, and is about to step out when he recognizes the voices – Poke and Trombley. He’s been wary of Trombley ever since he’d put him on his ass, and he shakes his head, deciding that staying in here and not unintentionally provoking him would be better.
It’s been five minutes before he catches the word guns. He closes the manual, listening in. Horror dawns as he realizes that they’re talking about gun-running – the Bulldogs doing it – a shipment they’d undercut the Russians on – scheduled for this week.
Drawing on all his Recon silence, he stills himself, waiting for them to leave.
Ray had to have known. Had to.
It seems like an eternity before they leave, and Nate stays hidden, left alone with his thoughts. He’s utterly furious at Ray – boiling with anger, ice-cold with betrayal, sick to his stomach – at Brad, too, for making Ray keep quiet, because he must have – horrified that the Bulldogs do that – regretful and angry at himself that he got involved in the first place.
Five minutes after they’ve left, Nate stirs, getting up.
He looks around – looking at his suit, neatly folded on the chair by the toilet door. It looks out-of-place, like Nate suddenly feels.
He walks out of the workshop, out onto the street. It’s quiet at this time of night. He looks one way, then the other, contemplating, and then turns in the direction of his house.
He runs in a way that he hasn’t run since Iraq – hard-out, pushing, focused on nothing but the flex and stretch of his muscles. The three miles melt away, and it’s too soon when he’s home.
The house is quiet and dark. Walt must be working late, his mind supplies, but he puts it aside – it doesn’t matter. He pulls off his boots, padding into the lounge, sitting down and waiting.
It’s barely fifteen minutes before he hears the roar of an engine in the driveway. He’d know that sound anywhere – it’s Avril.
There’s a pounding on the front door – “Nate? Nate, are you okay?!” Ray sounds worried, desperate. Then the front door creaks, and there’s footsteps in the hall. “Nate?”
“In here,” says Nate, suddenly weary for the first time since he’d first kissed Ray. Exhaustion floods his bones, and he aches with tiredness.
Ray comes in, flicking the light on, and in two strides he’s kneeling in front of Nate. “Fuck, Nate, you scared me, your suit was in the workshop, but you weren’t, and Poke and Trombley said they hadn’t seen you when they went through. Are you okay?” He begins looking Nate over, obvious in his concern.
“Physically, I’m fine.” Nate forces his voice into steel, and Ray flinches back. “Mentally, not so much.”
Ray looks up sharply, “Why?” he snaps. “I swear to Christ, if that homophobe Trombley has been insulting you, I’ll cut his balls off –”
He sees Ray’s face change, sees the knowledge there, the realization. Ray is involved in the operation, would be participating. Nate’s heart sinks – apparently, some small part of him had still hoped that it was a Bulldogs operation that Ray wasn’t involved in at all.
It doesn’t make this any easier. “I can’t do this, Ray, not while I know that you’re involved in that.” Abruptly, he realizes his voice is softening, and he puts the steel back, hardening his expression, drawing on all his training to remain unyielding. “I can’t do that.”
Ray makes an inarticulate noise of pain, and rears back, standing. Nate can see him trying to form words, and failing, breathing hard and ragged, fists clenched. Seeing verbose Ray – so gifted with words – silent because of him is strange.
“It would only have been another week anyway,” he says, quietly, trying to soften the blow.
“I don’t give a shit!” snaps out Ray. “Nate, I want to be with you! I’ve kept out, because I didn’t want you involved, but they need me now, just this once, for this. And just so you know, I was considering moving to L.A. for you!”
“For what, to open an L.A. Chapter?” Nate snarls, and he knows it’s below the belt, even before Ray’s eyes narrow. “Fuck, Ray, you’re risking your life! I heard what Trombley said about the Russians!”
Ray growls, “You risked your life as a Marine, I don’t think you can talk.” His hands clench and unclench, a quick motion full of helpless anger.
Nate pushes himself up off the chair, incensed, white-hot with fury. “I didn’t have anyone at that point. If you want me to rephrase it – I can’t be with someone who’s risking their life for something so stupid!” he snaps.
“Stupid?! Protecting our Second Amendment rights is stupid?!” snarls Ray. His eyes are hot with rage, the heat almost the same as when he’s aroused – and yet, so different.
“AK-47s do not constitute suitable Second Amendment weapons,” Nate snaps. “And illegal weaponry is not protecting our rights, it’s making it harder to keep the Amendment in place.”
“Fuckin’ liberals taking away our rights –” starts Ray, and it’s a rant Nate has heard before. He had little patience for the argument then, and none now.
“We’re not doing this, Ray. We are not. You will get out of my house, now. I will not speak of this to anyone – I don’t want you hurt,” – and that much is completely true – “But I won’t see you again.”
“What?!” Ray gasps, and the anger is gone, replaced by disbelief. “You can’t …”
“I can and I will. Goodbye, Ray.” Nate puts all the steel and command-tone in his voice that he can, making it an implacable order.
Ray just stares for a moment, dark eyes hot and full of pain, and then steps forward, catching Nate’s chin and kissing him hard and fierce, taking everything he can. He nips at Nate’s lower lip, and then pulls away.
It takes everything Nate has not to step forward and kiss him back. He can’t let Ray back in. Not now. He lets his anger rise, heat, lets it show.
Ray lets out a long breath, almost a sob, turns, and strides out.
The front door closes with a thump.
Something in Nate’s chest tears wide open as the noise echoes around the house, and he thinks it might be his heart.
Ray wakes in the morning still half-expecting Nate to be in his bed. It’s about two minutes of happy ignorance, and then everything comes crashing down. He feels ripped to pieces and numb at the same time. Mechanically, he gets up, eats, showers and dresses, and then goes to the workshop. He feels like a robot, a bike running on only half of its cylinders
He works for about an hour – silent and totally focused, unlike him – before Brad gets the story out of him. His brow wrinkles in concern. “Ray, you should go home, or … or something. You’re distracting me. I can’t work like this – you can’t work like this.”
“No. This makes me focus, so I don’t have to feel it,” says Ray, quiet. “You should know that – after Julie.”
Brad had been engaged to a girl, but she’d gone to L.A. to go to college and simply hadn’t come back. The ring had arrived at the workshop in a FedEx box with no return address and a note that Brad told Ray about, but never showed to him.
Brad snorts, claps him on the shoulder, “I’m here if you need me,” and goes off to change the transmission oil on a classic Chevy Suburban.
At about noon, a car pulls up in the front lot. Ray isn’t paying attention, so Walt is already in the workshop before he notices. Brad is walking at his side, both silent and solemn, and Walt comes out of the backroom carrying Nate’s suit, still perfectly folded.
Ray gets to his feet, stepping into their path. Walt’s expression as he looks at Ray is pained and sad, similar but not the same as when they’d broken up.
“I’m sorry,” he says quietly, and steps forward, enfolding Ray in a one-armed hug. Ray drops his head onto Walt’s shoulder, trying to ignore the similarity of his clean, warm scent to Nate’s.
Walt drops the folded suit on Nate’s desk. Nate looks up, noting Walt’s expression – tired, sad. “Thank you, Walt,” he says quietly, hoping that that would be that, and Walt would just go and leave him alone. There’s nothing he can say, and he just wants to go back to work finish this plant upgrade so he can go home and forget that Mathilda – and Ray – even exist.
Walt’s eyes are defiant, and he takes a breath, and Nate knows what’s coming. “You aren’t going to ask, Nate, so I’ll tell you. He looks like shit, and I know he feels like shit too.”
“I didn’t ask,” sighs Nate. “Look, Walt, I just don’t want to talk about it.”
Walt shakes his head, “God knows that sending me to get your suit was a coward’s move.”
That touches off the still-burning anger deep in Nate’s chest. He stands slowly, and he can’t suppress the anger – despite the fact that Walt is blameless in all of this, he’s a target. “I thought that Ray might not want to see me. I did what was right in breaking up with him, Walt. I can’t tell you why.”
“That’s no excuse for making me take flak for you,” says Walt, and there’s a mutinous twist to his mouth.
Nate’s about to reply – heatedly – when there’s a cough at the door, and they turn to see the Plant Manager, Mike Wynn. “Is there a problem, gentlemen?” He looks slightly concerned.
“Personal, Mike, I assure you,” says Nate quickly, but he can’t hide the roughness in his voice.
“I see,” says Mike, and there’s some skepticism in his expression. “Well, as long as it’s not interfering with the upgrade. I came to let you know that we’ve done the first circuit-board print test, and the new machine appears to be doing well. Did you want to look it over?”
“Yes, of course,” says Nate quickly, picking up a notepad and pen and heading over to the door. “I’ll check it out, the boards are crucial to the upgrade.” He flicks a look back at Walt, who is still wearing a displeased expression.
“We’ll discuss this later, Nate,” he says, and there’s an undercurrent of anger in the calm words.
Nate nods, and follows Mike out the door.
The discussion doesn’t eventuate that day, or the next – everything is crazily busy with countdown to completion of the upgrade – and Nate is quietly relieved. He throws himself into his work, trying to forget and ignore.
It doesn’t work.
“…we do the pickup with the Irishmen, then we head back here,” instructs Brad. “We’ll If there’s any trouble – the Irishmen, anyone – we split, hide up somewhere, meet back here at 0600. Doc, Pappy, you’re the rear outriders, cover and try to draw them away from the truck. Poke, you’ve got Lilley and Garza to cover your rear, Christopher as alternate driver. Follow my lead – if I get taken out, follow Ray.” There’s nods around the circle, the eight who are doing the operation surrounded by the rest of the men. “Bulldogs staying here – be ready for trouble.”
Poke and Christopher swing up into the front of the big, black Ford F150 truck that will transport the haul. Brad gives a last check of the sliding false bottom of the tray and the wrecked bike that’s tied down on the tray as disguise. Lilley and Garza are crowing out the windows, clearly thrilled to be going on their first real operation. Doc and Pappy are already on their black Harley Fat Boys, waiting.
Brad pulls on his black helmet, swinging a leg over his black Yamaha R1. Quickly, Ray follows suit, mounting up on his black-and-green Kawasaki Z1000.
All the Bulldogs are in black leathers, the patch large and visible on their backs. They all wear balaclavas, a pointed gesture of anonymity despite the distinctive bikes. The green splashes on Ray’s bike – and his matching green-patterned helmet – are the only color in the convoy.
“All ready, gentlemen?” Brad yells, the wide, wild grin visible even under his full-face helmet. Ray knows that look, and as he looks around, he sees it echoed in the faces of the Bulldogs around him – adrenaline, anticipation, confidence and readiness. He’s starting to catch it himself, the anger, sadness and numbness of the last couple of days chased away by the sudden thrill of action.
“Get some!” yells Lilley as they start their engines and turn on the lights. Brad’s R1 screams as he revs it up, a howling note over the deep rumble of the Ford and the two Harleys. Ray’s bike cuts in with another note, and it’s all noise and dust as they peel out, back past the clubhouse onto the back road.
They race along the backroads as night falls, lights brilliant and engines roaring. Ray is enclosed in his own little bubble of light, seeing Brad up ahead, the lights of the truck xenon-white in the mirrors. He feels insulated, like the world could just go away, leave him alone with himself. Thoughts of Nate rise, and he crushes them viciously, letting the anger and adrenaline erase all else, focusing totally on the mission.
The route Brad takes is roundabout, deliberately confusing, but Ray follows it on the map in his head – so when they pull off the highway into a big graveled turnout surrounded by trees, Ray knows exactly where they are.
Waiting for them is a nondescript white minivan and a pair of bikes, a dark blue Harley and a distinctive Buell Firebolt – the signature bike of one of the Lieutenants of the Irishmen, Young Paddy. The tall man is standing by his machine, and raises a hand in greeting as the Bulldogs pull into the turnout. The three other Irishmen are grouped by the minivan, armed, balaclavas covering their faces, watching warily.
Brad and Ray park up facing the road, ready to go at a moment’s notice, Doc and Pappy pulling up behind them. Poke pulls the truck up beside the minivan, leaving its lights on. Lilley and Garza jump out, weapons at the ready, covering the area. Tension is thick in the air – the first gun run was always going to be a risky business for both sides, neither knowing if the other is going to front up with the goods or try to play them blind.
Ray is concentrating completely, losing himself in the moment. He has to be there for his brothers, he can’t afford to fuck up. He flicks looks around the perimeter, worried and antsy.
Brad and Young Paddy are talking quietly; Brad has pulled off his balaclava. Young Paddy gestures to the minivan.
“Show him the goods,” he barks; two of the Irishmen open the back, pulling out a long thin case. They carry it over to where Brad and Paddy are standing, dropping it on the ground and opening it. There are two AK-47s there, nestled in packaging, sickle clips detached and sitting in beside the muzzles. Brad grins widely, gesturing to Poke and Christopher in the truck. Poke reaches into the footwell, bringing out a suitcase and reluctantly handing it over to Paddy.
The transfer of the boxed guns is quick. Christopher, Pappy and Poke assist the Irishmen, and the AKs’ boxes slip neatly into the hidden compartment. Ray, watching the perimeter, is starting to feel cold as the adrenaline of the run begins to pall.
Brad and Young Paddy have been watching the transfer, and now, as the compartment is slid back in and locked, they pull their balaclavas back on, readying to go. They all mount up, getting into cars and onto bikes – and there’s a moment of silence where they all hear a sudden, unnatural crunching sound off to their left, in the undergrowth.
“There are men in the trees,” says Brad, calm and utterly clear, and Ray has a moment wonder why – and then the night splits with fire as the people in the trees open up.
“GO GO GO!” There’s a flurry of noise, screaming engines, and there’s three trucks pulling up in front of the turnout, men jumping out, firing at them. The Irishmen have piled back into their minivan – there’s a split moment when Ray realizes that there are two men firing out of the back windows, who hadn’t been there before – and Garza and Lilley are already in the truck, firing back.
Ray guns the Z1000, kicking it into gear and screaming forward towards the trucks. He’s not scared – he’s running on pure adrenaline – going from cold and slightly antsy to totally wired in a split second. One of the gunmen crouched beside the trucks leaps out of the way, firing at him – some kind of sub-machine gun – and Ray sees the flash of a patch with Cyrillic writing on it before he splits between two of the trucks and screams away.
Behind him, he hears the roar of the F150’s engine, and a rending crunch as Poke guns it forward – into a vehicle? – and then the xenons are in his mirrors, and he feels a surge of fierce joy – they’d gotten away. They scream around a corner, and he sees the flash of two bikes’ lights behind the truck – Pappy and Doc had gotten away too. He snarls out his exultation – they’d pulled it off, despite the Russians.
The Russians are Brad’s problem, and he grins viciously, knowing that their President would want payback.
In front of him, Brad has lifted his hand, waving back and forth, the sign for them to split. Ray grins wildly, and takes the next highway corner fast, splitting off from the convoy. They roar past as Ray pauses at the side of the road, watching for pursuit. The Irishmen’s minivan screams past a minute later – there are extra men hanging out the windows. He waits.
Five minutes pass, and he’s starting to feel tired as the buzz wears off. There’s an ache in his right side, and as he lifts his right arm to pull out his cellphone, it flares into a crippling pain. Involuntarily, he curls down over it, gasping, helmet clunking against the tank, and groans out the pain. Breathing deep, he pushes himself upright, looking down. There’s a ragged hole in his right side, a long rent about an inch wide and six inches long, under his ribcage. The leather is splayed outwards and it looks sticky, messy, meaty in the space between.
All of a sudden, it’s difficult to breathe. Gingerly, he pulls off his left glove and touches the wound. A burning, screaming pain spirals through him. His vision fuzzes for a moment, and when it comes back, the bike is tilting off to the left and he has to scramble to upright it. The stretch of muscles is a terrifying ache down his side, but it pushes a second more of adrenaline through his system.
His hand is red as he pulls out his cell left-handed – staining the silver case – and he rapidly texts Brad – No pursuit. Hurt, goin 2 safe plce, c u 0600.
He shoves his cell and glove back in his pocket, gritting his teeth against the pain that provokes. I can’t take my jacket off, I’ll pass out. The voice of reason and calm in his head sounds strangely like Nate. Suddenly, there’s only one thought in his head – Nate. I have to get to Nate.
BAM-BAM-BAM! Nate looks up, almost startled. He pushes back from the kitchen table, closing his laptop, worry and a sense of foreboding creeping up. People don’t bash on your door at midnight if things are okay. BAM-BAM-BAM!
He walks down the hallway, unconsciously shifting into combat stance – on the balls of his toes, body tensed and ready to fight. He steadies his breathing, and pulls open the door.
Ray’s hand slides down off the door, and he looks up at Nate from where he is propped against the doorframe.
“Hey.” Ray is pale, and he’s trying his best to project that bright, laughing smile, but it just looks twisted and rueful. His left arm is wrapped around himself, clenched hard – and Nate’s heart misses a beat when he sees the bright red staining wrist and glove.
“Jesus, get inside,” he snaps out, stepping forward and catching Ray’s shoulder as he leans forward, almost rolling off the doorframe.
Sizing up Ray’s injury – no, wound – he checks the rest of him, unaccountably relieved. A treacherous part of him says that that’s because he never really acknowledged exactly what he felt for Ray. He shoves it away, focusing on the moment and what he needs to do now.
Ray is leaning against the wall in the hallway as Nate closes the door, ignoring the red smudge that now disfigures the dingy white-painted wood. “Bathroom. Now.”
He catches Ray under his arms, hauling him up bodily, throwing his arm over his shoulder, ignoring – trying to ignore – the scent of leather, blood and Ray. Ray’s movement becomes slower, weaker, as they move – almost as if now that he’s here, he’s okay.
Walt stumbles out of his bedroom in trackpants, blinking. “Whazzamatta?” he mumbles, but then the red on Ray’s hands – now on Nate’s shirt – penetrates, and he steps back to let them pass, his eyes widening as he mutters, “Shit.”
They get to the bathroom, and Nate carefully lowers Ray to the floor, propping him up against the bathtub. Ray whimpers, pained but trying to keep it in check, and Nate winces, feeling pained himself, but he can’t give in to it. He has to act, to do, be the Marine officer he’s trained to be, and take command. He turns to Walt, who’s hovering in the doorway, snapping out, “The first-aid kit. Laundry. Towel and cloth, run hot water over it. And bring the shears too.”
Ray is still whimpering – almost as if he doesn’t realize it, little moaning breaths that cut right through Nate. He’s paler now, eyes closed, mouth slack. Nate pats his cheek, voice strong despite himself. “Ray, stay with me. I’m gonna get you out of your jacket now, and your shirt.” Ray looks up at him, brown eyes hazed, and smiles. It’s weak, but Nate can’t help respond, cupping his cheek lightly for a second, letting Ray know that he’s safe.
“Okay, gonna get you out of your jacket. Lean forward.” Talking distracts, according to the Marine First Aid Instructor. He kneels beside Ray, pulling him into his own body, leaning him forward. Ray is trying to help, pushing his arms back, weakly trying to free his arms from the constraints of his sleeves. Nate unzips the sleeves and in one smooth movement pulls the jacket down and off, ignoring the armor, throwing it to one side.
Walt bustles back into the room, kneeling and wordlessly holding out the shears. Ray only has on a black wifebeater under his jacket, and one side of that is ripped to hell. “You do it,” Nate instructs, feeling Ray leaning hard up against him, obviously weakening. Walt’s eyes widen, but he does as instructed, cutting off Ray’s shirt with shaking hands.
“Walt, hold Ray while I clean him up. Sit on his left side, hold his right arm out of the way.”
Nate’s down to orders now, and it’s helping him cope with the nearly-limp, low-response Ray slumped against him. He moves carefully, switching out with Walt, and opens the first-aid kit, picking up the damp cloth Walt had brought.
Nate switches off his emotions for the next few minutes as he cleans Ray’s wound. His thoughts are clean, clinical, focused – they have to be. The wound is from front to back, an inch wide, six inches long, about half an inch deep, slightly higher at the front. It has two distinct channels, and is red and brown with cauterization and seeping blood. As he cleans it, Ray shudders and flinches, and Nate tries to be gentle, but there’s only so much he can do and still be effective. He slathers it in antiseptic cream, tapes over surgical pads, putting cotton wadding over the top and bandaging it down.
As he finishes the dressing, he looks up at Ray’s face. He’s pale, still only half-conscious, but he’s looking down at Nate with a shaky smile. Nate smiles back, relieved that he’s still at least a little lucid. Fishing in the first-aid kit, he retrieves a couple of codeine, gets water and forces them down Ray’s throat. “Bed now. Walt, I need you to help me lift him.”
Walt nods, determination and worry clear in his face. Carefully, they slip their arms around Ray, under his armpits, and – “On three.” – they lift him. Ray groans, and staggers, clearly light-headed. There’s a moment of panic as he lurches unsteadily, but then they recover and Nate starts to move gingerly forward. Walt follows; Ray’s trying to help, but his faltering step is hard to judge, and it’s very nearly a miracle that they get him down the hallway and into the bedroom.
They carefully lower Ray to sit on the bed, Nate throwing the covers aside. “Towels, Walt. In case.” Walt races out of the room, while Nate stands over Ray, holding him up by the simple expedient of pressing Ray into himself – steadying Ray with his body. He’s suddenly struck by how similar it felt just over a week ago, when he was in pretty much this same position – but Ray wasn’t weak and wounded, he was full of life, dark and mercurial.
Walt bustles in with the towels, and they lay Ray down. Immediately, he sighs and relaxes a little. Nate and Walt share a glance, immeasurably relieved. Quickly and efficiently, they divest him of boots and pants – and Nate thinks wryly, I guess we have both had practice…
“I’m gonna go clean up the bathroom,” says Walt, tactfully, and disappears out the door, pulling off his bloodied shirt as he does so.
Nate pulls the covers up and sucks in a pained breath as he sees how pale Ray is, against the white sheets. He fusses with the covers a moment, and then sighs. It’s hopeless – he knows what he wants to touch. He brushes his fingertips over Ray’s cheek, ever so gentle, and Ray’s eyelids flutter a little.
He sits gingerly down on the bed, looking down at Ray as he begins to relax into sleep. His heart is rebelling. He tries to suppress it, to push it away, and while his mind knows that this wound was gotten in the gun run – and he tries, tries so hard to be angry about it – his heart is too busy being relieved that Ray is alive. He shakes his head, caressing Ray’s cheek.
He desperately wants to keep running, like he had been doing, but the depth of his feelings for Ray are now clear, and they shake him to his core. He’d had plenty of relationships, but never had he felt so caught up, so relentlessly drawn to someone – despite how clearly bad for him it is. Or is it? He asks himself. Ray always made him feel better, like he was capable of so much more, ten feet tall and invincible. He’d never felt so confident, even at the height of his Recon career.
The feeling terrifies and empowers at the same time. I guess that’s love, then. Gently, he leans down and kisses Ray, simple and chaste.
BAM-BAM-BAM! He’s startled out of reverie by someone trying to beat the front door down – for the second time tonight. That’s not good. The Bulldogs probably wouldn’t’ve knocked.
He intercepts Walt in the hallway. “If it’s the Bulldogs, hold them at the door while I shed this shirt and wash my arms,” he hisses. “If it’s anyone else… hold them, too.” BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM!
“Coming, coming,” calls Walt, obviously, as Nate slips back down the hallway. Nate hears a surprised exclamation, and then the murmur of talk – growing more heated. Hurriedly, he dries his hands and throws his shirt in the washing hamper. The worry that had been temporarily suppressed is coming back – in spades.
As he comes down the hallway, he can see two men at the door – and neither are Bulldogs. They’re both big and menacing, in leather jackets and jeans – a parody of bikers. He flicks his eyes over them, sizing them up and looking for identifying marks. There – one of them has a tattoo in Cyrillic – Russians. They’re both carrying shoulder-holstered pistols, too. Shit, this could get messy.
“You the Bulldog?” snaps out the bigger one, sneering.
“I’m not a Bulldog, no,” replies Nate, levelly, keeping the same tone that he’d used when Schwetje was being especially obtuse. He flicks a look at Walt, who is backing away slowly.
The other one tries to mimic the other’s sneer, but just comes out looking stupid. “Well whose bike is that in the driveway? And why do you have blood on your front door?”
Nate smiles self-effacingly, his mind ticking over crazily. How could he get rid of them? “It’s my bike, and blood noses are quite painful.”
The first Russian looks down at him, and his lips widen in a vicious smile. “Well, never mind. You know the Bulldogs, that’s good enough for me. Tell your President that the Russians are in charge of the gun trade now.”
Nate nods, his calm exterior belying the fight-or-flight that’s starting to rise. “I … guess I can pass on that message; I don’t know where they hang out, so I guess I’ll have to ask around.” He smiles pleasantly.
The Russians nod, smiling cruelly between them, and turn. Nate nods, and quietly closes the door behind them –
– the door bursts open again, and the Russians burst in, pistols raised –
– Nate deflects one pistol, punching the wielder with a hard gut shot, but he doesn’t go down –
– the other pistol is raised and pointed at him. He knocks it away –
– the first pistol comes up again –
It’s loud in the enclosed space.
Then Russians have turned and are running.
Nate gasps as the pain sudden rears itself up, and looks down. There’s a chunk of inner-thigh missing, and there’s a steady, pulsing drip of blood. He reaches up for his tourniquet, and it’s not there – because he’s not wearing his tac vest.
Ray wakes with a jolt.
Muzzily, he registers that he’s in Nate’s bed – and remembers the reasons.
There’s someone yelling in the front hall, and it sounds like Walt. “Shit, Nate! Nate!” He sounds worried. For Nate. Ray’s stomach drops – Walt doesn’t get unnecessarily worried.
“I’ll be OK,” says Nate – and Ray knows that tone. It’s the reassuring one, where Nate’s trying to make sure that no-one should be panicking, when it’s deserved. Suddenly unaccountably terrified, Ray hauls himself upright. He very nearly cries out in pain, and suddenly feels distinctly dizzy. He must have lost a lot of blood.
He staggers into the hall, and Nate’s lying on the ground, his right thigh a mess of blood and flesh. Ray collapses beside him, looking up at Walt – whose eyes are stark blue, terrified – and his hands hard against Nate’s thigh, his fingers twined with Nate’s on the wound, thick with pulsing red.
Nate’s voice is still terribly calm. “Ray – I need you to press on the top of my thigh now – tourniquet – blood loss –” Not knowing what else to do, Ray follows the instructions, pressing into the crease of Nate’s thigh as hard as he can.
Walt is grabbing the hallway phone with one hand, fingers punching red splotches on 9-1-1. His voice is a hum in the background as Ray presses as hard as he can. Then the phone cord is circling Nate’s thigh, and Walt is saying something.
Nate’s face is losing its color, his hands – the long, elegant hands – fluttering uselessly down onto his chest.
Ray’s totally terrified. He knows what this means.
He’s fighting for Nate, and he’s losing.
“Nate, I love you, I love you, stay with me, stay – have to stay – fuck, you can’t leave me now!”
Nate smiles, the full, always-so-pink lips beginning to go pale. “Love you, Ray.” His hands have caught the silver horseshoe that sits around his neck, and he holds it out. “For you. Be better.”
Ray knows what he means – but that doesn’t mean he’s going to accept it. “No, no! You’re going to be okay, Nate! You have to be okay! Nate! Fuck! FUCK, NATE! Stay with me, fucker!”
He grabs Nate’s hand as he sees his eyelids flutter down, “NATE!”
Nate looks up at him, the faintest of smiles on his lips. “Ray.”
The green eyes go dark.
The trip to Camp Pendleton on the back of Brad’s bike is the most painful and most necessary trip that Ray has taken – changing himself, closing chapters – becoming better.
The Bulldogs and the Irishmen had taken their revenge on the Russians; the plant upgrade is done; the gun runs have been scaled back. Everything of his old life is done.
He burns inside now, the hollowness left by Nate’s death slowly filling with the determination to do better – Nate’s dying wish. He’d never been sentimental, but this, for all it sounded that way, wasn’t. Nate always wanted the best for everyone, and Ray knows that meant him too. And Ray should have died, not Nate; he owes it to Nate to carry on for him.
The funeral had only set his resolve.
They climb off the Harley, Ray pulling off the green-patterned helmet that he hadn’t worn since the night of the gun run. He locks it onto the grab bar, and steps up in front of Brad.
They trade a long, long look, full of the unspoken regret, the loss, the sadness. Finally, Ray sighs, and sticks out his hand. Brad takes it, and pulls him into a one-sided hug.
They let go, and stand there for another few seconds before Ray nods, turns, and begins walking.
“Ray!” Ray turns back at Brad’s shout, wondering what Brad has forgotten. “Good luck,” is all Brad says, “Hope you… hope your life gets better.” Ray can hear the raggedness in Brad’s voice, knows that the man who is – was – more-or-less his brother is hurting too, but it’s nothing in the face of his own pain.
“Thanks, Brad,” he says, quiet, because that much was true. He was thankful that Brad had backed him. “Bye.”
He squares his shoulders and walks through the gate, not looking back. He hears the rumble of the Harley as Brad turns out, and there’s a second where he wants to turn, watch as his brother leaves him for the last time, but he resists. He’s leaving that behind; leaving the Bulldogs and everything they meant. He touches the silver horseshoe, reminding that this is the first step. He’s going to make himself a better man – for Nate.
Diamond Eyes Playlist on YouTube
Workshop Theme – ACDC – Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
CEEM Office – Apocalyptica – Plays Metallica: Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
Meeting the Bulldogs – Guns ‘n Roses – Welcome to the Jungle
Confirmation – Curtis Stigers and the Forest Rangers – This Life (Sons of Anarchy Theme)
Dropping off Jeannie – Dope – You Spin Me Right Round (American Psycho OST)
Compromise / Resisting – ACDC – Highway to Hell
Repeal – Triumph – Fight the Good Fight
Deal – Cage the Elephant – Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked
On the Workshop Bench – Metallica – Carpe Diem Baby
“Hurt him, we hurt you.” / “He doesn’t even hear about it.” – Nine Inch Nails – Metal
Overheard – Marilyn Manson – Tainted Love
Trying Not To Feel / Trying Not To Feel Guilty – Johnny Cash - Hurt
Gun Run – Grendel – Soilbleed v3
Ray Runs to Nate’s – Daughtry – Renegade
Horseshoe – BattleMe – Hey Hey, My My (Sons of Anarchy Episode Theme S3E13)
New Road – Shinedown – Diamond Eyes (The Expendables OST)
Prompt Theme – Bon Iver – Holocene
...Any chance you could put these posts that require a huge amount of page-downs under a cut, please?
Done. Sorry, I pasted straight from HTML and forgot about that...