title: When I See Tomorrow (I See You There)
word count: 5000
summary/warnings: When people ask how they met, Brad usually says that Ray followed him home one day, like a demented puppy, and refused to leave.
author notes: Beta'ed by the wonderful saltnburnbaby. Title from a song by Ugly Kid Joe.
He seems to know right where it hurts, your pain in vain
He gives himself to you, he's in your way
And everything he does just seems a phase, insane
When people ask how they met, Brad usually says that Ray followed him home one day, like a demented puppy, and refused to leave. Sometimes there's additional information about house training, depending on how much Brad's had to drink.
Truthfully, they meet in Afghanistan. Brad's been working on his radio for three hours and has only managed to get it operational once, for two minutes and thirty eight seconds, before it died again. He resists the urge to throw it against a wall, instead gritting his teeth and mentally cursing whoever decided that this archaic excuse for technology was suitable for the finest of America's warriors to use going into battle. It was beyond absurd, beyond insulting, and if Brad had just a little less self-control, he would cheerfully and brutally kill whoever was responsible.
“Yo, I hear there's a guy in Three-Two who's good at un-fucking radios,” Harrison offers, smirking over at Brad. Brad glares at him, debates his options, then gathers up the mess of wires and plastic that’s all that’s left of the radio.
A few blunt questions and he finds where the guy, apparently named Ray, is. Brad drops his radio on Ray’s bunk, gesturing at the mess.
“Apparently you're capable of fixing this shit.”
Ray looks from Brad to the radio and back again, eyebrows raised and mouth gaping open in a stupid expression of incredulity.
“Woah, woah, woah, homes, that is not how this shit goes down! I don't just do this shit for free-I expect something in return! Some cold hard cash or something of equal value that is worth my time and sweat and insane skill. And before you say anything, the last guy that made a hooker comparison is still looking for his teeth.”
He picks up a couple of wires and sucks in a breath though his teeth. “Jesus Christ, homes, what the fuck did you do to it? This is like... massacred. You're the butcher of radios.”
“Can you fix it?” Brad asks, gritting his teeth, and Ray smiles up at him sweetly.
“It'll cost ya.”
Ray is silent for a minute, face scrunched up in thought as he studies Brad, before grinning again. “Let's say two six-packs of good quality beer when we get Stateside again, one of which you must drink with me whilst watching the game or movie of my choosing.”
Brad blinks. “No deal.”
Ray shrugs. “Up to you, homes. Enjoy going through this war with no working radio.”
He lies back down, starts reading a Hustler magazine with one hand resting idly on his stomach, as if Brad isn't still looming over him. Brad breathes out slowly, biting back the words that first spring to his lips. He really needs a working radio.
“Fine,” he grits out. “I will buy you some fucking beer and endure whatever brain-numbing, whisky tango bullshit you deem entertaining. Just fix this shit.”
Ray sits up, tosses his magazine aside, and grins up at Brad. There is a moment when Brad is tempted to punch that stupid grin right off his face, but he just turns on his heel and stalks away instead.
“This is the start of a long and beautiful relationship, Iceman!” Ray calls after him.
Nine months later, Brad is sprawled out on Rays couch, watching some shitty movie that has extensive car chases and gunfights in place of a plot line. They're halfway through the second case of beer, both pleasantly buzzing, and Brad thinks absently that hanging out with Ray maybe isn't as bad as he feared it would be. Not that he'd ever tell Ray that, of course.
Julie cries when she talks to Brad. He looks at her impassively as she recites what is no doubt a well-rehearsed speech, hiccuping and sniffing every few seconds. Brad's gaze slides to Mark, who has the decency to look guilty and meets Brad's eyes for only a few seconds before looking away. Brad realises Julie's stopped talking and he looks at her again. Her eyes are hopeful, silently pleading for absolution. Brad can't give her that. Not yet, at least.
“I have to go,” he says, and doesn't look back.
For the first time in his life, he doesn't revel in the thrill of riding his bike. He speeds along the highway, throws himself around corners, and doesn't feel anything. He ends up at Ray's without ever having made a conscious decision to go there.
It's nearly noon when he knocks on Ray's door, but Ray looks like he just got up; his hair is mussed and sticking up on one side and he blinks blearily at Brad.
“The fuck is the Iceman doing at my door?” He asks in confusion, and Brad doesn't know what to say. Ray sighs and waves him in. “Come on, the light's fucking killing my eyes.”
Brad pushes some dirty laundry off the couch so he can sit down. He rubs at his temples, listens to Ray bang around in the kitchen. He doesn't think about Julie, or Mark. He doesn't think at all.
Ray shoves a pizza box under his nose, closely followed by a large cup of coffee. Brad accepts both, flipping the lid on the box. There's still four slices left and he eats one greedily. Ray smirks at him half-heartedly from where he's collapsed in the arm chair.
“See, I'm a fucking awesome host,” he says, and it takes Brad a second to remember a conversation last month when he'd mocked Ray for a party he'd thrown and his idea of preparation and catering was to buy a shitload of beer and some nachos. Brad raises his half-eaten slice in mock salute.
“You are indeed the king of hospitality.” He takes a sip of his coffee and closes his eyes at the instant rush of caffeine and sugar.
“Why are you here, Brad?” Ray asks. “I mean, I can understand if you just missed my pretty face and sparkling personality, if you were lonely without your Ray-Ray at your side, but you don't really do social calls. What gives?”
Brad takes another sip of coffee, not even pretending it's not stalling. He should explain, feels like if he's going to tell anyone, it would be Ray. But the words stick in his throat, catch like bits of broken glass. He forces a smile, sharp and brittle and not fooling anyone.
“I just wanted to make sure you hadn't died in some unfortunate donkey-fucking incident.”
Ray doesn't buy it, but he still grins and pretends he does, presses a hand to his chest. “Brad, homes, I'm touched. You really do care about me! It's okay, homes, I love you too.”
Brad snorts and shakes his head, but a small, real smile tugs at his lips.
He explains six hours later. They're watching another of the shit movies in Ray's extensive collection, and during one of the few quiet scenes where the main hero is patching himself up while perving on the young female sidekick, he says simply, “She left me.”
Ray looks at him, eyes dark and serious. He doesn't ask Brad to elaborate, maybe knowing that if he pushes, Brad will retreat altogether. Brad licks his lips, focuses on the screen.
“I've been with her for nearly nine years. I've known him over ten. And now they're together and happy and they hope I understand.” The bitterness in his voice is ugly and he takes a swallow of beer to hide it. He can still feel Ray watching him, but he doesn't let his uneasiness show.
“You want me to fuck him up for you?” Ray asks after a minute, and Brad finally looks at him. There's no joke in Ray's voice or expression, just a deadly level of seriousness. The flat anger in his voice says that if Brad agreed, he'd go and beat ten kinds of shit out of Mark. For a second, the word is on Brad's tongue, but he lets it die, shakes his head.
“No. Let them be happy.”
Ray nods and then knocks their shoulders together, a manic grin twisting his lips. “Least you still got me, Brad.”
Brad rolls his eyes. “God fucking help me.”
Brad requests Ray as his RTO when they deploy to Kuwait. He's already preparing himself for a war filled with irreverent chatter, obscenity and attempts at country music, but it'll be offset by having a competent driver and someone who can both work and fix a radio.
When Ray crashes into him, slinging his arms around Brad's shoulders and happily proclaiming that, in a bizarre yet fortunate twist of circumstance, he's been assigned to Brad's Humvee, Brad pushes him away and doesn't mention the strings he pulled to arrange it.
The invasion is one mistake after another. Brad watches it all with impassioned eyes, takes in all the details and coldly tallies each and every fuck-up. He sees dead girls by the side of the road, hamlets destroyed for no reason. He sees Nate grow weary and broken, his illusions crumbling to ash at his feet, and somehow that's worse than heads in the road.
Through it all, Ray smiles. Except smiling isn't the right word for the feral baring of teeth, the insane grimaces brought on by too much Ripped Fuel and too little sleep. Anyone who didn't know him would think it was only deranged humour, drug-fuelled rants about the ineptitude of it all, but Brad sees the tension in his jaw, the tight grip his keeps on the wheel. He sees how, behind Ray’s smiling lips, his teeth are clenched together.
Brad snaps at him when he tries to sing some bullshit country song, and Ray spends an hour and a half swerving around imaginary obstacles in the road or slamming the brakes on when he 'sees' some ducks in the way. It's stupid and petty and doesn't end until Brad apologizes. Ray nods once, graciously forgives him, and smiles. It's not his usual manic grin or mocking smirk, but something else, something softer. Brad only sees it rarely and, he realises, it's only ever directed at him.
Ray's halfway through explaining to Reporter that the reason they had to invade Iraq was because the Marine grunts were getting antsy and were two seconds from invading some place cool like Hawaii, which technically they didn't even need to invade because it's their fucking country so really they just needed to go like, guard the beaches or some shit, when he gets cut off. A screech of static bursts from the comms, a shrill three-seconds of not-noise before falling silent again. Ray blinks at the radio, one hand still hovering in mid air from when he was gesturing at Reporter. Slowly, his gaze slides to Brad who dutifully reaches for his comms.
“Hitman Two Actual, this is Hitman Two-One Actual, how copy?”
He gives it a full ten seconds, and gets nothing but static in return.
“Fucking motherfucker,” Ray hisses, slapping the wheel with his palm. “As if I've got fucking time to fix the shitfuck that is our comms system when I'm trying to lead a whole fucking platoon through the motherfucking desert.”
“Can you fix it?” Brad asks, scanning the horizon for any threats.
“Of course I can fucking fix it, but if we all get schwacked in some bullshit Hajji ambush, I am going to fucking haunt Camp Pendleton until I find the retard responsible for this mess.” Ray yanks a wire out of its socket and sticks it in his mouth. Brad flicks a glance at him, takes in the obscene flashes of Ray's tongue as he felates the wire.
“If you electrocute yourself, I will be forced to feed your body to the dogs,” he says seriously, and Ray wiggles his eyebrows at him, sticking the wire back into its socket and then fiddling with a couple more. Brad watches his fingers dart around, tries to follow their progress and figure out what the fuck Ray's doing.
“Try it,” Ray commands, and Brad once again tries to raise Nate on the comms. The static speaks for itself and Ray sighs heavily.
“Okay, you're gonna be my eyes, Brad. Fucking tell me if I'm about to run us off the road or something.”
Brad's not sure what he means, but the next second Ray is bending over, sticking his faces into the tangle of wires sticking out from the console. Brad's gaze jerks to the road, or what passes for a road in Iraq, seeking out any obstacles. There aren't any, and Ray's hand on the wheel keeps them going in a straight line as he blows into strategic places, tugging wires where he needs them. His spare hand slaps around on the dash, probing.
“Brad, there should be a thingy up there-hook kinda thing. Can you hand it to me?”
Brad casts about for a second before locating a small, black metal hook. He hands it to Ray, who shoves it somewhere in the wires and then blows noisily. The radio screeches again and Ray sits up, tossing the hook back on the dash. Brad thumbs the comms.
“Hitman Two Actual this is Hitman Two-One Actual, how copy?”
Brad holds his breath for the two seconds it takes Nate to answer. Ray crows in triumph, slapping the dash again, and Brad informs Nate they were out of communication for the past couple of minutes. Nate assures him he didn't miss anything-they're still at war. Brad lets the line drop and smiles at Ray.
“Good job, Ray.”
“Fucking A, homes, you sorry motherfuckers would be lost without me.”
Brad's starting to think he's right about that.
Brad doesn't hear the cat-calls and jeers. He closes his eyes, feels the air tease his sweat-slick skin. His Kevlar, MOPP jacket and M-4 are in the Humvee and their absence is freeing. This right here, running around a field with the sun warm on his skin, is freedom.
He runs in a broad circle, arms spread wide, until Ray's voice cuts through his reverie. Brad is drawn to him like a magnet and when he opens his eyes, he sees that he's standing next to Reporter. Brad drops to his knees, breathing hard, and smiles up at Ray.
“Better now,” he says, and Ray blinks. His eyes wander down Brad's body, like he is taking in every detail from his flushed cheeks to the sweat forming on his skin. When his eyes meet Brad's again, they're dark and intent with something Brad never expected. His mouth goes dry and it's only Reporter's presence that keeps him silent. A question hangs unasked in the air between them and Brad sees it answered in Ray's expression. Brad licks his lips, watches Ray watch the movement.
Reporter shifts slightly and the moment snaps. Brad stands up, pushing everything that just happened to the back of his mind where it won't distract him. If he barges past Ray a bit too rudely, he makes up for it ten minutes later when he gives everyone proper food and a skin mag.
That night, Brad waits until after his shift on watch before indulging in a combat jack. As he wraps a hand around his half-hard cock, his mind goes back to the field, to kneeling in front of Ray, and a surge of pleasure pulses through him, quickening his breath. He bites his lip to keep silent, jacking his cock quick and rough. In his mind, Reporter and the rest of the platoon aren't there, it's just him and Ray and there's nothing to stop him from leaning forward and sucking Ray's cock. Nothing to stop Ray from pressing a hand against the back of his head as he fucks Brad's mouth. Nothing to stop them stripping down and fucking right there, in a field washed in sunlight.
Brad exhales sharply as he comes all over his fist, closing his eyes as his orgasm crashes through him. Hurried and tense like all combat jacks, it's not the best, but the fake memory of Ray lingers in his mind and makes it a little better. He graciously gives himself a minute to come down before cleaning himself up with a baby wipe. He's exhausted enough that he falls asleep almost instantly and if he dreams of Ray, that's between him and his sub-conscience.
“Homes, seriously, listen to me. We're Marines, right? Fucking Recon Marines. We are the most bad-ass motherfuckers in the world. We do all the shit jobs, all the crazy-ass fucked-up bullshit missions no one else could have a hope in hell of doing, and fucking like it. We never complain, we never pussy out, we never let someone else do it. So, don't you think we deserve a holiday? I think we do. And if every person in the States donated like, two dollars, or five for the rich, liberal motherfuckers, there would be more than enough to send us all to Hawaii for a couple of weeks. Can you fucking imagine it? Two weeks of sun and sand and girls in teeny little bikinis. And surfing, Brad. You can't tell me you don't wanna go surfing on Hawaii's epic beaches. It'd be fucking awesome!”
“We're not going to Hawaii, Ray,” Brad says wearily, rubbing at his eyes and only making the sand in them sting more. Beside him, Ray sighs, throws his hands up in the air. He's sitting with his back against the front wheel of the Humvee, his feet dangling in his freshly dug grave. There's just enough light left in the sky for Brad to see the smudges of dirt on Ray's face and neck.
“Sure, not with that attitude,” he grumbles petulantly. “But I'm not letting this go, I’ll warn you right now. And sooner or later my irredeemable charm and wit and fucking first-class debate skills will wear you down and then you'll be booking the tickets. There's like, hiking and shit in Hawaii, Brad. There's waterfalls and big mountains you can climb with a broken ankle because I know you like doing that shit. And volcanoes! There's these dormant volcanoes and all the lava has like, fossilised or whatever into these awesome caves and arches and shit, you can't tell me you're not impressed by that. And the food. Homes, do you know the kind of food they have in Hawaii? You'll never wanna touch an MRE again.”
“Ray, I refuse to be schooled on the merits and attractions of Hawaii from a donkey-fucking whisky tango retard who's never even been there.”
“Fuck you, homes, I've seen pictures. And read shit.”
Brad stops and thinks about that for a second. An image forms in his mind of a teenage Ray Person sitting in the trailer he calls home, staring at pictures of Hawaii. He knows for a fact Ray didn't see the ocean until he joined the Corps and was literally thrown in it. Hawaii must've seemed like an untouchable paradise for him.
“Ray, that's pathetic,” he says, and means to leave it at that. He doesn't know why he then says, “But if you promise to never mention the idea again while we're trying to win this fucking war, I will do everything in my power to get you at least three days in Hawaii before you die.”
For a second, Ray's face is like a kid's on Christmas morning, and then he seems to remember himself enough to turn his delighted smile into something more perverted.
“Oh, shit, homes, is that gonna be our honeymoon? Fucking awesome! Hey, Walt, Brad totally just proposed to me and we're gonna have our honeymoon in Hawaii! Will you be my best man?”
Brad closes his eyes and sighs, but as Ray clambers off to pester Walt about floral arrangements, he can't help smiling a little.
Ray crashes hard when they reach Baghdad. Brad's expecting it, and yet is still caught off-guard by the change in Ray. He's not sure how he thought Ray would react to the sudden lack of adrenaline and stimulants, but this complete shut-down isn't it. Ray draws back into himself so completely that Brad barely recognises him. He sits atop a half-crumbled wall, staring unblinking at the ground. Without the bulk of his MOPP suit he seems even smaller, tee shirt draped loosely over his lean frame. His brows are drawn tight, lips pressed together in a firm line. He looks older than he should and it reminds Brad how young he actually is.
“Ray,” he says, and it takes Ray a few seconds to rouse himself, blinking at Brad like he's coming out of a daze. Brad hesitates awkwardly, unsure of what to say. He's never been good at pep talks, never really cared to try, but now he needs to and he's floundering.
“You need to help fill out these DD-40s,” he says eventually. “Don't think you can slack off just because you're PMSing.”
Ray's lips twist bitterly and Brad hates himself, but Ray still jumps down from the wall to help with the inventory. Brad thinks that's something at least, a small step forward. He realises he's wrong when Ray attacks Rudy during a supposedly friendly game of football.
Brad finds Ray in what was once an office. There's a desk pushed against the wall and a broken chair in the corner. A bookcase has fallen over and Brad has to step over it to get in the room. Ray is pacing angrily, rubbing his face and pulling his hair. There's a tiny droplet of blood sliding down his cheek from a small cut there and Brad wants to wipe it away. He pushes the impulse away.
“You want to tell me what that was about?” He asks, and Ray glances at him without slowing down.
“Fuck off, Brad.”
Brad's eyebrows shoot up at Ray's belligerent, angry tone, the instant dismissal. He's never seen Ray like this. No matter how angry Ray got, how pissed at Command or any of their many fuck-ups, he never took it out on Brad.
Ray shakes his head, waves him away with a violent hand gesture. “No, seriously, Brad-fuck you! Just fuck off and leave me the fuck alone, okay? I do not want to fucking talk about my feelings like we're in some hippy group counselling circle jerk bullshit. So fuck off and let me just-”
“Corporal Person,” Brad snaps, putting very inch of authority he's got into his voice. Ray slams to a halt and Brad can see thought kicking in a second after instinct. His frown tightens and his fists clench, but he doesn't move, doesn't speak. Brad closes the distance between them, Ray's eyes never leaving his. This close Brad can't resist any longer and reaches out to swipe at the drop of blood, gathering it on the pad of his thumb. Ray's eyelids flutter at the touch and Brad looks at him as he licks his thumb, a slow, teasing slide of tongue.
“Jesus fuck,” Ray breathes, a little of the anger bleeding away.
“You gonna be okay?” Brad asks quietly. Ray's silent for a second and then Brad sees the last of the anger melt away and he nods.
“Yeah. Yeah, I will be.”
Ray bites his lip, eyes focused on Brad's mouth. “You, uh, gonna kill me if I cut through all this bullshit and kiss you?” He asks, and Brad sucks in a slow breath.
“No,” he admits. “But anyone catches us and-”
Ray surges forward and crushes their lips together, tongue licking at Brad's mouth insistently. What little resolve Brad had crumbles to ashes and he moans into the kiss, forcing Ray backwards until he hits the wall. Brad crowds him against the wall, shoving one leg between Ray's thighs. Ray kisses like he's starving for it, tongue thrusting and sliding against Brad's as he grinds against Brad's leg. Brad feels breathless after a few seconds, his skin burning as Ray's hands push under his shirt so he can score his nails down Brad's back.
Out in the corridor someone shouts suddenly and Brad jumps back like he's been shot. He stares at the door, praying for it to remain shut and it does. Brad gives it a full thirty seconds before relaxing, shoulders slumping. Ray is still leaning against the wall and his cheeks are flushed, lips red and swollen. Brad doesn't let himself look too hard.
“We're not doing this right now,” Brad says firmly, and Ray grins.
“That mean we're doing it later?” He leers, and despite himself, Brad laughs.
“When we get home,” he says, and it sounds like a promise.
“I'm gonna hold you to that, homes. Hold a few other things to you as well.”
Brad shakes his head, smiling. “Go away, Ray. Go find Rudy and let him apologise so he doesn't bitch about dirtying up his karma.”
“You got it, Brad.”
Ray pushes away from the wall and just as he walks past Brad, he grabs him for one more quick, hard kiss. He laughs and is gone before Brad can hit him. Brad stands alone in the wrecked office and realises that he has no clue what he's just started.
The only warning Brad gets about Ray's imminent arrival is a short, unexpected text that simply says 'I hope you've stocked up on beer, homes'. Less than twenty four hours later and Ray is throwing a heavy duffel bag on the floor and sprawling out on Brad's sofa. He looks up at Brad with a sharp, cocky grin.
“So, where's my beer, bitch?”
“In the kitchen, where you can also get me one,” Brad says, settling down in the armchair.
“You expect guests to get their own beer?” Ray asks in mock-horror, eyes wide and hurt.
“Guests, no. Uninvited, inbred whisky tango hicks, yes.”
Ray pouts, lower lip sticking out absurdly, and sighs dramatically. “Fine, but I expect the mother of all blowjobs for this.”
He heaves himself to his feet and disappears into the kitchen, saving Brad from answering. It's not that he'd forgotten about kissing Ray or his sort-of promise to continue it when they got back, he just... well, things happened in a warzone that wouldn't necessarily happen under normal circumstances and he hadn't been sure if the kiss was one of those things.
“Homes, I can hear your brain overheating from here,” Ray says, tapping Brad's shoulder with a beer bottle. Brad accepts it gratefully and watches Ray sit down again.
“Look,” Ray says bluntly. “You are socially inept and I get that so I'm gonna lay it out for you nice and simple. I want to fuck you. Actually, I'm more interested in you fucking me but both ways work. I popped a fucking woody the second you kissed me and the amount of times I've jerked off thinking about you is ridiculous. If all this fucking happens to involve some sort of arrangement where we both agree not to fuck anyone else then great. But really, Brad, I just wanna get naked with you.”
Brad thinks about all that for a few seconds before draining his beer and setting the bottle carefully on the table. Ray is watching him steadily and Brad knows him well enough to read the tension in his body. He lets it spin out for a few extra seconds before showing mercy.
“That is the worst pick-up speech I've ever heard,” he says. “But lucky for you, I'm willing to forgive your butchery of the English language and all romantic ideas.”
Ray grins brilliantly, shaking his head a little. “Homes, you fucking love me.”
“I'd like you a lot more if you were sucking my dick right now.”
Ray raises his eyebrows and stands up. Brad's breath catches in his throat but instead of sinking to his knees, Ray climbs on to Brad's lap, legs wedged into the small spaces between Brad and the arms of the chair. Brad's hands come to rest on Ray's waist automatically and Ray smiles at him, surprisingly soft. Brad's expecting a repeat of their first kiss, full of passion and need, but when Ray bows his head, it's the polar opposite. It's gentle and slow, a teasing slide of lips and tongue. It feels like a reassurance that Brad didn't know he needed.
Brad braces himself to wake up to an empty bed before he's even fully conscious. When he opens his eyes and sees Ray sprawled out beside him, mouth open and snoring lightly, Brad can only smile. He traces his fingers over the tattoos on Ray's chest, bumping over his collarbones. He thinks idly that he should stop trying to predict Ray, stop expecting things to happen a certain way; it never works. No matter how good Brad is at reading everyone else, his freaky Iceman powers stop working when it comes to Ray. Ray surprises him at every turn, and Brad's slowly realising that's one of the things he likes about him.
Ray snuffles, eyes scrunching up as he bats lazily at Brad's hand.
“If you're gonna molest me in my sleep, I'm calling this whole thing off,” he mumbles.
“No you're not,” Brad says easily. Ray cracks open one eye to look at him and for a second things hang uncertainly in the air. Brad finds himself bracing for A Talk, for romantic relationship bullshit that he does not want to deal with, but again, he should have known better. Ray just shrugs one shoulder and shifts so that he can rest his head on Brad's shoulder.
“Yeah, alright. Guess I can stick around for a while.”