by Annie

"I'm telling you, Dave, you'll have a good time. Trust me."

David eyeballed his brother warily. The last time Nate flashed that coaxing grin at him, he'd ended up in bed with Curt - gorgeous, brilliant, psychotic Curt. Nate thought he had been doing him a favor, encouraging him to date the dance instructor, but it had turned out to be a total disaster. The sex had been good, but the stalking afterwards - not so good.

"I can't tonight," David said with just the right tone of regret in his voice. Whatever his brother's plans were, he didn't want to be involved. Nate's idea of a good time often involved illegal substances and frequent nudity. "There's a hit-and-run I need to get an early start on in the morning. Without Federico, I'm going to be busy all day."

Nate's face fell, but he quickly recovered. "Look, I'll help you out. I know I can't do much without a license, but I'll get up as early as you and I'll take care of anything that I can do."

David smirked. "Anything? All of the lockers need to be scrubbed down and one of the embalming tanks is clogged. Are you telling me you're going to take care of that?"

"Uh...," Nate stalled. David could tell he was looking for an out.

"I thought so," David replied. He rinsed out his juice glass, put it in the dishwasher, then turned to go upstairs. "Goodnight, Nate."

He was halfway upstairs when Nate called to him. "Okay, fine! I'll do the jobs."


"Yes, really. Now, are you coming or not?"

David's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Why are you so eager about this? You're not setting me up on a blind date, are you?"

Nate laughed and raised his hands in surrender. "No, I learned my lesson. I just think you need to get out and relax, and I know just the place to go. C'mon, we'll have a few beers, dance a little, maybe pick up some wom---uh, people. Whaddaya say?"

David looked at his brother carefully, trying to see if there were any indications that Nate's plans for the night would get him humiliated at best or landed in jail at worst. Finally, he sighed. "Fine, I'll go. Just give me a few minutes to get ready." He climbed the stairs, wondering if he had officially lost his mind.


"A gay bar? You brought me to a gay bar?" David looked around, amused. It was a nice place; busy but not too crowded, and it looked like a band was setting up on the small stage. That was a nice change from the mindless bass thumps of the music played in the few bars he had visited. All in all, Nate had made a good choice; a strange choice, but a good one.

Nate looked pleased with himself. "Hey, I'm cool. I'm comfortable enough in my own sexuality to be here without feeling freaked."

"Uh-huh," was David's only reply.

Nate headed towards the bar. "You find us a place to sit and I'll get some beers." He dived into the crowd lining the bar and David had to laugh at the heads that swiveled to watch his brother pass. He was always surprised how oblivious Nate could be to how beautiful he was, because God knows Nate was fully aware of exactly how charming he was.

He shook his head, chuckling, and slid into a booth.

Nate returned bearing two pint glasses and a grin. "Guess what they had on draft?"

David took one of the glasses and sipped cautiously. A delighted smile spread across his face. "Murphy's! I've only found a few places that have it."

"And there's more where that came from, my brother," Nate said. He leaned forward. "Hey, you remember when Mom and Dad took us all to Ireland after I graduated high school? And we snuck out to a pub after they'd gone to bed?"

David laughed. "Remember it? Not really. All I remember is you badgering me to have a drink, and then me being awakened by Mom at 7:00 the next morning so we could take the train to Killarney."

Nate put on his best affronted expression. "Badgered? Oh, no, I coaxed you."

"Either way," David continued, "that first taste of Murphy's is one of the few things I do remember about that night. It's still my favorite beer, so I guess I should thank you for your...coaxing."

An easy silence fell across the booth and they drank their beers for a while.

Finally, David couldn't stand it anymore. "Okay, spill."

"What do you mean?" Nate asked.

"Well, let's see," David ticked things off on his fingers. "You paid my cover, you paid for an expensive import beer, you agreed to pay for a cab home if we drank too much --- you want something."

This time Nate's affronted look wasn't feigned. "Jesus fucking Christ, David, do I always have to have an ulterior motive?"

David stared stonily at his brother. "Well, yes."

"It just so happens that you're wrong," Nate replied. "Brenda and I are going out of town next weekend, so I wanted to take you out now for your birthday."

"My birthday."


David's laugh had no mirth in it. "My birthday, you fucking moron, is in two months."

"Two months?"

"You got it."

"Not April 16?"

"Try June 16."


"Yeah. Oh," David mockingly repeated. He was angry now. "That's just like you, Nate. You put on this mask of being Mr. Nice Guy, but you really don't think about anyone but yourself. I'm your fucking brother and you don't even know my goddamned birthday!"

Nate sank back into his seat. "Jesus, Dave, I did try. I was trying to do something nice for you."

"No. You were trying to score points with me. You think a few beers and showing that you're down with the gay lifestyle is going to make up for the years you were gone? Fuck you." David was furious, just warming up. "You don't know shit, Nate. You know nothing about this family. You know nothing about me. You think it's just the birthday thing? Try again, big brother. I'm sick and tired of you being treated like the golden boy, the one who can do or say no wrong, when I know that you can't do a fucking thing right, including taking your brother out for his birthday."

He slid out of the booth and stalked towards the bar, needing to get away before he started screaming. He sat in a stool and breathed in and out, trying to control his rage.

"What's your poison?"

"Huh?" He turned and saw the bartender waiting for a response. He eyed the bottles lining the wall and sighed. What the fuck. "Prairie Fire. No chaser."

The bartender cocked an eyebrow. "Tough guy, huh?" At David's indifferent shrug, he poured the shot of tequila and carefully measured out the drops of tobasco into the glass. He pushed it over to David, who swallowed it back with a grimace and thunked the glass on the bar.

"Hit me again. Double it this time."

Another eyebrow, but this time the bartender made the drink without comment. After David downed that one as well, the bartender ventured his opinion.

"Dump him or fight for him, honey. No guy is worth the hangover you're going to have in the morning."

David grimaced and shook his head. "No, it's not like that with us."

"If you say so, honey," the bartender agreed, then pointed behind David. "But I've seen a lot of men in here with that just been kicked in the nuts look, and your boyfriend's got it. Whatever you said to him, he's hurting bad." He walked off to help another customer.

David swiveled in his stool and watched Nate sit alone in the booth nursing his beer. The bartender was right; Nate looked abjectly miserable. David's heart went out to him and he almost went to apologize. Then, he remembered that he had valid reasons for being pissed off right now. Nate was used to being easily forgiven when he fucked up. It was hard to stay angry with him, but David had managed it for many years and he wasn't prepared to give it up yet. His anger had sustained him for a long time; it was his security blanket. So he watched Nate clutch his beer and look like he had been sucker-punched and he was pleased.

But Nate surprised him. He caught David looking at him and instead of looking away guiltily or coming over with the intent of charming him out of his anger, he simply locked eyes with David and mouthed "I'm sorry."

David was stunned. He nodded an acknowledgment to his brother, knowing what it cost Nate to admit fault, to accept responsibility. He ordered two more shots and carried them to the booth, setting one down in front of Nate

"Here. On me." Nate cautiously sniffed the shot glass and wrinkled his nose, but he clinked glasses with David and obediently drank it down.

He choked and sputtered, his face turning bright red before he was able to breathe again. "Shit, David, what was that? Battery acid?"

"Close," David replied blandly. "Prairie Fire. Claire introduced me to it."

Nate guffawed. "Claire? Jesus, our baby sister has balls."

David nodded. "That she does. You should try and get to know her sometime," he remarked idly.

Nate had the good grace to look ashamed. "I know. Look, Dave, I'm really sorry about the birthday fuck up. And I'm sorry that I haven't been around. I'm working on it. I really am."

"I know. Just try harder."

Nate nodded, not taking offense at the admonishment. A waiter brought two more beers to their booth and they sat and drank together, sharing stories about their lives. David talked about the years Nate had missed with his family, about college and working for their father and meeting Keith and everything in between. Nate talked about the experiences he had had in Seattle and what his work had been like and where he had traveled. They both knew that the walls between them had only cracked a fraction, but it was a start.

Finally, they finished their beers and stood up. Both were more than a little tipsy and knew they would be taking that cab home after all. David offered to pay half, but Nate insisted he take care of everything because even though it wasn't David's birthday, there didn't have to be a special occasion for him to want to take his brother out. David acquiesced, knowing that it was important to Nate.

They stumbled outside, waiting for the cab the bartender called to arrive. They made up stories about the single men and the couples going in and out of the bar and laughed until their sides ached. Underneath the hilarity and the camaraderie, they both sensed a true change in their fragile, precarious relationship.

David was the first to voice it. "Nate?"

Nate stopped giggling, hearing the seriousness in David's voice. "Yeah?"

"I love you." David wrapped his arms around his brother and hugged him tightly.

It was different from that time in the cemetery when the same words were said. Nate had always been comfortable with voicing his feelings; David was not. That he had said it first this time meant a great deal to both of them.

Nate hugged him back, squeezing so hard a breathless squeak came out of David. "I love you."

After some time had passed, Nate pulled back slightly and gazed down at David. David could smell the slightly sour odor of alcohol on his breath. Nate leaned over and kissed him lightly on the lips, as they used to do when they were children and such displays of affection were encouraged.

That tiny touch released something dark and bitter inside David and he sighed against Nate's soft mouth, feeling safe and loved and free of resentment for the first time since Nate had went away.

They remained that way, lips pressed together, leaning on each other, until a honk startled them out of their shared reverie. Hastily backing away from each other, they climbed into the back of the cab. The ride home was in awkward, strained silence, uncomfortable because David knew that they both wondered what might have happened if the cab hadn't pulled up right at that moment.

For a long time after, David thought about what happened. He analyzed it incessantly, struggled with the confusion and the shame and the arousal, but was never able to come up with any answers for why it had happened.

They often talked about that night, made jokes about Nate's inability to remember birthdays and David's tequila-induced hangover the next day, but their remembrances always stopped at the moment they decided to leave the bar. It was as if they had an unspoken agreement to forget that brief, magical moment, because to discuss it -- or even remember it -- meant facing truths neither one of them were prepared to face.

As one wall came tumbling down, another was erected in its place.


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