|Primary Characters:||Nathan, Tom|
|Spoilers:||Just watch the movie, ok?|
|Warning:||adult themes, language|
|Description:||Nathan got away with Operation Dinner Out. Then Tom shows up on his doorstep. It seems now’s the time to deal with their feelings for each other.|
Nathan Muir let out the breath he’d held in for so long. They’d let him go. They’d bought his story. And they’d thought he’d lost it. But there was no accompanying rush of satisfaction. Too much had happened in far too little time. And though he was enormously relieved operation Dinner Out had been a success, he still felt an aching sense of loss.
Not over his job. A career was only a career, after all, though in his line of work, you were never really allowed to retire. Of course, when you fell from favor, you either became a non-person, or – you were terminated. He still didn’t know for sure what they’d do to him. But he was fairly sure they’d leave him be.
He’d have given a lot to see their faces when they finally knew he’d suckered them all. A brief smile flashed across his lips.
He realized that there was a hard knot of muscle in the small of his back, which was beginning to ache and his neck felt stiff. Maybe he hadn’t lost his touch, but his body sure was feeling the strain of the years of service to his country. And for what? Maybe Boy Scout had been right, after all. Maybe the fight had turned bad, a long time ago. But that didn’t matter now. It was over. Finished. End of story.
Though he wanted to let the matter go for the time being, to allow his weary mind some rest, he couldn’t help replaying the incident from the beginning.
He’d known right from the start that this was the time he’d have to eat his own words. This time he’d have to break his own rules. Holding the pocket flask in his hand, turning it over and over, he’d finally dared to face the reason why it always hurt somewhere deep inside whenever he thought about Tom, and he was far away from him. It wasn’t the fact that he’d recruited and trained the boy. After all, he’d done that before. No, something about that innocent boyish face had gotten to him.
Again, he tried to give himself a break, by banishing the memories of the two of them together, but this time too, he failed. Images of Tom looking at him, listening to him, taking his advice, obeying him, flashed in front of his eyes. He recalled how it had felt to work with him. The trust. The intimacy. The communication.
Most of all, he kept returning to the day in Berlin when he’d taunted Tom by hinting that the four things he’d told that girl about himself had been lies. That wasn’t just an older, more experienced agent’s way of establishing the edge he held over a younger newly recruited operative. He had wanted to believe, he had been hoping that Tom not being heterosexual would be true. Besides, despite the affair with Elizabeth Hadley, somehow he’d always known that Tom had feelings he kept carefully hidden.
Another incident kept intruding on Nathan’s thoughts. The time he’d met Elizabeth and deliberately harassed her. Not just to warn Tom, but to stake his claim to him. Hands off. The boy is mine. And she’d gotten the message too. He’d had the satisfaction of scoring a hit, of reading her reaction. Naturally, she was feeling most disadvantaged by his knowledge of her secret, not his feelings for Tom. She was secure enough in her femininity, to assume that Tom was straight and belonged to her. He’d had to suppress his sense of triumph. No need to twist the knife in the wound.
After all, the boy did love Hadley, or thought he did. Even Nathan himself had loved his wife. Unfortunately, that had only been enough for a few months. The rest of the time it took their marriage to die, it had been slowly falling apart. At last, she’d seen the futility of trying. So had he. Only it had taken him the rest of the 70’s to realize why it hadn’t worked. It wasn’t just the chemistry between them. He’d finally learned that it was men that turned him on, not women.
By then, Nathan was hoping it hadn’t been the infatuation or the physical attraction he’d felt for Tom that had made him pick the boy in the first place.
And so he’d staked his pension, his freedom and, worst of all, Gladys’ career and future, on saving Tom. Operation Dinner Out had paid off, but he didn’t expect ever to see Tom again. Agent Tom Bishop was dead. Whoever he was now, he would never return to his old mentor. The wild venture he’d set out on to save Lizzy’s life, had proven beyond any shadow of a doubt where his feelings lay, even after all this time.
Maybe he’d been wrong anyway. Maybe Tom was straight after all. And even if he wasn’t –
Finally, he was home. He couldn’t wait to sink down in chair or on the couch and let go of all the tension. He’d just get a drink and maybe a sandwich and he’d be all set.
He’d been right. A few nights’ uninterrupted sleep worked wonders. Despite what it had cost him, beating those bastards had been worth it. They’d thought he was past it, an old man with nothing left to give. Boy had he shown them. That thrill would last him for years. If only he’d been able to see their faces. He grinned as he recalled how he’d played them every step of the way. They’d be talking about it for years to come, he was betting. By now, he was pretty sure he’d be safe. Whatever they’d figured out, they’d let him be. Nailing him would only turn the knife in the wound and increase the risk of anyone outside the agency finding out.
He was just beginning to toy with the idea of going for a long, leisurely fishing trip, when he heard the doorbell ring. The sense of well being dissipated instantly. If he’d been wrong about their intentions – there was still time to make his getaway, unless – they had the place surrounded. Maybe he shouldn’t have taken anything for granted. Now he was beginning to curse his own lethargy. Too late. He might as well face the music. And after all, it might just be some bloody sales guy.
So he got up and walked over to the door, unhurriedly. Whatever it was, he wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of seeing him lose his dignity and panic.
As the door swung open, he was wondering what it would be. Would they disguise it as a burglary gone wrong? A suicide? An overdose? Except the young man standing outside in the blinding sunlight looked so familiar. It couldn’t be – Nathan’s mouth dropped open and for a few seconds, his mind was a total blank. Surely he was mistaken. He was becoming foolish in his old age. Just because the boy had been on his mind, he had to see his face on every youngish man he saw.
But as his eyes grew accustomed to the light, he realized with a shock that it actually was Tom. And the young man’s voice sounded all too familiar.
“Hello, Nathan. Aren’t you going to ask me in?”
“What are you doing here?”
That came out far more gruffly than he’d intended, but it didn’t appear to faze Tom at all. Whatever the Chinese had done to his face, his attitude hadn’t changed.
“About dinner – is that invitation still good?”
That smile. It could still hit him straight at the pit of his stomach. Nathan couldn’t even find the words to reply. So many years gone by and Boy Scout still looked the same and still had the same effect on him. He was jolted out of his reverie when the young man stumbled and nearly fell, and suddenly Nathan was recalled to the present as he remembered how badly injured Tom had to be.
“You’re out of your mind, coming here. You should be in a hospital.”
“I’m alright. So what are we having? For dinner.”
Despite his attempt at nonchalance, Tom’s voice wasn’t far from breaking. Boy Scout was exhausted and in pain. Finally, Nathan had the presence of mind to put his arm around the boy and help him inside.
He managed to get Tom to sit down on the couch and went to find a blanket for him. Once he’d settled the boy in, he sat down himself, heavily. His eyes roamed anxiously across the younger man’s face. They hadn’t spoken to each other for years. He knew what would be on Tom’s mind, but he couldn’t honestly feel sorry for what he’d done.
“I’m sorry about Lizzy, but it was for your own good. Besides, the orders came from upstairs.”
“Still fighting the good fight, were you?”
“You should know better than to ask me that.”
“So what about now? Did you have a change of heart?”
“You were right. We’d lost sight of right or wrong. This was the good fight, not -”
“It’s ok, Nathan. I understand.”
“Tell me the truth now. How bad is it? Do I need to call a doctor?”
“They knew what they were doing. As you should know. If I’d died on them, I wouldn’t have been able to talk.”
Again Nathan subjected Tom to an intent stare, then nodded.
“Right. You mentioned dinner. I suppose you’ve lost your taste for Chinese?”
Tom’s ruined face was split by a wide grin, which rapidly turned into a grimace of pain.
Nathan was unable to check his impulse to reach out and lightly brush Tom’s face with his fingertips. Instantly, he withdrew his hand, when he noticed Tom tensing up. Stupid. The boy was in pain, and besides –
“I know I’ve looked better.”
What was that? A taunt? A subtle dig at him? Had he given himself away somehow? Had Tom known all along? Was that why he hadn’t come along to South America? Whatever it was, Nathan couldn’t think of any comeback, so he settled for changing the topic.
“Whatever. As long as you get me a big Scotch or Bourbon. Cheap or expensive, doesn’t matter. Just get me one fast.”
“Coming right up.”
Nathan was grateful for the excuse to leave Tom’s disconcerting stare. He rushed off to find his best and most expensive Scotch and poured Tom a big one, as much as he thought the boy could take in his weakened state. He wouldn’t give Tom any reason to believe he was trying to get him drunk, to take advantage of him.
“There. If you really don’t care what’s for dinner, I could make us a couple of sandwiches for now and take you out to a restaurant when you’re feeling better.
So Nathan went into the kitchen to fry a few eggs and make a few sandwiches. When he was done, he got a couple of beers out of the fridge and set it all up on the table by the couch where Tom was slumped down.
While they were eating, they talked about old times, but it soon became clear that Tom was in quite a bit of pain. Nathan didn’t know what to say. When they’d finished eating, Nathan took the dishes and the empty bottles into the kitchen. He decided to make up the guest room right away. It was barely two p m, but it was clear that Tom was going to need rest.
Standing over Tom, as he tried to get to his feet, Nathan felt awkward.
At last, Tom was able to get to his feet and began to limp in the direction Nathan showed him. Nathan was right behind him. He had a bad feeling about the whole thing. Tom clearly needed medical attention, and given his precarious legal standing, that would be tricky. All of which was bad enough, but what if Tom was more badly injured than he was letting on? Whoever had let him go from that base so soon, deserved to be demoted. If Nathan had still had any say, that medical officer would have been court martialled. On the other hand, no one knew better how stubborn Boy Scout had always been, beneath his deceptively innocent face.
Right outside the doorway, Tom stumbled and would have fallen, if Nathan hadn’t reached out and caught him. This time, Tom didn’t pull away. Instead, he managed to turn around and face Nathan. There was a strange look on Tom’s face, which Nathan took to be caused by physical pain. It was a while until he realized that he was wrong. It was emotional distress that twisted Tom’s features.
Nathan could have kicked himself. Of course. The reaction after the torture had set in. What a fool he was. This was something he was familiar with, and should have recognized sooner. Tom wouldn’t just need a doctor, he’d need a psychiatrist, or some kind of crisis counselling, to counteract the trauma. He pulled Tom closer and held him, and for a second, he could even forget his own conflicted emotions towards him.
He was shocked to notice that the boy was shaking with sobs. Slowly and painfully, they were being torn out of him. What had those chinks done to him? Surely they couldn’t have – Nathan was spooked enough to blurt out the question, without thinking.
“Tom – they didn’t -”
He couldn’t bring himself to finish. How did you ask a man if he had been raped?
It took Tom a while to figure out the implication, and in the stunned silence that followed his gasp, Nathan had time to think: Those bastards. They couldn’t even settle for physical torture.
Tom drew in breath to reply.
“Hell, Nathan, you don’t think what they did was enough? Now you’ve gone and made me imagine something like that. Jeez. At least that’s not an interrogation method you’ve taught me.”
“I guess that’s a no?”
“What did you think? Christ. Thanks a lot. Now I’ll never be able to get that image out of my mind.”
“No. It’s ok. Serves me right for blubbering like a firstgrader. I’m sorry for alarming you like that. It was just -”
Silence fell heavily between them, and Nathan wondered what was really wrong. Had Tom understood and was steeling himself to say no thanks? Had he figured it out and was about to tell him he wasn’t interested?
What Tom finally said was something Nathan hadn’t been able to imagine.
“You son of a bitch. How the hell did you know?”
Confused, Nathan was again beginning to fear that Tom really had been sexually assaulted in some way the base’s medical staff had failed to pick up on.
“Ok, what happened? You can tell me, you know. It wouldn’t make any difference to how -”
Moron. Here he was about to tell him it wouldn’t change his feelings for him. Feelings he’d never put into words before.
“Not now. In Berlin. You knew. How the fuck did you know?”
But it was clear that Nathan didn’t see a thing. Tom realized that he’d have to spell it out.
“Four lies. How did you know – I mean – that I was lying about – my sexual orientation?”
In the silence that followed, Nathan’s mind raced. He couldn’t believe he’d just heard the boy say those words. Was he dreaming? Could it be that the boy wasn’t here at all and it was all just wishful thinking? But Tom’s face betrayed so much emotion, there could be no doubt about his sincerity.
Perhaps now was the time for honesty, for once, for the first time since school.
“I guess – I just knew. At least I was hoping I was right.”
There. He’d said it. Whatever happened would happen. Now he’d really broken all his own rules. In just one second, he’d left his old life far behind. From now on, he knew, everything would be unknown territory. Breathlessly, like a teenager, he awaited Tom’s reply.
Tom opened his eyes wide, and stared straight into Nathan’s.
As always, that frank, guileless look blew him away, like the bullet from a sniper scoring a direct hit.
At last, Tom had stopped shaking, and momentarily a hesitant smile hovered on his lips. A real smile would have hurt too much.
He didn’t say anything, merely looked content. At ease. When it became clear he wasn’t going to reply, Nathan began herding the boy into the guest room. They didn’t get very far. Struck by a thought, Tom again turned to face his mentor.
“You do realize I don’t have a job anymore?”
“You don’t even exist anymore. We’ll have to fix something up for later. I guess I still have a favor or two left to call in.”
“I don’t exist? Oh. Of course. So, what do I call myself now?”
“Maybe you get to choose, maybe not. We’ll see.”
“Ok. So what’s it going to be? The Bahamas?”
“Who told you?”
“Duncan. So what will it be?”
“There was – uh – a change of plans.”
“Tahiti? Rio? Bali?”
“I don’t know. Probably nothing that exotic.”
Like New Jersey. Or Nebraska.
Something clicked inside Tom and suddenly, he knew what Nathan had done for him. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t made the connection sooner. The pain had to be making his mind move sluggishly.
“You spent the money on getting me out, didn’t you? Nathan, I’m sorry.”
“Forget it. Like I said, you were right. What about Elizabeth though?”
“You tell me. Something tells me she’s heading straight back to the UK where they’ll throw her in jail. Right?”
“I assume so, but that’s not what I meant.”
“Oh. Well. There was a change of plan.”
Reassured by Tom’s calm reaction to Elizabeth’s presumed fate, Nathan decided to do a little fishing. His honesty a moment ago had produced such a nice result, it would be a shame to quit now. He raised one eyebrow inquiringly.
“Someone else asked me to dinner.”
Nathan allowed himself to relax. They were standing beside the bed, so he let go of Tom, who sank down on it gratefully.
“Don’t worry, Nathan. We can always live off my savings.”
We? An enormous sense of relief seized Nathan. Not Tom and Elizabeth. The two of them.
“They won’t take us that far, but maybe the Caribbean would do? Or South America. I never got a chance to see any of that.”
“Sounds good to me.”
Tom nodded as if to himself, then looked up again.
“Yeah. Oh, there’s just one thing, Nathan – dinner will be on you.”