|Primary Characters:||Tom, Nathan|
|Spoilers:||Just watch the movie, ok?|
|Warning:||adult themes, language, m/m|
|Description:||Tom showed up on Nathan’s doorstep, right after Operation Dinner Out. Nathan’s dealt with his feelings for Tom, now it’s Tom’s turn to figure things out. In the meantime, they have someplace to go.|
I knew it was a mistake. Probably the biggest mistake of my life. No scratch that. It was the second biggest mistake of my life, but I’ll get into that later. The trouble was, I didn’t have any choice, once I found out what had really happened to Liz. You’d think I’d be mad at Nathan, but for reasons that will become clear later I wasn’t. He’d made it clear to me years ago how he plays his missions. Looking out for number one. If it’s you or them, send flowers to the funeral. That’s him, not me. Me, I have to care, or I wouldn’t be able to do it.
So I did what I did, and it blew up in my face and – the rest of it happened. When the choppers came for me, at first I couldn’t believe it. I figured I’d gone insane from the torture and was just hallucinating. It’s been known to happen. Once I finally realized it was real and I really was getting ouf of there, I didn’t really feel anything. I guess it was the relief. It made me feel numb. I’d done what I’d set out to do and I didn’t owe her anything anymore. So even if the knowledge of what would happen to her, was at the back of my mind all along, it didn’t bother me so much. I mean, how bad could an English prison be, after Suzhou?
And that was that. I was alive, but that was about all. After what they’d done to me, I was just barely holding together. You knew what could happen. All throughout your training you were aware of the risks, but the thing was, you didn’t really believe it. I don’t think you could do what we did and face the risks we do, if you really believed you’d be caught and tortured. And I was lucky. Real lucky. They never got round to the really bestial stuff. I’d heard rumors. Sure it was the Viet Cong that time around, but the Chinese know a thing or two about torture as well. They had barely gotten started, because they needed me alive for the execution.
So much for my physical condition. By doing what I’d done, I was also out of a job. Believe it or not, that didn’t really bother me. In fact, some people might argue that I’d betrayed my country. You might find it shocking to learn that I didn’t give a damn about that either. What really bothered me was what Nathan would think. I’d told him years ago, how I felt about his damned rules, right? It shouldn’t make any difference what he thought about me, but the thing is, it did. It bothered me a lot, though I knew that I’d done the right thing, according to my rules.
But I felt really bad about letting him down. His star student. His proudest achievement. Boy Scout – all his creation. All I could think about on the way back home – if someone like me could be said to have a home, after what I’d done – was that I had to see him again. Even if he’d only look at me with disapproval and disappoinment in his eyes.
Despite the the doctor’s advice, I insisted on going home right away. I don’t know what they had planned for me, but my insistence forced them to change their plans. So off I want, back home, still hurting all over. I’m not an idiot, the doctor had made sure I was patched up first, but let’s just say that I elicited a few stares, looking the way I did. My legs were a bit wobbly and I had a killer headache and one eye was swollen shut. I’m not going to pretend I’ve ever been this badly injured before, because I haven’t. It just wasn’t serious enough for me to need to be hospitalized.
I didn’t stop to rest or eat or anything. Seeing Nathan was all I could think of. In retrospect, it was probably naive of me and it certainly was a dead giveaway, but hey, I wasn’t at my best. You wouldn’t either if the Chinese had been using you as a punchbag for forty-eight hours, or however long it was. It sure felt like a long time while it lasted.
Finally, there I was. On his doorstep. While the doorbell was ringing, I had time to think he wouldn’t still be there. If I’d missed him – how on earth would I find him in the Caribbean? But the door opened and though it was dark in the hallway, I would have known him anywhere.
I couldn’t tell you how I felt at that moment. If anything, it was probably relief. It was over. I could stop forcing myself on, though I was more tired than I’d ever been in my life, even in Nam when – Never mind. Of course it hurt pretty badly too, but I wasn’t really aware of that.
When I realized what he’d done for me, I was stunned. It changed all my earlier assumptions about Nathan. Not about his feelings for me. I’d known about them for a long time. Why did you think I didn’t go with him to South America? I was pretty sure he knew I knew too, but maybe I was wrong about that. With Nathan, it’s easy to read more into his words and actions than are really there. I suppose you could say it was a typical case of hero worship. Maybe I overestimated him, but I don’t think so. They don’t make ’em like that anymore.
What I didn’t know, what I’d never been able to guess, was that Nathan would care enough about me, to break his own rules and throw away his nest egg, just so he could save my hide. No wonder I sagged a bit.
You might be wondering why I went back to him, when I wouldn’t go to South America with him. Good question. That’s what I’ve been asking myself too. It would have been wisest to just slip away. I knew enough about South East Asia to make a new life for myself. The lack of money would have been a problem, but I could have worked something out.
But it felt good to see Nathan again. Just like old times – and then again, not like old times. He was just the same, but in another way, he’d changed. I guess it was the fact that he’d committed himself at last. Sacrificed something for someone else. And I knew what he was thinking. He was hoping he’d read me right. My coming back to him. It was the first time I’d seen Nathan act like that. I wasn’t sure how I liked it, quite apart from the fact that he was in love with me. All our years together, he’d been the one who had all the answers, the one who called the shots. Now, suddenly, he was waiting for me to do or say something.
Of course I did. It might have taken me a while to figure it out, but the minute I made the decision to go and see him, I’d committed myself too. There was really only one thing to do. Though I didn’t know anything about what I was getting into, I set the dice rolling.
After what he’d done for me, it was only fair that I paid him back. No, I’m not talking about that. It was the money. My savings. Not nearly enough, but then again, it was lucky we’d have something.
So after all these years, it would be South America again. In a way, it was fitting. Despite everything I’d done to avoid it, I’d end up there anyway. Almost like fate.
First though, I needed to get back on my feet again. It seemed I’d be doing that in Nathan’s house. We had some time, before they’d realize where I was, and Nathan insisted I go to bed and rest. He would have called a doctor too, but I talked him out of it. Instead, he watched over me like a mother hen. If I hadn’t been so exhausted and in pain, I would have found that amusing, but as it was, those days were pretty much a blur.
Three days later, still feeling sore all over, I got on a plane to South America. We got this little bungalow more or less on the beach. In a way, it was like a vacation, even though I knew I wouldn’t be going back.
Things were a little awkward between us. I know I’d more or less told him I was ok with it, if not in so many words, but the reality was, I still didn’t know. I knew how I felt and I knew how he felt. The question was what we’d do about it. I kept wondering what he wanted from me and he must have been wondering if I was beginning to change my mind. If I had, it was a little late for that, but as it happened, I hadn’t.
That first night in our house – our house – get it? – was weird. Nathan, of course, was as tactful and as patient as one of my old teachers in high school. Separate bedrooms. See? No pressure. Yeah, right. The pressure was there alright, implied in the situation, only not specifically from Nathan.
Again, I went to bed, and if Nathan had had any say in matters, that was where I would have stayed for at least another week, probably two or three. For a while, he even reminded me of my mother. No, that’s not true. In any case, I vetoed that and in the morning, I got up, and walked into the kitchen. Sure parts of me still hurt at times, but it wasn’t like I was going to do any hard labor.
He was sitting there, drinking orange juice, a cup of coffee within reach of his hand, and a couple of pieces of toast on a plate.
When I walked in, he looked up and his eyes sort of lit up. I knew he was about to smile, but he must have felt that might have been a little too much – pressure – so the smile didn’t quite come.
I’m not really a morning person, if you know what I mean. If I’m on a job, sure, I get up when I have to, but I need to wake up properly before really being at my best.
Nathan shot up and began to get me breakfast. If I hadn’t been so sleepy, I would have put a stop to that. I mean, come on, I wasn’t an invalid. But I just sat there and let him make me toast and poured me orange juice and coffee. Who knows if he didn’t intend to butter my toast as well, but that’s really where I draw the line. Liz – no, that part of my life is over and it’s best if I don’t think about her.
I knew I didn’t sound too friendly, but hey, I was trying to wake up. The jet lag wasn’t so bad, once I’d returned to America. This is America too, right? It was just the pain and the – shock – though I didn’t like to think about that. And being sleepy.
Nathan didn’t say anything. He returned to his breakfast and that was ok with me. Small talk wasn’t really on the agenda for me that morning.
If I hadn’t been so out of things, it would have struck me sooner, but eventually, it filtered through to me what was missing. A morning paper. Not that it mattered, but it would have been something to do – hiding behind a big sheet of paper. At least they’re good for something.
After he’d finished his breakfast, he got up, eyeing me anxiously.
“Will you be ok? I’m just going to -”
“Sure. I’ll be fine. Go on and have that swim or run or whatever you had in mind.”
“I just thought I’d go to the store and pick up a few -”
“Oh. Hold on. I’m coming too. What kind of store is it?”
“I don’t know, but there has to be one somewhere. I’ll ask Pedro.”
Pedro was the guy who sold us the house. Or at least the guy who showed us the house and handed over the key. I’m not really sure what his job was. In any case, he’d told us he lived up the street just a couple of minutes’ walk from our house.
I don’t know what that guy thought about it all. Me and Nathan moving into a house together. Maybe he didn’t think anything of it. Who knew what kind of foreigners they got here? Or maybe we gringos all look alike to them. He might have figured we were father and son or uncle and nephew or something. I wasn’t going to make my life even more difficult trying to imagine what the natives thought about us and why we were together.
Come to think of it, I didn’t even know what cover story Nathan had used, because though the money was mine, he was the one who was fluent in Spanish. I knew some German, French and Arabic, but since I never got to South America, I never really had to learn the language.
In any case we walked up to Pedro’s house but he wasn’t in. His wife or girlfriend or sister or whoever it was told us where the store was so that wasn’t a problem.
As we got closer, we were surrounded by dirty little kids, who were trying to get us to give them money. Even I got that. Nathan said something and most of them ran off. One of them stayed. He was probably the oldest. About twelve or so. He said something to Nathan which made him angry and he answered back, gesturing with his hand, and eventually, the kid slunk off.
I didn’t see a weapon and anyway, a twelve-year-old wouldn’t be a threat to either of us, so I saw no reason to worry, but I was wondering what was up. Since we would be staying here, it had better be a safe place. Now that we were retired and all.
“What was that all about?”
Nathan was still angry, I could tell. His jaws were clenched so hard, I thought he was going to get a headache. Mine had gone during the night and I was feeling a little better.
“You don’t want to know.”
I should have let it go, but I didn’t.
“Why not? Was he trying to threaten you or something?”
He glanced around, warily, then gave in. I could almost see him shrug as if it didn’t really matter.
“He’s a hustler. A kid that age. Maybe this was a mistake. I mean, you and I have seen a lot, and we’ve been all over the world, but -”
“A hustler? Oh, so what was his scam?”
“Not that kind of hustler.”
He pushed on, still irritated, but maybe embarrassed too. It took me a while to figure out what he’d been hinting of. When it hit me I was shocked too. Me, with my experience. I knew they existed in Arabic countries. Back home too, I guess, though it never really came to my attention. Not my scene, right?
Then another thing dawned on me. If the kid thought we’d be in the market for an underage male prostitute, he’d most likely picked up on something about us. I didn’t think it would be that obvious. I can’t say that that made me feel any better. For the rest of our walk, I didn’t say anything else.
The store wasn’t anything like what we were used to but, we got a few essentials, then stopped at a little restaurant and had a couple of beers, then lunch. No use looking for extra work when it wasn’t necessary. I didn’t know about Nathan’s cooking skills, but mine were pretty much zero.
It also put off the moment we’d be alone together. I needed some time to figure things out.
In the late afternoon, while the natives were still enjoying their siesta, if that was what they were doing, we walked back to our place. If I’d been feeling better, I would have wanted to go for a swim. The sea looked really inviting and the sky was still blue, and there weren’t many clouds either. A perfect time for a swim. But I couldn’t and Nathan didn’t want to, so we ended up sitting on the porch, watching the waves crashing on the beach further down.
We still didn’t say much. I had a lot on my mind, and maybe he did too. So we sat there, thinking and watching the sea and despite everything it felt pretty good.
My mind went back to the time Nathan popped the question. That is, when he asked me to come and work for the Agency, in case you were wondering.
It was the last thing I wanted. Just like I told him, I really wanted to go back home and forget all about the war. I’m a patriot. Unlike all those bleeding heart liberals who sold us out when we got back, I know what we did was right, even though I don’t understand the politics. A soldier doesn’t have to bother with that stuff, all he needs to do is follow orders. That’s what I did, and I’m not going to apologize for it.
In a way, it was much easier back then. Even when I started out working for the Agency, I still believed in right and wrong. I mean I knew which was which. Then, like I told Nathan that day in his house, after I’d come back from China, the fight turned bad and my reasons for signing up boiled down to one thing. I knew it all along, really.
It was because Nathan wanted me to and because I knew I’d never see him again if I didn’t accept. So naturally, I did. That should have told me something right then and there, but it didn’t. In those days, that wasn’t really the first thing that occurred to you. I mean, Nathan had just been divorced. I was dating. Women. So I didn’t see it and if he did, I don’t think he was fully aware of it either.
Nathan told me he’d known all along. He reminded me of the four lies I’d told. Lies. Being heterosexual. I guess he was right, but not as much as he thought. Even if I didn’t know it at the time, I’ve since become familiar with a few expressions. Bisexual. That’s me. A guy who’s into women, but can also fall in love with a guy. There. I’ve said it. That’s pretty much how it was. I could easily fall in love with women. Look at what happened with Liz. They attract me physically. Nathan didn’t.
So what’s the problem? I’ll tell you what the problem is. Something about what he made me feel inside. Something which has to explain why I could bear to see Liz being carried off to the UK to be sent to jail, but I couldn’t accept never seeing Nathan again.
I don’t know where that leaves me. If all I can do is live here and be close to him, is that fair to him? And is that really all I want? You see my problem.
I lost my virginity back in high school. Some people might find that hard to believe, but hey, it was in my senior year. The last semester. Just a couple of weeks before graduation. Sure I was a boy scout with all that it entails. There were those who probably believed we still went to Sunday school long after the others had moved on to more interesting pursuits over the weekends. But Molly Baker was cute. She had dimples and eyes that would shine at me, when I looked at her across the room.
Her dad would have killed her if he’d known what we were up to and I know my dad would have whipped my ass if I got her pregnant, but I didn’t and no one found out, so nothing happened. Besides, right after graduation I shipped out to Nam. I never knew what happened to Molly. She probably got married and had four kids and lived happily ever after in a little pink house.
I wonder what she’d think if she knew what I ended up doing. She’d have heard about the war, but after that, she probably couldn’t even begin to guess at what course my life had taken. I couldn’t even tell my mom, and she died without ever finding out what I did. It was probably better that way. She would have been shocked. About the killing. This – well, I know she’d never have believed it anyway, so it’s nothing I’m going to lose sleep over.
So Molly moved into a pink little house and here I am moving into another little house, though fortunately not pink, with the guy of my dreams. It’s funny how life can take you for a ride.
Yeah, it really should have been obvious from the start. All the signs were there except at first I didn’t know how to read them. How he’d say I’d make a pretty corpse. You might think that’s the sort of thing a senior agent would say to a younger guy to hold on to the edge he has over you. Not this time. I knew what he meant and that’s why I would tell him how ugly he was. It’s not true. He looks ok, but it isn’t his looks that make me – feel whatever it is I feel about him.
What it really comes down to, is this: what do we do about it? All this setup – a house, two people moving into it together – it has to mean sex. There. I’ve said it. Sex. Nathan and me. We have barely touched each other, apart from those first days when I had a bit of trouble standing up and Nathan had to help me in the bathroom. Still tactful and polite. No looking. Again, it would almost have been amusing, except for the fact that it wasn’t.
I don’t get it. How can I feel so strongly that I don’t want to live without him, and still not want to do more than sit here and glance at him out of the corner of my eye? He’s doing it too, but I think that’s just because he’s still concerned about me. Or maybe it’s just that he’s so pleased I’m here. No matter what he said about ‘knowing’ about my sexual orientation, he couldn’t have taken anything for granted and I know he never expected me to show up on his doorstep.
“Want to grab a bite to eat?”
I looked up, thinking we only just got back from the restaurant. Wrong. While I’d been sitting there brooding, the sun had gone down and it had gotten pitch black outside. Nathan must have been up to switch on the lamp, and by now the mosquitoes were eating us up. Time to go inside.
So we sat down and had another meal together. Bread, cheese, tomatoes, a bottle of some cheap wine I’d never heard about.
Afterwards we both said goodnight and went to bed. I was beginning to wish I’d brought a book, though reading isn’t really my thing. We’d have to get a tv set, if there was any reception out here. But on our way to the store and back again, I’d seen antennas on the rooftops. Except I wasn’t really much into tv either. It occurred to me that I would have to find something to do. A hobby. Otherwise, I could easily see us becoming two pathetic old drunks here.
Ever since I graduated from high school I’d been busy working every day, sometimes over the weekend too. I’d never found myself with time on my hands. It made me wonder what Nathan had had planned for his retirement. Fishing? I knew how to fish, naturally, but it had never really been a favorite with me. No, I’d need something more challening. I decided to ask Nathan in the morning. Maybe he could suggest something.
Again I found my thoughts drifting towards my problem. Could I do it? Did I want to? I never thought it would be like this. My worst problem used to be how I could go on working closely with Nathan, after I’d found out how he felt. Yeah, right. It was nothing compared to this.
Suddenly I knew what the real problem was. Not if I could do it or if I wanted to, but how I would feel about myself after we’d done it. Because somehow I knew that we would do it, it was only a matter of how long it would be until I gathered up enough courage to try. He wouldn’t be the one to make the first move. Tactful. That’s Nathan. With me. Otherwise, I’ve known him to be rude and very direct. Like with Liz. Though maybe she had it coming to her.
That day, in the bar, when I caught sight of Nathan across the room, I was desperately hoping it would be ok. To introduce them to each other. I was hoping they’d like each other. This was the two people who meant the most to me in the entire world, right?
Instead, it was a disaster. Of course I knew about Nathan’s feelings for me, but at the time, I hadn’t really expected all that aggressive jealousy. Of course, when I confronted him about it, he wouldn’t admit that, naturally. That’s when I first heard of Liz’s background. At the time, I wouldn’t accept that explanation. I was furious, with Nathan, with myself and – irrationally, since I couldn’t see any faults in her at the time – Liz.
After all this time, I still don’t know if he was right. Was I only an asset or did she end up falling for me? When she saw me in Suzhou, anyone would have been pleased to see me. To see anyone who had their ticket out of there. Anyway, no use wondering. Case closed.
Before I knew what I was doing or where I was heading, I was on my feet, heading for Nathan’s room. Outside his door, I hesitated. Should I knock or just walk in? Considering his training, I knew knocking would be the wisest choice. If he snapped my neck, we’d be off to a really bad start – or rather end. Not that I’d be totally defenceless even now. It was just that hand to hand combat wasn’t really what was on my mind now.
I raised my hand and knocked.
I could hear his footsteps on the floor then the door was open. He studied me closely.
“Tom? Is anything wrong?”
He didn’t bother asking what I wanted, if nothing was wrong. There wasn’t really anything else it could be. He’s not stupid. What I couldn’t tell was how he reacted. His face was unreadable.
I’m not really a talker and this wasn’t really the sort of situation where talk can do much good. So I just took a few steps closer and ended up so close to his face I could feel his scent. His aftershave and something else. My doubts had vanished the second I got out of bed.
I kissed him, lightly at first but when I could tell I had him, I deepened the kiss. We stood in his doorway kissing, until he suddenly pulled me into his arms and led me back to his bed. I caught myself wondering how often he’d done this and – another dead giveaway – feeling a little jealous towards those unknown guys he’d been with. But that didn’t last either. I got busy and so did he.
Next morning we slept until late. Despite the pain in my ribs, I enjoyed feeling his arms pinning me down. I knew exactly what had happened last night and I wasn’t a bit sorry. Now I couldn’t understand why I’d been so chicken. It might not have been like it was with women – with Liz – but it was pretty damned good anyway. I mean, it would have to be. It was with Nathan.
Nathan rolled over on his back, but his eyes didn’t leave me. I was toying with the idea of getting up, when he leaned closer again and kissed me. We could always get up later. No one was waiting for us.
Much later, Nathan stretched out on his back, probably missing a cigarette. I know I did. He’d told me he’d quit, which was probably just as well. It might feel good to smoke tobacco but I don’t think it tastes very well.
“I guess we’d better have something to eat.”
“When did you -”
“Change your mind about – this?”
I didn’t pretend not to know what he was talking about. He must have known, at least when I refused to come with him to South America the last time.
“I don’t know. It’s probably more a matter of realizing I’d already changed my mind years ago. Like when you recruited me.”
“So that was it. I had a feeling you were going to say no.”
“I wanted to. Except for one thing. You.”
He didn’t say anything else, but I could tell he was pleased.
“When you – picked me, back in Nam or well, in Germany – was it because -”
He was quiet for so long I didn’t think he was going to reply, but eventually, he did.
“I – hope not. It would have been against -”
He actually grinned at that. I guess he was remembering the times I’d told him how I felt about his rules.
“Yes. All I can tell you is that if – I had other reasons than purely professional ones back then, I wasn’t aware of it.”
That was pretty much what I’d guessed. Not that it mattered. I was just curious. How far back did it go?
“When did you -”
“I think it was when I began to train you. When we were working so closely together.”
I didn’t ask anything else about that. After all, it didn’t really matter. Why wouldn’t change anything. It wouldn’t serve any purpose telling him how much I hated his rules either. He’d know and by now, he’d also know exactly why I chose to put up with them anyway.
In a way, it served me right. I judged him for his choices but I accepted him and indirectly them and I guess that makes me as bad as he was. Anyway, it’s all over now.
The Agency probably knows where we are, but I doubt they’ll do anything about it. After all, why go after a man who doesn’t exist and another man who’s simply retired? I broke their rules and Nathan suckered them, but as long as the world didn’t know that, they wouldn’t care enough to act.
We’d be safe here. In the sunshine, on the beach, where the waves of the Atlantic keep crashing day and night. I can’t think of a better place to be. Now all I need is a hobby. Something to do besides making love.