|Primary Characters:||Tom, Nathan|
|Spoilers:||Just watch the movie, ok?|
|Warning:||adult themes, language, m/m|
|Description:||As Nathan is trying to get used to life without Tom, some new arrivals in their sleepy little town stir things up, and bring back memories of a long time ago. It seems the Agency weren’t willing to let them go as easily as Nathan had hoped.|
After Tom had left, Nathan began frequenting another bar, eerily similar to the one where it had happened. The booze was the same, the working girls, the hard-faced men sitting there drinking as if there was no tomorrow. Maybe they had the right idea.
Some trace of his old self-preservation made Nathan keep the drinks to a minimum. He didn’t want to end up a drunk, as well as an old fool. It was bad enough, that he still couldn’t keep himself from wandering off, eventually ending up in Tom’s new neighborhood, watching from just around a corner. He might as well make a quick, clean break, but somehow, seeing Tom, even from afar, was what kept him going. The thought of once again standing around like a stalker, watching his lover. Former lover.
If he closed his eyes, he could recall every single feature of Tom’s face, every inch of his body. The boy’s scent, the sound of his voice, the sensuous way he moved.
Try as he might, Nathan just couldn’t stop tormenting himself. The nights were the worst, but he didn’t pick up any of the young men leaning on shed walls or against lampposts, eyeing the passers-by intently. Neither did he settle for one of the older putas from the bar.
Once he bought one of them a drink. Lucia, as she called herself, didn’t try to push him into coming upstairs. She didn’t even encourage him to talk. They just sat there, in the friendly silence. He didn’t repeat the experience, but somehow, it had been pleasant, almost like the old days. No matter how he’d really felt about sleeping with all those women.
Though he cursed himself for a fool, he couldn’t stop keeping an eye on the doorway. Partially, it was out of habit, making sure the room was secure. As always, he had all the exits covered. It was just that some pathetic part of him still expected Tom to walk in. Like that day in Beirut, or on any night here, before the breakup.
Tonight, someone did walk in, someone so closely resembling Tom, Nathan felt a stab at the pit of his stomach. He had to look again, to make sure his eyes weren’t deceiving him. It was Boy Scout, yet it wasn’t. The guy looked like Tom all those years ago in Nam. A fresh-faced, seemingly carefree young man.
When the guy walked up to the bar, sat down and ordered a drink, Nathan had to force himself to look away. He had to be imagining things. Clearly there was some resemblance, but his own brooding over Tom had caused the rest of the perceived similarity.
The sound of a voice so like Tom’s it was eerie, made Nathan glance back at the newcomer.
Nathan hesitated. He couldn’t afford to draw attention to himself, but by refusing to reply, he’d be standing out even more. Better to exchange a few polite, meaningless phrases, then leave, rather than creating a scene the guy would remember. Unless – Nathan still hadn’t completely ruled out the possibility that the Agency would send someone for them. If so –
“Yeah. Hi. Henry Warren.”
“Pleased to meet you. I’m Andy Cramer.”
They kept up the conversation for another ten minutes or so, until Nathan felt enough time had passed and the proper civilities had been observed. He pushed back the bar stool and was about to get up, when the kid made eye contact again – taking Nathan’s breath away – and offered to buy him a drink.
Again, Nathan hesitated. He didn’t want any complications. Still, there was something about the kid’s behavior that just didn’t add up. On the one hand, it was obvious he was trying to come on to him. Which didn’t make sense for a number of reasons, the main one being that Nathan was almost 100 % sure the kid was straight. So why –
But he was taking too long to reply. A practiced smile spread across Nathan’s face and he settled down again.
“Sure. Why not?”
The kid gestured for the bartender to fill up their glasses again, then began, clumsily and decidedly reluctantly, to flirt with Nathan.
Nathan could only think of two explanations for this. One decidedly alarming, the other sad, for the kid’s sake, but nothing for him, personally, to worry about.
If the kid had ended up in trouble somehow, lost his money, possibly his passport, it wasn’t unreasonable that he’d try his luck with another American. Or was it? There was an American consul ten miles away.
No, if the kid was in trouble, it was most likely drugs. He’d ended up in debt to some local drug dealer and this was his way of paying it off. In that case, the only threat would be a potential attempted mugging.
Say, on the other hand, that the Agency had sent him? That would mean – but that was nonsense too. This kid might not be gay, but he was still coming on to a man, which was mysterious, but what Nathan was utterly sure of was that this was no agent. The kid was too obviously an amateur.
So he’d be a drug addict or at least someone who’d come out here to make a quick buck, screwed up and was in serious trouble with a dealer. Fine. That was his problem. Nathan decided to finish his drink, get up and leave and let the kid sort out his own dirty laundry.
He did just that, and though the kid looked a bit distressed at this, he didn’t do anything to stop him.
End of story. Nathan was hoping he wouldn’t see the kid again, but even though he went to a different bar the next night, just to make sure, the kid showed up only about half an hour later than the night before.
He acted as if he’d just stumbled in by accident, but Nathan could tell the kid wasn’t good at dissemblance. If this had been a potential candidate for the Agency, Nathan wouldn’t have ok’d him. No agent material here. He might have made a good soldier, but that was as far as it went.
In the meantime, Nathan played along, until he could figure out an explanation for the kid’s odd behavior.
Just like the night before, the kid did his best to affect an attraction for the older man, that he didn’t feel.
Nathan decided to pretend he didn’t pick up on the not-so-subtle signals, to see what that would make the kid do. He seriously doubted the kid would come out and say it. Not this kid. It would have been amusing, if there hadn’t been that suspicion of the Agency’s involvement.
That brought Nathan back to Tom. If the Agency was after them, he was betting Tom would be their first target. He’d need to contact Tom. Nathan didn’t know if this pleased him or not. In any case, at the moment, he had this other young man to keep an eye on.
To Nathan’s surprise, the kid seemed to be getting desperate. Only about fifteen minutes after he’d walked in, he appeared to be arguing with himself, then looking pained, he made another effort.
“Would you like to come back to my place for a drink?”
Nathan had to smother a smile. He hadn’t thought the kid had it in him. If, for the moment, you ignored the fact that the come-on sounded more like a half-hearted business proposition, that really was more direct than Nathan would have given the kid credit for.
“Well – actually, I should probably be getting back to my place. Another time, ok?”
The kid’s face heated up and he remained silent, looking mortified.
Nathan considered staying in the next night, or finding another bar. In the end, he settled on the former. He needed to think.
It was time he regained the initiative. If he turned the tables on the kid, he was sure he could find out where he was staying and probably get into his room and go through his belongings. That ought to tell him a thing or two, even if he didn’t have anything to work with. A penknife or at a pinch, a nail file would get him inside the room, but he couldn’t lay his hands on a bug, so there would be no chance of listening in on the kid’s conversations.
For a few nights, Nathan avoided the bars, but did follow the kid around, noted what places he frequented and naturally, where he was staying. Nothing out of the ordinary there. He was in the only decent hotel in town. Just like any other tourist. As for the places he went to, they all seemed to be bars where he might run into a former CIA agent by the name of Nathan Muir. Which was odd, unless he had some other reason for barhopping. Possible, but still odd.
It was time he went out again, to meet the kid and – possibly – turn the tables on him again. He would go back to his hotel and up to his room, then confront him. Ask him what he was doing. Nathan was betting the kid would fall apart and tell him. There didn’t seem to be any stamina there. Not mentally, anyway. Physically, the kid seemed to be in far too good shape for a drug addict.
Nathan glanced at his watch. Too early to go to a bar. Besides, while he’d been pondering the unexpected appearance of the mystery guy, he’d run out of even the basics. He’d need to go out and do some shopping. Fortunately, the little local store was always open.
So he went there, picked up a few items, paid and began walking back to his – Tom’s – house. Even now, he didn’t let his guard down. The road back to the house was so familiar by now, he could have walked it on a moonless night, but still, he kept his eyes and ears open. He didn’t think the kid would be capable of tailing him, but if the Agency had sent him, there might be others. But there seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary.
He didn’t bother turning on the light in the kitchen. In a little while he’d be going out again anyway. After putting the bag of groceries down on the table, Nathan turned towards the fridge. That was when he felt a metal object pressing into his back. Whoever it was doing the pressing, also turned on the overhead lights.
Judging by the voice, it was a female.
She rushed him over to one of the chairs by the table and until he knew who or what he was dealing with, Nathan played along. He was aware that he might be making a mistake. If so, he wouldn’t live long to regret it.
As far as he could tell, there was just the one woman. She was young, though not as young as the young man calling himself ‘Andy’. Nathan was sure that wasn’t his real name, although if he really was one of the most inept agents he’d ever seen, that wouldn’t be surprising.
This one definitely was an agent. Inwardly, Nathan sighed. So it had been too good to be true. He was wondering if Tom had already been eliminated or if he could at least hope that the kid would get away. In any case, he’d lost his chance to see Tom one last time and –
There was something about the young woman’s appearance which hinted at an Asian ancestry, though she didn’t have the slanted eyes or the complexion. Apart from all that, there was something about her that –
“Do I remind you of someone?”
Tom held out his glass to the bartender, who filled it up for him. This place was even seedier than the one where he’d screwed everything up. Lost Nathan for good.
For some reason, the working girls didn’t even look at him twice. Obviously, they could tell he didn’t have enough to tempt even these disheveled specimens. Most of them didn’t even bother to cover up the needle marks on their arms. One of them, a woman who had to be in her fifties, looked more than half insane. Nothing here to tempt anyone but the most desperate.
Someone came into the bar and sat down next to Tom. He didn’t even glance over at the newcomer. It wouldn’t be Nathan, so whoever else it was, Tom couldn’t care less. He couldn’t help noticing that the newcomer asked for a drink, in English. American English. So it was a guy from back home. The thought barely registered.
Tom returned to his own drink and when he’d finished it, he asked for another one. There were times when he didn’t wake up in time to get one of the temporary jobs he could still get. At other times, he didn’t return to his room, he just went straight to the little square and waited for the camion to come and pick them up. Usually, he could still get picked. He was in good enough shape to qualify.
Some time later, he realized the bartender was trying to get someone to leave. He wouldn’t have even looked, if he hadn’t heard the other American mumbling something.
This time, he turned and saw a kid, about twenty or so, looking so drunk he would have had trouble standing up, even if he had understood what the bartender was telling him.
For no reason other than a need to hear his own language spoken, Tom decided to translate. Even he knew enough by now to pick out the more common phrases.
“He wants you to go. No more drinks tonight.”
“Jus’ one more.”
Tom shrugged. He wasn’t the one who was being asked to leave. The guy leaned back on the bar stool and overbalanced. He was crawling around on the floor, clearly too drunk to be able to get up.
Reluctantly, Tom got up, tossed some money on the counter, then bent over the kid from home. Eventually, he was able to get him up on his feet, though he still looked a bit wobbly.
“Listen, pal, where are you staying?”
The kid couldn’t pronounce the word right, but that didn’t matter. There was only one hotel.
“Right. I guess we’d better get you over there. Come on.”
Tom took the kid’s arm and put it over his shoulder. For a second, it felt as if he was back in Saigon, helping some GI who had had one too many, back to the barracks.
The guy cheerfully handed over his key and since it was tagged, Tom knew he was on the second floor. Most of the guests were. This was a low building, maybe four floors, no more. It was rarely full, outside the tourist season.
No one questioned Tom’s presence there. In fact, the guy behind the reception desk didn’t even look up from his magazine.
Leaning the guy on the wall beside the door, Tom was able to unlock the door, turn on the light, then get the guy inside.
He got the kid to sit down on the bed, and turned to leave.
Frowning, Tom turned again. What did the kid want now?
To his surprise, the kid seemed to have made a remarkable recovery. Too late, Tom’s instincts as an agent began to stir. He’d faked his intoxication. Why?
“Do you find me attractive?”
Somehow, the look on the guy’s face was anything but inviting. There was a definite sneer there and something else.
“Or am I too young for you?”
Despite everything, Tom couldn’t stop the blush from spreading across his features.
“Whatever it is you want, just forget it. I’m leaving. And don’t even think of trying anything.”
“I have two words for you. Molly. Baker.”
Tom took another look at the kid, who seemed to have dropped the mock seduction now. He didn’t look any friendlier, but his intention seemed to have changed.
The kid got up and began to rummage around in his wallet. Tom didn’t take his eyes off him. It was the wallet, not something more spacious. At this distance, there shouldn’t be anything in there he’d need to worry about. Still –
When he faced Tom again, the kid was holding a photo in his hand. He held it out in Tom’s direction.
Tom’s mind, sluggish by too much drinking and too little sleep, raced ahead, feverishly. The kid wasn’t an agent, that was simply too incredible, unless – unless he was a much better actor than he seemed. In any case, a name and a photo didn’t prove anything.
“What about her?”
“You tell me. Friday night, May 10, your senior year. The backseat of your car. You and Molly. Ring any bells?”
“So you know a little about Molly. Maybe about me too. What does that prove?”
Again, the kid began to rummage around in his wallet. Still the wallet. Tom couldn’t bring himself to really fear this defiant kid.
This time, a ring was lying on the palm of his hand. He got up and walked over to Tom, who began to calculate how he was going to counter any attack the kid might be planning.
The kid dropped the ring into Tom’s hand and retreated towards the bed. He sat down again, while Tom examined the ring.
His old ring. He’d given it to Molly on that night. Not as an engagement ring, just as a gift. After what they’d shared, he’d wanted to give her something. He knew he would be shipping out to Vietnam after graduation. They wouldn’t see each other again for a long time, maybe never. So he’d given her something to remember him by. A keepsake. The question was, how had it ended up here, in this hotel room, in this little dump of a town in South America? Who was this kid? Why had he come?
“Where did you get this?”
“From my mom. Molly Baker. Well, Molly Deacon now.”
Tom studied the kid’s face. He might be her son. There was a definite resemblance there. But even if he was, that still didn’t explain what he was doing in South America. Why he’d come after him out here. The Agency had to be involved somehow, but Tom wasn’t sure how or why.
“Ok. Tell me about her.”
“She got married. Had me. When she became a widow, she got a job in a cafe. You tell me about her.”
“I’d like to know what you’re doing here and why you’re here. What do you want?”
“I came to see my father.”
“I thought you said your mother became a widow.”
“I didn’t say her husband was my father. She was pregnant when she married him.”
“How do you know all this?”
“My dad – the guy I thought was my dad had a different blood type than me. Then when he died, his doctor told us he’d never been able to father a child. You got her pregnant, then you left her to fight in your war. She had to marry someone or her dad would have killed her.”
Tom stared at the kid, trying to piece the information together. He looked like Molly, but even more – he looked like – it was a bit like looking into a mirror, from years ago, when he’d been out in Nam. When he’d first met –
It could be true. He knew he was taking a big chance, talking Molly into going all the way. Old man Baker was hot-headed. He’d been known to wave his old shotgun around to deter all the young guys who would swarm around Molly, the last two or three years of high school. But Molly hadn’t said anything on graduation. She hadn’t said anything. In fact, she’d been unusually quiet that night. And not a bit nervous about sex. Which could mean she’d already known it was too late for caution.
“Well? Don’t you have anything to say to me?”
“I didn’t know.”
The kid looked as if he had more on his mind, but suddenly the door behind them opened and Nathan and a young woman of about Tom’s age walked in. She was holding a gun, pressed into Nathan’s back. At least that was what Tom concluded.
“Sorry to interrupt, but I have something important to tell you. Sit down. All of you. On the bed.”
Nathan seemed to be thinking it over, then appeared to give in. Tom sank down at the foot of the bed, only inches from his son, if the kid had been telling the truth. He was intensely aware of Nathan’s thigh touching his, as he sat down on his other side.
Up close like this, Tom could tell Nathan was tense. Concerned. Which he had reason to. That young woman had CIA stamped all over her face. It was in her eyes and her bearing.
“We don’t have much time. My backup is already waiting for orders to take over if I fail. I was sent here to eliminate you both.”
She nodded at Nathan and Tom.
Tom felt Nathan tense up. He had a feeling Nathan was going to do something desperate, like taking a bullet for him, so he could escape. It was just the sort of thing Nathan had always told him he’d never do, yet when it came down to it, he had. Of course, that was before he betrayed him. Tom considered repaying Nathan by giving his life to let Nathan have a chance to escape, but so far, the woman didn’t give any indication of making good her threat. She was still talking, ignoring their reaction.
“They gave me the job, because they thought Mitch Langdon was my father. But he wasn’t. My mother told me, told me the truth, recently, just before she died. My mother -”
The Korean name was spoken so quickly, Tom missed it. He’d never had any reason to learn Korean. Obviously, it meant far more to Nathan. His expression changed and suddenly, he looked more vulnerable and distressed than Tom had ever seen him. When he spoke, he sounded different too.
“So she’s dead. What happened?”
“She got sick.”
It was obvious the woman didn’t want to say anything further about that topic.
“The point is that you’re my father, Nathan Muir. That’s why I felt I couldn’t let the Agency kill you. I’d like a chance to get to know you. So we need to go. Now. Your son can come too, Tom, but only if we can be sure we can trust him.”
Tom stared from the woman to his son, then back again.
“You know he’s my son?”
“That’s why they sent him to spy on you. They took his mother.”
The kid’s face tensed up.
“That’s why I can’t go with you. I have to go back and take care of my mom.”
The woman’s face softened slightly and hesitating, she glanced at her wrist watch, then appeared to come to some sort of conclusion.
“Sorry, kid. They’ve been lying to you. It was too much for her. Those goons – She passed away right after they got their hands on you.”
Oblivious to the gun, pointing right at him, the kid flew to his feet, glaring at the woman.
“You’re lying. She can’t be -”
“Sorry. It’s true. I wouldn’t lie to you about something like that. My own mother passed away recently. Although – what reason do you have to trust me? It is true, but well, you’ll have to make up your own mind about that. Officially, I ceased to be an agent about – more than an hour ago. That’s why you’ll have to make up your mind right away. Will you come with me and Nathan and your father? Or are you going to let the people who killed your mom continue to own you?”
It was obvious that the kid could barely keep the tears at bay.
Nathan got up, stalked over to the woman who had to be his daughter and made eye contact with her.
“Is it true? Is his mother dead?”
“Yes. There’s no reason for me to lie about this. Come on. Let’s go, dad.”
Nathan started at the sound of the unfamiliar word.
“Go? Where? Is there anywhere we can go?”
“I’ve taken care of it. Taking your – uh – friend’s son into account, I’ve set up a little scenario. I’ll tell you about it later. Come on.”
Solemnly, she put the gun away, fixing each of the men with her penetrating stare.
At last, the men were gripped by the urgency in her voice. Without questioning her further, they followed her, downstairs, into a car, and driving across muddy dirt tracks, they eventually came to a small airstrip. A small plane was waiting for them and as soon as they’d settled into their seats, the plane took off.
Nathan was seated facing his daughter. He’d deliberately chosen that seat, to avoid a confrontation with Tom. Not until he was ready. Tom and the boy who was his son, sat on the other side of the aisle. The other seats were empty.
“Where are we going?”
“Chile. Don’t worry, dad. I’ve taken care of everything. There’s a house. You, dad, will be my father. I’ve gotten you a name, a profession, a whole background. A careless, harmless, Canadian business man, who – got into trouble overseas. Fortunately, he had a daughter and a much younger son. The daughter’s met a man and is about to be married to him. Another Canadian who had an accident abroad. The same one, actually. The whole family died in it, and – somehow, their passports ended up in my possession. And, in case you’re wondering – no servants. No one will question your relationship to your ‘son-in-law’.”
Nathan decided to ignore that for the time being. He wasn’t ready to discuss Tom just yet. Not before he knew where they were. Maybe there wouldn’t be anything to discuss. He should have known the Agency would have picked up on that too. For the first time in his life, Nathan regretted his choice of profession. They didn’t leave you any privacy. He was surprised they hadn’t found out long ago. Or maybe they had. No. If they had, they wouldn’t have been quite as gullible that time he got Tom out of China.
“It just occurred to me that I don’t even know your name. Obviously, you have the advantage over me.”
“Emily. Your mother -”
“Yeah, about that – did she have an affair? While you were married?”
“No, I don’t think so. Why do you ask?”
“So you must have – the two of you – it is you.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t -”
“You really are my father.”
“Of course. I thought that was the whole point.”
“I – wasn’t sure. If she’d been unfaithful to you – but then you must have -”
It took Nathan another couple of seconds to realize what his daughter was trying to ask. He struggled not to let her detect any of the embarrassment he felt.
“We were married. That kind of goes with the territory.”
“But you’re -”
This time, it wasn’t quite as much effort. He’d had years to figure it out. Besides, Emily was more like him than her poor mother. No expressionless mask covering her emotions. She was more embarrassed about this than he was, which was saying a lot.
“It wasn’t working out, but – naturally we lived together as husband and wife, for as long as – until we couldn’t keep it up anymore. Emily – I loved your mother. That’s why we – I – couldn’t understand why it wasn’t working out. But – the times were different. It was no one’s fault.”
“I see. She wouldn’t talk about you, not until the very end. That’s when she finally told me you were my real father. Not – Mitch Langdon.”
“Were they happy?”
“I think so.”
“Did – Mitch know you were my daughter?”
“He must have. By the time they married, I had already been born.”
“Oh. Emily – I -”
This was harder than anything else. His daughter had given up her career to save his life and the life of his lover. How was he ever going to be able to show her his gratitude?
“It’s ok, dad. Ever since I found out, I’ve been wanting to see you and get to know you. So how could I let them kill you? Don’t worry. This time, they won’t find out where we are. I – had a little more time to set this up. As far as anyone knows, we will be those people. No one else knows they’re dead.”
“Thanks. About your mother -”
“I’ll tell you later. Not now. Let’s get settled into the new house first. It’s still too painful for me to -”
“Here. You might want to see this.”
Emily pulled out a locket, which had been hanging around her neck, underneath her dress. She opened it and showed him the contents. Nathan recognized them. A photo of him and his wife. Two locks of hair, one blond, the other black. Anyone looking at that photo, would have thought they were a happy young couple.
“Will you tell me about her, about when you met and those years of your marriage?”
“Of course. Anything you like.”
Nathan was beginning to relax a little. Emily reminded him so much of her mother. Still, there was at least as much of him in her. He was looking forward to getting to know her too.
In the meantime, a strained silence had fallen between Tom and his son. After a while, he realized he didn’t even know his own son’s name.
“What’s your name?”
“She married Peter Deacon?”
“Why? Did you know him?”
“Of course. He was in our class. I didn’t think Molly was interested in him.”
“Maybe she wasn’t.”
Max’ tone held an accusation and Tom found himself responding to it, as if it had been spoken out loud.
“I didn’t know.”
“If you had, what would you have done?”
“Married her, of course. What did you think?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t think you were into women at all, so for all I know you might have been using her to – show the rest the world you were man enough to -”
“Listen to me, Max. At that time, I was younger than you must be now. I – didn’t know anything about – What I mean is, no one forced me to go out with Molly. I wanted to. We – were in love.”
Tom could tell Max didn’t believe him and he didn’t know any way of even trying to explain what he felt for Nathan. He still didn’t fully understand it himself. Why did he love Nathan, when he also knew that he could still be attracted to a woman?
“Really. I’m very sorry about what happened to your mom.”
Something in Tom’s voice seemed to reassure Max. He didn’t challenge that statement.
“Did Molly – did your mom tell you anything about me?”
“No. I mean, not until those men showed up and told me – about you and that guy – Nathan.”
“What did they tell you?”
“About the two of you being – you know, an item.”
Max sounded mortified, but that was nothing compared to how Tom felt. Hastily, he pushed on, to leave the awkward topic behind.
“No, I meant, about what we’d done.”
“Something about China. And how you were in jail and Nathan got you out.”
“Yes, but why did they want us eliminated?”
“They didn’t tell me that. Just that they wanted to find you. I was supposed to report back to them when I found you. And -”
“Yes, tell me. Do they have a transmitter on you? Any way they can reach you?”
“No. It’s nothing like that. They just said to – come on to him – Nathan. To find out what had happened to you.”
Tom wanted to bury his face in his hands. This was beyond humiliating, but worse, they’d used his son to – lied to him, caused poor Molly’s death and –
“Yeah, well, that’s not your fault.”
“So they didn’t tell you why I was in that prison in China?”
“No. They more or less hinted you’d been spying, but nothing definite.”
“That must be the official Chinese version. It’s not true. I was trying to break out an old girlfriend of mine. Elizabeth.”
Max stared at Tom, then glanced over at Nathan, then back again. Tom knew that if he wanted to, he could tell Max that other thing was a lie. Something the Agency had told him to increase his feelings of resentment towards his unknown father. For a moment, he was tempted to do so. After all, he didn’t even know if Nathan would have him back. But something inside him just wouldn’t allow him to take the easy way out.
“Oh. I didn’t know that.”
“It’s a long story. She’s – we’ll never see each other again. I was going to be executed the following morning. Nathan was the one who recruited me. Trained me. He – used Agency resources to get me out. They didn’t like that, but worst of all, the Chinese really wanted Elizabeth. Now she’s beyond their reach. Naturally, the Chinese authorities reacted negatively to that. I’m guessing it’s that new trade agreement that’s at stake.”
“That’s all? You didn’t sell us out? To the enemy, I mean?”
“Not unless you count Liz. The Agency gave her to the Chinese.”
Tom decided not to complicate the matter by telling Max about Nathan’s part in all that.
Max mulled this over in silence. Tom was beginning to think it would be ok. Maybe the kid wouldn’t want to bring up that awkward topic again. But when Max began to speak again, Tom knew he’d hoped for too much.
“So it wasn’t true? About you and that guy, Nathan? When I tried – I mean – he didn’t seem to be interested.”
“I’m not surprised.”
Suddenly, Tom saw how his son might interpret that statement. As if he wasn’t attractive enough. That wasn’t what he’d meant. First of all, he didn’t think Nathan would be interested in a kid that age, and secondly, he couldn’t imagine poor Max would have been any good at flirting with a man old enough to be his grandfather. Hell, his dad wouldn’t be, even after sleeping with that same older man for six months.
“I mean, he wouldn’t.”
“So they lied about that?”
Tom closed his eyes and again considered lying. He really wanted to make peace with his son. Molly’s son. His son. If he let him go on believing the relationship between him and Nathan had all been a lie, he might still be able to make friends with the son he never knew he had. But even as he considered it, Tom knew he couldn’t do it. Even if Nathan wouldn’t take him back.
“No. Look, I don’t know how to explain this and I realize you won’t be able to – understand, but – I’m sorry. It is true. Nathan and I – at least we were – now -”
“I see. You’re not together anymore?”
“No. I – blew it. I betrayed him and now – I just don’t know.”
“But you still love him?”
Tom didn’t know what to make of Max’ tone. He didn’t know his son well enough to read anything into it.
“What about that woman – Elizabeth?”
“I loved her too.”
“Did you betray him with a woman?”
“Yes, but -”
Tom decided to risk another look at his son. Max looked acutely embarrassed, but not, Tom thought, resentful.
“Relax. I wanted to know why you left mom, but – ok, I won’t tell you that that whole coming on to your lover wasn’t mortifying, but – come on. I grew up in California. At least three of my friends were gay. So you’re bi. Big deal. Lighten up.”
Tom knew his mouth had fallen open and he sat staring at his son, not sure what to make of him.
“You’re ok about it?”
“Of course. You know, why don’t you go and sit with him for a while? His daughter looks kind of hot. I could stand to get to know her. Girls with guns turn me on.”
“Max – don’t – she was trained as a CIA agent. She could probably break your neck with her bare hands. Don’t make a pass at her. At least be polite about it. Ok?”
“Can you kill people with your bare hands?”
“I don’t want to talk about that.”
“They told me you were like an assassin. A hitman. So you must have killed lots of people.”
“That was in Vietnam. It was different. I was a sniper.”
“And I don’t want to think about that anymore. It’s not a joke. Listen to me. I’m serious. When you kill someone it changes you forever. It’s not a game. It’s not for fun.”
“Sorry. But I mean it, go and talk to him. Don’t worry, I won’t piss her off.”
Tom wasn’t at all sure he wanted to talk to Nathan again, especially not with their kids nearby, but Max had a point. It was time he found out where he stood.
In any case, Max seemed to take his silence for consent. The kid got up and walked the few steps across the aisle, bent over Nathan and said a few words. Nathan’s eyes met Tom’s, then he got up, nodded to his daughter and changed seats with Max.
“Apparently your son wanted to get to know my daughter better.”
Tom glanced nervously across the aisle. So far, Max’s interaction with Nathan’s daughter seemed to be going smoothly.
“Uh – yeah. About that. Does she seem – stable? I mean, if he makes a pass at her, she won’t hurt him, will she?”
“I doubt it. Of course, I can’t guarantee she won’t slap his face. Her mom was good at that. That’s how – I mean, the first night we met, I – somehow I offended her. My Korean was – no good, in fact, it stunk. I think I said something about wanting to – lick her toes. I had a friend with an odd sense of humor. What I thought I was saying was something about the music and wanting to dance with her. The next thing I knew, her hand had made contact with my cheek. Not quite the way I wanted it to. So, if he’s rude to her, I’m sure we’ll find out.”
Despite himself, Tom felt some of his tension dissolve. Nathan was good at that kind of thing. Making people feel at ease. If he wanted to.
“Yeah, well, in that case, he’ll deserve it.”
“That’s one way of looking at it. Still, considering his lack of expertise, I doubt if we’ll have much to worry about.”
Tom felt his cheeks heat up. There wasn’t much doubt about what Nathan was referring to.
“I can’t believe they’d do that. They killed Molly and then they try to make her son -”
“Just in case you’re wondering, I didn’t – let’s just say that the temptation was non-existent. Not that he isn’t good looking. It must run in the family.”
Tom’s eyes sought out Nathan’s and he tried to read the expression there. Nathan seemed to be in a good mood, but Tom was far too familiar with Nathan’s acting skills to be sure.
“Nathan – I’m sorry -”
“It’s ok. I understand. If things seem to be too good to be true, they usually are. Your actions concerning Liz should have told me something.”
“What? No, I don’t mean that I don’t want to – I just meant – I’m sorry about that – night.”
Nathan forced himself not to make anything of what Tom was saying. He still didn’t know enough to be sure and even if that was what Tom was trying to say, the kid didn’t know what he wanted.
“Really. It is ok. You missed – It’s fine.”
“No, it’s not. I betrayed you. Nathan, I love you. That girl, it was just – a trick of the light. For a moment, she reminded me of Liz, but that’s no excuse. I’m really sorry. If – if you can forgive me, I swear I’ll never do anything like that again.”
“Hey. I won’t deny I was furious that night. That girl – I knew what she was doing and I hated the fact that she got what she wanted, but – since then I’ve had time to think. If – that’s what it takes, it’s fine. If you need a woman once in a while, I can live with that.”
“It’s you I love. That’s why – I could bear to lose Liz, but not you.”
“But you can’t get used to doing without sex with women, can you? Wait. It’s ok. Really. If you really are serious about – how you feel about me – then it’s ok. Find someone – but please make it someone more – at least not a drug addict or a hooker.”
“You don’t have to tell me that. But – I – don’t want it to be like that. I want it to be just you and me.”
“Tom, don’t worry about it. It will be just you and me. If you sleep with a woman once in a while, it won’t kill our relationship.”
“Are you serious?”
“Do I look as If I’m not serious? I mean it.”
“I’m not going to do it, but – I -”
“That’s ok, then. Now, I have a few things to tell you. Why the hell didn’t you come back to the house? I thought something had happened to you. And why that dreadful hole you were living in? The house was yours. If you wanted me to move out, I would have.”
“I – couldn’t face you. After what I’d done, I was afraid you’d -”
“It never occurred to you that I might have formed the impression that not coming back was your way of saying you wanted out of the relationship?”
Tom closed his eyes. He’d been such an idiot.
“I love you, Nathan.”
“Ditto. I thought I’d made that clear, six months ago.”
“I know, but – I guess I was stupid.”
Relife flooded through Tom and he leaned over, about to place a kiss on Nathan’s lips, when he suddenly realized that their kids were sitting across the aisle, only a few steps away.
Nathan caught his gaze and flashed him an insolent grin.
“There’s always the restroom. Did you ever -”
Again, Tom felt his cheeks grow hot.
“No. Did you?”
Nathan’s grin widened.
“Of course. I think it was – oh – in ’53. We were flying back to the States, my wife and I and – well – it would have been a shame to miss the opportunity.”
“If we’d been alone here – but, I think I’d better take a rain check.”
“I guess so. Well, now that all that’s been cleared up, I think I’ll get some rest. According to Emily, we’ll get some privacy at the new house.”
As the implications of Nathan’s statement began to sink in, the last of the tension left Tom and he leaned back in his seat, contentedly.
“In that case, I’d better get some rest myself.”
Before dozing off, Tom glanced across the aisle at his son. Max seemed to be talking quite amiably with Emily. Now that she wasn’t holding a gun, Tom had to admit she was pretty. Exactly the sort of girl he would have fallen for back in high school, or if he’d never gone to Vietnam, right after. This new arrangement could work out. He was wondering if the house would be pink, but he rather hoped not. Any other color but that.