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Scenes from a courtship

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*One*

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Colby pulled the sweaty t-shirt over his head and felt relieved to get the moist cotton away from his skin. He hated the way lifting weights made him sweat. Letting the shirt fall to the locker room’s tiled floor, he took the towel up from his duffel bag and put it next to the shower gel. The stuff they had in the soap dispensers in the shower room smelled like antiseptics and it always made his skin itch.

He started pulling his shorts off when two men entered the locker room. Both of them big and loud as they moved over to the benches at the far side of the room. Colby had to roll the shorts off, the damp cloth sticking to his legs and hips. He grabbed his towel and shower gel and walked over to the shower room.

Placing the towel on a shelve at the end of the room, he picked the showerhead farthest from the open doorway. The warm water felt refreshing as it washed off the layer of sticky sweat.

“No man,” one of the men said as he entered the shower room, “He told me the little cunt was tight as hell. Best piece of ass he ever had,” the blond man continued, “I asked him if he would recommend fucking a carrier. And he told me the best were those young ones that hang around downtown.”

“Yeah,” the other man said skeptically and pumped out a good handful of soap from the dispenser on the wall, “But a prostitute? Bet they have all kinds of STDs. I heard this guy on the radio. He said, carriers have a higher risk of contracting all the nasty stuff because they sleep around all the time.”

“Condoms,” the blond snorted, “Use a condom and you won’t catch nothing, Will.”

“Hmmm,” Will mumbled and scrubbed the soap into his hair, “I still say they look too much like guys for my taste. No tits.”

A sudden sense memory flooded Colby’s body as he rinsed the shower gel off his arms.

Charlie underneath him, the carrier’s hands grabbing hold of his shoulders, pulling him closer. Charlie breathing hard against the side of his face as…

“Gotta take a walk on the wild side sometimes, man,” the blond said, “Not like I’m telling you to marry one of those freaks. All I’m saying is that Mark had a blast banging that carrier.”

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He sat in his car for a long time, just trying to make the anger float away.

Closing his eyes and counting to ten hadn’t helped. Extending that count to forty hadn’t done anything but given him more time to get angry in. So he stomped out of the shower and dried off as fast as he could. Threw his clothes on and marched, double time, out to his car in the parking lot.

He was pretty sure he still had soap in his hair. He scratched at it, turned the key and listened to the engine roar before he started driving home.

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Colby noticed the ugly orange Toyota right away. It was parked outside his apartment block again. He didn’t know who it belonged to but he was pretty sure he’d seen it a few times the last week or so.

He parked next to it and got out of the car. Colby made sure to remember the duffle bag and walked across the lot to the stairs. The large metal staircase ran on the outside of the block. There were three apartments on every landing. Colby ran up to the first landing, and was just about to run up to the next one, when he heard the unmistakable sound of someone throwing up.

He leant out and tried to look up through the mesh stairs. Someone was up there, hunched over one of Mrs. Walter’s big flowerpots.

“Hey,” Colby called. The person didn’t respond and he started walking over to the stairs leading up to Mrs. Walter’s floor.

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Charlie wiped at his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt. He hated the nasty sour taste of vomit that seemed to be a constant companion whenever he was nervous.

And all this worrying for nothing. Colby wasn’t even home.

He moved over to the stairs and started walking down. He was going to get in his car, drive home and snuggle up in bed.

“Charlie?” a surprised voice asked. Charlie almost tripped over his own feet and grabbed frantically at the stair railing.

“I,” was all he managed to get out before he stumbled down the last few steps to the landing.

“Shit,” Colby reached out for the carrier’s shoulder, “You don’t look good. Come on,” Charlie was pulled close to a warm body, “Let’s get you upstairs, okay?”

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“Just sit down here,” Colby said and helped Charlie over to a couch standing in the middle of the living room, “I just have to go close the front door and then…”

“I’m pregnant,” Charlie blurted out and then put both hands over his mouth as if he could recapture the words.

“Uh,” was all Colby could say.

“Shit,” Charlie looked down at the floor. His right foot jiggling up and down as if out of his control.

“I’ll…How’d…How did that happen?” Colby asked and took a step in the direction of the open door and then stopped. He looked at Charlie and continued, “I mean,” he shrugged and rubbed his hand over his nape, “I know how it happened… just…We used protection. I‘m pretty sure we used a condom. We did, right?”

“Yeah…must have broken,” Charlie finally looked up at Colby.

“I’ll be right back,” Colby disappeared into the small hallway.

Charlie heard the front door close and he got up from the couch. Colby’s apartment wasn’t very big even if it was bigger than Charlie’s. The living room had a few pieces of furniture and they all screamed bachelor. A worn-out old green couch, a small coffee table made from some kind of pale wood and a TV stand with a small TV on it.

“So,” Colby said and Charlie turned around to look at him, “I guess we need to talk about this.”

“Not really,” Charlie said, “I’m keeping it. You don’t,” he looked away from Colby’s eyes, “You don’t have to worry. I won’t…I’m not expecting you to be…”

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It felt like being punched in the gut. Hard.

Colby just stood there, mouth open and the words he needed to say right on the tip of his tongue. But they just weren’t getting out.

Charlie walked over to him. The carrier fished around in the pocket of the dark jacket he was wearing.

“Here,” Charlie said, his voice hoarse and uncertain, “My, uh, my phone number, if you want to…” Colby took the folded piece of paper Charlie was holding out for him. His hand slid from Charlie’s fingers to his wrist and held on.

“Don’t go,” Colby heard himself say, “Just give me a second to…catch up.”

“O-okay,” Charlie stared at the hand curled around his.

“Can we just sit down for a second?” Colby let go of Charlie and the carrier suddenly missed the warm press of skin against skin.

“Yeah,” the carrier nodded, a few short dark curls falling into his eyes, “Yeah. Sure.”

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*Two*

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Colby looked at the phone. He finally picked it up and dialed his mother’s number but before it connected he put it back down. He leant back against the couch cushions and stared at the ceiling for a full five minutes before he got up and walked into the bathroom.

“You’re going to be a dad,” he said to his own reflection. Slowly, incrementally, the edges of his mouth turned up and he ended up grinning madly at himself.

“Shit,” he said, big smile still plastered on his face and he walked out to the phone in the living room, picked it up and dialed a different number.

“Yeah, hi, it’s me,” Colby said, “I want to go with you to that medical scanning thing…Yeah, the ultrasound. I’ll pick you up. Half past nine. No, no, I have time. Okay, see you.”

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For some weird reason he felt huge and stupid standing there in the waiting room. The walls were filled with pictures of happy chubby babies. One picture, hanging over the receptionist’s desk, caught his attention. It showed a happy couple, a man and a blond carrier, holding a little sleeping baby.

He turned and looked at Charlie sitting pale in one of the comfortable chairs. His hands seemed to flutter restlessly around and finally descended on the pile of magazines on the table next to him .

“Charlie Ellis?” a nurse said from the hallway that lead further into the doctor’s practice.

“Yes,” Charlie said and stood up, “I’m Charlie Ellis.”

“Doctor Lebedev is ready now. Please follow me,” the nurse said and smiled as she walked down the hallway.

Charlie cast a hurried look in Colby’s direction. Colby reached out and took hold of the carrier’s elbow and gave it a reassuring squeeze.

“Showtime,” he smiled at Charlie and lead him down the hallway.

The nurse was waiting for them by a green door. She knocked once and then opened it, “Charlie Ellis and his partner,” she announced into the room and Colby heard a deep voice answer,

“Good, good. Let’s have a look then.”

The nurse stepped back and made room for them. Charlie walked in first and was greeted by a very tall and broad shouldered man in a white lab coat. He shook hands with Charlie and then turned his attention to Colby. Colby felt like he was being judged, straightened his back and stared right back.

“So you’re the one,” Doctor Lebedev said with what Colby would swear was a growl.

“Sam,” Charlie said warningly and sat down in one of the chairs.

“Did I say anything?” the doctor, who was apparently named Sam, asked.

“Just…” Charlie sighed and slumped in the chair.

“Charlie and I,” the doctor said and waved Colby over to the other chair, “We go back a few years. I do pro bono work in the local carrier community. I met him through a patient of mine,” he smiled at Charlie.

“I see,” Colby nodded.

“Well,” the doctor said and clapped his hands, “Why don’t we give Charlie here a few minutes to change into scrubs?” he stood up and walked over to the cupboard next to the exam table in the opposite corner of the room. Doctor Lebedev pulled a small stack of yellow scrubs out and put them on the table.

“We’ll give you a few minutes,” he said and walked over to the door. He gave Colby a clearly expectant look and Colby found himself following the man and closing the door to the examination room behind him.

The two men stood there doing their best not to look at each other. The doctor coughed once then finally turned and looked Colby right in the eyes.

“Just so you know,” Lebedev said and pointed a big index finger at him, “I’m saying this as his friend and not as his doctor,” he gave Colby a narrow eyed look.

Colby nodded.

“If you hurt him,” the broad shouldered man continued, “I’ll rip you arms off and beat you to death with them.”

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Charlie sat awkwardly on the paper covered exam table, when the two men joined him in the room. His knees were poking out from the hem of the short scrubs and he pulled unsuccessfully at it, attempting to cover them.

Colby couldn’t help but stare at those knees. He had the urge to reach out and touch the naked skin but managed to control himself. Instead he walked up to the head of the exam table and smiled reassuringly.

The carrier took a few deep breaths and scooted further up the bed and lay down. Doctor Lebedev explained what he would be doing and kept a hand on Charlie’s left foot as he spoke.

He moved the ultrasound machine closer on its rubber wheels and instructed Charlie, “Scoot down a little more. My nurse calls it the ass-over-edge-position. Not very comfortable, I know,” he gently guided Charlie’s legs into the stirrups.

“Okay, let get a look at the little guy,” Lebedev said. He pushed a few buttons on the screen and hummed before he turned back to Charlie.

“Isn’t it a little early to do an ultrasound?” Colby asked.

“Carriers have a higher risk of miscarriage. You’ll have to come by once every month or so at least in the first trimester and maybe even in the second.”

“Miscarriage,” Colby gulped and looked worriedly down at Charlie.

“You’re healthy, Charlie,” Lebedev said directly to the carrier, “I don’t really foresee any trouble but it doesn’t hurt to make sure.” Charlie just nodded and closed his eyes.

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*Three*

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“Come to dinner with me,” Colby said the second Charlie opened the front door to his apartment.

“What?” Charlie was dressed in a t-shirt and pajama pants. His hair was rumbled and stuck up in the back.

“Are you sick?” Colby asked and visually checked the carrier.

“No,” Charlie shook his head and let Colby in, “I’m just tired.”

“Oh, so no dinner then,” he sat down on Charlie’s old ratty couch. Charlie walked back into the living room and sat down next to him.

“We could order in,” Charlie suggested.

“Pizza?” Colby asked.

“Okay,” Charlie said and was about to get up when Colby pulled his cell phone out of his jacket pocket,

“I’ll order,” Colby was about to dial the number but then stopped, “I really want to take you out. You know, some place fancy,” he turned his head and looked at Charlie. They were sitting so close that Colby would only have to lean in a little bit to kiss him on the cheek.

“Charlie,” Colby said softly and the carrier turned his head.

“Wh…” Charlie got out just before Colby did kiss him. Their positions were awkward and leaning like that hurt Colby’s neck but he kept going anyway. Charlie’s face was hot against Colby’s palms.

Charlie slowly let himself be pushed down into the soft couch cushions. Colby kept his weight off Charlie, one hand holding himself up and the other snaking its way under Charlie’s t-shirt. His fingers ghosted over the small baby bump and up across Charlie’s chest. Then back down to rest on the bump.

Charlie moaned into his mouth and carted his fingers through Colby’s hair. The drawstring, on Charlie’s pajama pants, easily gave in to Colby tugging on it and his hand found its way down past Charlie’s underwear.

Charlie made a little sound that stopped Colby’s groping. He pushed himself away from the carrier and looked down at him.

“What?” Colby asked breathlessly. His hands pulling Charlie’s shirt down a little to cover the stomach.

“Get off me,” Charlie said and pushed his hands against Colby’s chest.

“Shit,” Colby hissed, “Did I hurt you? I tried to keep my weight…”

“Just,” Charlie sat up and Colby moved complete off the couch, “This is a really bad idea.”

“A bad idea?” Colby looked a little stunned. His hair was messed up, pointing in ten different directions.

“Yeah,” Charlie ran a hand through his short curly hair, “I just don’t…you and me. It’s just a bad idea.”

“Should I leave?” Colby asked.

“Please,” Charlie wouldn’t look at him.

“Okay,” Colby walked over to the front door and opened it a fraction, “Call me, you know…if you need anything or…”

“I will,” Charlie said.

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*Four*

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“I’m mostly done with my training,” Colby said, a few weeks later. They were on their way to Charlie’s apartment after a visit to Doctor Lebedev’s clinic.

“What happens after?” Charlie asked.

“I’ll get put on a team…wherever I’m needed,” Colby explained and honked at a car that swerved into the lane in front of them, “I’ve been lucky that I had to do part of the training here in LA instead of doing it all at Quantico.”

“Do you get a say in where you go?” Charlie fiddled with the car’s air-conditioning.

“I get to request,” Colby turned right and parked in the lot outside Charlie’s apartment block, “They don’t actually have to grant me my request.”

“What if they want you to go to New York?” Charlie looked out at the street where buildings and trees passed by in a blur.

“I don’t know,” Colby admitted, “I’m at the top of my class. I think they’ll let me choose but I just don’t know.”

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*Five*

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Charlie licked his spoon clean, “This ice cream is the best ever.”

“You ate two helpings of it, so it must be,” Colby pushed his own bowl across the table so it ended up in front of Charlie.

“You don’t want to finish it?” Charlie asked disbelievingly.

“Not as much as I want to watch you finish it,” Colby admitted. Charlie blushed and hummed happily when he took the bowl and started eating.

Colby sat back and watched the other customers in the diner. An old couple were sitting at the corner table, holding hands and talking softly. They looked happy and content. Only a few of the other tables were occupied.

A woman sitting at the table across from their own glanced at Charlie every few seconds. Her lips turned up at the corners when Charlie started scraping his spoon at the bottom of the bowl.

“You still want more?” Colby asked.

“Well, yeah,” Charlie nodded, “But I don’t think I can actually eat more,” he rubbed his stomach. The small bump had grown quite a bit lately and Colby always had the urge to pat it. He didn’t though. Charlie still kept his distance and Colby didn’t really feel like pressing matters.

“Let’s get out of here then,” Colby said and got up, “I just need to go to the restroom first.”

“Sure,” Charlie said and wiped his hands in a paper napkin.

“You want to wait here or…” Colby asked.

“I’ll go outside, I think,” Charlie stood up and pulled his t-shirt down a little.

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Colby was washing his hands when an older man walked into the men’s room. He looked straight at Colby and scrunched up his nose. Colby caught sight of his expression in the mirror.

“This is a family restaurant,” the man said and crossed his arms, resting them over his beer belly.

“Yeah?” Colby said, a clear warning in his tone that went completely over the mans head.

“If you have to live that way,” the man almost spat the words, “That kind of lifestyle… Then do it where decent people won’t have to see it.”

“Excuse me?” Charlie had warned him, had said that sooner or later he would have to deal with people like this man. For some reason he’d thought he would be immune to other people‘s opinions.

“Folks bring their children here,” the man persisted, “It’s a family restaurant.”

Colby took a step closer, towering over the older man, “It’s a goddamn diner,” he said, “And we are a family.”

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The heat outside was almost unbearable. It hit him full force the second he stepped out into the street. Charlie was standing a little to the right of the door to the diner, squinted up at the sun.

“Want me to go get the car?” Colby asked. It was a nice neighborhood and he was sure Charlie would be fine, “You can go wait inside if you want to. I’ll go get the car and you won’t have to walk all the way there.”

“Sounds good,” Charlie said, “But I think I’ll wait out here,” he pointed at a bench a few feet away.

“Okay,” Colby said and started to walk in the direction they had parked the car, “I’ll only be a few minutes,” he promised, glancing over his shoulder.

Charlie just waved at him and sat down on the bench.

Colby could feel his hands clenching and unclenching. He would have punched the old bastard if he hadn’t been so very shocked. And he was sure Charlie had to deal with shit like that all the time.

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The street was quiet. Most people stayed home or wandered around the air-conditioned malls on scorching hot days and Charlie liked the warm summer evenings in LA. A few people walked by, sweating profusely in the heat bouncing back from the hot asphalt.

The ice cream had been nice but even a belly full of it didn’t seem to make a difference. Charlie could feel how drops of sweat slowly formed on his back, making the cotton of his t-shirt stick to the damp skin.

“Hey!” Charlie looked up and grinned at the sight of Colby sitting in the car, cool sunglasses making him look relaxed.

“Hi,” Charlie smiled.

“So you’re looking nice,” Colby said and leant out the open side window, “Wanna go for a ride with me, Honey?”

Charlie started laughing and Colby felt a nice warmth, that had nothing to do with the sun, spread through his body.

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“Can I come in?” Colby asked and pulled teasingly at a stray curl hanging over Charlie’s left ear.

“I…I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Charlie bit his lower lip.

“Okay,” Colby nodded, and they stood so close that Charlie could feel the movement, “Can I give you a good night kiss?” Charlie looked up at him and then slowly nodded. “Right,” Colby licked his lips.

“Okay,” he leant over and lightly kissed Charlie’s lips. Then he pulled back and brushed a finger over the carrier’s soft lower lip, “Sweet dreams,” he whispered.

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*Six*

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“You should know, I’m not the kind of man who gives up easily,” Colby said and placed the glasses on the table. He turned to look over at the couch were Charlie was sitting.

“Are you sure there isn’t anything I can help you with?” Charlie had seemed anxious and on edge since he arrived at Colby’s place and the nervousness was rubbing off on Colby.

“No,” he waved the napkins around, “I have it all under control.”

“I think the sauce is burning,” Charlie pointed and Colby dashed over to the stove and started turning down the heat and moved the saucepan to a cool plate. The sauce had steam billowing up from it and he reached over and opened the window.

“Shit,” Colby muttered and stirred the sauce, trying to determine if it was ruined or not.

Colby felt Charlie standing beside him and said, “Looks like it only got singed a tiny bit. Still edible. I think.”

“The spaghetti looks good,” Charlie slowly let his hand slide up and down Colby’s back. Colby kept stirring the sauce, lost in the tactile experience of the carrier’s warm hand. Charlie’s hand was so warm he could feel it right through his shirt.

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“Well, that wasn’t a complete disaster,” Colby said and pushed his plate away.

“It was pretty good,” Charlie said quietly.

“Look, Charlie,” Colby began but then wasn’t sure what to say. He fiddled a little with his knife and fork.

“Yeah?” Charlie looked at him from across the small table. He had a tiny spot of red spaghetti sauce on his chin.

“I’ve been assigned to a team here in LA,” Colby announced happily.

“Oh,” Charlie nodded, “So you’re staying.”

“Yeah…You don’t sound thrilled,” Colby said when Charlie wouldn’t meet his eyes.

“No, it’s good,” Charlie said and put his knife down on his plate, “It’ll be good for the baby.”

“I was hoping it would be good for the two of us as well,” Colby tried to catch Charlie’s eyes but the carrier was staring down at his empty dinner plate, “Charlie?”

“I have to tell you something,” Charlie’s voice was small and frightened, “If you’re staying I have to tell you.”

“What?” Colby managed to get out. His throat felt dry. He watched how Charlie’s hands started stroking the tabletop. The slim hands sliding back and forth in a slow rhythm.

“When the carrier houses were closed I was old enough to be living in one of the halfway houses,” Charlie began, “I was 18 and I’d be going off to live in a small apartment a year or so later. On my own. But then all those things happened all at once.”

“Things?” Colby asked.

“The newspapers started reporting on abuse in the houses. People…they got upset and finally it made the government close the houses and move the kids into group homes. Mixing boys, girls and carriers.”

“I remember that,” Colby got up and pulled his chair with him so he could sit down right next to Charlie.

“Please,” Charlie murmured, “Don’t interrupt me. I don’t think I can…”

“Sorry,” Colby took Charlie’s hand but the carrier pulled it away.

“I was 18. And they decided that anyone 18 or older should just move out. We were legally of age. They already had enough trouble handling all those who were still minors and had to be moved to the group homes,” Charlie’s voice cracked and he wrapped his arms around himself, “So I moved out and lived on my own. I’d never lived on my own before. I hadn’t even slept in a room alone before. I was used to being surrounded by other carriers and the staff. And then they expected me to just sleep alone in my apartment.”

Colby sat back and had to force himself not to talk or touch Charlie.

“I had a job. The counselors helped me get this job at a supermarket and it was okay. But then after the three month trial period I wasn’t hired and I didn’t have anything… I did odd jobs here and there but what I needed was a good job that would earn me enough. I wanted to take some classes and get my high school diploma and after that I wanted to go to college and university. That all required money I didn’t have so…” Charlie seemed to curl up more and more, his shoulders hunching and his eyes firmly looking at the table, “I did something stupid,” he whispered.

“What?” Colby couldn’t keep quiet.

“I…Jamie, I knew him from Ellis House, he was doing it and he said it wasn’t a big deal…And I was desperate. I wanted to get out of that horrible apartment and I wanted to go to school and Jamie said,” Charlie’s voice trailed off and Colby felt like he was watching a car-crash. He could see the cars lining up to slam into each other and he could almost taste the gas fumes in the air.

“The first time was with this guy who…he was nice about it and Jamie introduced us and,” Charlie stopped talking when Colby grabbed Charlie’s glass and hurled it at the wall.

“I don’t want to hear it,” Colby’s voice was filled with rage, “Just shut up. Shut up, Charlie.”

“I’m sorry,” Charlie said and very slowly and deliberately moved out of the chair and took a step backwards away from the table. Away from Colby.

Charlie’s stunned eyes locked with Colby’s, “I was 18 and scared shitless,” the carrier said, “I’m not 18 anymore. And I only…it was for a few months then I got…The police picked me up one night and that was it. They didn’t press any charges, just got me in contact with a different counselor. I…never did anything like it again.”

“I’ll drive you home,” Colby said and walked past Charlie, back straight and jaw clenched, into the hallway.

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“Are you going to…” Charlie was holding on to the car door, his fingers white, “You’ll call me?”

“I… I need time, Charlie,” Colby’s voice was tense and Charlie closed the door and nodded at him.

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*Seven*

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Colby was writing his first report as part of Special Agent Eppes’ team. He was having a hard time fitting in. He seemed to rub his partner, Sinclair, the wrong way. David was clearly not happy about the way Colby had handled himself at the garage. Or about much else, for that matter.

His desk phone rang and he picked it up, “Agent Colby Granger,” he answered, “For me?”

David turned in his chair and frowned at him.

“I’ll be right down, thanks,” Colby got up and looked over at David, “I’ll…there’s a guy to see me downstairs.”

“Sure,” Sinclair nodded, “I’ll hold the fort.”

“Thanks.”

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“He’s right over there,” the woman at the reception desk said and pointed over at a short man standing by one of the concrete pillars.

“You wanted to see me?” Colby said when he reached him. The man looked distracted for a second as if he had no idea what he was doing in the lobby. He looked around at the grey walls and the people walking past them and then suddenly seemed to snap out of it.

“You have to stop being an, um, an, ah…an ass,” he stuttered and squared his thin shoulders.

“I’m sorry,” Colby said a little confused, “But who are you?”

“Larry,” Larry said, “Dr. Larry Fleinhardt.”

”I’m sorry, I have no idea…” Colby began but was interrupted by the fidgeting man.

”Charlie is heartbroken and you’re the only one who can fix him,” he looked determined for a second then fidgeted some more.

”You know Charlie?” Colby asked, ”How do you…”’

”He’s my student…well more like my assistant but he’s still taking classes and that would mean that he’s officially a student. My student.”

”Look,” Colby looked around the lobby, ”I can’t really talk about this right now.”

”Well, there isn’t much to talk about,” the smaller man jutted out his chin, ”Charlie is miserable and you seem to be the only one who can get him out of this um, this funk,” Fleinhardt turned around and walked out of the lobby.

Colby could see him standing outside the glass doors apparently debating what direction to go now. After a second of deep thought he turned right.

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*Eight*

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“It doesn’t matter,” Colby said the second Charlie opened the door.

“Colby?” Charlie looked surprised but he didn’t open the door enough for Colby to get into the apartment. He looked tired and a little pale. His eyes were bloodshot.

“I don’t care about your past,” Colby continued, “It doesn’t matter to me.”

“It does,” Charlie said and leant against the doorway.

“No, it doesn’t,” Colby insisted, “I behaved like an idiot.”

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The first hour or so was spent awkwardly being quiet or attempting to do small talk. The apartment seemed even smaller than it actually was and Colby kept trying to find the right words to say.

“I missed an appointment with Dr. Lebedev, didn’t I?” Colby asked when they were sitting next to each other on the couch, the TV was on but they weren’t really paying much attention to it.

“Yeah,” Charlie said, his voice a little hoarse, “You did.”

“Everything all right?” Colby reached out to touch Charlie’s belly but stopped himself. Charlie caught Colby’s hand and pressed it against the swell of his stomach and held it there. Colby stopped breathing for a few seconds and just concentrated on the warmth radiating from Charlie’s skin.

“The baby’s fine,” Charlie said, “Sam says everything is going like clockwork.”

“Good,” Colby rubbed his thumb back and forth, “That’s good.”

“He gave me a sonogram, you know, one of those pictures where you can see the baby,” Charlie stood up and Colby pulled his hand back, “I’ll go get it.”

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Charlie was yawning and he leant against Colby’s side. Colby pressed his nose into Charlie’s hair and took a deep breath.

“Are you sniffing me?” Charlie chuckled tiredly.

“You smell good,” Colby said and turned his head so it was resting on top of Charlie’s curls.

“Mmmm,” Charlie mumbled and snuggled closer to the larger man.

“Can I stay tonight?” Colby asked and put his hand against Charlie’s belly.

“I don’t think,” the carrier tried to move away but Colby held him gently in place.

“Just to sleep, okay,” Colby kissed Charlie’s forehead, “I just want to hold you.”

“Don’t you need to be at work tomorrow?” Charlie asked and tilted his head so he could look up at him.

“Yeah,” Colby admitted, “But that’s not a problem.”

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Colby turned and looked at Charlie’s back. The carrier was curled up under the covers and made little snoring noises. The light from the street lamp outside cast shadows on the walls and over part of the bed. Colby stretched a little and wriggled his toes. He knew he wouldn’t fall asleep again. He either sleep straight through the night or ended up waking up every fifteen minutes or so.

Making sure not to make to much noise he crawled out of bed and wandered barefoot into the living room. He turned on the light and looked around the room. It was small with windows facing the opposite apartment block. The walls were covered with bookshelves and most of those were filled with books, plastic binders and folders. An old laptop peeked out from underneath a pile of notebooks.

Colby picked one of the notebooks up and opened it. Leafing through it he didn’t come across anything he actually recognized. He could see that it was equations and odd scribbled notes but he didn’t understand any of it. He snorted when he saw the word anomoly written in big red letters across one of the equations. Anomoly.

Charlie could fill notebook after notebook with advanced level math and yet he couldn’t spell anomaly correct.

Holding the notebook and reading the equations made Colby feel closer to Charlie. As if he, by flipping through a few notebooks, was given an insight into Charlie’s inner thoughts.

A quiet moan made Colby put the notebook on top of the pile and he walked back to the bedroom. Charlie was moving restlessly and making little noises. He sounded like a frightened child. A few recognizable words made it out from under the covers.

“Please don’t,” the carrier murmured, still asleep, and put a hand over his face, the other held on to the pillow with white-knuckle fingers.

“Charlie?” Colby whispered and knelt down next to the bed on Charlie’s side, “Hey, baby,” he brushed his thumbs over Charlie’s wet cheeks and mumbled reassuringly. Charlie shivered and whimpered.

Colby carefully crawled over Charlie and spooned up behind him, pulling him against his chest. He ran his hand up and down Charlie’s flank whispering comforting nonsense in his ear. Charlie slowly calmed down, interlaced his fingers with Colby’s and finally fell into a deep peaceful sleep.

------------------------------------------

Colby was making toast when Charlie wandered into the kitchen. His hair was still a little damp from the shower.

“Eggs?” Colby asked and opened Charlie’s fridge.

“I have eggs?” Charlie asked and sat down at the table.

“Yeah,” Colby grabbed the packet of eggs from the shelve and put it on the kitchen counter, he bumped his hip against the fridge door to close it.

“I like mine scrambled,” Charlie said.

“Scrambled it is,” Colby found the frying pan and started making breakfast. He stood with his back to Charlie when he asked, “Have you thought about baby names?”

“Oh,” Charlie pushed away from the table and went over to stand next to Colby by the stove, “I have a few ideas but I’m not sure. What about you?”

Colby broke an egg on the edge of the frying pan and let it slide into the pan, “I’m pretty bad at naming stuff.”

“You’re bad at naming stuff?” Charlie repeated, “Oh,” he pointed at the frying pan, “There’s a bit of eggshell in there.”

“I had a cat when I was a kid,” Colby fished the little sliver of eggshell out and broke a second egg into the mixture, “I named it Cat.”

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“Move in with me,” Colby commanded as they ate the scrambled eggs and buttered toast.

“No,” Charlie answered around a mouthful of toast.

“There’s no reason for you to live here when you could come live with me and,” Colby held up his fork as if to accentuate the logic of his plan, “You’d save money on rent.”

“Colby,” Charlie sighed and put his fork down, “We’re not those people.”

“What people?” Colby frowned.

“The couple who’re perfect for each other and who want to do the whole nest building together and…and…” Charlie tried to explain.

“That’s a load of bullshit,” Colby put down his fork with enough force to make Charlie jump, “I want us to live together. You, me and the baby. Like a family.”

“If you went into work tomorrow and registered me as your next of kin,” Charlie pushed his plate away, “How big would your chances of promotion be?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Colby said and wouldn’t look Charlie in the eyes.

“It wouldn’t happen, Colby,” Charlie reached out and put his hand on top of Colby’s, “I know you want to act as if it doesn’t bother you. But it does. I see the way you check other people’s reactions when we go out,” Charlie pulled his hand back, “I know you still haven’t called home to tell your family.”

“My mother wouldn’t understand and those other people,” Colby took their plates and noisily dumped them it the sink, “I keep an eye on them because I don’t want them to hurt you. I see the way they look at you and I know that’s why you don’t want to go out to eat.”

“I’m not moving in with you,” Charlie said and walked out of the kitchen.

------------------------------------------

*Nine*

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The crime scene had already been contaminated when they arrived. A few officers from LAPD were pushing curious spectators out of the way, trying to establish some kind of order. The truck had been stopped close to a residential area and no one wanted to miss the show.

“We moved them into the fitness center over there,” the police officer in charge said and pointed at a large grey building on the other side of the street, “The paramedics are trying to keep them calm but I think a few of them are in shock.”

“Thanks,” Don said and shook hands with the officer.

Colby, David and Megan walked across the blocked street and into the fitness center. The second they stepped inside they were met by chaos. Paramedics were rushing back and forth trying to calm the crying and shivering people down.

“Some of them don’t even look old enough to be in High School,” David said and looked at crying kid wrapped in a blanket. A girl, only a few years older, was trying to calm him down, whispering in a language Colby didn’t understand.

“Some of them aren’t,” Megan said and walked through the foyer and over to a paramedic standing in a corner writing on a clipboard.

Colby noticed a dark skinned carrier, hair plastered to his damp forehead, sitting on a chair. Every few seconds a shiver ran through the frail figure and the blanket thrown over his slim shoulders didn’t seem to help. Colby took a step forward and knelt down in front of the carrier.

“Do you understand English?” he asked.

“Little,” the carrier answered in a whisper.

“Okay,” Colby was about to offer to get him some water but was interrupted by one of the paramedics.

“He needs to go to the hospital, sir,” the woman said and put a hand on the carrier’s shoulder.

Colby looked up at her, “Is he seriously injured?”

“He’s pregnant but I think…” the paramedic stopped speaking when the carrier started rocking back and forth mumbling quietly, “He’s losing the baby. Too much stress.”

Colby took a step back and let the paramedics help the carrier up on a gurney.

“Coming to America is supposed to solve their problems,” David said and scanned the room with sad eyes, “And this is what they get.”

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Charlie fumbled around for his cell phone. He pushed himself up a little and knocked over the clock radio in his search.

“Thank God,” he sighed when his fingers finally wrapped around the ringing and vibrating phone. He squinted at the caller ID and pressed the connect button.

“’lo?” he said sleepily and stared into the darkness of the bedroom, “Colby? Is that you? What…Why are you calling me in the middle of the…” Charlie turned on the bedside lamp and sat up a little straighter, “Are you drunk? You are, aren’t you?” he rubbed his free hand over his eyes and listened to Colby stutter and mumble inarticulately on the other end of the line.

“I’m not moving in with you,” Charlie looked over at the clock radio, “It’s 3 o’clock at night, that’s why. Yes, I was sleeping. I’m going to hang up now. Colby? I’m hanging up. I’m what? Cute. Well, thanks. Go get some sleep. I’m not going to do that,” Charlie rolled his eyes, “Because it’s stupid! All right, all right. I’m doing it now.”

Charlie pushed his t-shirt up and pressed the phone against the swell of his stomach and felt like a complete idiot. He brought it up to his ear again, “I’m hanging up now. I love you too, Colby. I’d love you even more if you’d let me sleep.”

He disconnected and placed the phone on the bedside table. Fluffed his pillow and lay back down.

He fell asleep with a smile on his face.

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Don watched Colby stare at the cell phone in his hands as if it was a complete mystery. David joined Don and handed him another beer.

“Thanks, man,” Don said and took an experimental sip, “It’s good.”

“Yeah, microbrew…Colby brought it,” David pointed with his own bottle at Colby. The younger agent was staring intently at his phone and pressing buttons haphazardly.

“What’s he doing?” Don asked and leant back in his chair and looked up at the moon. The garden was more or less quiet and Don loved spending time in it late at night. It seemed like a completely different place when the moonlight bathed everything in silver.

“Said he needed to call his baby,” David snorted.

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*Ten*

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Colby held the tiny baby bodysuit. It wasn’t much bigger than his hand and it suddenly hit him how very small and vulnerable the baby would be. He turned to Charlie and held up the bodysuit.

“Pink?” Charlie asked and held up his own choice of gender-neutral green.

“It might be a girl,” Colby defended his choice.

“Mmmm,” Charlie conceded and dropped the green bodysuit in the shopping basket standing at Colby’s feet. Colby grumbled but put the pink one back on top of the stack he’d taken it from.

“What about a crib?” Colby asked and followed Charlie.

“They’re too expensive here,” the carrier picked up a pack of outrageously small socks and put them in the basket Colby was holding.

“I’m paying, Charlie,” he reminded him and grabbed a second pack of socks, “And I want to buy a crib for our baby.”

Charlie sighed and nodded, “Okay, look we need some cloth diapers and maybe a few toys. You know, a small teddy bear or one of those pull-string musical ones,” Charlie pushed Colby down the aisle with the toys and disappeared in the direction where the cribs stood.

Colby looked at the many teddy bears and touched a few of them. One of them felt like real fur, even though it wasn’t. He picked it up and turned it around trying to figure out how it was supposed to play music. He couldn’t see any string.

“You pull its tail, Granger,” a deep voice suddenly said from behind him.

Colby was so startled by the unexpected voice that he dropped the teddy bear. He managed to push a few more teddy bears down on the floor when he bent down to pick up the one he had dropped. He looked up and couldn’t believe his eyes.

“Martinez?!” he laughed and got up, completely forgetting about the toys on the floor.

“Damn, Granger,” the taller man said and gave Colby a bear hug that nearly left Colby breathless, “Can’t tell me you finally found yourself a woman crazy enough to marry you,” the black man looked around the shop.

“Oh,” Colby wasn’t sure what to say. He had no idea what Martinez’s reaction would be if he found out about Charlie. He plastered on a wide grin and said, “Who’re you to talk?”

“Found me one that doesn’t mind that I’m half crazy,” Martinez turned, “Linda? Come over here. There’s someone I want you to meet.”

A heavily pregnant woman walked over to the two men, her arms filled with cloth diapers in happy pink and yellow colors.

“Here,” Martinez said and took the diapers, “I’ll put it in with the rest of our loot,” the tall man walked over and picked up a shopping basket brimming with baby clothes and toys.

“Linda,” Linda said and reached out her hand.

“Colby Granger,” Colby shook hands with her and hoped she wouldn’t notice how sweaty his hand was. He looked around the shop but couldn’t see Charlie close by, “I, uh, was in Afghanistan with your husband.”

“He’s told me about you,” Linda beamed at him, “You saved his life.”

“Sure did,” Martinez gave Colby a one-armed hug and Colby blushed.

“Aw, come on, Lucas,” he said.

“No, no,” Martinez let go of him, “No hiding you light under a bushel around me.”

“So,” Colby managed to disentangle himself from Martinez, “When are you due?”

“Just a few more weeks,” Linda said and shifted her feet a little, “It’ll be nice not to be as big as a house anymore.”

“We’re having a girl,” Martinez declared as if they were the first ever to experience that.

“What about you?” Linda smiled at Colby, “Do you know what you’re having?”

“Uh…no,” Colby shook his head. “We decided we didn’t want to know.”

“That’s what we did with our first,” Linda confessed, “This time around we decided we’d like to be prepared.”

“So where are you hiding her?” Martinez asked.

“Colby?” Colby turned and looked at Charlie. The carrier was holding a brochure and flipping through it while he was walking over to them, “The cribs here are really expensive. I’m sure we can…oh,” Charlie looked from Martinez to Colby and then back to Martinez.

Colby felt Martinez move a little away from his side and he braced himself for the inevitable reaction.

“Charlie,” he said, “This is Lucas Martinez, an army buddy of mine and his wife Linda.”

“Hi,” Charlie said and briefly smiled at them. His eyes returned nervously to Colby’s as if expecting instructions on what to do next.

“Hi, Charlie,” Linda said and pushed past the two men standing between herself and the carrier, “I had a look at their cribs as well but they seem to think parents-to-be are millionaires.”

“Yeah, yes,” Charlie nodded, “I like the one that converts into a junior bed but…500 dollars just seems like a lot of money.”

“We bought our first crib at Ikea,” Linda said and took Charlie’s hand, “It cost less than 200 and the only reason we’re looking for a new one is because my sister borrowed the Ikea one.”

Martinez and Colby followed when Linda started pulling Charlie along with her.

“They have one here that looks like the Ikea one. I’ll show you,” Linda chatted happily not once looking to make sure her husband or Colby were following them.

--------------------------------------------

“He seems nice,” Lucas finally said when they had both loaded the filled plastic bags into their cars.

“He is,” Colby said defensively, “He’s great.”

“You sure about this, though?” Martinez asked and looked over to where Linda was demonstrating the baby car seat in their car to Charlie.

Colby felt his shoulders stiffen and he just stared at Martinez, “Yes,” he ground out angrily.

“Calm down, Granger,” Martinez said and leant against Colby’s car, “I just mean…does anyone else know?”

“We’re keeping it…” Colby’s voice trailed off and he didn’t really know how to end the sentence.

“That’s not really fair to him,” the taller man crossed his arms over his broad chest, “Is it?”

“He’s the one who wants to keep it quiet,” Colby smiled a little when Charlie laughed at something Linda had said, “He says I have to think about my career.”

“He’s a smart kid,” Martinez nudged Colby’s shoulder, “And he’s cute as hell.”

“What?” Colby croaked in surprise.

“Oh, come on,” Lucas laughed, the sound booming across the parking lot, “You’re lucky he even gave you a chance.”

 

--------------------------------------------

*Eleven*

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Colby was sleeping on the couch. On the TV an infomercial about Japanese kitchen knives went on unperturbed. The cell phone started ringing, the noise of it vibrating against the coffee table, startling him.

Blinking tiredly at it, he grabbed it and pressed the connect button. At first no one spoke but then he could clearly hear Charlie.

“You’re water broke?” Colby asked and grunted disbelievingly, “Do you know how late it is? Just call the plumber,” he ended the call and put the phone back down, rolled over so his back was to the TV and promptly fell asleep again.

Only to wake up with a start. His heart beating double time and his hands clammy with sweat.

“Oh, shit,” he stumbled across the living room floor and slammed his shoulder against the door to the bedroom. Fumbling - Why did he suddenly have numb fingers? - he grabbed a pair of sweatpants and pulled them on over his boxer shorts.

“Keys, keys,” he chanted and started sifting through the things stored in his key basket in the hallway. He triumphantly held up the keychain and grabbed his sneakers, pushed his bare feet into them and ran out of the apartment.

Only to return a few seconds later to close the front door and lock it.

----------------------------------------------------

Charlie winced and pressed a hand against his lower back. He tried to take a deep breath, concentrating on not tensing up. He took a few steps down the stairs and grabbed the railings when a new wave of pain flashed from his lower back to his stomach.

He panted noisily, let the small duffle bag slip from his hand, and closed his eyes only to open them when he heard someone running up the stairs.

Colby’s stood, face flushed, on the next landing. His sweatpants were turned inside out and his t-shirt had a ketchup stain on it.

“You’re having the baby?” Colby asked and then revised that to, “You're having the baby!”

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Colby just held his son. The nurse had shown him how to do it correctly and had then left him alone. The baby seemed to weigh nothing at all, as if the blanket was empty.

“Colby?” Charlie’s voice was hoarse and he swallowed a few times before he continued, “Is he all right?”

“He’s fine,” Colby said and leant over so Charlie could see the baby, “He’s just perfect.”

“Hmmm,” Charlie rested his hand on the blanket the nurse had wrapped around the baby.

“Come live with me,” Colby said and kissed Charlie’s dry chapped lips.

“Colby…” Charlie looked up at him, his eyes bloodshot.

“Say yes, Charlie,” Colby wasn’t above begging at that point, “Just please, say yes.”

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*Twelve*

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“Well, he’s finally asleep,” Colby said and leant against the doorframe. The mist in the air slowly dissipated as it mingled with the cooler air in the hallway. Colby watched as Charlie started drying off with the light green bath towel.

The carrier was still nicely soft around the middle, a few stretch marks colored the skin just above his hip a warm pink. Charlie turned to grab the smaller towel for his hair when he finally noticed Colby standing in the doorway. A quick blush appeared on his cheeks and he pulled the bath towel up so it was covering his body.

“I though you’d put Simon to bed?” he said.

“Yeah,” Colby swallowed, “I did. He’s out for the count. I was just…” his voice trailed off.

“Looking?” the corners of Charlie’s mouth turned up a little.

“Yeah,” Colby readily admitted and took a step closer, “You look good.”

“Thanks,” Charlie didn’t know where to look and shivered when Colby closed the gap between them and put his hands on the carrier’s shoulders.

“I can stay on the couch a little longer if you aren’t ready for me to join you in the bed yet,” Colby whispered in Charlie’s ear. A damp curl brushed against his lips and he let out a breath that made Charlie close his eyes.

“I don’t want you sleeping on the couch,” Charlie answered, “I want you in the bed with me.”

Colby tilted his head a little and kissed Charlie’s neck, “Okay,” Colby nuzzled Charlie’s ear, “Just to sleep?” he asked.

“Hell no,” Charlie said and took a step back, grabbed Colby‘s hand and dragged him into the bedroom.