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War Wounds

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Dwayne was working through a seemingly endless pile of immigration records from the 1970s when Taylor paused beside his desk.

“Good job on our Somali friend, Carter,” he said.  “He was picked up this morning.”

“Glad to hear it.”

“Keep up the good work,” Taylor said, and carried on his way toward his office.

Dwayne sighed as he went back to wading through forms from March 1972.  Getting himself noticed, in a good way, was helpful, but Taylor was an ass.  He treated them all like they were in kindergarten. 

His morning didn’t get any better, what with the coffee machine breaking just when he was desperate for a fix, and then finding that the 1973 records had gotten mixed in with the 1972 ones so he had to double-check the date on each form as well as the name.  His desk phone ringing somewhere under the pile of paperwork Taylor had just dumped on him was the last damn straw.  He finally managed to find it and all but snarled down it.  “Carter.”

“Hey, Dwayne, it’s Colby.  Colby Granger.”

Dwayne sat up straight and got his head back in the game, fast.  “Colby.  How’re you doing, buddy?”

“Good.  Well, apart from this case that’s come up, and Don – my boss – thought you might be able to give us a fuller background with you working Counter Intelligence these days.”

“Sure, if I can.  You want to come over, tell me more about it?”

“Where are you working now?”

Dwayne gave him the address of the offices, arranging to meet him in the lobby – there was no way Granger would have the security clearance to get upstairs, disregarding the fact that would be a very, very bad idea in any case – and to all intents and purposes turned his attention again to the records in front of him.  But his eyes flicked over the information without really taking any of it in, because he was wondering what the hell this was about.  He and Colby had kept in touch openly just enough to be viable as old army buddies, in case anybody ever took a look at them, but this was obviously an official approach from the FBI.  Which meant Colby had decided to surface his relationship with Dwayne.  Which could only mean it was something important enough, or under enough scrutiny, that Colby thought it might cause them both problems if he didn’t and it was later established that they knew one another.

He didn’t get much done in the hour before Colby was due, too busy thinking about what might be going on.  When he finally got the call and went down to the lobby to meet him, they both played it perfectly as a pair of buddies pleased to see one another after too long.  Even while he was careful with what he said, Dwayne couldn’t prevent the grin that split his face at the sight of Granger, all scrubbed up and in his FBI suit, which broke with long-standing Bureau tradition by looking mighty fine on him.  It was good to see him, and good to give him a proper hug.  Cover stories be damned - it really had been too long.

When Colby told him what was going on, he promised to do some digging and to get in touch, and they parted.  Except Dwayne couldn’t quite help himself and he pulled Colby into another hug before letting him go again.  He knew he’d be seeing him in a few hours – the first hug had been cover enough for him to slip the piece of paper containing time and address into his pocket – but he was damned if he was going to pass up the opportunity when Colby would have no option but to accept the physical contact and hug Dwayne back.

He was still smiling as he watched Colby leave the building – because that was a hell of a rear view - but his smile disappeared as he turned back to the elevators.  He had work to do.  He needed to find out just how the FBI had decided Kim’s death was suspicious, especially so damn fast.  Colby would obviously tell him all he knew, but Dwayne had contacts that Colby didn’t know about.  Contacts who might be able to fill him in on some of the higher level stuff that a mere FBI field agent wouldn’t know anything about.

 

Colby was already in the hotel room when Dwayne arrived later that evening.  He was standing by the window, angled so nobody from outside could easily see him even through the slatted blinds, looking out over the constant stream of traffic below.

“What’s going on, Granger?”

Colby hesitated briefly.  “This one’s big,” he said at last.  “Big enough for DC to be watching.  When your name came up in the investigation, I figured it would look suspicious if anything came out later and I hadn’t let on that I knew you.” 

Which was pretty much what Dwayne had figured.  Just as well to check these things though; even with someone he knew as well as he knew Granger, it was dangerous to assume.

“What’s the progress on the case?” he asked, sitting down on the bed.

Granger snapped the blinds shut completely and turned away from the window to look at him.  “Not much.  It was definitely murder.  She’s got more than a hundred thousand in her bank account, and she got a call from an untraceable cell just before she left the club.  That’s as much as we’ve got.”

That was good to hear.  So far they’d found nothing he hadn’t expected, though he was pissed they hadn’t bought the hit and run.

“You got anything else for me?”

It was as if a shutter closed behind Colby’s eyes for a second.  He did this every time, like he was in denial over what he was doing.  It didn’t stop him doing it, and it didn’t stop him taking the money; it was just that his default setting seemed to be believing in the American fucking dream he’d been sold growing up in small-town Idaho, a dream that had been exposed for what it really was in the mountains of Kunar. 

Extracting a memory stick from his pocket, Colby passed it over.  “It’s the usual encoding.  You know the drill.”

Yeah, Dwayne knew the drill.  Dwayne had taught Colby Granger the damn drill so he didn’t appreciate being patronised, thank you very much.  Except he knew hat Colby was always edgy at these meets until business was done.  It wasn’t that he was nervous, exactly, just unsettled.  So Dwayne didn’t say anything, just tucked the drive away before wandering over to the mini bar and snagging a couple of beers.  Drinking like this was the expensive way to do it, but it all added to the plausibility of their alibi if anyone ever went looking.  It was why he always chose mid-range hotels in a certain geographical area, even if the hotels themselves were decided on with the sort of randomness only a dart thrown at a map could generate.  From what Colby had told him, even that wasn’t truly random, mathematically speaking, but it was close enough for Dwayne.

With the business part of the meeting concluded, Colby sat down in the leatherette armchair with his beer, while Dwayne claimed the bed again.

“You been up to much lately?”

Colby shook his head regretfully.  “The job’s eating my life.  I can hardly remember the last time I got to go surfing or play a round, let alone anything else.  How about you?”

“Pretty much the same,” Dwayne said.  What he didn’t say was he preferred it that way; preferred it so he wasn’t haunted by thoughts of his son, who he wasn’t allowed to see any more.  And the harder he worked, the more likely he was gain promotion, which would give him access to even more intel.  Which in turn would mean more money, which would mean he could afford the type of fancy lawyers who’d get Andy back for him and have enough left over for them to live in the way God intended, some nice house in the hills, and never have to want for anything again.  It had crossed his mind once or twice – maybe more often, if he counted late night fantasies – that Colby would join them in that life. 

“Figures,” Colby said, and took a mouthful of beer.

Dwayne hated the strained conversation they were reduced to these days.  It was so different from before, when they practically finished one another’s sentences and you never saw one of them without the other.

The two of them had been like that Sinclair guy was with Colby these days.  Colby didn’t know it, but Dwayne kept a careful eye on him.  He didn’t like what he saw – Sinclair, far too friendly; Reeves, teasing if not outright flirting with him; Eppes, treating him like a puppy who needed training rather than respecting everything Colby had been through, everything he’d done. 

And then there was Edgerton.  It might have been the case that Dwayne had been part of the general hero-worship in Afghanistan – it was impossible not to have been, given what he did out there – but now he’d seen the person behind the legend, he didn’t like him.  He didn’t like the way he was so easy with Colby.  He didn’t like the way he looked at Colby sometimes.  It would be difficult to do anything about him, given how unconnected with any of Dwayne’s business he was, but that didn’t mean it was impossible, and some nights Dwayne amused himself by thinking about calling in some of his contacts and making sure Edgerton was taken care of.  Hell, maybe Colby’s whole damn team should be gotten rid of, except then it would take time for him to worm his way into another one and to be trusted enough to get the good intel.  Yeah, maybe not.  And it wasn’t like Dwayne would ever really do it, but it kept him warm at night sometimes thinking about it, thinking about Colby coming to him for shelter in the aftermath.

They ended up reminiscing, as they did more and more these days.  The past was easy.  The past was safe.  So they talked about friends and acquaintances, those who’d made it and those who hadn’t.  After a while Colby looked at his watch. 

“Subtle, Granger,” Dwayne said.

Colby shrugged.  “We can’t be too long,” he said, “not if we want to be consistent.”

“You know what, fuck consistency.”  And what the hell had gotten into him?  Dwayne was meant to be the professional here.  “It’s been too long since we just hung out without all this bullshit.”

Colby nodded, but wouldn’t meet his eyes, his gaze instead resting on Dwayne’s hands.  “We’ve got to be careful.  Especially now, with this case being live.”

Which, if Dwayne was not mistaken, was a pretty clear indication that Colby too expected that things would be different in the future for them.  Dwayne put his beer to one side, got to his feet, and started to undress.

Colby hesitated, the way he usually did these days.  Like they’d never done this in Afghanistan, adrenaline pumping from fear and the dizzying feel that came from surviving the odds, and needing to feel like they weren’t alone any more.  Maybe Colby was taking his cover story a bit too seriously – the closeted agent who met once a month with the only person he could trust with this.  Dwayne still thought this was one of his best ideas, and that was saying something given his track record.  Who was going to question ex-military about being careful over meeting for gay sex when the spectre of DADT stalked them so closely?  And like he’d explained to Colby, more than once, leaving evidence behind them of just what they’d been using the room for would make their story unassailable if they were ever investigated.

Colby finally got with the program and joined Dwayne on the bed, where his seeming reluctance eventually disappeared.  Dwayne chalked the initial lack of enthusiasm up to whatever it was that had Colby so unsettled each time they met – anxiety about being found out, perhaps, or the whole thing of going against everything he’d been brought up to believe was right and which only bitter experience had taught him was a complete pile of crap.  Dwayne hadn’t had that same problem; on finding out what his country really wanted from him and just how little it was prepared to give him in return, he’d simply made the adjustment to his world view and moved on.  But then he’d never been as naïvely trusting as Granger. 

 

“I miss you,” Colby said into his neck afterwards, his words quiet and raw.

“I’m right here,” he pointed out, though he knew what Colby meant.  Brief meetings once a month or so just weren’t the same, though at least this way they were sharing something that bound them together against the rest of the world.  This way Colby was his and his alone.  He looked at his hands, disfigured and ugly on Colby’s smooth skin.  The scars were more of a mark of honour than any medal he’d been given. 

 

“It won’t always be like this,” he said to Colby, knotting his tie just before he left.  “You know that, right?”

Colby nodded.  He was back over by the window, though the blinds were still shut tight. 

“Give me ten minutes,” Dwayne said.  “And for God’s sake, keep me posted on that investigation.”

“You got it.”

 

Granger was as good as his word.  Hearing about the facial modelling that the academic Eppes was doing on the CCTV footage, Dwayne tied up some loose ends and got ready to move.  But even with Granger’s dire warnings about Eppes’s stuff being practically infallible, Dwayne didn’t really believe they’d be able to ID him.  He’d been careful, and math wasn’t magic.

All of that said, there was a nagging feeling of something bad coming that he just couldn’t shake.  He broke the protocol he’d established by getting Colby to meet him again, despite their previous meeting being so recent.  Just in case. 

He’d broken with habit, again, and was already drinking a beer by the time the door opened and Colby walked in.  He squinted; what he’d first taken for a shadow turned out to be a line of dark bruising beginning to show on his neck.  “What the hell happened to you?”

“Some dumbass at the chop shop they tracked the SUV to,” Colby said, and his voice sounded a little strained.  He took the beer Dwayne handed him but didn’t do anything with it.  “Michelle Kim.  Were you the driver?”

“Oh for God’s sake,” Dwayne snapped at him.  “You know the drill – ‘need to fucking know’, Granger.  And that’s not a confirmation either way.”  Granger should really know better than to question him, especially with that tone in his voice that sounded like disapproval.  For God’s sake, he was a spy.  Did Granger think that meant drinking martinis and playing with gadgets all day?

Granger just nodded, and twisted the cap off the beer.

“Is there anything new?” Dwayne asked.

“Charlie’s still running his program, and they seem to be relying on that to give them anything more.”

“If I have to go…”

Colby’s eyes held his, wide and intense as he waited for what Dwayne was going to say.

“I’ll get in touch when I can.  The usual way.”

“Okay.”  Colby took a drink.  “Uh – so if you’re not in LA any more, who do I report to?”

And then beer splashed on his shirt as Dwayne shoved him back against the wall, his arm across those bruises on his throat.

“Fuck it, Granger – that’s what you’re worried about?”  He pressed in harder for a minute just to remind Colby, whose every muscle was tense in his effort not to fight back.  Then he dropped his arm and took a step away.  “You’d have burned to death

if it wasn’t for me, and all you want to know about is the money?”

“No!”  Granger’s voice was tight and loud, and he cut himself off from whatever he’d been going to say next.  “You know we’ll stay in touch anyway.  But if someone comes up to me and makes overtures, I want to know if they’re legit or if it’s Homeland sniffing me out.”

That actually made sense.  “I don’t know.  I’m meeting with my handler later to find out how they want to play things.”

“You want me to come?”

Dwayne put the beer bottle down on the desk and looked hard at Colby.  It wasn’t like him to be pushy.  Dwayne didn’t like him being pushy; he was the one in charge here. 

“You know what, forget I said that,” Colby said. 

“Sure,” Dwayne said, but his eyes were still narrowed on Colby’s face.

“Look, maybe it’ll all work out and you won’t have to leave.”  And Colby looked so hopeful at that thought that Dwayne remembered this was Colby, not some random contact he’d made who he didn’t know if he could trust.

“Let’s hope so.  Who the hell else is going to pull your ass out of any more messes if I’m not there?”

“Exactly,” Colby said, and let Dwayne tug him close.

 

They stayed in bed some time afterwards, not talking, just lying there, knowing everything might be about to change.  Colby didn’t say anything about the mark Dwayne had left on his neck.  A mark he’d positioned exactly right, he saw with satisfaction when they finally got up and Colby put his shirt back on.  With the collar buttoned, only the very top of it was visible.  A casual viewer probably wouldn’t notice it was different in nature to the other bruising on Colby’s neck.  Anyone who could spot the difference was looking far more closely than they should be.  If Edgerton were to come back this way in the next few days, he’d sure as hell notice it, understand what it meant, and back the hell off.  Colby understood too, he thought, as he saw him touch it lightly.  If Dwayne had to go, at least there was a tangible mark of his presence in Colby’s life.  For now.  Crap, if he had to leave LA and lie low for anything more than a few months, they’d have to work something out.

He pushed Colby against the wall when he should have been leaving, and kissed him, his hands biting into Colby’s arms as he did so because he didn’t want to let go.  If he’d let go all those years ago, Colby Granger would be nothing more than a memory.  He had a bad feeling that if he let him go this time, things would never be the same again.  But he had no choice.  He’d never had a choice when it came to Colby.

 

It was early Thursday morning when he got the red flag from Colby.  While not entirely unexpected, it had his heart thudding hard.  Maybe, with the benefit of hindsight, he’d have done things differently – gotten out first, then somehow, though he still didn’t know how, made contact with his handler.  But getting out without warning might just have ended up getting him dead, and he knew enough of the FBI to know he’d have to be having a pretty damn slow day for them to catch him.  He took his chances.

It wasn’t till Colby showed up on the dock that he realised any chance he’d had was gone.  Colby wouldn’t have shown unless it was all over.  He made the offer anyway, just in case there was enough time for them to make it out together, but Colby’s response told him everything.  So then it was all a matter of play-acting, establishing his activities in the most favourable light – clueless and blackmailed -  and all the while strengthening Colby’s cover because he might need Colby’s help to get out of this.

The one thing that had caught him by surprise had been Colby’s response when Dwayne had pulled the gun on him.  Sitting in his cell days later, with too much time on his hands, Dwayne thought back over that and he wondered.  In that instant, it had been clear Colby believed that Dwayne might actually shoot him.  And hell, Dwayne would be lying to himself if he didn’t admit he’d been tempted, just for a minute, because even if commonsense told him he’d never have made it out of territorial waters, there was no getting round the fight or flight reflex.  But when Colby had looked away from Dwayne and bowed his head, like Dwayne would actually do that to him, or like Colby felt he deserved it, yeah, that made Dwayne wonder.

Maybe Colby had misread something and Dwayne would need to put him straight.  He knew that Colby had done what he’d had to.  That didn’t mean he wouldn’t hold it over Colby once he was out of here, though – a man saves your life by risking his own, he could expect a little more in the way of gratitude.  Maybe if Colby had thrown himself to the wolves, it would have given Dwayne time to get clear.

But for whatever reason, he hadn’t, so Dwayne had ended up with the short straw.  He knew he’d get out of here eventually – he was small fry, at least in the eyes of the Americans, a belief he’d been happy to nurture - but it would probably take a while for the usual horse-trading to be done.  He’d just have to wait. 

 

When he heard, some months later, that Colby had been arrested, Dwayne sat up and took notice.  The resulting mess stopped the horse-trading in its tracks, but that didn’t worry him because he knew there was now a bigger plan in motion.  All he had to do was trust Colby, and they’d be home free.