“I’ve got this, Don.”
Don glanced up from collecting the loose crime scene photos scattered around the war room to find David looking back at him.
“You should get some sleep,” he said, gesturing Don to pass over the few photos he’d so far managed to gather. “Go home.”
If he weren’t so tired Don might have smiled at the easy authority David was developing these days.
“Thanks man,” he managed, leaving David to clear the mess. He made his way to his desk, where he found another member of his team waiting for him.
“You want a ride home?” Colby asked.
Don wondered just when his badass Violent Crimes squad had turned into a bunch of tag-teaming mother hens, but right now he wasn’t complaining.
“Sure,” he said, grabbing his jacket and making an abortive reach for his papers before remembering the case was closed.
Colby was quiet on the way to the parking garage, which Don was grateful for. They’d gotten the perp before more people got hurt, but that still left three innocent men dead. Three families and who knew how many more lives devastated because of one man’s twisted power games.
“Some days I wonder why we do this,” Don said, sighing as he closed the car door.
Colby shrugged as he put the car in drive. “Someone’s got to.”
After a moment’s pause to consider, or maybe it was just because he was looking for his swipe card to get out of the garage, he added, “Besides, we’re good at it.”
Don felt himself smile despite his best attempts because yeah, that was the goddamn truth. Sinking back into the seat, he closed his eyes, trusting to Colby to get him home.
He woke up to Colby’s voice saying his name.
“You’re home, Miss Daisy,” he said when Don finally got his eyes to stay open.
Colby was carefully casual. The car engine was off but the key was still in the ignition and his seatbelt was buckled, leaving it completely up to Don. It always was up to Don, of course, but he appreciated that there were no assumptions being made.
“You want to come up?” he asked as he opened the car door. He didn’t actually wait for an answer; he didn’t need to. He knew Colby would be behind him as he let himself into his apartment. It was still the mess he’d left it in two, or was it three, days ago: dirty dishes on the coffee table, and the towel from his last shower still haphazardly over the couch for some reason he couldn’t now remember.
He heard Colby closing the front door behind him and, turning, gestured in the general direction of the kitchen. “Help yourself.”
God only knew if there was any food there, but there were takeout menus if not.
“You want anything?” Colby asked him, on his way to the kitchen.
“Later,” Don said. Right now he wanted nothing more than to get clean and fall into his bed. He heard Colby rooting around in the fridge as he stumbled his way towards the bathroom and peeled off clothes that he’d been wearing for far too long.
Stepping under the warm shower felt like coming back to life. He liked the pressure high so that the water was hard on his body, scouring off the dirt the job brought them into contact with, and right now it was damn near perfect. He closed his eyes, enjoying the sting of the spray and the way the water sluiced down his body, and felt himself begin to relax for the first time in more than a week.
He was just reaching out for the soap when he felt Colby’s solid body press warmly against his back.
“Here,” Colby said, “let me.”
And Don did. He let Colby’s hands work over his body, slippery with soap, and allowed his head to hang down so that, between Colby’s touch and the water pressure, the knots in his shoulders and neck had no choice but to start to unravel. From there it didn’t take long to realise that he wasn’t quite as tired as he’d thought as Colby’s hands continued to move over his body, and once Colby dropped to his knees in front of him it was no effort at all to bury his fingers in Colby’s wet hair and push into his mouth, fucking in slow and easy. And damn, but Colby was good at that. Too damn good because Don wasn’t going to last, and his head banged back against the tiles as he lost himself in Colby’s mouth.
He was aware as if from a distance of Colby turning off the shower and rubbing a towel over him before manhandling him through into the bedroom, and any minute now Don was going to tell him just what he thought of being treated like a child, but maybe he’d close his eyes first, just for a minute.
Yeah, he’d show Colby who was boss. Any time now.
Liz hated Tuesday mornings. Tuesday was the day her favourite barista had off. She still hadn’t worked out what it was he did to her coffee to make it so much better – maybe it was simply the flirty smile he always served up along with the coffee – but on Tuesdays her coffee run on the way to work was always lacking.
Adding insult to injury on this particular Tuesday, she got to the office to find David had gotten in before her and had already made the coffee in the break-room. She and Megan had suspected it was a tactic on David’s and Colby’s behalf to make the worst coffee they could so they wouldn’t be expected to make it again, but that deduction had been called into question the time they’d seen Granger happily drink his way through an entire pot of so-called coffee he’d made which nobody else would touch, and then turn round and make another pot before anyone could stop him. That explained Granger’s coffee – he’d burned his tastebuds away long ago with the tar he drank – but whatever the hell it was Sinclair did to the poor innocent machine remained a mystery.
“Coffee?” She blinked as a steaming Grande seemed to materialise on her desk, and looked up to find Nikki grinning at her.
“Figured you’d need extra after the week we’ve had,” she said. “It always that intense round here?”
Liz nodded. “Pretty much.”
If anything Nikki’s smile grew wider. “Good,” she said. “I heard stuff about you guys when I got assigned here. Nice to know it’s true.”
“What stuff?” Liz wasn’t all that interested in inter-office gossip but desk-delivery of good coffee definitely deserved some courtesy in return.
“Oh, you know,” Nikki said, leaning a hip against Liz’s desk as if she was settling in for the long haul. “There’s your clean-up rate and the genius brother – I mean that stuff’s practically in the newsletter – and there’s how Don Eppes ‘always gets his man’.”
“Did you just use airquotes?” Liz demanded.
Nikki shrugged. “I’m just sayin’. I think they forgot what country we’re in. Either that or Don breaks out the Mountie outfit on weekends.”
Liz snorted into her coffee. That gave her some visuals she certainly wasn’t going to share, though from the smirk on Nikki’s face she didn’t need to.
Speaking of which…
“Morning Don, Colby,” Liz said.
Don nodded and Colby gave a half wave as they walked past. Nikki had taken the hint and headed back to her desk, taking her Venti and cupcake with her. Liz briefly mourned the cupcake but there were always the red velvet ones in the vending machine for later. If she got really desperate.
Taking a sip of the coffee Nikki had brought her, Liz watched Don and Colby talking with David in the break-room. If she hadn’t already known about Don and Colby, she’d never have suspected from watching them. She’d been taken by surprise the day a couple of months back when Colby had met her on the walkway outside the building and asked in an uncharacteristically tentative way if he could talk to her. She’d agreed and followed him over to the railings, where he’d seemed more intent on leaning on his folded arms in the sunshine and watching the cars passing underneath than doing anything else, let alone looking at her.
She’d given him a couple of minutes – he was from Idaho after all – but it became increasingly apparent that he’d been struck dumb. And more interestingly…
“Are you blushing, Granger?”
“No. Yeah. Maybe?”
“So what did you want to talk to me about?”
He took in a breath as if he was about to face a firing squad and for one horrible moment she’d thought he was going to ask her on a date, so it was actually a relief when he came out with it.
“Don and me, we’re sort of seeing each other,” he’d muttered, managing to look her in the face for at least three seconds.
“Sort of?” she’d asked.
He’d shrugged and not answered, concentrating on looking into the mid-distance like there’d been something really interesting there instead of office blocks and afternoon sunshine hazy with pollution.
She’d looked at Colby’s face as he’d determinedly stared into space, the colour in his cheeks not subsiding in the least under her scrutiny. She’d always thought he was a decent guy – well, apart from those weeks during the whole spy thing – and the fact he was telling her about this confirmed that. Yeah, because it wasn’t like Don would have had the balls to tell her face to face. It wasn’t like Don would even think she might prefer to know rather than be blindsided if it blew up. She wondered whether to say something to Colby, to warn him about the potential Don had to hurt people who cared about him, but she thought it wouldn’t be welcome. And it wasn’t as if Don ever meant to hurt people. He just did.
So she’d let Colby off easy.
“Thanks for telling me.” She’d meant it.
He’d nodded. “Figured you should know.”
“Appreciate it, Granger,” she’d said, slapping his shoulder as she walked away. His very broad, firm shoulder, which was kind of a surprise now she actually thought about him and Don together. He wasn’t Don’s usual type.
“Oh, and Granger?” She’d almost got to the doors before turning back and raising her voice to carry across to where he was still standing at the railings. She had to be careful what she said with so many colleagues around – neither Don nor Colby were officially out at the Bureau so far as she knew – but she couldn’t let it go completely: Colby was just too much fun to tease.
“Yeah?” He’d turned round and was looking at her, eyes screwed up slightly against the sun, but finally looking more like an FBI agent and less like an overripe tomato.
She pitched her voice to carry to him – and everybody else – with ease.
“Just remember to switch off your radio before the two of you start making out on stakeouts.”
Fire trucks had nothing on the colour of Colby Granger’s cheeks.
She’d been still smiling slightly when she reached the office, but had decided not to tease Colby too much. It wasn’t as if dating the boss was the easiest thing in the world to do, especially when your boss was Don Eppes.
Liz glanced now at Colby as he pushed the break-room door open, bickering with David as they headed to their desks, cups of questionable coffee in their hands. It was none of her business what was going on between him and Don so long as they didn’t bring it into the office with them.
Then Don got the call about First Mutual Bank, and introspection went out the window.
“What have you got, David?”
David looked up as Don’s voice cut through the hubbub around him. He’d been comparing notes with Colby.
“Three robbers, all in hoodies and Michael Jackson masks, semi-automatics, got the contents of the tellers’ drawers and shot one of the tellers who didn’t move quickly enough.” She’d been frozen in terror, according to her colleagues. “They took off in a white Camray they’d parked right outside. None of the witnesses we’ve spoken to so far have been able to ID anything about them, not even their ethnicity. We’ve pulled the plates from the CCTV and LAPD have an APB out, but so far nothing.”
“Looks like the same MO from last month over at Riverside,” Colby put in.
Don’s unamused look summed up what David was feeling. They’d had precisely nothing to go on from the Riverside robbery, not unless you counted a nice mugshot of Michael Jackson from the security footage.
“As we’ve got a pattern establishing, Charlie might be able to help,” Colby said.
“And we’ve got a bullet now which might tell us more,” David added. Even if it was still somewhere in Maria Torres, who was currently undergoing emergency surgery.
Don looked seriously unimpressed so Colby and David exchanged glances and melted away to go do something crucial elsewhere. While details from the Riverside robbery might help them solve this if they were in fact dealing with the same crew, Don hated being reminded of their failure. And Don being on edge made Colby tense, and didn’t that make David’s day even better.
“Fun times,” Colby muttered to David as they left the scene later.
“And it’s still raining,” David complained, opening the car door. “It’s LA – it’s not supposed to rain this much.”
“You wouldn’t feel if it you had any hair.”
“Just because you don’t appreciate style when it’s in front of you.”
“I appreciate style just fine, but that’s not what I’m seeing.”
“You wouldn’t know style if it bit you in the ass.”
“Least it’d bite my ass, not run screaming.”
“Hey, you want to go for a beer later?”
Colby thought for a moment as he pulled out into the slow-moving traffic. “Sure,” he said. “So long as we get away from work before dawn.”
Thankfully – or not – they managed to leave work at a time that made them seem almost like regular people, because they just didn’t have anything to go on. The techs hadn’t found anything; the bullet from bank teller, who’d died on the operating table, hadn’t shown up any matches for weapons linked to any previous crimes; and the getaway car – which turned out to have been stolen forty minutes before the robbery – was found torched two miles away on a piece of waste ground which had a number of access routes.
Charlie was doing something with the data from this and the previous robbery that probably involved algorithms or equations, but so far it was nothing more than scribbles on a chalkboard.
All in all it was one of those days when David was pleased to leave the place behind him. He’d been looking forward as well to chewing over stuff with Colby, who he hadn’t seen so much of off the clock since he’d hooked up with Don. And that was something that David had tried to avoid thinking about ever since Colby had told him. Since the Chinese shitstorm Colby seemed to have made it a point to tell David everything that was going on with him. The downside of that was that David would have been much happier not knowing some of those things.
While it was nice to catch up over a couple of beers, to be with somebody who just got it about the job without having to have it explained, Granger was being particularly annoying tonight.
Colby just forgot sometimes that he couldn’t get away with that shit any more, not without payback.
So conversation was dropped in favour of watching the game on the screen behind the bar and David found himself slowly relaxing from the frustrations of the day. It was good not to have to worry about anything for once.
Next day it was clear to anybody within a five mile radius that Don wasn’t in the best of moods. He didn’t do well with failure at the best of times; when someone ended up getting hurt because of something he thought was his fault, he was like a bear with a sore head. Colby kept his head down, along with the rest of the team, as they trawled through hour upon hour of surveillance video from the bank, businesses around the area, and traffic cams.
Don’s frame of mind wasn’t improved by Charlie’s briefing. Not least, Colby thought, because Charlie explained his processes in excruciating detail when he could have skipped straight to his gloomy conclusion.
“…So I’ve managed to identify areas with elevated geographical probability, but we’re still looking at a large number of potential targets.”
The street map of LA that he brought up on the screen had a depressing number of red dots on it, each representing a potential target that met all the criteria.
“The difficulty is that without a lot of information my projections are going to be fairly general. There has to be a pattern to the location of the banks chosen and the origin points of the stolen cars, but I need more data in order to assign values.”
Don sighed. “Have you got anything that’ll tell us when they’re likely to hit again?”
“As for that Don, it’s very interesting. For both robberies, there was a heavy rain shower in progress, which had been accurately forecast.”
“Aw, come on, that’s got to be a coincidence,” Nikki broke in, so dismissive that Colby almost winced for her greenness when it came to Charlie.
Charlie of course jumped on the chance to educate yet another FBI agent on the mathematical reality of coincidences whilst simultaneously pointing out the odds of heavy sustained rainfall in LA and the odds of the same crew robbing two banks during that occurrence. Colby could feel a math headache coming on.
Liz was frowning. “I get that it was part of their planning, but what advantage is there to robbing a bank in the rain?”
“Fewer people on the streets, those people minding their own business hurrying to get places without taking any notice of what’s going on,” Charlie posited.
“And less customers in the bank to either get in the way or be witnesses,” David added.
Don shrugged. “Makes sense.”
“Is there any way you can work out why these guys are hitting LA instead of, say, Seattle, if they’re going with wet weather?” Nikki asked. At least she was embracing the math, even if she did seem to see it as a magical solution.
Charlie shook his head. “I don’t have enough information.”
Colby was sure he was about to explain in minute detail the type of information he might need and which mathematical principles he would be violating in attempting to answer her question without that information, so he broke in quickly with a thought of his own.
“Maybe there’s other bank robberies by the same crew but with different masks or clothes. Any way you can broaden your search to look for unsolved robberies with a similar but not identical MO?”
“Sure,” Charlie said. “It’ll take me a while, but if I can start data mining your records for, say, the last six months to start with and then –”
Don cut in on what sounded as if it was going to be a long and enthusiastic explanation. “See what you can do, Charlie, okay?”
Charlie nodded absently, staring at the board again, mind obviously off somewhere on its own path already.
“There’s fuck all else we can do tonight,” Don said, sounding really pissed about that fact.
Nikki raised her eyebrows in pointed comment after Don had left the war room, but none of the rest of the team met her gaze as they filed out after him out into the bullpen. It didn’t sit well with any of them, Colby knew, to be stuck with no way forward unless they got lucky with the previous week’s security footage from the bank. And there would be a fair amount of luck involved in identifying the one person out of hundreds who was really there only to case the place.
Rotating his neck and shoulders to ease the stiffness from where he’d been hunched over staring intently at a screen for most of the day, Colby tried to work up some enthusiasm for more of the same tomorrow. Maybe they wouldn’t have to; maybe Charlie would figure something out.
“You coming, Colby?”
It wasn’t so much a question as a summons. He grimaced slightly at David as he got his jacket from the back of his chair, and followed Don out of the office. There was sympathy in David’s expression, but it was mixed up with an expression that Colby could only read as ‘What the hell are you doing, Granger?’
Colby didn’t know how to answer that question because he didn’t know what he was doing. All he knew was that it was Don, and with all the good stuff that went along with that there was other stuff that, yeah, maybe wasn’t quite so easy.
He’d worried a bit about the thing with Don bleeding over into the job, but years of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell meant it was still second nature not to let it; at work Don was the boss and that was all there was to it. Apart from the times he sucked on those coffee stirrers, because Colby was only human after all. Then there were the thigh holsters, of course; they might cause the occasional lapse from complete professionalism but whose brain wouldn’t stutter when Don looked like that? Those vague fantasies about Don holding him down and fucking him hard in the locker room were sadly never going to come true, but he supposed the whole point of fantasy was keeping it just that. So yeah, keeping it out of the office wasn’t really a problem.
The trick sometimes was figuring out when Don stopped being the boss and became Don, because that line seemed to move daily, depending on Don’s mood. And sometimes it wasn’t that Don was the boss, but that Don was just Don – stubborn, uncommunicative, and infuriating as hell.
Just like he was when they got back to his apartment. Colby knew better than to say anything. He knew that he should just keep his head down and let Don work through it, but since when did he ever just shut up when he should? And he hated that Don was so hard on himself the whole time, and figured that maybe he could get through to him.
“Look, it’s not your fault, Don. It’s not anyone’s fault except the scumbags pulling this shit.”
Don whirled round on him from where he’d been pacing round the living room, his strides jerky and full of anger.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about – I’m responsible for this. If we’d found them last time, this would never have happened.” He jabbed his finger at Colby to underline his point. “Maria Torres would still be alive right now if I’d done my job properly.”
Colby spread his hands appeasingly where he was seated on the couch. “You can’t go through life thinking like that. You can only do the best you can and then let the rest go, or you’ll twist yourself up so badly you’ll end up really screwing up.”
“Sounds like something you’d know about, Colby.”
And shit, Don knew how to aim low when Colby overstepped his boundaries.
Colby started counting to ten to stop himself saying something that would blow everything up beyond repair. He got to eighteen before Don dropped some takeout menus on Colby’s lap.
“What d’you fancy?” he asked.
“Italian?” Colby didn’t really care, but figured it best to take the olive branch when it was extended.
Don phoned the order through then went to take a shower, coming back in faded FBI sweats. Colby followed suit – he’d taken to leaving a small duffel in his car with a change of clothes for the office and gym clothes – and came back through in time to find Don paying the delivery guy and taking in bags with savoury smells that had Colby’s stomach rumbling within seconds.
He trailed Don through to the kitchen and got his wrist smacked hard when he tried to snag a meatball, only for Don to pick it up, tossing it from hand to hand till it cooled enough to pop into his mouth.
“Get some glasses,” he said, or at least that’s what Colby thought he said through his mouthful.
Snagging a meatball successfully this time – and damn, they were hot – Colby opened the cupboard where Don kept his wineglasses and pulled out a couple, all the while sucking in air over the hot mess of spiced meat in his mouth. He didn’t know if Don wanted red wine glasses or white wine glasses so he just went for the biggest ones. It’d been that sort of a day.
Don was opening the last bottle of wine from the rack when Colby put the glasses on the counter.
“Thought that was for your Dad,” he said.
“I’ll get some more before Sunday,” Don said, shrugging. “Anyway, this way we get to find out if it’s any good – you know Dad’s picky about his wine.”
Colby snorted. “Just a bit.”
Alan Eppes invited the team round for meals fairly regularly and it had become an informal team bonding activity to panic over what wines were and weren’t acceptable to take as a gift. All had been good when Megan was still with them – they’d simply sent her to the liquor store with a stack of bills and she’d bought a suitable bottle from each of them – but now they were left scrabbling.
They took loaded plates and glasses of red wine through to put them on the coffee table, and watched the game while they ate. Rather, Don watched the game; hockey wasn’t Colby’s thing, so he ate his food, enjoyed the occasional fight on the ice, and watched Don, seeing the way that food and wine and a lack of demands being made on him began slowly to smooth the lines of strain from his face.
Some days Colby thought it might have been the best thing to happen to Don that he didn’t make it into the majors back in the day because he would have felt responsible for each and every defeat, and nobody could function for long under that sort of pressure. He felt the same responsibility at the FBI of course, but at least there Don had a good team round him who’d try and tell him it wasn’t all up to him – and he had his family too, which was important to Don. Was important to most people, really, but he knew Don would feel rootless without Alan there, and Charlie too.
“Hey, you not watching this?”
He looked up from his thoughts to find Don had turned sideways, one arm propped on the back of the couch, and was looking at him.
He shrugged guiltily; he hadn’t a clue what the score was. “I was hungry.”
Don made a soft noise in his throat and leaned in, his hand going to Colby’s cheek to hold him in place as his mouth covered Colby’s. Colby opened up to Don’s heat, just as he did every time; it’d been one thing that had really surprised him, just how much Don liked kissing. And how fucking good at it he was.
Don’s tongue pushed between his lips and Colby came back at him, until it ended in a tussle as both were intent on kissing but also trying to find a way for this to work on the damn couch that was really not the right shape for this. Colby ended up astride Don, knees splayed either side of Don’s thighs as they kissed, and trying to get those sweats off so he could touch skin.
“Damn it, Colb,” Don said with something that was almost a laugh when Colby had to grab the back of the couch to avoid falling off after Don pushed forward a bit too enthusiastically, “You’re too big for this.”
“Never had any complaints before,” he grinned, bending down to get at Don’s mouth again. For a moment Don melted under him, opening up and letting him take the lead, but he should have known better, because Don’s hands were working their way into his sweats, finding the hot length of his cock, and then all Colby could do was pant unevenly against Don’s neck.
“Bed,” Don said, and who was Colby to argue. Specially if it got them off this damn couch that might look fancy but was not designed to have sex on. Don’s bed, on the other hand, was a thing of beauty and Colby had been thinking about replacing his own ever since he first saw the acres of California King that dominated Don’s bedroom. Right now he wasn’t so much seeing it as feeling it because somehow he’d ended up out of his clothes and on his back under Don, and he wasn’t complaining – oh, God, he so wasn’t complaining about either of those things right now.
Don was pushing into him and Don was above him and in him and Colby pulled him down for a bruising kiss, messy and deep and so damn good. The muscles in Don’s arms were limned in the orange light that filtered through the blinds from the streetlamps outside, the same light that masked his eyes, and Colby wanted to touch and lick but Don had that rhythm going already, the one that always brought Colby to pieces under him and it was too late for either of them to do anything but hold on.
Afterwards they lay tangled up on the comforter and Colby knew that soon the cooling sweat and come would become unpleasant, but not yet, not while they were both still breathing hard and not yet quite sure whose body was whose.
After a few minutes though Don made a regretful little noise and moved away from Colby. He headed for the bathroom to dispose of the condom while Colby managed to rouse himself enough to pull the covers back and get into Don’s bed. For the first few weeks he’d gone home after, till Don had said one night he might as well stay as it was closer to work. That way, he’d added with a grin, they’d get to have morning sex as well. So now Colby stayed, and the bed was big enough that they could share it all night and never touch until he’d wake up with Don’s hands and mouth on him, bringing him up through the last layers of sleep for a morning hand job or blowjob. And then it was all business and rushing to get into the office.
One of the unexpected side-benefits to screwing the boss was that Colby got into the office earlier these days. He wasn’t entirely convinced that was a benefit rather than a drawback, but he couldn’t see how to refuse an incentive package like Don.
Nikki had been hopeful that Charlie would have been able to magically come up with something they could use, but apparently he was still working on it. She was working her way through the list of stores that sold adult-sized Michael Jackson masks in the greater LA area when Liz tapped her on her shoulder.
“Lunch,” she said. “You want to grab something from the sandwich bar down the street?”
“Sure,” Nikki said, grabbing her bag. She’d been ready for the last hour. “Anyone else coming?”
“Don’s in a meeting and David and Colby have already taken off,” Liz said with a slight roll of her eyes, indicating just what she thought of their manners.
“Course they have,” Nikki grinned. “Abbott and Costello are joined at the hip, after all.”
“So which one’s which?”
“Sinclair’s Abbott,” Nikki said instantly. “He’s the straight man of the two. So to speak.”
“Should I be disturbed by how quickly you answered that question?” Liz asked as she jabbed the elevator button for the lobby. “And what do you mean, so to speak?”
Nikki nodded her head meaningfully at her. “You know,” she said. “David and Colby.”
“David and Colby?” Liz repeated blankly, as the car stopped and they stepped into the lobby, crowded with people either heading out for lunch or coming back.
“Them being together,” Nikki said, once they’d negotiated the crowds and were outside. She grinned at Liz. “I know the team thinks they’re keeping it a secret, but everyone knows. It was one of the first things I heard when I asked round after I got my posting.”
“Uh-huh,” Liz said. “Just what did you hear?”
“That Granger’s some sort of poster-boy hero and that Sinclair is on the fast track to management unless he stays in LA for Granger.”
“Right,” Liz said.
“And Don’s banged nearly every agent in most of the agencies, and his brother’s a boy wonder.”
Nikki was concentrating so hard on the thought of lunch that the hand grabbing her arm and swinging her around was a complete shock. She stared at Liz. She’d never seen her look so furious.
“Don’t you ever be that disrespectful to Don again,” Liz bit out. “He’s a damn good team leader and an amazing agent and you’re damn lucky to be on his team. He deserves every bit of your respect, you understand?”
Nikki nodded, amazed that a harmless bit of gossip would provoke such a reaction. “Okay,” she said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t – ”
“You didn’t think,” Liz finished for her, releasing her arm.
That wasn’t what Nikki had been going to say but it was probably safer not to point that out.
“It’s just gossip,” she said.
“And that’s another thing you’ve got to learn about the team,” Liz said. “We don’t gossip about one another. Not one of us would talk about you like that.”
“Look, I’m sorry,” Nikki said, realising she’d screwed up big time. “I know Don’s a great agent. I was really excited to be on his team.”
It was the truth and, despite him tearing her a new one on a regular basis, she was still excited to be working with him. As for the other thing, she should remember that she was still the new guy on the team and they wouldn’t trust her fully, not yet – and she was cool with that, she knew how it rolled – but after years as a cop she had finely honed observational skills. She could see how David and Colby gravitated towards one another and finished one another’s sentences, while the whole ‘going out for a beer after work’ thing wasn’t fooling anyone. It would be cute if they weren’t so annoyingly smug.
By the time they reached the sandwich bar Liz seemed to have got her zen back – and Nikki had had no idea she could be that scary – and once equipped with chicken salad on rye (Liz) and smoked turkey and mozzarella on wheat (Nikki), they headed back to the office chatting about plans for the coming weekend, apparently as if nothing had happened. It had been a good reminder though that for all her enthusiasm and hard work, Nikki was never really going to be a ‘joiner’: she always seemed to say the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person, and people tended either to like her for that, or like her despite it. They just had to get to know her first.
She remembered that when about an hour after lunch Agent Sexy walked through the door of the war room and into the middle of their briefing. That was somebody she wouldn’t mind getting to know a whole lot better. She was convinced his recovery rate was down to the fact that the fugitives he was after simply keeled over at his hotness once he got close to them.
“Edgerton,” Don interrupted himself to greet him, and holy hell, she didn’t know Don Eppes could smile like that.
Agent Sexy’s smile was, predictably, mysterious and sexy as he looked round the room. And damn it, she had to stop calling him that even in the privacy of her own head because that man’s ego didn’t need the slightest bit of stroking. She wouldn’t mind stroking some other bits of him, though.
It was interesting watching the effect Agent Sexy had on everyone. The first time she’d met him, she’d been too filled with thoughts of ‘hot damn’ to particularly notice anyone else’s reactions. Watching now, there could be no doubt he affected them all. Charlie was like a puppy with two tails, and it was evident that Agent Sexy – damn it, Betancourt, Edgerton – was fond of ‘The Professor’, treating him with a respect and kindness she hadn’t seen him show anyone else. Then there was David who’d brightened noticeably at his arrival and was now concentrating intently on everything he had to say. Colby had practically blossomed on the spot when Edgerton had smiled at him, though now…. Hmm, that was interesting. Perhaps David was a little too pleased to see Edgerton because Colby was looking less happy as time went on.
Liz was either hiding anything she was feeling or the woman was made of stone, and this was the most relaxed Nikki had seen Don Eppes in days: he was actually smiling. Maybe they should have Agent Sexy on the team permanently; he already spent more time working with them than he did any other squad in the continental US according to the rumour mill. But then she might have to kill either herself or him because while he was sex on legs, he also had an ego the size of the Hoover Dam.
By the time she’d managed to bring her brain back on track, she realised Edgerton had been explaining what had brought him here. Apparently some rainy-day robbers had been busy in Chicago back in the 90s, and Edgerton was convinced that a fugitive called Rod Marriott who’d been involved with those robberies was behind the LA ones.
“He pulled five bank jobs before getting caught. Eight months ago he went over the wall with a fellow prisoner, Lamont Brown. I followed Brown when they split up; by the time I went back for Marriott the trail was cold.”
“It’s not too clever using the same method that got him caught last time,” David said.
“It worked for him, though,” Don pointed out. He’d been reading the file Edgerton had passed to him when he’d walked in. “He only got caught in Chicago because there were two off-duty cops in the branch when he hit it.”
“But why LA rather than somewhere more rainy?” This was still bugging Nikki.
Edgerton cocked an eyebrow at her, which was not in the least bit sexy. “Once we’ve got the answer to that question, we’ve got him.”
He gave them a rundown on everything he had on Marriott, and they broke up to pursue their own areas. Nikki’s brief was deep background on Marriott.
“Right down to the brand of toothpaste he uses,” Don had said.
“From what the tellers said, I don’t think he brushes his teeth,” Colby had muttered. He’d been quiet this afternoon. Maybe he was still sulking over his boyfriend being so pleased to see Edgerton.
Nikki headed for her desk, glad to have the chance to do something more challenging than combing through video and determined to show Don – and Liz, following her foot-in-mouth episode at lunch – just what a valuable addition to the team she was.
Don offered Ian a coffee – though Ian knew his way round just fine, it seemed like the polite thing to do – and they ended up in the break-room. The next thing Don knew, Ian was in his personal space in the way that only Edgerton seemed to manage. Don concentrated on pouring coffee into two cups rather than on the fact that if he took one very small step forward he’d be pressed against the length of Ian’s body.
Ian took one of the filled cups from him, but didn’t move away. “You got plans for later?”
Don hesitated. He didn’t want to tell Ian about Colby because that would change things between him and Ian. He was pretty sure though that Colby wouldn’t take it too well if he didn’t, and he didn’t want to risk losing the ongoing regular and easy sex he had with Colby for just a few nights with Ian, no matter how tempting a proposition Ian was. He also suspected that Ian might end up shooting him if he found out that Don had lied to him, even by omission.
He cleared his throat before speaking but his voice still came out sounding slightly hoarse. That had nothing at all to do with how close Ian was standing and how it felt to have that level of intensity focused on him.
“Uh, so here’s the thing – I’ve kind of hooked up with Colby.”
Ian’s eyebrows rose as he looked at Don, then he turned to survey Colby, talking to Liz at her desk.
“Can’t exactly fault you for that,” he said, after a minute’s careful inspection..
There wasn’t much Don could say to that without getting into a discussion about the finer points of Colby Granger, so he took a mouthful of coffee.
“So,” Ian said, “You and Granger got plans for later?”
Don choked, coffee going up his nose.
“Damn it, Edgerton,” he managed, just as the break-room door opened.
“Excuse me, Ian,” Colby said, shouldering his way in between them to get to the coffee machine.
Don knew that his agent liked his caffeine – if by ‘liked’ he meant ‘was dependent on at a cellular level’ – but he’d never seen Colby practically run somebody down in his need to get to it before. He refused resolutely to meet Ian’s gaze past Colby’s suddenly looming presence because he just knew the amused expression he’d find if he did.
Taking the less than subtle hint, Don took a couple of steps back and gestured to Ian to get the milk out of the fridge and – with willpower that showed just how he had risen to the heady heights of squad leader – managed not to look as Ian bent down to retrieve the carton. Instead he found Colby had matched his retreat with an advance of his own and was as much in his personal space as Ian had been just moments before.
“Liz thinks she’s got something,” he said. “She wants you to take a look.”
“I’ll be there in a minute,” Don said.
Colby gave a sort of grunt and sent a narrowed glance at Ian before turning away.
“Pup’s trying out his teeth,” Ian said with a smirk as the break-room door closed behind Colby. “It’s cute.”
Any other day, about any other agent, Don would have laughed with Ian, but something about Ian’s easy judgment of Colby flicked him on the raw.
“Sorry, Don,” Ian said, when he saw Don’s expression tighten. “I didn’t know you were serious about him.”
And wasn’t that just fucking wonderful, because Don wasn’t.
“So does that mean later’s off the table?”
Don chewed on the stirrer Ian had handed to him along with the milk. That was the million dollar question.
“I’ll talk to Colby,” he said.
Don found it harder than he’d expected to find the words to ask the person he was currently sleeping with if he wanted to have a threesome with Don’s previous occasional sexual partner, who was really only previous and occasional because of geography. And when he put it like that, perhaps it wasn’t surprising the words weren’t coming easily.
He’d ask, he would; he just didn’t want to screw things up with Colby by asking, and he didn’t want to risk Colby saying no. He had to get the words right, but somehow he didn’t think Hallmark had any ready-made verse he could trip off his tongue for this one.
By the time he reluctantly decided to call it a night at the office, he still hadn’t found the words, but when he called Ian who was off doing who knew what mysterious sniper/hunter/tracker thing that Ian did when he was in LA and not doing Don, he gave him the name of a bar and a time to meet him and Colby anyway. No way was he going to pass up on Ian if he could help it.
Getting Colby to the bar was the easy part. Don got him away from David and into Don’s car before he knew where he was going or why, though Don prompted him to grab his duffel from his car before they left. Don tried not to take advantage of it but he had to admit there were times Colby’s Pavlovian reaction to Don’s orders came in handy.
He only told Colby where they were going as he was about to make the turn into the parking lot of the bar. They rarely went out anywhere together but Colby seemed to take the information in his stride so once he’d parked, he told him they were meeting Edgerton. Colby didn’t say much. Actually, he didn’t say anything. Maybe he was waiting for Don to say something more. Don didn’t know what more there was to say.
They found Ian in a booth in the back, a pitcher of beer and three glasses on the table. Colby squeezed in opposite Ian, and Don sat next to Colby. There was an awkward silence until Ian started talking about the case, careful to say nothing identifying in public but nothing that wasn’t easy enough for Don and Colby to follow.
Twenty minutes later Don had a better handle on Marriott and his habits and his personality than he’d had before, and had finished most of a rather dubious lasagne. So far so good. But he was no closer to getting an answer to his problem, unless it was getting all three of them completely loaded and pouring them into his bed. That scheme had definite attractions, plausible deniability being among the best of them.
Colby nudged past him after a while, excusing himself for an alleged call of nature, which doubtless had nothing to do with the uneasy atmosphere.
Don steeled himself to look across the table at Ian’s frustrated expression.
“Don, he’s an ex-Army Ranger, an FBI agent, for God’s sake – he’s not exactly a shrinking violet. Just put it to him.”
Don fidgeted. “He’s kinda skittish,” he said at last.
Ian stared at him. “Only you, Eppes. Only you could find an agent built like a linebacker who’s skittish. What the fuck, man?”
And when he heard it put like that, Don snorted a laugh. The two of them were still grinning when Colby came back.
“I miss something?”
“Nothing that bears repeating.”
Don moved out from his seat to let him back in. That was probably a tactical error because he was still sliding in next to Colby when Ian spoke.
“You ever had a threesome, Granger?”
“I’m not drunk enough for this conversation,” Colby said firmly and, picking up his beer, started rectifying the fact.
Don sent the sort of meaningful message across the table at Ian that would have taken half a flock of carrier pigeons to deliver, at which point Edgerton all but rolled his eyes and decided it was his turn to take a break.
“Me and Ian,” Don said, once Ian had left. “When he’s in town, we usually hook up.”
Colby sighed. “Yeah.”
Don opened his mouth, though he still didn’t know what he was going to say.
Thankfully Colby spoke across him. “Look, if you want to hook up with Edgerton, just do it.”
The resignation in his voice made Don pause for an instant. He got the feeling that if he were to do that, whatever he and Colby were doing would be over.
“The thing is, Colby,” he said, carefully reviewing his words before letting them out, “I told Ian about us. Told him it’s a twofer, yeah?”
Colby snorted but it didn’t sound too amused. “So I’m bargain basement at Walmart now?”
Don fought the urge to beat his head against the table. This. This was why he didn’t do relationships any more because they were so damn difficult and always blew up in his face somehow.
“I’m saying that Edgerton’s here and we could have fun,” he said. He knew the booth behind them was empty but he lowered his voice further anyway. “What, you never thought about fucking and being fucked at the same time? Never wanted to be held down with more than one pair of hands and one mouth on your body?” He leaned in close enough that his breath moved against Colby’s ear as he said, “Never thought about Edgerton that way?”
And knowing Colby the way he did had given him the way in, if the faint colour now staining Colby’s cheeks was anything to go by.
“I mean it,” Don said, hoping so very, very much he wouldn’t be called on it, because then he might just have to kill someone. “This only happens if you want it.”
Edgerton, with his usual uncannily perfect timing, slid back into his seat across from them both. Colby looked at Ian, and Don would have laid money that he was unaware of the lip lick he gave as he did so.
“Whatever you want,” Ian said, and managed to imbue an innocent-sounding statement with utter filth.
Don’s hand slipped to cup the curve of Colby’s neck where he was now looking down at the table. The way Colby’s pulse was thundering beneath Don’s fingertips, Don figured he had his answer, but he wasn’t going to assume a thing till Colby told him in plain words. Which wouldn’t take long because Ian was so fucking good at this – reading Colby’s slightest reactions like they were bent blades of grass on a path, invisible to everyone but him, while his low voice spun its web.
It was interesting hearing what Ian found turned Colby on: the thought of the three of them so fucking desperate they only made it into the alley at the back of the bar, where Don held Colby against the wall, hands held above him, fucking into him hard and fast while Ian watched, followed by Ian sliding in where Don had just been, slow and teasing and refusing to give him satisfaction.
“You want to do this?” Don knew the answer, but he needed to hear it.
“Yeah.” Colby still wouldn’t lift his gaze from the table, but there was no doubting the sincerity in his voice, low and rough as it’d been. “Only thing is,” he added, shifting in his seat, “I don’t think I can go anywhere for a while without getting arrested for public indecency.”
And fuck, Don wanted to feel the evidence of that for himself but not here, not in public like this.
“Don’t worry,” he said instead. “You’ve got two experienced FBI agents covering your back.”
Colby flat-out groaned. “Not helping, Don,” he said. “Not helping at all.”
The drive back to Don’s was pretty much Colby’s definition of cruel and unusual punishment, with Don’s right hand warm and predatory on Colby’s thigh. The lights from Ian’s car behind them cast shadows which Don took advantage of, fingertips rubbing against the inseam of Colby’s jeans, till Colby had no option but to slide down a little in his seat and let his legs open further. All of which met with Don’s approval if the little huff of amusement that passed his lips was anything to go by, though he didn’t once take his eyes off the road. Fuck it, maybe Colby really was just that easy, but who could blame him?
When they got to Don’s, Don turned and looked at him, his hand now still and reassuring on Colby’s thigh.
Colby thought Don was checking he was still on board with the whole thing, so he leaned over to show him just how on board with it he was. It was beginning to turn into more than a kiss, however thorough, when there was a tap on Don’s window. Ian was standing next to the car.
“Take your time,” he said to Don as they got out of the car. “I wouldn’t want you to worry that I might be feeling left out or anything.”
Don’s resulting smile at Ian held both heat and affection and Colby froze for a second at the sight before determinedly shaking it off.
Colby was last through the door of Don’s apartment, and was slightly surprised to see Don heading into the kitchen with his usual offer of a beer. Not that he thought they would all jump one another the minute they were through the door, exactly, but… well, he wasn’t quite sure how this was going to happen. It was like that awkward moment on a date when he never knew quite what was expected and whether he’d cause offence if he made a move or if he’d be considered rude if he didn’t.
He and Ian followed Don to the kitchen because Don was the bridge between them. It seemed like the same thought had occurred to Don because instead of reaching into the fridge for beer, he paused for a moment and then closed the fridge door.
“C’mere,” he said to Colby, reaching out and pulling him closer by his belt loops.
Colby went easily, though when Don’s mouth first met his he was aware of Ian watching and he hesitated. But then Don’s tongue fucked into his mouth with unmistakable intent and Don pressed against him, and all Colby could do was hang on for the ride.
“That’s nice,” Ian said in a low, approving tone, and Colby realised he’d moved closer to them. He wavered again for an instant, but Don’s tongue just wouldn’t let him do any more thinking and Colby groaned as Don’s hands slid over his ass and pulled Colby tight against him.
“Can’t wait to see you fuck him, Eppes.”
Don’s fingers were rubbing teasingly up and down the centre seam of Colby’s jeans as he turned from Colby to Ian. Their kiss was open-mouthed and no holds barred, at a level of intensity that left Colby torn between thinking it was the hottest thing he had ever seen and a sinking realisation that this, this was what Don wanted. Colby had been fooling himself if he’d thought he could ever really have Don.
But then Don’s mouth came back to his, taking what Colby had always given him, and those thoughts were driven from Colby’s head even though he could taste Ian on Don’s tongue. Don pulled back after a while and started to move Colby, who went willingly wherever it was Don wanted him. He ended up with Don’s front plastered to his back, the hard line of Don’s cock pressed against his ass as Don undid his shirt, and then Don’s hands started stroking lightly over his skin, blunt fingernails scraping over a nipple and making him hiss. Colby felt the colour rise in his cheeks because he knew Ian was looking at him, eyes taking in every inch of his body, which Don had put on display for him.
Don’s left arm wrapped around his ribs, holding him tight while his right hand reached for Ian’s and guided it to where Colby’s cock was pressed so hard against his jeans. Colby groaned at the touch.
“That what you want, huh? You want his hand on you while I’m inside you?”
Colby’s answer was to push his cock against Ian’s hand. Don was watching over his shoulder, looking down the length of his body as Ian undid Colby’s jeans and his hand worked its way into his underwear, and he felt the smile that Don pressed against his neck as he groaned again at the feel of Ian’s hand closing around him.
Ian leaned in to kiss Colby then, his lips teasing and gentle, so it was no decision at all for Colby to open up for Ian’s tongue. And dear fucking God, Ian was all power and heat and it would be so easy to get lost in it, but Don’s arms were round him, holding him.
It was Don who called a halt to things, Don who got them into the bedroom, and Colby thought with the small part of his brain that was still functioning that maybe he should feel awkward about being half-undressed while the other two didn’t have a hair out of place, but then Ian was stripping out of his clothes with an efficiency that Colby would have expected had he thought about it beforehand. Ian and Don looked over one another’s bodies, evidently more than familiar with what they saw, and equally evidently pleased by it, and Colby found himself staring. Every last inch of Ian was hard muscle, and Colby couldn’t wait to feel that against him. His cock was hard, long and lean like the rest of him, and Colby wanted to touch it and taste it, to have it inside him.
Don moved close behind Colby, his cock pressing eagerly against Colby’s ass as he held Colby like he had in the kitchen, his arm a burning brand across Colby’s chest, holding him for Ian to see. And Ian liked what he saw if the way he moved towards Colby was any indication, moving in close and kissing him. The feel of Ian’s cock, hard and smooth, against his was too much – Colby wanted to touch, but Don held him back.
He understood Don’s motive when Ian dropped to his knees in front of Colby, his mouth just as hot and wet on his cock as it had been on his mouth. As he looked down at Ian on his knees in front of him, the head of Don’s cock damp against his ass, he made a noise that he’d deny to his dying day but which he knew was an honest to God whimper.
Don moved then, easing him away from Ian, knowing how close he was.
“So how are we going to do this?” Don asked, looking at Ian over Colby’s shoulder while his hand ran in idle circles over Colby’s heart.
Ian regained his feet with a grace that Colby could only imagine possessing.
“Looks like your boy needs you to fuck him,” he said, and Colby shivered and leaned back against Don’s warmth.
“How about I fuck you into him?” Ian said, and Don’s breath against Colby’s ear was suddenly unsteady.
So Colby found himself on his hands and knees in the middle of Don’s bed, with Don pushing into him. Don was making sounds Colby had never heard from him before, and he could tell when Ian pressed home inside Don because Don’s body was rigid against his and he was breathing in short little pants against Colby’s back.
Then Don was moving, thrusting into Colby, moving erratically like he was torn between fucking into Colby and back onto Ian. His hand was on Colby’s cock, giving him what he needed, and Don was pleading with him.
“Please, Colby, I can’t – please, you gotta – ” and then Don thrust into him again and it was enough. Colby came all over his hand and the bed, and Don groaned and with a series of desperate thrusts came inside him.
Somehow Colby kept his arms locked, keeping them from falling into a confused mess on the bed as Ian kept pushing into Don, and Colby could hardly see by the time Ian came.
After they’d extricated themselves and cleaned up, Don pulled back the covers on the bed. Colby hadn’t thought this far ahead and had no idea how this was going to work, but Don and Ian seemed quickly to reach an unspoken agreement that he would be in the middle. It was a level of communication between the two of them that left Colby feeling as if he was somewhat surplus to requirements.
Ian settled next to him and, despite the strangeness of having another body so close and the fact that it was Edgerton, it was nice to have the warmth of someone there. And then Don rolled over and put his arm over Colby from the other side, and Colby went from thinking he’d never get a wink of sleep like this to falling under within minutes.
He roused a few times in the night. Each time he did he heard Don’s deep and regular breathing, and he saw Ian’s eyes glinting slightly in the soft orange light that made it through the blinds from the streetlamps. On the last occasion Ian said quietly, “Go to sleep.”
So Colby did.
Ian came awake quickly, as he always did. A lifetime’s habit of watchfulness was hard to break, even here. He began to stretch only to find it seemed he had a Mack truck lying on his left arm. Turning his head, he realised it was Granger. Close enough, then.
“Morning.” Don’s voice was raspy from Granger’s other side, as if he too had just woken up. Granger seemed to be happily snuffling into Don’s pillow, dead to the world.
Ian finished stretching and pondered the ceiling for a few minutes.
“So, you and Granger, huh? I didn’t see that one coming.”
“I don’t think anyone did.” He could hear a huff of laughter in Don’s voice.
Ian turned over onto his side and got himself more comfortable. His left arm appeared to be a dead loss, but that didn’t stop him idly tracing the lines of Granger’s body with his right hand as he spoke. “You think Charlie’ll have anything for us?”
Don yawned, his jaw cracking as he did. “Dunno,” he said. “Probably worked all night on if it I know Charlie.”
“You’re telling me that stubbornness and workaholism is a family trait? Well colour me shocked.”
“I didn’t notice too much work going on here last night.”
“Maybe,” Ian allowed, his fingers following the curve of Granger’s ribs and starting to wander over his stomach.
“He likes that, if what’s currently poking into me is anything to go by,” Don informed him.
“He can hear you, you know.” Granger sounded decidedly grumpy.
“Not a morning person,” Don told Ian helpfully.
“Really? I’d never have guessed.”
Ian’s hand slipped lower, and then Granger was suddenly very awake judging by the way he jolted. “Oh fuck.”
“Not just yet,” Ian said into his ear as he started jacking Granger, slow and easy, until Don got with the program and slid down the bed to take Granger into his mouth. And then Granger decided that Ian could do with a bit of attention himself, and it all ended up as one of the best wake-up calls Ian had had for some little while, not least because he could reacquaint himself with the little tells Don had when he was close, and the way he gasped as he came.
On days like this, Ian sometimes thought about taking a different post at the Bureau. Watching Don walk unconcernedly naked to the shower was both a very nice view and a temptation to settle down, but he knew he’d feel trapped if it became permanent. Not by Don, but the lifestyle. It seemed to be a moot point at the moment anyway, with Granger in the picture.
Glancing at Granger he found he’d gone back to sleep, his mouth open and his hair sticking up on one side of his head. He looked about twelve years old. Getting out of the bed without waking him, Ian retrieved both their duffels from the living room. He was getting out a change of clothes when Don came back into the bedroom, wearing a pair of jeans and towelling his hair dry before throwing the towel at Granger’s head. His reward was a sleepy grumble as Granger pulled the covers up over his head.
“How do you ever get him in to work in the mornings?” Ian asked.
“Threaten to withhold food. That’ll get him to do most things.”
A single finger emerged defiantly from under the bedcovers.
“Just can’t get the staff these days,” Ian sympathised.
“Tell me about it. Breakfast?”
“You mean you’ve got something edible in this place? That’d be a first.”
“Watch it, Edgerton. I can make pancakes as well as the next guy.”
“From a packet mix? I don’t think those count.”
And now it was Don flipping him off, on his way out of the bedroom. Some people had no manners.
Ian hadn’t been in the office more than five minutes when Tim King walked past Granger’s desk, which Ian had temporarily commandeered. They exchanged nods as King made his way over to Don. Ian and King had different specialties but respected one another. From a distance.
It seemed like Don had a slightly uncomfortable relationship with him judging by the body language between them now, each trying to out-alpha the other without making it into an all-out confrontation. Ian saw Liz roll her eyes at the posturing before she took a swig from the fancy coffee she’d brought in with her and returned her attention to the screen in front of her.
The uneasy stand-off got interrupted by Granger’s arrival. Whatever he said to them in greeting caused King’s stern face to crack into a sudden grin, with Granger looking far too pleased with himself to be up to anything except mischief. And then Ian had to stop himself rolling his own eyes with the way Don took a step forward into King’s space and started to herd him away from the apparently oblivious Granger, not-so-subtly encouraging him towards the elevators and back down to his own floor. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so pathetic.
“Colby’s SWAT-qualified,” Sinclair offered. He had apparently noticed Ian watching the floorshow. “Don doesn’t want King getting the wrong idea about whose team he’s really on.”
Ian nodded. He couldn’t tell if Sinclair was running interference for Granger and Don or if he really was just that clueless. Ian liked Sinclair, but he was a bit too rule-bound. Sometimes you had to go outside the lines to get results. Otherwise you’d remain seemingly virtuous, but there’d be a hell of a high body count to be laid at your door.
Before Granger could attempt to oust him from his chair – and good luck on that – Don was signalling them all into the war room. The Professor had worked his magic, it seemed, now that he had the data from previous robberies to slap into his hot pocket analysis (that was what Granger called it, anyway). He indicated an area that he was confident, ‘probabilistically speaking’, contained Marriott’s current hideout.
Don was pumped, finally being in a position where he could take action. He’d been this way ever since Ian first met him. He was able to wait patiently where necessary before exploding into decisive action, but reacted badly when he wasn’t in control of a situation. It went with who he was: too bull-headed and straightforward to play nice with the bureaucrats, though he’d learned over the years to navigate the red tape as necessary to get the job done. It was something Ian had never bothered learning, but then it didn’t affect him as much. He might have to fill out a form in triplicate when he shot some dirtbag in the head, but he figured that was probably a fair trade-off.
Thinking about the non-bullshit way Don ran things round here made Ian wonder about Granger and how Don had gotten past the whole spy debacle to where they were now. Ian hadn’t found it as hard to believe as most when Granger first got arrested; he’d known plenty of good men and women who’d lost faith in everything in Afghanistan, and he understood the bond that existed between Granger and Carter in a way that Don, with no military background, never really could. That didn’t mean Ian hadn’t judged the fucker for what he’d done. When the full story had come out, he’d assumed Granger would get moved elsewhere and that would be the end of that particular chapter for Don. Instead… Well, that was Don Eppes for you. One thing you could always count on with Don: however well you knew him, you could never predict what he’d end up doing.
That was one of the reasons why Edgerton liked him. He’d seen too many cookie cutter agents over the years. Eppes was an old school maverick. An old school maverick who had just tasked his team with single-minded efficiency while Ian had been watching him and regretting that stupid Government-mandated directive about Lead Agents having to wear clothes in the office. Betancourt was going to continue working through Marriott’s prison visitor records and Charlie was apparently going to start on some sort of social networking thingy to identify his contacts in prison to try and throw up any links with LA, while Granger, Sinclair and Warner were tossing up for who would continue ploughing through the video footage and who would get to do some good old fashioned door-knocking in the area Charlie had identified.
Ian intended to have his own scout around the area. No doubt his search wouldn’t be systematic enough to meet with Charlie’s approval, but he’d found in the past that instinct sometimes led him to places he might not have expected.
Colby had drawn the short straw and been sent on the beer run after work. By the time he turned up at Don’s apartment with a couple of six packs, Don had just finished changing the bedding and Ian was – Don hoped – choosing pizza from one of the frankly impressive number of takeout menus that Don had amassed.
“Changing the sheets, huh, Eppes?” Ian greeted Don as he entered the kitchen and put Colby’s beer in the fridge. “Think you’re gonna get lucky tonight?”
“I’m counting on it,” Don said with a grin.
“Really? And what makes you so sure?” Ian pressed him back against the counter, delivering teasing little kisses between his words.
“Pizza, beer – you’re a sure thing, Edgerton,” Don said, settling his hands on Ian’s hips and tugging him closer.
“Is that so?”
“Yup,” Don replied, lips busy on Ian’s neck. Maybe it wasn’t the best comeback in history but he was making up for it with the way his hands were tracing the muscles in Ian’s back in just the way he knew Ian liked.
Ian encouraged his head up and gave him a proper kiss, one that had him forgetting for an instant about pizza and beer and everything that wasn’t Ian’s mouth.
Then Ian pulled away with a smirk. “Dream on, Eppes,” he said. “Pizza and beer? You’re gonna have to do better than that.”
Turning away, he started leafing through the takeout menus.
“Vietnamese good with you, Granger?” he asked, and it was only then that Don noticed Colby was standing in the kitchen doorway. Standing in the kitchen doorway looking awkward, in fact; he was doing that thing he’d started doing for a while after the freighter, hunching in on himself as if pretending he wasn’t really there.
“Yeah, sure,” Colby said, and Ian promptly stuck a menu into Don’s hands.
“Majority decision,” he said. “You get it ordered while I take a shower.”
He waltzed out of the kitchen, delivering a swat to Colby’s ass on the way past. “Sort your boyfriend out, would you, Granger?” he said. “He thinks pizza counts as a meal.”
Don had forgotten how damn infuriating Edgerton could be.
“What d’you want, Colb?”
Colby came over to look at the menu Don was examining.
“I’ll go with the special, whatever it is,” he said.
His lack of enthusiasm made Don look up at him. This was food they were talking about.
“Sure,” Colby said. “You want me to order?”
“It’s okay, I got it.”
After he’d placed the order – it would be half an hour, they reckoned – he grabbed a couple of beers from the fridge and went to join Colby on the couch. Except Colby wasn’t on the couch. Glancing through, he could see Colby digging around in his duffel in the bedroom, so he shrugged, put the beer on the coffee table, kicked up his feet and channel surfed till he found something worth watching.
Ian came through a little later and sat down beside him, taking a beer with every appearance of satisfaction – a satisfaction which soon faded when he saw what Don was watching.
“Stargate Atlantis? Really?”
Don shrugged. “It annoys Charlie,” he said. “Apparently the wormhole physics are ‘entirely implausible’. And they get to fly spaceships and shoot aliens.”
“Well okay then.”
It was the commercial break before Don realised Colby hadn’t joined them. “You seen Colb?”
“Think he’s in the shower.”
“Huh.” Don checked his watch. If he wanted to shower before the food got here he’d better get a move on. Might actually save some water too if he joined Colby.
Sure enough, from the bedroom he could hear the hiss of the shower going, so he stripped off and walked into the bathroom, which was filling nicely with warm steam. Colby had his eyes shut against the water and Don watched him for a moment, seeing the economical moves with which he was rubbing the shower gel over himself, like it was a job to be done. He figured he could do better than that.
Colby jumped when Don stepped in next to him, elbows and shoulders knocking together in the really far too small shower – when he’d bought the apartment Don hadn’t thought to check out the shower to ensure it would easily fit two large FBI agents. That had obviously been an oversight on his part. The good part about it not being too big was that it meant they had to stand pretty damn close together, which made soaping up Colby easy as well as fun. He rubbed the gel in small circles, his fingers sliding over Colby’s slippery wet skin, and felt Colby slowly begin to relax. Huh. He hadn’t realised Colby’d been so tense. Obviously he’d had one of those days.
Once he was fully relaxed – most of him; one part of him was beginning to look a little far from relaxed – under Don’s hands, Colby returned the favour, taking his time and working with the care that had been lacking when he’d been washing himself earlier. By the time they turned off the shower and got dressed, dinner was just being delivered.
There might have been a bit of shoving over the cartons laid out on the counter, which may or may not have led to the junior agent on the scene sighing dramatically and threatening to put the senior agents in time out on the naughty step. Which would perhaps have been more effective if Ian hadn’t looked up with a glint in his eyes, wanting to know more about the naughty step because it sounded like fun.
And after they’d eaten and drunk and watched a documentary on F-22s because fighter jets were cool, Don leaned over to kiss first Colby and then Ian, and after that it didn’t really matter what was on the TV.
Don woke up with sunlight falling across his face, diffused by the blinds but bright enough to bring him out of the best night’s sleep he’d had in a while. He turned over to see Colby tucked into Ian’s side with Ian’s arm over him. It had seemed natural to put Colby in the middle again last night, just as he’d been earlier when Don had slid into his ass and Ian had fucked his mouth, though Don wasn’t sure quite why. Yawning, he rubbed his eyes. Maybe he and Ian needed a buffer between them at times.
Ian was awake now, and no matter how often it happened Don would never get used to how lightly he must sleep because he always came to within seconds of Don waking, even when Don tried not to move.
“Coffee?” Don said quietly, his voice rough with sleep.
“Sounds good,” Ian said and even Colby seemed to agree, stirring and mumbling something into his pillow as Don got out of bed and pulled on some sweats. Or maybe that was not so much the mention of coffee as it was whatever Ian was doing under the covers, because when Don came back through from the bathroom it was clear that Ian’s hands were busy and Colby was a lot more awake than he had been. Don smirked at the dazed look on Colby’s face and the slightly pleading gaze he turned on Don. He wasn’t without sympathy – having the full force of Edgerton’s attention when you were scarcely awake was not something to be wished on the faint-hearted – but as this time he wasn’t the victim for once, he intended to enjoy it.
He went into the kitchen and flicked the coffee machine on, but instead of waiting for it to complete its cycle he went straight back to the bedroom. It was just as well he did because he found Edgerton was now attacking Colby with a single-minded determination, one that Colby wasn’t objecting to in the least if the squirming going on under the covers and the way they were locked together at the mouth was any indication.
“Hey,” Don said in protest. Colby froze for an instant, but Ian looked up with a very self-satisfied expression – and Don knew that anybody who’d had Colby squirming like that underneath them would feel self-satisfied.
“Kind of got my hands full here, Don,” he said. “Maybe you could oblige.”
So Don pulled back the covers completely and oh yeah, that was better. He could see it all now: the long lines of Ian’s body, the strength in Ian as he held Colby who was turning himself inside out trying to move, to do something.
Don was getting hard and he pressed the heel of his hand against himself through the worn cotton of his sweats before sitting down on the couch which that suddenly not quite so stupid interior designer had insisted he had in his bedroom.
Being able to watch Edgerton fuck somebody, when that somebody wasn’t you and you didn’t have to concentrate on not flying apart, was a revelation. No matter how much Colby begged – and he was begging so damn prettily right now – Ian did things his way, and in his own time, as focused and deadly in bed as he was with a gun. Don’s hand was inside his sweats, his cock hard and hot in his hand.
Finally, Edgerton pushed into Colby where he had him pinned down on his back. Colby gave a long drawn-out groan as Ian slid home fully. Ian’s cock moving into and out of Colby was nearly enough to bring Don off, let alone Colby who was making noises that Don knew meant he didn’t have long at all. His eyes were screwed closed, and Don couldn’t be sure but he thought he heard the choked-out sound of his name. He left his sweats in a pile on the floor and got onto the bed where he leaned down to kiss Colby. He knew that with Ian it sometimes felt like you were going to break into so many pieces that you’d never find them all again. Colby was almost too far gone to kiss back but he made a valiant effort, all need and heat and desperation, choked off little sounds ending up in Don’s mouth.
“I got you, Colb,” Don said, his hand soothing circles over Colby’s chest, and Colby came, helpless high pitched noises tearing themselves out of his throat.
Don was almost shaking with need as he knelt up, hand closing around himself, his eyes meeting Ian’s intent gaze as he went back to jerking himself off. He was aware Colby was still somehow trying to meet Ian’s thrusts and that Ian’s movements were becoming irregular as his eyes moved hungrily over Don. As Ian came, Don lost it all over Colby.
Once Ian had gotten rid of the condom – Don making a mental note that he really
needed to empty his trash can before the maid service next came – they lay in a sated heap on Don’s bed in silence for some time, Don’s fingers idly moving through the come on Colby’s chest, mixing his with Colby’s. Then he leaned over towards Ian, who met him halfway, and they kissed hard until it ended the same way as usual, with neither sure who had won.
Ian bent down and kissed Colby then, slow and easy. After that it was Don’s turn to roll tight against Colby and kiss him. Colby opened up straightaway for him, just as he always did, and Don lost himself exploring Colby’s mouth.
He had no idea how long they’d been kissing before he realised that Ian was gone. He put his head down on the pillow next to Colby, and let his eyes slowly close.
He came to some time later, with a familiar smell tickling at his nostrils. Colby was stirring too, and within seconds sat up with a speed Don didn’t normally associate with him and mornings.
“Is that bacon?” Colby asked.
Don’s mouth was watering. “Reckon so.”
And for what was possibly the first time ever, Colby was out of bed before Don.
“Shower,” Don said.
“Bacon,” Colby said.
He pushed Colby in the direction of the bathroom. It was like trying to move a warm, muscled, and reluctant brick wall. “Believe me, you’ll thank me. And don’t worry, I’ll save you some.”
Finally Colby gave in, and as he started on what was probably going to be the shortest shower in history, Don quickly washed, pulled on some jeans and went through to find Ian was cooking up a storm in the kitchen. There were eggs and grits and mushrooms and tomatoes and bacon and pancakes, and Don knew damn well that not one of these things had been in his apartment when they’d gone to bed.
He poured a coffee from the machine and sat down at the breakfast bar, giving a satisfied little groan as he sniffed the aroma coming from his mug. “Made a grocery run?”
Ian glanced up from the stove. “It’s a mystery to me how you’re not running the Bureau yet.”
“Hey, some of us still haven’t had coffee,” Don said. “Anyway, you might want to be polite seeing as I think you’re just about to get upgraded from legend to god.”
“Didn’t you know? Colby ran your fan club out in Afghanistan. They had these cute little badges with your name on and slumber parties and everything.”
Ian looked delighted, not to mention proprietorial. “You mean I’ve got my very own groupie?”
“He’s not yours,” Don bit out before he knew what he was saying. And shit, where the hell had that come from?
He winced and raised his coffee mug in apology, more than a bit embarrassed. After subjecting Don to a searching look, Ian nodded and turned back to the stove.
It looked like Ian didn’t need to make any claim to Colby, Don thought, given the look of awe and delight on Colby’s face when he walked into the kitchen two minutes later to be handed a heart attack on a plate.
“You got plans for today?” Don asked once they’d all settled in the living room to eat. Don only had two stools at the breakfast bar, which he now thought possible grounds for action for discrimination against the kitchen fitters.
“Thought I might head down to the range,” Ian said. “I fancy a nice soothing day.”
Colby looked up briefly from his beloved bacon. “I’ve got laundry to do, and mail to pick up.”
And then his face brightened suddenly as if he was remembering something.
“Mail, huh?” Don asked. “Anything in particular?”
“No.” Colby dug his fork into his pancakes with ferocious concentration.
“Granger, how the hell do you survive undercover with a game face like that?” Ian wanted to know.
“So what is it?” Don pushed. “Another army doll?”
“I’m sorry, what?” It wasn’t often Ian Edgerton looked confused. Don treasured the moment.
“Army dolls,” he said with a nod in Colby’s direction. “He’s got a whole collection of them.”
“They’re military action figures,” Colby protested.
“Well okay then,” Ian said.
He waited a beat for Colby to relax again before asking, “You got any sniper dolls?”
Don smirked as Colby choked. He was so damn easy.
“Have you heard from Charlie?” Ian asked Don, grabbing them each a bottle of water from the fridge.
“I spoke to him this afternoon but he hasn’t got anything he’s ready to share with us yet. Nothing definite, he’s just really excited about another way he’s thought of approaching it all. Something to do with windmills, I think.” Don sounded about as confused as Ian felt.
“I guess we don’t have to understand it to use it.”
“I know, but I don’t understand why he gets so excited over it, almost compulsive, you know? I mean, it’s math. How exciting can it be?” Don frowned at his bottle as he twisted the top off.
“You’re asking the wrong person. But you know what it’s like, putting evidence together and knowing a picture’s emerging. Are you telling me you stop and go home when that happens, Eppes? Maybe the two of you are more alike than you know.”
“What are you, my shrink?”
“You’ve got a shrink now?”
“I live in LA. What do you think?”
Ian’s lips twitched briefly. Don really wasn’t as subtle at redirection as he liked to think. Or maybe he was, because he chose that moment to take a draught from his water bottle, putting the long line of his throat on display.
Ian moved forwards, into Don’s space, his hands resting lightly on the counter either side of Don.
“I think there are other forms of therapy,” he said, leaning into Don but not quite touching.
“Oh yeah?” Don’s lips were millimetres from his. “What did you have in mind?”
And that was all the invitation Ian needed, taking Don’s mouth in a kiss that had adrenaline pumping through him in seconds. They stumbled their way to the bedroom, leaving a mess of discarded clothes in their wake. It was hard and it was fast, just how it always was between them, but while Don might have won, Ian hadn’t exactly lost, not with Eppes fucking into him the way he did.
It was late evening by the time Colby got to Don’s. He hadn’t intended to be so tardy but there’d been a good swell running and it had been a while since he’d had a chance to get out there on his board. He’d also needed the peace that he found when out on the ocean, where there was space to think.
When Don had asked him about Ian joining them, he hadn’t realised that would mean that Edgerton would become a fixture for the entire time he was in LA. He also hadn’t expected that, far from Ian joining them, it would end up feeling like Colby was the one joining Don and Ian. Watching them teasing and kissing in the kitchen last night had made Colby only too aware of how effortlessly easy their relationship was, and how very different it was from the way things were between Colby and Don. Worse, it had made Colby realise how little there actually was between him and Don. Then there was the fact that when the two of them were together they seemed to operate on a whole different level of sexual intensity to the rest of the human race. Which was understandable, given they were Don Eppes and Ian Edgerton, but that didn’t really help Colby.
Sitting out on the water in the dying sun, Colby had thought that maybe he should just save himself any further humiliation and call it quits now. But he wasn’t quite ready to do that yet because he was a tad on the pathetic side and this was Don.
Don, who opened the door to him shirtless, in black jeans with the top button undone. He looked rumpled and satisfied, leaving no doubt at all in Colby’s mind what he’d spent at least part of the evening doing. With Edgerton, and without Colby. Colby’s heart plummeted but Don’s face lit with a smile and he pulled Colby in by the front of his shirt, closing the door behind him before pushing him against the wall. Don kissed him slow and deep, mapping his mouth as his hands were moving over Colby’s body, like he was reacquainting himself with it. He was loose-limbed and relaxed, and there was an openness there that Colby wasn’t used to. Right now he didn’t care even if it was due to Edgerton – Colby could definitely get used to Don being like this.
Don eventually drew back slightly to nip at his lips, before slowly pulling away entirely.
“You hungry?” he asked. “There’s leftovers if you want something.”
“Yeah, that’d be good.”
He kicked his duffel into the corner and followed Don to the kitchen, where he found him getting plates of what looked like real food out from the fridge. Jasmine rice, and chicken in sauce, and –
“What’s that green stuff?” Colby asked.
“Huh? You mean the broccoli?” Don looked adorably confused with his dishevelled sex-hair and his brow furrowed and goddamn Colby did not just think of adorable and Don Eppes in the same sentence.
“I dunno,” he said. “It looks like broccoli, but what’s it doing in your apartment?”
“Hey, I cook,” Don said.
“Sure,” Colby agreed absentmindedly, helping himself to a plate and starting to ladle out spoonfuls from the various dishes. “Not like this though.”
“Yeah, Edgerton got bored of shooting things, I think. I came back and he was doing this whole Masterchef routine.”
“Didn’t hear you complaining at the time.”
Colby looked up to find Ian leaning against the kitchen doorway with his arms crossed, highlighting the muscles in his arms and his bare chest. He too was wearing only a pair of jeans. Colby was beginning to approve of the dress code round here. He came over and kissed Colby hello, so thoroughly that Colby almost forgot to hold onto his plate.
They found a channel showing one of the Bourne movies, but while eating his seriously good impromptu meal, helping it down with wine from the bottle Don had opened, Colby couldn’t shake the feeling that he was an antelope that had been cut out from the herd and caught between two big cats. Two big cats who were currently lazing around, but never quite taking their eye off their prey. It wasn’t long after he’d finished his meal that he realised he was going to be dessert.
He tried to give as good as he got but he was outnumbered and outmanoeuvred and ended up pinned down between them on the couch, panting against Don’s neck as he came all over Ian’s hands.
They spent the rest of the evening in as relaxed a tangle as Don’s couch would allow. Colby was relieved to find that their closeness seemed to be smothering his earlier doubts.
Ian had somehow got last dibs on the shower on Sunday morning. That had the drawback of the bathroom already being a little steamy and soggy from its previous occupants but the benefit of being able to take as long as he liked and use every last drop of hot water if he wanted.
After amusing himself trying out the different settings on the showerhead – it had eight; Eppes could be a bit precious, though Ian had to admit the pulse massage was pretty awesome, meaning he soaped up all over again just to get the full benefit – he finally managed to pull himself away and went in search of coffee. Don and Colby were leaning against the counter in the kitchen, with Colby devouring a stack of toast. He pushed his plate over towards Ian in invitation when he saw him. Ian appreciated that for the sacrifice it was and took just the one piece to chew on while he poured himself a coffee.
Colby shoved the last pieces of toast into his mouth and turned to rinse out his mug in the sink.
“I’ve got to go,” he said, once his mouth was more or less empty. “I’ve got a ball game down the Center with David and some of the kids.” He looked over at Don. “See you at work tomorrow?”
“Come round later,” Don said. “I’ll be back here by nine.”
Colby ducked his head, but Ian was pretty sure he saw the hint of a pleased smile round his mouth as he picked up his duffel and left.
“You’ve got plans then?” Ian asked Don.
“Dad has me and Charlie and Amita round for dinner every Sunday to lecture us on marriage and grandkids.” Then he frowned. “That’s not fair,” he admitted. “The lecturing is a by-product. He just wants us to spend time together when there’s less chance I’ll get called away by work.”
“Granger doesn’t go along?”
“Your dad – ”
“Dad’s fine with the whole thing about me liking guys. He just doesn’t need to know about this.”
Ian sipped at his coffee. He’d seen Don getting increasingly gun-shy when it came to relationships. He couldn’t really blame him given how disastrous his track record was, but he hadn’t realised how bad things had gotten. Looking now at Don’s tight unhappy face, Ian wondered if he should say something. He wasn’t exactly the best person to talk about relationships but at least he wasn’t in the middle of one and trying to fool himself that it didn’t exist.
“Look, if I tell Dad or Charlie then it becomes this thing,” Don said at last. “And then it all ends up a clusterfuck, like always.”
He rubbed his hands wearily across his face, the cost of every single one of his many clusterfucks showing.
Ian took the coffee pot over and gave him a refill.
Don kept his eyes fixed on his mug. “Only time it’s not gone wrong is with you.”
“That’s because I’m never here more than a few days.”
Don huffed what might have been a laugh. “Yeah, probably. Because if you were here… I don’t know. We’d most likely end up killing one another.”
“Because you don’t know how to back down, and I won’t.”
They were silent for a while.
“It’s been different this time,” Ian said at last, offhandedly.
Ian sipped at his coffee again.
Don finally unpeeled himself from the kitchen top. “I should go,” he said. “I said I’d give Dad a hand at the house today. There’s a spare key on the hook if you need one.”
Ian nodded. He’d been planning on spending the day walking the area that Charlie’s hot pocket analysis (damn it, Granger) had identified, getting the feel of the place, the hideouts and the ambush points and maybe getting a bead on Marriott. It was good to know he had somewhere to come back to.
It was a little after nine when Ian answered the knock on Don’s door. Granger was there, with that ever-present duffel over his shoulder. Would it kill Don to let him leave it here? Given their conversation this morning, yeah, Don probably thought that it would.
He let Colby in and noticed the way he immediately glanced around the apartment.
“Don’s not back yet,” he said.
Colby nodded, looking somewhat awkward and unsure of himself. It might be because for the first time they were alone together without Don, but Ian suspected it had more to do with the fact that it was Ian who’d been making himself at home in Don’s absence while Colby was treated like a visitor. Saying that Don had a few issues was akin to saying Charlie quite liked numbers.
Ian liked Granger. He’d thought he was a good man for Don to have on his team – being ex-military meant he didn’t shy away from mixing things up when necessary. That, his tendency to make smartass comments, and of course the whole spy thing had been all he’d known of him before the last few days. Now he could add to the list the fact that he was easy to be around, that something about him seemed to have worked its way under Don’s skin, and that he was delightfully slutty in bed. And also that having him there seemed to have changed the dynamic between Ian and Don in an unexpected way that Ian was still working on figuring out.
Determined to make the situation more natural than it felt right now, Ian sat back down in front of Discovery channel. Colby joined him, beers from the fridge in his hands, seemingly with the same intent.
“I love shark week,” he said, passing a bottle over to Ian as they settled to watch a tiger shark taking a seal apart with brutal efficiency.
“I wouldn’t mind going swimming with sharks sometime,” Ian offered.
Colby looked at him doubtfully. “I can see how that would work for you but I think anyone else would just get eaten. I think I’ll stick with dolphins. They’re friendly.”
“You know many dolphins?”
“Some days they’re out there in the surf,” Colby said. “Some days I just sit on the board and watch them playing.” He paused for a minute before gesturing with his beer as he spoke. “It’s quiet out there. Easy. Free. Brings everything back to basics, you know?”
And Ian did know. With their job, they needed something to do that, or the job would eat them alive. Colby obviously had his surfing and Ian had his wilderness, but he didn’t know what Don had to keep him balanced. Don could get pretty close to the edge at times. Ian did too, but he always knew exactly what he was doing. Don was another matter – it would be all too easy for him to fall.
“You ever take Don surfing?”
Colby looked surprised at the question. “Not really,” he said. “We’ve gone sometimes but I don’t think it’s really his thing. He likes it fine, but it – it’s a sport to him. Like baseball, he wants to be as good at it as he can be.”
“So what is it for you?”
Colby seemed to struggle to put it into words. “It reminds me there’s something bigger out there. I guess like Larry and his stars, you realise how things just keep on turning, regardless. Everything gets put in perspective. And when you catch that perfect wave, you can’t do anything except be in the moment.”
He flushed slightly and looked down, as if unused to sharing such private thoughts. Ian could understand that.
“Sounds like the way the backcountry is for me,” he said.
Colby nodded slightly, Ian thought as much in acknowledgement of his openness as what he had said.
“D’you ever get tired of moving round all the time?” Colby asked
“You mean do I want to settle down somewhere, have the daily commute to work and the standing order at the grocery store?”
Colby shrugged. “Some people like that.”
Colby turned his bottle round in his hands as he considered the question. “I think maybe I do right now. After everything, it feels…”
He tailed off, apparently unable to find the words he wanted, but Ian thought he knew what Colby meant: he needed to know he was no longer down the rabbit hole where nothing and nobody had been what they seemed.
“How about you?” Colby asked a little abruptly. “Do you want that?”
Ian had been asked that question a lot over the years, but he didn’t usually answer it.
“I like the freedom,” he said after a moment, “But the hunt’s the reason why I do it. So long as that’s there, that beats any amount of settling down.”
Then he glanced at Colby and told him something he’d only just admitted to himself. “It might be nice to have a base, though.”
And at this rate, they were going to start braiding one another’s hair any minute now.
Taking a swig of beer, he steered back to less dangerous waters. “It’s good to visit civilisation occasionally – you get proper showers and don’t have to worry about waking up to find a moose sitting on you.”
“Does that happen to you often, the moose thing?” Colby asked.
“It’s been known.”
The door opened, and Don came in looking a little harried and glancing at his watch. He relaxed when he saw them both there, and then his face brightened as he saw what they were watching.
“Oh hey, sharks.”
He nudged Colby over towards Ian so he had room to sit down. The couch really was too small for three grown men, unless those three grown men were very familiar with one another.
“How was it?” Colby asked.
“Rib eye,” Don responded, as if that answered the question. Judging by Colby’s expression, it did.
Ian sat back on the couch, enjoying the warm solidity of Colby’s thigh pushed against his and remembering just how easily and eagerly those thighs had opened for him that morning when Ian had licked Colby’s nipple and then bitten down on it. Ian’s hand started to work its way up under Colby’s t-shirt, trying for the same effect again, this time running the edge of his nails over Colby’s nipple. Colby made a strangled sound and sure enough, his legs parted.
“Sharks,” Don said meaningfully, nodding towards the TV and for all the world sounding like a weary parent chiding naughty children. But Ian noticed that his hand was now on Colby’s thigh, his thumb digging into the muscle while his fingers were playing with the inseam of his jeans.
Ian pulled the front hem of Colby’s grey t-shirt up over his head and down his back, just far enough that his arms ended up restrained, while serendipitously baring his torso. Ian was nothing if not efficient. Given that Ian was unacquainted with mercy and that Don appeared unable to resist the temptation Ian had laid out next to him, Colby ended up helpless beneath their combined onslaught.
“One time, just once,” Colby got out in a series of gasps, “I’d really like not to be the antelope.”
“Sure Colb, whatever you say,” Don agreed, before his mouth covered Colby’s, swallowing whatever other crazed delirium might have emerged.
“Definitely slutty,” Ian said admiringly as he watched the way Colby, his arms still pinioned, offered up his body, mutely begging for anything they wanted to do to him. “I like it.”
Don murmured his agreement against Colby’s ear. And after that it wasn’t far to the floor where there was far more room than on that damned couch, and more than enough room to demonstrate to one another, and Colby, just how much they approved of his sluttiness.
“I think I’m getting too old for sex on the floor,” Don grumbled as he wandered in from the bathroom, naked and stretching his body carefully, one hand to his back.
Ian kneaded Don’s shoulders briefly, then flicked him on the ass. “Stop being so precious,” he said. “Granger’s the one who ended up with the rug burn.”
“I’m sure the skin will grow back. Eventually,” Colby put in on his way to the bathroom, toothbrush clutched in his hand.
“Yeah, but he enjoyed getting it.”
“And you enjoyed putting your back out from what I could tell.”
Don smirked as he got into that ridiculously-sized bed of his. “At least I didn’t do it for real this time.”
Ian grinned at the memory, even as he pulled the covers down and encouraged Don over onto his front. “That did spoil the mood a bit. Not to mention having to explain to the doc just how pretzeled up you’d been when it went.”
Don groaned as Ian’s hands started working on him, and then he laughed slightly. “Her face when she finally got it…”
“I thought Mitch was going to put his own back out he was laughing so hard.”
“Oh yeah, Mitchell,” Don said. “I’d forgotten he was with us. Damn, that was a good weekend.”
Ian nodded, and Don groaned again as Ian’s long fingers found the knots in his muscles that certainly hadn’t been put there by a bit of energetic sex. Probably down to that stressful team of his.
“Those were the days, when we were young and free,” Don sighed.
“Yes, granddad. Young and idiotic is how I remember it.”
“The point is, young,” Don said. He paused. “You ever wonder how we got to here?”
“I wonder how we’re both still breathing sometimes.”
“Oh yeah, yeah, that’s better.” Don wriggled happily under Ian’s ministrations. “Hey, you know what, you should stay on as a consultant in LA – I could do with your massage skills on call.”
Ian was finishing off now, long, slow sweeps over the smooth skin of Don’s back, and Don seemed to be melting under him.
“I’m not sure the Bureau would write off a masseur against your team budget; the professor was hard enough to get past the bean counters.”
“Yeah, but once they knew about your magic touch – Ow!” Don rolled over, rubbing his ass and glaring at Ian, who had just delivered a stinging slap.
“You pimping me out to accountants now, Eppes? You’re not exactly making it sound irresistible.”
Ian pulled the covers back to get in on his side of the forty-three acre bed, and that’s when he noticed Granger standing in the middle of the bedroom, looking uncertain. Just once, Ian would really like not to see that look on him. He held the covers open in invitation.
“You coming, Colby?” he asked.
Instead of climbing over Ian to get into the middle, where he’d slept every night so far, Colby slid onto the bed next to Ian, effectively forcing Ian over toward Don.
“Night,” Colby said firmly, and pretended to go to sleep.
Don was already more or less asleep for real, which left Ian stuck in the middle. Also, for the record, unlikely to get a single second of sleep with Don on one side beginning to snore softly because he’d fallen asleep on his back, and Colby’s shoulders forming a tense and unhappy line on his other side. He didn’t know what had upset Colby, though it was a safe bet it was Don – the man sabotaged his relationships like nobody else Ian had ever known.
Ian sighed as Don snuffled and then started snoring again and Colby tensed up even more. He’d never thought he’d long for the days of waking up to a moose crashing ass-first through the tent wall.
Colby was back to trawling through video footage next morning. Charlie’s new refinements had given them a tighter search area and, should they still fail to find Marriott within that zone, Charlie had also, in an apparently sophisticated application of some mathematical theorem that Colby had, not surprisingly, never heard of, reduced the number of probable targets to single digits for the next robbery, meaning stakeouts would be viable. That much Colby had gathered from Charlie’s excited conversation on his arrival in the bullpen before Don took him and Ian into the war room, where the closed door slightly muted the sounds of a math genius in full flow.
He found himself watching them for a few minutes, even though he had more than enough of his own work to be doing. It didn’t escape his notice that Don and Ian had unconsciously adopted the same stance as they listened to Charlie’s enthusiastic exposition. They were leaning apparently casually against adjoining tables, arms crossed and heads slightly cocked, each betraying a certain predatory intent as they focused intensely on what Charlie was saying. Although they’d just exchanged glances at something Charlie had said, sharing an unspoken amusement, it didn’t disrupt their concentration for an instant, each of them capable of assimilating a mass of information and almost instantly identifying the pertinent points and shaping them into new patterns. It really should be no surprise to anybody that they would turn out to match one another in all areas of their lives.
Colby mentally shook himself and got back to what he was supposed to be doing. He knew he had things to think about and some personal decisions to make, but
right now his focus should be on getting the job done and Marriott and his crew behind bars. His lips compressed as he pored with grim concentration over the grainy CCTV footage, determined to find something, some clue in what was in front of him, that would give him that elusive missing piece.
Despite the fact it was early on a Monday morning, Nikki could hardly contain her sense of excitement and achievement. It had taken both time and determination, working through so many prison visit records – and who would have thought a man with the apparent social skills of Rod Marriott would attract so many visitors – and then confirming not just the real identity of each visitor but what linked them to Marriott. The lack of a father’s name on the birth certificate hadn’t helped either, but she’d finally managed to put it altogether. This was it, this was the thing that would take them to Marriott’s front door. She burst into the war room where Don was talking to Charlie and Agent Sexy.
“Marriott’s got a daughter that no-one knew about,” she announced. “She lives in LA.”
Don’s slight frown at her excited entry changed to one of concentration as he shot questions at her, and by the time it was ascertained that the daughter not only lived in LA but that her address was in the area identified by Charlie as being where Marriott was currently based, it was all systems go.
David whistled slightly as they drew up a little distance from the daughter’s house. “Who says crime doesn’t pay?”
“I want to know how come I’m the only person in LA who doesn’t get their own pool,” Colby grumbled.
They joined the rest of the team, Don tasking them to take the back while he and the others went in through the front, with LAPD holding the perimeter. Edgerton was already gone, doubtless finding high ground somewhere. David found it reassuring to know he would be covering them; he’d never had quite the same trust in SWAT since they’d almost him killed him in that elevator.
He followed Colby in through the back door and almost instantly got the feeling that the place was empty. It was an intuition he never gave any weight to until the fact was verified, just in case, but one which he’d honed over the years. Somewhere that was truly empty always felt different from somewhere people were hiding.
Having ensured the house was clear, they regrouped in the kitchen where there were signs of recent occupancy in the guise of a gold-banded porcelain cup of lukewarm coffee on the polished granite island, with a matching plate boasting a selection of petits fours. It seemed a pretty safe bet to David that Marriott wouldn’t be in a hurry to return to the prison lifestyle any time soon.
They’d obviously been spotted on their approach. As nobody had gotten past LAPD’s perimeter, whoever that cup belonged to had to be somewhere in the collection of outhouses – pool house, tool shed, garage – that littered the substantial property.
That in turn meant increased risk; there were areas of cover, but areas too that were wide open. The garage was a slam dunk, with exquisitely manicured privet hedges providing cover right up to the doors, but anybody approaching the pool house would have to cross several yards of travertine patio, where lead planters containing a selection of brightly-coloured flowers provided no cover worthy of the name. David could see Don weighing up the risks, right about the time Colby devoured the last of the petits fours with an expression of pure bliss on his face. Maybe Colby should get a place with a pool; it looked like he’d be needing to take more exercise in the
near future if he was still going to fit into his tac vest.
David wondered if they’d be stood down till SWAT got there, but then Don spoke to Edgerton and found he had a good vantage point of the back yard.
They went in.
Don knew it was an exposed approach, but he had no other choice. The garage had been clear; the tool shed too. Between Edgerton’s birds’ eye view and the rest of the team, they’d searched the yard pretty thoroughly. The only place left was the pool house, standing in splendid isolation without a hint of cover in sight. And without a hint of life currently showing through the windows, according to Edgerton. But it was the only place left, and there was only one way to get close enough.
Don was almost halfway across the open ground, running fast but careful, bent to provide the smallest possible target while the others laid down a withering curtain of fire at the pool house to cover his approach, when without warning it felt like an eighteen-wheeler slammed into his chest. And then another one. The blows knocked him off-balance, throwing all his weight onto his right leg which suddenly buckled under him. He was aware he was going down completely out of control with the corner of one of those planters coming up at him damn fast, and then nothing.
Colby was close to wearing a hole in the floor of the hospital waiting area by the time Ian got there. He thought it was probably only the fact he was still in his tac vest with his gun shoved in his waistband that had stopped anybody approaching him and asking him to sit down and stop disturbing the other distressed people, please, sir.
It was supposed to have been a routine extraction. He knew better than to believe any operation was really routine but he hadn’t been prepared to see Don go down in a burst of gunfire and lie there, unmoving except for the blood trickling down his face and a slowly-growing blood stain on the right leg of his jeans.
He rubbed his hand fretfully against his mouth, trying to banish the pictures, remembering instead the way Don had been conscious, though vague and confused, when they’d loaded him into the ambulance. There’d been no sense of muted panic from the medics, which he knew should reassure him. But even if it was just a bang on the head from that fucking oversized flowerpot, these things could develop; people could be conscious and talking one minute and – yeah, and he was not going to go down that road because the family huddled together in the corner, sobbing quietly, probably did not deserve for him to start doing something really dumb like shooting something. Or someone. It was a fucking shame Edgerton was such a good shot; Colby would like nothing better than to look into Marriott’s eyes and pull the trigger himself.
He turned as the doors opened, and Edgerton strode in.
“No news yet,” Colby said quickly, “but he was conscious most of the ride in. They’re going to x-ray and do a scan, but seem to think it’s not too serious.” And he sounded like a babbling optimistic fool, but anything to try and take that tight look away from around Ian’s eyes.
“Seems like it’s a fairly clean through and through.”
“Thank fuck,” Ian said.
“Yeah,” Colby agreed.
With Ian there he didn’t go back to his pacing but was too wired to sit down. The adrenaline come-down from any fire fight was tough; this one, with nowhere to let it go, was making him twitchy on the inside and he knew if somebody said the wrong thing at the wrong time he might not be responsible for his actions.
Thankfully the doctor who came out to see them later was businesslike, getting straight to the point. Apparently Don had a grade three concussion and they wanted to keep him overnight to monitor him, but the bullet wound had been relatively minor and had been dealt with already.
“Give it another ten minutes,” she concluded. “We’re getting him settled. Reception will tell you which room he’s in.”
As she went, leaving an air of brusque efficiency in her wake, Colby sat down in the nearest chair and rubbed his hands over his face. He was aware of Ian’s hand briefly on his shoulder, but then the doors opened and he looked up to find Alan and Charlie hurrying in. Charlie looked wide-eyed and pale, and Alan… Alan looked so diminished that Colby barely recognised him. Getting quickly to his feet, Colby met them halfway.
“He’s fine,” he said, putting his hand on Alan’s bowed shoulder. “The doc says she wants to keep him overnight just to keep an eye on him because he’s got a doozy of a concussion, but he’s going to be okay.”
“David said he was shot.” Charlie was practically bursting out of his skin with anxiety, hardly able to keep still.
“He’s fine, Charlie. He got nicked by a bullet but it hasn’t done any real damage.”
Colby had kept his hand on Alan’s shoulder, and he could feel the change in the man as he drew himself together.
“Thank you, Colby,” he said, and Colby let his hand fall away. “Have you caught whoever was responsible?”
Colby nodded towards Ian who’d hung back, presumably to give them some privacy. “Edgerton took care of it,” was all he said, but that’s all he needed to say.
Alan nodded over towards Ian, before looking back at Charlie.
“Let’s go see your brother,” he said and followed in Charlie’s unpredictable wake as in his anxiety and eagerness he practically skittered down the corridor to the Reception desk.
Ian raised his eyebrows as Colby joined him. “Well,” he said, “That’s the last bit of peace Don’s going to be getting for a while.”
Colby looked at his watch. “Guess I should get back to the office before too much longer.”
“Reckon so,” Ian said.
They stood there.
“You want to get a coffee or something?” Colby asked eventually.
They ended up in the hospital cafeteria, Colby having first called David to let him know Don’s status. Their desultory talk about the menu (terrible), the coffee (even worse), and the prices (just shocking) was exactly what Colby needed right then. Because Don was fine and it would be melodramatic, to say the least, to think of what might have happened, how they might be sitting somewhere else right now planning his funeral. Well, okay, maybe an hour after the event would have been a bit soon to break out the hymnal and start choosing favourites, but Colby knew what he meant.
He realised after a while that Ian was snapping his fingers in front of his face.
“Granger, you in there?” he asked.
“Uh, yeah.” Colby took a swig from his coffee to find it was completely cold and even more revolting than it had been when hot.
“Good job back there.”
Colby met Ian’s steady gaze and nodded slightly. “I knew you had us covered.”
And then the lady from the till – Jeanette, her name badge said – came to clear their cups away. It seemed like even here there were unwritten rules about the length of time anyone could table-hog.
“You reckon the Eppes invasion is over yet?” Ian asked.
Colby grinned slightly. “Depends on how much hyper math geek the nurses can cope with. You want to find out?”
They headed up towards Don’s room, but Ian’s cell rang en route and he stopped to take the call, waving to Colby to continue.
The nurses’ patience had presumably been exhausted because Colby found Don alone in the room. His eyes were closed and he was lying still, looking disconcertingly small in the bed. Bruising showed around the stitches that held the wound in his forehead together.
Colby moved quietly to sit in the chair beside the bed. He knew the rules, knew they were to all intents and purposes no more than colleagues, but he could sit and just be there. It was what a colleague would do; it was what Megan had done for him that first day after the freighter when nobody was supposed to touch him because of the drugs. He knew he’d found it comforting in his brief moments of clarity. He didn’t think Don Eppes would need comforting but Colby didn’t care. It was enough to sit there watching Don’s chest rise and fall, knowing that for each breath he drew, one more would follow.
He became aware of another presence after a while and looked up to find Ian leaning against the doorjamb, watching them. He looked like he might have been there some time.
“You want a seat?” Hooking his foot around the leg of the chair next to him, Colby dragged it forward in invitation.
“I won’t stay,” Ian said after a moment. “He’s in good hands.”
Colby frowned slightly as he looked at Ian. At some point over the last few days, without Colby realising it, Ian had stopped being Ian Edgerton with all that entailed, and become simply Ian. Now, however, Ian Edgerton was back in full force, with an Agent tacked onto the front of that for good measure. It wasn’t a good look on him to somebody who’d gotten used to seeing Ian.
“I’ll have to go back into the office soon,” Colby said, feeling his way. “You should stay.”
Edgerton looked at him for a long moment, then his gaze flicked over to Don, and Colby saw when he became Ian again.
“See you later,” Colby said, standing up. He looked down at Don for a moment before moving past Ian to the door.
Once outside the front entrance of the hospital, he hesitated. He’d need to take a cab to the office after riding in the ambulance on the way but he wasn’t ready to go back yet. Ignoring the line of cabs waiting hopefully for custom, he sat down on the wall of the raised flowerbed next to the entrance, his elbows propped on his thighs and his hands hanging loosely between his knees as he stared down at the sidewalk.
He couldn’t avoid it any longer. Don might have been kidding last night about the masseur thing – at least Colby hoped he was because he wasn’t sure whether the concept of Masseur Edgerton left him wildly turned on, petrified, or some truly disturbing mixture of the two – but Colby had been certain he wasn’t kidding about wanting Ian to stay. Until he’d seen Don and Ian together, he’d managed to fool himself quite successfully that the thing between him and Don had been more than it actually was. But what was between him and Don was a pale shadow at best of how Don and Ian were. It was pretty clear now that Colby had simply been… And how pathetic was it that he didn’t even know what he had been for Don. A way to pass the time, or a mistake, maybe. Definitely another Mitchell, whoever he might have been – fun for a weekend with Don and Ian and then forgotten.
Once Don was out of the hospital, Colby would let him know. He couldn’t quite visualise how that conversation would go – Hey Don, that non-relationship we’re having? Well, don’t worry, we’re not having it any longer – but it was best to give the thing a quick and merciful death.
As Colby left, Ian settled into the chair he’d vacated. Stretching his jean-clad legs in front of him, he inspected them for a while. This was not what he’d signed up for, and he still wasn’t quite sure how Colby had talked him out of leaving. It wasn’t often that Ian Edgerton found himself wondering just what in the hell he was doing. It was even less often that he could find no satisfactory answer.
Some time later Don stirred, blinking awake.
“You’ve got to learn to duck, Eppes,” Ian said.
It took Don a moment to focus on him, but then he gave a slight grin. “I knew you had our backs.”
Ian had meant it to be light-hearted if not downright ironic, but as that wasn’t quite how it came out he was relieved that Don seemed less than his usual alert self. Over the next twenty minutes or so he must have asked about five times whether anybody else had been hurt, what had happened to Marriott, and if they had any leads now on his crew. To which the answers were: no; dead finally – once the fucker had broken cover long enough to keep shooting at them through the window, Ian had been able to get a bead on him; and yes.
Once Don started to focus a bit better, he started to grumble that he really didn’t need to be in hospital because of a tiny hole – okay Edgerton, two tiny holes – in his leg and a dent in his skull. The crease between his brows told a different story, though; it seemed he had the sort of ferocious headache that went with the concussion turf.
“D’you want to get some sleep?” Ian asked after a while. “Give your headache time to shift.”
Don moved restlessly in the bed. “Guess so.” But he showed no signs of it. “Hey, did anyone let Dad and Charlie know?”
“They were here earlier and they know you’re okay,” Ian said. “Colby talked your dad down.”
If Ian were anyone but the compassionate sniper he was, he might feel inclined to tease: Don Eppes looked like a kid on Christmas morning.
“He stayed till he had to go back into the office.”
Soon after, Don fell asleep again.
Liz was struggling to concentrate. They still had Marriott’s accomplices to track down, though that should be easy enough now they had his phone, computer, and daughter. Not necessarily in that order.
Try as she might to focus on the screen in front of her, she wasn’t doing a very good job of it. She’d done enough of the mandatory psych sessions to know what her mind was doing as it kept replaying disjointed scenes, but knowing that didn’t make it any easier as she kept seeing Don going down and staying down, not being able to get to him without crossing a huge wide open space with bullets flying, and then concentrating too hard on covering Granger to know for sure if they’d both made it out safely. Until silence fell: the hush both surreal and ominous after the tumult. It lasted for the longest two seconds of her life before the radio crackled with Edgerton’s voice confirming his kill and Granger calling for medics. Even then they’d not been able to check on Don, having to ensure the place was clear and secure it first.
She remembered glancing down at Don lying there unmoving and unaware, with blood masking one side of his face, before turning away. She couldn’t look at him. She couldn’t face what had been her biggest fear when they were together. She couldn’t look at Colby’s set face as he methodically investigated Don’s injuries.
Thank God for David because, while she did her job, she knew her brain wasn’t functioning as it should and, she’d be willing to bet, neither was Colby’s. David stepped in and took over without hesitation.
By the time Edgerton arrived from wherever he’d hidden himself, looking as pale and grim as the rest of them, Don seemed to have come round. He wasn’t making much sense but at least he seemed to know who he was, and then the ambulance arrived and he was taken away, David ordering Colby to go with him. Once the sirens faded they left a dead silence in their wake. That was when she could have kissed David Sinclair because he organised them all, tasked them all, imbued them with a sense of purpose, and only stared briefly when Edgerton disappeared on them.
Liz shook her head impatiently, trying to dispel the images, and Nikki passed her a coffee – she was really getting good at this facilitation of Liz’s slight addiction – with a wan smile. Ever since they’d gotten Colby’s call from the hospital things had been easier, but they were still spooked. For any agent to go down spooked everyone. When it was Don, always so forceful and full of life, suddenly silent and still… Spooked wasn’t really a strong enough word any more.
She looked up from her coffee a while later when Colby came in. He was moving more carefully than usual, and she was pretty sure it wasn’t just because of the bruises he must have after the bullets that his vest had stopped. It looked more like he was holding himself together by strength of will alone. She nodded at him, but didn’t go to speak to him; she guessed he had too much to deal with right now. David and he had a quick exchange, then he sat down in front of his computer and started on what she assumed was his report.
He was still there when she and Nikki got up to leave. They were going for a drink together. Probably several. As they passed by his desk, she could see that he hadn’t made much, if any, headway on the report.
Ian stayed with Don till the staff suggested firmly for the third time that it was time for him to leave. Don had spent some of the time asleep but he’d wake up regularly and need reminding about various details of what had put him in the hospital. Other than lapses in his recent memory he seemed fine. A little short-tempered but Ian couldn’t blame him for that, not with the headache from hell that was undoubtedly his.
He sat in his car outside the hospital and wondered what to do next. It would be simple enough for him to book a hotel room somewhere, but that didn’t really appeal. He thought about calling Granger to see what he was up to, and then realised he didn’t have his number. He knew Granger’s body intimately, knew how he kissed, how he tasted, the look on his face as he came, but not his phone number.
In the end Ian called the FBI offices and asked to be put through. Granger picked up, sounding weary and like he’d just chain-smoked his way through a pack of Gauloises.
His voice changed when he heard Ian.
“Is Don all right?” he asked, suddenly urgent.
“He’s fine,” Ian said. Word of the day. Fine. It covered a multitude of sins. “I just wondered what you were up to tonight.”
“Oh. Yeah.” Colby sounded a bit lost. “I was going to go home, I guess.”
Ian could almost hear the cogs turning in his head, though it appeared they moved exceeding slow right now.
“You got somewhere to stay?” Colby asked at last.
“Not really.” Which wasn’t quite the truth but fuck it, Ian did not particularly want to spend the night in an anonymous hotel room after the day’s events.
“You could always – I mean, if you wanted – ”
“What’s your address?”
Granger’s apartment showed unmistakable signs of his military background: clean, and orderly to the point of being regimented. Speaking of which…
“Cute,” Ian said, inspecting the display on the bookshelf. “Can we play tea parties later?”
He got a swat on the back of his head for his trouble, and a plateful of Chinese food waved under his nose. It seemed Colby had gotten takeout on his way home.
It no longer felt strange to Ian to be there just with Colby, with no Don between them. Apart from when he gleefully swiped Ian’s prawn crackers – it appeared Don and Colby shared a fierce and unreasoning love for the things – Colby didn’t have much to say. Ian had always appreciated people who didn’t feel the need to fill peace with chatter.
After eating, Ian got his gun out and started stripping it down, cleaning it while Colby took the plates through into his postage-stamp sized kitchen and presumably washed them up. Muscle memory took over for Ian, and he found the ritual cleaning and reassembly as soothing as it always was. It marked the end of one operation and the beginning of another. That call he’d taken earlier meant he was likely on his way to Nebraska tomorrow; time to get back on the road and back on the hunt. If he stayed here too long he’d get lazy and soft – and he wasn’t just talking about the inordinate amount of takeout these two seemed to get through.
Gun packed away again, Ian sat back on the couch, wiping off his hands with his cleaning rag. It was way past midnight but if the sounds coming from the kitchen were any indication, Granger was still too wired to sleep.
Ian went to have a look and found Colby rearranging the contents of his cupboards in a way that was bringing him no satisfaction, judging by the frown on his face.
“Bed,” Ian said. “You can separate the white plates and the orange plates – wait, you have orange plates? What the hell, Granger?”
Colby looked up with a start, evidently taken by surprise by Ian’s sudden appearance. “They were on sale,” he said.
“You amaze me.”
“They’re plates,” Colby said. “They don’t need to look good.”
Ian had the definite feeling that Colby was procrastinating. Even he couldn’t be that interested in dinner plates.
“Hey,” he said, moving forward and removing one of the appalling plates in question from Colby’s hand. He put it down on the nearest stack of plates. “Don’s going to be okay.”
Colby turned his face away and nodded. Ian could see him swallowing.
“You got any secrets in the bedroom you need to hide before I go in there?” Ian asked before Colby could spot that the orange plate had been put on the white plate pile. “Your favourite army doll on your pillow maybe?”
Colby sighed long-sufferingly and pushed past Ian. As he left the mess he’d created in the kitchen without a backward glance and put the lights off in the rest of the apartment on the way to the bedroom, Ian counted it as a win.
He had another win to count once he got his first look at Colby’s torso and the dark bruises that were beginning to come through. Given their placement, Colby would have been unlikely to survive without the vest. And yeah, without the vest he wouldn’t have been out there in the first place, but that really wasn’t the point, Ian thought as Colby got into bed beside him.
“You know Don’s going to kick your ass for that, don’t you?” he asked as he ran his hand lightly over the bruises.
Colby shrugged. “I’d like to see him try with just one good leg,” he said, and then hissed in pain as Ian’s hand pressed in on his ribs.
“Just checking,” Ian said, fingers firmly exploring the whole of his rib cage.
“Fuck it, Edgerton, I’m fine,” Colby snapped at him.
“Reckon you are,” Ian said, and pulled him close, effectively shutting him up. “I’m glad,” he added, and then kissed him.
There was a moment’s resistance from Colby, taking Ian by surprise, but before he had time to rethink this Colby surrendered to him, and then started kissing him back, demanding connection and life and Ian. It was the first time he’d found Colby to be anything like assertive in bed, and Ian discovered he rather liked it.
They kissed for a while, the slight desperation in Colby slowly tamping back down until they were kissing simply for the pleasure of it, and Ian began to understand just why it was that Don was always kissing Colby.
When at last they stopped, more asleep than awake, Ian kept Colby close against him. He wasn’t a fanciful man, not by a long shot – and oh, Ian cracked himself up at times – but he knew that things could have gone very differently today and he wouldn’t have been able to do a thing but watch it happen in front of him. It wasn’t a reassuring thought.
Colby glanced at his alarm and saw it still had half an hour to go, but he couldn’t lie there for one more minute trying to get to sleep. His eyes were tired and sore, and his head was muzzy with lack of sleep. Aware of Ian, he’d tried not to toss and turn too much, but he suspected to no avail; every time he’d opened his eyes he could feel that Ian was awake too, though whether that was because of Colby’s restlessness or for Ian’s own reasons, he didn’t know.
Predictably Ian was awake now, watching him. If it were anybody but Ian the awareness in his gaze might be unsettling. But it was Ian and that was just who Ian was. Colby rolled over towards him, feeling at home against the warmth of his body, his hand on Ian’s chest absorbing the comforting rhythm of steady heartbeats. Steady heartbeats which seemed to increase slightly in their rate as Colby nuzzled against Ian, stubble catching slightly on the smooth skin of Ian’s shoulder, giving Colby all sorts of ideas about ways to spend the time till the alarm went.
He moved his way slowly down Ian’s body, teasing as he went, until he had Ian’s cock in his mouth, intent on giving Ian the best blowjob he had ever had. And from the way Ian was trying to twist up from Colby’s hands holding his hips down, and the amount of swearing going on, it was pretty damn good. He loved Ian’s cock. He loved its taste, its heat, its hardness in his mouth. When Ian finally surrendered to the inevitable, Colby took it all, loving that he had brought Ian to this.
Moving back up the bed he lay next to Ian, who was panting.
“Fuck,” Ian got out.
Colby agreed happily with the sentiment, and then Ian’s tongue pushed into Colby’s mouth. That, along with Ian’s clever hand, had Colby coming within seconds.
His eyes were closing and he was just beginning to drift off when the alarm went off, rude and insistent, and Ian was getting out of bed, slapping him on the ass on his way past to the shower.
“Work,” he said.
“Come on, Granger – you don’t want to be late. I hear your boss is something of a hardass.”
“You don’t know the half of it,” Colby mumbled into his pillow. “Positive slave driver. Hey, you think it’s too early to phone the hospital?”
Ian shrugged. “Might as well give it a try, check what time they’re going to spring him.”
By the time he came back from the shower, muttering something about Colby taking the whole military ethos a bit too far by not having even a single massage setting on his showerhead, Colby had spoken to Don. Don had sounded pleased to hear him, which had led Colby to second-guess for a few minutes the decision he’d made yesterday about them. But wish as he might, he knew nothing had changed since then. Had it been possible, he’d have preferred to avoid Don completely and come straight back home to his apartment tonight but he knew he’d have to see Don first, get it said, and then they could pretend that nothing had ever happened and everything would go back to how things had been before the relationship that never was.
“Don said Alan’s going to take him home later this morning,” he reported back to Ian. “Said we should pick up some takeout on the way over to his place tonight.”
“No,” Ian was firm. “I am not having one more takeout piece of shit. I’ll make something when we’re there, if I’m not in Nebraska.”
Colby blinked at him. “Is that likely?”
“Yeah, but I might not need to go ‘til tomorrow. I’ll make some calls when we get in.”
He glanced at his watch, a habit he’d doubtless picked up from Don, as he fastened it round his wrist. “You, shower, now.”
Colby sighed as he rolled out of his lovely, warm, comfortable bed. The day ahead of him was looking bleaker by the minute.
Don had been dressed and ready to leave for the past hour even though his dad wasn’t due for another ten minutes. Despite the temptation, he didn’t just call a cab to get him home now because he’d heard the remnants of fear in his dad’s voice when they’d spoken on the phone last night. He wouldn’t relax until he’d seen Don up and around, Don knew. So he sat on the bed, counting the minutes, and gritting his teeth against the thumping in his skull. It wasn’t much better this morning than it had been last night, but at least he’d stopped wanting to throw up every five minutes. Small mercies, he guessed.
“Hey Donnie, how’re you feeling?” His dad bustled in through the doorway, and Don couldn’t help but smile at the welcome sight of his dad’s concerned face.
“I’m fine,” he said. “I didn’t need to be here overnight – it’s just a bump on the head.”
His father did not agree. “You were shot.”
“Only just. His aim sucked.”
“Don – stop it.” His dad took him by the arm, whether to get his attention better for the scolding he was about to deliver or whether to make sure he was really still there, Don couldn’t guess. “I know what you do every day and I’m proud of you, but can you please stop joking about this? If you hadn’t been wearing your vest…. David tells me there were bullets in yours and in Colby’s. It scares me.”
“Dad, that’s why we wear them. I’m all right, I promise. They – wait, what? Colby got hit?”
“Just his vest. Apparently he got you under cover when you got shot.”
“Yeah, yeah, I remember that, I think.” He remembered fragments, anyway; the deafening sound of gunfire from every direction, and strong hands dragging him as everything around him blurred.
He shook his head, and immediately regretted doing so.
“I need to swing by the office on the way home,” he said.
“That’s not a good idea, Don. The doctor said you need to rest and take things easy for a few days.”
“Just for a few minutes.” And he really shouldn’t do this, he knew it, but if playing on his dad’s sympathies was what it took…. “I want to make sure the rest of the team are okay after yesterday.”
“Ten minutes,” his dad said.
Don refrained from nodding this time. Ten minutes would be enough.
Silence descended on the previously busy bullpen as he walked in. He knew this reaction all too well: an agent injured on duty reminded every single one of them how closely the same thing stalked them. He knew in a few days time it would be forgotten and all would be back to normal, but for now it was disconcerting.
The only people who were natural with him were the team, Liz giving him a quick hug – which was surely against office harassment guidelines – while David’s wide smile was followed almost immediately by a frown as he obviously realised Don had turned up some days earlier than expected.
“Good to have you back, boss.” Nikki greeted him with a grin that she couldn’t seem to keep off her face, and Colby nodded at him from his desk, his eyes giving the same message loud and clear.
“David, I need the reports on yesterday’s shooting.”
David passed them over, and the bullpen slowly returned to something approaching its usual atmosphere of people working hard and not getting caught up in other people’s business.
“Eppes.” Don started and looked up to find Ian hitching a hip onto Don’s desk. “I didn’t think you were back for a few days yet.”
“Just trying to find out what the hell went on yesterday,” Don said.
Don flicked his eyes back down to David’s statement, seeing what he’d written about Don going down, about how he and Liz and Nikki had laid down covering fire while –
Colby’s head jerked up.
“War room. Now.”
Don strode – he most definitely did not limp – to the war room. As soon as he heard the door close behind Colby he swung round to face him – and okay, that fucking hurt and he wouldn’t be doing that again for a while. He glared in Colby’s general direction while he waited for the dizziness to ease and his vision to clear. Once it did, he could see that Colby was looking a little apprehensive. Good.
“I’ve just read David’s report from yesterday,” he said, voice low with anger. “What the hell did you think you were doing out there?”
“My job?” Colby was looking more confused with every passing minute, and that stoked Don’s fury.
“What the fuck were you thinking, Granger, breaking cover and running into the kill zone like that? How could you be so fucking stupid?”
Colby’s face froze in shock at Don’s tone, which was calculated to flay him.
“I expected better than that from you.” Don’s disappointed gaze flicked over him. “Doing shit like that you’re a goddamn liability.”
Colby stiffened even further, and Don turned away. He couldn’t bring himself to look at Granger right now.
He heard the door open, and before it had closed again he reached for it, needing to get out of the place before he lost it completely. Edgerton’s voice reached his ears, as Don suspected it was intended to, just as he turned towards the elevators.
“What Don means to say is thank you very much, and you scared the crap out of him.”
If he’d thought Edgerton would have taken it from him, Don would have turned round then and there and given him hell for not capturing Marriott months ago, for letting the whole clusterfuck happen in the first place.
He stabbed at the button for the first floor, and when the doors didn’t shut he stabbed at it again. They started to close, but not quickly enough to prevent him seeing across the floor to where David and Liz were standing with an expressionless Granger. Liz looked back at Don and their eyes held until the doors slid shut. She had no right, damn it, no fucking right to look at him like that.
His dad had been unhappy about leaving Don on his own but after he’d seen Don take his painkillers and gotten him set up on the couch with his leg propped up on the coffee table, his phone, television remote, a sandwich and a glass of water in easy reach, he’d reluctantly accepted Don’s decision that he was staying in his apartment, and left. Which was just as well; Don might love his dad but the last thing he needed right now was somebody looking at him in that knowing way that his dad was such a master at and that he’d been doing ever since Don had gotten back into the car at the office. He didn’t know what it was that his father saw when he did that, but he thought that was probably the point. It was the ‘I know everything so you might as well tell me’ approach that worked so well in breaking down suspects in interrogation.
He was feeling calmer now, or at least slightly less furious. Colby had done something so idiotic it still made his chest constrict with rage to think of how badly, appallingly wrong it could have gone, but at least he wouldn’t be pulling something like that again in a hurry. One thing you could say about Don Eppes: nobody ever forgot a chewing out from him. Nikki was still over-compensating around him after the last one he’d given her, but it was the only way she’d learn. He was looking out for her, keeping her safe, just like he was with Colby. Don knew – hell, they all knew – there was no such thing as safe when you were an agent on field duty. Trying too hard to stay safe almost guaranteed that you, or somebody else, would end up hurt or dead. But there was a difference between accepting unavoidable risks and being reckless the way Nikki had been in her desire to impress Don and to catch the bad guy, and the way Colby had been in his need to – to do what, Don wasn’t entirely sure, just that it had been reckless and stupid.
Don tried hard not to think about how else this might have gone down, what it would have done to his father if he’d ended up with a bullet rather than a planter in his forehead. He remembered what Bradford had said – he remembered too many of the uncomfortable things Bradford had said, for that matter, but this one made sense – about it being what you did before you went down that mattered. And Don had a team he was damn proud of to leave as his legacy. He and Charlie were friends now, against all expectations.
If – when – it was his time, he guessed there wasn’t that much he’d regret. Except the whole relationship thing. That was something he sucked at so hard and he didn’t know why. He’d tried. Tried too often, if the reputation he’d gotten for himself was anything to go by, but each time he thought, or at least hoped, that this time it would be different and that it would work. And each and every time he ended up realising that it wasn’t different and it wouldn’t work, because there were always demands and expectations that left him feeling backed into a corner.
He must have dozed off – the doctor had warned him he’d be sleepier than usual for the next few days – because he came to with a jerk when there was a sharp rapping on the apartment door. Sighing, he went over to open it, finding that the painkillers seemed to have improved things a bit in both his head and his leg. That was just as well because he found himself backing up into his apartment a lot more quickly than he’d anticipated, a furious Colby right in his face.
“You do not get to do that at the office where I can’t go back at you.”
Don had only ever known one way to meet an attack, and that was to attack straight back. “I’m your boss, Colby, like it or not. There are times I have to call you out, and when you do something that stupid, you deserve it.”
“So if it had been David – who incidentally was about three seconds behind me in going after you – you’d have said the same thing?”
“Yes. It was the wrong call to make and you know it.” Anger surged in Don as he challenged Colby to deny the truth.
“You’d have told him he was a liability?”
Oh for God’s sake… “Yes.”
Colby said nothing but he held Don’s gaze, and the innate fairness that all Don’s time in the Bureau had failed to beat out of him won through.
“Ah, damn it, Colby, no – no I wouldn’t have said that.” He ran his hand impatiently through his hair. “But you can’t do that, put yourself out there like that.”
“We do it every day, Don.”
At Colby’s reasonable tone rage licked through him, until he was almost vibrating with it. He wanted nothing more than to grab Colby and shake some sense into that thick fucking skull of his. “You think I don’t know that?” he snapped, his fists clenching. “But not like that.”
“Not for you, you mean? You think I could have left you lying out there?”
Colby’s voice was so raw that Don sat down on the couch rather than look at him.
“Hey,” Colby crouched in front of him, forcing Don’s eyes to meet his. “I’m careful, Don, you know that. You’re careful. But sometimes shit just happens, and you do the best you can. And I knew Ian had our backs.” He paused, then asked, “What would you have done if it had been another member of the team? What if it had been David or Liz or me?”
“Don’t you dare say that,” Don snarled at him, his hands coming up to push him away but ending up fisting into his shirt, holding him there, refusing to let him get away with this. “Don’t you fucking dare.”
Colby was doing that stupid, stupid non-expression thing with his face that he did sometimes. “It could have happened that way,” he said. “You know it could.”
“No.” Don let go of him as if he were toxic. Because he was not going there – he was not thinking of Colby lying out in the open like that, down and defenceless
“You shouldn’t have done it,” was what he said, and fuck, even he knew it sounded weak, but Colby was being so fucking reasonable it left Don with nowhere to go. He needed Colby to get angry again, needed him to push back at Don so he could make him see.
“You let everyone down back there,” he accused Colby. “Your job was to take down Marriott, not to run round trying to be some sort of wannabe hero.”
Colby sat back on his heels then, and Don felt a brief stab of guilt because instead of the anger he was aiming for, he could see obvious hurt in Colby’s eyes before Colby dropped his gaze.
“So if it had been any one of us, you’d have left us there,” Colby said quietly. “Good to know.”
The defeat and the regret in his voice sliced Don apart.
“No, Colby – no, I wouldn’t – oh, fuck it.”
He buried his face in his hands, frustration and anger and pain swirling until he no longer knew which way was up. If he weren’t so fucking exhausted, if he could just think, he could explain it, make sure Colby got it.
He heard Colby sigh, and then his hand curved over Don’s bowed neck and came to rest, warm and reassuring.
“I don’t get it,” Colby said. “Why’s it different for you? Why can’t I do the same thing for you that you would for any of us?”
“Because I can’t lose you.” Desperate words he’d never meant to say but couldn’t take back, and now he couldn’t even breathe properly but they still spilled out of him. “I can’t do that, Colby. I can’t.”
Colby’s hand tightened for an instant on his neck and Don let himself be drawn forward until his face was hidden against Colby’s broad shoulder, where he was safe.
Colby’s fingers threaded through his hair, providing an obscure sort of comfort. Don drew long shuddering breaths, hands twisting into Colby’s shirt, fighting to regain control over whatever it was that was tearing loose inside him. “I need you,” he said into Colby’s shoulder, his voice tight and choked.
He thought he might just fly apart under it all but then Colby’s hand was cupping the back of his head, holding him close, grounding him. “Me too,” he said softly.
Colby stayed like that, solid and warm and there, and Don’s breathing finally steadied, and his death-grip on Colby’s shirt slackened as the beginnings of self-consciousness stirred. At the first hint of a change, Colby let him go but he didn’t move, meaning that unless Don was going to pretend that nothing had just happened, he was left with no option but to meet Colby’s gaze as he raised his head. There was a clarity in Colby’s eyes that Don couldn’t remember seeing before. Don had no idea what Colby might be seeing in return.
Don rubbed his hands briefly over his face. “Fuck it,” he said, “I need to get some sleep. You staying?”
Colby didn’t answer instantly, and Don’s breath caught. It hadn’t occurred to him that Colby might say no.
Then Colby nodded almost imperceptibly. “Yeah,” he said. “I’m staying.”
Colby knelt in front of Don, who had ended up sitting on the bed. He took off Don’s shoes and socks, then got him to stand up while he eased his pants down over the dressing on his leg. Don took off his shirt and the bruising on his chest was spectacular enough that Colby hesitated before pulling his own shirt off in front of Don, and then decided that if Don was going to give him any more grief about it he’d rather get it over and done with now. As it turned out, Don said nothing.
Colby closed the blinds, throwing the room into restful near-darkness, and joined Don in bed. He was careful not to risk knocking Don’s injured leg as he did so but Don showed no such restraint, pulling Colby close to him and holding him there. Pressed against him like this, Colby could feel that Don’s heart was beating more quickly than it should be. But that was fine, because Colby’s might not have been quite steady right now either.
They held each other close and Colby closed his eyes as he listened to Don’s soft breathing and felt his warmth, and the strength of his arms holding Colby. And in the privacy of the dark Colby whispered words like alive and want and need against Don’s skin, his fingers tracing the path his breath had taken. Don left his own trail of quiet words branding Colby’s body, please and stay and you, and the tight unhappiness that Colby had been living with for so long began to ease.
He woke some time later to Don’s sleepy kisses on his skin. Colby knew that in a while they’d have to get up and face the daylight and the world, but right now, here, it was like catching that perfect wave.
Don opened the apartment door to Ian’s knock. “You didn’t bring takeout.”
“Astounding powers of observation, Eppes,” Ian commented as he came in and deposited his gun case and bags, a brown paper sack tucked under his arm with what looked like leafy vegetables poking out of the top. “I’ve got your duffel, Granger – you forgot it this morning.”
Colby gave a remarkable impression of a deer in headlights for a minute before he recovered himself. “Thanks,” he said.
“And the takeout…?” Not that Don had been looking forward to it all day or anything.
“Yeah, about that,” Colby started, “Ian staged a mutiny. I think he’s going to feed us field-dressed buffalo and raw turnips or something equally appetising.”
“Doesn’t he know I’m injured?”
“Knowing and caring are two different things. Granger, I need you on KP. Don, you’re off the hook this time.”
Don tried not to smirk at the expression on Colby’s face but it was a losing battle as he sat back down on the couch and waited to see just what delicious concoction Ian was going to produce. He could hear the sound of low conversation from the kitchen though only occasional words, which seemed most of the time to have to do with the proper way to prepare vegetables. Or rather, the wrong way to do it. Ian sounded somewhat particular about it.
Some time later, when something was beginning to smell good, Ian came back out and sat down next to Don.
“You left Colby in charge?” Don asked in alarm.
“I reckon he can be trusted to wash the pans,” Ian assured him. “There’s nothing more to do for a while.”
They sat quietly, the only sound the banging of pots and pans in the kitchen. Don was pretty sure Colby didn’t actually need to be that loud. Maybe he was making a point.
“You all right?” Ian asked eventually, eyes fixed on the pattern his hand was tracing on Don’s thigh.
Or maybe Colby was being tactful. There was a first time for everything.
“I’m good,” he said, quietly forceful before he leaned towards Ian who met him more than halfway and they kissed briefly.
“Good,” Ian said. Then heaved a sigh. “I’d better go see what havoc Granger’s wreaked in there,” he said. “You just can’t get the staff these days.”
“Tell me about it.”
His put-upon tone might have been more believable if Don hadn’t felt a smile growing on his face. He leaned back against the couch, enjoying the relative peace while Colby and Ian did God knew what to his kitchen in the name of dinner.
His smile disappeared suddenly. Ian’s duffel and gun were by the front door, ready for him to leave, with Colby’s smaller duffel sitting nearby. All those khaki duffels were beginning to make the place feel like a military way station: transient, and all too easy to leave with no sign anyone had ever been here.
Colby came out and joined him on the couch a while later.
“Apparently I was distracting Ian,” he said, looking far too innocent for Don’s peace of mind. “And no, I’m not telling you how because otherwise you’ll use it to get out of KP next time.”
“Oh God, is this going to be a regular thing?” Don asked. “Chopping carrots and peeling buffalo?”
“Guess so,” Colby said, stretching lazily with every appearance of satisfaction at the prospect. Then he suddenly stopped. “Oh,” he said. “Except Ian’s off to Nebraska tomorrow.”
It blindsided Don. If he’d thought about it he would have known that Ian would leave the minute Marriott was no longer an active case for him, but he’d had one or two other things on his mind since Marriott had been taken down. Speaking of which… He brushed the back of his fingers across Colby’s cheek, just because he could. Colby ducked his head self-consciously but couldn’t quite hide the smile that was starting, which Don found was somehow infectious.
“So,” Don said after a minute, beginning to get his head around the fact that Ian was leaving, “No more gourmet meals.”
Colby turned to look at him. “It’s not like Ian’s not coming back,” he said, though there was a slight question in his voice.
Don held his gaze, making sure. He couldn’t afford to get this wrong. “No,” he said, finally. “It’s not.”
Colby nodded, satisfied, and Don leaned in to kiss him.
They were still kissing when the wet dishcloth hit Don upside the head, Ian’s aim as true as ever.
“Guess that means peeled buffalo is served,” Colby said with a grin.
Don was brought out of his doze – cunningly camouflaged as ‘watching the game’ – by the wrestling match that seemed to have started down the other end of the couch. He could have warned Colby but really, if he didn’t know by now that what Ian wanted Ian always got, then he deserved what was coming to him. Ian made a grab for the remote only for Colby to twist away with a triumphant grin as he kept it in his hand. And then that grin was wiped off his face as Ian’s move proved to be a feint and he ended up buried beneath Edgerton, possession of the remote a distant memory.
“Ow.” Colby sat up, rubbing his head where it had gotten banged against the
angular arm of the couch.
“That does it,” Don said. “First thing Saturday morning, we’re going couch shopping.”
“Make it mid-morning and you’ve got yourself a deal. This thing’s a menace.”
Don yawned. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept so much, but he didn’t want to go to bed yet because then tomorrow would be here and Ian would be leaving. Then again… He looked down the couch to where Ian currently had Colby’s head trapped under his arm and was delivering an enthusiastic and professional-looking noogie, and reconsidered. At least he would no longer be surrounded by children. And if anybody had told him, ever, that Ian Edgerton, Sniper Extraordinaire, was capable of behaving like a seven year old, he would have laughed in their face.
Another yawn split his face, and he knew he should turn in.
“I’m going to bed,” he said, levering himself to his feet. “Keep it down to a dull roar out here, would you?” And shit – he’d taken that line straight from his dad’s playbook. He would have shaken his head if he weren’t so wary of starting the drill in his head back up again.
“Right behind you,” Colby said, taking advantage of Ian’s momentary distraction to extract himself and stand up. “You need your painkillers?”
“Got ‘em,” Don mumbled, and took himself off to the bedroom where it was almost too much effort to strip off and climb into bed.
“Hey Don,” Colby’s voice floated through from the living room. “You seen my duffel?”
“I put it in the closet. You should keep it there – I’m sick of falling over the damn thing.”
Although he closed his eyes, it wasn’t till Ian and Colby joined him that Don was finally able to sleep.
Ian was up early, ready to move out to his next gig. He made himself coffee while Don and Colby were still fast asleep and tangled up together like a pair of octopuses with abandonment issues. He’d thought briefly about leaving before they woke; it wasn’t as if there was anything to be said and they’d probably welcome some time alone right now. He didn’t know what had happened, just that Eppes seemed finally to have pulled his head out of his ass where Granger was concerned. Or more charitably, perhaps near death experiences trumped even deep-seated fears and commitment issues. Whatever. Last night there’d been an ease between them and a contentment from Don that he hadn’t seen before, while it was the first time he’d seen Granger look truly happy.
Tempting though it was, leaving while they were asleep didn’t feel right. He was thinking about waking them when he heard noises that indicated there was in fact sentient life elsewhere in the apartment. The bedroom turned out to be empty so he followed the sounds to the bathroom. The sight that met his eyes through the glass screen was one that he suspected would keep his thoughts away from the dangers of marauding moose for some nights to come. Colby was on his knees in front of Don, and Don – oh, God, Don was braced back against the wall, one hand on Colby’s head, his body spread out against the tiles shamelessly, as the water beat down on his chest and ran in rivulets down his skin. His eyes were closed and his face lifted almost as if he was having a religious experience – and from the way Colby knew how to use his tongue, Ian figured that might not be that far from the truth. As Don had said, it was a damn shame he couldn’t find a way to work it into Colby’s annual evaluation because a talent like that should be recognised.
Colby was doing most of the work, his head moving up and down as with one hand he braced Don’s right hip – and now he could see that they’d wrapped a plastic bag over Don’s dressing – and the other was curved in a tight wet grip round himself, moving in a rhythm that Ian knew meant he was close. And Ian could see why, with the way his lips were stretched around Don’s thick cock, taking it in deep before letting it slide out again.
He saw Don’s hips thrust despite Colby’s hold, and then he heard even over the sound of the water the series of gasps that Don always made when he came. Don stood for a moment, chest heaving and eyes still closed, then he made an abortive attempt to grab Colby and pull him up, his hands slipping over the wet skin, unable to get a proper grip. Colby evidently knew what he wanted and got to his feet, and Don’s hands wrapped hard in his hair, pulling Colby’s mouth against his.
Don’s hands were forceful on Colby as they kissed, moving over every inch of him as if reassuring himself that Colby really was there. As Ian watched Don say all the things with his body that he couldn’t say with words, as he saw that Colby understood and that his hold on Don was just as fierce, Ian thought that maybe Don had found the thing that would keep him away from that edge that seemed to have been calling him for so long.
Retreating silently, he was thankful again that people never seemed to see him until he wanted them to.
He double-checked his stuff. It was all there, ordered and packed and ready to head out. The only problem was, he wasn’t quite ready. All those other times he’d put his duffel on his shoulder and left without a backwards look; this time he thought it would be for the last time, and that – that left him feeling like he didn’t want to lose something that had never been his in the first place.
He wasn’t sure how long he’d spent checking that he had all his gear, but by the time Don and Colby emerged from the bedroom, hair still damp from the shower, his muscles protested at the change in position as he straightened up from his crouch. He’d stayed too long, and it was time to go.
“So, Nebraska,” Don said.
Ian shrugged. “Someone’s got to.”
He made to heft his duffel on his shoulder but Don was suddenly in front of him.
“I hear they have phone reception up there,” he said. “There’s a wild rumour they might even have internet. For emails and stuff.”
“Stuff?” Ian said, trying to parse Don’s meaning.
Don stepped right into his space and kissed him, his tongue demanding entry. Ian allowed it, and then commonsense overtook him and he grabbed Don and kissed him back as if his life depended on it, because if this was the last he was getting of Don Eppes he was going to make the most of it.
They finally separated, and Ian felt a sudden fierce gladness to see Don breathing hard, his lips looking bruised and full.
He tore his eyes from Don’s face when Colby moved forward.
“You’d better not be gone for too long,” Colby said. “I don’t reckon I’ll survive on Don’s cooking.”
His hand cupped Ian’s cheek as his mouth met Ian’s, and there was a sweetness to his kiss that made Ian understand fully for the first time what it was that held Don so bound. As they pulled back, Ian’s thumb went up to trace along Colby’s lower lip and his mouth opened slightly under Ian’s touch, his tongue flicking against Ian’s thumb.
“Slutty,” Ian whispered, and kissed him again. Colby made a happy little noise of agreement into his mouth.
When their kiss ended, Ian took a few steps back and looked at them both, sure, yet unsure. Then Don said his name and tossed something to him, which Ian caught on reflex. He opened his hand to find he was holding the spare door key.
“Just let us know when you get here,” Don said. “I’d hate for one of us to shoot you thinking you were an intruder.”
“You really think you could take me before I got you?” Ian asked incredulously, tucking the key away into his pocket.
“Well I was hoping you wouldn’t actually be trying to shoot me or Colby,” Don said.
And then he smiled, that rare wide-open smile that caused his eyes to crease at the corners.
“We’ll see you soon, Ian,” he said.
As Ian packed his gun and kit away in the trunk of his car, glancing up at the apartment building one last time before focusing his mind on the hunt in front of him, he knew Don was right. He wouldn’t stay away for long.