Actions

Work Header

I stay in the darkness with you

Work Text:

Then I heard your heart beating, you were in the darkness too
So I stayed in the darkness with you
(Florence and The Machine: Cosmic Love)

Swoosh.

Swoosh.

Swoosh.

It’s starts in a helicopter.
The blades are spinning in the air.

Tom moves his tongue around his mouth, trying to check if he still has all his teeth left. Any movement is painful and he thinks his jaw might be broken. He can feel the blood streaming down his face, mixing with his sweat. He doesn't cry because of the pain or because he’s tired, even though he knows no one would judge him for crying now. He's a tough guy, a boy scout, a leader and sometimes even the tough guys need a good cry but this is not the right moment for that. His eyes are bruised and swollen so it's difficult for Tom to open them. He can hear the helicopter pilot talking to someone over the radio:

"This is 'Black Hawk'. We are inbound. Operation Dinner Out accomplished."

Operation Dinner Out? The name sounds familiar to Tom but for a second he can't remember why. Then a picture of a familiar face flashes before his eyes and he remembers. Nathan.

"What did you say?" he asks the pilot. He has to yell because the helicopter blades make such a loud noise.

"Nothing, just that we're on our way home, sir."

The pilot doesn't seem to understand him. Tom swallows and feels like he could faint in any minute now but he tries one more time:

"No, operation what?"

"Dinner Out, sir."

Dinner Out. Only Nathan could have picked a name like that for an operation. Nathan is the only one he has ever mentioned Operation Dinner Out to. But it sure couldn’t have been Nathan who saved him from that Chinese prison, right? Nathan had always said he would never come to rescue him if he went off the reservation.  

"If you have to pick between you and him, send flowers," Nathan had taught him and Tom can’t see why he would have made an exception for him now. Why would he be so special to him?

Tom tastes blood in his mouth. The prison guards beat him up quite badly in the small, dark cell but at some point he had became numb to the pain — until the pain comes back in waves and he realises some of his ribs are broken because it’s getting harder to breathe. He can feel the blackness taking over him and he tries to fight back and not to lose consciousness, because he wants to know what’s happening around him. He knows this constant observing is also something Nathan had taught him. In fact, he had taught him so well he was usually able to do it without thinking, but now he had to fight to even be able to breathe.

Tom wants to know what happened to Elizabeth. Was she alright? He knew Elizabeth had lied to him about certain things, but he can’t stop caring for her just by snapping his fingers, even though he knows that was exactly what Nathan was expecting from him. He had been in love with Elizabeth and a huge admirer of her work as a human rights activist. Her courage and will to voluntarily face the danger in order to help civilians was the thing that had most impressed Tom when he had met her. He tries to ask about Elizabeth from the helicopter pilot but the thought leaves his brains before he says the question out loud.

At some point Tom had either fallen asleep or lost consciousness because the next time he opened his eyes everything was quiet and dark around him and he was lying on a bed. He knew without looking around that he was in the hospital because of the smell. Tom knew many people who, like him, hated hospitals. During his time in Vietnam he had seen too much blood and pain for a lifetime. He had promised to himself that if he would make it out of there alive he would never step inside a hospital building again. Tom runs his fingers on his face very carefully and lightly, estimating he hadn't shaved at least in two days. He’s able to open his eyes, they aren't so swollen anymore, but he knows he still isn’t looking too good. His wrist is bandaged, as is his side, and when he tries to sit up his broken ribs are screaming, forcing him to take it easy. He sees his clothes are piled on the chair next to his bed and the pain makes him grunt when he puts them on. He’s hoping a nurse doesn’t hear him moving or step inside the room right now because she would only try to make him stay and he’s not going to do that. He just wants to go home.

Tom is slightly worried that someone had put a guard outside his room to stop him from leaving the building. He walks to the door and opens it as  quietly as he can. He sees some empty hospital beds on the corridor but doesn’t see or hear anyone. He leaves the room and walks past the empty reception desk. Tom wonders why there is nobody there before hearing someone flushing the toilet in the bathroom closest to the desk. To him it’s a sign to leave right away. The doors sigh when they open, making Tom afraid of someone hearing him but, by the time the doors close, Tom is already running — or more like jumping, holding his side with one hand.

Tom could take a bus to go home, but he doesn't have any money with him so he walks. He passes a night club and hears the sound of disco music and people laughing and chattering and it makes him think Elizabeth. He still feels slightly dizzy and disoriented but he makes it to home just before the sunrise when the sky is flaming in colours of red and yellow and orange. The bright light is hurting his eyes so he quickly steps inside his building and takes the elevator to the sixth floor where he lives. He looks himself in the mirror of the elevator, sees his nose is broken and a little bit crooked and wonders if it will stay like that. He steps out from the elevator, walks to his door and opens it.

He should have realised how the key turned differently in the lock, but he notices it a little bit too late. When Tom steps inside he sees someone in the dark, sitting on his couch. His reflexes are still working but they are not much of a help right now when his movements are so slow and painful. Fortunately the stranger doesn't look threatening, so Tom slowly turns on the lights - and sees Elizabeth, sleeping on his couch. When Tom understands he has nothing to worry about, he can feel the adrenaline rush fading away and his hands start to shake, mostly because he's just so fucking tired. He sits beside Elizabeth and then carefully, trying not to wake her up, lies down next to her. He is asleep before he can put his arms around her.

When Tom wakes up, Elizabeth is nowhere to be seen. It's a bright day outside and Tom can't help but wonder if Elizabeth was just a hallucination caused by his tired brain. Tom goes to the bathroom to take a long, hot shower. He shaves, puts some clothes on and, for the first time in days, he notices the idea of eating something doesn’t make him feel nauseous. He walks to the kitchen and opens the fridge but there are only two cans of tuna. He finds a pack of instant noodles and decides to cook them with the tuna. It's not a very healthy lunch but it's easy and quick to make, which is all Tom is asking right now. When he starts to eat the dish, someone knocks on the door. He goes to answer with a plate still on his hands. He stops for a second to listen and it's like Elizabeth could see what he’s doing because she yells:

"Tom! It's me! I brought pizza!"

Tom opens the door. Elizabeth looks at him, smiling with her eyes,full of kindness, as always. Tom motions Elizabeth to come inside and carries his plate to the kitchen’s sink. Elizabeth sits down on the couch and opens the pizza boxes.

"I told them not to put pineapples on yours," she says.

"Thank you. I'm amazed you remembered that."

The atmosphere in the room is tense between them and their discussion is artificial. They eat pizza in silence, but when Tom moves his position and winces slightly, it doesn't go unnoticed by Elizabeth who looks at him, frowning. Tom feels good when he sees that Elizabeth still cares about him.

“Elizabeth?” Tom asks. “Do you know who saved us?”

“I’m not sure,” Elizabeth says, shrugging.

“What do you think?”

“I think the CIA didn’t like it when you acted without their permission.”

“Yeah, that much I was able to figure out myself.”

“So... logically the only one who could have saved us is Nathan, right?”

“Right?” Tom asks, frowning.

“Well, who else?”

Tom thinks a moment before answering. "Why are you so sure?"

"Do you know Gladys? Nathan's secretary?”

“He mentioned her once or twice.”

“I met her. I told her who I was and that I was your...” Elizabeth pauses and Tom can’t help but smile a little when waiting her to continue. “Girlfriend.”

“Did she really tell you something?”

“I worked hard to prove to her I was to be trusted. And I had to promise her not to put Nathan in any trouble.”

"And you promised?"

"Of course. She still didn’t tell me much, though."

"You don't even like Nathan!"

"I'm sure he doesn't care for me much, either. But we have one thing in common: we both care about you."

"Do you know where Nathan is now?"

"No one knows. He’ll have to keep very low profile now because otherwise he’ll be in trouble."

While listening to Elizabeth, Tom looks at the phone on the table as if  silently expecting it to ring. He can't call Nathan because he doesn't know where he is, but Nathan could always call him because he is right here at his home.
He is at home.
The realisation hits him like a train when he understands that staying at home was no longer an option for him. His home is now the first place the feds would come to look for him when they wanted information about his motives, about Elizabeth's role in all of this and about Nathan. He is an outlaw now, he can’t have the luxury of a permanent home. Not only that but his actions had also made Elizabeth’s and Nathan’s situation very difficult. He never wanted this to happen to them, he had acted alone playing a hero, but now he understood that it was never the hero who was hurt most in the stories but the loyal group of friends.

***

A month later Tom and Elizabeth are living in a small wooden cabin by a lake in the countryside near Canada’s border. They never use their real names and are always very careful when in contact with other people. They trust no one. So far they have been doing alright, living on Tom’s savings. Elizabeth tried to help by selling some of her pictures to earn some money. They live without a phone so whenever they had to make a call, they drove to town and used a phone booth —which, as Tom well knew, wasn't very safe procedure. Elizabeth spends most of her time by cooking, writing, photographing and fishing, trying to get what joy she could out of the situation. Tom is mostly spending his days by doing research on different subjects, reading or hunting. He had been a great marksman in the army and as an old boy scout he had always loved being in nature, but he made a terrible hunter. A few times he had gotten a chance to kill a rabbit or a squirrel but when he should have pulled the trigger he was never willing to do it. He had killed before and if it had been required of him in order to survive, he probably could have done it but because he didn't have to and didn’t even want to kill the animals, he simply chose not to.

***

Tom is walking in the jungle. The air is so hot and moist it's difficult for him to breathe. He is soaking wet. He tries to breathe as inaudibly as he can, because he knows he's supposed to hide from something or someone. He lies down in the middle of long grass, looking at the sky above him. Suddenly, there are clouds and it starts to rain. The cold mud on the ground is soaking through his clothes. The sound of helicopters and airplanes that fly above him are covering every other sound, making it impossible for him to hear his own thoughts. He closes his eyes, because he is suddenly too scared to keep them open and also because the raindrops are falling. He keeps his mouth open and swallows some of the water when it falls. The water tastes horrible, like it’s polluted, but Tom drinks it anyway. Tom wonders if he should try to run away. He's afraid to think about what they will do to him if they find him. He tries to remember how he got here, tries to remember some of the names of his friends who he could call for help but his brain refuse to work with him. He sees movement from the corner of his eye and he quickly turns his head, preparing himself to see the shoes of the man who he's hiding from but he only sees a rat. The rat is as deadly scared as him and seeing the pure terror in the rat's eyes makes Tom realise he is in fact looking at himself.

Then he is surprised when someone places a hand on his shoulder and drags him up. He doesn't see the man who found him but he doesn't have to because he knows he’s Death. The man is pushing him to move quicker and Tom feels the mud slippery under his shoes. Tom feels sorry for his ruined shoes that he liked so much, but worrying about his shoes in a situation like this makes him almost laugh out loud. After walking for a minute or two, Tom sees a line of men looking at them, waiting for them to come closer. Tom wants to see the men who will soon kill him, but when he’s closer he realises they have no faces. He’s pushed down on his knees but he puts his hands behind his neck without being demanded. He sees one of the men taking his gun, cocking it and pulling the trigger in one, smooth movement. Everything happens very fast but when the bullet hits him in the head, right between his eyes, he is not surprised.

The reason he’s not surprised is that he has seen this film before. This is an old movie, it's been shown to him dozens of times, and Tom can't even remember anymore when these nightmares started exactly, only that it was sometime after 'Nam. He always wakes up when he dies but he never remembers the dream being a dream until the very end. Tom wishes he would be able to wake himself up in the middle or even change the course of the happenings in the dream while he dreams it but he is unable to do either. His part is only play along and then wake up, unable to go back to sleep.

Tom is a war veteran. War veterans get prescriptions for sleeping pills if they only asked for it. Tom doesn’t ask, though. He wants to keep it together on his own. He is a survivalist. He has been trained to survive in the most difficult of circumstances and he knows he can handle this. He lays awake in the dark room with Elizabeth sleeping right next to him, trusting him to protect her. Tom would die for her but he doesn't know if he loves her anymore. He knows Elizabeth is not happy here, she wanted something else, but no one always gets what they want.

***

One evening, when Tom is outside chopping wood, he hears a car driving on the road that passes by their cabin. He knows the driver is coming for them. He holds his axe in his hands so tightly his knuckles turn white. For a second he’s thinking about fighting against the men, showing them he’s not afraid. Then he understands fighting would only put him and Elizabeth more into trouble, so he drops the axe on the ground just when the car turns to their driveway. It's a black BMW with dark windows so Tom can't see how many people are inside the car. He looks around, trying to see if he could somehow warn Elizabeth. Two men step out from the car, both wearing suits and black sunglasses and both unfamiliar to him. Tom stays right where he is, because he wants to stay close to his axe — just in case he needs it.

When one of the men comes closer, Tom can see himself mirrored in his sunglasses. The man is holding a badge that reads CIA. The other man keeps his hands across his chest, staying quiet. Tom looks at the men, trying to show them he is not intimidated. The man holding the badge puts it inside his pocket before asking:

"Are you Tom Bishop?"

"What are you doing on my property?"

"Oh, but Tom! Where are your manners? We have spent so much time on you! I still can’t imagine why you wanted to run away like that all of a sudden. You couldn’t possibly believe we wouldn’t find you, right?"

Tom doesn't say anything.

"I'm sure you have nothing to hide from us, so why don't you come with us so we could talk a little?"

"Why don't you fuck off of my lawn and I'll try to forget I ever saw your ugly faces," Tom says.

"Well, now, didn't your mom teach you better than talking like that to others?"

"What the fuck do you think you know about my mother?"

"I know one thing for sure: she didn't raise you very well."

"I am only going to say this once more: fuck off or I will get mad — and trust me, you don't want to see me when I'm mad."

The man looks at him from head to toe, smiling a little, forcing Tom to use all his willpower not to punch him in the face. The man looks at the cabin, then the lake, then back to Tom before saying with a sigh: "Alright. It seems like you are not ready for co-operation and I can't force you to talk. Yet. We'll come back, though."
The men get back to their car, start the engine and leave.

***

That night they leave. Almost nothing in the cabin is theirs so they only take their clothes and some food with them when leaving. They step inside their car and for a moment Tom is fears to start the engine, because it’s possible it won’t start — or that it explodes. Tom looks at Elizabeth, who nods at him, and he turns the key. The engine starts without any problems. They can only follow one road that leads to the town and away from the city. They drive at high speed, constantly afraid of a roadblock or something else stopping their journey right at the beginning, but nothing seems to be out of ordinary. By the time they pass the "THANKS FOR VISITING" signs, for a moment they feel free.

Eventually they have to stop at the gas station. The fake credit cards they have could be traced and might not even work, so they decide not to use them, even though they are running low with cash. They book a lousy motel room, just for one night. They had planned sleeping in their car but Tom knows Elizabeth wants to take a shower and sleep in a real bed. While Elizabeth books their room, Tom drives their car two blocks away, hoping it will mislead the people who are looking for them, but he already knows it won’t work.

Elizabeth takes a long shower and she seems to believe the sound of the water covers the sounds of her crying but it doesn't. Tom feels bad for her because he never wanted things to turn like this for her and because he is unable to change their situation, no matter how much he wants to. Elizabeth steps outside the bathroom, wearing nothing but her underwear and sits next to him on the motel bed, staring at the TV but just like Tom, she doesn't really concentrate on watching it.

A few minutes pass in silence before Elizabeth leans forward and kisses Tom. Tom had missed kissing Elizabeth and apparently Elizabeth is feeling the same because their kiss deepens quickly while Tom moves his fingers slowly up and down Elizabeth's back. Elizabeth is slowly unbuttoning his jeans and takes off his shirt. She kisses him everywhere. He carefully lays himself over Elizabeth and never stops kissing her lips, her breasts and her belly. They both know this might the last time they’ll ever have sex so they take it slowly, enjoying every second. When they finish they are both tired but smiling, which is something they had  not done in weeks. They fall asleep holding each other and on that precious night they feel no fear.

***

Elizabeth is already long gone by the time Tom wakes the next morning.
She left no note but Tom knows she is not coming back. He knows they both did their best when trying to make things work but they are unable to do miracles. Tom didn't talk much about Nathan to Elizabeth because he knows how they feel about each other. It hurt Tom to be in the middle of two people he cares very much about but who can’t get along. As much as he hates to admit it, he is slightly relieved now without Elizabeth in his responsibility anymore. He packs the few things he has with him and leaves the motel room, walking the two blocks to his car. Except that there is no car anymore and Tom is not very surprised because in the end it was always more Elizabeth's car than his.

Tom doesn't know where to go or what to do now. He has almost no money left, except for his fake credit card. He walks aimlessly on the streets of the small town he had arrived in with Elizabeth just last night. He thinks about hitchhiking or maybe taking a bus to somewhere. While looking for a bus station, he finds himself walking in a small park and when he sees a bench next to a small pond, he decides to sit down for a second. It’s obvious no one has taken care of the pond in a long time — there are no fish and the algae-covered water is muddy.. He sits down, stretches his feet and closes his eyes for a second. He tries to figure out what to do next. He thinks about finding a job and it would be a good way to start a new life but he can't stay at one place for very long. The feds are hunting him and Tom knows they’ll not rest until they bring him down. He thinks he hears something and opens his eyes, looking around, but there is no one near him. He tries to calm down, thinking he probably just heard the wind moving the tree leaves, but he doesn’t want to sit down anymore so he leaves.

***

When the night comes, Tom understands he has no other choice but to sleep outside. He’s had to do it before, so he knows what to do in order to stay warm. He finds himself an empty cardboard box and then tears it's sides away so he can use two of the them as a blanket and the other two sides as a sleeping pad. It's not much but it would do. He is lying on a bench, looking at the sky and waiting for sleep to come. He falls asleep without noticing.

A few hours later someone calls his name and he startles awake. He doesn’t get a chance to properly wake up before someone is very roughly shaking him by his shoulder. Because he’s sleeping outside, he assumes it's just a regular cop telling him to go somewhere else but then he sees who woke him up. Even though the man isn’t wearing his sunglasses Tom recognizes him and knows he's in trouble.

Before he can fully fight the men, they hold him down and then drag him inside the car. He is not unconscious, just dizzy, which gives him a chance to observe the car and the man who is taking him away. He sees a man standing farther away from them, looking at the car. To Tom he looks like an outsider. Tom is sitting on a back seat. He knows without trying the handle that the doors are locked, not that he would try to open them anyway because jumping out from a moving vehicle is never a very good idea.. There are three people in the car, the driver and the one sitting on a passenger seat who he has already met but the third man sitting next to him on the back seat is a new guy. He is very tall and muscular and looks like a bodyguard of a president or a celebrity because of the black sunglasses and a radio he's holding in his hands.

The drive doesn't last long and then Tom is taken to the building which looks a little like a police station, except that it's not. The building is in a bad shape and it’s colder inside than outside. Their footsteps echo, as do the men’s voices, when they demand Tom to walk faster. They take Tom up the stairs to the second floor where they throw Tom a small room with a metallic table and chairs on each side of it. There is also a large mirror-window on the wall. Tom knows he is being observed by someone who’s behind it. He sits down on the chair and taps his fingers on the table, looking as relaxed as he can. He is drumming “Brothers in Arms” and then he changes it to “Smoke on the Water.” The man who probably isn't a fan of Deep Purple steps inside the room. He is carrying two plastic coffee cups with him.

"Ah, so you're the good cop then," Tom says, smirking at him.

"I am good to good guys and bad to bad guys," the man says and places one of the coffee cups on the table  in front of Tom. Tom has no intention to drink it. They would have to violently force it down his throat before he would swallow down anything they offer to him.

***

The man takes a pen and a memo pad from his pocket. He starts drawing abstract shapes on the paper, waiting for Tom to make his move. Tom doesn't say but he looks at himself on the mirror-window and notices his face has healed quite well. He looks tired and older — like Nathan. Tom is quite sure he’ll look a lot like him when he is in Nathan’s age.

The man is patiently waiting for five, ten, fifteen minutes. Every time he raises his gaze from the paper to Tom, Tom remembers smiles in order to show him he could be spend eternity here and not really mind. Tom knows the men don’t have much time, even if he has. Observing the man sitting opposite him, Tom knows he’s getting anxious. Tom doesn't have to wait for long before the man speaks.

"Tom Bishop, a Vietnam vet, a boy scout and tremendously talented spy. You have worked in Europe too, haven't you?"

Tom doesn't say anything.

"Muir must have trained you well. What was his first name again, was it Nate or something? Nathan! Nathan Muir. Have you heard from him lately?"

Tom looks at the mirror because that way he can avoid looking at this man who disgusts him without lowering his gaze to the table.

"Tom, we both know that we can get to Nathan one way or the other. He stepped on some big toes when he did his little stunt to save you and your girlfriend. Elizabeth is her name, right?"

When Elizabeth's name is mentioned, Tom has to look at the man. This is the first time he has reacted to something the man says and the man doesn’t let it go unnoticed.

"Ah, Elizabeth,” the man says, grinning widely. “She must be very important to you. I'm sure you are wondering where she is right now. Would you like me to tell you?"

Tom would definitely like that, but he’s not going to believe anything these guys are telling him so he stays quiet.

"Alright, Tom, I’ll give you one more chance to talk before I walk out that door. Remember, I'm the nicest guy here and also the only one who can help you. Trust me, the bad guys are someone who you don't want to meet."

Tom spits at him. The man stands up, his face red with anger.

"Alright. Just so you know, there will be punishments for every time you refuse to cooperate. You will not eat, sleep or see the daylight before you give us the information we want. The minute you decide to cooperate, you are free to leave."

The man leaves the room and the door closes behind him with a loud bang.

***

The man keeps his word and Tom feels like he’s back in the Su Chou prison. He lives with only some dry bread and water and he’s hungry. They are torturing him by forcing him to stay awake, poke him with sticks and give him electroshocks. Tom is so tired he’s shaking. His whole body is hurting and he’s cold all the time. The pain sometimes makes him yell, but he never cries or begs for mercy and he never, ever says a word about Elizabeth or Nathan. He tries to keep count of the days he’s kept there but at some point he got confused. One morning they lead him to a room he has never been before. It’s a large room with a large wooden desk and there is a man sitting behind it. He is reading some papers when Tom is brought in front of him and he doesn’t instantly look at him. Instead, he lets Tom wait while he reads the papers and writes something on them. Then he looks straight straight into Tom’s eyes, like he could see his mind through them.

"Tom Bishop, the boy wonder spy," the man says, looking at his papers. "Could you tell me why you are being so stubborn?"

"I am not being stubborn," Tom says, noticing his voice had become very raspy. "I am just not willing to sell my friends to fuckers like you."

"Oh, but you’ll only help yourself, giving us the information we want," the man says, sounding like he is talking to a child. "I don’t know how you sell your friends, if that's the term you want to use, simply by telling us they are dead."

Tom doesn’t believe the man, knowing he’s probably just trying to fuck with his mind, but can’t help the question "what" escaping from his lips.

"Yes, you see.. They both tried to leave the country but they got caught. In the end they weren't as clever as they thought they were, I’m afraid. You would have saved us a lot of work and trouble by honestly telling us that they were dead right when we brought you here."

"If they are dead, then there is no reason for you to keep me here anymore, is there?" Tom asked.

"I suppose that’s true. We only needed you because of your information, but now you are completely useless to us."

"So I can go then?" Tom asks, noticing how raspy his voice has become. He thinks the man is making fun with him telling him to leave.

"Yes. I will tell my men to let you leave."
“Oh, come on! After all this you suddenly decide to just let me go? And I’m supposed to believe that?”

“You believe what you want,” the man says, shrugging. He doesn’t take his eyes away from Tom but he also doesn’t make a move towards stopping him from leaving.

Tom stands up slowly, looking at the man. He waits for the man to laugh at him, mocking him for believing that they would let him go. When the man doesn’t stop him, he walks downstairs and out of the building. The man escorts him outside. Tom is waiting for hearing a gunshot when the man shoots him in the back. The gunshot never comes and when the man turns around to go back inside, Tom asks him:

"Do you know where they are buried?"

"No, but I think you might find something mentioned about them in the newspapers."

And with that they let Tom go. Being a free man doesn’t give him much comfort. He had lost the two people that mattered to him most in the world and he is more alone than ever before in his entire life.

***

One day, about a week later, he walks to the local library. He tries to get joy out of the fact that he can now come and go as he pleases without having to worry about being in danger or someone coming to take him away, but he can’t get rid off a feeling of being constantly watched and followed by someone he can never see. It also seems impossible for him to enjoy things that used to gave him so much satisfaction, like the simple act of reading a good book or seeing a nice film. Tom knows this is one of the side effects of his work. Nathan trained him to always question things but now he is starting to doubt everything. He is not sure if the things he sees are even real or simply products of his imagination. Adjusting to new situations have become more tough for him to do, all food and drink tastes the same in his mouth and all he can think about is the loss of his loved ones and the endless sadness he feels because of it. He goes on, day by day, routinely, like a well-trained machine, and he knows it’s normal, but he doesn’t really care because there is nothing in the world for him anymore. Tom feels like all the purpose his life once had has been now washed away by the people he used to work for.

Tom walks to the reading room and starts looking for the old newspapers from the archives. He goes through the news published during and right after Elizabeth’s disappearance. Tom turns page after page, feeling both anxious and scared. He hopes the papers will offer him some answers. Every page that doesn’t mention Elizabeth make him cherish the possibility that maybe, just maybe, the men lied to him about the deaths of Elizabeth and Nathan in order to make him disoriented and therefore vulnerable. He looks at the papers, checks at the images but can’t find any mentioning about Elizabeth — until one photograph stops him. The photo is black and white and a little blurred but Tom definitely recognizes Elizabeth.

She is surrounded by a group of children, looking straight to the camera and smiling, carrying a box of medical supplies. In the picture she is doing what she loved best and it shows — in the picture she looks more happy than ever during the months she spent with Tom when they had to hide from the world. There is another picture in the same page, right under to the one where Elizabeth is smiling. In that picture Tom sees men with big guns, standing next to bodies lying on the ground. The men have covered their faces, wearing black. On the ground Tom sees three bodies: a child, and older man and a woman. The woman is Elizabeth and Tom knows it before even reading the article. The description under the picture says that Elizabeth made it back to Africa and she had been shot during an attack by the military. The men lied to Tom about how Elizabeth died but the result was the same. Tom expects some emotion but there is no rage, no will for revenge, not even sadness. He can’t feel anything and he knows that right now it makes him the most effective, most brilliant spy in the whole world. He wonders if Nathan would be proud of him.

Being a spy is not what he wants in life, though. All he ever truly wanted was the regular, normal and maybe sometimes boring, average life but he never got it. He learned to like his job because he was good at it and because he was able to travel and see the world. When he had met Nathan and Nathan had asked him to join in his department, he had said yes because nothing was holding him back and because he had no other place to go after the war. Every once in awhile he and Nathan had had some conflicts but there was never a doubt in his mind that Nathan didn’t care for him. On the contrary, Tom knew Nathan would have died for him in a heartbeat, just like he would have been willing to do for Nathan, too.

The men had told him Nathan and Elizabeth had both been killed. Now he has seen a picture proving they hadn’t lied about Elizabeth and he has no reason to believe Nathan is alive either. The weight of guilt and responsibility for their death almost crushes him. It had been him who forced them to leave the country after saving him and when they had got caught it had not been because they would have made a mistake, but because their enemies were predominant and their chances to survive had been minimal from the start. Tom was still here, still alive, he should be able to move on, but building a new life for himself like a puzzle with the most important pieces gone forever was a fearful thought. Tom closes his eyes and sees his own future: he would become an old and lonely man, tormented by nightmares and guilt. Tom can feel how the fear is eating him alive, his bones, his flesh, his brain. He is only an empty, hollow shell.

***

After walking aimlessly for a whole day, Tom starts to follow a railroad track. It feels good to follow something, knowing to end up somewhere in the end. He listens to the birds singing, sees the squirrels climbing up the trees, and hears how the wind rattles the leaves and sometimes he even hears the distant sounds of other people, dogs and cars. He knows he’s being followed, no matter that he can’t see anyone. There is someone or something in the shadows, behind the trees, there are creatures constantly eyeing him.

He doesn’t know how long he has walked before hearing the train whistle. Tom can feel the ground rubmle and sees how the little rocks are slightly dancing around him. He knows without turning around that the train is rapidly coming closer to him. The sound of the train gets louder, it whistles and then suddenly the brakes are screeching. The sound of the brakes is so loud Tom feels like it’s splitting his head in two, but he doesn’t move an inch. He closes his eyes but he can’t prevent the tears streaming down his face. He can feel a forceful thud on his back and he thinks it’s the train hitting him and then he waits for the pain but it never comes. The blackness he saw around him in the woods suddenly comes closer and then wins when he falls unconscious.

When he opens his eyes, he is very confused at first because he is in the hospital once again but can’t remember why. Then he remembers the train and wonders how he can still be alive. There is a nurse standing next to his bed, looking at him with a worried look on her face.

“Mr. Bishop?” she asks. “Are you alright?”

She looks like she is genuinely willing to hear how Tom is doing, but he’s not in a mood for talking so he just nods at her and smiles instead, though he knows his smile probably looks more like a smirk.

“We were worried about you, Mr. Bishop. You were gone for a few days,” the nurse continues. “It’s a miracle you are still alive, that train missed you by only a few inches.”

Tom still doesn’t say anything but apparently the nurse doesn’t mind talking with herself because before she leaves the room she turns to say:

“We are expecting your full recovery, you only got some scratches and bruises. It’s dangerous to walk on railroad tracks, Mr. Bishop! You should be more careful in the future!”

Tom knows she means well but right now he really wants to be alone, in quiet. The nurse is stepping out the room when she turns back once more and says, pointing at at the flowers on the
stand next to Tom’s bed:

“Someone sent you those, by the way.”

Then she leaves and Tom is alone in the room. He looks at the flowers, three yellow roses, and a card leaning on the vase. The card is a typical postcard that tourists send from abroad. This is sent from Canada and it’s picturing the Rocky Mountains. The message of the card is short and simple: “Stupid kid. Maybe you should come home.” The post stamp tells him the card was sent from a small town near Calgary.

Calgary.

Canada.

Tom, who doesn’t know any Canadians, can only come up with one person when he tries to figure out who could have sent him the postcard: Nathan.

Nathan had always told him how much he had looked forward to his retirement so he could move to “some warm, little island and drink pina colada from the real coconut shell.” Tom wonders why Nathan would stay and choose to make do with Canada instead of flying to Bahamas. One reason comes to his mind: Nathan had spent his life savings while saving Tom and Elizabeth. Tom knows the flowers and the card could be a trap, though. He doesn’t believe for one second his actions were not followed by someone, who only waited for him to make one final mistake that could put him in jail. The only person they wanted to catch more badly than him was Nathan, so perhaps they were waiting for Tom to eventually find Nathan for them. However, the postcard looks real and the handwriting, the very beautiful handwriting, is similar to Nathan’s. This doesn’t mean it couldn’t be a fake but Tom didn’t understand why someone would want him travel all the way to Canada before taking him down — unless they wanted to catch him at the border..

Tom holds the postcard in his hands, reading the message over and over again, trying to decide if it’s to be trusted or not. “Stupid kid,” the message says. If it was Nathan who send this card, then he didn’t only know Tom was in a hospital, in this hospital in particular, but also that he had almost got himself killed. Tom wonders who was the guy who saved his life. Had it been just some bystander who decided to play a hero — or was it someone who was ordered to look after him and saved him because it was his job? Nathan had always got angry if Tom had questioned his rules or rebelled against him. For a long time Tom had thought it was because Nathan needed to control things obsessively. It was only later when Tom realised Nathan acted like that because he had been so worried about something happening to him. When Tom had told Nathan to fuck off with his rules, Nathan’s calm answer had been “ok, but remember that they saved your life today” and it clearly spoke the message of Nathan making his rules not because he didn’t trust Tom, but because he wanted to do all he could to make sure nothing would happen to him. Nathan had always planned leaving the country by flying away, swearing he would never look back but maybe now, when things had changed so radically, he had decided to stay close and keep in touch with Tom in his own way? Acknowledging that the roses and the postcard sent to him and even the mysterious man who saved his life could all be fake and planned to be a bait for him, Tom decided to leave to find out if Nathan was still alive. He might die in the process or get caught and be sent to prison but he couldn’t take the chance of Nathan waiting for him somewhere in vain. He needed to go see him. He owed him that much.

***

The next day he is released from the hospital. He is still very much broke, but he is able to buy himself a bus ticket and some food. He finds himself some new clothes from a secondhand store and those clothes are the only items he owns now. There is not much left for him to leave behind. When he waits for the bus, he realises it has only been a couple of months since the life of his and his loved ones turned upside down, even though it feels like it was years ago. When the bus arrives he steps inside. He knows there might be some troubles waiting for him when he arrives to the border but he is determined to make it to the Canada. It is the only thing he allows himself to focus on and not the other far worse scenarios. He wonders how his life will be in Canada, thinks about talking to Nathan because Nathan will surely know what to do and make things look brighter for them, just a little.

PART II

Nathan is running. The air is cool and dim because the sunrise has only just begun. Every morning he wakes up before dawn and runs six miles. Then he takes a shower, makes himself some very strong coffee and a small breakfast and for the rest of the day he’s trying to live like any retired man, killing time by various methods. He reads, he writes, he solves crosswords and he has even taught himself to cook. Sometimes, when the air is exceptionally warm, he sits outside on the porch with a cold drink in his hands and for a few seconds he can fool himself into thinking he lives in some small tropical island. After spending his retirement funds to save the boy scout, he had only managed to buy this small cabin in Canada. He knows it’s not safe for him to be here and every day he waits for someone to come knocking on his door to take him away. So far he has been able to live alone and peacefully without any conflicts. He keeps a map on a wall of his work room that he studies almost every day. He wants to go to Europe, to Germany perhaps or maybe to France, and every day he looks at the names of cities and makes a list of things he wants to do once he gets there.

He could leave right away if he really wanted to. He could sell this little cabin and get some money out of it. Money that would definitely be enough for him to start a new life somewhere else, so he doesn’t leave not because he can’t but because he doesn’t want to. There are very few people in the world who Nathan really trusts. A few times he has witnessed how people have betrayed their friends when they feel like it gives them some advantage. Nathan has mixed feelings about it. In one way he understands why people would feel like they have to betray their friends. At the same time he can’t help but think it’s the most coward act there is. One of the few people who Nathan is still able to trust is a man who he calls Richards. Even Tom doesn’t know about him. Nathan has been friends with Richards for over four decades and a few times Richards had been given an opportunity to sell information about Nathan to people who would have paid him well but he had never done it and he never would. Richards is also the guy who kept him updated about Tom by following him everywhere and Nathan is slightly surprised that Tom still hasn’t noticed his presence. Richards is great at what he does, but so is Tom. It has amazed Nathan how recklessly Tom had acted recently — almost like he doesn’t care for his own safety anymore.

Nathan read about Elizabeth’s death in the newspaper and he wasn’t very surprised to hear that Elizabeth had stubbornly wanted to go back to the danger zone, even if it would risk her life. She loved her job with so much passion that Nathan doubted there was room for anything else in her life. From Richards Nathan had heard that Tom had found out about Elizabeth’s death, he had really mourned her, becoming like a zombie. Nathan wondered if Tom got so depressed because he still loved Elizabeth or because he felt guilty. Sometimes he wasn’t sure if he spied Tom because of love or because he felt like it was his responsibility. Richards rarely called him because they had agreed to keep contact with coded letters, postcards and telegrams so when Richards had phoned him one day, Nathan knew something was seriously wrong. When Richards had told him that the boy scout had tried to kill himself by walking in front of the train, the fear Nathan felt grew stronger.

Nathan had given Richards very specific instructions for what flowers to buy for Tom before sending the postcard to the hospital where Tom was kept. He was slightly worried about giving away his location in the postcard but he really wanted to see Tom and therefore he didn’t really care about being careful. He also knew that if Tom wanted to find him, he would do it with or without Nathan’s help, even though he would have to put himself in danger in the process. The idea of seeing Tom who, just like Nathan, didn’t have anything or anyone left in his life, gave him some odd comfort. Missing him felt like being homesick. He had never been married, because of various reasons, but he wondered if having a partner felt something like this: to him a home was more a person, Tom, than any concrete place.

***

Wonders never cease.
Tom makes it to Canada by nothing short of a miracle. He sits in a bus full of passengers and the bus stops at the board to check everyone’s passport and papers. For some reason the woman who should check Tom’s passport completely ignores him and focuses on the passenger sitting next to him, whose passport is expired and therefore causing trouble. When the discussion with this passenger goes on and on and the bus is starting to be very late from the schedule, they decide to let everyone else continue the journey except for this one man. Tom can’t believe his luck when the bus is officially on Canada’s side of the border and their journey continues without further inconveniences.

At one point Tom leaves the bus in Calgary. Tom is not familiar with the city but luckily the people he meets are very nice and helpful. Nathan doesn’t use his real name nor any of his previous pseudonyms but Tom is able to find him anyway, because Nathan trained him well and very likely partly because Nathan wants Tom to find him. When Tom arrives at Nathan’s door, he sees a small candle burning on one of the windows. It looks welcoming. There is no name on the door but a feeling in his gut tells Tom he has come to the right place. He walks the three steps up, takes a deep breath and knocks on the door three times. For a long time everything is so quiet Tom starts to reach for the doorbell but then the door opens.

Because it’s already dark outside and the only light coming from the inside is from the candles, Tom and Nathan only see the silhouettes of each other. They are looking at each other in the darkness, Tom shifting his weight from one foot to another, until Nathan asks:

“Wanna beer?”

Tom laughs shortly, steps inside and hugs Nathan. When he sees with his own eyes that Nathan is alive and well, Tom realises how much he had missed him. For the first time in months Tom feels safe so he doesn’t want to let go of Nathan and Nathan, while not much of a hugging person, hugs Tom back until it’s Tom who breaks away.

“I was reading,” Nathan tells Tom, motioning him to come inside. “I’m sure you would like to take a shower?”

“Yeah, I would,” Tom says and Nathan gives him some of his own clothes and a towel.

Tom stands under the shower, the water is as hot as he can bear. He feels the tingling sensation on his skin when the warmth slowly returns to his body after spending so many days outside. He notices a few bruises and scars on his body and wonders what Nathan would say about them if he would see them. Would he feel proud of him because he had stayed tough or would he be angry at him for letting himself get hurt?

***

While Tom is in the shower, Nathan makes them tea and some grilled sandwiches. He puts a lot of ham and mayonnaise on them because he knows Tom likes them like that. He puts the tea pot and the sandwiches on a tray, carries it to the living room and places it on the table. Tom steps out from the bathroom, wearing Nathan’s clothes that look quite silly on him and Nathan can’t help but laugh a little.

“I know how they look,” Tom says. “They’re warm, though. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” Nathan answers and sits down with Tom.

“Since when have you been drinking tea?” Tom asks when pouring himself a large mug of tea, with honey and milk.

“I have always drank it. There are just so many things you don’t know about me,” Nathan answers. “It’s good to see you, by the way.”

“You too,” Tom says, pauses and looks straight at Nathan, lowering his voice while continuing. “I know what you did for me, Nathan, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to...”

“Shut up, boy scout. I did it because I wanted to do it. You don’t owe me anything.”

“Except for your life savings and a lifelong dream.”

“I am happy right where I am now, Tom,” Nathan says but Tom knows he is saying that only to make him feel better.

“It’s not safe for you to be here, is it?” Tom asks.

“Don’t worry about it now.”

To Nathan Tom looks like he has not slept in weeks. Tom has lost weight and he’s looking very different from the cocky, stubborn young man Nathan remembered him. Nathan wants Tom to calm down, get some sleep and offer him a safe place to rest for a while, because he knows Tom doesn’t need anything else more than that.
However, Tom doesn’t let the subject drop:

“I might have led the feds to your door by coming here... Maybe that’s why they let me cross the border so easily? Maybe...”

“Tom, now you are just being paranoid. I’m fine, everything’s fine, you’ll see. You just need to rest now.”

It doesn’t take long from Tom to fall asleep. He lays down on the couch while Nathan is still in the kitchen, washing their dishes. Nathan sits down on the chair next to the couch, picking up a book. It’s one of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels and not even a very good one, but Nathan finds it interesting. He stays awake for hours, reading and listening to Tom’s steady breathing. In time of sunrise Tom wakes up and looks around himself, obviously confused. Nathan calms him down by telling him where he is and Tom is back asleep almost instantly after that. When he wakes up again a few hours later, he sees Nathan still sitting on the chair, sleeping.

“That can’t be good for your back, old man,” Tom mumbles and yawns.

“I heard that,” Nathan says, opening his eyes. “I would ask you to make coffee but you never make it strong enough so I guess I’ll have to do it. In the meantime, why don’t you go pick up the newspaper.”

Tom looks better now that he’s gotten some sleep and some real food and caffeine into his system. They are sitting at the table. Nathan is reading the newspaper and Tom tries to avoid Nathan’s eyes by studying the cabin. He knows his sudden interest in the few paintings Nathan has on his walls is not very believable, so he decides to speak his mind:

“I wish I could say I have some savings to live on, but I don’t.”

“I thought we already discussed this,” Nathan says, keeping his eyes on the newspaper.

“Well, not really, Nathan. You acted against your own rules when you saved me, spending all your money in the process, and now we are both in danger because of me.”

“Come on, listen to yourself! What happened to the Tom Bishop I once knew? Where’s the boy scout, always looking for troubles, doing what he wants rather than following anyone’s rules?”

Tom is very serious when he says: “I don’t know, Nathan.”

“Remember when you told me once why we work so well together. You said it was because we are so similar. We both believe we are untouchable. I wish I could hear that from you now, Tom, I want you to smirk at me and tell me they’re never going to catch us — because that’s how it is, right?”

Tom just nods. He would like to tell Nathan how much of his courage always came from him, how deadly important Nathan has always been to him, but he stays quiet because he knows Nathan doesn’t want to talk about things like that.

“I care about you. Don’t ever question that,” Nathan says, like he could read Tom’s mind.

“Alright,” Tom says, stands up and puts one more piece of bread in the toaster.

***

At some point they started to receive anonymous, silent phone calls. No matter how much they ask the caller to identify themselves, all they hear as an answer is heavy breathing. At first they tried not to mind about them, trying to prove they were not easily scared. Eventually they started to flinch every time the phone rang. At that point they had to talk about the phone calls with each other and ask some serious questions.
“Are you sure we can stay here?” Tom had asked one day.

This was the topic they had both prevented, knowing they would have to talk about this sooner or later.

“Just wait for a while longer,” Nathan had said, without really giving Tom a straight answer. “They are only trying to scare us.”

If he was right, they had succeeded. Nothing ever happened though, nothing interrupted their daily routines, and the days followed each other exactly the same. At some point Nathan decided to get rid off the phone and broke the contract with the operator. Soon after that they started to talk about moving away.

Next they start to receive letters. They are sent from all over the country and both from the States and from Canada. They are written with a typewriter and there are never any names or specific locations or times mentioned. Usually the letters don’t have more than one or two sentences written. They are like small notes, saying things like: “WE ARE EVERYWHERE. WE’LL ALWAYS WIN” and “IF ONE OF THE PAIR IS KILLED, DOES THE OTHER HALF HAVE ANY REASON TO STAY LOYAL TO HIM?” and “WHO IS MOST NECESSARY FOR YOUR SURVIVAL? WHAT IF HE’S GONE TOMORROW WHEN YOU WAKE UP?”

Tom knows Nathan plays it cool for a long time in order to keep him calm. A few times Tom asks Nathan if he’s scared or even worried about the notes. At first Nathan denies being scared at all but Tom knows he’s lying. Nathan keeps Tom at his sight even more carefully than before and stays inside more and more frequently, no matter how great the weather is. Tom knows that sooner or later Nathan would say something. He would just have to wait.

“As of today, we will sleep downstairs,” Nathan announces one evening when Tom is sitting on the couch, reading a magazine.

“Why?”

“It’s not safe to be upstairs if they decide to light the house on fire or something.”

“Do you think they would really do something like that?”

“They were ready to let you get killed, boy. Don’t make the mistake of underestimating what they can do.”

“Did they ever... do anything to you? Before you came here?” Tom asks, realising they had never talked about this.

Nathan looks at Tom, arching an eyebrow.

“Had they been able to catch me - and thanks to my loyal friends, they didn’t - we wouldn’t be here talking now.”

“Friends like that are hard to find.”

“I know, which is why I try to protect the ones I already have.”

“At any cost?”

Nathan sighs.

“Alright, I admit living in a cabin in Canada is a slight disappointment compared to what I originally had in mind but... I couldn’t have lived with you dead, Tom. I could have never forgive myself if I had let them to get you killed.”

Before Tom has a chance to answer, Nathan coughs and continues:
“Where do you wanna sleep? On the couch or in the guest room?”

“The couch is fine.”

“Alright.”

***

In the middle of the night Tom wakes up when he hears a thud. Something hit the door, only once. Tom hears no other sounds, no knocking or footsteps. He tries to go back to sleep but then decides to check the door. Tom stands up, wondering if he should wake Nathan up. He walks to the window as silently as he can and looks outside, but he doesn’t see anyone. He walks to the door, listens carefully and thinks he hears something. The sound is small and high and it often breaks. It sounds like cat is playing with a mouse before killing it. Tom knows he shouldn’t open the door but his curiosity wins against his rational thinking and he opens the door carefully. He looks down and sees a cat. The cat is quite big, it has grey, long fur and and a pained look in it’s eyes when it meows. Seeing all the blood around the cat Tom knows it’s been stabbed. It will die soon from blood loss and Tom knows it can’t be saved anymore. Next to the cat, partly under its body, is a small piece of paper. Tom picks it up and reads it:
“YOU DOUBTED US. HERE’S PROOF. THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING.”

Tom pets the cat as carefully as he can to check the injuries and the cat meows louder than before. It is obviously in great deal of pain and Tom knows he’ll have to put it out of it’s misery, but first he wants Nathan to see this. He runs to through the living room to the guest room’s door, knocks but opens it without waiting for an answer.

“Nathan?”

Nathan is already awake, putting on his shirt when Tom steps inside the room. He looks at Tom with a worried look in his eyes and Tom realises why when he looks down at his hands. His shirt and hands are covered with blood.

“It’s not mine,” Tom says quickly. “It’s the cat’s.”

“The what?” Nathan asks but is already coming to see what’s wrong.

Tom gives him the note and Nathan scans it through before fully focusing on the cat. The cat is only barely breathing now and it has a glazed look in it’s eyes.

“We have to kill it,” Nathan says and takes the cat in his arms as carefully as he can. The cats meows but Nathan is trying to calm it down by murmuring to it in a low voice. Nathan walks behind their house and breaks his necks in one, sudden move. The cat doesn’t have time to realise what happened. Tom holds the flashlight when Nathan buries the cat behind their house.

When Nathan comes back inside, Tom changes his shirt and washes his hands. Nathan has blood and dirt on his clothes so he changes them and then they sit down. It’s the darkest moment of the night, right before sunrise.

“Are you finally starting to believe me when I say we can’t stay here?” Tom asks.

“There is nothing we can do right now. It’s best if we just try to get some more sleep before starting to figure out how to get out of here.”

Nathan walks to the guest room and when Tom looks after him a wave of emotions almost crushes him. It’s like he feels all the emotions at once: guilt because of what he had done to Nathan’s life, sadness because of Elizabeth, fear for himself and Nathan because he doesn’t know who they are up against but the worst, most unbearable emotion, is the choking fear of losing Nathan. Tom doesn’t want to be alone, not right now, so he follows Nathan to the guest room. He opens the door and sees Nathan sitting on a bed. Nathan turns to look at him:
“What’s wrong?”

Tom walks straight to Nathan and kisses him. Nathan stays still until Tom breaks the kiss and then he says “Tom,” obviously trying to make him stop. But Tom can’t stop now. He kisses Nathan again and this time Nathan responds. This feels right, more right than anything before in Tom’s life. He runs his fingers under Nathan’s shirt and takes it off. Then he runs his lips down his neck, chest and belly and unbuttons his jeans. Nathan makes sounds of pleasure Tom had never before heard from him and it encourages him to go on. Nathan takes off Tom’s shirt and underwear. They fall onto bed and Tom strokes Nathan’s cock gently and slowly. Nathan’s sounds almost drive Tom crazy so he has to stop for a minute and kiss Nathan to silence him, just for a while.

“Sex has ruined many beautiful friendships,” Nathan says.

“I really don’t care.”

“I love the way you live in the moment, Tom.”

“Are we here to talk or fuck, Nathan?”

Tom keeps stroking Nathan’s cock until Nathan takes his wrist and stops him.
“Not yet.”

They change their position so Tom is on top. Nathan opens the first drawer of his night desk and hands Tom a bottle of lube.

“You are prepared for everything, aren’t you?” Tom asks.

“I’m amazed you aren’t, you being an old boy scout and everything.”

“Touché.”

Tom slides himself inside Nathan slowly but steadily. They find a rhythm easily and it doesn’t take long before they come, Nathan cursing and Tom repeating Nathan’s name again and again.

***

At some point they fell asleep and suddenly Tom finds himself in a familiar situation. This is the first time Tom knows he’s sleeping when dreaming of Vietnam. He is laying on the high grass, waiting for the man to come to take him. This time he tries to be smarter than them and run away before the men come. He stands up, starts running and all of a sudden bombs are being dropped down around him. He doesn’t get hurt so he runs into the woods, constantly looking around to see if he’s being followed. He makes a mistake when not watching his steps and he falls into a large hole. He tries to climb out of there but suddenly some men surround him, looking down at him. They throw buckets of ants on top of him and the ants start eating him alive. He can feel how the ants are running on his skin, biting pieces out of it and how they walk into his nose, ears and mouth. Tom knows he’s sleeping but the pain still feels real and he tries to wake himself up. He feels his pulse racing and he can’t breath properly but then he suddenly jolts upright and wakes up. A wave of nausea hits him and he jumps out of the bed, rushing to the bathroom. He barely makes it to there before violently throwing up, his headache hammering his temples at every heartbeat.

He is sweating and panting when a familiar voice asks:
“Are you alright?”

Nathan is behind him, leaning on the doorframe and Tom nods to him, obviously not being very reassuring because Nathan keeps going.

“No, I want to hear you say it. Are you alright?”

“Yes.”

“How long have you been having nightmares?”

“Longer than I can recall.”

“Would you like to talk about it?”

“You are not much of a talking type, Nathan.”

“There are many sides of me you know nothing about.”

“I’m fine, really, but thank you.”

“Ok,” Nathan says and offers his hand to help Tom stand up.

***

Later in the morning Tom sees a world map on the living room table. Nathan comes out of the kitchen, bringing two cups of coffee with him. Giving the other one to Tom, he points to the map.

“I’m open to suggestions. What is the one place you have always wanted to visit?”

“I thought we ran out of money long ago.”

“We’ll get some money when we sell this place.”

“And then?”

“Then we try to make it to Europe, find a job and go from there.”

Tom loves it when Nathan says “we” instead of “I” or “you” because it shows they are in this together.

“What if we can’t cross the border?” Tom asks and what he doesn’t say can loudly be heard between the lines: “What if we get caught and they put us in jail for the rest of our lives.”

“Most likely we can.”

“I think I’m gonna need a little bit more than most likely.”

“Are you seriously trying to set some rules here? If I remember right, you are the reason —”

Nathan stops before finishing his sentence but Tom heard enough. He walks to the door, not knowing where he’s going, only wanting to get out.

“TOM!” Nathan yells and Tom stops, not because Nathan sounds demanding but because, more than that, he sounds scared. Nathan waits until Tom turns to look at him before continuing:
“Tom, I don’t regret what I did, I just... Please, don’t leave me.”

Leave? To Tom it’s slightly surprising to hear Nathan being this honest about wanting Tom on his side.

“I don’t...” Tom says, swallows and tries again. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Tom walks back to Nathan and starts looking at the map again.

“Anyway,” Nathan starts again. “What would you suggest? Want to go to London and see what it’s like to live in a monarchy? Or maybe Australia, Aussies have a wonderful accent. Germany? You have been there before, though.”

“Paris.”

“Paris?”

“Yeah. You know, the city of the Eiffel Tower, Seine...”

“...difficult language...”

“I think we could be happy there.”

Nathan sighs and looks at the map for a long time before asking:
“Do you have your fake IDs with you?”

“Umm...”

“Thought so much. I have them, though.”

“You kept them for me?”

“Yup.”

“Oh. So, we are going to Paris, then?”

“Yeah, we are going to Paris.”

***

Because they don’t have a phone any longer they can’t call a taxi, so they have to use their own car. A few days earlier Nathan had met one of his friends, without having Tom with him, and arranged that their house will be sold once they had left. They take some clothes with them, some money, some food and some extra gasoline. They stop at the bank where Tom picks up his fake passport and then they head to the airport. Everything goes so smoothly that Tom starts to wonder if Nathan had planned beforehand.

They have not gone far before Nathan starts checking the rearview mirror more and more often.

“We are being followed, aren’t we?” Tom asks.

“It seems so. You see that white car behind us? I thought I lost it for a second but it’s back now.”

Nathan accelerates, doesn’t stop at the lights and turns at every intersection while trying to lose their follower. It doesn’t take long before Tom sees the road signs leading them to the airport and when they arrive at the parking lot, Nathan decides to abandon their car there. They pick up their stuff and walk quickly to the terminal. They don’t know when the next flight to Paris will leave, but as long as they get a flight to somewhere in Europe they would be alright.

The airport is full of people and the lines are long wherever they go, but they decide to stay together. To their fortune, a flight to London is leaving in an hour so they book two seats on the plane. Then they get in the line to get their passports checked.

“I’m wanted by any and all organizations, Interpol, CIA, FBI, you name it, so this can all go horribly wrong,” Nathan says.

“We are going to be alright,” Tom says and he doesn’t know who he’s trying to reassure more, Nathan or himself.

“I want you to go first because I know they’ll let you go. If there is a problem with my passport, I want you to act like you don’t know who I am and just leave.”

“Nathan...”

“I don’t need you to play a hero here, boy scout. I want you to promise me not to do that. If we start saving each other’s asses all the time it’ll be ridiculous.”

“I think you worry for nothing.”

“Promise me.”

“I’m afraid I can’t promise you that, Nathan.”

Nathan gives him the same look he had always given him when he had been training Tom and Tom had rebelled against his rules. However, things had changed since then and now they are not a teacher and an apprentice anymore but equal friends, coworkers and partners. Tom thinks Nathan understands this, too, because he falls silent.

When people are staring at him behind his back, Tom senses it by feeling a tingling sensation on his neck — just like right now. He starts to look around, trying to spot the people observing him without their notice. Tom doesn’t know if Nathan had noticed they are being watched so he whispers to him from the corner of his mouth:

“Do you feel what I feel?”

“Yup. Strange how you didn’t notice it earlier.”

“What are we going to do?”

“We have to catch that flight so it’s best if we stay in the line as long as we can. They can’t attack us here in the middle of the crowd.”

“Of course they can.”

“Okay, but they won’t if they’re smart.”

The line in front of them is suddenly moving even more slowly than it did before and every step they take to move forward is both relieving and frustrating. When Tom sees two men coming towards them Tom thinks they are officially screwed. Oddly enough, the men stop when they are only a few feet away from them and don’t come any closer. It seems like they just want to make sure Tom and Nathan know they are being watched.

Tom arrives at the desk before Nathan, giving his passport to the clerk sitting behind the glass. He looks at Tom, the passport and then back to Tom and Tom gives him his most charming smile. The clerk gives Tom his ticket and passport back, smiles to him and wishes him a nice flight. Nathan is right on his heels and the clerk studies his passport very carefully. He looks at Nathan, at the passport and then checks his papers. Every second that passes feel like a year to Tom while he’s standing next to Nathan, unable to do anything.

“Are you travelling with him?” the clerk asks Nathan and points at Tom.

“Yes,” Nathan answers truthfully because he’s not sure what they want to hear.

“He’s your son, right? You look so much alike,” the clerk continues.

Nathan frowns, looks quickly at Tom and this time he lies when he says yes. Tom raises his eyebrows, hoping the clerk doesn’t see it. Nathan gets his passport and the flying ticket back and when Nathan is sure the clerk can’t see his face, he gives Tom the widest of smiles and Tom can’t help but smile back at him.

“You really look a little like a younger version of me,” Nathan says when they are walking towards the boarding area.

“I sometimes wonder why you don’t have children,” Tom says. “But you never even had a wife, either, so...”

“I guess I just never met the right person with whom I could have built a family,” Nathan says. “Not that I would have been much of a father anyway.”

“I think you would have done a good job.”

“We’ll never know,” Nathan says, shrugging. “But I got you, right? That’s something.”

“Right,” Tom says and blushes a little. He thinks Nathan must enjoy these moments when he can embarrass him.

Their good mood doesn’t last long because soon they notice the men they had seen earlier walking towards them again.

“We’ll need to split,” Nathan says.

“What?!”

“It’s not you they want, it’s me and we can use that against them.”

“What do you have in mind?”

Nathan explains his plan to Tom and it sounds extremely risky, but they both know this is their only chance.

“Do you trust me?” Nathan asks.

“You know I do.”

Nathan turns his back to Tom and starts to walk away but looks at Tom over his shoulder and says: “In case things go sour... you know...”

Tom nods. “Yeah. Me, too.”

***

When Nathan walks away Tom checks how the men following them react to see them separate. As expected, they look confused for a while and then decide to split as well, one of them following Nathan and one of them following him. Tom tries to look as innocent as he can, pretending he doesn’t notice the man who is now practically walking on his heels. After a while he sits down until the passengers are called to the terminal 10. He gets in the line and looks at the man for the first time in the whole day, letting him know he’d been noticed a long time ago. The man looks angry and frustrated because there isn’t much he is able to do anymore. Tom turns his back on him and after the flight attendant checks his ticket, he walks inside the plane and takes his seat. He had been very calm the whole time but now, with every passing minute the seat next to him remains empty, his anxiety grows.

***

Nathan walks inside the bathroom and waits. He knows his shadow will come to find him if he only stays inside for long enough. There are two other men with him in the bathroom and when they leave, Nathan is all alone. He’s listening to his heartbeat, thinking about Tom, just waiting. Fifteen minutes later the man steps inside, keeping his right hand on his side so he can pull out his gun as soon as possible if and when he has to. He stands still when he sees Nathan and for a moment they stare each other in silence.

“Where’s your buddy?” Nathan asks without really believing the man would answer him.

“I came alone, Muir. Just you and me.”

“Alone at last.”

“Nathan, you can make things easy or you can make things really complicated. It’s up to you but you must realise that you can’t run anymore. No one blames you for giving up now.”

“You keep saying my name. Is that one of the tricks they taught you to deal with criminals?”

The man blushes a little but stays quiet.

“I think we both know I am not going to leave here without a fight. And I know you have your hand on your gun, but I don’t think you’ll shoot me. I know all your tricks before you even try them. Wanna know how? Because I know how you work. They don’t say knowledge is power for nothing.”

The man looks at Nathan, his hand never moving away from his gun and then he decides to act, just like Nathan could have guessed right from the start. He pulls his gun out but before he has time to pull the trigger, Nathan takes it away from him in one, easy looking movement. He breaks the man’s arm in the process and kicks him in the nuts before slamming his head against the wall and knocks him out. He drags the unconscious man to one of the toilet stalls and leaves him there.

“Like taking a candy from a baby,” Nathan mutters when he steps outside the bathroom and runs to make it to the plane on time.

Every time a new passengers steps inside the plane, Tom is hoping, praying and begging for Nathan to be with them. He looks at his watch and notices that the plane will leave in fifteen minutes and in any minute they will shut the doors. He tries to relax and do as Nathan had told him, focusing on getting away from the country. He leans back, closes his eyes for a second and tries to figure out what he will do if the plane leaves with him but not Nathan. He hears the doors being closed and his mouth goes dry. Then he hears the pilot welcoming them, telling them about the weather conditions and approximating the time when they will land in London. Tom doesn’t really listen to him because all he hears is the blood rushing in his ears.

“Here you are,” a familiar voice suddenly whispers in his ear and he opens his eyes. “I went to first class at first. No wonder they looked surprised to see me there.”

“Nathan,” Tom sighs and smiles widely.

“Yup,” Nathan says. “I told you we are going to be alright, didn’t I?”

“Well, in fact...”

“Yeah, yeah whatever. London’s calling!”

When the plane lands in London, they have just enough cash left to buy a train ticket to Paris and buy themselves some food.

“Where are we going to sleep?” Tom asks when they are waiting for the train.

“I have some friends living in Paris.”

“And it didn’t occur to you to inform me about that a little earlier?”

“No, not really.”

They arrive in Paris when it’s already dark. Nathan walks right into the nearest phone booth and dials a number. He is good at remembering numbers, much better than Tom. Nathan only exchanges a few words with his friend and, stepping outside the phone booth, he tells Tom to follow him. And that’s exactly what Tom does, follows and trusts Nathan to lead them safely to wherever it is they’re going. They quickly disappear into the crowd of people on the streets and Tom realises that instead of being the famous spy he once wanted to become, he has instead become just a regular Joe, living with his best friend. Sometimes it takes years before someone understands that in life they often don’t get what they want but what they need instead. When Tom follows Nathan through the streets of Paris, he realises he is happier now than ever before in his whole life. He is not afraid of anything anymore. He knows the nightmares will never come back.