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our friendship was like a Taylor Swift song (and baby, now we've got bad blood)

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Your father was a bad man, he'd told Aisha, and in another moment, during another conversation, she'd replied, I thought you were bad men.

So. Roque.

 

"Are we going to talk about the fact that this woman put a bomb in your car?" Roque asked. He looked about ten seconds from exploding into a raging storm of violence, which was to say that he came across as calm, collected and ready to commit cold-blooded murder.

Clay wished his ears would stop ringing so that he could take a convincing stab at coming across as calm, collected and in command of both this unit and himself.

The truth was, he was a bit rattled.

"What's there to talk about?"

Roque's timer lost about five seconds. "A car bomb, Clay."

Clay shrugged. The gesture permitted his body to alert him to the fact that yeah, he'd probably pulled a few more muscles than he'd been previously aware of. "This place, they probably sell them at the corner store. Maybe there was a sale."

"That's not the point," Roque said, and Clay mentally ticked off the box next to 'car bombs' on his supply list. Good to know. It wasn't everywhere that you could go shopping for that sort of stuff without the neighbors starting to give you funny looks.

"Sorry, what's the point? That she's a bad girl who deserves a spanking and then get sent to bed without dinner?"

"You're not taking this seriously," Roque said. "You never take this sort of stuff seriously."

"Excuse me?" Clay said, because this was pushing it. So he'd had a few bad dates, so what? He'd lived, nobody'd gotten hurt (well, no permanent damage had been done, at any rate). Live and learn, and all that jazz. Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, maybe - although in his defense, none of the other incidents had involved a car bomb, so.

"You want to die, I can cut your head off right here and now. Save us all some trouble. Is that what you want?"

All right, so less of a focus on ... Caroline? Eva? That was good.

More of a focus on what Roque viewed as his flaws and Clay viewed as his - well, fine, maybe they were flaws. Nobody was perfect. Take Roque, for example.

Loyal, sure. Good man to have watching your back in a fight, absolutely.

"I don't want to die," Clay said. Best to keep it simple, he judged.

"Good," Roque said. "I don't want you to die, either."

"So we're in agreement, then."

Roque closed his eyes. "No, Clay, we're not in agreement. Just ... why you gotta be like this?"

 

Always a good question to ask, really.

Why is any of us the way they are? Why did my best friend stab me in the back instead of coming right out and tell me - what?

 

" 'You're losing the men, Clay. You're losing me.' Emphasis on the 'me'. I told you, didn't I?"

Clay poured himself another drink and considered. Drinking straight from the bottle would probably be more effective, assuming his goal here was to get black-out drunk.

"You made it sound like a process," he said. "You know, an on-going thing? Not a done deal. And I didn't lose the men." Just you.

"Oh, excuse me, I'm not one of your men now? When did that happen?"

When you betrayed all of us. But that wasn't quite right, was it? Clay'd been in command. Roque had warned him. Again and again, Roque had warned him.

"I don't think I'm enjoying this guilt trip," Clay said. "It's superfluous, it's stupid, it's misplaced. So I missed the signs, so what? Doesn't change what you did."

"Right," Roque said. He hadn't yet demanded Clay pour him a drink, so clearly, he was nothing but a figment of Clay's imagination.

The fact that he wasn't trying to kill Clay might be a hint in that direction, too.

"So dating Fadhil's daughter - that's just another sound tactical decision, is it?"

"Don't," Clay said. Truth was, he liked to believe there was some sort of symmetry going on. One guy'd started out as his best friend and ended up trying to kill him. One girl started out trying to kill him and ended up his best friend. (Well. It was good to dream big. The sex wasn't bad, either.)

Didn't quite explain the others, but there you had it. Nothing and nobody was perfect.

"You stupid son of a bitch."

"Hey," Clay said. "Which one of us ended up killing who here?"

 

"Anyone ever tell you it's bad luck to drink by yourself?"

Clay laughed and took another swig. He'd treated himself to the good stuff. It burned all the way down. Put some more hair on his chest, likely as not.

"Does the bad luck come before or after the drinking?"

Roque sat down. He'd brought his own bottle. It still seemed about three-quarters full, which might indicate it was his second of the evening. "Who the fuck knows."

"Well put." Clay slouched a bit more. It was one of the few things he knew he did better than Roque.

Roque sighed and turned his bottle half-full. Half-empty. Whatever. "She wasn't right for you."

"You think?" Clay reviewed his past - well, let's make it five dates. "Maybe it's me. Maybe I'm the one who's not right for, well, anyone. Maybe I'm doomed to die lonely and alone. Friendless."

"Maybe you will."

"Thanks."

Roque grinned. "Don't mention it, Colonel. Always happy to help."

"I love you, too. Deeply."

"At last, we get to the truth." Roque lifted his bottle. "Want to swap poisons?"

"Sure." Clay emptied his bottle. The light wasn't too good, so with any luck -

"You're a bad man, Colonel." Well. That hadn't lasted long.

Clay grinned. "You're a good friend, Roque."

 

You will die very badly, he'd told Roque.

Hell of a thing to say to a guy. Hadn't even happened, really; Clay had given it his best shot, really he had, but Roque was built like a, well, a rock, all hard muscle and rough edges.

Roque had died alone, lonely and friendless.

And Clay'd been there, but he hadn't really been there in the end. No death bed confessions, reconciliations, weeping of manly tears. Just boom, gone.

Didn't feel quite right, somehow.

 

"Anyone ever tell you it's bad luck to drink by yourself, papi?"

"They have, actually. But," Clay shrugged, "you know me."

"Stubborn," Aisha said. "So. Want some company?"

"Love to," Clay said, stepping aside to let her in.

"You stupid son of a bitch," Roque said.

Clay laughed and closed the door.