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Easily Lost

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It's been a few months since Mike returned to Washington. He has been busy, but that hasn't stopped him from making time to stay in touch with Paul, and Charlie, and everyone else from the house. He enjoys his work, but it's hard to settle back into a life where he doesn't have to lie to everyone he meets.

He supposes that, in some ways, he still is lying to everyone, on some level. He's been quietly keeping tabs on Bello. He has made no direct contact -- not one phone call or visit -- he can't, not yet. He's been biding his time, trying to figure out what his next move should be.

He feels so very torn. It may be time to step back, to stop with the silence, but he doesn't think that Bello would want to see him, if he'd even speak to him, but he has to know. He needs to know if this is what he thinks it is, if it's more, or if he's completely misread the cues.

He's tried dating a few times since he left the house, but it hasn't exactly worked out well. He hasn't felt that balance, that ease of presence that he had felt working with Bello. He can't quite put his finger on what's missing, whether it's the arguments about Westerns or the fast-paced banter that part of him craves.

He can't wrap his mind around it. He's never been interested in men -- never even curious to experiment in his reckless youth. But somehow, Bello seems to have carved out an exception to his interests. Try as he might, Mike just can't understand why he's now questioning himself about someone whose majority of life choices go directly against everything that he considers good and right in the world. How is it possible that he's feeling things about someone so terrible?

Finally, he settles on a time to have that visit. He takes some personal time and doesn't tell anyone why he's travelling. Strangely, this state of being is more comfortable than the full-disclosure, all honesty one he used to live in. The misdirections come all too easily, and he finds himself wondering if it's a result of living in Graceland, or if somehow in their work together Bello rubbed off on him, or if it's a part of himself that he kept secreted away even from himself.

He's sitting at the table and waiting when the guilt hits him again. He feels awful about having betrayed Bello. Even if he shouldn't think of it that way, even if nobody in the FBI would agree that what happened was a betrayal, it was, and he is overwhelmed by the feeling that he should have tried to do something to keep it all from happening.

Bello sits across the table from him and just looks at him, holding back whatever he may want to say. His face is unreadable, but there is no mistaking the tension set in his shoulders. Mike can't help but wonder if the tension comes from being in prison, or if it's because of what he did. Several minutes tick by in silence, until finally Bello asks Mike why he decided to come.

Mike shifts a little uncomfortably, looking at the table, and then at Bello, and then back at the table, before he finally admits that he doesn't exactly know. He's been confused since he met Bello, and part of him is hoping to shed some light on the reasons why. He starts to try to explain himself, but he's barely gotten two sentences out when Bello starts laughing. He laughs, and laughs, and Mike doesn't understand why, until Bello meets his eyes and tells him to go home, find a boyfriend, and come back after he's figured himself out.

He goes home and, after contemplating Bello's words, tries to follow those directions. He makes a conscientious effort to find and date at least a couple of men, but it just doesn't quite seem right. He doesn't mention what he's doing to anyone, because he still can't come to grips with the idea that maybe this is who he actually is. He meets a nice young man, and takes him to dinner, and is surprised at the end of the evening when his date mistakes his unease for nerves and asks for a second date. He says yes, because after all, isn't this what he's supposed to be doing?

Christmas comes and goes, and somehow Mike has faked his way into a relationship. His heart isn't really in it, and after a few more months, the relationship dissolves quietly, as if it was never quite there to begin with. He takes another trip to visit Bello, who seems to have been expecting him. There is no long, awkward silence this time -- only a few uncomfortable seconds where Mike feels like he's being scrutinised. Bello leans back and asks Mike what he's learned.

Eventually, Mike has an answer. He tells Bello that he had met someone, but it didn't work out in the end. It wasn't the right fit. He doesn't say it aloud, but he's still fairly certain, even after having spent the last five months dating a man, that he's just not interested -- with this one, notable exception. A few times, he's heard the phrase gay for you thrown around, but it seems somehow vulgar in this context. He just crosses his arms and shrugs, something non-committal, because he has finally come to the conclusion that he doesn't want anything else. He's not comfortable with it in the least, but he's working on that in his spare time.

This time, after he goes home, he spends some time considering whether or not it would be beneficial to find someone he can confide in, someone to be a sounding board while he finishes sorting out what's on his mind. He decides to keep a journal instead. He writes out everything that he's been worrying over for the past year, carefully omitting names and specific events just in case someone finds their way into his private spaces again. He doesn't quite trust any of his superiors, not after he was given a bugged photo, and he doesn't trust that he might not sometime accidentally leave the journal someplace that it shouldn't be, and the wrong person will pick it up and read it. At least if he doesn't name names or events, the worst that could happen is he gets outed as queer.

He doesn't talk to Bello outside of their visits; it seems just too big a risk to take. He continues to visit regularly, and slowly, it seems like the easy conversations they had start to return. Things just might be returning to what Mike had grown to think normal. He's starting to look forward to the visits when, one day, Bello tells him that he probably shouldn't visit again. He clarifies that it isn't because he's still angry with him, but because these visits could very well be getting suspicious.

Mike nods, even though he wants to argue. He agrees, eventually. This isn't how he thought this visit would go, now that he and Bello have found more secure footing with one another. He knows there's never going to be a happy reunion, not as long as Bello is incarcerated, but it doesn't stop him from hoping for something of the sort, eventually. He rubs a hand across his chin, considering what he should do.

He touches two fingers to his lips and lays his hand, palm-up, on the table between them. A long moment passes in absolute silence before Bello mimicks his gesture, resting his palm on the table so that their fingers brush lightly. It's the best they can do, with two guards in the room watching them disinterestedly. He can't hide his smile as he stands up, getting ready to leave. He tries to go for disaffected when he speaks, but there is no mistaking the edge of hope in his voice as he says, "Call me when you get out?"

Bello's half-smile is all the answer he needs.