Truth be told, the second he passed Michael’s bike, Scott immediately regretted his decision. Or rather, his indecision. His indecision and his inability and his incapability to say something more to Michael, anything to persuade him to come along with them, even if only until Vegas.
What a fucking retard. Scott thought to himself.
But he couldn’t turn around, because it would mean going the wrong way, and he’d need some sort of explanation to Finn. No, it was too much trouble than it’s worth. Besides, he’s got no clue if Michael would oblige. If the man was heading north, maybe he’d planned on following the road all the way up to Canada. Probably the safer option for them both.
So that really would have been the last goodbye. After their narrowest escape to date, after all they had been through together, after three whole fucking months of counting down the days, not knowing if his partner was going to make it to the rendezvous…and in two minutes flat, they’d just waved off their last farewell.
The weight of this finality slowly sunk in. Scott felt the sour taste of acid slowly creep into the back of his throat. Well, at least now he had the benefit of knowing that Michael made it out alive. Thank God for that. The rest were out of his hands.
Or so he thought, until the unmistakable twin rumble of another motorcycle engine revved up behind them. He had to steal a glance.
And there he was, his longstanding partner in crime, ex-Section Twenty Sergeant Michael Stonebridge, laughing like an idiot as he raced to close the gap. Scott couldn’t help but crack the same Cheshire grin. Guess it makes two of them.
Michael glimpsed backwards for a quick second before he rolled his wrist. The bike hummed loudly while the late afternoon wind swept past his buzzcut and stubbles. The ghost of a smile lingered on the corners of his lips, as his mind stored away the memory from just now, featuring Scott’s exaggerated look of exasperation at Finn’s helmet request. He knew Scott had never been a fan of them, and to be fair, he couldn’t blame him because neither was he.
Unnecessary protection hindering freedom, a voice concluded.
Huh. It took Michael a moment to put his finger on what was off. He let out a huff and shook his head lightly. What was off, he realized, was that the statement had been so quintessentially Scott. A number of years ago, such an idea would have been absolutely unfathomable to the good, righteous, rule-abiding officer Stonebridge.
How much had Scott changed him! It was actually quite frightening, had it been anyone else. But Scott was fine. Scott he trusted, with his life. Nevertheless, Michael thought he could use it to blame his partner for corrupting him the next time they… He stopped short. Because there wouldn’t be a next time. This was the end. The end of his soldiering. And the end of Stonebridge and Scott.
Michael had a vague plan. He would head north on the 97, all the way past the borders maybe. Damien Scott was “dead” and should stay “dead”, but Michael Stonebridge was alive and well, and the British government knew it, no matter how many months he took to cover his tracks. So it would be better, if he were far enough away. Safer. Even if it meant not having a partner to watch his back.
Almost immediately, the yellowing bushes and tall dried-up weed along the gravel road became overwhelmingly dull. The same scenery stretched out for as far as the eye could see, disappearing into the distant horizon. Was he truly going back on Civvies Street, to lie low under the radar in some small town in the Rockies for the rest of his life?
A sharp panic stabbed him in the chest. Michael veered off from the road, the engines dropping to a low hum. Tires kicked up dust as his breath hitched.
No. Not yet. He wasn’t ready yet.
Michael clenched his teeth together and jerked his right wrist forward. The bike roared back into life.
He needed time, Michael told himself. Even if just for a week. He could figure it out after Vegas.
Michael and Scott had been on the run from Switzerland for about a week now, darting between desolate cabins and run-down motels along the Swiss-Austrian border as well as southwestern Germany. They had to lie as low as they could. Didn’t need any extra attention when both of them had quite a few wounds to battle already.
After the last outburst of exchange at the garage, they had managed to make their way back into the safe house itself, where Christy’s body was still warm by the foot of the bed. Michael let Scott take care of cleaning up his right hand, before he redressed the other man’s stomach wound, which had torn open again, and tended to the nicked leg. He also tied a ripped up shirt around the shallow cut on his own shin where a bullet grazed it in the crossfire.
They were two beaten up animals licking each other’s wounds.
But time wasn’t on their side. They needed to get out quickly. The amount of dead bodies would certainly raise alarm by the time daylight dawned. Michael ransacked the place for anything useful, spare ammo, stale coffee beans, squashed crackers, and what was left from the first aid kit, while Scott went through Christy’s things. There wasn’t much to salvage, but at least they had clean passports and some cash, courtesy of the now dead ex-handler of Damien Scott.
They ditched the cabin under the cover of dark and limped away across the hushed forest.
“Mikey,” Scott nudged Michael’s shoulder with his knee, gesturing his partner to give him some room.
Michael silently obliged, scooting over on the narrow boarded patio at the back of their cabin.
They’d arrived in this village on a rented a car around late afternoon. Blending in with the other backpackers, they asked for a budget travel lodge and were directed here. Other than a little small, the accommodations really weren’t bad, and everything was cleanly kept.
Scott handed Michael a beer as he sat down next to him, “you know, sometimes I kinda forget that we are supposed to be on the run.”
“Well, guess that’s why you’ve got me here.” The chilled bottle felt nice against Michael’s calloused palm.
“Cheers to that, buddy,” glass clinked against glass.
Michael didn’t need to turn his head to know that Scott was looking right at him. “Cheers,” he replied, bringing the bottle to his lips.
Not too far away, the lights flickered on in a few other cabins. Scott straightened his back and squinted across the grassy lawn. The curved silhouette of a woman could be seen moving about by the window. He let out a light whistle.
Michael chuckled, shaking his head, but didn’t say anything.
“Damn.” Scott took a long swig out of his bottle, before turning abruptly back to their previous topic of discussion. “So why are we on the run, Mikey?”
“What do you mean?” Michael rubbed the side of his head with his good hand.
“I mean, we’ve got new passports, new identities,” Scott paused, “why are we still running?”
“Hmm,” Michael made a noise to acknowledge the question.
“How much longer are we gonna have to do this for?”
“Till we are safe,” Michael replied quickly. It was curt, but held the weight of a promise. “Safe” was such an idealistic concept. “Safe” was a luxury they hadn’t had in a long time.
Scott fell silent.
There was only the dying heat in a late summer’s evening. The gentle rustle from the Black Forest sailed on treetops and enveloped the tiny village on its outskirts. If they hadn’t been on the run, this place would almost have been… relaxing, or even romantic. And Scott, Scott would probably have been on another one of his signature adventures, seducing some hot tourist girl at the local pub, instead of being stuck with Michael on the patio of their shared cabin.
“How’s the stomach?” Michael asked, barely bothering to fully enunciate his words. He felt several days’ worth of fatigue catching up to him.
“Better,” came Scott’s equally languid voice.
“How’s your hand?”
“Huh. Better let me take a look later.”
“Dude, wouldn’t want you missing your shots after it heals.” A lighthearted tone crept into Scott’s voice.
“It’s fine, really,” Michael repeated, “and I’m sure I can still beat you with the other.”
“You’ve never even beat me with your dominant, Stonehead.”
Michael cracked a smile. His partner never grew out of the hobby of messing with his last name. “It’s going to be Kane though, from now on,” he corrected.
“Yeah yeah, sure. Whatever.” Scott rolled his eyes, “that’s just for when we’re in public.”
Michael quirked an eyebrow at the distinction, at the way Scott phrased it. “Suit yourself.”
“Heh heh,” Scott seemed satisfied. He patted Michael on the shoulder, before hoisting himself up and strolling back inside, “I call dibs on the shower.”
Michael waved his permission, emptying his bottle.
Michael bumped into Finn at the foot of the stairs behind the motel’s cramped lobby. He’d just gotten back from the laundromat around the street corner, with clothes that no longer smelled like dirt and sweat in his backpack. Meanwhile, Finn brought a large brown paper bag and two cups of coffee on a cardboard tray.
“Grabbed some food from the diner, don’t know if it counts as breakfast or lunch but hey,” he lifted his left hand, rustling the paper bag.
“That’s alright. Food is food and I’m starving.” Stonebridge beamed at the boy, taking the coffee tray from him so he could grab his keycard, “thanks Finn.”
The metal hinges of the motel room door creaked as Finn elbowed it open, with Michael half a step behind him.
Inside, Scott had just finished his shower, stepping out of the bathroom as water dripped from his skin. Steam rolled out behind him along the low ceiling, before dissipating into the dry desert air. Sunlight poured in through cheap, flimsy curtains, and betrayed the dusty sill. Flexing his biceps, which were still sore from gripping the bike handles for hours on end, Scott let out a breath of contentment.
The door swung open at that moment, just as Scott reached a hand over to massage his shoulder blades. Immediately, his angled his body into a fight-ready position, fists tight by his hips.
“Jesus Christ! Damien!” he was met with Finn’s accusatory exclamation.
In Finn’s eyes, there, standing in the middle of the room, was his father, buck naked, dripping wet, ready to pounce like a predator onto its prey.
Scott, though, was visibly relaxed to see none other than his son and partner. “Hey, what’s up?” He sauntered over to the chair to pick up a spare towel and wrapped it loosely around his waist. “Don’t act so surprised, kid. Between the three of us here, we’ve all got the same bits and pieces.”
Finn rolled his eyes, “doesn’t mean I’ve got to see it! Jeez.” He dropped the bag onto the writing table, before turning to Michael.
“I’ve got it.” Michael had already reached over to set the coffee tray down, “you know, I think your dad might’ve already made it into a habit.”
Finn took the coffee cups out of their holder and crumpled the tray so he could stuff it into the garbage bin, “what?” He raised his eyebrows.
“This,” Michael gestured in the general direction of Scott with his chin, “after our first mission together, he told me he fought off two terrorists while completely naked. That is, if he wasn’t exaggerating his prowess.” Michael finished with a qualified challenge.
The recollection promptly earned Michael a death stare from the now only half-naked man.
“So yeah, might be a tough one to shake.” Michael added, stifling down the snicker to opt for a feigned gravitas.
“Jesus! He did what?!” Finn shook his head in disbelief. “How the hell…”
Michael tilted his head, giving Finn a quick confirmation that he’d heard correctly.
“Now, that’s just not fair, Mikey,” Scott interjected with drawled out vowels.
“Sorry?” Michael asked, slightly confused. He had moved over to the bed closest to Scott, setting down his backpack.
“First, I didn’t exaggerate,” Scott nodded to Finn, “details not important. And second, you’ve done it too!”
Now Finn was just as confused as Michael, “done what?”
“Him, he’s fought people naked too. So don’t just look at me funny, kid.”
Eyes immediately wide, Finn turned back to Michael.
“No, mate. Not the same thing.” Michael paused after unzipping his backpack, punctuating his words with his hand extended in front of his chest as defense, “they thought I was good at dead. They were going to dump my body in the incinerator.”
“So? Were you or weren’t you naked?” Scott challenged, certain of the outcome. “Point is, we’ve both fought while unclothed.”
Michael shook his head, defiantly. “Yeah but there’s a big difference. I wasn’t naked by choice.”
“And he was?” Finn sounded incredulous, barely managing to keep up, his head swiveling left and right between his father and Michael. “Why the hell would anyone…” his voice trailed off as he saw his father exchange a look with Michael.
“Not important. We’ll skip the colorful bits,” Michael glanced at Scott, “eh mate?”
“Fuck off.” Scott’s middle finger flew up in his partner’s face.
Finn seemed to be stuck trying to imagine what sort of situations the other men had been through as soldiers, his brows furrowed in deep thought.
Seeing the troubled look on Finn’s face, Scott added, not without his usual smugness, “in case you were wondering, I was the one who had to drag his ass out of that mess after the whole incinerator fiasco.”
“What happened?” Finn couldn’t help but ask. He was curious, though he tried not to stare too much.
“Dude got himself poisoned with some biological infection. Nasty shit,” he jabbed his thumb in Michael’s direction, “took our whole team plus some to get him out.”
That much was the truth, but Michael wasn’t keen to let Scott have his victory so easily.
“At least I had the decency to find myself a pair of pants the first chance I got. Mind you. And in a life-or-death struggle too.” He tossed his backpack from one end of the bed to the other, after removing a small pile of clean clothes, his own, from it, “yours.”
Earlier in the morning, Michael had taken to do both their laundry, a task he’d gotten himself into after a string of lost rock-paper-scissors many years ago. In time, it had grown into a regular fixture when they were out on missions together. Felt natural to stick to the habit even now.
Scott flopped down onto the stiff mattress, making a mess of crumpled bedsheet and maroon-colored blankets. He peeped into the sack and rummaged through its leftover contents, pulling out a faded gray t-shirt, a pair of underwear and his newly washed jeans.
“Thanks honey. You’d make somebody a fine mistress one day.”
Eyes still darting back and forth between the other men, Finn wondered if they were always like this. While he was engulfed in the tension of Michael’s capture and escape, the other two didn’t appear to give it much thought at all. Their levity felt misplaced. Plus, something about the picture of his father extracting a fresh pair of underwear from Michael’s backpack also felt misplaced.
Leaning on the wall by the bathroom door, Michael grabbed one of the coffee cups from the table on his right. He shot an exasperated look to his partner, “Sometimes I wonder how you’d feel if I gagged you with your own underpants.”
“Didn’t know you were into that,” Scott winked cheekily, without missing a beat, “but we can try it next time.”
“Prick,” he took a big gulp of the bitter liquid.
“Damien. God!” Finn couldn’t help himself, when he noticed that Damien was about to pull off his towel to get dressed. “Can’t you behave like a normal civilized human being, and go into the bathroom to change?”
“I thought we were over this already,” rolling his eyes, Damien retorted.
Michael gave Finn a hearty pat on his back.
“We were. If you’d understood the fact that nobody wanted to, uh,” he struggled for words, “see it all.” He settled, giving up.
Scott sighed, and then unexpectedly jerked his head towards Michael. There was a glint in his eyes as he did, and in an instant, Michael saw where this was going. Scott didn’t even have to make a sound, and Finn had already lost the battle, only he would be the casualty instead. He shot Scott a look of warning, which he was sure his partner registered, but conveniently ignored.
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” Scott stopped before entering the bathroom, inching closer to Michael, “this one here, actually quite likes… it. Don’t you, Mikey? Though he’d never admit it.”
Scott was too close. He’d slipped into Michael’s personal space with barely any resistance, and Michael was now trapped between his naked torso and the wall. Michael could feel the Scott’s breath on his neck. He weighed his options and decided not to shove his partner out of the way, partly because his skin was still damp and Michael didn’t quite fancy a slippery grip when he went for a single-handed chokehold.
So, straightening his back, Michael brought his shoulders level with Scott instead, their nose tips merely inches apart.
“Ha, very funny, if there was indeed anything at all to see,” Michael rasped out. He held Scott’s gaze for another second, unwavering.
“Well the next time you are down there, you’d better take a long hard look.” Scott made to catch Michael’s neck in the crook of his arm, but was mercilessly blocked.
Instead, Michael patted Scott across his left shoulder, “yeah, well, even so. Now, you really should get dressed, or else your son might be too traumatized,” he finished, before sidestepping to the side to address Finn, his voice back to its normal pitch, “see what I have to deal with?”
“Fuck you.” Scott kicked the bathroom door closed, apparently disgusted with Michael’s use of Finn as a shield.
But Michael only laughed, relishing in the other man’s testy reaction. He reached into the bag of food and decided to fill his empty stomach.
Finn, however, could only gape after them, his mouth slightly ajar. He had genuinely started to question just how adult these two men really were, and somehow he didn’t quite want to know the answer.
They’d entered the small parking lot adjacent to the motel they were staying at. Michael parked the car in the corner with an unobstructed view of both the streets and the building’s entrance. Taking a few seconds to scan the perimeters to make sure they were alone, Michael turned off the ignition. The engines rattled to a full stop.
Scott had moved to pull open the passenger side door, before Michael stopped him. “We need to talk,” he said, simply.
Scott looked surprised by the request, but settled back into his seat nonetheless, “alright, about what?”
Michael stared at the front windscreen, noticing the dirty outlines of dried water tracks on the glass. They’d driven through quite a bit of forest trails since early morning, covering ground in possibly four different countries, and ended up just outside Brussels. The scenery had been nothing short of spectacular, except neither he nor his partner had the heart to enjoy much of it.
“I’ve got an idea,” Michael’s voice was calm, as he swiveled around to face Scott.
“I’m not sure you’ll like it.”
Scott crossed his arms in front of his chest, “try me.”
“Hmm,” Michael cleared his throat, “technically, no one knows if we are dead or alive, right now.”
“Unless someone bothered to ID each one of those dead bodies back at the safe house.”
“That’s right,” Scott nodded, letting Michael know that he was following along. “But I’m pretty sure the British government would bother to check, and very thoroughly too.”
“I know, I know.” Michael seemed a little irritated, “but anyone who could’ve known our escape or whereabouts for sure is dead.”
“For the better too, damned merc bastards.”
Scott shot Michael a weary look, clearly not keen to bring up the subject of Christy Bryant. “Your point?”
“My point,” Michael decided not to dwell on it, “is that there could be an argument made for the possibility that we didn’t survive the exchange.”
“Uh, really?” Scott asked, incredulous, “now who’s being naïve, Mikey? You just said it yourself, neither of our bodies is in the pile of dead ones left there.”
“Just hear me out first,” Michael pleaded.
“Alright, whatever you say,” Scott threw up his hands in mock surrender.
“Like you said, if the British government went in,” Michael corrected himself, “when they went in, they’d probably turn the entire place upside down. And they’d also find a bunch of soaked sheets and medical supplies, your blood all over the place, from when we patched you up.”
“We had a fucking war back there, Mikey, full-on fucking bloodbath! With AK’s and flashbangs and knives and grenades. All that shit. There was lots of blood, everywhere.”
“Right. Yes. But that was different.” Michael rationalized, “and all I’m saying is that if they ran tests on everything, there could be a chance for them to believe that you were so badly injured…”
“That I didn’t manage to make it out?” Scott finished for him, shaking his head impatiently, “I seriously doubt that, not unless they found my corpse.”
“But if they actually canvased the area and went down by the creek? Your blood was all over there too.”
“Yeah, but still no body. And besides, it’s probably washed off by now.”
“Still a chance,” Michael fought on, persistent.
“No, too much wishful thinking, buddy. And besides, what about you, Mikey?” Growing uncertainty lined Scott’s face as he rejected Michael’s theory. He wasn’t even the least bit convinced that Michael hadn’t already thought of these things, yet somehow he’s chosen to overlook them. “Let’s just say that, for the sake of argument, they bought that story for me, however unlikely, what about you?”
“Now here’s where we can get a little creative…” Michael’s voice trailed off, as he thought of how best to word his plan.
Scott lifted his eyebrows.
“Well,” Michael locked his gaze on Scott, a solemn resolve written across his pursed lips. “There is something I can do. It’ll make sure they buy your story too.”
“Huh?” It took Scott a second to wrap his head around what his partner was suggesting, and his eyes grew wide in alarm when it dawned on him, “if you’re saying what I think you’re saying, Michael.”
The Englishman cocked his head.
“What the hell, dude!” Scott didn’t know how knew it, but he just did. And he hated it. The way Michael was looking at him, it was as if he didn’t really care about the potential consequences, and it pissed Scott off, big time. “You bet your ass I don’t like it!”
“Hey! Watch it.” Michael warned, getting worked up over the other man’s sudden flare in attitude.
“Fuck!” Scott’s exclamation was leaded with anger, “you telling me this was your fucking brilliant idea to get us out of this rut?”
“And have you got anything better to offer?” Michael shot back.
“No, Michael, I haven’t,” retorted Scott immediately, “but not this. You can forget about this.”
“Then instead of sitting there and complaining, why don’t you give me something else to work with, hmm? Something useful.” Michael was defensive, his chest heaving and brows furrowed deeply.
“Well I don’t have it right now!” Scott raised his voice in confrontation, “but you’d be sure to know that when I do come up with something, it wouldn’t involve a fucking suicide plot.”
Michael took a deep breath and leaned back on his seat, forcing himself to calm down. This wasn’t how he’d intended the talk to go. The space inside the rental sedan was feeling tight with their heated exchange, the air almost stifling despite the half-open windows.
“Look,” Michael deliberately spoke slowly, “all I’m saying, is that I can go back there, back to Whitehall, and tell them that you are no longer a problem. Simple conversation.” He added pauses every few words for emphasis, like he was laying out a complicated assault strategy to a five-year-old. “Also, we don’t know for sure that they will…”
“Oh and what makes you think that?” Scott cut in before Michael could finish.
Michael opened his mouth to answer, but Scott stopped him with a wave of his hand.
“Do you really think they’ll just let you walk out of that building, Michael?! Think about what they did to Locke!” Scott snorted, “Would they even bat an eye if it came down to shooting you in broad daylight on their turf? Or, do you think, somehow, you’re above all that?”
“Of course I don’t!” The memory of Locke bleeding to death on the helicopter was still fresh in Michael’s mind. It was like pouring salt on a wound. “Jesus Christ!”
“Good!” the American scoffed. “At least you’re not completely insane.”
“Dammit Scott,” Michael closed his good hand around the steering wheel so tight that his knuckles turned white. Maybe he was clutching at straws a bit, Michael admitted, but he was also trying really hard to sort out their current situation. There just didn’t seem to be a good way out. Needless to say, Michael was frustrated, and not just at Scott.
The muscles in his left arm twitched under the strain of his grip, and the dark vinyl under his fingers felt warm and sticky. This was their third rental car, under the second clean passport they had taken from Christy’s backup stash, besides the ones she’d already prepared for them. They’d also added long distance buses and local trains to the mix of transports taken. Michael was very grateful that small European towns weren’t the most advanced in surveillance hardware, but it couldn’t alleviate the gnawing sense of apprehension he was feeling.
Scott was brooding over on the passenger side, with his arms folded over his chest and his legs jammed in an uncomfortable position under the glove compartment. The sliders at the bottom of the seat had been stuck this whole time since they drove off the rental store’s parking lot, and it’d just gotten ten-times more annoying in the last few minutes.
As the two men sulked, with their heads turned away from each other, a pigeon flew past the front hood of the car. The flap of its wings was loud in the silence. Out of the vast suburban landscape that stretched on for miles, and the few cars that whipped past on the main roads, the pigeon picked the upper right corner of this particular windshield as the most perfect place to drop its feces. The semi-solid greyish white substance trickled down for a few inches before it stopped. A fresh breeze swept through the car’s open windows.
Suddenly, the overbearing tension was lifted.
Scott couldn’t help but snicker a little at the mess, before he collected himself.
“Michael,” Scott started, familiar with the stubborn nature of his partner.
“Mm,” Michael made a low noise of acknowledgement.
“Did you really think I would let you go back there by yourself?” Scott was gaping absent-mindedly out the windshield, at the bird poop.
Michael finally unclenched his jaw and let his shoulders relax, “it was worth a shot.”
Scott shook his head slowly, “you and your fucking hero complex.”
“Hey,” Michael shot Scott a look. Quietly, he added, “you’d survive a life under the radar though, wouldn’t you?”
“Dunno, maybe. Depends.”
“Yeah I bet you would. You’ve got a kid back home, remember?”
“Don’t drag Finn into this, Mike.”
“But he is your son,” Michael shifted to face Scott. “And you need to. You have to. For him.”
Scott swung around. He saw the expression on Michael’s face, underneath the harsh lines, the muted pain and loss from so many years compounding to this particular moment. The memory of his confession to Oscar in the chilly night of the Swiss mountains fogged up Scott’s mind¬¬ — Michael Stonebridge wanted to die a soldier, rather than re-learn how to love and care, or even live.
“Remember what I said back at the UN?” Scott asked.
Michael didn’t follow.
“It’s your life, Michael. I can’t screw that up.” Scott’s eyes were crystalline blue under the sunlight, strikingly sincere. “And I sure as hell won’t let you screw it up either. Especially not now.”
Michael let out a deep breath and swallowed. It took him a few seconds, before he managed to get out, “cheers, mate.”
Scott nodded, before tilting his chin up again, a smile slowly creeping across his lips. “Also, Mikey,” he jerked his thumb in the direction of the windshield, “you’d better do something about that.”
The fascinating thing about the human mind was that once the seed of an idea is rooted, it may never go away.
Michael’s mind, in this case, refused to empty itself, as he tossed and turned in bed. Scott hadn’t come back after dinner; presumably taken to some pub, maybe even the famous or infamous red light district, depending on one’s view. But that wasn’t the problem. In fact, it was just as well, because Michael kind of needed some time alone.
Finding a cool spot on the mattress, he settled to lie on his back with his left hand under his head. He’d given up trying to fall asleep, and opened his eyes to stare at the darkened ceiling instead. The blinds were closed halfway, and the mellow warm light from the streetlamps seeped through the cracks, leaving long shadows across empty space.
The conversation from earlier that afternoon played in a muffled loop in Michael’s head. He couldn’t remember all the details, but he knew, deep down, that Scott was right, that it wasn’t a good plan. There was too much risk. Yet there was also the undying drive for him to return to London, like a fire burning in the core of his existence as a soldier, something Michael simply couldn’t ignore. Maybe he wanted revenge, whatever form it took, even if just to spit in the old scrawny face of Ridley’s.
Was it worth it though, at the risk of his own life? Would it be worth it? That was the million-dollar question. And for that, Michael had no answer. He had allowed himself to be persuaded, in a moment of resignation, and he was, undoubtedly, touched by what Scott had said. But hours later, lying awake in the dark, all it did was fuel the fire even more. Because at least Scott had understood, and appreciated, the sacrifice he was willing to make. At least Scott had cared, enough to talk him out of it, preventing him from “screwing up his life”, as he’d put it.
It meant something. No. It meant a lot, to Michael. And for that, he’d have no regrets laying down his life. Not that he would hesitate otherwise, really, on the field or off. Scott was the closest thing Michael had to what felt like family, the kind that you were born into, not the kind you made for yourself. Scott was a brother.
And Scott had a son. Unlike himself, with no one else left to care for, Scott had Finn. Michael had truly been sorry about what he did back in North Korea, and was genuinely glad that they were able to make it out, alive, for some belated filial bonding.
Thinking back, Michael realized that the balance of the scale had already started to tip ever since then. It was clear now, though, he realized. It was going to be his life, potentially, versus Scott and Finn’s safety and welfare, for certain.
Just like that, all his thoughts converged to the same place, all the possible forks in the road gone, leaving only one path open.
The sound of a light drizzle gently tugged Michael back to reality. He hadn’t noticed when it started. Michael rubbed his temples. He’d had to be more alert when he went off on his own, carelessness just wouldn’t do. Pulling back the covers, Michael swung his legs over the edge of the mattress.
With a set destination, the rest of the plan pretty much fell into place. Michael started drawing out a route by cities, Brussels, Lille, Calais, Dover, Bromley, and London. That was his route back. And after London… he paused, there might not be an “after London”, Michael reminded himself, but he tried not to dwell on it.
After London, Michael started again, if he were lucky, he’d head north, to Scotland, and then Norway. He couldn’t possibly consider flying, not with the airport security being what it had become. That left only waterways, and Scotland was definitely the less obvious choice compared to getting out via France. Michael opted to continue planning his itinerary in terms of countries—Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia—before realizing that it was probably easier to just do it in regions altogether. He started again, Russia, then southwestern Asia, the Middle East, and possibly straight to the United States, or detour through Africa and South America, before the US. His priority was to leave absolutely no trail after himself, and to do that, the safest option had always been physically bouncing around enough places, switching up transport as well as identities along the way.
Hell of a trip, Michael heaved a sigh. If he was even going to make it that far.
He pushed off against the bedframe, shaking out his arms and legs, before moving to the windows to take a quick peek outside. Beyond the windowpanes, the night was veiled by a thin layer of moisture. It was still hours before sunrise.
Head spinning, Michael decided that if he was to leave at all, now would be the perfect time. No sign of Scott, no argument to be had. Though he did feel slightly uncomfortable, for going behind his partner’s back.
He ended up scribbling a note to the other man on the back of a local map, handwriting barely legible since he was never ambidextrous.
It was a jumble of a few different things, really—a quick apology, a few last words, a date not too far into the future, and the name of a small California town they never quite made the last time they went on vacation together. Michael didn’t bother to sign his name at the bottom. Scott would know it was him anyways. And he’d burn it upon reading.
Suddenly, a sense of finality sank in. There would be no trace left of him anywhere in the world after that, none at all, if he didn’t survive this trip. The soon-to-be pile of paper ashes left in the ashtray of a cheap hotel room in Brussels could be the entirety of Michael Stonebridge’s legacy.
Michael inhaled sharply, and squashed the overwhelming sentiment. He quickly dressed himself and packed his bags with the necessities, including some cash. Then he reached for Scott’s backpack, feeling around the padding on the side and the bottom for a small opening in the seams. That was where Scott usually kept his dog tags, for when he went out undercover. Michael was the only one who knew. Sensing the hard edges, Michael dug them out. He unhooked the ball chain and slipped out one of the two identical pieces of thin metal.
Scott’s dog tag felt warm and heavy in his callused palm. Michael stared at it for a moment, before closing his fist tightly, the same imprint on the steel etched into the flesh of his hand. If this was the last thing he did… Michael gritted his teeth. God, he wished the fortunes could be on his side.
Michael sat by the foot of the bed for another moment, calming his breathing and going over his plan one more time. Then he quietly slipped out of the room and into the night.
Michael had spent the last four days with Scott and Finn in Las Vegas, generally getting inebriated somewhere along the Strip. As the days went by though, he was growing more and more restless.
He tried his best to hide it, but he suspected that Scott had noticed, which would explain why he was keeping such a close eye on him. To be fair, Scott was keeping a close eye on both Michael and Finn, to the point that it was starting to get worrisome. Who would’ve known that Scott could be so adult, and in a place like Vegas, too. Hell, his permanently pussy-chasing partner didn’t even pick up any girls in the past few nights. Sure there had been the usual chatting and flirting, charming his way into touches and kisses, a couple times he’d even enjoyed short impromptu make out sessions on the clubs’ dance floors, only when Finn was otherwise preoccupied of course. But Scott hadn’t actually had any, of that Michael was pretty sure. It came with years of being partners on and off the field—he knew all the telltale signs, and to a certain degree, the scent radiating from the other man. So Scott hadn’t gone and shagged some bartender, and Michael couldn’t understand. Maybe he did take this whole parenting thing more serious than Michael had given him credit for.
As for himself, it wasn’t like he’d ever been the one more inclined to get one night stands, so he was happy with just beer and whiskey.
Scott snored a little on the mattress while Michael lay there, eyes open, on the pull out couch. They were taking turns again between the sleeping quarters, while Finn got his own bed, despite Michael saying that the couch was nice enough not to give him any significant muscle cramps in the morning, and he could just stick to it for their stay. But Scott had insisted, and Michael didn’t argue.
Finn rolled over in slumber, his breathing slow and steady. They’d had quite a bit to drink, as usual, and it was only natural to be in dreamland. Michael shifted again. He hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in several months now, and it was becoming a habit.
Heaving a sigh, Michael checked his watch. The good news was that it was almost daybreak. He dropped his arm back down on the blanket and screwed his eyes shut for a few seconds, before rubbing his face with both hands and sitting up as quietly as he could.
Michael scanned the room, Finn was sleeping on his stomach, head turned to one side. Scott was almost in the exact same position, except that one of his knees was brought up level with his stomach, his blanket lopsided, just about covering his ass. A small smile crept onto Michael’s face, chasing some of the weariness from his eyes.
He grabbed his backpack as he got up, then tiptoed along the wall and disappeared into the bathroom, where he changed into his running shorts. Opting for a quick exit, Michael left the rest of his stuff in the hollow under the counter next to the sink.
The early morning air felt cool and crisp against his skin, Michael took a deep breath, filling his lungs. He stretched his arms and legs, slowly getting his body warmed up and ready. In a few minutes, he shifted into gear, and headed due west.
It hadn’t even taken him half an hour until he reached the edges of the city, Michael paused, jogging in place to keep his legs moving. Overhead, the sky had lightened up from the midnight blue when Michael left the motel to a pale pastel color, and the clouds rolling along the horizon were painted with an orange hue. It was a breathtaking sight, especially with the city on one side and the desert on the other. Michael slowed his pace down to a brisk walk.
This was good, he thought, as the scenery washed over his senses, clearing his head. Inhaling deeply, Michael felt at peace. Funny how he only seemed to be able to relax when he was alone in the middle of nowhere, wandering on the divide between nature and civilization, not another waking soul in miles. But the solitude gave him a sense of safety, even if it had been merely an illusion, Michael was ready to believe it for the moment.
Once the sun settled high up in the sky, Michael turned around and made his way back. He still hadn’t figured out a definitive plan for after Vegas, but at least he felt like he could confront the issue objectively. He’d be open to options, Michael decided, and he’d talk to Scott about it, really talk, calmly too. Michael picked up his pace as the heat of the day climbed.
Scott got up from his bed the moment he heard movement outside in the hall, and he was halfway across the room when the door swung open, revealing none other than the panting Brit, who seemed a bit taken aback by an already awake and alert Scott.
Michael quickly darted his eyes to Finn’s sleeping figure on the bed, and threw Scott a quizzical look. Scott pursed his lips and shook his head, striding past Michael with a hushed “outside”. Michael furrowed brows in confusion, but closed the door quietly behind them.
Scott didn’t stop once they were down the hall, or in the staircase, or in the lobby. Instead, he led Michael all the way outside to the back of the motel. Though Michael didn’t understand what this was about, he followed his partner without question.
Stopping in the shade of the building, Michael wiped the sweat off his forehead, as he waited for a response from Scott.
“Did you have a nice run?” Scott’s voice sounded more than a little strained, his words too enunciated.
“Yeah, why?” Michael wasn’t sure Scott had any remote interest in his exercise routine.
Scott turned around and glared at him, his back teeth clenched tightly together. “You should know why.”
“I’m sorry?” The frown returned to Michael’s forehead as he failed to grasp Scott’s sudden surge in temper, “what are you going on about?”
Scott snorted, anger bubbling up to the surface as he replied, incredulously, “what am I going on about, Michael?” Scott sounded, and felt, positively livid. His arm tensed up, and before he could think, he’d already landed a punch in Michael’s guts.
Needless to say it took the wind out of him. Michael staggered a step backwards, bending over with one arm shielding his midsection instinctively.
“Fuck!” Michael found his fury quickly matching his partner’s. To think that just a moment ago, he’d been in such a content and peaceful mood after a lovely morning run. Michael spat onto the gravel, “what the fuck, Scott!”
Scott stood his ground, refusing to answer, chin held high and chest heaving. His attitude hardly helped the situation. Michael clenched his jaw and sprung himself back at Scott.
The American hadn’t expected the force put into the lunge. He stumbled and fell backwards, with Michael’s arm across his shoulders and neck.
Michael tried to pin down both of Scott’s hands, but only managed to secure one of them. So Scott slipped his other hand under Michael’s arm as he wrapped his legs outside Michael’s. He struggled for a solid footing, but eventually managed to flip their positions by force. It had turned to a full-on wrestling match.
Michael grunted, bucking up against Scott. But Scott held him down by furious force. The temporary restrain quickly allowed Michael to think and strategize, his senses returning to him. Scott wasn’t actually hurting him, not really, he realized, just holding on to his advantage.
In a few seconds, the frequency of Michael’s kicking and thrashing slowed down considerably, only the occasional twitch of muscles once in a while.
“Scott,” he croaked out, “what-”
“The fuck, Michael,” Scott cut in, his voice was a low thunder, rumbling in his chest.
Michael bit the inside of his mouth.
“We’ve got a problem, yeah? ‘Cause you seem to be making a habit of this,” Scott snarled.
“A habit of what?” Carefully, Michael tried to pry Scott’s hands off from his shirt collar, not wanting to provoke him any further.
Scott shook his wrists, warning Michael not to struggle. When the other man got the message and let go, Scott loosened his grip just a bit.
“Come on, Michael, don’t play dumb with me.”
“No, I’m not playing anything, Scott. Believe it or not, I haven’t got a clue.” Michael raised his voice, compensating for his compromised physical conditions. “So why don’t you humor me and tell me exactly why you seem so keen on-”
“Really Michael,” Scott cut him off again, squinting, his expression caught somewhere between dismissive and brooding, “you’re gonna ask me to spell it out for you?”
The building’s shadow had retreated while they rolled away from its edges. Now, both of their faces were soaked in sunlight. Michael blinked a few times, trying to adjust to the brightness.
“Alright,” Scott noted under his breath, more to himself than to Michael. “Listen to this.”
Michael blinked some more and waited as Scott drew a deep breath.
“You, running off, alone, in the middle of the night. Does any of that ring a bell, buddy?” Scott still sounded angry, but maybe mildly dejected too.
The sun was still uncomfortably blinding, and Michael wanted to pull his eyelids shut all the way, but…oh. The realization hit him, and he couldn’t help but stare, a little wide-eyed, despite the sun’s glare. Oh.
Scott dropped the fistfuls of Michael’s shirt. He gave the other man’s chest one last push with the palm of his hand, and rolled off to one side. Drawing up his knees to rest his elbows, Scott sat silently on the ground.
Michael took another moment lying on the warm gravel, his hand tugging and smoothing the wrinkles on the fabric in front of his chest. Then he kicked out his legs and sat up too, hands resting next to his thighs.
The air was very still, hardly a sound besides the occasional car zooming past.
Scott scrubbed the back of his head, muttering a low curse, while Michael stared down at a spot just beyond his shoes.
“Look,” Michael started, after the silence became too loud.
“Fuck, Michael,” Scott shook his head, “when did we get to this?”
Michael winced as he shifted; the muscles on his stomach sore from pulling and extending where he’d been punched. He tried not to imagine what Scott must’ve seen, or thought, what it must’ve looked like, when he woke up to an empty couch this morning. Michael’s backpack and other stuff had been removed too, and stashed away under the bathroom counter.
“Fuck,” Michael kneaded his temples. “I’m sorry, Damien.”
Scott huffed, “yeah.”
“I wasn’t going to… I wouldn’t-”
Michael obeyed and stopped tripping over his tongue.
Scott stretched out his legs and dropped his arms too, mirroring Michael’s posture.
“Three months, Michael,” he growled, “three fucking months.”
“I know,” Michael wanted to lay a hand on Scott’s shoulder, to appease him.
“I didn’t even know if you were dead or alive,” Scott declared.
And he couldn’t think of what to do.
“I had no idea if you even made it out,” Scott shook his head again, dropping his gaze down to the ground, as if the patterns in the gravel suddenly became fascinating, “that was all kinds of fucked up.”
Michael lowered his head too, “hmm.”
Scott seemed to be conducting an internal battle between his brain and his mouth, lips parting a couple times before immediately shutting again.
In the distance, a police or fire siren sounded, its pitch wobbly.
“I’m sorry,” Michael tried again.
“Fuck,” Scott finally turned to look at Michael. “Stop apologizing. You’re making me sound like an ungrateful dick.”
Michael’s eyes snapped up, “that’s not what I m-”
“I know,” Scott rubbed the back of his head, “and don’t think I don’t get what you did. ‘Cause I do, Michael. I do. And I appreciate it. Can’t think of anyone else who’d done that for me.”
The center of Michael’s brows tipped up slightly, in a bashful look. He’d never quite known how to respond when Scott got all open and honest, especially about just the two of them.
“But dammit, buddy, just don’t do it ever again. Alright?” The color of Scott’s irises matched the skies overhead. “You hear me?”
Michael nodded, a little stiffly but dead solemn nonetheless, “yeah. Yeah. Loud and clear, mate.”
Scott noted the sweat stains on Michael’s t-shirt and along his neck, and let out a long breath. “Good,” he replied, dusting off his jeans as he got up. He threw out a hand to Michael, pulling him up as well.
“Now let’s get you showered and ready to have some fun. You look like shit.”
“Aren’t you going to play a round?” Finn was sitting near the bar with Michael as they watched Scott hop from table to table on the casino floor. From the looks of it, he’d had a decent run.
Michael sloshed the whisky in his glass, smiling, “no, I’m good.”
“You really don’t need to stay for me, you know? If that’s what’s keeping you here.” Finn looked at Michael intently, making it clear that he can handle being left alone off the game floor.
Michael’s smile got bigger. Sometimes the level of maturity the youngster exhibited should put his father to shame in comparison. “No. Really, I’m good. Besides, someone has to make sure he’s still got his knickers on by the end of the night.” He jerked his head in the general direction of the roulette wheel.
Finn snorted into his soft drink. The casino bars tended to be a little more strict on enforcing the legal restrictions, for better or for worse. He scooted his bar stool towards Michael a few inches, to get out of the brightness of the lightbulb directly above his head. Michael leaned back on his own stool.
“So we’re heading back tomorrow, huh,” Finn said, aiming at a deliberately casual tone. “Sorry to cut the vacation short, but school and all that, you know.”
Michael gave him a pat on the shoulder, “don’t worry about it, Vegas is hardly the ideal place for anything longer than a week anyways.”
“Yeah, that’s true,” Finn nodded, “but I definitely want to come back when I’m twenty-one though.”
“Ha!” Michael laughed, a short bark. “Planning for the future. You really are on the fast track to surpassing your father, that is, if you haven’t already.”
Finn gave him a bashful grin, scratching the back of his head, “are you coming with? Tomorrow, I mean.”
Michael knew this was bound to come up, but he hadn’t really thought it through, nor had he talked about it, at least not explicitly, with Scott. The closest thing they’d gotten to an actual talk was over their fight that morning. But Michael felt like he was certain enough of where Scott stood on the subject. He took a sip from his glass.
“I really think you should, by the way,” Finn blurted out, “I hope you can.”
“Oh?” Michael raised an eyebrow.
“It’s just,” Finn bit his lips, not looking at Michael, “I’m worried about Damien.”
Michael felt a warmth in his chest. The boy did care very deeply about his father, despite only knowing him for a grand total of half a year. “I know,” he soothed.
“The way he just turned up a couple weeks ago at the doorstep of the house,” Finn shook his head, staring at the casino floor without really looking at it, his eyes following his father’s figure absently.
This was news to Michael. The three months where he and Scott cut off all communication, for safety, was pretty much all uncharted territory. “How was he?” Michael asked, trying to mask his curiosity as his tuned in to the boy next to him.
“I don’t know. He wasn’t well, I don’t think.” Finn turned the soda glass in his hand, “not that he would actually tell me what was going on. But there was something that just…”
Michael’s gaze was heated and intense without him realizing, as Finn trailed off.
“I don’t know,” Finn repeated, “but something was off for sure. He seemed different.”
A sharp pang arose just above Michael’s guts. He could taste the sourness in the back of his mouth. He took another long swig of whisky, trying to wash it down.
“What really happened?” Finn couldn’t help but ask.
“Right,” Michael frowned, “how much has he told you?”
Finn shrugged, “not much. Just that you guys were working a job, it didn’t go very well, but it was getting taken care of and you’d probably join us soon.”
Michael swallowed dryly, “that’s the general hang of it.”
“I’m not trying to nose around and I know that you probably can’t tell me much else either,” Finn started drawing patterns on his class, collecting the condensation at his fingertips. “But, I mean, what is with the whole name change and everything?”
“Look,” Michael sighed, gathering his thoughts, he didn’t want Finn to worry, but perhaps some context would be helpful. “It’s just like your dad said, we were working a job and it didn’t go well. Not at all. We’d both gotten injured, and we were pretty much left to figure things out on our own.”
Finn was nervous, but he kept quiet.
“So a few months ago, we-” Michael recalled Scott’s angry growl from that morning, “I, came up with an idea to take care of things. I went back home, to London, to sort it out, the aftermath and the clean-up of our mission, all of it.”
“You went alone.”
“Yeah,” it wasn’t a question, but Michael answered regardless. “I went alone because I thought it would be… better, for him, and you too.”
“Um,” Finn wasn’t sure how to interpret what Michael was saying, but didn’t interrupt with questions.
Michael cleared his throat, “anyways, I went back and told some people that your dad’s no longer part of the scene, and there’s no reason to keep tabs on him. They bought it. And so with this new identity, he’s all good. Consider this his fully approved retirement.” He finished in a hurry, before adding softly, “don’t worry, Finn.”
“And what about you?” Finn went on to ask the natural question.
Slightly surprised, Michael waved off the boy’s concern, “I went a different route, roundabout, to make sure I wasn’t attracting any unnecessary attention. With our job, it was an occupational hazard, at best. But I got here fine.”
“That’s good,” Finn let out a breath, as if he hadn’t dared during Michael’s recollection.
“Yeah,” Michael finished his glass of whisky. He felt a weight being lifted from his shoulders as he stretched his neck, relief washing over him. It was almost cathartic.
“But wait,” Finn remembered something, “so you don’t know what Damien had been up to over the last few months either? Since you guys haven’t been together.”
“Unfortunately, no. But I promise you I’ll talk to him, okay?” Michael made a mental note to get to the bottom of it.
“Thanks, Michael.” Finn gulped down the rest of his soda. Michael ordered another round for both of them. “I’m glad you can hang around. I think he needs it, someone watching over him,” Finn gestured towards his father, who just wrapped up another game and was heading towards the bar, towards them.
“Oh, I know he needs me,” Michael grinned, “but I bet you he wouldn’t admit that even if you put a gun to his head.”
Finn chuckled, holding up his soda.
“Wouldn’t admit what?” The elder Scott joined them and immediately ordered himself a beer.
“Nothing,” Michael replied.
Scott’s eyes darted between the two of them suspiciously. “Have you ladies been talking about me behind my back?”
Michael and Finn rolled their eyes in perfect unison.
“Wow,” Scott exclaimed, in a hushed voice, “you really should stop hanging around him, Finn. Man, you’ve picked up too much from Stonehenge as it is.”
“What have I told you about names, mate?”
“Relax, it wasn’t even your actual name, Stonehead.”
“You say that again,” Michael bit his lips, “Weller. And I swear I’ll cut your tongue off.”
“Honey, I think I’d prefer it if you bit it off instead.”
“You’re hopeless, you prick.”
Finn was sleeping with his legs curled up on the backseat of the car as they stopped by a gas station next to a diner. Scott went to grab a few sandwiches to go while Michael filled up the tank and got water and snacks from the gas station store.
Scott had looked uneasy the morning before they needed to leave Vegas, eyeing Michael quite a few times as they packed. Eventually, Michael kind of got tired of Scott throwing glances his way without saying anything, that he straight up told him that they’d need to switch their bikes for a car for the cross-country ride. Both father and son had beamed at him in return, Scott in relief and Finn in approval, given their conversation the night before.
That was how the three of them ended up taking turns driving, trying to make it from Vegas back to Atlanta in under three days. In the grand scheme of things, a road trip was the perfect way to end their epic “historical, cultural, and educational” adventure.
They drove off from the gas station when Scott hurried back, silently navigating onto a smaller road that opened up to vast fields on either side. The two older men got out without a word, neither wanting to wake Finn, who was still asleep in the back.
Michael half sat on the front hood of the car as Scott and he traded sandwiches and water. Halfway through munching on his sandwich, Michael glanced back at the windshield.
“You know, Finn and I had an engaging discussion the night before we left Vegas.” The ghost of a smirk appeared on Michael’s lips, before he adjusted his expression to something more neutral, and it vanished.
“Yeah? Glad you ladies are bonding well.” Scott barely swallowed his mouthful of grilled chicken when he replied.
Michael shook his head and poured water into his own mouth, washing down the taste of slightly overcooked peppers. “He told me that you went to find him a couple weeks before this,” he gestured with the plastic bottle in one hand, indicating vaguely between Scott, himself, and the car with Finn inside.
“Uh-huh,” Scott made a muffled noise as he played it casual for the moment, but he knew where it was going.
“What were you before that?” Michael asked, in a carefully controlled and offhanded tone.
Scott sighed. There we go, he thought, trust the Stonehead to be blunt. “Look, Michael, I couldn’t very well just get my ass back to America, not after what happened.”
“Hmm,” Michael bit into the last corner of his sandwich.
“So I did what anyone would’ve done, what you would’ve done too, I went around covering my trails.”
Michael had finished his food and was now looking at Scott, “right.”
“I also went around to many of Christy Bryant’s secret hideouts,” Scott’s gaze wandered across the open field.
“You what?” Michael spat out.
“Look, I knew her ways, alright? So it really wasn’t that hard. And I also knew some of those places from way back when.”
“You do realize that was risky as hell, right?” Michael’s left eyelid twitched.
“Yeah,” Scott was looking more and more like a child being reprimanded. “And that wasn’t all. I may have gone through some of her contacts.”
Scott added hastily, “all under fake IDs and cover stories though.”
“I trust you were at least smart enough to do that.” The reply was flat.
“What else was I supposed to do, Michael?” Scott downed half of the water still left in his bottle. “Sit around twiddling my thumbs just waiting for you to show?”
Michael pressed his lips into a thin line. This was clearly their sore spot.
“I had to, I don’t know, find the silver lining, look on the bright side, all that shit, right?”
Michael remained mute.
“So I thought, if-, when you made it out, we’d actually need to live off of something. I mean, it’s not like we can sit on our asses collecting pensions, you know. We’d be unemployed. No jobs, no income, no nothing.”
Michael was feeling a little overwhelmed processing the new information. Though one thing was certain, he still wasn’t a fan of Scott talking grown-up. He cleared his throat, but his voice still came out a little rough around the edges, “you planned all that out?”
“Thanks for the compliment, buddy.” Scott shot him a look, something between mildly offended and fondly exasperated.
“Huh,” Michael raised his eyebrows, “and?”
“And?” It took Scott a second to get back on track, “and, I managed to scour up enough cash to last us a while.”
“Well, that’s good.” Michael had to admit that he was impressed, credit to Scott.
“Are you sure you weren’t tracked? These people-”
“Yeah, I’m sure, about as sure as you are with not being tracked by British military intelligence.”
Scott’s retort hit a nerve with Michael, right over the topic they’d both wanted to avoid.
Michael clenched his jaw. Scott could practically hear him grinding his teeth as he grunted a low curse.
“Fuck me,” Scott growled. “I’m sure if we just stay under the radar, it’ll be fine.”
“Yeah,” Michael tucked in his chin, willing the conviction into his voice.
Scott finished his lunch, crumpling up the tin foil and plastic bottle loudly to fill the silence.
“What should I tell him?” Michael craned his neck. “Finn, he was worried when you turned up.” He knew in all honesty that Scott had probably slipped back into some old habits from his darker days during the whole ordeal, and it lit up a spark of anger in his chest. Michael blamed himself for it. He felt responsible, even though it wasn’t really his fault and Scott would never think of putting it on him. He resolved to keep a close eye on his partner so this would never happen again.
“I don’t know, Mikey. Tell him I’m gonna be fine and you’re gonna be my guardian angel? You think that’d be enough to stop him worrying?” Scott snickered, his gaze shifting from Michael’s eyes to the boy who just sat up and stretched.
“Fuck,” Michael massaged his forehead.
Scott patted Michael on the shoulder, squeezing once. It wasn’t just a light-hearted gesture of reassurance. He put a good weight into it, to let Michael know that they’d always have each other’s back and things were going to be alright and it was both a promise and pact. He was sure he would understand.
Michael let out a breath and cracked a small smile.
“Come on, Damien,” Finn hesitated before getting out of the car to grab his stuff from the trunk, “I think you should meet them.”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” Scott replied flatly.
“It’s not like you need to come in, sit down, and chat,” Finn pressed on, “just say hi at the door?”
A small part of Michael was glad that the subject of the Scotts’ argument was so familial as he tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. Though he couldn’t help but wonder what exactly would be the better choice in the current situation, with Finn trying to introduce, or re-introduce, Scott to his family, and Scott refusing to budge.
“Don’t they at least have the right to meet the person I spent my entire Thanksgiving break with?” Finn switched tactics, trying everything he could to make it happen. He’d already forgotten about why he was so adamant about it in the first place, but he was not one to give up easily, much like his father. And he disliked Scott’s dismissive attitude.
“Doesn’t matter,” the older man shrugged.
Michael realized that Finn didn’t quite grasp how to push Scott’s buttons. And who could blame him, when he’d only gotten to know his biological father for such a short span of time, and often in the most extreme situations too?
“Jeez, Damien,” obvious annoyance and the hint of a plea laced Finn’s voice.
“He’s got a point,” Michael interjected, coming to Finn’s rescue because he just couldn’t stand the thought of their trip ending on a sour note between the father and son. “It would be a lot easier for Finn to spend more time with you later, if his family could just talk to you. Might help them get comfortable with the idea.”
Scott shot a glaring look at Michael, as if he’d been stabbed in the back.
“Just saying,” Michael raised both his palms in mock surrender. But he knew he was right, and Scott knew it too. He could almost see the fight draining out of his partner as the balance tipped.
Scott glared some more, before finally conceding with a tempestuous growl, “fine!” He ripped open the passenger side door and threw his jacket on.
Michael winked to Finn as he got out after his father, the two of them crossing the street in haste.
The rental car was parked on the opposite side of the road from Finn’s house. The front yard was decently sized and quite cozy, dotted with the flowers, shrubs, and a few tree saplings, as well as wired fences going around the bend. Finn made his way to the gate first, with Scott trudging behind.
From where Michael sat, a corner of the house was blocked from the view behind branches and leaves. He couldn’t tell what variety they were, but they managed to keep some green even in this time of year. Michael rolled down the driver seat window.
The doorbell chimed under Finn’s thumb, a little mellow sound that somehow made it all the way to where Michael was sitting, waiting.
A few seconds later, the blur of a figure came barging through the front door, with a middle-aged woman following closely behind. Michael squinted, and realized that the figure was a toddler, who dropped the colorful plastic toy he was clutching in front of his belly to spread his short chubby arms to the older boy. Finn bent down to pick him up, and lifted him high into the air, before settling him in the crook of his left arm as he turned to hug the woman, his mother.
Scott stood a few foot away from the door, mostly facing Finn, discomfort written all over his stance, as Finn made the introductions. He nodded to his son’s mother, his own girlfriend at one point in time that now felt like another life. The lines in his shoulders and back were tense, as if he was ready to duck and bolt and second, or pull out his Glock and fire a full round into the overcast sky.
He didn’t even look this distressed facing down the barrel of a rifle, Michael mused, and wanted to laugh, but something was making his own chest constrict with a painful tug. As awkward as Scott must have been, Michael couldn’t help but notice Finn’s approving gaze and the little hand from the toddler reaching towards the sleeves of Scott’s jacket.
This was the way things should be for Scott, a quiet voice nagged at the back of Michael’s mind, isn’t this what you had wished for him. And Michael had to tear his eyes away. The doubt of his decision was creeping back. Michael stared at the dashboard on the passenger’s side where Scott’s sunglasses and biking gloves lay haphazardly. The crazy idea of slamming the gas flashed in his head for a split second, before he crushed it, more instinct than anything else.
The ghost of that doubt, however, lingered around in the back of Michael’s mind, ever insistent, just like the scent of blood that refused to wash off his hands, their hands. He thought of Locke, dying slowly in his arms in the herc, life draining out of his body; then he thought of Scott, almost dying in his arms by the river, blood gushing out and eyes losing focus just like Locke. Michael tightened his hands around the wheel, lowering his forehead onto it as well. He’d already buried too many people he cared about, figuratively and literally, that he found himself trapped, afraid that it would get easier, afraid that it wouldn’t. And he was starting to feel like the routine had been branded into his bones. But he only had Scott left. Michael couldn’t allow, couldn’t afford for anything to happen to him. So he was back right where it all started.
Michael heaved a long, tired sigh.
“You alright, buddy?” Scott’s voice rang out close to his ears, forcing Michael out of his reverie. He hadn’t heard of Scott’s footsteps approaching.
Michael jerked his head back up, finding Scott’s concerned face just above the half-lowered windows. “Yeah,” he shifted in his seat, ducking his head to avoid the heated gaze.
Bending down, Scott studied him more closely, noticing how his knuckles had turned white and his eyes clouded, and there was a red mark in the middle of his forehead from pressing down on the steering wheel.
“I didn’t need to go, you know,” Scott said, drumming his fingers against the steel frame.
Michael hated his worrying tone, it made him feel pitiful. He drew in a deep breath, shaking off the thoughts swimming around in his head a minute ago, as he reached for the handle to the door. “It’s good, though,” Michael responded casually as he climbed out, tilting his head just enough to look at Scott out of the corner of his eyes, “went well?”
Scott snorted, stepping backwards to stand up straight, “as well as it could’ve gone with your jerk ex who walked out seventeen years ago suddenly standing on your doorstep chatting about the weather. No shit, Mikey.”
Michael smoothed out the bottom of his shirt and let out a strained laugh.
“But you were right. It would make it a lot easier for Finn to stay with us.”
Scott deliberately put extra emphasis on the last pronoun. Michael sucked in a sharp breath.
“Oh, come on, get over yourself,” Scott’s tone was only half-joking. “You’re not getting rid of me that easily.”
Michael glanced between Scott’s eyes and the house across the street, before settling on a distant spot further along the quiet street, where the leaves rustled in the late autumn wind.
“I’m not letting you disappear again, Mikey.” The words, once spoken out loud, suddenly made Scott realize that he had been quite certain about this, ever since Michael turned around on his bike after their rendezvous.
Leaning against the car frame, Scott raised an arm and clasped the back of Michael’s neck, just above his shirt collar.
Michael stiffened at first, but eventually relaxed after a few breaths.
There were probably many valid defenses and rebuttals he could’ve replied with, but Michael didn’t pause to think of any. Honestly, he didn’t really want to.
Finn waved at them from the large living room window before lowering the blinds.
“So, where are we heading to?” Michael asked, after a brief moment of silence.
“Rented a cabin up in the mountains when I got here. It’s not far. Figured there’s about another month or so on the lease.”
Michael arched an eyebrow, looking mildly impressed.
“Heh,” Scott flashed a grin with too many teeth, evidently smug. “Come on, I’ll drive.”
- Fin -