blue flamingos

Redefinition

Fandom: Numb3rs/Stargate Atlantis

Category/Rated: Slash, PG

Year/Length: 2008/ ~6790 words

Pairing: Colby/Lorne (Cadman/Simpson)

Spoilers: Post-Numb3rs 503 Blowback, with attendant spoilers, though I'm pretty sure it will make sense without actually having seen the episode.

Disclaimer: No, I don't own them, for which I should think they're profoundly grateful.

Summary: You can't always rely on someone you trusted, but you can always rely on your friends, even if it is just to tell you that you've been an idiot.

Series: Dysfunction 'verse

Author's Notes:

Feedback: Yes please. Even if it's bad. Especially if it's bad.

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"So what was that?" David asks, handing over a second beer and taking the other end of his couch. Colby slumps further into the cushions, looking away. He should have said no when David invited him over, but he'd thought they were done with this when Colby asked Lynn to leave. He should have known better.

Colby shrugs, feeling like a petulant child and not caring. He can feel David looking at him.

"No, seriously," David says. "What about Evan?"

Colby takes a long swallow of beer. That's just where he was hoping the conversation wouldn't go.

"Hey, idiot-boy." David kicks his ankle. "If you're going to drink my beer, you don't get to sit there and sulk like you're my fourteen year old nephew."

"I can go home," Colby offers. Except he accepted David's invitation for a reason, even knowing this was coming.

"I don't think so," David says. "Two weeks ago you're high as a kite because he just got leave approved, then some woman smiles at you and you –"

"Yeah, I was there," Colby interrupts.

"So come on, then." David sighs, and his voice becomes sympathetic. "Did you break up?"

"No. We didn't."

"Should I get Nikki in here to loom threateningly or something? What's going on?"

"I don't know," Colby confesses. He doesn't do stuff like that, respects his partners and doesn't slip around on them, but he sees Evan for a week at a time every three months if he's lucky, and Lynn had offered, and – And he was so damn lonely, even knowing Evan's coming home soon, it had seemed so easy. "I wasn't thinking."

"Yeah, no kidding," David says. "Look, you already know I think it was a stupid thing to do, but it's your life, you want to screw it up, it's not my business." The look he gives Colby says very clearly that this is not true. "But I'm not lying to Evan for you."

"You're gonna tell him?" Colby asks. He knows he's screwed up, but David's his friend, his best friend, these days, he can't –

"You're going to tell him," David corrects. "He asked me to watch out for you, man, this counts."

"Telling him I had a misguided one night stand counts as watching out for me?" Colby asks, well aware he looks exactly as dumb-struck and betrayed as he feels.

"Mostly it counts as watching out for him," David concedes. "But I know you. You need to do this. And if you don't, I will."

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Colby promised to pick Evan up from the airport, even arranged to take a day off work to do it, so he's outside arrivals when Evan walks out at twenty to four, duffel bag over one shoulder, loose and relaxed in jeans and a blue shirt. It makes Colby feel vaguely sick, because Evan looks happy. He can't remember the last time he wanted to do something less than he wants to do this.

"Hey," Evan says when he gets close enough. He throws one arm round Colby in a quick hug, and Colby holds on. "Hey," Evan says again, low and concerned, and doesn't let go. "Rough week?"

"Something like that," Colby agrees. This has gone on too long for a public place. He steps back, trying not to catch Evan's eye. Even so, he can't miss the slight frown on Evan's face, the way his happy bounce has faded. "You want coffee or anything?"

Evan yawns, gives him a sheepish smile. "Long debrief. Coffee's probably the last thing I need."

"My car's out front," Colby says. "Here, give me that."

He wraps one hand round the strap of Evan's bag and Evan holds on when he tugs. "I can carry my own bag."

"I dunno, man." Colby grins against his will. It feels so good to have Evan close again, safe. "Do much heavy lifting when you're flying million dollar planes?"

Evan smiles, that secretive smile he's had for the last few years. "Do much heavy lifting when you're solving crimes?"

"Ex-army, thanks very much."

"Emphasis on the ex," Evan says, but he lets go of the bag anyway, which is a pretty clear sign that he really is as exhausted as he looks.

"Yeah, yeah," Colby says. "Here, get in."

Evan dozes on the ride back to Colby's apartment, wakes up looking confused when Colby turns off the engine. "Home," he says, sounding half-asleep.

"Yeah," Colby says, feeling sick again. Now's not the time, he tells himself, not when Evan can barely keep his eyes open. It's only fair to let him sleep first. Let him get a good night's sleep before you hurt him, he hears David's voice say in his head.

Evan yawns again. "Sorry. Some house-guest I make, huh?"

"It's fine," Colby says, glad that Evan's too out of it to notice the tense smile he can feel on his own face. "Do you want something to eat?" he asks, opening the front door.

Evan toes off his shoes, looking round Colby's apartment, which really hasn't changed much since the last time he was there. "Maybe catch a nap first," he suggests.

"Sure. Bedroom's where you left it."

Evan nods, takes his bag from Colby and drops it on the floor, then steps right up close to Colby and kisses him, slow and familiar. Colby knows he shouldn't kiss back, that this is just going to make what comes next even worse, but he's afraid this is going to be the last chance he gets, and he wants it.

"Hi," Evan says softly, dropping his head against Colby's shoulder.

Colby swallows, closes his eyes. "Missed you," he says.

"Yeah." Evan sighs sleepily. "Come lie down with me."

"I have to –" Colby starts, but Evan catches his wrist and looks at him, and he can't say no.

Evan pulls the curtains closed against the LA sun, strips down to boxers and t-shirt, and looks at Colby until he does the same. They crawl into bed together, Evan pressed up against him, head on Colby's shoulder again. He makes a sleepy sound that makes Colby grin, and shifts closer when Colby wraps an arm round his back. "Hey," he says again, quiet.

"Hey," Colby says, touching Evan's hair, the back of his neck, vaguely sun-burned above the line of his t-shirt, and feels Evan's breathing slow as he falls asleep.

Colby's not tired, even though he didn't sleep well the night before; he feels strung up with nerves, the way he did when Don came to arrest him for being a spy, terrified they wouldn't believe his lies, terrified it was all going to fall apart. He lies there, wide awake, watching the slow movement of the sun across his ceiling, half-wanting to get up, half-wanting to stay there, slow down the clock he can hear ticking somewhere, and wonders if this is the last time they'll ever be like this. Evan's got a lot of honor, a lot of pride, and Colby knows exactly how much their relationship worries him, exactly how much he frets about saying the wrong thing to the wrong person, even though his CO apparently knows and doesn't care. He knows how much Evan wishes they were together more, how badly he feels for the way he's bound by duty.

He knows that Evan's loyal, too, that he thinks Colby is. That this is going to hurt him, badly.

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Evan wakes up slowly, rubbing at his eyes like a little kid and grinning ruefully when he sees Colby watching him. "How long was I asleep?" he asks, and Colby can't stand this any more.

"I slept with someone else," he says.

"What?" Evan asks, pushing himself up slightly to look down at Colby, and he's still sort of smiling, like he's waiting for Colby to explain the rest of the joke.

Colby can't move, even though he knows he should. "A couple of weeks ago. I met a woman on a case we were working on, I went to her place to ask her some more questions, and we ended up in bed."

Evan looks at him for a long moment, face totally frozen, then twists suddenly, pushing himself away to sit on the side of the bed, back to Colby.

"I'm sorry," Colby says. He sits up, doesn't reach for Evan. He's seen Evan sit like this a dozen times before, looking at nothing while he tries to get up the energy to get up for real. "She's gone, now, she left LA. I asked her to leave."

Evan nods, and Colby takes a sharp breath, feeling the shakes start in his hands. He's not sure he really believed it would happen like this.

"I'm sorry," he says again. "I don't know what I was thinking."

"Yeah," Evan says, so low that Colby can't pick out his tone of voice. "So, I should go."

"No," Colby says, automatic. "Let me –"

"Explain?" Evan asks, still not looking at him. "You just said you don't know what you were thinking." He stands up, reaching for his pants. "Am I gonna be able to get a cab on your street?"

"Maybe," Colby says dumbly. He watches Evan fasten his belt before it occurs to him that he should put on some clothes as well. Evan almost certainly doesn't want to be in a room with him looking like he just got out of bed, even though Evan still hasn't turned to look at him.

"Good." Evan balls his socks up, shoves them in the pocket of his jeans, and walks out of Colby's bedroom.

When Colby follows him, a second later, he's pulling on his second shoe, leaning one hand against the wall for balance, and it hits Colby that he's actually leaving, and he's probably not coming back.

"That's it?" he asks.

Evan turns then, not quite looking at him, and his face is wiped clean of any expression at all; not locked down, the way it sometimes gets, but wiped, like there's nothing inside to show on the outside. Colby's only seen him look that way a handful of times, all in Afghanistan, and it makes him hurt, every time. Knowing it's his fault just makes it worse.

"What do you want me to say?" Evan asks, and his voice isn't doing quite as good a job as his face of hiding things. "You slept with someone else. Tell me what I'm meant to say."

"Don't just leave," Colby says; it comes out uncomfortably close to begging, but he doesn't care. If he's been lonely, with Evan one week of every twelve, emails and sometimes postcards, it's nothing to how lonely he knows he's going to be without him, because he might have wanted what he thought he could have with Lynn, but he didn't give her a thought when she was gone, and he's never not thought of Evan.

Evan makes a choked sound, something that might be trying to be a laugh. "I'm not staying here."

"Okay. Okay, just – I can call David, he'll give you a ride." He knows it's the wrong thing as soon as he says it, a confession that they're not the only two people to know what Colby did to Evan, and Evan keeps his secrets careful and close, even closer if they hurt.

He shakes his head, the movement tight and jerky, and swings his duffel back over his shoulder.

"Look, please," Colby says. "Please don't just go back, without –"

Evan looks at him for a long moment before nodding. "I'll call David," he says, and opens Colby's front door and steps out into the sunshine, walks away.

hr

"Hello?" Laura sounds distracted when she picks up the phone on the seventh ring.

"Hey," Evan says.

"Evan!" Laura says, twice as bright as she was a moment ago, and also a lot louder. "You're back. Hang on – why are you on the phone to me instead of in bed with your hot FBI agent?"

Evan takes a breath – he's pretty sure this hasn't really sunk in yet, so there's no reason for him to be phoning up his best friend to weep like a kid with his first girlfriend. Even though he wants to, a little. "I need a ride."

"God, another workaholic," Laura groans. "You're at the airport?"

"No." Evan looks round, unsure for a moment where he actually is. "A couple of blocks from Colby's place."

"Why are you –" Laura starts, then, softly, "Oh. What's happened?"

"Tell you when I see you," Evan offers, willing Laura to let it go for a few minutes.

Her sigh crackles down the phone. "Okay. I gotta – don't go anywhere, all right?"

"Yeah. Thanks."

There's a slight pause, like Laura's going to say something, but in the end, she just hangs up, and Evan's left leaning against a brick wall, soaking up the sun and watching the empty residential street. For all that Colby talks about wanting the LA experience, he lives in what Evan's always thought of as the quietest part of the city. No bright lights, no clubs, not even many cars; Evan's been more and more glad for that, the longer he's been in Atlantis, because cars, of all the things Earth has that Pegasus doesn't, are by far the thing he has most trouble getting used to again.

Not that he's going to be appreciating the quiet here any more. He tries to remember if he has anything at Colby's place – anything he can't do without, because he's been spending most of his leave there since Colby moved in, plenty of his stuff has migrated there. He can maybe call David, if there's anything important, ask him to get Colby to... Or not. He's never been the kind of person to go in for messy break-ups, or to drag friends into it. If he needs anything that badly, he'll email Colby, ask him to send it. Keep David out of it. David's not his friend, not really, only because of Colby. Maybe a little more than that; it's been a while since he was involved with anyone enough to start emailing his friends as well.

Evan sighs, closes his eyes against the sun. It'll be starting to set soon. He must have slept longer than he thought, drifting away on good thoughts of all the things they might spend his week of leave doing, and Colby letting him do it, knowing what he was going to say.

It's maybe sinking in a little faster than Evan thought.

Laura pulls up with a screech of brakes and burning rubber, much sooner than Evan was expecting her. At least she's in her own car, which means she didn't flip the siren on, something he really wouldn't put past her. She's always liked to make an entrance.

"Hey," she says, climbing out of the car, leaving the door open behind her so she can give Evan a hug. "You okay?"

Evan nods against her shoulder, breathing in the half-familiar apple scent of her shampoo. Her hair's damp. "Did I get you up?"

"What?" she asks, taking a step back. "Oh. No, I went for a run after work, I'd just got out the shower." She frowns at him for a moment, then takes his bag. "This everything? Let's go before some uniform tries to ticket me for parking illegally, I left my badge in my other pants."

Since she's in faded jeans, a bright yellow tank top and blue flip flops, Evan can see why she'd have a hard time convincing a uniform cop that she works for the LAPD, particularly as it's in bomb disposal, who uniforms don't see much of.

She pulls away much more sedately than she pulled up. "You want to get something to eat?"

Evan shakes his head. The last thing he wants is food. "Just drop me at the nearest decent hotel. I couldn't remember anywhere."

Laura takes her eyes off the road long enough to glare at him. "You're staying with us," she says firmly. "We've got a spare room that hardly ever gets used, we've even got towels." She grins for a moment, and Evan finds himself smiling back – it still seems to freak Laura out that she's a regular person with a house and furniture, even after two years of it. "I'm not cooking though. There's a pizza place near us, we'll stop on the way."

"I really can stay at a hotel," Evan protests, half-heartedly. The prospect of a few days with Laura, and Jeanette Simpson, and their three cats - gotta enforce the stereotypes Laura had said, grinning – is pretty appealing, more so than a hotel, or his own half-forgotten apartment back in Colorado Springs.

"No, you really can't. Jeanette would kill me, and it's much harder to get you drunk and make you spill all the details if you're not staying with me." She says it like a joke, but Evan's known her for five years, he knows where to look for the signs that she's not kidding.

"Don't have to get me drunk," he says, quietly enough that he knows Laura will pretend she didn't hear, then use it against him later, and they drive the rest of the way in silence.

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Laura's a good friend, tells him Colby's a jerk and an idiot and other uncomplimentary things, when Evan repeats Colby's story for her. It ought to make him feel better, but it just makes him feel worse, wanting to defend Colby and wanting to agree with her.

"So it's over?" she asks eventually, feet in his lap, beer forgotten in her hand.

"I don't know," Evan says honestly. When Colby told him, he'd just wanted to be away, somewhere that Colby wasn't, and it had seemed clear cut and simple. They'd only been together a few months – friends since Afghanistan, but only together since they were both back in the US – when Evan got assigned to Atlantis, but they'd agreed, just buzzed enough to laugh off the solemnity they'd both felt, promising faithfulness and to email. Evan never doubted that Colby was sticking to it, and now that he knows Colby didn't, once, he can't stop wondering how many other times Colby didn't. He hates doing it, because he knows Colby, he knows that Colby wouldn't cheat and keep it secret, except for the little voice reminding him that he thought he knew Colby wouldn't cheat at all.

And it's been three years, nearly four, and he doesn't want to give it up.

"Evan?" Laura asks softly, rubbing her heel into his thigh.

"I don't know," he says again. "I want..." I want him never to have done it.

"I know," Laura says. The look she gives him is so filled with sympathy that it's verging on pity. "It sucks."

Evan nods. It really does, and what sucks even more is that he always figured Colby was skewed so far towards men that his bisexuality was pretty much entirely theoretical. Intellectually, he knows it wouldn't be any better if Colby had gone off with another man, not least since it would probably have been David, who Evan actually likes, but it feels that way.

"You should get some sleep," Laura offers, climbing awkwardly to her feet. "Jeanette's probably going to sleep at the lab, and I can be quiet."

"Since when?" Evan asks gamely, and she sticks her tongue out at him.

"Here I am, putting you up in my house, feeding you, letting you drink my good beer, not even asking one question about Atlantis, and don't think Katie doesn't tell me stuff, because I know stories even you don't know –" She pauses, like she's lost the thread of where she was going with that. God knows Evan has. "All that, and what do I get in return? Abuse."

Evan stands up, nearly stepping on the grey cat that's decided maybe it does want to brave the strange new person after all, and hugs her. They don't really hug much anyway, and it's almost always Laura who initiates it, which probably explains her surprised squeak, but she returns it quickly enough.

"Don't think that means I'll forget about you and lizard people," she warns against his shoulder, and he laughs, even as the memory sends a shudder of revulsion down his spine.

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"Whoa, Granger, who dragged you home last night?" Nikki asks when Colby walks into their office. She's leaning on the edge of his desk, half-turned toward David still, and Colby suppresses a groan. He was hoping to be in early enough to avoid everyone for a while, or at least early enough that no-one would be in but David.

"Didn't get much sleep," he offers.

"Yeah, that much I guessed." Nikki gives him a wry grin, full of imagined nights of passionate sex with a hot stranger. Colby is definitely not up for this, and neither is he up for the way David winces slightly at her comment, like he knows the real reason Colby looks like he's coming off an all-nighter, rather than a day off.

"Man, she's right. Did you get any sleep?" Just what Colby needs, Don on his case. This is not shaping up to be his best day ever.

"No," he says, settling on the truth. They can think what they like – they always have, and he misses Megan, sudden and sharp, her silence and her support, and the way she'd tell him he was being an idiot, then bring him coffee anyway. They still talk sometimes, but it's not the same; he and David are both trying to fill the gap she left in their lives, and not doing a good job of it, most days. "I just need some coffee."

He might as well have given David an engraved invitation, because there he is, trailing Colby into the break room, leaning back against the counter, and, great, they're going to discuss the mess Colby just made of the best relationship he's ever had in front of everyone they work with. "What?" he says, irritable even when he tries not to be.

"Didn't take it well, huh?" David asks, all sympathy, which just makes Colby feel worse. It'd be so much easier to blame this on David insisting he tell.

"Would you?"

David's expression twitches in agreement. "Probably not. What happened?"

Colby sighs, resigns himself to telling David, and takes a fortifying gulp of coffee. "He walked out. I don't know where he went, and I don't think he's going to call me up and tell me. He said he'd call you when he's leaving again."

"Ah, man, I'm sorry," David says, sounding genuinely sorry. All it does is remind Colby that David really doesn't know Evan that well, because Colby could have predicted exactly what happened, even when he was hoping it wouldn't, and David really thought some kind of love-will-keep-us-together thing was going to happen.

"Fuck," he says quietly, dropping his head to study the floor. He's so tired, didn't even go to bed the night before, just sat on the couch, waiting for the sun to come up, waiting for Evan to maybe come back, for the phone to ring. "I really screwed up."

"Everyone makes mistakes," David says, suddenly closer, and Colby wonders for one alarming moment if David's going to hug him. They do sympathy with beer and bad movies, not physical affection, and he's not ready to start. He'll never be ready to start. "Maybe he just needs some time to get past it."

Colby shakes his head. "I really hurt him," he says, and for the first time yet it feels exactly as real as it is; exactly as bad as it is, because it's all feeling bad for Evan, and no feeling bad for them.

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It's only when Laura goes off to work, coffee mug in one hand, keys in the other, so domestic it freaks Evan out a little, that he realizes just how little there is that he wants to do in LA. He's not really a beach person, he's definitely not a shopping mall person, and sadly there aren't any air fields nearby for him to escape to. He thinks about going hiking, somewhere that no-one else will be on a weekday morning, but he's pretty sure the last thing he needs is more time alone with his own head, and anyway, it's his and Colby's thing. He manages to laugh at himself for sounding like a love-struck teenager, but only just.

He misses Atlantis in a way he never usually does on Earth, painfully aware of how out of place he is without Colby there. Laura and Jeanette's apartment is comfortable enough after the half dozen visits he's made to it, but it's their place. Not that Colby's place was ever really their's, but it had got to feeling that way, made LA a kind of home, even if it wasn't real.

He thinks about going back to Colorado Springs, but the truth is, there isn't anything better there, just an apartment he hasn't set foot in for months, a bunch of SGC officers he half-knows, and his CO, who probably won't want Evan horning in on his own vacation plans.

He goes for a run instead, takes a long, cool shower – that's another thing he forgets about Earth, that it isn't climate-controlled like Atlantis – makes a big pot of his dad's chicken pasta for Laura and Jeanette to heat up for dinner. Thinks about calling his parents, but they know him too well not to pick up that's something wrong, and there's a big difference between telling Laura and telling his mom. He tries ZoĆ« instead, gets her voicemail, which means she's in the studio and will not appreciate being interrupted, even for her younger brother who's in the galaxy once in a blue moon. He knows he's going to be told off for not seeing her anyway; the joys of being the youngest.

Laura calls early in the evening to say that she's on her way to a call-out and will be late, and hey, you cooked; Martinez, you blow us both up I'm going to be seriously pissed, Evan's a damn good – hey, sorry, gotta go. Somehow, the thought of her going out to defuse bombs is worse than the thought of her going out on rescue missions in the middle of civil wars, and he doesn't even think that it's because she hasn't got anyone from Atlantis watching her back, because she'll know he thought it, and there will be retribution. Laura's never believed she needs anyone watching out for her.

It's dark out when he hears a key in the lock, and Jeanette comes in, unhooking her satchel from where it's slung across her body. She stops with it half over her head and smiles. "Hey, Evan. Laura said you were here."

"And here I am," Evan agrees, trying to decide if Laura's told her *why* he's here. Probably.

"I take it she told you she's off trying to get herself blown up again," Jeanette says, dropping her bag in the corner of the room and grinning.

"So no need to wait for her for dinner?" Evan asks, just to make Jeanette laugh.

"I forgot you cook," she says. She tosses her denim jacket over the back of the couch, kicks her shoes after her bag and pulls her hair loose of its pins. "Okay, that's more like it. Want a drink?"

The project Jeanette's currently working on, supported by the SGC, gets them partway through dinner; news of the few people Jeanette still knows in Atlantis gets them most of the rest of the way, and Evan knows that Jeanette knows. He can read it in the occasional pauses before she says something, the way she smiles at him when the conversation doesn't need it, some kind of reassurance. He's not sure if this is it, or if she's waiting for her moment to say whatever she wants to say – they're friends, but not like him and Laura. Not that kind of friends.

The kind of friends who fight over who washes up, which Evan wins by pointing out that he's on vacation but she's been working all day, and that he can't dry because he doesn't know where anything goes.

When they're done, Jeanette makes coffee, curls up in the armchair and looks at Evan through the steam coming from her cup. Evan waits. Apparently they are that kind of friends after all, or at least Jeanette is going to try to turn them into it.

"You okay?" she asks quietly.

Evan shrugs. In the grand scheme of things, this barely rates as a blip. In the much less grand scheme of his personal life, it feels like a hell of a lot more.

"Yeah," she says. "So, listen." She leans forward, puts her mug down. "The six months after you all went back to Atlantis, before Laura came home again? I would've probably slept with *McKay* if he'd offered."

Evan's never actually been literally speechless before, but he has absolutely nothing to say to that.

Jeanette flushes. "Because I was so lonely," she clarifies. She rolls her eyes, apparently at herself. "All right, that didn't exactly come out right, but –"

"I get it," Evan says. He drinks some of his coffee, barely tastes it. Jeanette only turned on one lamp, casting everything into shadow, and she's not really looking at him. "You knew she was coming back," he says.

"Yeah," Jeanette agrees slowly, obviously waiting for him to make sense.

Evan's not sure he can explain this. "You could wait around for her because you knew she was coming back. I'm not." He takes another swallow of coffee, wills himself not to start babbling. "He's lonely, he did something stupid because he's lonely, I get that." He does, more than he ever wanted to. "But that's not going to change."

Jeanette takes a breath, like she's going to disagree or ask something else, then nods. There aren't many Lanteans who leave, and even fewer who leave once they've been there more than a couple of years. She and Laura are barely anomalies, two of the couple of dozen people who chose to leave when they all got thrown out, even if it did take Laura another six months to actually do it. Evan's not.

"Did he know that?" she asks.

"Yeah," Evan says. Colby's relationship with the military is a lot different to his own, even without everything that happened with Dwayne Carter. For Colby, it was always a way to escape a small town and what his family expected for him, something to do and be done with. Evan can't imagine not belonging in the Air Force. "Yeah. Maybe..."

"He didn't want to wait?" Jeanette suggests carefully.

"He realized there wasn't anything to wait for."

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Colby spends the next morning out tracking down potential witnesses with Nikki, and it's a good thing she's on the ball, because he got more sleep the night before, but not enough. It makes Nikki roll her eyes in the car back to the FBI.

"Seriously, Granger, I'm glad you finally discovered the concept of a personal life, but she can't possibly be so good that she keeps you up all night two nights in a row."

Colby slides a little further into his seat, glad that she's driving so he can put his hand over his eyes and pretend he's somewhere else. At least with Nikki he'll never have to talk about what's actually happening, though he's fairly sure that doesn't cancel out how much he never wants to hear her speculate about his supposed sex life.

"Are you blushing?" she asks at the next stop light. "That's cute. Weird, but cute."

"Watch the road," Colby mutters, which is pretty weak as comebacks go. "And stop picturing me naked."

Nikki laughs. "It's not you I'm picturing, my friend."

David's at his desk when they get back, but he gets a funny look on his face when he sees them walk in. Nikki looks between him and Colby, then pats Colby on the arm and says, "I'll update Don."

Colby scowls at her retreating back for a moment, feeling betrayed. David's still watching him. "What?"

"Message for you," David says, holding out one of the ubiquitous pink message slips, and Colby feels his stomach lurch and his heart-beat kick up, even as he tells himself not to get his hopes up.

"Yeah?" he asks, hyper-conscious of how normal he doesn't sound.

David's eyes warm, a kind of hands-off hug. "Evan."

"What did he –" Colby's stuck to the floor, even knowing that David wouldn't be looking like that if it wasn't -. He takes the slip of paper on auto-pilot. Bar Forty-Nine, 7pm. Call if you're going to be late.

He doesn't know if this is good or not, but it's got to be a step. Evan's not the kind of person to arrange a meeting to hand over a forgotten sweater or a returned gift.

"Good?" David asks.

"Maybe," Colby says, shoving the slip into his pocket, but he knows he's grinning, recognizes the hazy, weak feeling of relief.

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Colby walks into the bar at eight minutes past seven, which isn't a great start, but the traffic was worse than he was expecting, and... And he wimped out on calling, afraid that Evan would say he didn't want to wait.

As it turns out, he probably could have risked it, because Evan's sitting at the back of the bar, beer by his left hand, newspaper folded closed on the table in front of him. He looks up with Colby gets close, and he's back to the locked down expression that Colby hates.

"Sorry I'm late," he says, hesitating with one hand on the back of the other chair. "I thought I'd –"

"It's fine," Evan says, cutting him off and gesturing at the other side of the table. "Sit down."

Colby does. He doesn't know what to do with his hands now, wishes he'd stopped at the bar when he came in so he'd at least have a glass. They've never been this awkward together, not even the first time Evan was home after Colby got arrested for spying and killed for a while. "I'm sorry," he blurts out, unable to take the silence any longer. "It was stupid, and I'm not – But I missed you. I was lonely, and I worry about you, every time there's another..."

Evan shakes his head, looking down at his hands, and Colby stops. "I don't know what we were thinking," he says, quietly enough that Colby nearly leans in to hear him better over the buzz of conversation in the bar. "We should never have – it wasn't fair, to either of us." He sighs, sounding exhausted and sad, the way he does sometimes when he comes home, eyes full of tragedies that he can't talk about. "I'm not coming home," he says, clear and careful, still not quite looking at Colby. "I'm not going to leave the Air Force, I'm not going to be posted back – back here. Back in the states somewhere, even. It wasn't fair to ask you to – to offer something." He looks up at Colby, then away again, tensing like he's going to stand. "I thought I ought to – that I should tell you. And I said I'd let you know when I was leaving, so. So I'm gonna go back to Colorado Springs tomorrow, see some friends there. I ship out again in four days."

He starts to push himself up, and Colby grabs for his wrist without entirely meaning to. Evan freezes under his hand. "Wait," Colby says. "Just – stop a second." He takes a deep breath, tries to put together what Evan's saying. "Look, if you want to – to end it because of what I did, or because you don't want it any longer, then say so. But don't – I knew what I was getting into when I got into it, you don't get to use that as an excuse to end things."

"I'm trying to avoid us both getting hurt again," Evan snaps, voice full of frustration. He glares at Colby's hand for a moment, then sits abruptly, one hand coming up to rub at his temple. "I'm not saying this to make you feel better, or whatever you think. You're going to have a bad day, and I won't be here, and someone will smile at you –"

"Just – no," Colby says firmly, stung. "It wasn't like that and you damn well know it. I mean, yeah, you weren't here, and I missed you, but don't make it sound like I just jump into bed with whoever gives me a second look."

"Oh, so just the ones you really like," Evan says sharply. "Because that makes it so much better. You're only going to sleep around on me with someone you really *care* for."

It's the most sarcastic Colby's ever heard Evan sound, the most obviously trying to hurt. He tries not to let it work, reminds himself that Evan's already hurt, he's just fighting back. "That's what you want?" he asks, forcing himself to lower his voice before they end up yelling at each other in a public bar, which is a level of humiliation that neither of them needs. "Yes, I cared for her, I liked her. And then I went into work and told David, who told me I'd been an idiot, which I already knew, and I asked her to leave LA. I know you don't think you're the easy choice, you're not stupid, so tell me that doesn't mean something."

Evan looks down at the table, the closed paper, and Colby stops himself from saying anything else, because he's finally gotten through to Evan, and saying anything else is only going to fuck it up.

"I don't want –" Evan starts, then shakes his head, like he doesn't know what he doesn't want.

"I can promise whatever you need," Colby says quietly, risking leaning close, even with a table between them. "But I already did that, and you're not going to trust me just because I promise." It hurts to say, because Evan's the only person whose trust in him he hasn't doubted once in the last four years, and he has only himself to blame for losing it. "Give me a chance to prove you should."

Evan shakes his head again, but he looks up, and his expression is blown open with hope. Colby fights not to start grinning like an idiot, because he knows this relationship is tough, knows there are going to people he wants, when Evan isn't there and he's so lonely it hurts, but he also knows it's going to be worth it, because it has been, for three years.

"I don't know," Evan says softly.

"Yeah you do," Colby says, pushing it a little. It's tempting to push harder, knowing that Evan will let him, and it's only knowing that which stops him.

"I –" Evan looks at his watch. "I should go, I promised Laura I'd meet her."

"Okay," Colby says. He recognizes that, the way Evan will make arrangements for something he's not sure about when he knows he has a way out of it. It's not a great sign that Evan's taking up his out, but Evan's just told him where he's staying, and Colby would have said, that morning, that Evan wouldn't tell him that ever again. "Don't leave tomorrow. We can – have dinner, or something."

Date, he wants to say, except they've never done that, already friends when they started sleeping together. It sounds kind of nice.

Evan smiles slightly, like he's thinking the same thing. "Okay," he says slowly. "I could meet you after work."

"That sounds good," Colby says, letting his smile show, aware of how relieved he probably looks. "I'll let security know you're coming by."

Evan's smile changes slightly, laughing at some joke Colby doesn't get. "It's okay, I'll wait outside." He stands up. "I really have to go."

"Sure." Colby stands as well, thinking vague thoughts of calling David and inviting him out for a beer. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Yeah." Evan hesitates, half-twitching forward as though he's going to kiss Colby, or maybe shake his hand, before just nodding. "See you tomorrow."

Colby watches him walk away, and doesn't bother trying to fight his grin. Everything might not be okay yet, but it's going to be, he's sure, and there's no feeling quite as good as that.

 

Next: Trick of the Light


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