***Spoilers for Enemy Within! Do Not Read if you have not read Enemy Within!***
Welcome to Bauer’s Bytes! This week, both Dorota and Annie had prompt requests featuring Doc & Coleman. Both wanted to see more of those two after Enemy Within, and specifically Annie wanted to know what was up with those two. Well… I guess we’ll have to see!
Watching over someone in the hospital was mind-numbingly boring.
The lines on Coleman’s heart monitor paraded in neat mountains and valleys, a textbook example of cardiac rhythms. All that PT paid off, despite the beers and the shots and the deep-fried diet they all loved to indulge in. Fucking Marine Corps. Keeping them healthy, despite their best efforts.
Doc threw his head back and sighed as dramatically as a damsel in distress fainting at the sight of the dragon about to roast her alive.
He couldn’t even text Adam anymore. The damn LT—well, not an LT anymore—was going off to confront Faisal’s family.
He’d seen Adam face down Prince Abdul in Saudi Arabia, at Faisal’s hospital, once before. That relationship seemed as cozy as a tiger getting ready to eat your face. Adam wanted to get closer to the Saudis, a family and a nation that so viciously protected their own that they’d rather face international condemnation than give up a member of the royal family who supported terrorists? They’d “handle it” on their own, they said.
And said family member or troublemaker was never seen or heard from again, as the fairy tale went.
Adam wanted to be a part of that? Was he the outsider, destined to disappear? Or was he one of the Saudis’ own now, wrapped up in sand and secrets? Would he ever hear from Adam again?
Groaning from the hospital bed made Doc spring forward, a jack-in-the-box bursting free from the confinement of boredom. He watched, hovering in the chair at Coleman’s bedside, as Coleman’s eyes fluttered open.
Doc leaned in close, beaming. “Hey beautiful,” he crooned.
Coleman groaned and squeezed his eyes shut. “Fuck, I wish I died.”
“If I were dead, you wouldn’t be here.”
“So you think.” Doc winked.
“God, you’re an asshole.” Coleman finally opened his eyes again and struggled to sit up. Doc helped him, grabbing pillows and rearranging them behind Coleman as the motorized bed slowly rose, taking Coleman with it. “So what’s going on?” Coleman looked around, taking in the hospital room, the government issue machinery, and the drab, clinical sameness of everything. “Bethesda?”
“Yep.” Doc sat back and kicked up his feet, resting his heels on the side of Coleman’s bed. Coleman shoved his legs off, and Doc put them back, this time resting his feet across Coleman’s shins. “The world was saved from going to hell in a handbasket. Russia is Russia again, President Spiers-Reichenbach is back in the US facing down a congressional investigation that wants to put him in jail for the rest of his life, and the L-T and Prince F skipped off to Saudi Arabia for their happy ever after.”
Coleman’s eyes narrowed. “The L-T is alive?”
Oh yeah. The last Coleman saw of Adam was him being dragged out by Cook, beaten and bloody, and shouting in Arabic at Faisal. He’d folded for Faisal when Cook threatened to blow Faisal’s head off in front of him. And, yeah, after Cook murdered Ruiz… Doc didn’t doubt that Cook was a half second away from murdering Faisal, too. Murdering them all, one by one.
“Yeah, Adam’s alive.” Again, Coleman glared at him, using Adam’s name instead of his rank. “He’s also not a Marine anymore. He left everything. I think that mission made him rethink his priorities.”
Coleman looked away.
“You mad, bro?”
Coleman shot him another dark glare, somehow ferocious even though he was propped up by a mountain of pillows and wearing a flimsy hospital gown.
“I didn’t think you were a homophobe.” Doc crossed his arms and glared right back.
“I’m not!” Coleman’s head whipped around, that glare now a permanent fixture on his mulish face. “But he fucking sold us all out. He gave us all up. He surrendered.”
“Because there was a gun to Prince F’s head.” Doc spoke slowly, like he was talking to a five-year-old. “What the hell was he supposed to do? Let Prince F die?”
“There’s gotta be someone you’d give everything up for.” He watched Coleman, peering at him carefully.
Coleman looked away, his jaw clenching and unclenching as he stared at the tile floor, the scuffed linoleum and the rubber-stained baseboards. “Once, maybe.”
“You’ve got some kids. You’d give it all up for them.”
Sighing, Coleman’s face twisted, a rictus of pain and an eternal frustration that only came from dealing with Doc. “Yeah, but they wouldn’t care. They call some other guy Dad now.”
“That fucking sucks. Sorry, man.”
Coleman shrugged, but said nothing.
“If it were you in that position, you’d have done the same thing. You’d have given up if the L-T was there with a gun to his head. Or me.”
“I’d have let him shoot you.”
Doc clucked and tilted his head, playing coy. “You say the sweetest things to me. Makes my heart go all aflutter.”
“God, you’re so fucking annoying.” But, Coleman finally chuckled, a breezy half-laugh.
Doc let it slide. “So, you’re going to be set loose in a few days. If Adam texts back, and if he survives facing down Prince F’s family, then d’ya wanna go see them?”
“He’s facing down the Saudis?”
“I think something happened on the ice. When they were speaking all that Arabic, and Faisal was crying like he’d never see Adam again? Faisal said his name was ‘Faisal Cooper’ when we got back to Honolulu.”
Coleman’s eyebrows shot straight up, climbing into his hairline. “You think they got married?”
“Well…” Doc shrugged and leaned back. “So, no one takes the others name in Islamic marriages, but Prince F is Westernized a bit, so maybe he took Adam’s name to feel closer to him, especially since we all thought he was dead? Or, I dunno, for shits and giggles? But, no matter what happened, Adam decided to say fuck off to the Marine Corps, and he’s living in Saudi now. I mean, yeah, they totally could be taking it to the next step.”
“That will go over well in Saudi. Don’t they still stone gay guys there?”
Doc nodded slowly.
Coleman cursed under his breath. “You know, I just really wanted to work on my career. Do a high-speed assignment in a special operations unit, fast track my promotion, and then keep working hard. I wanted to go someplace.” He shook his head. “And then I landed in this fucking team.”
Doc smiled wide.
“Everyone else is gone?” Coleman’s voice softened, went thin, almost like a whisper.
“Yeah.” Doc sobered too, his almost maniacal glee at tormenting Coleman vanishing with a snap. “Two turned traitor, three murdered, two gone to Saudi, and you and me, left behind. It’s like a bad ‘little piggies gone to market’ rhyme.”
“You’re so dumb.” Coleman shook his head. He chewed his lip though, turning over the disintegration of their team, the forces that had shredded their people from the inside out. “Are Ruiz and Park getting funerals?”
“Park, yeah. Ruiz’s ashes are going back to his home country with his grandmother. Park’s is in his hometown.”
Coleman scrubbed his face, exhaling hard. “All right. We’re going to Park’s funeral. And then, we’re going to Saudi. Adam needs all the help he can get.”
“Gonna ride in and save him from the Saudis?” Doc winked.
“Yeah, if we need to. Prince F too.”
“I knew you had a heart of gold.” Doc playfully kicked Coleman’s leg with his foot, blowing him a kiss.
Coleman rolled his eyes, staring at the ceiling as if he was asking God what he’d done to deserve Doc in his life.
“You know you love me.”
“Like I love a tumor.”
“I’m as hard to get rid of as a tumor, too.”
“I fucking know. But I’m about to ask the nurse for a scalpel.”
Laughing, Doc clambered out of his seat and kneeled on the foot of Coleman’s bed. Coleman’s eyes went wide as he crawled up, straddling his legs until he flopped to the side, cuddling against Coleman and tucking his shoulder under Coleman’s arm, on his uninjured side. “Somedays, I almost think you like me.”
“What the hell are you doing?” Instead of sounding freaked out, Coleman sounded resigned. He held his arms wide, not touching Doc.
Doc snuggled closer. “I’ve been sleeping in that chair for days, watching over you so you wouldn’t wake up alone. My back hurts. I’m sleeping here now.”
“God dammit.” Coleman didn’t touch him, but he didn’t tell Doc to get the hell out of his bed, either.
“Hold me. This is uncomfortable.”
Grumbling, Coleman’s arms fell, and he begrudgingly wrapped one massive hand around Doc’s thin shoulder. “It’s like cuddling a pencil,” he grunted.
“And you’re a grumpy elephant, but you don’t see me complaining.”
Coleman snorted, but said nothing. Doc made a show of snuggling up to Coleman’s armpit and resting his cheek on Coleman’s chest. One of his hands rested on Coleman’s belly, just above his belly button.
Eventually, Coleman’s other hand covered Doc’s, and they fell asleep before the nurse came in to change Coleman’s IV bag.
* * *
“Bahrain?” Doc scrunched up his face as he listened to Adam on his cell phone. “Why the hell are we going to Bahrain?”
“It’s where we’re living now. I’ll tell you when you get here.”
“Is this a good reason to be in Bahrain, or a ‘we-left-in-the-middle-of-the-night’ kind of reason?”
“It’s a good reason.” Adam chuckled, softly. “I’ll pick you up at the airport.”
“Whatever, man. We just picked up our tickets. Thanks for buying them.”
“See you tomorrow.”
Adam blew off Doc’s thanks, again, for buying his and Coleman’s tickets to not-Saudi, but to Bahrain. He sounded good on the phone, though, relaxed, for once.
Coleman, on the other hand, looked like a spring wound too tight, looking out of place in his khakis and his polo, and holding his duffel in one meaty hand. He waited by the benches, tucked off to the side in between the airport doors and the security checkpoint.
They’d been given a month of leave by the Marine Corps and told to go be elsewhere. Go do something personal.
But how could they just fall back into their normal lives? What was normal even, anymore? Their teammates were dead, half heroes and half traitors. Their memories were tainted. Was it fair to Park and Ruiz to remember laughing with Wright and Kobayashi? Was it wrong to want them all back, to want to turn back time and go back to the nights and days they spent in Prince F’s palace, playing basketball and laughing like children? When there was never a thought that their brothers weren’t all virtuous, weren’t all knights of the round table, and they were all on the same side?
What was left, back in Tampa, aside from memories of traitors and heroes, and a blurred line between the two? Empty apartments, bars they used to haunt. Empty spaces in their life.
And, a missing leader. Adam should be there, should help them find their feet again. Should be guiding them back to true north, like any good leader would.
But he’d lost his own north, and he was rebuilding his own life in the desert sands. He didn’t have room for two stragglers, two lost puppies who didn’t know where home was anymore.
At least, that’s what Doc thought, but when he poked at Adam, asking if they could come out and see him—in a moment of pure desperation, watching Coleman’s chest rise and fall and his eyes stay stubbornly closed, and he feared he’d be the only survivor, in the end, of their team—Adam had said he wanted them to come.
Park’s funeral—God, it was fucking awful—was the day before.
They were flying out first thing.
Did Coleman have that same feeling of freefall? Like they’d stepped out of the back of a C-130, plummeting straight to earth, and they were waiting to pull their parachute cord. Waiting and waiting and waiting, but the ground wasn’t getting any closer, and they were still in freefall, forever it seemed. The world rushing by, and them suspended, not knowing where to go, where to spin. To pull or not to pull?
What would impact feel like? What was waiting at the bottom, at the end?
Doc kept pushing, he knew. Pushing as hard as he could, on everything. Testing the boundaries, and trying to find the limits. He needed to know where the lines were. Needed to know exactly how to push and push until he could destroy. When he wanted to blow up his world, again, he needed the blueprints as to how.
Coleman waited for him, looking like sasquatch trying to blend in. He couldn’t be more awkward if he tried, couldn’t scream I don’t belong here any louder. The last time he’d looked this out of place, he’d been sneaking into the White House on a campus tour.
“We’re all set. And yeah, we’re purposely going to Bahrain.” Doc smiled and waved the tickets, and then nodded to the TSA security checkpoint. “Ready?”
Coleman stared at him, silently, and then reached out, dragging Doc close, physically hauling him across the tile until they were mashed together, chest to chest. Doc’s face pressed against Coleman’s neck, and he felt Coleman’s heavy sigh, a long, shaking exhalation, as Coleman’s muscled arms settled around his bony shoulders.
He didn’t move. Didn’t hug Coleman back. “You alright, bro?”
“Yeah.” Coleman’s rough voice and his hot breath ruffled Doc’s hair, brushed over the tip of his ear. “Yeah, I’m good.” He pulled back, looking down, avoiding Doc’s gaze.
He should say something. Do something. Not let Coleman flounder in freefall.
He held out his duffel. “Carry my bag?”
Coleman snorted and rolled his eyes, but he grabbed Doc’s duffel and slung it over his shoulder. “Yeah, princess, I’ll carry your stuff.”
Doc winked. “Thanks, big boy.” Now for the push. “I’ll be sure to give you an extra special treat when we land.”
Coleman shook his head as he looked away, but a flush stained his cheeks and ran down his neck. Doc led them both to the security checkpoint, and Coleman stayed quiet, not saying a word, for the first half of their trip.
Until Coleman pushed back.
Three hours before they landed in Frankfurt, Coleman leaned against Doc’s shoulder and whispered, “Ever joined the mile high club?”
Timestamp: Post-Enemy Within, after Adam & Doc text, and Doc & Coleman discharge from Bethesda Naval Hospital.
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Really, u r going to leave it there? You apparently are a mean man!
You’re just discovering this about Tal? He’s the WORST tease! 🙂
Hahaha. 🙂 Have to leave some stuff for the next book!
I knew it! I knew something was there between them. Thank you for writing this – after finishing Enemy Within, I just re-read the previous three books in the series (which I had re-read before I read Enemy Within….and had re-read several times before that…), and it was fun going back and picking up on all the interactions between Doc and Coleman throughout all the books.
I love it. Love how often you’re reader and re-reading. <3 They have lot of fun interactions. Most of it is Doc's pushing Coleman's buttons. What now, though, when Coleman pushes back... 🙂
Fantastic. Thank you. But…REALLY? You stopped there? Grrr
Hahaha. 🙂 Yep! Have to leave some things for the next book! 😉
Oh man! You really stopped there 😉
Love their banter.
Thanks! Doc is a fun character to write. 🙂
Awwwwrighty then! THAT was a surprise! I mean, one never knows if Doc is serious or joking, so the subtle hints earlier aren’t all that helpful. And Coleman…who knew? *chuckles*
Love it! It makes me smile…and this cliffhanger thing you’ve suddenly fallen in love with, Tal? Fascinating, as Spock would say. I’ll forgive you if you write a Part 2 to this byte! We ALL want to know the answer to Coleman’s question…for starters. 😛
Despite the jauntiness of Doc’s narration, though, you have managed to insert some sobering, grounding realities, some thoughts and events that put the lighthearted bantering and the teasing into sharp focus and give meaning to them. There might never have been a mile-high-club question if Ruiz and Park hadn’t been murdered. The betrayal of Wright and Kobayashi makes the final moments of this byte not only filled with anticipation but also vital to the mood of the piece.
You did well again, as expected. The feel of this one is so different from the one before, and yet it’s still you. It’s what makes reading your work so delightful. 🙂
Thanks! Yeah, both of them are not in a good place right now. Doc pushes and pushes and pushes, and he really just wants to push people’s buttons. He’s pushing at Coleman, and has been for a while now. Is Coleman in the right place to even respond? Is he thinking clearly? Is he just going 100 miles an hour and damn the consequences? Does he even know what he’s doing? Doc is greased lightning going off the rails. What is Coleman thinking?
I like to mix up the feelings in the Bytes. Some super deep, others fun and lighthearted. Other with many multi layers. I like scenes that can be read at least three different ways. 🙂
And, I have to leave some stuff to future books! LOL
Am loving the super bytes but my favourite couple is Adam and Faisal😍
Omg, Omg!! I love this couple! Thanks for writing it! I look forward to the next Bit or the book about them! Doc is sarcastic but I love it with all of myself. And Coleman is adorable. Thank you, thank you very much.