Liz Borino © 2018
All Rights Reserved
July 2013, Langley, Virginia
CIA Agent Aaron Collins pushed his shoulders together as he strode through the hallway to his supervisor Mick Keller’s office and rapped on the door. As if he’d been waiting for him, Keller swung it open. “Come in, Collins, come in. Have a seat. Can I get you a drink?”
“No, thank you, sir,” Aaron replied, shifting in the hard, wooden chair. His boss wrung his hands as he circled his large desk. “Is everything all right?” Clearly not, he answered himself. Bosses tended not to call emergency meetings on Friday afternoons to discuss the company’s upcoming party.
Keller sat behind his desk and adjusted his glasses. “I need you to brief Foster on the POW situation in Afghanistan. The two of you are switching cases.”
Aaron blinked. “My team and I have been working with the military on that mission for months. We’re three weeks from deployment.”
“Yes, Foster will assume your leadership role.”
“Foster? He’s a paper pusher!”
“Collins.” Keller’s voice held a warning.
Yeah, God forbid the agency admits the truth about the competence of their employees. “Sir, he really is not qualified.”
“He will be once you brief him. We need you here, Collins,” Keller told him.
Aaron tilted his head to the side. “Why do you need a field agent here?”
“You’re one of our best.”
“And…you’re afraid to send me because you have reason to doubt safety?”
“It is a rather volatile situation,” Keller hedged.
Of course, it’s volatile! The fucking enemies have our men! “What aren’t you telling me?”
Keller shook his head. “It wasn’t my decision.”
“Well, whose decision was it? Have you thought of calling them an idiot?”
“Not all of us have your finesse.”
“I’m going there, or you need to give me a reason that I can’t, beyond the stuffed shirt above you said so,” Aaron said.
Keller removed his glasses and massaged his eyes. “No, that’s all the reason either one of us requires. Your job is here for the next three months.”
“I have the most information about this mission.” Even as Aaron spoke, he knew the battle was over.
“None of us know very much.” He sighed. “I’m sorry.”
So am I. “Can I still get updates?”
“You know we can’t.” Keller paused, then added, “He’ll be all right, Collins.”
They weren’t talking about Foster’s competence anymore. Now, Keller referred to Aaron’s husband, Jordan, an army captain also assigned to this mission. “Of course, he will. I only wish I could help.”
“You’ll help by training Foster,” Keller replied.
Right. “Is there anything else, sir?”
“No, you may go home.”
“Thank you.” Aaron stood, shook Keller’s hand, and walked out of the building after grabbing his messenger bag. He ducked into his car and leaned his head back on the seat. He dialed Jordan’s cell.
“Hey, Angel, you done already?” Jordan asked. The perkiness in his voice signaled he did not get the same news today.
And like magic, the sound of Jordan’s nickname for him eroded the edges of Aaron’s bad mood. “Yep, you?”
“Two beers in at home,” Jordan responded. “I’ve got dinner started.”
“See, now I think you’re vying to steal my nickname.” Aaron started the ignition and put his foot on the brake.
“Never happen. You okay?” Jordan asked.
“Uh…do we have anything stronger than beer, or should I stop?”
“Oh, boy.” Jordan’s tone grew serious. “We have whiskey, if that will do.”
Best you can get in the US. Aaron released a breath. “That’ll work. Love you.”
“Love you too.” Jordan ended the call, and Aaron began the twenty-minute trek home to Maryland.
When Aaron pulled up in front of their house, Jordan set his sweatpants on the couch and closed the curtains. As soon as Aaron walked in, he stepped into Jordan’s embrace and kissed the top of his head, which reached Aaron’s shoulder. Not because Jordan was short, but at almost seven feet, Aaron eclipsed everyone. Jordan loved having the ability to wrap Aaron’s pale, slender frame completely in his dark, muscled arms.
“You feel perfect there,” Aaron murmured.
“We always did fit together. Why don’t you get changed?”
Aaron nodded, but before he could go up the stairs, Jordan pointed to the sweats on the couch. “You are too good to me.” Aaron kissed him quickly.
“What happened?” Jordan asked as Aaron undressed.
“Know Foster?” Aaron gathered his suit in a bundle and tossed it in the laundry room on the way to the kitchen.
“The South Korea specialist?” Jordan clarified, and Aaron nodded. “Sure, what about him?” He gave Aaron another peck on the lips after he sank onto the bar stool at the kitchen counter.
As Jordan made his way to the stove to stir the sauce, he noted Aaron crossing and uncrossing his legs and clanking the ice in his whiskey sour against the glass. Nervous tics, but why?
“He’s taking my place in the POW mission,” Aaron answered his unspoken musing.
Jordan dropped a metal spoon into the skillet. “Fuck! Shit!” He licked his fingers after each try to get it out.
“Tongs.” Aaron laughed and handed them to him.
After successfully extracting the spoon, Jordan set the stove to simmer and faced Aaron. “He’s doing what, now?”
“My reaction exactly,” Aaron replied.
“Did he say why?” Jordan asked. “Wait. How’s garlic bread sound?”
“Make yourself useful. There’s fresh bread in the drawer,” Jordan told him.
Aaron rolled his eyes but kept his smile. “As for why, Keller started to offer bullshit about it being too dangerous for me, but when I pressed, he admitted it was not his decision.”
“That much I believe.” Jordan shook his head. “Probably the new Director of Military Affairs. He seems to be pulling strings.”
“Any idea who it is? Can we egg his house or something?”
“I don’t know who he is, but I can tell you this: evasiveness is not winning him any fans,” Jordan answered, not adding how much he’d like to egg the man’s house.
“Evasiveness? You mean hiding his identity?”
“I actually care less about that than the decisions he’s making. I don’t get the feeling he’s telling us everything he knows.”
“Why should he? People on his level make the decisions and hand them down. They don’t have to justify.”
“Most people in his position would explain important decisions to the officers acting them out.” Not that the officers would necessarily pass that information down to the soldiers, but they would understand, which meant the people below them would have reason to trust them. “Does Foster know anything about the POW situation?”
Aaron nudged Jordan out of the way to put the bread in the oven. “Foster doesn’t know a damn thing about the Middle East.”
“So, how is it less dangerous to send him?” Jordan asked, leaning against the counter.
“I’m supposed to brief him on the information I have.” Aaron huffed a breath.
Jordan blinked. “Fifteen years of training on Middle Eastern politics?”
“No, just what’s in the file.”
“Which gives him approximately 30 to 40 percent of the needed information.”
“If that,” Aaron confirmed. “What can I do? Keller claims it’s out of his hands, so it’s sure as hell out of mine.”
Jordan poured the pasta into the boiling water. “You can’t do anything.”
After a pause, Aaron asked, “Can you?”
Chewing on his lip as he watched the noodles jump in the bubbles, Jordan replied, “Not for this mission. Someone qualified should be there. But no reason I have to stay beyond it.”
Aaron touched his shoulder. “You’re talking about desertion?”
“No. That would ruin us. I’ll resign my commission at the end of this deployment.” He absently stirred the pasta as his mind whirled around the words he never thought he’d think, much less say. After a few minutes of silence, Jordan looked back at his husband. “No response?”
“Trying to figure out how much you had to drink.”
Jordan smiled. “I’m not drunk.”
Once he’d removed the bread from the oven, Jordan plated their dinner. “Because I can’t protect the members of my platoon, civilians, or myself without supportive leaders.” If this had been the first or second time a higher-up played roulette with the lives of his soldiers, Jordan would take less extreme action. Request a meeting, ask for reasoning, maybe, but at this point, he knew he’d only get some version of “it is the way it is.” He didn’t need to hear it again.
“Okay,” Aaron said, sitting down at the counter and gesturing Jordan over.
“Okay? I tell you I’m changing our lives…and all you say is okay?”
Aaron kissed his cheek. “That, and you better not let Foster’s incompetence keep us from jumping out of a plane when you come home.” As he bit into the pasta, Aaron added, “I don’t know what you’re planning to do when you’re done, but I’d approve of you staying home to have dinner on the table every night when I get off work.”
“Oh, would you?” Jordan turned Aaron’s head to the side and brought their lips together between bites. “I failed on that front today.”
“Eh, you’ll learn. Besides, I was early,” Aaron responded. “Any ideas about next steps?”
Jordan exhaled. Up until a few years ago, he’d fully intended to be a military officer for the rest of his working life. But with the disillusionment of regime shake-ups, the thought of a new path sounded better and better. “Maybe I’ll go back to school for my PhD in social work.”
“Yeah? Then what?”
Draining his beer, Jordan said, “I would like to help improve the foster system. Give the kids who don’t get adopted some sort of support.” He had seen too many of them pushed into the front line of the army because they had no one to show them other options. And an unfortunate number of those enlistees came home in a wood box with no one to mourn the loss. With an uncertain, yet too dark, ethnicity, Jordan easily could have been one of them. He shook the thought away and glanced at Aaron, who stared at him. “I know it’s a pay cut…”
Aaron waved him off. “And you know I don’t give a shit. I care only that you’re happy.”
“Doesn’t bother you at all?”
“That you’ll be in less danger? Somehow I’ll get over it.” Aaron rested his head on Jordan’s shoulder. “But you’re reinforcing my earlier point that you deserve the nickname Angel, not me.”
Jordan kissed his head and whispered, “No, you’re my angel. Nothing will change that.”
They spent the rest of the night talking and making plans.
July 2013, Bethesda, Maryland
Aaron inhaled the mixture of pine, leather, cherry blossoms, and the freshness of his husband, Jordan. The cherry blossom scent drifted through the cracked window letting in the July air, and the cruel light streaming through the window implored his eyes to open. Aaron resisted because as soon as he acknowledged the morning, he would have to be responsible. Get up, put on clothes, and take Jordan to the airport where he’d board a plane and disappear for three months. Jordan’s shortest deployment to date, and the only one Aaron would have no part in.
“Last time,” Jordan whispered, as though reading Aaron’s thoughts.
“Mm, we hope,” Aaron answered, kissing the hair adorning Jordan’s chest. He tapped his fingers down Jordan’s arm and traced the tattoo of an open parachute with strings attached to the words “My Angel.” It reflected Aaron’s tattoo of a dog tag inscribed with “My Hero.”
“Hope?” Jordan grinned and rolled on top of him. “What’s to hope?”
Aaron wrapped his arms around Jordan’s waist and brought him down for a hug. “Hope the army doesn’t find you so invaluable that—”
Jordan cut him off with a kiss. “I was making a request. I want you one last time before we have to get out of bed. That requires agreement, not hope.”
“When have I ever not agreed?” Aaron ran his hands down Jordan’s back and cupped his ass. At Jordan’s contemplative expression, he clarified, “That illness or injury wasn’t present?”
“I’m out,” Jordan replied.
Without much effort, Aaron flipped Jordan onto his back and pinned his shoulders to the bed. “Then I’ll be in.” He grabbed the lube from the nightstand. “Did you leave that out on purpose last night?”
“No, but putting it in the drawer would have been wasted effort.” Jordan slid his legs apart so Aaron could kneel between them. “God, Angel, you’re perfect like that.”
Angel. Aaron smiled at Jordan’s name for him. He’d started using it the night they’d met, eleven years ago.
“Do I want to see inside your head?” Jordan asked, preventing him from falling into the memory.
“Can you reach it?”
“Sure, if you put it to good use,” he threw back.
Aaron bent down and captured Jordan’s lips. He yearned to grasp the moment and never let it go.
“Fuck me, damn it!” Jordan growled after they separated, and bit Aaron’s neck.
“Hey…” Aaron’s shiver weakened the protest. “No marks. I have to work today. Besides, where’s the romance in fucking?”
Jordan’s eyes softened with his answer. “My love, would you please lube your cock up and stick it in my ass? I desire to connect with you on the most intimate level while we both get off.”
Aaron chuckled as he acquiesced with Jordan’s request. His laughter ceased as Jordan’s slick channel hugged him. “Oh.”
“Yes!” Jordan wrapped his legs around Aaron’s ass, urging him on. They thrust together, alternating rhythms from slow and deep to fast and needy. Aaron couldn’t tell where one stopped and the other began, especially once Jordan shot his cream between them, sealing their bodies. “Angel?”
“Hmm?” Aaron lifted his gaze to meet Jordan’s brown eyes.
Aaron offered one more smile and kiss. “No more time, love.”
Jordan shook his head. “That was a promise.”
Aaron allowed the words to fill his heart as he pulled his husband into the bathroom for a shower.
Yeah, Aaron typed on the military spouse forums. Watching J’s camouflage fade into the crowd of people at the airport damn near killed me. How do you all handle the separation and worry year after year?
“That does not look like CIA work, Agent Collins,” a man standing over Aaron said. “My name is Major General Troy Hart, the new Associate Director for Military Affairs.”
Shit. I’m on my new boss’ bad side on his first day. Wait. Didn’t Jordan believe the ADMA was responsible for Foster taking my place? Aaron stood and shook the man’s hand. He tried not to smirk as Troy took a step backward and raised his eyebrows at Aaron’s height. His superior was shorter than the average man, with graying hair and a soft build.
“Guess I can see why you aren’t on the covert field team.”
“No, sir, I don’t blend in very easily. And if it’s all right, I was posting on a forum during my lunch break,” Aaron explained.
“No,” Troy responded. “That is absolutely not all right. You should be away from your desk during lunch.”
“I’m fine with a sandwich and a different computer.”
“That was an order, Officer Collins. You’ve had enough stress today to earn a lunch in the cafeteria.”
“Earn, sir? Here I thought lunch in the cafeteria was a punishment,” Aaron joked. The alternative was for him to demand to know why someone was giving him orders on how to spend his lunch break.
Troy laughed, which only served to irritate Aaron more. “Fair assessment, agent. I’ll buy. And it’s not necessary to call me ‘sir.’”
“I use ‘sir’ for people I respect.”
“We haven’t known each other long enough for me to have earned your respect.”
“So, why don’t you start with calling me ‘Troy’ while we work on fixing that?”
“Let me shut down my computer.”
“Great!” Troy said with way more enthusiasm than lunch in the cafeteria warranted.
As Aaron shut down his computer, he received an instant message from Jordan. Damn. He would much rather stay and chat with his husband than eat soggy carrots in the cafeteria.
Hey, babe, you in the air? Aaron quickly typed.
With a screaming toddler a row back. I miss home already, Jordan replied.
Aaron threw a glance over his shoulder to find Troy leaning in close to one of the female interns. Yeah? Well, I promise it’ll be here waiting for you.
Can’t wait. Try to miss me.
I’ll do my best. Get some sleep. I have to go to lunch with the new MA boss, Aaron typed.
All right. Tell me about him later.
I love you. Be safe.
The only danger I face right now is going deaf from the toddler. I’ll call when I land. And I love you too, Angel. More than you know.
Jordan’s screen name faded, indicating he had signed off, and Aaron released a breath.
Angel was not a name most people would have attributed to Aaron when he’d met Jordan at a mixer for CIA interns and low-level army officers more than eleven years ago…