Friends

"I think you need to take a vacation." Hal waited for Lyons' reaction.

"Yeah, someplace away from other people. Like when we were hunting in Anchorage? You enjoyed that," Gadgets added. Carl looked from one to the other, a notably non-hostile expression on his face.

From the back of the room, Manning suggested, "I've rebuilt my cabin in Saskatchewan and I'll be there for a couple of months. You're welcome to come up." Carl considered the unexpected offer, then slowly nodded. "I'm leaving tomorrow." Manning continued. "If you want--"

"You've got to stay until the day after," Hal reminded Ironman. Debriefing hadn't ended yet. Carl shrugged. Whatever was fine with him. Brognola was glad Lyons had agreed to Manning's offer. They made arrangements for Manning to meet Lyons when he was ready to come up, and Gary left.

Three days later Carl got on a plane for Brochet. A smaller plane took him to where Gary was waiting. They didn't talk on the long drive to his cabin, which bothered neither of them. The first week was spent in the same quiet. They each went about their own business, Gary still had some last touches to put on his cabin and Carl spent most of his time working out.

One night Gary woke up to hear Carl in the next room, groaning and thrashing about. He got out of bed and quietly slipped into Carl's room. He was obviously having a bad dream. Gary went over and squeezed Carl's shoulder. Lyons sat up fast, swallowing a scream. He recognised Manning in time to not leap off the bed at him. Gary sat at the end of the bed. "Want to talk about it?"

Carl shook his head. "Just bullshit."

"The kind that haunts you even when you're awake?" Carl hesitated, then nodded slowly. He scooted back to sit against the headboard. He took a deep breath and told Gary about the dream he'd had. When he was through, Gary said nothing, letting him the chance to figure out the dream on his own. When Lyons said nothing, Gary said quietly, "You're afraid to die, aren't you."

Carl's face turned hard. "The hell I am--"

"Wait a minute, listen to me. You're afraid to die, because you have a job to do that few other people could ever do. Sometimes if you don't do it, it won't get done. And you can't stand it not getting done. But you know that dying is the only way you'll get any peace. Unfortunately you also think you're going to hell because of what you've done."

Carl said nothing, and couldn't look Manning in the eye. What he'd said rang so true, even if he didn't want to admit it. Finally he asked, "How do you know?"

"Sometimes I feel the same way."

"Sometimes?" The question asked others.

"When I feel that way I come out here. Or go someplace else where I can feel like I'm far away from death. Where I can remember life is worth it. I think about the good things in the world, all the things that are right. I forget about the killing."

"How does coming out here do that?"

Gary looked at his watch. They had just enough time. "I'll show you. Get dressed, and wear hiking boots." He left to get dressed himself. He was stuffing things into a small backpack when Carl came down, dressed but confused. Neither said anything, Gary offered no clue as to where they were going. They left the cabin, and headed east. Gary hiked easily from years of experience and previous hikes in the area. Carl adapted quickly to his surroundings, though an eerie feeling crept up his back, from walking at night, without weapons or even a hostile mission. He fought down a brief paranoia, telling himself Manning wouldn't be taking him anyplace dangerous.

Two hours later they reached the summit. Gary stopped and faced east, setting the pack down. Carl looked around, a faint light had crept up from the dawn's first approach. As the sun came over the horizon, Carl's breath caught. The entire forest was covered with brilliant sunlight, distant lakes glinted and shadows slowly melted down the mountain. Carl realised he suddenly felt relaxed-- all the tension just seeped away. For an hour they stayed on the summit, just looking out at the wilderness. The birds were flying through the air, soaring on the breeze. Finally Gary softly asked, "Which way?"

Carl pointed northeast, away from the cabin. Gary dug breakfast out of the pack, and they headed along the mountain. He decided to show Carl the lake north of the summit, where he occasionally went camping. They encountered several animals, startling some and causing only mild interest in others. Once they saw a bear in the distance, and they stopped and watched it before continuing on to the lake.

The trip to see the sunrise on the summit, and then to the lake became a daily thing, sometimes spending the entire day in silence, sometimes sitting by the water's edge and talking about anything and everything. Once, as they had been sitting in silence, Gary asked him, "What do you do in your spare time?"

"Practise." They both knew what he meant.

"What have you been doing the past two weeks?" Carl considered, then nodded for Gary to continue. "Lyons, there's more to you than a warrior, or strategist. You have to let that part of you out. It's the part that keeps you alive when you aren't in battle. It's the part that's been watching the sunrises each morning."

Gary waited for Carl to assimilate what he'd said. Carl looked up at the trees, and wondered. He was going to explain why, how much his job meant to him, giving excuses and reasons for his obsession. Then he just let his breath out. It wasn't necessary.

"What would you do, if you could do anything at all? Without anyone finding out, if you wanted it."

Quietly, Carl answered, "Go back to school."

"And take?"

"Anthropology."

"What else?"

Carl took a wild stab-- if no one was going to find out... "Learn to play the guitar."

Gary smiled. This part was proving to be easy. "And?" He prompted.

Carl thought about what had made him happy as a boy. "And get a dog." Gary laughed. Soon Carl was laughing with him.

A few days after they went hunting... with cameras. One rule Gary had laid down was no weapons, not even deer rifles. Carl found he liked not having a gun around for the first time in years. He felt lighter without it, and somehow less conspicuous. By this time they had settled into a comfortable routine of communication. Carl discovered that even when he said very little Gary understood him like no one else had. Gary could get his message across with few words. Best of all, they could be totally silent and Carl didn't feel isolated.

Somehow the two men were on the same wavelength, for all of their differences. It was the kind of friendship where you could say, do, or be anything at all and you wouldn't have to explain yourself, or take a ribbing because you'd acted out of character. In fact there'd been no teasing at all, and Carl had never known 'til now how much that made a difference.

Three weeks later Carl was at Stony Man, listening to Brognola. They and the other men of Able Team were standing outside on the airstrip where Grimaldi had just set down. Able Team had been chasing a man believed to be responsible for the kidnapping of twelve high ranking military advisors. Lyons and his men had closed in on them, and rescued the hostages, but those responsible got away. Brognola was now telling them they were being pulled from the mission.

Carl was, needless to say, upset. Hal hadn't said more than, "We're off the job," when Carl blew up.

"On whose orders?" He was in Brognola's face. Pol and Gadgets tried to move him back, but he wasn't having any.

"On my orders. Look, hot-shot--" Brognola was not real pleased to have Lyons arguing with him.

"So we just let them go? Say, sorry, maybe next time, try not to kill anyone else?" Carl ignored the stony expression on Brognola's face. He didn't care. He wanted these guys.

"Carl, back off. Let the man explain." Politician tried to soothe his friend, get him to listen. Carl shrugged him off.

"Carl, you don't have to like it. But those are your orders. I'm sick and tired of you complaining and bitching every time someone does something you don't like. You're not in charge here, remember that." Brognola was mad, now. Lyons couldn't care less. Before the rage that glinted in his eyes could reach his fists, he felt a hand on his shoulder. He tried to shrug it off, expecting it was Pol.

"Leave off." Manning's voice came from behind him. He ignored it, too. His fist clenched. Brognola met his steel grey gaze, not showing the spark of fear that he felt. He knew, that if Ironman exploded, he couldn't control him. He hoped Blancanales and Schwartz could.

Pol and Gadgets were hoping the same thing.

"Why are you off the job?" Manning asked Lyons. Carl didn't answer-- he didn't know. He assumed it was politics, someone didn't want their part of the world ripped by the violence that always accompanied Able Team. Manning's voice continued, calmly, "First rule, Carl." Never act until you know all you can about the situation. Actually, it said, 'Never begin a battle in ignorance.' Same thing.

Without relaxing, or even letting go of his rage, Carl asked, "Why are we off?"

Brognola answered, "Because we want to keep track of them for a while, and find out if they're working on their own, or as part of a larger operation that Bolan's following. But with you guys tracking them down, they'll go into hiding, or worse, force you to blow them away. We need them to feel like they've gotten away." He paused, then finished with, "I plan on sending you three to help Bolan, if need be."

Carl let his fist fall loosely to his side. He wouldn't admit he'd overreacted, but he expected to be circumvented at every turn, even by his own side. Brognola didn't let him off so easily, though. "I don't appreciate being nearly strangled because of my desicions, Lyons. And I don't appreciate your accusing me of letting those creeps walk away scot free."

Lyons shrugged. He didn't care what Brognola thought. "When will we know if we're going after them?"

"A few days, maybe a week." Brognola considered, for a moment. "I may send Pol out there to Bolan now, with Gadgets to follow if they need help. I think you need some time out."

Carl nearly punched him for that one. Brognola saw it in his eyes, and knew he was right. Gary stepped up beside Carl, and partially in front of him. "Don't."
With one word he redirected Carl's attention, and let Brognola back up a step. Pol couldn't believe what he was seeing. Lyons had always been explosive, and chafed under authority, but had never defied Brognola so completely before. Pol remembered a time when Carl had nearly attacked him, and had only escaped by hair's breath. And now Carl looked like he was about to take Manning's head off.

Pol wondered if anybody could control Carl.

Gary faced Lyons, staring at him, not moving. The muscles in Carl's arm twitched once, then remained motionless. That did not indicate things were safe, in fact it meant just the opposite-- that Ironman was about to attack. Gadgets noticed that several people had gathered some distance away, getting updated by the mechanics who had heard the exchange. The men of Phoenix Force were watching, along with Bear and Cowboy. Grimaldi stayed within the safety of his copter.

Carl ignored them all, his attention on the man in front of him, and Brognola, behind him. He gauged his chances, of getting past Manning and to Brognola, and letting him know exactly how he felt. Unfortunately he didn't think he could get past Gary without a fight. That was no problem, he thought. A quick blow here and here, and he would...

Carl realised he was trying to determine how to quickly take out his best friend. That confused him, and he slowly cocked his head to one side. If Gary was facing him off, that meant... that meant he was missing something. Someone had missed something. He discarded, for the moment, his attack. "What?" he asked.

The corner of Gary's mouth quirked, in a smile. If he was amused, then... Carl settled down and thought about it. Brognola wanted him to take some time off, and here he was about to rip his head off because of the suggestion. Why had he made it? Because he thought Carl was too wound up. Carl resented the accusation, so he... was going to attack his commanding officer. No wonder Manning was amused. Carl let a whisper of a smile reach his eyes, then his mouth. Then he laughed. Over Gary's shoulder Brognola was still watching, concerned but relieved. Carl realised how many people were watching them. Watching him, to see what he'd do.

Gary stepped out from between the two men, now that it was safe. He glanced back at Hal, and around at all the people gathered. He could hear and see some of them talking, and saw a folded bill go from McCarter's hand to Rafael's. He grinned, but let it die.

"Carl..." Hal began, not wanting to risk another explosion, but needing to finish what he'd started saying.

"Don't worry, chief. If you want just Pol and Gadgets to help Mack, that's all right. They can handle it." That was one thing he'd gradually been learning, from Gary. Trusting others to do their jobs, especially where it was warranted. He realised that applied to Brognola, as well. He also realised he wasn't making the man's job any easier. He offered an apology, without actually saying so. "If you want to me to step down for awhile, I will."

Brognola relaxed. He hadn't expected it to end so easily. He smiled, and looked at Manning. "I guess you've been a good influence on him." He knew that since the first time Carl had gone up to Gary's cabin, the two had become good friends.

"How the hell did you know he wouldn't throw a punch at you?" Gadgets asked.

"He's smarter than that."

"Yeah, because we all would have jumped him," Cowboy said, from where he stood. Gary shook his head.

Pol understood, somewhat. He asked Manning, "How do you know him so well?"

Gary replied, "I listen to him."

"He hardly ever says anything," Gadgets said.

"He hardly ever speaks. That doesn't mean he's silent." Gary corrected. He exchanged a small grin with Carl, who had been listening, but not offering anything. "I'm suprised at you, Schwartz. You've worked with him for years. You should know him better than anybody."

"Know him, yes. Understand him, no."

"That's because I don't have circuits," Carl joked.

Later, when Pol and Gadgets had gone off to meet up with Bolan and Gary had gotten assurance that Phoenix wasn't going to be called up, he took Carl back to Montreal. For the first day back Carl mostly worked on his Anthropology correspondence work. He had quickly discovered that book learning was pretty boring, so he made frequent trips to the university to talk with one of the professors. The man not only enjoyed talking about what he knew, but he did it in a combination of french and english letting Carl practise his language skills as well. Carl hoped to finish the class in the next month, and enroll in a second class.

Gary spent the first day back finding out what happened to his home whenever he left- dust and mail accumulated. He sat at his desk and waded through paperwork, paying bills and tossing junk mail. It made him feel normal, to toss out junk mail. Who ever thought of it, when they pictured anti-terrorist soldiers like him, or Carl? That and mopping the kitchen floor. It needed it, too. Gary decided he might as well resign himself to the fact that this week was going to be spent on housecleaning. He did grin, though, at the thought of assigning the bathrooms to Carl. Let him attack the grout, to relieve his frustrations.

The next night, Gary was headed for a late bed, when he stopped outside Carl's door. He heard the moaning, and muffled calling that usually meant nightmares. Gary carefully opened the door and stepped in, ready to stop Carl should he launch himself off the bed. Carl sat up as Gary took a step in, eyes wide and muscles tense. Gary said softly, "Carl?"

Carl relaxed, some, and Gary took that as permission to come into the room. He walked over and sat on the edge of the bed. "You want to talk about it?"

Carl shook his head, staring down at the blankets. Gary stayed where he was, knowing Carl would eventually talk, if he wanted. Gary didn't pry, knowing also that was a sure way to shut him up. He waited, quietly and patiently, watching Carl's face. Finally, Carl just shrugged. "I don't know."

Gary reached over and put his hand on Carl's arm. "Do you remember the dream?"

Carl answered slowly. "I think.. you know, dreams never make sense." He sounded as if he truly didn't understand what had upset him, only that something had.

Gary wondered what he could say, or ask, that would help Carl put things into perspective. He watched as Carl tried to remember, tried to figure out something at least well enough to say something out loud. Gary watched him, and slowly found himself.. watching him. Looking at his face, his chest, feeling his skin under his fingertips. Realised he was starting to look at Carl in a way he hadn't looked at someone in a long time. He suddenly pulled his hand back, and stood up. He tried to say something, but there was nothing he could say. Carl was looking up at him, confused, and Gary turned and left the room.

He sat up all night in his bedroom, thinking about the things he'd been feeling.

The next morning Gary found Carl in the kitchen making breakfast. Gary didn't say anything, just poured coffee while the eggs cooked. They ate in silence, Carl obviously confused by Gary's actions but not sure he wanted to ask. He wasn't sure it wasn't something about his having a nightmare, although before Gary had always sat there and listened to him, either talk about it or deny anything had happened. He'd never walked out, and this morning he was definitely worried about something. Carl had no idea what could be upsetting him.

Carl tried to talk to him, saying he'd slept the rest of the night without nightmares. Gary just nodded, and said something about lots of chores. He spent the day- and the next few days, working very hard, and always trying to stay out of sight of Carl. Carl often tried to offer his help; Gary either gave him a job elsewhere or refused the offer. Once he suggested Carl go visit the prof at the university, and Carl had gone- realising Gary was trying to get rid of him. Why, he still didn't know. Gary said nothing, and Carl couldn't figure out what to even ask about.

He tried keeping Carl out of his thoughts, and tried thinking about him, to figure out how he felt- why he felt the way he did. After a day of trying to avoid him, Gary realised what was wrong. He was standing in the backyard, raking, when he found himself saying to himself what he'd be afraid was true. He stopped raking, and stared up at the sky. If this was true, then.. what in the world was he going to do about it? Tell him, ignore it, ask him to leave?

Gary sat down on the short wall that surrounded the patio and stared at the leaves. It wasn't supposed to feel this.. miserable. He and Carl had become such good friends this past several months. This wasn't supposed to happen.

"Gary, are you going to tell me what's wrong?" Carl was standing behind him. Gary didn't look up, not sure he could hide what he was feeling. But he sure couldn't tell Carl. He sat silently for a moment, then tossed the rake down and said, "I don't want to talk about it."

Carl didn't say anything as Gary walked into the house. He stayed outside, staring at the sky, asking it what Gary had said, asking it if it knew what was wrong. He found himself worried about Gary. He had never seemed upset about anything before.. and it wasn't like Phoenix Force had just come home from an assignment. Lyons realised that in the last few months he'd leaned on Gary a lot, for everything from driving him to the university when it snowed, to sitting by him after he'd had a nightmare. He owed Gary a lot, and he didn't want to leave him to deal with this alone. Whatever this was.

He headed inside and found Gary pacing in the dining room. "Gary, tell me what's wrong." Carl stood across the room, not willing to take no for an answer.

Gary stopped, and glanced up at Carl. Carl could see how close Gary was to being truly miserable- he was baffled. He didn't say anything; Carl stepped over, trying to figure out how to coax the problem out of his friend. He reached over and put his hand on Gary's shoulder, trying to let him know he wanted to help. Gary just shook his head, and reluctantly pushed Carl's hand away.

"Please, Carl, I can't talk about it. I don't.. even know what.. I don't want to talk about it." He stepped away, leaving Carl standing still, confused and beginning to feel upset himself. He watched Gary for a moment, then decided the best thing to do for now was give him what he wanted. Carl turned and went outside, and picked up the rake. The breeze hadn't stirred up the pile much, so it wouldn't take long to finish. He raked, thinking about what had happened right before Gary had started acting so oddly. He couldn't remember anything unusual at all.

He glanced up, once, and saw Gary looking quickly away. He'd been standing there staring at Carl, while he worked. Carl went back to his raking, ignoring Gary.. and realised that it was him that had Gary upset. Gary had been avoiding him, ever since that night. Except, Carl realised, he had watched him a lot, from across the room, or across the yard. Maybe he'd worn out his welcome. Carl wondered if Gary felt.. like he'd been giving more than he'd gotten, from this friendship? Carl began to feel guilty. It was almost like Gary had been taking him in all this time.. and what had he done to pay him back? Rake the yard? Gary hadn't ever asked for anything, but Carl hadn't asked for much of what Gary had done for him, either.

This line of thought was new, thinking about the reciprocity of a friendship. Carl tried to think of any instances where he might have missed something, some hint that Gary had wanted something from him that he'd missed. If Gary was feeling put upon, or taken advantage of, then that might explain his behavior. Carl decided an apology might be in order. He put the rake away after carting the leaves to the mulch pile, wondering how to say what he might need to say.

He realised the thought of Gary being tired of his company bothered him. He enjoyed being here, in Montreal or Saskatchewan, with Gary. Their friendship was something he'd never expected but now he knew it was very important to him. He didn't want to give Gary reason to be.. angry with him. Carl headed inside to talk to Gary.

He found him sitting in the dark, in the living room. Carl left the lights off, the sunset was still giving enough light to see by. Gary only glanced up when Carl came in. He didn't sit down.

"Gary.." he paused, then decided to plunge in. "I want you to know how much I appreciate your letting me come up here. I.. know you've done a lot for me. Encouraging me, helping me.. I wanted to say thank you. I.. our friendship is important to me. If.. I've done something wrong, I'd rather know about it. I'd rather fix it, than.. let it go like this." Carl watched as Gary listened to him, not looking up until the very end. He looked.. torn.

Carl started to say something more, go ahead and apologise for whatever he'd done, when Gary finally spoke up. "Carl.. you haven't done anything wrong. That isn't.. I don't know how to say this, I don't know how to tell you. Because its going to change things. You might.. decide to leave and not come back. I don't want that, but.. I'll understand it. I just.. dont know what to do about it, because I can't change how I feel." His voice was soft, resigned, and Carl could hear the pain in his voice. Carl felt a surge of something inside him, concern over whatever had Gary distressed. He stared at Gary, Gary met his gaze unblinking.. for the first time in days they looked at each other.

Carl waited for Gary to say it, then found himself just looking at Gary. Then he saw that Gary was just looking at him.. and there was something about his look that told Carl what was wrong. He couldn't define it, but he knew it was right there, in his look, just under the surface to tell him everything. Carl moved over to sit across from Gary, searching his eyes, his face. He knew Gary was telling him- he couldn't quite figure it out. He waited, knowing Gary would say it eventually, if he had to. They sat silently, watching each other, for a few more moments.

Then Gary reached out and brushed his fingers across Carl's cheek. It was an unconscious move, or rather something he'd wanted to do but hadn't intended to actually do. When he realised what he was doing, he froze- his face had a moment of reflected fear then it shut down and Gary was standing, moving away, muttering an apology and heading away for his room. Carl remained where he was, staring after Gary. He felt his confused start to surge again- what the hell had just happened? Then it started to gently fall into place.

Carl stood up and followed Gary to his room. He found Gary pacing, looking quite miserable- he froze and stopped himself from looking over when Carl stepped in. As Carl stepped closer, Gary said in a very calm, controlled voice, "It might be best if you leave.." Carl ignored it and stepped up behind Gary. He placed his hand on Gary's arm, and gently pulled him around. Gary looked over, his face a mix of tears and mask.

Carl just asked softly, "When did this happen?"

Gary half-smiled, mocking himself. "I have no idea. I just.. realised it a few days ago, today.." he shrugged. That night, in Carl's room. Carl just watched him, his eyes, waiting to see if Gary would throw him out or try.. to let him stay.

He decided to help him make his decision- remembering everything that had happened and knowing the decision he wanted. The one he would make. Carl found himself smiling; Gary gave him a confused look. Carl knew it would go away in a moment.

When Carl kissed him, Gary didn't even stop to ask why. After the initial 'what the hell', he realised what the hell. You couldn't fake what he was getting- Gary kissed him back, and stopped asking himself what was going on. He hesitantly reached his hand around Carl's back, Carl responded by pulling himself into Gary's embrace. When he leaned his head back, and grinned at Gary, Gary shook his head.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"Why didn't you tell me?" Carl grinned. Gary still looked confused, and miserable, until Carl reached up and stroked his cheek, just like Gary had done in the living room a minute ago. Gary said nothing, and other than leaving his arm around Carl, didn't move. Carl smiled and wrapped his arms around Gary's waist. Then he pulled Gary's shirt up, and off.. and soon Gary was letting him take all his clothes off, and nudge him over to the bed.

The sex was passionate, sweaty, and more gentle than either of them would have expected. Gary lay with his face buried on Carl's shoulder- as if he still wasn't sure it had really happened, or that it wouldn't go away tomorrow. Carl wrapped his arms around Gary's back, feeling his warm body pressed up against his. He noticed the feeling of protectiveness, of wanting to take care of his lover, nestle in as he held Gary. He smiled. This was how he'd repay Gary's friendship. He kissed Gary on the cheek and relaxed, laying still as Gary lay beside him. Carl smiled, and thought back to that look Gary had been giving him, back in the living room- the one he couldn't identify. He understood it now, and realised an apology
wasnt what Gary had wanted to hear. He kissed Gary again, brushed his hair, and whispered, "I love you, too."

He felt Gary smile. Gary heard a thousand questions, explanations rise to the surface of his mind. Things he thought should be said, things which needed to be made clear before things went any farther. Assurances that.. that this wouldn't all go away in the morning. He raised his head to look Carl in the eyes.. and saw the smile on his lips and in his eyes and all the questions melted away. Gary pushed himself up onto his elbow, and leaned forward to kiss Carl. Carl held the back of his head, firmly, holding him near with a strong hand. As if to say it was no fluke, it was no mere whim that put him here now.

Gary settled back down to lay against Carl, feeling as if he could go to sleep and awaken with assurance that nothing would ever be the same again. He felt happy. And the ease with which Carl nestled in to fall asleep assured Gary that his lover felt the same way. In the morning they both awoke early, and made love again. They agreed that for now, nothing needed to be said. Eventually they would, there was too much to discuss. But for now they enjoyed each other and enjoyed the first day together.. most of it in bed, and in the shower. Gary discovered Carl was a lot of fun, in the shower.

Not so much fun in the kitchen. "What is this?" he looked up from his plate, to Carl, who was already eating.

"Omelets."

Gary picked at it with his fork. He glanced up at Carl, who didn't seem to mind. "What's in it?"

Carl just looked at him. "You dont have to eat it."

Gary smiled. "Oh, so you know?"

Carl grinned. "I just wanted to show you why you should do all the cooking. Waffles, for instance.." Carl refered to Gary's pecan waffles.

"Oh for heaven's sake, Carl, anyone can make waffles. You add water and eggs to a mix, and pour it into the iron."

"Does it have to be on?"

"Finish your omelet so we can out to eat." Carl just smiled. And finished his, and Gary's omelets.