“So you’re not gonna say I told you so?” Walter asked, as the people who’d just tried to kill his friends were hauled away.
Agent Cabe Gallo raised an eyebrow and said, “Didn’t say that, jailbird.”
“Speaking of jail,” Walter said, “I’m gonna need you to make a call and get one of my friends out.”
“Friend in jail…” Cabe said. He already had to talk to the authorities about Walter’s little jailbreak, and now he had to deal with someone else?
“Long story. I’m gonna give him a cut of my pay for a business he’s starting,” Walter said.
Happy broke into the conversation before Cabe could reply. “Any thoughts on how we’re getting home?”
“I’d prefer it if we didn’t fly,” said Sylvester.
With a long-suffering sigh, Cabe said, “Fine, get in,” and gestured to his car.
While the other team members started piling into the car, Walter fell in step beside Toby and couldn’t stop himself from riling the other man up after the unpleasant conversation they’d had at the jail. He tried for a casual tone as he said, “I’m glad that my criminal informant managed to break this case open.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, your informant?” Toby said indignantly. “I was the sacrificial lamb that made it possible for Happy to get Connolly’s computer, not to mention save everyone’s life.”
Walter opened his mouth to argue, but stopped when Cabe turned around and put a hand on his chest.
“Where are you going?” Cabe asked.
“Home,” Toby said while gesturing to Cabe’s vehicle.
“Oh no,” Cabe let his hand drop and shook his head. “I’m not riding five hours listing to you kids argue.”
“We’re in the middle of the desert,” Walter said with a slightly patronizing tone to his voice.
“There’s a bus depot four miles west. I suggest you start walking.” Cabe kept his gaze steady, so that Walter knew he wasn’t joking.
“We barely have any money.” Walter said, trying to get the older man to see reason.
“Then I suggest you take on another private client,” Cabe tried not to smirk at the pitiful expression on Walter’s face. He turned and headed for the car.
“That’s a joke right?” Walter said.
Cabe opened the car door, but stopped when Toby called out, “Wait!” Cabe turned to face him and waited to hear the younger man out. “Walter sees you as a surrogate father.” Toby said.
Both Walter and Cabe said, “What?” in unison, and then Walter quickly hissed under his breath, “Toby, don’t.”
Toby held his hands up to Walter and said, “Sorry Walter, but I’m tired. I don’t want to walk four miles.” He turned to Cabe and said, “Surely you must know on some level that Walter looks up to you, but it goes deeper than that. He couldn’t connect with his biological father, so you filled that spot for him. You’re angry with him for taking on this private client after you told him not to, but he only did it to impress you.”
Cabe looked over at Walter, who was scowling at Toby, and he could tell Walter was blushing, even in the dim light from the car’s headlights.
“That true?” Cabe asked.
Walter’s eyes darted to him, to the ground and then back to him. He shrugged, stuck his hands in his pockets and muttered, “I suppose there’s some validity in that theory.”
Cabe smiled, walked up to Walter, and surprised him by pulling him into a tight hug. The older man said softly, “I feel the same way about you too kid.”
Tentatively, Walter reached up and hugged Cabe back for a moment, before he was too uncomfortable with all the feelings rushing around inside his head. He let his hands drop and Cabe let him go.
“So can we get a ride?” Toby asked hopefully.
With a smile Cabe said, “Nope.”
“But you just said…” Toby started.
Cabe turned his focus on Toby, and held up a hand to stop him. “Yes, I feel a paternal bond with Walter. All the more reason to teach him a lesson when he does something I don’t approve of.” He turned back to Walter, and said, “The next time you get into legal trouble you call me immediately
. You don’t wait until you’ve already been booked, and then break out of jail. That’s going to mean a mess of legal hoops for me to jump through.”
“I wasn’t planning to…” Walter started to try and defend his decision.
“No.” Cabe cut him off. He pointed a finger in Walter’s face, and said, “If something like this happens again, and you don’t
call me immediately, I’m gonna spank you.”
Walter’s eyes opened wide with shock, and then he nervously scoffed. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
Cabe turned to Toby and said, “Do I look like I’m joking.”
Toby slowly shook his head. “No you do not.”
With a curt nod, Cabe said, “Get to walking boys,” and got in his car.
Walter and Toby watched in silence as the car drove off. A few seconds later, Walter sighed, started walking west, and said, “Come on.”
Toby walked along next to Walter in silence, waiting for the inevitable questions and ensuing outburst when Toby gave him some insights. It took longer than Toby anticipated, but just as he was starting to doubt his ability to read a situation, Walter spoke softly.
“He wasn’t being serious. He couldn’t have been.”
Toby glanced at his friend. Walter’s eyebrows were raised as if he’d asked a question, but the inflection in his voice had made those sentences statements, not questions. Toby shook his head. “Saying it like it’s a fact, doesn’t make it a fact, Walter. Agent Gallo’s body language and tone exuded honesty and commitment when he threatened to spank you.”
Walter frowned and shook his head. “No. That can’t be right. I’m a grown man. Cabe knew me when I actually was a child, and that threat never came up, not even once, and there were plenty of times when I was less than compliant with his demands.”
Toby nodded, having expected that argument. “When you actually were a child, you were under the care of your biological parents, and…” Toby considered all the things he knew about Walter and made an educated guess, “…I’m giving it an eight-five percent chance that they did spank you a couple of times. My guess is that it was usually for giving them factual information which they would have considered rude and probably labeled it ‘talking back’.” Walter scowled, and Toby knew he was right. He continued, “Agent Gallo isn’t the type to interfere in a parent child relationship unless he suspected abuse. So even if he felt that you deserved a spanking, he never would have done it when your parents had custody.”
Walter was quiet for a few moments, thinking that over. He nodded to himself a few times, and then said with a serious glare. “Why now?” Walter stopped walking, flung his arms out to his sides in a frustrated gesture and said, “I’m a grown man! He’s threatening to treat me as if I were eight.”
The repeated phrase of being a ‘grown man’ helped Toby to understand the underlying reason for Walter’s anger and fear. He put a hand on Walter’s shoulder and said, “Cabe knows you’re an adult. His threat wasn’t meant to belittle you or make light of all the things you’ve accomplished. He still acknowledges and respects your ability to solve problems that no one else can. His threat was meant to help you feel secure.”
“Secure? That’s ludicrous.”
“You and I might think so, but Cabe clearly doesn’t find it ludicrous. That threat was his way of telling you that he’ll still be there for you, even when you mess up. Just like a parent.”
Walter shook his head, but instead of a frown, he was sporting a contemplative expression. Toby smiled, patted his friend’s shoulder, and the two started walking again. A few minutes later Toby confessed quietly, “You know, that woman hired us because she wanted to prove something to her dad, we took the case because you wanted to prove something to Cabe, and I almost blew the job because I wanted to prove something to you.”
“To me? What did you want to prove to me?” Walter asked.
“That I’m worthy of all the time and energy you’ve spent on me, even though I keep screwing things up. I wanted to prove that I’m worthy of your friendship.”
“Toby, you’ve been a better friend to me than most people ever get to have. You’ve risked you life and your freedom for me more than once. If I didn’t think you were worthy, you wouldn’t still be on the team.” Walter assured him.
The two men smiled at each other, and Toby said, “Thanks, Walter.”
Walter raised an eyebrow and said, “Would it help you feel more secure if I threatened to spank you if you screwed up?”
Toby shook his head quickly and swallowed hard. “No, it would have the opposite effect on me. Your parents may have been a bit misguided, but they loved you. My parents weren’t like that. The threat of a spanking would terrify me to the place where I couldn’t function during a job.”
Walter put a hand on Toby’s shoulder as they walked, and said quietly, “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Toby lied.
Walter patted his shoulder a couple of times before letting his hand drop. “For what it’s worth, I’ll never hit you, and I’ll never kick you off the team, no matter how many times you screw up.”
“Hey,” Walter said, trying to change the subject and cheer up his friend, “I’ve got about twelve bucks. What do you say to a little gambling when we get back to town?”
“Are you serious?” Toby asked hopefully.
“Let’s go home in style with a first class flight home.”
“Yes!” Toby said, and picked up the pace, to get to the bus stop more quickly.
(Feedback makes me happy.)