A/N: featuring Tiger the King of Kandahar from Grayson (Tim Seeley & Tom King).
"So it's a shoe phone."
"It is not a shoe phone."
"Holy spy gadgets, Batman," Grayson says. "It's a goddamn shoe phone."
"Will you," Tiger pinches his eyes shut. "Shut up. You are compromising the mission."
"Oh please, this is the best day of my life," Grayson grins; a row of bright teeth in the hot, hot air—and Tiger wondered, for a split second, how long has it since the desert has witnessed a smile like so. "Can I get one? Please let me have one."
Tiger spares him a glare for an answer.
"But Santa," Grayson continues, and Tiger knows—Tiger knows what Grayson is doing. Grating on him like the prick he is. "I've been good this year."
Tiger will not entertain Grayson's attempt on having fun. Having fun by bothering him, that is. He puts on his—not shoe phone—communication device. "Bacha." To Grayson, carefully wording his words as neutral as possible, "you are on," perhaps that has come out too spiteful.
Grayson winks. Then gets out of the car.
Swagger in his walk. Flannel shirt swaying pitifully to the windless air. Gun strapped blatantly on the hips: 9mm Glock that screams CIA. He had thrown in a pair of sunglasses for good measure. Every inch about him is as American as a Texas fried chicken.
"Gentlemen," CIA Agent says.
"What's the holdup?" Calm, but authoritative. Tiger waits. Glances are exchanged as the American guards seize him up. Numerous on duty—he sees at least two dozens on patrol and two control towers overlooking this entrance. This is the largest military base US has in South Afghanistan; the size of a small town. Tiger waits.
"We can't let him in, Sir. After—"
"On whose order?"
Doesn't matter. Tiger waits. CIA agent laughs; a charming, foreign sound. "I don't think you understand, kid," he smiles, "this is the King of Kandahar. See?"
It's a small, quiet house 7 km from the highway, placed at the border between Kandahar and Herat. Round the corner is a half-ruined hotel where a man walked last year with a bomb in a duffel bag. His target—a rival gang—had been on the other side of the street, but somehow it blew up. Spyral held a short investigation concerning the coincidence of it regarding an agent's location but then reached a conclusion that it was simply what it was; a coincidence.
A young boy sitting cross-legged on the porch stands as soon as he sees them and opens the door. "Stay," Tiger tells Dick Grayson.
"With you?" a lazy grin. So imbecile. The sun will start to set low in the west soon; the sky is growing blood.
"Stay here," Tiger corrects, and he adds firmly, "do not wander." He does not know why he even bothers, really. He turns around and leaves, and does not look back.
When he comes out, Grayson is outside the Masjid. It's odd because it isn't odd. Tiger had thought that Grayson would look out of place here, like he had in his faux CIA get-up; too clean, too foreign, too pretty. But that doesn't appear to be the case. The desert suits him, it seems.
"I told you to stay," Tiger says. But he regrets that he does not sound as stern as he wished. Perhaps he is tired. It's been a long journey. And it's been a long time.
"What was that?"
Tiger looks at him. Grayson does not look back. The sky is true red. Birds fly to the west overhead, little dots of black. Dead moon hangs in the sky. Come night, there will be stars. Tiger has missed the stars. It really has been a long time.
"The voice," Grayson says. "The singing. What was it?"
A pause. "Azaan," Tiger answers. "It's a prayer."
"Azaan," the word rolls on Grayson's tongue, tumbling wave, foreign. Grayson looks at afar, to the horizon of the city, tethering warzone. Something—uncharacteristic is not the correct word for it—about him, at this moment. Something about it. Sunset pierces the color of Grayson's eyes to white light. "It's beautiful," Grayson says. Pure white light.
Tiger looks away.
"Assalamualaikum," Grayson says, gently. His accent is not too bad. The boy eyes him warily, however, as he slides Grayson a glass of water. No one trusts strangers here, and foreigners even less; but that does not seem to discourage Grayson from trying.
"Waalaikumsalam," the boy replies mildly.
"Did you like the food?" Grayson inquires. Spyral tech translates his sentence into formal Pashto. The boy doesn't reply. Again, Grayson does not seem discouraged in the least. "Want to see something interesting?"
Grayson raises his left hand, the one that isn't holding his food, and wiggles it to show that it's empty. And then he does a snap—and magically, produces a coin out of empty air. 5 Afghani magically summoned. "Ta-dah."
The boy is visibly impressed. A tug on the corner of his mouth that almost turns into a smile. Grayson seems satisfied. Tiger watches the moment unfolds, silently.
"What's your name?" Grayson says. A moment of hesitation. But then, softly, "Darman."
"Well, Darman, this is for you. And this. And this. And of course, this," with each, he plucks a new coin out of the air and presents them with a flourish. Darman laughs.
"I had a guess, you know," Grayson says, suddenly, but contemplatively. "Considering its objective as a.." a shrug. "An organization. I really didn't think Spyral would have any qualms in it. I don't think I was surprised that this trade is of Spyral's asset."
He continues, despite Tiger's silence. "And it makes sense," Grayson takes the last of his rice to his mouth. He doesn't seem to have a problem eating with his hands. "With you in the equation."
And despite everything Tiger's sworn to himself in catering to Grayson's nonsense, Tiger regards him. Grayson is chewing his food rather loudly, sitting askew—near the door, Tiger notes, like a guard dog—all nonchalantly, like. "Get to your point," Tiger says. "Conversing with you do not entertain me."
That produces a smile. Tiger wonders if it's deliberate on Tiger's part. He regrets it.
"I just wonder," Grayson sucks the grease off his fingers while regarding Tiger right back. And there it is again: the sudden—
(It's not "uncharacteristic" when the character itself is in question.)
—detachment. An odd kind of bereft. Tiger is a spy; and this is how he sees that Grayson has what it takes to be a good spy—even when he is not.
"Of all the agents available. You picked me." His curiosity sounds genuine. "I know we have our … ah. Shall we say, differences. It surprised me, I suppose, that your affinity towards me—"
"There is no such thing."
"—surpasses that, though."
"Don't be deluded," Tiger seethes, basically a spit, teeth grinding harshly.
A beat; and then Grayson laughs. It doesn't sound exactly like it had in the military base. Not as arrogant, maybe. More boyish. Less purposefully charming, and more real. "Alright. Just wondering."
The night is quiet except for animals chirping in the bushes. Neon light flickers overhead. Tiger didn't have that when he was a child; he had a candle, a match, and the stars. "It is because you are different."
Grayson looks at him as if he really hadn't thought Tiger would respond at all. Grayson always has a particular irking air of nonchalance and comeuppance, a certain arrogant quality of a man who seems like he is always a step ahead of you. It's a rarity for Tiger to see him the slightest bit surprised, caught off guard. Tiger felt a small incredulous burst of pleasure and ignores it. "You are a bad spy."
Now Grayson is outright baffled. "You chose me because I'm a bad spy?"
Tiger ignores him. He stands, suddenly. "The fence is here."
Grayson grumbles something about being an adequate spy, thank you very much, and goes to the room inside.
When Grayson returns, the fence is already there, a middle-aged local man. The boy appears with a glass of water for the man and retreats to the corner of the room quietly. Grayson puts the package on the floor and opens it.
The scent is faint, but enough. Grayson closes the case. The man takes the package and leaves without touching the water.
"Don't you dare."
"That was foolish."
"I know," Grayson says, "I'm sorry."
Tiger didn't know what he expected, but apparently not an apology. It takes him to a halt, and he despises it. He hates to be so unprofessional. "You put my operation in jeopardy and I cannot accept that. Irresponsible. You should be ashamed."
Silence. His hand is shaking, and not from pain, but worse. "Will you do it again?" he knows the answer.
Grayson looks at him in the eye. "Yes."
It's quick, and hard, but something that someone of Grayson's caliber would be able to counter. Grayson lets himself be hit, however; and it angers Tiger even more. Perhaps this was a miscalculation. No, this was a risk, and he knew it; this heroic tendency. Isn't that the point? Wasn't that the reason? Something that Tiger has been missing for a long time. Something he hasn't seen in forever; but that's the catch.
It's a trigger. A thousand things raging to the surface. Sentimental things begging to be said, old as a boy born in the streets, in the war, in the desert, in the sun. Things that are emotional, and much too intimate, raw as sand; things locked deep down long long ago, words that he had killed a lifetime ago. I cannot let this fail I will die for this. You will never understand even with that city you protect. Everything I have ever done there is nothing I treasure more. There is nothing I treasure more. Everything I have ever done. This is my home even if I never will be...
Tiger does not say them. "You want to know why I chose you? I chose you because you do not have the heart to be a spy, Dick Grayson. Spies do not have hearts."
There is something about Dick Grayson; or rather, the lack of something. A void so deliberate, so meticulous, so rehearsed. Something that made Tiger knew, form the very first glance, that one could trust Dick Grayson to be good, maybe, to abide fervently to whatever gallant moral code he adopts; but he could never trust Dick Grayson to be Dick Grayson. He recognizes that nature of multiple facets of identity, for Tiger is a spy, and the best one there is at that.
Grayson never shows his card. Always performing. Always an act.
But this time. Maybe not this time. Maybe there is an authenticity here. Maybe this is real. Grayson, looking at him like he is doing it for the first time, with sort of a sad surprise, a quiet kind of sorrow; and hard, grave conviction.
And then it's gone. Grayson grins, blood in his teeth. "Tiger," he says. "That's cheesy as hell."
But Tiger knows.
"That's my middle name. Along with 'Hell Yes', and also 'Right On, Pardner'."
"In and out, and that's it. Understood?"
"In and out, Grayson. That's it."
"Sir yes sir," Grayson says. "Though, if I don't come back in fifteen minutes, please tell my wife I love her," Grayson winks. Then gets out of the car.