Sweetcheeks V 1/2: Tango

by fuzzi cat

With thanks to Debra for inspiring and giving a home to this story, and to SubRosa for beta.


"My problem," Rafe said carefully, "is that my butt's gone numb, this seatback was designed by the Marquis de Sade, the defroster doesn't work, and I'm still tasting that sludge they called coffee that we drank an hour ago."

Henri threw him a glance from the driver's seat, then turned back to his cold french fries, shaking his head dismissively. "That ain't your problem." His long brown fingers dug into the crumpled paper bag, seeking out the last, oil-congealed fragments.

Rafe looked at him. His partner chewed with gusto and sucked encrusted salt off his fingertips. He shot Rafe another fleeting look. "Don't get me wrong, you definitely gotta problem. But those ain't it."

"This I gotta hear," Rafe said in a tone of complete uninterest, and stared out the smeared side window.

Henri balled up the paper bag and chucked it into the littered footwell on Rafe's side. "Just off the top of my head, I count three. One, you always get cranky on stakeout. Two, you're freaked out by this assignment. Three, you're just a leetle bit pissed off at--"

"Whoa, who's freaked out?" He turned to frown at his partner. "Who says I'm freaking out?"

Henri lifted greasy hands. "Take it easy, Rafe my man. I know you. You're a little wigged. Don't worry, I'm not holding it against you."

"I am NOT--" He stopped, took a deliberate breath, let it out and lowered his voice. "And I don't get cranky."

A broad grin lit Henri's face, and Rafe felt his irritation notch up a level. He nearly jumped out of his skin at a sudden hissing crackle from the radio.

"Yo, you two mundanes! You asleep over there? Car 54, where aaaaare yoooo? Come back to me, baby!"

Rafe snatched up the mike, fingers twisting the squelch. He all but barked into it, remembering at the last moment to keep his voice low. "Rafe and Brown, Unit 34, receiving. Cut the crap, Hickson! You need something or you just get tired of playing with yourself?"

"See that blond in tennis whites over there, under the tree?"

Rafe sat up straighter and swiped his sleeve across the windshield. He spotted the man, shortish, midtwenties, standing with exaggerated casualness under the protective branches of a tree as he shook out his drizzle-damp curls. "Yeah. He doesn't match any of the descriptions. You sure he's--"

"Naw. But you know what's fascinating?"

"What?" Rafe heard himself ask, already regretting it, sensing his partner's amused gaze out of the corner of his eye.

"That's Joey. He carries a can of whipped cream in his bag, hidden in a tennis ball can. For a hundred bucks you an' a buddy get to lick it off him from head to--"

Rafe cut the speaker with a scowl as Henri erupted in cackling hilarity. Throwing him a dirty look, Rafe restored the volume in time to pick up Hickson snorting and hooting it up with his own partner. He replaced the mike angrily. "Tell me again why we had to be teamed up with Vice on this?"

"Sure," Henri said agreeably. "They know all the cruising parks like the backs of their hands. Hickson's eyeballed Roberts twice, and all we've seen of him is a crappy sketch. You an' me by ourselves ain't enough manpower, and Ellison and the kid are unavailable."

"I know all that." Rafe glowered at the fogged windshield and the stream of men that were passing by some twenty yards away, walking along paths that led to a public restroom, hiking trails, tennis and volleyball courts. Dusk was saturating the area. The small unpaved lot in which their unmarked unit sat was screened slightly by overhanging branches.

Determinedly, he turned his attention to the by now automatic routine of scanning the faces and builds of the passersby and filtering them against the mental database of targets. They were looking for four potential witnesses to a homicide, as well as one of the prime suspects. All of the men were known to frequent public sex areas.

He slunk lower in his seat. Denials aside, he really was freaking out a little. The knowledge that Henri had picked up on this and was teasing him with it was annoying, but he held no real grudge. He was--in most respects--eminently comfortable with his partner, and knew the man didn't have a truly malicious bone in his body.

But he was bothered. Not by the park's existence or the activities that went on there, a fact of city life most men were aware of from young adulthood. Rafe had never given the issue much thought, except in situations like the present one where his work took him on a brief visit into the world of faceless, goal-oriented gratification. Yet tonight, somehow, things were different. Tonight his mind was wandering dangerously and full of half-formed, exotic images.

It all had to do with that party--and his partner. The two of them, as the shamefaced, landslide losers in an ill-considered wager, had actually danced in each other's arms in front of the entire Major Crimes staff and a roomful of gay men. Men like these?

Rafe hadn't been able to get it out of his mind since. He'd thoroughly enjoyed himself and admitted this, but he was afraid to put his finger on why. And more importantly, he had no idea how his partner thought about that night--if he had spared a memory for it at all after it had been over.

He couldn't ask him. They were close, they trusted each other, and he knew deep down that they loved each other; but he couldn't make himself bring up this subject. He was somehow certain it hadn't meant the same for Henri--that he'd seen the entire incident as a lark, a lot of laughs, and nothing more.

Rafe was beginning to understand all too well why this bothered him, and that realization, coupled with nebulous but disturbingly arousing daydreams, was making him snappish and distracted. He concentrated on scanning the area and tried to keep himself from slitting surreptitious looks at Henri's profile. As he shifted uncomfortably in his seat, headlights gleamed briefly in the rear-view mirror and he heard the crunch of gravel as another vehicle pulled in and parked behind theirs.

Five minutes later the lot was nearly full, and Rafe was casting uneasy glances around them. The closest cars were a discreet five feet away, but there was a steady stream of foot traffic. Doors opened and shut. Snatches of low conversation came to their ears.

"Peak time, looks like," Henri drawled. He checked his watch. "Six-ten. Business suits, takin' the long way home. Heh heh heh."

The radio crackled. "You guys look like a coupla rubes, sittin' there like stiffs in the front seat."

This time Henri picked it up. "You gettin' your jollies spyin' on us, Hickson?"

"Jack has the binocs on ya. Seriously, you're already gettin' funny looks. If you're not gonna get outta the car, at least move to the back seat."

"Bite me, Hicks," Henri said and rehung the mouthpiece. He looked over at Rafe. "Whattaya think? You notice anyone checkin' us out?"

"Not really." He'd been careful not to make eye contact, even in the mirrors, with any of the men as he surveilled them.

Henri cracked his knuckles and looked around, then blew out a sigh. "Hickson probably knows what he's talkin' about."

Rafe rolled his eyes. "Hell with it. Seat back there's gotta be an improvement over this anyway."

He fumbled for the lever that released his seatback and reclined it fully, clambering over it into the cramped space at the rear of the sedan. The back window was blurry with their breath, the inefficient defroster lining narrow bands of clarity across it. He scrunched himself behind the reclined seat as his partner followed him awkwardly. Rafe scowled, realizing that the car was rocking with their clumsy movements.

"Whoo." Henri sighed, shifting the passenger seat upright again. He looked behind them, balled one hand into a fist and squeakily cleaned off a little circle on the clouded glass. "Gettin' too dark to see."

"The path lights come on at 6:30."

"Roberts don't tend to show till 7 anyway."

Rafe leaned his head back and closed his eyes. They were entering that phase of a tedious case where they began to state the obvious, filling silences, attempting to keep their brains awake and focused. He was weary, but not sleepy. Remembering something, he opened one eye. "Who am I pissed at?"

"Huh?" Henri was rummaging in his pants pocket for something.

"You said I was pissed off at--somebody. Right after you told me I was cranky."

"You are cranky. You get this little line in your forehead. Want some red hots?"

"Yeah." He held out a hand. Henri could always be counted on to bring along something to nibble on. Half a dozen small red candies dropped into his palm, and he munched them one by one. "Well? Who'm I mad at?"

"Me."

"Huh?"

"Me. You're ticked about that bet."

Rafe frowned, and then understanding dawned. He ground cinnamon chewiness between his molars and grunted in the negative. "Uh uh."

"Yeah, you are. You think it's my fault we lost."

"It was your fault."

"Ohh, yeah. I held a .38 special up to that pretty head, and made you pick Dallas."

"You picked them, right after you told me about the Giants' Legendary Choking Heritage. That's the last time I go in with you on a sports wager, H."

"Aww, come on. It's not like you lost your shirt."

Rafe pressed his lips together and looked out the side window. Sunset cast orange glows along the tops of the trees. He sensed a shadow approaching from the rear of the car and sat up, one hand automatically going to his weapon. Henri had tensed up and was watching keenly.

A face loomed at the window, young and topped with neatly combed black hair. A hand appeared and made a cranking gesture. Rafe felt his eyes widen, and was automatically reaching for the window control when a strong hand fell abruptly on his shoulder, pulling him back against his partner's body. Henri leaned over and looked directly into the intruder's face, shaking his head vigorously. The man straightened up and moved away, disappearing into the dimness.

"Don't open the window, you goof," Henri said in his ear. "We don't need to be havin' no conversations. And if you sit snuggled up with me instead of scootin' your skinny ass as far away as you can get, we'll get left alone. I know you're pissed and freaked out an' all, but we're on a job here."

"I am not--" Rafe shifted a few inches out of his partner's personal space. "I am not freaked out. I want to find these guys as much as anybody." He turned his head to meet Henri's eyes briefly, then looked away and muttered, "...and I'm not mad."

"Well, that's good then."

"Yeah."

Henri's arm was heavy along his shoulders. His partner was taller by several inches, and Rafe had to tilt his head up to look into his face. He chose to stare forward instead, although the lights had not yet come on and none of the vague forms on the paths were recognizable any longer.

"Hickson's got a better vantage point for spotting those kids," Henri said as if reading his thoughts. "We've got a better chance of making Roberts himself, if he shows. We just gotta chill another twenty minutes 'til the lights come on."

"Yeah," Rafe said again, trying to relax. They were hip-to-hip on the bench seat. Henri shook cinnamon candies into his mouth one-handed, and refilled Rafe's palm when he held it out. They chewed in a thoughtful silence that was broken jarringly by Hickson's sardonic voice from the radio.

"Much cozier, boys."

Henri tossed the empty candy packet onto the floor, raised his hand and flipped up a finger. Tsking sounds from the speaker told Rafe that the other team had picked up the gesture. He chuckled in spite of himself.

"Unit 34, this is Newcastle." The no-nonsense voice of Hickson's longtime partner came over the link. "I'm taking the comedian here and calling a ten-minute break 'til the lighting gets better. We'll spell you when we get back."

Henri gave a thumbs-up sign rather than clamber into the front seat for the mike.

"Ten-four, Brown. 46 out."

Rafe settled back, almost accustomed to the feel of the other man's arm around him. Henri smiled, and lifted his left hand over Rafe's right, where it lay upturned on his knee. Rafe had a moment's confusion as he realized that Henri's hand was empty, no more candy to share; and then its warm weight dropped into Rafe's palm, and the strong fingers entwined with his. Rafe's heart started to thump in his chest.

"Hey," he ventured, licking dry lips. He glanced sideways; his partner was facing the front of the car, studiously avoiding his eyes. "We don't need to...hold hands. Nobody can see that far."

"Not holding hands." Henri's grip tightened, and he extended his arm in front of him, forcing Rafe to mirror his action, at the same time pulling his partner closer until the sides of their faces almost touched. He was staring straight ahead. "Tangoing."

With a flush Rafe recalled them doing just that on a crowded dance floor, surrounded by their colleagues as well as a...colorful assortment of Jim Ellison's friends. He'd been slightly buzzed then, his initial embarrassment comfortably forgotten beneath a layer of camaraderie and good will. The air had been thick with it, in a sweet, heady way.

And there had been music, and the laughing applause of his friends. Henri had loosened up, his movements free and rhythmic, his eyes merry as they swept over Rafe's body as he tried to keep up. They had actually been more successful with the slow partner dances, touch dances, where Rafe could follow his partner's lead. Once he'd gotten over the awkwardness of relinquishing control and stopped insisting they take turns, it had been surprisingly easy to match their steps. They had managed a shuffling foxtrot, a brief waltz (accompanied by much catcalling), two twirls, and a foot-stamping tango.

The requirements of the bet had been satisfied after the first five minutes, but they kept on by mutual unspoken accord, occasionally separating to take other partners, but sharing the majority of the two-hour span with each other. After the novelty wore off, people stopped watching them, engrossed in their own enjoyment and seemingly unconcerned that two men they'd known for years were floating around the floor in each other's arms. At that particular party, there'd been no shortage of similar sights.

Rafe couldn't keep back a smile, and he blurted, "Ellison--" before he knew what he was going to say. Henri relaxed his elbow and drew their hands back slowly, not releasing his hold. He turned to look into Rafe's eyes.

Rafe tried not to think about the way the two of them were nestled together and the effect it was starting to have on him. After all, it was probably Henri's idea of joking around, much as the dancing had been. He struggled to recall his train of thought--he'd been about to say something important. About Ellison--Jim.

"What about him?" his partner prompted.

"He's a different person, H."

Henri smiled slightly. "Seems that way."

"I can't believe--sometimes I just can't get over it. All those years. He just--he just wasn't the type."

"What type would that be?"

"The type that'd turn into--I mean, overnight!--a--well--" Rafe groped for words. "A flamer," he finished, feeling uncomfortable, but trusting his partner to know what he meant.

"Ahh, Jimmy doesn't flame...much. He's just got that edge. That sparkle. He's got himself back."

"Back? You mean, you knew him when--"

"No, but I don't need to. I can see now who he really is, and who the act was."

"It still floors me. I mean, you think you know someone. I thought I could tell--" Rafe stopped in confusion. His partner was brushing his thumb in gentle strokes along the back of his hand. "Tell what?"

"I thought there were...signs..." Suddenly it was hard to breathe. His heart had begun to pound again. "H."

"Yeah."

They looked at each other, Henri's expression fond and gentle and just a little apprehensive. There was a long, stretching silence.

Rafe said softly, "I don't...I don't know shit, do I?"

Henri cocked his head. "'Bout some things you know a whole lot. Then there's stuff..." His lips pursed momentarily and then spread in a wide smile.

"You were right," Rafe whispered, flushing deeper, hoping his partner did not notice that his hands--especially one of them--had begun to sweat.

"Oh, I'm right about a lot of things," Henri said gravely. "You'll have to be more specific."

He drew a slow, brave breath. "I was cranky. I was...freaking out."

"Two out of three. That's not bad." His voice was low, and his thumb kept up the soothing caress against Rafe's skin.

"It was because I've been trying to figure out--"

"What?"

Rafe thought about closing his eyes, but he was no coward. He did not, however, look into his partner's face. "Trying to figure out some way that we could--that you and I could--could dance together again. Because I liked it, I mean, no, I loved it--I loved it; and I couldn't--there was just no way--I mean, that was just this freak, once in a lifetime situation..." He paused for air, expecting to be interrupted, but Henri said not a word, seemed not even to breathe. Their hands were gripping so tightly it started to hurt. "What I've wanted...for a long time... it never had a shape, until that night. Until we were dancing in a roomful of people, and we were just like we always are, only more so--I want that shape back. Now that I know what it is. I want to...dance with you for real. I want to tango again."

Rafe's voice had gotten lower and lower and finally stopped. He tried to calm his rapid breathing, and slowly lifted his chin.

"It has a shape," Henri said softly. "Does it have a name?"

Rafe met his eyes at last--so dark, so tender. Henri disengaged their twisted fingers, and lifted a hand to gently touch his face. He was leaning close...so close, and the warmth of his breath made Rafe shiver. "H..."

"John," his partner whispered, and covered Rafe's mouth with his own.

Henri's lips were warm and firm, and they pressed against his for bare seconds before Rafe opened to them and allowed a cinnamon-flavored tongue to slip inside, his hand coming up to catch at the back of Henri's neck and pull him downwards and closer. He heard someone make a faint gasp of pleasure and realized it was himself. They broke apart to shift position, angling their heads for better contact, and Rafe's entire body fit itself against the solid weight of his partner's as if they had been formed from two halves of the same mold. Henri released his mouth at last, already breathing heavily, and pressed fierce kisses along Rafe's stubbled jaw and down the sensitive column of his neck.

Rafe tipped his head back and gave himself to the sensations, all sense of time and place dissolving--but abruptly, Henri's hands were on his shoulders and he was pushed gently away. They looked at each other, and Rafe saw with a slight start that Henri's expression was almost shocked.

"H?"

He shook his head. "I'm all right. It just--we just--" He looked around them, and Rafe sat up, his breath catching. Jesus, he'd forgotten where the hell they were.

He ran a hand through his hair and found his partner's eyes on him, the familiar, much-loved face regarding him with wonder and clearly recognizable joy. "John," Henri whispered. "Tell me we just did that and I didn't dream it."

"You didn't dream it." He ran his tongue over his lower lip, not missing the way the other man's eyes tracked the movement. "I can taste you..."

"You didn't freak out?"

"Oh, I'm all kinds of freaked out. But it's not a bad kind of freakout..." He laughed softly and breathlessly. "H...why?"

He wasn't even sure what he'd meant by the question. Yet Henri took his hand and looked down at their clasped fingers. "Because you're who you are. Because you're kind and decent all the way to the core, and that ain't half as common as people think. Because you believe in what we're doing so much you put your own neck on the line for it--and I don't mean a cop thing, like we all do, I mean a Rafe thing. It goes way beyond the call of duty. Because I know you. Because of that line you get in your forehead when you're tired and upset. Because you knock yourself out trying to get your head around stuff you think you should be able to deal with instead of just blowing it off like the rest of the world. Or maybe--maybe--" He drew a long, shaking breath while Rafe tried to keep his mouth from hanging open. "Maybe because you're about the most beautiful thing I've ever seen in my life. I don't know, baby, but I love you. And that's just--the way it is."

"That's...incredible," Rafe said in a hushed tone. "I don't--I don't have the words like you do, so easy like that--"

"Easy? Baby, I'm blushing to the roots right now. You jus' can't see it." The grin flashed again.

Rafe lifted a hand and touched his partner's face, feeling the warmth, the slight roughness of the skin. Henri caught his wrist gently. "When we get done here, I'll take you home and cook us somethin'. And after...I think I can show you a few moves. If--you want. We could...tango."

Rafe dropped his eyes. The low, suggestive tone was unmistakable and his body was responding in a manner that made him distinctly uncomfortable.

"Hey," Henri whispered. "What is it?"

"H, I want to. I want...you. But I've never--I mean, not with--"

"I know that." Strong arms slid around him and Rafe nestled against his partner's chest. "Don't worry."

"You...know?"

Henri shrugged. "Well, you're just not the type--"

Rafe burst into muffled laughter and the tension snapped, his lungs filling with deep, calming breaths. They grinned at each other and traded a couple of slow, sweet kisses.

"I can't believe it," Rafe murmured finally. "I couldn't think how I could set it up. How I could make Fate somehow lay it out for us, like at that party. I thought I'd need another miracle."

"Sometimes, baby, it helps to make your own miracles." Henri started nuzzling the side of his neck, and Rafe began to debate with himself whether he should ask him to stop, as the sensation was giving him a bothersome erection, or just melt into it and spend the next hour in an agony of frustration until they could get out of here. This conundrum occupied him for a few moments and then something filtered into his consciousness.

"H."

"Mmm."

"The Giants."

"Mmmm?"

"They don't...they don't really have a Legendary Tradition of Choking. Do they."

The movement of his partner's lips stilled. "Uhh..."

Rafe poked him.

"Well, uhh. No."

"And that story you told me about them?"

H sat up and turned wide, chocolate-brown eyes into his. "Made the whole thing up. Outta whole cloth. They were so heavily favored over Dallas the point spread woulda made your head spin."

"My head spin."

"That's right."

"Point spreads. That's another one of those things I don't know shit about."

"Well now I wouldn't go that far..."

"You knew that, H. You knew I mostly wager on the ponies and I don't pick football odds."

"Well--"

"You know me."

"Yeah...yeah I do."

"You took advantage of my trust. You made us lose that bet."

"Hey, it was in a good cause!"

"I'm just debating an appropriate retribution, here."

"Can I kiss you while you debate? Cuz I was kinda--"

"Break it up, girls! You want a powder room break, now's the time! Watch it, it's gettin' crowded in there, too..." Hickson cut the link with a snigger and a hiss of static.

They pulled apart and looked around anxiously. For some reason Rafe saw the comic side of it and cracked up, and after a second of regarding him as if he had two heads Henri joined in with his deep, rolling chuckles.

"What say, partner. Shall we check out the writing on the men's room wall?"

"Duty calls. H..."

Henri paused in the act of groping for the seatback lever. "Yeah?"

"My problem was--I really wasn't mad. I was just--scared."

"I guess I know that now."

Rafe held his eyes with his. "I'm not anymore."

"Well, that's...that's good."

"Tonight, when we dance..." He shifted closer along the seat, feeling a deep, secret thrill at the way his partner's eyes dilated. "I want you to dip me."

Henri swallowed. "I can do that."

"Yeah? You know how?" He made his voice a purr.

"Baby, you got it." Henri let go of the seat lever, reached out and gripped Rafe's upper arms.

"I got it?"

"Oh yeah," his partner husked. "Right down to the ground."

The End.

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