Chapter Fourteen.

Back at the roach motel Casey never wanted to see again it was almost morning. Still dark, though, and a pair of flickering security lights did little to fight it. Rounding the corner to the front of the motel, the wind met Casey with a sharp chill. He turned his collar up against it and counted the doors to lucky number seven. He knocked and listened but there was silence inside. The window showed there were lights on, so he tried again.

"It's Casey," he called. "I know you told me to get lost, but I just want to talk." He thought he heard something inside. The bag Gomez had given him--identical to the one Darren supplied--hung heavy at his side and its strap dug into his neck. He readjusted it for the hundredth time. "Please," he said, and after another minute a chain rattled.

Darren opened the door just enough to fit his head and chest. He glowered at Casey. "You looking for another beating, Brown?"

"No." Casey stared at his feet for a few seconds. "I got a call from one of my guys. One of my tricks. Anyway, he said he was hurting, and I was thinking about all that cash we made--"

"What, spend yours already?"

"No. I just mean, you know, it seems like a good way to make money. And you know I'm good at it. I cleared all that stuff for you in days."

"Who sent you?"

"No one." .

A minute passed while they just stared. Finally Darren said, "Get lost," and moved back.

Quick, Casey jammed his foot in the door. "Wait," he said. "C'mon, please? I just want to talk."

He was so intent on keeping the door from shutting that he wasn't prepared for it to swing suddenly inward. He stumbled in but caught his footing.

"Hands up. Keep still."

Casey did as he was told and Darren patted him down. Finding nothing, he tugged at the collar of Casey's jacket.

"Come on," he said. "Off with it."

Casey struggled to reach the zip and Darren tugged some more.

"Now, I said."

Finally, Casey got it, muttering a few dark words. Darren tore the jacket down his arms and bunched it around his wrists so they were pinned. The cop reached up under Casey's shirt and felt around his chest and belly and pushed his hand suddenly down the front of his pants. Casey gave a little yelp and Darren muttered something ugly in his ear. At last, he pushed Casey away.

"Jesus," Casey said. He gave Darren the most indignant look he could muster, reaching slowly for his bag. It had fallen in the ruckus.

Darren saw and snatched it up. Casey tried to be cool and kept his mouth shut, just hoping this wouldn't end with a smashed skull on his part. Darren didn't look very long, just tore the flap open and dumped everything. A clean shirt and shorts fell out, a book, his wallet, a few condoms. Casey held back a pained sigh.

"And Parker?" Darren asked, dropping the bag.

Casey pulled his jacket on and knelt beside the mess. He picked up the bag, heart beating wildly in his chest, and stowed his things haphazardly inside. He thought he could feel the little device hidden away under the heavy cloth. Had Darren really missed it? He asked, "What about Parker?" with an edge in his voice.

A sound like a hoarse cough came from overhead. Darren's laugh. "You get your little heart broken?" He backed off, though, and the set of his shoulders didn't seem so hard. "He run home yet? His little tail between his legs?" There was that sound again, that laugh.

"I don't know," Casey muttered, climbing to his feet. The strap cut into his neck. "I guess, yeah."

A small table sat by the window, a bottle of Jack and the remains of a sandwich littering its surface. Darren sat, the little wooden chair creaking under his weight. He leveled an unreadable look Casey's way and lifted the bottle for a swig. Then he held it out, eyebrows raised.

Yeah, Casey could do with a drink. He accepted and enjoyed a long, burning swallow. He shook himself, handed it back, and croaked, "Thanks." Licking the numbness from his lips, he eyed Darren and decided to hell with it. "That was you who roughed him up?"

Darren made some low sound around the whisky in his mouth. He swallowed and said, "No, that wasn't me."

"Guess it might as well have been." Casey shut up, because he wasn't supposed to care about Roy and he was doing a shit job of proving it. Used to be everything he did was an act but these days he was all screwed up. Hard to go from just being himself with Roy, then putting the old face on right after. "I mean," he said, "You've got a lot of connections, right? Guys working for you? Guys like me, maybe."

Darren stared at him with a grim smile. "Yes and no. None of them are much like you." He looked down at his whisky and seemed almost relaxed. Casey had never seen him like this.

"What do you mean?" he asked. "What does that mean, 'not like me'?"

The grim smile faded and for a moment Casey wondered what the cop was doing here awake before the break of dawn, drinking hard liquor alone with all the lights on. Maybe he'd seen the writing on the wall.

"Why'd you really come here?" Darren asked. The line of his mouth was flat now. Sober. Gruff, he added, "Thought you had a little more sense."

Casey pulled the other chair out and sat. "Sense? Man, you don't know me at all." Darren's flat gaze flicked up and Casey ticked the points off on his fingers. "I'm a hustler. I got busted. I'm hustling again. I spend a stupid amount of time around cops who pretty consistently fuck me over. I'm here, talking to you. I could go on if you like."

Darren shook his head but didn't say anything. He studied Casey across the small table and Casey let him look, just staring back. He noticed the cop's eyes, red from either a long fucking day or the booze or more probably both, and the lines that pinched around his mouth. He was running on fumes and booze, Casey guessed, and if he didn't know any better might have felt sorry for the guy.

"That's real smart, but it still doesn't answer my question." Darren enjoyed a long swallow. Casey was nervous as fuck and thought he could do with a little time to think, so he snatched up the bottle and drank. It burned all the way down and tears sprang to his eyes. He gave a little gasp and a cough and pounded his fist against his chest a couple times.

"Damn," he said at last. Darren just watched him still, blank faced. Hardly knowing what he was saying, Casey explained. "I talked to Roy. Parker, I mean. After what you said I just wanted to know. You know, if it was true and all. I went to his place and he wasn't--let's say he didn't want to talk. It made him angry, when I asked. He said some things. I just thought, you know, fuck it. Fuck him, he's not any different from anybody. He's not even very different from you. And at least I get something out of it if I use you back."

Darren looked amused. "Use me?" He reached for the bottle but Casey held it back for another swallow. He handed it over.

"I'm not here for your pretty face," he said, flat.

The coughing laugh returned, and Casey thought things were going better than expected. He wasn't drunk but his nerves were not so shaken and he could meet Darren's gaze without shrinking inside. The cop, he thought, was maybe actually buying it.

"Let's be straight about one thing, though," he said. "That shit today at the club. This." Casey pulled at his lower lip, exposing where he'd cut it on his teeth, thanks to the back of Darren's hand. "This won't happen anymore."

Darren didn't move or look away but something in his expression changed. He said, "Oh really."

Casey forged on. "Yeah, really. You're the big man, I get it, but I'm a grownup who knows what he's doing. There's plenty enough in this for me that I don't want to attract anymore trouble."

"Don't you? You're smart, but your eyes wander."

"That won't happen again. And another thing. I'm not your personal fucking escort so the next time you want your dick sucked you can hit the bars like a normal person or have at it yourself. Though I don't think you're that limber."

The reference didn't have Darren so much as blinking. Half a bottle in him at four in the morning and still the hardass. "Lot of demands," he said.

"I don't think so, and you shouldn't either. I'm going to move this stuff so fast you won't know what's coming or going."

"You sound awfully sure of yourself."

"I know my strengths. And wasn't this your idea in the first place? Or was turning chicken at the first sign of trouble all part of the plan?" Casey stopped there, because he thought maybe he was pushing things, and Darren looked like he thought so too.

The cop was looking suspicious when he asked, "What the hell is this? What happened to you?"

Casey slid his gaze away. "Nothing. I just figured some things out." Darren's eye stayed on him and Casey made a show of hesitating before he finally said, "Look, I could do what you said and beat it to another town but what would that get me? I'd still be doing what I do and lying to myself that this isn't my real life and that someday I'll find something better. But, you know, I finally figured I won't. This is me, right? This is what I am. You were right before when you said I was kidding myself. It's not the worst lot in the world and at least I can make good money doing it."

The way Darren stared at him, Casey wasn't so sure he bought it. Finally the cop said, "Didn't think you gave up on things that easy."

The comment rankled him. Even if he was spinning the guy a line, Casey wanted to be straight on that point. "I'm not giving up anything," he said. "I just figured out what my options are. And anyway, when the money's good, it's real good, and you're the man with the connections, so."

The bottle of Jack tipped back for another swallow. "Connections, huh?"

Casey leaned forward over the table. "You cut down the competition, take their stock, and turn it over yourself. You're practically invincible with that badge of yours, and I know you're not working alone. That's why Parker didn't stand a chance."

Suddenly Darren did look interested. "And how do you know that?"

Casey sat back. "Your buddy from the club. He's a cop, right?" Casey tried to look nonchalant under Darren's scrutiny. The cop finally eased up.

"Ford," he muttered. "Sticks out like a sore thumb."

Finally, a name. "Yeah, Ford. He looked pretty freaked back there."

"Yeah." Darren stared at him some more with his glassy eyes. "He scares easy, that's why I like him so much."

"What about me?"

Darren's eyebrows raised slightly. "What about you?" There was a note of humor in his tone, but it was weighted in warning.

Casey's pulse quickened but this was something he had to know for himself. "Do I scare easy? Is that why you pushed me so damn much?"

A response was some time in coming, but Casey didn't budge. Darren scratched his jaw and clasped his big hands together over the table. His stubble was still dark but the gray was getting thicker. Not quite uniform as his hair, not yet.

"I'll contact you in a few days," Darren finally said, but Casey didn't move. Only when Darren rose tiredly from his seat did he stand, and even then it was because he didn't trust the guy not to knock him out of his chair.

"Well?" he demanded, easy with the table still between them. Darren came around, Casey held his ground, but the cop walked right on by. He unlocked the door. Casey didn't move.

The cop's voice was worn. "Take the hint, Brown."

Casey picked at an invisible thread on his sleeve.

"Jesus Christ." Darren's irritation was clear, and Casey began to think he wasn't ever going to get an answer. Reluctant, he went to the door. On his way out Darren caught his arm, right at the elbow where he'd pressed earlier that day, and Casey went stiff anticipating pain. He stared at the cop, but Darren wouldn't look at him. Instead he scrutinized some point outside and across the street. His jaw was tense, his mouth pressed to a thin line.

"You want what you can't have," he said tightly. "Now beat it before I change my mind."

* * * * * * * *

Somehow Casey had thought when it was all over he'd go straight back to Roy's. Gomez kept him around though, chattering excitedly into her cell while her pal Bingley stared at him with hard, suspicious eyes.

"That's it, right?" Casey said. "You said I have immunity or whatever. You said after this I could go."

"Right," she said. "After this, sure you can."

They made him leave his car and took him down to the station. He didn't like being there, but at least they didn't put him in a cell. Hours passed. He interviewed with Bingley who made no effort to hide his dislike, then someone named James and then a big guy called Chen who kept mopping his face with a handkerchief and losing track of things.

"No," Casey said, unable to keep his irritation at bay any longer. "Darren showed with some other cop--Ford, I guess. He brought the speed."

"Darren."

"No, Ford."

"I see, I see. And Parker was where?"

"I don't know. How would I know that? We met up later and he took a sample of the stuff."

Chen looked at him sharply, and there was something like hope in his eyes. Casey began to see just what Roy had been working with.

"No, not to use. Come on, he's not like that. He brought it here to be, I don't know, tested or whatever. Ask Gomez if you don't believe me." He wished she were here, but expected she was enjoying her own private little inquisition somewhere else.

Things went on like that. When it wound down and Chen had the story straight Casey asked him outright.

"Is Roy going to be okay? Detective Parker, I mean. He didn't really say what happened."

"If he wanted you to know I think he might have said something, don't you?"

"Maybe he didn't get the chance."

"Don't bother, Mr. Brown. Detective Gomez explained the deal she made. Your condition was six hours, no questions, and then you'd help her with Darren. You went to see him, didn't you?"

Casey crossed his arms. He glanced up at the clock. It was midday already, and he was starving. "So do you know or not?"

"Know what?"

"What's going to happen. If Roy--if Parker--oh hell. Is he screwed or what? Will he see jail time? He was just trying to help."

Chen didn't really give him an answer. He just stared at Casey for a minute and finally gathered his papers together.

"Don't leave the area," he said. "You can expect a call within the next few days. Good day, Mr. Brown."

Casey told himself he'd go to Roy, just like he'd always planned to. But by the time he got back to his car and climbed inside and started the engine, he couldn't think of anything he wanted to do less. What would Roy say to him? What would he think? Casey drove aimlessly for hours, startled when a gauge lit for want of gas. He pulled into the next station he saw and checked his messages while filling his tank.

There was one from Gomez, short and choppy from a shitty connection. Something about 'thanks'. Nothing from Roy though there were missed calls from his number. A few of them. Casey's gut squirmed. He thought again about driving back but checked into a motel instead and when he thought he was going to be sick from the nerves, called.

* * * * * * * *

He went to a sports bar up near the stadium where nobody knew who he was. It was early yet, the tail end of happy hour and red-eyed professionals mixed with a blue collar crowd. Football, Casey thought, the great equalizer. Or was that booze, he wondered, staring into his pint glass. He caught himself checking the door for the hundredth time and focused stubbornly on one of the flat screens instead. He scanned the show of player stats like they meant something to him, and almost didn't notice when someone slid in beside him.

"Evening."

Startled, Casey gave a jump. He knew he should say something, but wasn't sure what. "Yeah," he said. "Hi." Roy spared him an appraising look before putting an order in. "What he's having," he said, and the bartender brought over another pale lager.

It was an odd moment. Casey had a million things to get off his chest but they all just lodged there, and when he looked at Roy his ears burned. "You look good," he said at last. "Better, I mean."

Roy just nodded and said, "You too," before taking a swallow of beer.

More than a week had passed since they'd spoken before today. When Casey called from the motel, nerves unsettling his stomach, Roy hadn't been thrilled. It had gone about as well as expected. Roy knew everything. Bingley had spoken with him for one reason or another, spilling the beans.

They'd shared words, and Casey hadn't been able to deal with it at the time. He'd cut Roy off, shut him down, and said he'd be in touch. Then he turned off his phone and slept for twelve hours.

He'd started work in Colma. It was all right and he'd fallen into the swing of things in just a couple days. Tim seemed happy enough as long as Casey showed up on time and left things clean at the end of the day, and he'd even given Casey a deal on the rent, saying to save up now and pay the first month later. It was all working out fine, except this one thing. Except Roy.

"So listen," he said at last, breathing deep and frowning into his glass. "I wanted to say sorry--"

"Oh, hell." Roy dropped his head into his hands and Casey stared in surprise. He watched as Roy rubbed his face and took another swallow of beer and shook his head. "You don't have anything to be sorry for," he said. "You did just fine. Better than fine. You did what I couldn't." He gave Casey a light, wry little smile, but his eyes were dark with bother. "Cheers," he said, and tipped his glass into his Casey's on the bar. He drank again.

"Roy," said Casey, and wondered if he was drunk already. Roy did look a little wired, but no, Casey decided. He was not drunk.

"How's Tim?" Roy asked in a dogged way.

Casey narrowed his eyes but answered the question. "He's good. You talk to him recently?"

"Nope."

Chaos gripped the bar for a moment when a team scored. Casey and Roy were buffeted on all sides with noise. Then it died. Casey decided to just ask.

"Look, are you all right? Gomez said you're on leave still, but…"

"But what?" Roy's dark eyes searched his. There was some kind of challenge in them, and Casey didn't know why.

"But… she didn't really say anything more. Like, are you going back ever?" Quieter, he asked, "Can you?"

Roy dipped his finger in a small puddle and traced shapes on the bar. "Probably." He seemed to remember something. "Maybe."

Casey just stared and finally it occurred to him. "Do you want to go back?"

Roy smiled again, little and wry, but this time his eyes were clear. "Not sure. Honestly, sometimes--" He paused. "Sometimes I don't think I do."

"Roy."

"I know. But staying there after everything that's happened--I don't know. Everyone knows about you. They know what happened in the club. They know I went off on my own looking for trouble and that's not something anyone wants in a partner. I almost thought if they let me back in, I'd put in for another transfer."

That was alarming. "A transfer? To where?"

Roy's shoulders went up, then down.

"Jesus," said Casey, flabbergasted. "Maybe you should quit."

He hadn't hid his annoyance very well. Roy looked over.

"You don't even give a shit what happens, do you? Jesus Christ, Roy, that's a great way to get killed in your line of work."

Lifting his glass, Roy muttered, "Sweet of you to care," and Casey stared at him. Roy's profile was hard as he stared at the nearest monitor like he gave a flying fuck about the game. It was hard but then the tension eased from his stern brow, and the corners of his mouth softened. He dropped his gaze to the bartop. "Hell, Casey," he said, and he had to be the sorriest man in the room.

"What do you want from me?" Casey asked. "If you stay, what do you want?"

Roy shifted, uncomfortable. "Nothing. I don't know. I don't think I have much right asking you for anything at all, really--"

"Fuck that. Roy, I'm asking you: what do you want?"

The moment stretched. Someone scored again or so Casey supposed. There was a lot of noise and he couldn't be bothered to look at the screen. Roy looked nervous to him. Real nervous, and when he looked at Casey his dark eyes were open wide in a way, like they were saying things his mouth couldn't.

"That night," he finally said. "When you came. After everything that happened. Before you went to Darren. And we… you know."

Casey gave him a look like, yeah, no duh he knew.

"Right. So was that--you know. What was that?"

"Huh?"

For a second, Roy just looked irritated, and they were back where they'd always been. There was another surge of sound around them and Casey gave a loud, pointed curse. He slammed a few bills down and grabbed his things. Roy fumbled for his wallet.

"Casey, wait. Hang on--"

"No, forget it." Casey nodded at the bills on the counter. "That's for yours. Now, come on."

Casey led the way. He didn't say anything until they'd covered a few blocks and turned down an empty road lined with boxy, decrepit looking buildings. They looked like the kinds of places that might have employed five year olds once. Casey turned his back to an old wooden fence at the street corner and crossed his arms.

Roy stared down the wide, empty street and finally looked at Casey. "Is this better?" he asked.

"I don't know, you tell me."

Hooking his thumbs into his belt loops, Roy studied the sidewalk for a moment. "I didn't get it," he said. "When you left that morning. Things happened so fast and I thought you'd stick around. I don't know why. Just figured, I guess. You took off and I got the call about what happened and--hell, Casey, I don't know. I'd thought that, you know, you wanted to be there." He stared hard at Casey, like he was weighing his next words. "Feels good when you're around."

Now Casey stared at the pavement. "I did want to be there."

"Then why didn't you say something? I know, I know: I'm one to talk. But I just thought--damn it--"

"I didn't have time. And anyway, what would you have done if I had? Handcuffed me to radiator, probably. And it wasn't like I went off by myself. Gomez was there the whole time, and so was that other guy, Sourpuss--"

"Bingley?"

"Whatever. And anyway you're the one who said to trust her."

Remembering his own words, Roy grimaced.

"Well, you did, Roy, and it was good advice. Everything worked out. Mostly, I mean."

Roy couldn't deny that. "Yeah." He squinted up the road for a while, just thinking, and Casey watched him. After a minute he reached out and hooked his index finger around Roy's thumb.

"I thought I would come back but after everything--I was up all night, I hadn't eaten, I'd… dealt with Darren." That had been its own mindfuck. Especially those last words, Darren's revelation. He went on. "Like five thousand cops wanted to ask me questions, and when I finally got out of there I wasn't thinking straight. I just, I don't know, I guess I needed to be alone. And then I did call you and things didn't exactly go well."

"I'm sorry, Casey."

"It doesn't matter. I get it, now." They regarded each other and finally Roy seemed to notice Casey's finger. He looked down at their joined hands and moved his, touching Casey's arm and then his shoulder, then his cheek, but so briefly. Casey leaned forward then and Roy's arms felt so good around him. Casey held him back, hooking his chin up on one shoulder and breathing deeply.

Truth was Casey couldn't say just what it was he wanted either. There was something, but it was then a formless thing and he didn't know what to call it. Still, Roy's words seemed apt.

"Feels good when you're around, too," he admitted, and Roy held him more tightly.

"You staying with Tim?"

"Yeah." Casey spoke quiet, his mouth next to Roy's ear. He rubbed their cheeks together, light stubble scratching.

"Maybe we could… do something." Roy spoke woodenly and Casey turned his head to see that he was all right. When he did, Roy kissed him, but quickly. "Together," he added, before Casey pulled him close once more.

"Yeah," Casey answered, feeling Roy's broad, warm back under his hands and Roy's heartbeat against his chest; feeling the familiar, known heat of him. Whatever that something was, it sounded good. Better than good. "We could do something," he said. "We definitely could."

---

May revisit these guys again sometime in the future, but for now that's that. :)

Thanks for reading.