Written for Mergatrude in the 2005 DS Seekrit Santa challenge. Kowalski/Gardino. Many, many thanks to Lynn for repeated betas.
Ray wakes up too early and can't fall back asleep. His bed is strange. His room doesn't smell right. It smells like the industrial-strength deodorizer they must have sprayed after the last recruits left. He knows he's got a long day ahead of him; he knows he needs all the sleep he can get. He blinks up at the ceiling and sighs. He misses Stella. He misses her, but that's not why his bed feels funny. He misses the unfamiliarity of sleeping with her. He's not used to it yet, but he likes it. It makes him feel weirdly grown-up, or at least like they're both playing at being grown-up.
He rolls over and shoves the pillow more comfortably under his head. Now he's staring at the back of his sleeping roommate. Mike is sprawled on top of the covers in just his boxer shorts, lying on his back with his mouth open, snoring. Not what Ray wants to see first thing in the morning.
It's getting to him, this lying here, and he gets up even though it's still half an hour till his alarm goes off. Grabs his towel and his shampoo and conditioner and soap and heads down the hall to the communal bathroom. Hell, this way he'll get it to himself and not have to deal with a bunch of half-awake smelly guys competing for the showers.
He's taking the time to let the conditioner sit in his hair - this rushing around was hell on his ends. It's so weird - sharing here with way too many guys and never enough time, space, or hot water, and sharing at home, too, with Stella, who, in his absence during the weekdays, has completely taken over the bathroom with all of her powders and creams and blushes and hair supplies (though he did fight her for a shelf all his own in the cabinets over the toilet - and she teased the hell out of him when it turned out he had more stuff for his hair than she did.) The door opens, and Ray, peering nearsightedly through the hazy steam of his shower, nods to the guy who comes in.
Ray hasn't made too many friends yet - it's only the second day, he's hardly even met anyone. There was a sort of meet-and-greet this past weekend, before the actual training program started, but Ray had stayed home with Stella, the two of them taking all the time they had together now, since soon enough he'd be gone five days out of seven at least, and the academy couldn't even guarantee him every weekend home. They'd only been married a month and a half - it still felt like playing house, and she giggled whenever he called her Mrs. Kowalski, and it still felt half-dirty when they had sex in their new apartment. They'd ended up doing it on the couch the other night, even though the bedroom was right there, so unused to sex in an actual bed that the cramped couch with cushions flying everywhere felt more natural.
So he'd stayed home, and missed the welcome to new cadets last weekend, but he didn't regret it. Stella had had to study for most of Sunday afternoon, but she felt bad about it, and he didn't mind, not really. She understood about him having to be gone for a few months, and he understood that she couldn't give up studying just 'cause it was his last weekend before going to the academy. He got that. And she made it up to him, when she finally took a break, tilting her head to kiss him sweetly when he came up behind her to rub her shoulders at the kitchen table. Kissing turned into making out and when he tugged her out of her chair and held her close, she pushed him up against the counter and practically climbed him. He slid his hand under the t-shirt of his that she wore to study comfortably, and into her panties, where she was so wet and so ready and - well, they didn't make it to the bedroom that night, either.
So anyway, that meant that he really pretty much just knows his roommate Mike (who seems like a nice guy, but not the sharpest tool in the shed), and a couple of guys to nod at when they went by, guys he recognized from classes, and he knew the name of the sergeant who'd apparently decided that Cadet Kowalski was the one he was going to give a hard time to, and seemed to expect Ray to climb the rope twice as fast and learn the maneuvers before anyone else, and pretty much just picked on him throughout every session.
Not that Ray was complaining. No way he was going to complain. Be harassed by the sergeant who was twice as big as he was and three times as mean, and come out a good cop with a hard edge? Or head to the meat-packing plant like his dad every day and come home reeking of blood and hating his life? No tough decision there - Ray'd decided before he'd even filled out the paperwork that he'd take everything the academy could throw at him and give it back twice as hard - he was good, and he was tough, and he was maybe not as book smart as some - not as book smart as Stella - but this was something he wanted to learn, and so he'd decided it was something he was gonna learn, and he'd end up with something at the end of it all, end up with a badge and a career and some fucking honor in his life.
Which was really totally worth missing his wife for five days out of every seven and also sharing a bathroom with the twenty other guys on his floor.
He finishes rinsing his hair out and snugs a towel around his waist and heads to the mirrors at the other end of the room to shave. He does a careful job and by the time he's finishing up, the other guy who had come in after Ray is done showering and is next to him, slapping lather on his face. A few other guys have shuffled sleepily in, and the place is filling up. Ray meets this guys' eye in the mirror. He knows him from class - what was his name? "Gardino, right?" Ray says in a friendly manner. He's a nice guy. He can make an effort.
"Yeah," Gardino says. He starts to stick out his hand, but it's covered in shaving foam. He pulls it back, grinning. "Sorry. You're - " He pauses. "I don't know you." He starts hunting for his razor in his zippered bag. "I've got a terrible memory for names. But I've seen you around, right?"
"Yeah," says Ray, rinsing the lather off of his face, being careful to get it all off. "I think we've got a class or two together. I'm Ray. Ray Kowalski."
Gardino nods at him in the mirror, and another guy steps in between them, dumping his shaving kit on the counter in front of the mirror. "Okay, see ya." Ray gives a wave to Gardino, and Gardino waves back as he frowns at himself in the mirror and draws his razor carefully down his cheek.
* * *
That was the start of it, simple as that. Nothing mind-blowing, nothing even particularly noticeable. Gardino was there, Ray happened to be feeling particularly friendly, or at least determined to try to be friendly. So when at the end of the week, Gardino came up to him after class and suggested they go for a beer, Ray thought that sounded good. He had nothing else to do - Stella had a function she had to go to tonight, and they had all weekend anyway - it was only Friday, after all, they'd still have two whole days together. And it was funny - in the short amount of time he'd been married, he'd gotten used to living with someone, to having someone there to talk to. There was his roommate, Mike, but Mike was - well, Mike was a little crazy, and spent most of his time with headphones on listening to his music, and Ray just - he wanted to get out.
A beer sounded good. Gardino was - well, he was a little bit of a putz, but seemed like a good guy. They met at the bar around the corner, and Gardino showed up after Ray. It was hard to miss him - he was wearing a lime green sports coat. Ray couldn't even say anything - all he could think was where the fuck did someone even get a lime green, well, anything? It kind of hurt to look at, but Ray took his glasses off and slid them in his pocket, and Gardino sat next to him at the bar, and they mostly watched the game on TV, so it worked out okay.
Turned out Gardino was married too, but for way longer than Ray - he and Phyllis had been together for over a year, had gotten married just after Gardino had turned nineteen. Ray was impressed, but Gardino shook his head and sighed. "Of course, we're separated right now. She moved back in with her mom."
Ray looked at him. He knew it wasn't cool to ask, but - "She doesn't like the idea of you being a cop?"
Gardino looked surprised. "Nah, she seemed happy that I had a chance of gainful employment at all." He took a thoughtful sip of beer. "Pretty much, it's just me she doesn’t like."
"Oh." Ray fiddled with the label on his beer bottle. He couldn't think of anything to say to that. He was the one who had the pretty young wife, who was smart and sexy and going to make one hell of a lawyer one day, and she actually loved him. Married him. He felt really lucky. Luckier than Gardino. He got that sometimes, that worry deep in his gut, that maybe the reason why he felt lucky was that he was lucky - blind luck, dumb luck, that had planted Stella with him, and maybe one day she'd figure out that she wasn't required to stay with him and -
"Anyway," Gardino said, draining his beer, and gesturing to the bartender for another, "Now I'm going to be a cop, and who has time for girls anyway?"
Ray grinned. "There's always time for girls," he said, and when Gardino laughed - he was a good guy - Ray nodded at the bartender to give him another beer too. It was early yet.
* * *
It wasn't early anymore when they left the bar - or rather, it was early morning - one o'clock, Ray guessed, squinting at his watch. He should probably be home by now - he felt vaguely anxious; he was working his way into the limited time he and Stella had together. But - Stella said she'd be home late, and Stella was usually a little cranky with Ray after these events anyway. Still, Ray rolling in drunk at one in the morning wasn't going to go over too well. He hadn't been married very long, but he wasn't stupid.
They made the decision that Ray would walk back to the academy with Gardino, and they'd call him a cab from there. It was better than waiting at the bar - Ray had a bad habit of having "just one more" at the end of a night of drinking, and it was usually that one that sent him over the edge into the hangover from hell the next morning. They wandered down the dim street together - on the way out of the bar, Ray had snagged Gardino's jacket from where he'd slung it on the back of his chair, and now he was wearing it over his worn Clapton t-shirt.
Gardino was somehow managing to walk backwards in front of him, his tie loose in the collar of his wrinkled blue shirt. "That coat's a classic. Goes with everything." He made a sweeping gesture out to the side, hitting the wall with his hand. He sucked his scraped knuckles into his mouth. "Chicks dig it," he said indistinctly around his hand.
Ray shook his head at him, laughing. "Yeah? You think this should be my new look?"
Gardino was delighted. "Totally! Yes." He paused, dabbing his hand against his shirt. "You'll have to find your own. I need that back, you know. It's one of a kind, probably."
"Hopefully," said Ray, glancing down and wincing away from the coat. It smelled strongly of Gardino's aftershave - not a bad aftershave, actually, and it made Ray wonder if his ex-wife - uh, wife, still, actually - had bought it for him. Trying to make him into something different maybe, since - to go by the coat - taste wasn't something Gardino had a lot of.
It was dead quiet when they made it back to the academy. A lot of the guys took advantage of being able to go home on weekends, and besides, it was late. Ray stumbled going up the stairs to Gardino's room, and Gardino grabbed his arm to hold him steady. "Quiet," he said, grinning, "You'll get us in trouble." Ray grinned back and held on. Gardino tugged him down the hall and propped him up against the wall while he unlocked his door. "You know," said Ray - maybe too loudly, since Gardino shushed him again and dragged him inside. "What are they gonna do? Call the cops? Call…us?" He laughed at his own joke and raised one eyebrow at Gardino (a trick he'd been practicing in the bathroom mirror). Gardino laughed, too, and Ray sat down on and almost slipped right off of Gardino's bed. He looked around. "Where's your roommate?"
"Marty went home for the weekend." Gardino was bent over, struggling to take his shoes off, and his loosened tie kept getting in the way of his hands.
"What do you do all weekend?" Ray asked, suddenly concerned. All alone here, all weekend. Tough for a newly single guy.
Gardino finally freed his feet from his shoes and looked at Ray, a half-smile on his face. "I get by," he said. He wandered over to the bed, and slouched back next to Ray.
"Yeah," said Ray, looking at him. "Yeah, okay." He looked around. "Phone?"
"Oh." Gardino looked around too. "Um." He slid sideways to the foot of the bed and leaned way over, rummaging around on the floor. He emerged, triumphant, with the phone in hand, and handed it to Ray, yanking the cord out of the pile of clothes on the floor.
Ray shook his head, grinning, and called for his cab. "Five minutes," he said, hanging up. "I'm gonna head down."
"Okay," said Gardino, and Ray got up, aimed himself at the door.
Ray turned around, and Gardino was right behind him, and then he had his hands on Ray's chest. Ray's heart thumped immediately into overtime. "I -" he managed, feeling like he was choking a little. Gardino's hands were warm even through his shirt and all Ray could smell was his aftershave.
Gardino blew hot laughter into his face. "Don't think you'll get away with stealing my coat. I'm an officer of the law. Almost." He tugged again at Ray's lapels, and Ray said, "Oh," and let Gardino help him slide out of his jacket.
"All right." Ray patted the pockets of his jeans, made sure he had his wallet and his keys. "See you Monday."
"Good luck this weekend." Gardino waggled his eyebrows goofily and Ray laughed, and shut the door behind him.
When he got home, the apartment was dark. He stumbled over the coffee table and the couch - mostly because the place was still weird to him - and went to the bedroom. He stood in the doorway, leaning unsteadily against the jamb, and waited until his eyes adjusted to the darkness. Stella was sleeping, curled on her side in one of the silky nightshirts she preferred. A curl of hair had fallen forward over her eye, and she looked very young - looked like she was sixteen again, when she was undecided whether Ray was her boyfriend or the kid who had been hanging around for too many years.
Ray was sitting on his side of the bed, fumbling to take his boots off as quietly as possible, when Stella rolled over and made a soft sound. "Ray," she said sleepily.
"Hey, Stell," he said softly. She yawned and slid closer, half into his lap, leaning up to give him a sleepy kiss.
"I missed you," she said, her eyes lidded.
"I missed you too," he said, tugging her close and kissing her again. Her mouth tasted like the wine she must have been drinking at the work party, and he pulled back a little. "I'm kind of drunk," he confessed.
She grinned. "I could kind of tell." Her small hand slid into his hair and brought his mouth back to hers. "It's okay," she murmured against his lips. "I like how you taste."
She lay back, tugging him down on top of her, and he kissed her helplessly, running his hands down the slippery sides of her nightshirt, with her so soft underneath it. She moaned quietly and wrapped her arms around him. Her hair smelled like the strawberry shampoo she used, but he still smelled like Gardino's aftershave. She moved underneath him, and he kissed her, again and again, and made love to her, there in the bed, like grown-ups do - no fumbling on couches, in the backseat of cars. And it was good. It was always good with Stella.
* * *
It went like that, and he and Stella sort of adjusted to the schedule of never having enough time to see each other, the frantic weekends where she always had homework to do and he ended up at loose ends more often than not, and sat around trying not to resent her. Her schoolwork was important, he knew, but he was working towards a career too, working damn hard at it, pissing off his whole family in pursuit of it. His dad wasn't even talking to him anymore, and his mom only called late at night when his dad was already in bed. It didn't feel fair, and he couldn't even argue with Stella about it.
It got so going back to the academy on Sunday night was a relief.
Because, really, there, at least, he knew what he was doing. There, he was told what to do, and knew when he was fucking up, and it wasn't about what was fair or right, it was about the rules. Which he'd never been too great about, but this time it was working. This time, he got what they wanted him to do, and why, and he was okay with it. At the academy, things were fine. He was fine.
Gardino was his new buddy, and Ray was spending more time in Gardino's room than in his own. Ray just didn't feel as easy with anyone as he did with Gardino. And Gardino's roommate was really almost never there, so mostly at night, Ray and Gardino hung out and drank beers they smuggled into the room, and listened to music, and it got so Ray was more comfortable sitting on the dingy carpet at the foot of Gardino's bed, while Gardino lay there with his head dangling upside down off the end of it, tunelessly singing along to whatever record they were listening to.
He sure felt more comfortable there than at home. Their apartment was tiny, but Stella was using whatever spare time and money she could scrounge up to make it look as nice as possible. And it did look real nice, but it just wasn't in any way Ray's. It didn't feel like home, and it didn't help that he was sleeping there only one or two nights a week. He felt like he was visiting.
Gardino was just - easy. They played cards, they killed time, they liked the same music and Gardino, while kind of goofy, was the sort of guy who had your back when the chips were down. Sure, he'd take you for all you were worth - he was constantly owing Ray for a slice of pizza, a six-pack of beer, constantly cheating at cards, constantly there with his terrible shirts and stupid jokes, but that was the thing - he was there.
And so it didn’t seem like that big a deal, it really didn't. Ray was sitting on the floor at the foot of the bed, where he usually sat. Gardino was sprawled out on the bed itself, studying an album cover. "No, see," he said, twisting over on his stomach and holding the cover in front of Ray, "This is perfect, it totally fits the band, I'm telling you."
"Whatever, Gardino," Ray said. "That's not even the point. The thing is -" Ray turned his head to argue his point, and Gardino was right there, looking at him. Really very close. Ray swallowed. "The thing is…" he said again. Gardino tilted his head, looking at Ray with a half-smile on his face. Ray didn’t even think, not even for a second, just leaned in and kissed him. Somewhere in the back of his head, he was expecting to get shoved away, punched. Instead, Gardino's hand came up around the back of Ray's head and tugged him closer.
Ray's heart was pounding in his ears and this was maybe crazy, totally nuts, but more importantly, the angle was bad and he shifted to his knees, Gardino rolled over on his side, and they just kept kissing. Not just kissing, either - Gardino's tongue was in Ray's mouth, and Ray had his hands on Gardino's face. And when Ray shifted again, trying to get an angle that worked, Gardino's hand flailed out, caught on Ray's hip, and tugged on a belt loop on his jeans.
Which was how Ray end up on the bed, with Gardino under him. Kissing Gardino, with Gardino's hands clenching roughly at his hips, and Ray could barely breathe, there was no air in the room, and he could not stop kissing Gardino. He was so turned on, so fucking turned on, and when Gardino groaned, and shoved his hips up, Ray could feel it. Could feel that Gardino was hard. And it was just - hot and weird and wonderful all mixed together, and when Gardino shoved again and pushed Ray over onto his back and rolled half on top of him, it was -
"Jesus," Ray gasped, and he was going to stop this, he was going to shove Gardino off of him, get up and get out of here any second now, but - "Jesus," he said again, as Gardino's leg slid in between his, snug up against his balls, up against his dick where he was so fucking hard he thought he might die.
"Christ, yeah, Kowalski," Gardino muttered, his hands sliding up, looking for purchase in Ray's too-short hair. He ended up holding onto the sides of Ray's face and just kissing him like he'd never been kissed before. Doing it rough, going after it, like he wanted it just that bad, and that was turning Ray on hard. Gardino's mouth was bigger than Ray was used to, and he was stronger, his hands on Ray, pushing him over to the side. Ray pulled his mouth away and gasped for air, just as Gardino's hand slid down over his stomach and right down - directly down - to Ray's cock. Ray gasped, and he thought he was blushing, his face felt like it was on fire, but his cock - god, he was harder than he'd ever been, and his hips were jerking forward against Gardino's hand, and Gardino was running a shaky hand down the side of Ray's face, saying, "Is this okay? This is okay, right?" even as his hand was moving against Ray.
"God," Ray said, his forehead against Gardino's shoulder as he tried to remember how to breathe. "Just - yeah. Yeah."
It didn't take very long, even though Ray wanted it to. Gardino had fumbled his pants open, and Ray reached over and did the same to Gardino's. Then Gardino's hand was on Ray's cock and, Christ, it was big and hot and sure of what it was doing. Gardino leaned forward and kissed him again. There was a moment of pause, and Ray jerked his hips forward against Gardino's stalled grasp, looking for that rhythm again, and a second later, Gardino's hand started moving again, and Ray realized, as he gasped into Gardino's mouth, that Gardino had been waiting to figure out Ray's own preferred rhythm, had picked it up fast, and was stroking him now, just as firm and fast as Ray liked it.
Ray moaned, and fumbled to move his hand where it was resting on Gardino's cock through his boxers. He had never done this before - well, not for ages, not since high school, and that couldn’t count, that was nothing like this. Nothing like how Gardino was moving his hand so sure on Ray - Gardino, Ray realized, belatedly, had done this before. Had done this lots. Ray took a deep breath and tugged Gardino's cock out of his boxers, and slid his hand over it the best he knew how. Which maybe wasn't very good, and sure couldn't be very steady, because the way Gardino was stroking him was getting him really close, really fast.
It had to be okay, though, because as Ray was shaking there, couldn't stop moving his hips, wanting to come, needing to come, Gardino was pulling his mouth away, pressing his face against Ray's shoulder, and gripping Ray's hip with the hand that wasn’t involved in jerking him off. Gardino shoved his cock into the circle of Ray's hand hard, his grip on Ray's own cock losing its rhythm. "God," he gasped, muffled against Ray's shirt, and then came, hot and wet, into Ray's fist.
"I -" Ray said, and he didn't know what he was going to follow it up with, because Gardino coming like that, because of Ray, was so hot - so fucking hot - and the second Gardino started shakily moving his hand again, it took maybe two strokes, and Ray was coming his brains out.
* * *
It should have been weird, but nothing was ever weird with Gardino. They caught their breath, and then Gardino had cocked an eyebrow at him as he tugged up his jeans and smoothed down his honest-to-god Hawaiian shirt, and Ray started laughing, and it was fine. Ray got himself together, rolled off of Gardino's bed, and said goodnight. Gardino just lay there, waved at him, and the music was still playing on the stereo as Ray pulled the door shut behind him.
Mike wasn't back yet when Ray got back to his room, and Ray was fine. He stripped off his clothes and tossed them in the corner, and it wasn't until he got into bed that he started to shake. He shut his eyes tight, but that only made him shake more. The room was too cold, the bed was too empty, and he missed Stella, he missed Stella, he missed his Stella. He couldn't even - this wasn't even - Tomorrow was Friday. Friday, and he'd be going home, to his home, their home, the one they shared, him and Stella. And it would be fine, fine, he would make it fine. It was him and Stella, all the way, he'd known it since he laid eyes on her.
Two weeks left in the program, that was all. He'd be a cop, with a badge, and she'd be a lawyer in another few years, and what couldn't they fight together? They were so good together, so good.
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