Thank you to the FABULOUS ms. Queue for a thorough, in-depth beta, TWICE, on very short notice, and for reigning in my commas, and not allowing me to skimp on plot. You are a treasure.
I prefer having a relationship with someone to casual sex and no phone calls the next day, though I have, on occasion, drifted from that ideal.
I prefer men over women, generally, though there are times when I find myself craving the soft curves and sliding heat of women and - again - I drift.
I prefer Ray Kowalski over Stella Kowalski. Truth be told, I prefer Ray Kowalski over anyone I've ever known. And yet, tonight, I have drifted from that all-too-complex ideal.
Stella Kowalski is everything Ray Kowalski is not. Sometimes, studying her as she strides through the station on her too-high, too-expensive heels and her suit that cost more than anyone who was not Ray Vecchio would deem reasonable, I try to picture her and Ray together. Together, getting married, swearing in front of family and friends and under the eyes of God that they want to spend the rest of their lives together.
It's mind-boggling. I shut my eyes, sometimes, and try to see it, try to see what it was like when the two of them loved each other and were happy together. When there wasn't this constant friction between them, this polarization that drives them away from each other no matter how hard Ray presses the issue.
I can't see it. I've never been able to see it.
And yet he yearns to be with her still, sees her as something he's lost. I watch him watch her, his eyes bleak and I wonder what it is he thinks he's missing here. A chance at a normal life? Marriage, children, backyards and playgrounds? He's so busy looking back that he never seems to fully settle into his life here, now. Whatever it is that draws him to her, it's intense, even after all this time.
Stella Kowalski lives in an expensive high-rise condominium complex, far from the neighborhoods her ex-husband and I frequent, rattling with trash on the curbs and homeless people in the alleys, with high crime rates and low-income housing. She's on the 16th floor, thrust high in the sky over the city, protected from everything down below.
Her apartment is neat and uncluttered, with pale gray carpeting and tastefully subdued prints on the wall, the furniture arranged sparingly around the living room. I find it pleasing, a sort of high-income version of my own preferred simple living quarters.
There is none of the clutter of thirty-five years of living that Ray keeps scattered through his own apartment. Ray's life is crammed full of everything that used to be. One may walk through his apartment and get a fairly off-hand cross-section of who he is and was. Dusty ballroom dancing trophies shoved roughly onto a shelf; awards and commendations from his years on the Chicago police force slid half under bills and papers on his scarred, rolltop desk. Pictures of his life with Stella still stand guard, staring down from shelves and corner tables. Ray doesn't let go easily.
Stella's apartment contains none of that, and yet it is still clearly hers. The scent of the perfume she habitually wears hovers lightly in the air - not too strong, but there. The way she hangs up her long coat carefully in the closet, the way she slips the shoes off her feet and pads her way across the plush gray carpet, shows her pleasure at being in her own home, where she can be herself and no one can judge her.
"Make yourself comfortable," she offers, and there is none of that arch, defensive tone in her voice that she routinely uses when Ray is in the vicinity. "You can hang your uniform coat in the closet." I do so, and, after a moment's pause, kneel to swiftly remove my boots.
Earlier today, at the precinct, Stella had fought with Ray, as they are wont to do whenever Ray pushes himself into her space. It's never enough for him to have a working relationship with her - he wants more. So she asked him to sign a form and he asked her to have dinner with him.
I could see it in her eyes, how she wanted to strike him. Get him to learn, to figure out that they were never going to be what they once were. I could see it, too, when she got control over herself. Any reaction, even a bad one, would mean something to Ray, and I watched as Stella gathered herself, turned coolly on one heel, and walked away from him.
She'd seen me watching her, I found out later. She'd seen me watching her, and she'd seen me watching Ray. Stella Kowalski, as it turns out, is a very intuitive woman.
She came over after Ray had left, storming out to deal with his anger. I looked up from the files I was straightening as she leaned against the desk and looked at me. She looked tired. "ASA Kowalski," I said, getting to my feet. I offered her my chair, but she just shook her head, looking vaguely amused. I remained standing, slightly uneasy. "May I help you?"
She tilted her head. "I doubt it."
She sighed and rubbed at her temples. "Sorry. Just - Ray."
I nodded carefully. ASA Kowalski and I were not known for sharing confidences with each other, and yet, after watching her earlier, I'm interested in what she has to say to me about Ray.
She looked at me again, curiously. "Have you talked to him?"
"I'm sorry?" I said again. What was she after?
"About - I don't know. You and - I mean, I saw you looking and - " She stopped abruptly, and pushed off her desk, standing straighter. "Nothing. Forget it." She walked away and I watched her go. I'm a rather intuitive person myself. I wondered what she had seen in my eyes. At the time, I thought if it was that obvious, might Ray not have seen it too, had he not been so fully focused on Stella?
Now, in Stella's apartment, I finish removing my boots and stand. She's emerging from the bedroom when I stand up, still in her suit skirt, but having removed both jacket and pantyhose. She heads to the small kitchen and I drift along behind her, not feeling as uneasy as I probably should, too caught up in watching her neat movements as she reaches for the bottle of wine, the opener, the glasses. No wasted motion, and taking clear pleasure in the perfect wine, the fine sheen of the glasses, the perfect tool to remove the cork - something she does with such quick efficiency that I feel my breath catch in my throat.
When she turns and offers me a glass, I take it out of her hand. "Thank you," I say, setting it on the counter. She takes a sip from her own glass, watching me over the rim. She has small wrinkles next to her eyes, and circles beneath them that the make-up she put on this morning is currently failing to conceal. Her eyes themselves, though, look sharp, interested.
She sets her own glass on the counter. Standing there in her bare feet, she seems tiny, and looks tired, but no less sure of herself. She looks up at me, and I open my mouth, then realize I have no idea what to call her. Instead, I take a step forward, slide my hand into her hair, and bend to press my lips against hers. She tilts her head back, and as I put my other arm around her, the soft fabric of her blouse against my fingers, I feel her come up on her toes as she deepens the kiss.
My pulse is racing as I hold her against me. She opens her soft mouth, slides her tongue into my mouth, and I am struck, once again, by how different, how very different it is to kiss women. I like it. Her mouth is smaller than I am accustomed, and the slide of her tongue against mine lighter, and through it all is the pounding backbeat of how tiny she is, how light, how fragile.
She'd come back to the desk as she was leaving the station earlier and looked at me for a moment. "Constable," she'd said slowly. "Would you accompany me home?"
She watched me curiously, as though unsure as to what my response would be. I wonder now what she would have done had I said no.
She's moaning against my mouth, and up against me so hard, so close, pressed against me where I am achingly erect. Her warm hand is steady on the back of my neck as she kisses me, presses against me, asking for more, more. Without breaking the kiss, I move my hands to her waist and lift her to the counter. She doesn't hesitate, but spreads her legs to either side of my hips, her hands working my Henley out of my pants, then sliding hotly around my back, over my sides. I shudder as her fingertips brush the small of my back, dipping lightly below the waist.
I pull my mouth from hers. She looks at me, panting, on a level with me as she sits there on the counter. Her eyes are wide and dark and I struggle again to shape her name with my lips before giving up, instead brushing my lips lightly against her jaw. That touch makes her shiver. I allow my fingers to slide up the outside of her thighs, watching her eyes as I gently push my way up under the fine fabric of her skirt, higher, higher. The lace fabric of her panties is hot, damp, and as she spreads her legs wider, still looking at me, I allow my fingers to slide against them, feeling them get wetter under my fingertips as I do so.
I'm panting, I realize suddenly, holding myself back, memorizing each detail, and she finally arches an eyebrow in an amused way - not the irritated, exhausted way she looks at Ray, but as though she understands me - and says, softly, "Take them off."
I swallow and move my hands up her hips, tugging lightly at the lace. She lifts willingly, bracing herself on my shoulders, and I draw the panties down her thighs and off, letting them fall to the floor.
She's staring at me, legs still spread. Just knowing how she is completely open, wet, waiting sends a surge of desire through me. As I watch, she raises her hands to her blouse, undoing the buttons one by one, going slowly. My mouth is dry, watching her, mesmerized by the movements of her delicate hands. She finishes, and her blouse hangs open, trembling slightly with her breathing. I reach forward with both hands and nudge it to either side, revealing her black lace bra, hooked in front, which cups her small, round breasts. Her nipples are clearly hard through the lace, and I feel a sense of wanting so badly to do everything all at once.
It's been a long time since I've been with a woman. It's been a long time since I've been with anyone.
I take a deep breath and then another. I can't take my eyes from her body. I'm between her legs, and I draw one finger over the soft curve of skin, tracing along the rough edge of lace. She inhales sharply at that simple touch, and I can't wait any longer: I swiftly undo the clasp and the cups fall open, revealing her soft breasts with deep pink nipples. I lean forward, tracing that same curve with my tongue this time, breathing in the soft scent of Stella as I do so. Her skin, her perfume, the heady smell of her arousal are all around me, and I mouth at her breast, moving down to take her nipple in my mouth, tracing it with my tongue.
Her hands slide into my hair and she moves my head firmly to the other one. I am immensely pleased at this, at her showing me what she wants. She goes after things aggressively, she knows what she wants, and it's nice here, now, to be directed, to know for certain that I am wanted. I do the same thing to her other breast, mouthing at it, then sucking at the nipple, finally tugging at it lightly, lightly between my teeth. She moans, and her body arches up against me, and I want more. My hand is trembling as I slide it back up under her skirt, and I donít take my mouth from her breast as my fingers slide between her legs.
She's panting lightly, and I can feel her heart racing. I trace my fingers over the warm, damp hair between her legs, absurdly pleased to find that she doesn't shave it. I like how it feels, natural and real under my fingers. She's tense, hanging on to me tightly, and I slide my fingers - finally, finally - inside of her where she is so slick and hot and waiting.
She gasps out loud, her voice echoing my thoughts, "Finally." Her voice is hoarse and she rocks forward against my fingers as I push them deeper. I want - suddenly, urgently - to taste her, and I let her breast slip from my mouth and my fingers from inside her and move down between her legs. She's saying, frantically, "Yes, god, do it, just - " and I notice, dimly, in the part of my brain not lost in the scent and heat of her, that she doesn't use my name. That she has no idea what to call me, here, now, in this situation, either.
I push her skirt further up, high around her hips. She's got one leg over my shoulder and her hands are grasping, white-knuckled, at the edge of the counter as she pushes forward against my mouth. I'm surrounded by her and I bury my face between her legs, reveling in it as I trace my tongue up and around her clitoris, teasing it, never going directly at it. She's gasping up above me, nearly whimpering, and I press my tongue inside of her. She moans - loud, so loud - and says, "Again, do that again." I do, loving the feel of her pushing against my mouth. She's showing me the rhythm she needs, and when I push two fingers back inside her, she groans. I stroke her with my fingers and move my tongue back up to circle her clitoris. She gasps and moves against me, and I hear, dimly, her saying, "Yes, just - "
I press the flat of my tongue against her clitoris, and she tenses, rocking against me, gasping, "Yes. I - yes. There, right there." I have one hand holding tight to her hip, allowing her to rock against my mouth without fear of sliding off the counter, and my fingers moving steadily inside her, and I want so much to feel it, to taste it when she -
"I -" She's tensing even further, her voice strained, "I - oh god." I never lose the rhythm, I keep it up steady and strong. I'll do this for as long as she wants, as long as it takes, and never grow tired of it. She's rubbing herself up against my tongue still and then - oh, god, she's coming, crying out above me, holding herself against me. I can taste it, sharp against my tongue, a different sort of taste.
I am reminded of the options I have, how I am able to choose who I go with and what I want from them, and that waiting for Ray is not my only recourse. That strikes me as sad, all of a sudden, and I wonder: what am I waiting for?
She tugs my head back almost immediately and I heave myself to my feet, wiping my mouth against the sleeve of my shirt. She's got her head tilted back against the cabinets, her skirt rucked up around her waist, her blouse open, bra dangling, breasts exposed, and suddenly I am so aroused I can hardly breathe. All of it rushes back, everything I've been pushing aside as I pleasured her, all of it at once, and I want to fuck her so badly I cannot stand it.
She opens her eyes and drags me in, kissing me roughly, her hands working at the fastening of my pants. "Condoms," she says, mouthing her way to my ear. She bites at my lobe. "Bedroom."
I lift her off the counter and carry her bodily to the bedroom, unable to maintain even the modicum of patience it would take for her to walk there. I lay her on the bed and shove my pants down and off, stripping off the Henley as well. I'm harder than I ever remember being, so hard my heart is pounding with it, my vision fuzzy, lost in the overarching need to do this, to be inside her, to fuck her as hard as I can. She rolls over, still with her skirt rucked up, her round bottom exposed, and takes a condom from her bedside table drawer.
I almost snatch it out of her hand and roll it on - no time to worry about embarrassment or awkwardness. She looks up at me and spreads her legs, and that's all I can take. I crawl onto the bed, on top of her, and slide inside of her without ceremony. She is so very wet and hot and tight inside, and I feel it all through my body. I shove inside her, and she draws her legs up and we are rutting like animals. She's clutching at me, moaning desperately, and I'm fucking her as hard as I can, dragging her hips up, angling in, going in deep and strong and wild.
She's begging for more, asking for it, and every time she gasps out, "Harder," and "Yes," and "More," I give it to her. I have no choice. I've lost any semblance of control over this, driving into her over and over again, as I kiss her, drawing my mouth down her cheek, her neck, tasting and sucking at any bit of skin I can reach. She still feels so small underneath me, but not fragile - not even a little bit fragile, taking everything I am giving to her so desperately and demanding more. She's smaller that I am, yes, but tougher, too, and I think of her walking away from Ray earlier, and it hits me how much stronger she is than I.
I feel like I've been hard forever, will be hard forever, endlessly fucking Stella as she drives up against me. Her fingers are digging into my back, and she's so tight around me and I can't, god, I need so badly to - I want - I need -
She tightens around me, and my sweaty hands cling to her hips, and I drive into her hard and hold it, crying out as I come, endlessly, waves and wave of it washing over me until I collapse, dizzy and destroyed, against her.
She doesn't invite me to spend the night. It is with a certain amount of relief that I step outside her apartment, hearing the door latch shut behind me, and make my way down the corridor, its soft carpet muting my footsteps. The elevator ride seems to take a long time. I make my way across the lobby and past the doorman, feeling too bright and awkward in my uniform. When I step outside, the late night air is cool against my face, soothing, and I feel relieved as I start the long walk home, happy with the cement under my boots, the easy rhythm of walking.
I prefer love over sex, yes, and men over women, yes, and Ray Kowalski over anyone else.
But when Stella Kowalski asked me to accompany her home tonight, I said yes without hesitation. I am not always in as firm control over myself as I might be. I'm not as unyielding as I may sometimes seem, and Stella, apparently, knows that. Her asking me to accompany her reminded me, swiftly and suddenly, of the options I have. The clear, knowing look in her eyes, of who I am and what I truly desire, when given my preference, made it easy for me to say yes.
ASA Kowalski could look at me and see all of that.
I think it might be time to stop waiting for Ray to see it, too, and instead, to show him.
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