Author's note: First fic in the Crash and Burn Arc. I guess this is TWT (Timeline, what timeline?) as it deviates from the manga in terms of how they became a couple and moved in together. Most of my other fics follow on from this little Christmas tale. Enjoy and please leave a review! Swordy
Summary: Dee has plans for Ryo and their relationship but fate has other plans for Dee when he is injured on the job. Could the accident be a blessing in disguise?
Warnings: Bad language, male/male romance
Coming Home for Christmas
Chapter 1 – One in the Eye for Happiness
"Well that was a waste of time!" Detective Dee Latener exclaimed loudly as he pushed through the set of double doors into the corridor beyond, his long legs striding determinedly towards the exit. His partner Ryo McLain had no doubt as to his haste; the hospital was strictly a no smoking site and Dee was overdue a cigarette by a good ten minutes. He followed in the black haired man's wake, eventually catching up with him outside the hospital's main entrance where he was puffing on a cigarette as if his life depended on it. Ryo sighed inwardly as he took in Dee's stormy expression.
Personally he agreed with Dee that coming to interview a witness still in critical care was likely to be a wasted trip but the Chief had insisted and so they had followed orders. Ryo was tactful enough to keep his opinions to himself but Dee was likely to land them in a whole heap of trouble if they were to return to the station now. The tenuous relationship between Dee and the Chief was volatile at the best of times; the last thing it needed was Dee in firecracker mode, shouting and yelling that they had better things to do than try and entertain conversation with a near corpse, using a vocabulary that Ryo could barely think about without blushing, let alone say out loud.
The voice startled Ryo from his thoughts. He glanced up nervously at Dee to be greeted by a hard look. "Dee?"
"You were staring," the green-eyed man clarified as he drew the last ounces of nicotine from the cigarette and tossed it onto the floor before crushing it under his shoe.
Ryo could feel his ears reddening slightly. "Sorry, I was just thinking about the case."
Dee snorted in response as he pushed the long black bangs from his face. "Well don't think too hard Ryo, the smart money says our only witness will be dead by the end of the week."
"Dee!" Ryo exclaimed, horrified by his partner's apparent lack of respect.
"What?" Dee replied wearing a look of wide-eyed innocence. "You heard the doctor. He's got a twenty per cent chance of survival."
Ryo nodded grimly, all too aware of the fragility of life. Death was part and parcel of police work and as much as he hated it, he couldn't deny the shadow it cast over all cops and the people they were trying to protect. "Come on then," he said, indicating for Dee to follow. "Let's go and get a drink before we head back to the station."
Dee watched him curiously for a moment, before nodding in agreement and making after his blond partner. He knew exactly what Ryo was up to; distracting him from being mad at the Chief but for once, he decided to let it slide. He was thirsty and any opportunity to spend time with Ryo away from the station was fine by him.
They reached the car but before Dee climbed in he turned back to cast a distasteful look at the building they had just left. "God, I hate hospitals," he muttered more to himself than his partner who was busy climbing into the passenger side of their vehicle.
Ryo stopped and glanced at him before following his gaze back to the edifice. "Yeah," he replied quietly as his thoughts turned to their witness lying in a coma, "that poor guy. Even if he survives he's got the prospect of spending Christmas in hospital."
"Doesn't make death seem too bad then does it?" Dee said quietly without a trace of humour and Ryo glanced across at him just in time to see his partner's hard exterior slip slightly in the face of surfacing memories. The glazed eyes disappeared as quickly as they had emerged when Dee caught Ryo looking at him and he grinned broadly in an attempt to shake off Ryo's concern.
"Well I'd rather face the Grim Reaper than tackling a Christmas dinner at that place," he said, thumbing in the direction of the hospital before he threw himself into the driver's seat. Still outside the car, Ryo paused and shook his head in puzzlement at his partner's sudden shifting moods before he climbed in and closed the door.
Conversation turned back to the case as Dee guided his car through the busy New York streets. They were on the trail of a killer who had committed at least four murders over the last two months, although there were other earlier crimes that had come to light that seemed to bear similar hallmarks. The perpetrator appeared to be finding his victims through the lonely hearts ads via the internet and as a result, there was little in way of evidence that would lead to the killer's real identity other than a series of IP addresses that could be traced to a multitude of public access machines across the city.
After weeks of desperation chasing up dead-end leads and trails long gone cold they appeared to hit on a break; a witness, the neighbour of a woman that had met her death at the killer's hands. He had managed to get a look at the man but in his fear to get away, and terrified that he would be killed too if he were spotted, he had fallen three storeys from the window of the apartment block where he and the victim had lived.
Amazingly he had survived, but had only remained conscious long enough to give the first people on the scene, namely other locals and assembled street punks, the information that he had been in the presence of the murderer and nothing more. No physical description. Nada. Because of that, the police remained stuck at square one; waiting and hoping that their only witness stayed alive long enough to be useful. All in all, the Twenty-Seventh Precinct was under close scrutiny from the media to catch the killer and bring him to justice and, thanks to the Chief's assignment of the case, the heat was landing directly on the shoulders of Detectives Latener and McLain as the coordinators of the operation.
Chancing a glance at his partner as the car idled in a long queue of traffic, Dee thought Ryo looked particularly tense. His wavy dark blond hair tumbled across eyes so black the pupils were barely distinguishable from the irises. Dee was used to gazing at those dusky orbs; what he wasn't used to was the hint of shadow marring the pale skin beneath.
"You okay, Ryo?" he asked in a casual tone that belied his genuine concern.
The other man was startled from his thoughts. He turned to Dee to be met again by those intense green eyes. "Me? Yeah I'm fine… just a little tired." He offered Dee a wry smile. "This case is on my mind a lot and Bicky…"
Dee frowned as he interrupted. "Is he giving you shit again? Man, Ryo why'd you put up with that little punk?"
"Dee…" Ryo complained wearily, not wanting to get into this age-old argument yet again. "Why'd you always think the worst of him?"
Dee's response was a snort as he accelerated through a green light. "Because he is the worst. He's unpredictable, erratic and goes around doing what the hell he wants."
In the passenger seat Ryo smiled to himself. "Sounds familiar," he muttered barely loud enough for Dee to hear.
"Ha ha," came the sulky reply as Dee guided the car into a parking space at the diner and turned off the engine. He glanced at Ryo as he flung the car door open to be met by a rush of cold December air. "For that crack, you're buying."
Ryo shook his head as he took off his seatbelt and climbed from the car. When he got inside the small but well-maintained diner Dee had already found some seats and Ryo dutifully followed his partner's wave and slid into the booth across from him. The waitress was over almost as quickly and took their orders; Ryo some Earl Grey tea and Dee a glass of regular Coca Cola, which he referred to as 'fat coke' to prevent her bringing the diet variety in error that he loathed with a passion.
"You always say that," Ryo said chuckling at the man across from him. "I don't think for a minute that anyone would think you were in need of diet drinks."
Dee grinned in reply. "I'll take that as a compliment shall I?"
Ryo blushed, deep to the bottom of his boots. "Dee…."
"Heh, you're so sexy when you're embarrassed!" Dee said, grinning and patting Ryo's outstretched hand.
A couple in an adjacent booth turned around at Dee's comment, their eyes wide when they saw the recipient was another man but the ebony haired detective remained oblivious, still smiling broadly at the man he loved so much. Ryo on the other hand flushed an even darker shade of red and snatched his hand back and jammed it under his legs beneath the table. Dee watched his partner go from relaxed to tense in two seconds flat and frowned deeply at the outcome. "Jeez, Ryo, when are you going to act like a grown up and accept that people will stare at two men in love?"
Ryo broke the stare and began to study something very interesting in his lap. Dee noted Ryo's ears were so red, they looked as if they were about to combust and turn to ash any second.
"Okay, okay," Dee said, relenting softly, "I'll lay off the hungry wolf act if you promise to come to dinner with me tonight."
Ryo looked up nervously, his hands still twisting in his lap. Dee was so handsome he wanted to yell 'yes' quickly followed by 'bugger work, let's go now!' but it was so far from his nature that just thinking about being so assertive made him blush. Dee took his silence as indecision. "Aw come on, don't make me make puppy dog eyes!"
Ryo managed to raise a smile as he gazed at Dee's well-practised forlorn expression. The people at the adjacent table muttered, "Oh please" and Dee turned suddenly, shooting them a glare that was the furthest thing from puppy dog eyes that Ryo had ever seen. Before anything further could happen and to Ryo's great relief, the waitress arrived at their table with their order, setting their drinks down and distracting Dee from his eyeballing match with the other diners. After she had left, smiling appreciatively at the two handsome male customers, Ryo found himself under a deep green-eyed scrutiny as he sipped the steaming hot tea.
Ryo floundered for a moment. "Sorry?"
"Dinner?" Dee clarified looking slightly annoyed, "Jeez, Ryo you have a pretty lousy memory for a cop."
Ryo's initial response was a glare before his expression softened. "Bicky's away tonight with the youth group so I guess dinner's okay. My place?"
Dee smiled and nodded. "As usual. You know, Ryo, if I didn't know any better I'd think you had something against my cooking."
Ryo batted his eyelashes innocently as he hid his smirk behind the teacup cradled in both hands. "Hate your cooking? Never. Even a trip to hospital couldn't put me off."
Dee rolled his eyes as the memory surfaced of his attempt at preparing the well-known aphrodisiac, oysters, which had landed them both in hospital with food poisoning. "I'll never live that down will I?" he muttered, although he had long since seen the funny side of the incident. He glanced up to see Ryo stifling his laughter and the man looked so damn handsome wearing such an amused expression that Dee couldn't help but laugh too. "Yeah, yeah," he said before downing the rest of his Coke, "Come on, let's get back to the station before the Chief fires both our asses."
After settling the bill, the two detectives left the diner and clambered back into Dee's battered blue Sedan. With just under three weeks left until Christmas, the weather had changed considerably; exchanging the clement strains of autumn for the colder, harsher conditions of winter proper. Dee swore loudly as he started the engine, knowing that it would take a while for the heating to kick in and take the chill out of the air inside the vehicle.
In the passenger seat, Ryo didn't look particularly concerned, most likely because he had left himself enough time in the morning to dress according to the weather. That and the fact that he had teamed his heavy winter suit with a scarf and thermal gloves put him in a better position to handle the New York winter than Dee who, as usual, had dressed in the first things he had clapped his eyes on when the alarm clock had finally dragged him from his pit.
Back at the station, Ryo went to file their short and uninformative report with the Chief as Dee took a moment to indulge in another cigarette as he hogged the gas heater in the corner of the office, trying to bring some heat back into his frozen body. Dee was tall and lean and carried very little fat on his lithe frame meaning that even the heaters in his car, when they had decided to work had done little to chase the chill from his body. Normally his colleagues would be complaining about him blocking the only source of heat in the ancient building but for some reason, everybody seemed to be somewhere else today. His solitude was finally broken by someone entering the office and he opened his eyes, presuming it would be Ryo, but instead was greeted by Drake grinning at him broadly and shaking his head.
"You got blue balls again, Latener?" Drake said with a laugh as he plonked himself down at his desk.
"Ha ha," Dee replied, stubbing out the cigarette and reluctantly leaving the warmth of the heater to seat himself across from Drake. "Where've you been?"
"In the break room," Drake replied, waving his hand in the general direction of their break-time haunt. "Trying to sort out Jerry's love life again."
Dee rolled his eyes, well aware of his colleague's rollercoaster relationships. "What's the problem now?"
Drake laughed in response, before leaning conspiratorially close. "The thing is, he's been dating this broad for a whole six months and they haven't even slept together! Don't you think that's weird?"
"Yeah, weird," Dee replied vaguely before Drake noticed his faraway expression.
"Oh hey, Dee," Drake back-tracked quickly as he realised Dee and Ryo had been dating for almost two and a half years and for all he knew the relationship had never gone any further. "I didn't mean any disrespect, I mean, your situation's nothing like that…"
"What? You think it's different because we're two guys?" Dee snapped in response. He scratched angrily at a spot on his desk before he continued, his voice quiet this time. "I want to ask Ryo to move in with me but I just can't find a good time."
He glanced up to see Drake's expression and noted only concern. Drake knew the depth of Dee's feelings for Ryo and he wasn't at all surprised by Dee's wishes, since their relationship appeared to show promising signs of longevity. Time to be objective the younger man thought.
"You know, Dee, you and Ryo are together almost twenty-four seven. I can't see how you've not been able to find a time to ask him."
Dee snorted. "You know Ryo," he said rolling his eyes, "I've never met anyone so proficient at avoiding 'serious' subjects. Oh! The kettle's boiled! Oh! I've got to go and pick Bicky up! Oh! I need to go rearrange my underwear drawer into colour order, starting from the darkest shade working through to the lightest!"
Drake laughed at Dee's competent impression of his partner in both work and play. He could understand Dee's hesitation at putting this important question to his lover; Ryo still managed to look mortally embarrassed when Dee showed any sign of affection in front of other people so the lack of progress in their relationship was obviously Dee taking things slower at Ryo's request. Indeed, Drake had known Dee long enough to know that, before Ryo came into his life, the black haired man had considered meeting someone for a second date a 'relationship', not that many of his conquests had reached the second date stage. The fact that Dee had pursued Ryo for so long, and remained faithful in his devotion all that time was a sure-fire indicator of the man's feelings; Drake just hoped that Ryo really felt the same.
"Are you seeing him tonight?" Drake asked after a thoughtful pause.
Dee nodded as he reached for another cigarette, grasping the packet and shaking one out onto the desk. "Yeah, I'm having dinner at his place."
"Again? Jeez, Dee you may as well live there, you're there that often."
The green-eyed man's response was a weary sigh. "That's the problem idiot!" he chided in exasperation.
Drake ignored his companion's insult. "Perfect opportunity then! Just do it," he said before adding carefully, "No offence, Dee but you've not really got much to lose."
"Dee, do you want a beer?" Ryo called from the kitchen to where Dee was lounging on the cream leather couch in the sitting room of his apartment.
"S'okay," came the reply as the taller man extracted himself from Ryo's large arrangement of cushions, "I'll get it myself."
Before Ryo could reply, Dee was at the refrigerator, helping himself to the beer Ryo had bought in specially. Ryo had strict rules about alcohol in the house when Bicky was around, but since his adopted charge was not home, he had bought some of Dee's favourite brand for the occasion of their meal. Dee had refrained from trying to explain to Ryo that if the boy wanted to drink, he would do it whether Ryo kept alcohol in the house or not.
"So where's the brat tonight then?" Dee asked, cracking open the can before peering over Ryo's shoulder to see what he was preparing.
"He has got a name you know," the blond man responded with some annoyance as he continued to dice the onions with an expert hand.
"Fine, fine," Dee replied, raising his one free hand in a gesture of defeat. "Where's Bicky tonight then?"
Ryo nodded in satisfaction as he tipped the contents of the onion-laden chopping board into the pan. "He's at the youth group. They're staying over downtown as part of the urban youth opportunities project." When he was greeted by silence, Ryo looked up to see Dee smiling at him. "What?" he asked, bemused by Dee's slightly dreamy expression.
"Oh nothing," Dee said shaking himself from his reverie and coming to stand near Ryo who had stopped preparing dinner for a moment. "I was just thinking how good you are with Bicky. And…" he trailed off and looked away suddenly, his smile now gone, "how I wish I'd had someone like you looking out for me when I was growing up."
"You had Penguin," Ryo said gently.
"Yeah," Dee replied, "And she was wonderful but I had to share her with another forty-odd kids. I'm just saying Bicky's lucky to have someone like you all to himself."
Ryo smiled as he reached up and touched Dee's face. "That's really sweet of you to say so Dee but he hasn't got me all to himself has he?"
Dee looked up hopefully, green eyes meeting dark brown. "Meaning?"
"Meaning," Ryo said, smiling and stroking Dee's cheek lovingly, "that he has to share me with you dummy."
The perfect opening Dee thought. Now was the ideal time to ask Ryo that all-important question. "I'm glad you feel that way Ryo," he breathed, relishing their almost nose-to-nose contact, "because there's something I want to ask you."
Ryo looked a little anxious but he nodded nonetheless, inviting Dee's question, sensing it was something important. Dee took a deep breath and opened his mouth to speak but his words were beaten by the shrill ringing of the telephone. They both turned to glance at the intrusion before Ryo said anxiously, "I should get that."
"Sure," Dee replied flatly, stepping back to allow Ryo past. As Ryo retreated into the other room to answer the phone, Dee swigged from the can in frustration, hoping that after Ryo had taken the call, they would be able to regain the appropriate mood in order for him to put his question to his beloved. He didn't attempt to listen into the conversation going on in the other room, but he figured it wasn't good as Ryo returned to the kitchen, his expression serious.
"That was the station," he announced grimly, "there's been another murder and they want us at the scene as soon as possible."
Heart sinking at his romantic plans going out of the window, Dee nodded and placed the half-drunk can of beer on the worktop before grabbing his jacket and following Ryo out to his car.
The scene that greeted them was a street in a quiet residential area of the city awash with blue flashing lights. In a macabre way, the squad cars appeared to be part of the brightly lit displays that occupied most of the front gardens on the street. Santa. His reindeers. Death. The uniformed officer in charge led the two detectives into the rundown property, taking them past the assembled medical and law enforcement personnel into the bedroom where the victim had met her demise. He gave them all the details; of how neighbours had heard screams and had called the police and how they had arrived and broken down the door to find the body inside.
The victim was middle aged but still reasonably attractive, or at least she had been before her murderer had gone to work. The life had been slashed from her in a series of long, frenzied blows, which had penetrated organs and severed arteries. The woman's neighbours had confirmed that the victim had spoken about meeting up with someone she had met via the internet and when they had heard the bloodcurdling screams, they had thought of the internet stalker, put two and two together and correctly come up with four.
"If you look," the officer said, gesturing at the victim's right hand, which appeared to be gripping what looked like a small pocketknife. "It seems like she didn't go down without a fight. She'd probably read about the internet stalker and thought she'd be prepared. The blade in her hand has blood on it and neighbours further down the street say they saw a man with a pronounced limp pass by ten minutes or so after the nine one one call was made."
"And that was when?" Ryo asked, glancing at his watch.
"So he couldn't have gotten far?" Dee replied, glancing first at his own watch and then his partner to check that they were on the same wavelength. They both turned to leave, logic telling them that the culprit was likely to be laying low somewhere nearby if he was injured. Dee and Ryo knew the area well and both seemed confident that this was one of the best opportunities they had had so far.
"Where to first?" Ryo asked as Dee gunned the engine as they roared down the street.
"Well there's no subway stations nearby and he'll probably not risk a taxi if he's bleeding so I reckon he's probably taken cover somewhere nearby with plenty hiding places."
"Like that abandoned apartment complex a block from here?"
Ryo grinned. "Dee Latener, sometimes I think you're psychic!"
"Nope," Dee replied, grinning in response as he made the appropriate turning. "Just damn good looking!"
They pulled up around the corner from the abandoned building some five minutes later. The apartment complex had been empty for the past three years or so and had fallen into a severe state of disrepair but despite this, no one had seen fit to tear the hazard down. It was a popular place for gangs of youths to meet and hang out despite repeated warnings that the edifice was far from safe.
There were some local teenagers congregating in the entryway as the two detectives entered, none of whom were the least bit phased by the presence of guns and Dee's harsh questioning. Claiming they'd only just arrived and therefore not seen anything of significance, they swore and spat vicious insults at the policemen as they were sent on their way. Not the least bit wounded by their words, Dee and Ryo made their way into the building to begin the search.
"We should really call for backup," Ryo said as they checked their weapons and flashlights.
"Fine," came the reply. "Tell them to get round here and watch these doors."
"What about the fire escapes?" Ryo asked as he punched numbers into his cell phone.
Dee shook his head. "Collapsed and the fire exit on the ground floor is sealed. These doors are the only way in and out."
After making the call, the two men waited barely five minutes before two squad cars turned up. Dee went back out and gave the instructions for the men to remain near their vehicles, with their weapons trained on the doors should the culprit try to make his escape. With their backup in place, Dee went back inside the building to where Ryo was waiting.
"You ready?" he asked the blond man as he retrieved his flashlight from his pocket and clicked it on.
Ryo nodded but paused before he went any further. "Be careful, love," he said quietly.
Dee turned, surprised at Ryo's words. "You too, Ryo," he said sincerely as they made their way cautiously up the first flight of stairs.
The building was a long rectangular structure constructed in a symmetrical fashion with the stairs and elevator shaft in the centre and the apartments spreading off to the left and the right on each floor. The design had received much criticism, particularly from the fire department who were rightly concerned about the lack of escape routes should there be a fire. Their fears had proved well placed when a seemingly small blaze had spread quickly and claimed the lives of twelve people all trapped at one end of block.
In the wake of the tragedy, the builders had returned, installing fire escapes at each end of the building but the damage had already been done. More and more families moved out allowing the criminal element to take over the vacated premises for their activities, leaving the authorities with no choice but to close down the apartments all together. Since then, they'd been abandoned, although the criminal community still tended to make use of the premises from time to time. The many rooms were also perfect for someone hiding from the police, hence the complex being Dee and Ryo's first choice when hunting down their murder suspect.
As they reached the first floor, they made the decision to split up, each taking one side of the apartments. They were armed and the man they were looking for was injured, leaving both experienced detectives confident that they could do the searches alone.
"Meet back at the stairs and we'll go up to the next floor together," Dee said, shining his flashlight on the long corridor he was about to head down. "Fifteen minutes for each floor. If the other isn't back at the stairs after the fifteen minutes are up then call for backup. Agreed?"
Ryo nodded before they both synchronised their watches. "Okay," he said, glancing at Dee through the gloom, "It's eleven thirty now so back here at the stairs at quarter to twelve yeah?"
It was Dee's turn to nod. "Sure thing. Watch your back, partner."
"You too," was Ryo's reply as he started walking in the opposite direction to Dee. "See you soon."
The search of the first floor turned up nothing, as did the searches of the second, third and fourth floors too. On the fifth floor, Ryo came across a homeless couple taking refuge in one of the more habitable apartments. Fearing they would be shot if he sent them down to the entrance, he extracted a promise from them to stay put. The couple were more than agreeable; the apartment was the most comfortable bolthole they'd come across in a while and they had no intention of leaving, killer or no killer.
By the ninth floor the detectives were starting grow weary, possibly accounting for how the killer managed to slip past Dee as he searched what felt like the millionth one bedroom dwelling he had entered that evening. The killer's injury meant he hadn't got far before he stumbled, and Dee was alerted by the sound cutting through the eerie silence. He headed back out and shone his flashlight in time to see the culprit running as best he could towards the stairs.
"Ryo!" Dee yelled as loudly as he could despite the musty air making him want to cough, "He's here and heading your way!"
The tall black haired man gave chase, covering the distance between them with his long legged stride. To his dismay, Ryo had been further down the block than he, meaning he had further distance to cover before he reached the suspect. After hearing his partner's shout, Ryo had started running, his heart pumping furiously as the adrenaline kicked in. In front of him, displayed in the light from the torch, he could see the suspect approaching as he made for the stairs and his escape with Dee in hot pursuit.
However, Ryo's adrenaline-charged sprint was not enough to catch up to the culprit before he reached the stairs. Dee had managed to get closer and, realising the man was about to descend, he made a grab for the man in front of him. However his flying leap only served to knock him off balance and Ryo could only watch in horror as the suspected murderer and his pursuer plunged down the stairwell with a series of sickening thuds and crunches.
"Dee!" Ryo yelled, instantly fearful for the man he loved. He crashed down the stairs after them and was relieved to find Dee conscious and sprawled on the floor on the next landing.
"I'm okay," he muttered, waving off Ryo's concern despite clearly being in some pain. "Get after him!"
Satisfied that Dee was not seriously injured, Ryo set off in hot pursuit, reaching the first floor and praying that the suspect had headed for the exit and not disappeared again on a different floor. The sound of shouting from the ground floor told him that that the suspect had done as he'd predicted and he headed down to be confronted by the suspect on his way back up. Evidently he had seen the police waiting by the exit and decided to try and hide himself once more.
"Freeze!" Ryo yelled, his outstretched gun never waving in his hand. "Give it up or I'll shoot." Hearing the approaching reinforcements from downstairs, the suspect did just that, raising his hands in a gesture of defeat and allowing the officers that emerged behind him to cuff him and lead him away. Ryo's initial reaction was one of dazed surprise; the man had been smartly dressed and fairly handsome. "They never look like killers," he muttered to himself as he sheathed his gun before remembering Dee lying several floors above. "Get an ambulance!" he yelled at the remaining policemen as he started up the stairs two at a time, "Dee's been hurt!"