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Set in the relationship established in "Eleanor Rigby"; Brass and Heather resolve some differences through hockey. Written by Cincoflex.
We're fighting. It hasn't escalated yet, not above the glaring looks and hissy whispers yet, but Heather's making it very clear she's not happy at the moment, and I've got just enough annoyance of my own to snap back. Part of me is terrified of this development, and another part is finally relaxing now that we've moved into something that's been coming for a while.
I mean come on, all couples fight, right? Bound to happen in any relationship, especially when at least one of the people involved is fairly . . . passionate. In this case, that would be me. I'm known for my temperamental outbursts, my habit of throwing things and yelling and--ah who am I kidding? The God's honest truth is when it comes to personal conflict I clam up like a quahog in winter. One of the reasons Karen got so frustrated with me was my perfect imitation of a bump on a log.
It's a stupid argument of course, but aren't they all? I wanted fish and chips, and Heather wanted burgers. So I agreed we'd go for burgers, but I guess my tone wasn't too enthusiastic, and Heather picked up on that. One thing let to another, and all of a sudden we're sniping at each other about locking the back door. The last time Heather was over she forgot to lock the sliding glass door and I kidded her about it but it DID bug me a little, and it was just sort of emotional ammo lying around waiting for a moment like this.
Of course Heather puts up with a lot from me, especially at the end of a long and/or difficult week. Anytime I have to deal with corpses under the age of twelve makes it an especially tough one, and usually she knows when I'm going to need some time to decompress. But tonight, both of us are feeling a little raw, so I rag on her once more about the door and get the full glacial glower of those magnificent eyes right as we walk into Wally's.
Wally's is the sort of burger barn they don't make anymore, a cement-floored place done in early farm implement. They have big chalkboards with the daily specials scrawled on them, and picnic tables all along the main room. Little rooms that used to be cow stalls separate the pinball machines and video games and what have you from the diners, but still, it's the kind of place families go so the kids can blow seven bucks' worth of quarters while mom and dad put their feet up and wait for the order.
Heather sweeps in so forcefully I can hear her high-heeled boots ring out on the floor. I follow her in, shoving my hands in my jacket pockets, wishing the climate was a little less--chilly. A round teenager with glasses and a snub nose looks up from the register.
"What would you like?"
"I'd LIKE Mr. Brass to stop reprimanding me about my lax sense of home security," Heather rolls off to the girl, her words as velvety as ever, but with a core of steel. God I have to hand it to her, she really knows how to pull off a dominatrix purr. My body's now divided: everything below my ears wants this fight to be over so we can get to the hot, magnificent make-up sex ASAP. Above my ears, stubborn pride and petty annoyance are still minimally in charge, and I merely sigh, loudly. The teenager looks very confused.
"Never mind. Do you have a boyfriend, my dear?" Heather asks in her soft, 'you can tell me anything' voice. The girl blushes and nods. Heather lifts the teenager's face up with a hand under her chin and sighs.
"How sweet. Well my advice is to assert yourself early on, honey. Once you let him think he's got a right to badger you it's all over. Don't give in just to make him feel good, you hear me?"
This is too much, even for me, and I clear my throat, shooting Heather my best long-suffering dour glance. The teenager blinks and nods. Heather smiles.
"I'll have a Wally Dog with mustard and relish, a small side salad and an iced tea please," she adds. I watch her turn away, taking a moment to admire her determined backside before looking at the teenager. She shoots me a somewhat embarrassed sympathetic glance. Probably seen her mom and dad go through this sort of thing.
"Don't sweat it—she's just bringing her work home with her. I'll have a Wally Whopper with pickles, a side order of home fries and a beer."
The girl takes the order, rings it up and I hand her a twenty to cover it. She rings me up without comment and I carry the plastic order number triangle with me as I follow in Heather's icy wake, trailing her to the table at the far end of the big room. She's sitting at one of the picnic tables, queenly to the core and I'm so close to apologizing I can practically taste the words in my mouth. Then she pushes a five-dollar bill across to me.
"Here. This should cover my part of the tab."
Ohhhh that's just frosty. I don't care for that, not at all--we may be fighting, but that doesn't mean I have to take this treatment. I drop myself onto the bench on the other side, facing her, and pointedly ignore the bill. She lifts her chin and for a while we're both sort of in the mutual cold shoulder mode. It's not comfortable for me; I really don't want to fight with Heather but I'm not sure how to apologize either. Letting go of things hasn't been my strong suit. Never has been. I shift on the bench, turning my gaze enough to catch hers a moment, and I can see something amazing.
She doesn't want to fight either. I can tell; her chin's quivering a little, like she's holding things in the hard way. I am SO close to just sliding my hand across the table and telling her I'm an idiot, but then she draws in a breath and gestures with a tiny nod of her head. I turn to look, and a beautiful sight meets my weary gaze: an official Brunswick Air Hockey table.
It's got the overhead light mount running over the centerline so it's not tournament sanctioned, but I take a long moment to admire the royal purple streamlined color of the thing. Nobody's using it, and suddenly my right hand is itching to pick up one of the mallets and play. Cautiously I turn my gaze back to Heather, and on the corner of her lush mouth I can see the tiniest of lifts. Suddenly I see there IS a way out of this dilemma of ours.
"Ever play?" I ask, lightly. She gives a slow nod, a gleam in her eyes.
"Ever win?" My tone is still mild, but I give it enough of a taunt to make her stiffen with indignation. This is good. If she's off-balance before we even play I'll beat her with points to spare. Heather lifts her chin and looks down her nose at me.
"All the time. It stopped being a challenge."
Oooooh now them's fighting words. I manage to hide a grin and meet her gaze. God she's beautiful. Especially now, when she's angry and amused at the same time. I can see how men fall in love with her every night. I know I do.
"Maybe that's because you haven't played someone out of your league, sweetheart . . ." I rise and carefully take my coat off, laying it on the bench, then walk over to the table, not looking back at Heather. She'll follow--she won't be able to let me get away with that little note of condescension. I reach for the mallets, turn the switch on, and the table hums. The light flickers a second then blinks brightly, and I look over the rink, feeling a little thrill rush through me.
I know this playing field, oh yes I do. Without looking up, I slide one of the mallets down the tabletop to the other side and then reach in the goal pocket right at my groin for the puck. A nice bright white Lexon disc that floats like a hovercraft on the tabletop.
Then, with a move of slow, overly dramatic surprise I look up to the other end and blink at Heather. She's taken her jacket off as well, and I see the vee neckline of her black sweater dipping low enough to let the swell of her chest catch my eye. That's going to be a bit distracting and she knows it.
I cock my head and wait for her to get used to the mallet, to make a few practice strokes on the surface, then clear my throat to get her attention.
She nods. "Winner gets . . . ?"comes her soft query, full of hidden innuendo that has me quivering a little. Setting the stakes is always a delicious moment with Heather, be it Monopoly, Hearts, Gin Rummy or Jenga. She hates to lose almost as much as I do.
Come to think of it, maybe that's why I was so worried about fighting with her in the first place. Because one of us will have to lose.
I give an elaborate shrug to buy time. She smiles at that, but it's a predatory one, not one of her sweet ones.
"Sovereignty for the night?" I suggest, half-jokingly. Given the amount of it she's got already it's not much but I'm not prepared to lay money down to solve an argument between us. Much more meaningful to make this wager something valuable only to us.
She shoots me a look, slightly troubled now, and I watch her mind mull this offer over, considering the pros and cons of it. If she wins, she gets to lord over me for a night--not something I've ever even come close to letting her do. We don't play games, Heather and I--at least not the formal ones you'd find at the Dominion, so this offer is a big deal. Something about it must be appealing though because I see a quick grin from her.
Of course if I win--Heather's mulling that part of it over now, and I'm amused at how quickly her eyes narrow at the thought. She doesn't like the chance of having to do MY bidding. Heather is a proud woman, and she clings to her dignity with both hands because for a long time it was all she felt she had. I give her a reassuring smile.
"I'll go easy on you--"I tell her, and the multiple meanings of that sink in; with a little sexy growl she snatches the mallet and sets her stance, boots clicking on the cement.
"I think that's MY line, Mr. Brass--"she tosses back. I take the puck and set it on its edge, balancing it carefully against the tabletop with my fingers, a coin ready to spin.
"Rules then--we play to seven goals. No palming the puck, no passing the centerline, five-second count for guarding the goal. Time out called by mutual agreement only, anything else?"
"I call logo side," she replies smugly. I spin the puck, watching it twirl in a ball shape to slowly lose speed and eventually drop with a clatter onto the table. The plain side is up, so I win the call. Heather tries not to pout as I scoop up the puck and set it to rights on the table. Game face, trash talk.
"You're going down, sister--"
"Only in your wet messy dreams, Jimbo."
She's better than she's let on, a lot better; I can see it in those quick, cat-like reflexes as she moves her mallet, never expending more than the absolute minimum to slam the puck back my way. Her defenses are fast, but after these last twenty minutes I have her two weaknesses pinpointed and I'm playing on them like a concert violinist, being careful not to tip my hand that I know them.
Her backhand's weak. Less power on the puck with those backsweeps and I'm able to stop them cold. Her other problem of course is that she just doesn't have the arm length I've got, so she's tiring faster than I am. But Heather is cagey, a strategist to the end and the score shows that since we're at four-five, my favor. She feints like a pro, and I've fallen for her tricks a few times, particularly when she works that cleavage of hers, oh baby.
A quick backhand angle off the side wall and the puck clatters into her goal; music to my ears. Heather makes a moue as the red lights of the scoreboard change numbers. I'm at game point and we both know it. I reset my stance, staying relaxed now that I've got my sleeves rolled up to the elbows. Two little kids are watching us, so both Heather and I have ended the trash talk by mutual unspoken agreement.
I lightly scoot the puck to her so she can set up a shot--since I made the last score it's her turn--and she eyes my side of the rink thoughtfully, gently tapping the puck for a moment, herding it in front of her.
"You're right about the sliding glass door," she murmurs, bringing those blue-green eyes up to meet mine. I'm a little surprised to hear this soft admission, and blink. The puck shoots straight and true right up the middle of the table to rattle into my goal a split second before I move and I realize she set me up.
Gotta watch yourself around this woman.
But the mirth in her eyes is softened by that luscious mouth, which isn't smiling. I understand she's sincere, but not above taking advantage of the moment. I fish the puck out and sigh.
"And I--"Lightning stroke, hard and true, but instead of a straight shot I've gone for the ricochet from right to left, knowing her backhand won't make it in time-- "Am too damned paranoid for my own good." The puck clatters loudly into her goal, game, set and match for Jim Brass, that's all she wrote.
The two kids applaud me.
We both pause a moment, aware that not only have we managed to get over the argument, which in itself is a momentous thing, but also that I've won the game; I get sovereignty over her for tonight.
Wow. I don't know if I'm ready for that. Just knowing she's already willing to be with me is still pretty heady stuff, but to hold sway over a woman like Heather Marazek--
She gives a resigned little sigh and hands her mallet to one of the kids, then walks over to me slowly. I take my time rolling down my shirtsleeves again, and gently she reaches, helping me button the cuffs in a quiet gesture.
"Our food's here--"
We haven't talked much, still sort of shaken by the argument and mulling it over--that and the aftermath. Now if this had been a blow up with Karen, we'd be either in the icy throes of not speaking to each other, or in full-bore yelling match by now, accusations flying on both sides, and I'd have a stomach full of acid trying to digest my pride from the inside out.
But that was then--a lifetime ago since Ellie died, and with Heather, nothing's played out the same way at all. The fight's over, and in this quiet hindsight I can see it's more about me and my solitary habits than anything else. So the door's unlocked for a night, big deal. In a neighborhood full of law enforcement neighbors it's not likely that anyone's going to be casing my place--certainly not for my six-year-old VCR and Gold Star 24-inch TV.
Nah, it's about me and trust. I haven't been in a position to put my trust in anyone, not personally, for a long time. Oh, I trust the guys at work, and the folks I deal with on a day-to-day basis, but that extends only as far as the case in question. The small circle of people I can call friends I trust, but again, within a limited set of circumstances that don't get too personal most of the time. I think Gil's been to my house a grand total of three visits the entire time I've known him, and when I hang out with 'Rick, it's usually at Leon's Pub.
So letting someone in, letting Heather in to this little shell of mine is still new, and kinda scary.
We're at my front door, and I'm just pulling the key out of the lock, wondering what to say to her when she runs a hand along my shoulder.
"Jim, it's really your call, but I think you could really use a massage. You've been very tense all night, and you won't sleep well unless you relax first."
Ooooh that sounds really good. I've been on the receiving end of a few of Heather's shoulder rubs and she's got the knack of perfect pressure, so I nod at her offer and follow her inside. We bypass the living room, not even bothering with turning on the lights. I'm enjoying the view of Heather's bottom as she sashays her way in front of me to the bedroom, and I'm aware that the best part of all this is that she knows it too. She turns and motions to the bathroom.
"Would you like to shower first, while I get a few things ready out here?"
I shoot her a look.
"Remind me again who's the boss around here tonight?"
She drops her gaze demurely, letting her hands touch my chest, toying with my shirt. Any other woman doing that would look coquettish, but with Heather there's heat in the gesture.
"Oh YOU are, absolutely James my darling."
Spine melting now--I know I shouldn't be a total sucker for that sort of pandering, I'm make of sterner stuff, but when she turns those eyes on me that way it's impossible not to feel the choking in my throat.
She undoes the buttons, gently helps me get undressed, then shoos me into the bathroom, and I shower. It DOES feel good, and I wash away the bitter regrets of the day, starting with the case file on Lisa Pareda right down to the fight of half an hour ago. Hot water, soap, and optimism do a lot for a guy like me, and by the time I step out of the shower, I'm a hell of a lot more like myself. A quick brush of teeth, a check of the stubble, and I peek out the door.
Candles. Normally I'm not a candle fan, unless it's on a birthday cake or the table of an Italian restaurant, but it gives my plain bedroom a sort of . . . nice look. Enough light to see, but not so much you're blinded. I step out, towel around my hips and check around for Heather. She's not in the room, and I'm a little disappointed but then her voice comes floating through the doorway.
"Be there in just a minute--go ahead and lie down on your stomach . . ."
I debate dropping the towel for a moment, then cinch it tighter around my hips and climb on the bed, lying down, stretching out and feeling great to be off my feet. About 80 of police work involves standing, so any opportunity to change positions is a good one. I'm getting drowsy when I hear Heather padding into the room. I crane my neck to look at her, and it's a might sweet sight indeed--she's wearing nothing but her slip, a pretty black one with blue roses on it. In one hand she's got what looks like a squeeze bottle, and in the other, a glass of wine.
"Would it be all right if we shared one?" she asks. I nod, thinking a few thoughts that aren't about relaxing--more along the lines of tensing up. Rhythmically if you get my drift. Heather shoots me a smile and shakes her head.
"I know you're in charge tonight, but I am pretty good at this--"
I give a little resigned sigh, but it's mostly for show. Heather knows it and laughs a little, sliding onto the bed and straddling my terry-covered hips. Her weight feels nice on me, and I turn my face, resting the side of it on my folded hands.
"You talked me into it--"I tell her. I haven't had a female on my back since Ellie was four.
"All right then. This is going to feel a little warm . . ." Then a little drizzle of something hits the middle of my spine and I flinch, but just as quickly Heather's hands press into the puddle and smooth it around.
"You're in luck. My sampler set from Herbalia came today, so you get the Sandalwood avocado oil packet," she purrs at me in a low voice. I give a nod and close my eyes, the better to feel her touch.
It only takes a few minutes and then I feel the tension unknot; my whole body suddenly unclenches under her hands. It's amazing, just a slow shift, the stiffness sloughing away like a section of iceberg into an ocean. Her palms and fingers do these slow, deep strokes along my muscles, making love to them in a way I've never felt before and I could cry with the relief of it all.
"That's much better . . . yes, better," she murmurs softly, leaning into her massage, hands gliding on me. Better is an understatement. Oh yeah. This could get addictive. Definitely.
"If it gets any better I'm going to melt into the mattress," I warn her. She gives a husky chuckle and keeps up her slow kneading of my torso with those sweet strong hands.
"Now, James Thomas Brass, talk to me," Heather coaxes, never stopping. I draw in a breath, trying to think of how to explain about Lisa Pareda and the gutless motherfucker who raped her, but instead I feel my fingers clutch the blanket under me as I ask her something instead.
"Does it ever bother you that I'm almost sixteen years older than you Heather?" I rasp, not really waiting for an answer, "Because sometimes it bothers the hell out of ME. I'm not in my prime, hon, not as fast or as strong or as confident as I once was and everyday I see evil out there lifting weights and stalking the innocent. I'm wily, I have experience and the better part of the law on my side, but I lie in bed at night and sometimes I realize that all the love in the world I have for you isn't going to stop a rapist walking in here. Or a murderer. Christ, Heather! I'm old, and I'm afraid."
I can't believe I said that. Talk about pissing on the mood--the tension would be back, but Heather's hands haven't stopped moving yet, and I'm ashamed at how grateful I am she's still touching me.
"You are the most amazing man, Jim," she sighs gently, "And you've got a back like a steel girder. Strong and big. I love this back, these shoulders. I bet you never knew they were one of the first things I noticed about you. But big and powerful as they are, my darling, you've got to stop trying to carry the weight of the world on them."
"Jim. Let some of that go, please. Yes we have a few years between us; we both knew that when we met. I barely think of it these days. So you're older--it means I'm lucky enough to have someone who knows his way around a woman like me."
I open my mouth to say something, but Heather's fingers slide up gently along the sides of my neck and all that comes out is a little moan. She laughs softly and speaks again.
"Yes this city is filled with bad men, and yes we live in a world where terrible things happen everyday to good people. You and I both know that fact more intimately than most of the citizens of Las Vegas. But Jim, the important thing here is that we're facing all of this evil together now. I have your big, gorgeous back and you have mine. And while we might not always win, I love you and I realize how wonderful it is to have you with me. No, we won't be able to stop off every bad thing out there, but we're not facing them alone anymore either."
The whole time she's been talking she's inched up a bit so that now she's straddling my waist, and leaning down to whisper in my ear. The combination of her weight and the heat of her breath are making my body react hard and fast now; I hear what she's saying but it's tough to concentrate.
"You deserve better than me. Someone who isn't looking at retirement in the next decade, Heather. A man with a hell of a lot more to offer you than a crummy middle-class tract house, a modest pension and a tarnished name . . ."
Those words hang in the air and I'm very, very still now, all too aware of what I've just blurted. I have no idea how Heather's going to take that stupid little Freudian slip; we haven't talked about the future any further than spending the holidays together and here I am making one HELL of an assumption.
I hear her chuckle again.
"Now, now--I think your house is charming, your pension's better than my Social Security--and Brass can always be polished, my darling. Just . . . like . . this . . ." And her hands sweep over my shoulders again, then she leans down and kisses behind my ear.
I roll, giving her enough notice so she doesn't tumble off of me and she shifts gracefully to one side. I look up at her, taking my time drinking in the sight of her dark, glossy hair, her seawater eyes. She's on her knees on the mattress next to me in a graceful pose almost like a Geisha.
"So it's as easy as that," I muse, reaching to touch one rebellious strand that brushes her high cheekbone. Heather nods.
"I don't want the impossible, Jim. We can't protect each other from every terrible thing out there. But together . . . it's much better, at least for me. What we've had so far is very precious to me, very . . . comforting."
I nod. I know what she means, down to the letter on that--while the lovemaking is in a class by itself, it's the reassurance in intimacy that gets to me. Knowing her love of Billie Holiday songs, where she keeps her spare syringes, how she likes her eggs in the morning. Heather's the person in my life who sees me at my ugliest, messiest, crankiest worst, and still wants to kiss me good morning.
"And when it comes down to it, I'm no great catch either. I have a chronic health condition, a career that most of society looks down on, and an aged mother to support. I'm not as young as the people I employ, I'm an easy target for every civic-minded politician in this town and I'm madly in love with a man whose career could be ruined if some media spin doctor decided to play up our relationship. Don't think I haven't considered giving you up to keep you safe, Jim."
I sit up and lock gazes with her, a little stunned by that last part. I never thought much about the ramifications of our relationship. What's the worst that could happen? I'm not running for office, not stepping on anybody's toes these days. But the fact that Heather HAS thought about it blows me away.
"Come here--"I take her into my arms, hold her close. She's a nice armful of warm skin and silky slip, great hair brushing my shoulder as she slips her hug around me. I clear my throat.
"You can't give me up. I brought you home knowing full well what you do for a living. I fed you, shared time with you, fell in love with you, sweetheart, and I don't care jack shit what anyone in Nevada, or New Jersey or the whole goddamn world thinks about that."
She laughs against my shoulder, her body shaking as she does so and it's an amazingly erotic sensation. Her face turns to look up at me and I kiss her. I meant it as a little one, but she's got other ideas and oooh yes, suddenly that hot sweet mouth is opening to me, tongue flicking at my lips. I love the taste of her, the warm scent of her skin on mine as she presses to me, kissing right back.
Now is when I realize that candlelight's perfect; that it catches the gleam of her hair, and the brightness of tears that I kiss away. It's an easy thing to lay her down across the bed and tug that slip off, take my time exploring over those curves and valleys of her body. Heather's skin is the very definition of soft, and there isn't an inch of it I haven't kissed, although I have a few favorite places.
Like her navel.
It drives her crazy that I like to play with her belly button, but there you go; it's incredibly cute, and her tummy quivers whenever I rub my face on it, so I do every chance I get. The neighborhood it's in is nice too--both north and south have a lot of appeal for me. Heather's hands cup the back of my neck as I blow lightly on her taut stomach; she laughs under my lips.
"Jim! This was supposed to be about YOU tonight . . ." comes her soft little protest as I busily nibble my way from one slim hip to the other. It's the easiest thing in the world to lose myself in the flavor of her pliant flesh, but I pause a moment to look up at Heather, knowing I'll be in this same position in public one day soon.
"It's about US,"I gravely correct her, punctuating my reply with an intimate kiss that makes her shudder.
The rest of the night IS about us, and man, that little pronoun makes all the to me difference now. I don't know what's coming down the road for Heather or me, but whatever it is I'm a hell of a lot more confident we can handle the good and the bad because what we really boil down to is . . . .