Words have always been a problem for Rick. Take this moment, when his boss is telling him to dress up in leather and chains, grab a random stranger, and go spy on the mob in the gay BDSM club they’ve been using to launder money. You’d think it’d be easy to shoot down this insane idea with a suitably cutting response, right?
Yeah, you’d think. “You can’t. I — you’re not serious!”
Cooper fixes Rick with his darkest, most no-nonsense glare, which (as general consensus at the station holds) makes him look like an evil gnome. “Like I’m the comedian around here, Delaney. This is a simple first contact. Too hard for you, Detective? Or are you still sulking?”
Sulking? What the hell, he hasn’t been sulking! What did they expect Rick to do, dance in the streets?
But of course the words won’t come, ideas and emotion clogging in his throat and turning into nothing but individual words forced out almost at random. “You. This isn’t what, you can’t expect me to —”
“I expect you to do your job. Right now that means I expect you to scope out and infiltrate a location the Carlsburgh Clans are using for money-laundering and god know what else, keep an eye out for persons of interest, and try to get a foot in the door for further investigation. Too much to ask?”
It’s not that. It’s not the assignment at all — Rick’s done this kind of work before, lots of times.
Well. Not quite this kind of work.
Okay, fine, so Rick’s not exactly comfortable with the assignment, either. But whatever, undercover work is his specialty, and he’s good at it, and it’s not that, not really. So what if this is a little out of the usual line. Rick can deal. Seriously.
It’s that he’s expected to simply pick up and go on and pretend nothing ever happened, that he’s expected to work with someone else now, that he…
Superintendent Cooper watches him choke on words for a moment longer and then grimaces, impatience sitting on his wrinkled evil-gnome face like disgust. “Messina’s a good cop, Delaney. You need a partner, and so does he. You’re going to do this together, and you’re going to do it well. You hear me?”
Oh, Rick hears him, alright. He heard him just fine the first time. He still can’t believe his ears, though, because he does not need a partner. He already has one, so what kind of bad joke is this, anyway?
But Cooper picks up a file from the side of his desk and starts reading ostentatiously. “Report to Lieutenant Nakamura, Detective.” Meaning: dismissed.
Messina’s waiting in front of Cooper’s office, folded into one of the visitors’ chairs. Rick doesn’t slow down, just glares at the man as he strides by. He really wants to go for a run, or punch someone, or tell Cooper where to stick this assignment.
By the time Messina has unfolded and caught up with him, Rick’s already halfway down the corridor to the research and requisitions department.
“Told you he wouldn’t budge.” Yeah, fuck you too, Messina. “When I asked, he said we were the only ones suited for this assignment, and then he sniggered in this weird way and asked if I didn’t think we’d be up to it, and I thought I’d probably better not ask just what he thought qualified us in particular.”
Up to it?
That knocks Rick’s thoughts sideways. He can’t help but remember the peculiar emphasis the Superintendent had used when he’d suggested the job might be too hard for Rick. Had that been some kind of innuendo?
He grimaces and speeds his pace even further. Wondering whether or not Cooper is making dirty jokes at his expense is right up in the top twenty of Rick’s internal list of Things He Doesn’t Want to Think About, not all that far behind “going undercover in a gay BDSM club run by the mob without a partner”. Rick has never made a secret of his sexuality, but that doesn’t mean he’s okay with his boss sniggering about it.
“…anyway, it’s, uh, unexpected, but it’s alright, isn’t it?”
Rick glances over, and Messina’s smiling at him, sunny and friendly and brainless. He’s been that way — all perky and chipper — pretty much every time Rick’s clapped eyes on him so far. It’s unnatural to be that cheerful. Not to mention annoying. Maybe Rick should have narcotics set up a surprise drug test.
“The Carlsburgh Clans seem to be pushing into new business areas lately, and may be trying to expand their territory as well. By all reports the Gomorrah is an actual hang-out, so if we can establish ourselves there it’ll be a huge asset for all investigations related to organized crime. And of course, it’s really a compliment that Superintendent Cooper’s entrusting bla bla blablabla.”
Going undercover in a gay BDSM club run by the mob with Jonathan Messina. That bumps it right up to the top of Rick’s all-time hit list of Things He Tries Really Fucking Hard Not to Think About, leaving it in third place, right behind “high likelihood of dying alone and unmourned”. (And Rick’s absolutely not thinking about first place; that would be disloyal because it was only a split-second judgement call that went the wrong way. Sometimes they do, that’s inevitable, unavoidable. And if Fitz had had a glass of beer with lunch then so what.)
Rick guesses Messina’s an okay choice for this assignment on purely physical terms, what with the tall, dark and lithely muscular thing he has going on. Most people would probably say he’s handsome, too, not that Rick’s noticed.
Beyond that, Rick can’t actually judge. He hasn’t worked with Messina before. The man transferred to Carlsburgh from Chicago a couple of months back and has been working solo or as an extra with some of the others ever since. Rick hadn’t had a chance to form an opinion on him before the thing with Fitz happened. And then Rick took three weeks of paid leave, and when those were over Fitz still hadn’t been unsuspended, and one week of unpaid leave later Cooper called and told Rick that if he didn’t come back now, he shouldn’t bother coming again ever. And that had only been a few days ago.
If Cooper says Messina’s a good cop, then he’s a good cop. Cooper doesn’t make that kind of judgement lightly — Rick knows how much his approbation means. That’s not the issue. It’s just…
Damn it. Rick wishes Fitz would hurry up and get back to work.
“Bla, blabla. Lieutenant Nakamura, good morning! How’s your wife?”
Fine, as it turns out. Rick hadn’t actually needed to know how her appendectomy scar is developing, and certainly not in quite such excruciating detail, but then that’s research and requisitions specialist Nakamura for you.
Trying to interrupt or hurry the man along only prolongs the agony, as Rick knows from painful experience. Besides, Messina seems genuinely interested, nodding and making inquiring noises and silly jokes at random intervals. So Rick leans onto the counter that separates the room’s visitors’ area from equipment storage and the archives, and simply waits. If he drums his fingers on the counter while he does, well. Who can blame him?
At length, Nakamura finishes his dissertation on scar tissue, various creams, and the impact of an abdominal scar on the self-esteem and sex drive of a thirty-something woman with two kids and a cat. He bends down to reach into one of the cubicles built into his side of the counter and proceeds to arrange two meter-high stacks of fat, ring-bound volumes in front of Rick and Messina. ‘Briefings’, Nakamura style.
Nakamura then spends five minutes or so eyeing them both up and down and up again, an absolutely neutral look on his face.
Sometimes Rick thinks Nakamura makes a point of being particularly aggravating when it’s least bearable — like now. But Nakamura’s immune to not-so-subtle hints like pointed glares and raised eyebrows. Always has been.
“Well, you’re taller, and I would prefer to go with the obvious as much as possible, on this assignment,” Nakamura says at last. It’s very clear he’s talking exclusively to Messina. “I don’t think he can swing it, though.”
Now they’re both eyeing Rick up and down, making “hm” sounds and looking at each other with doubtfully scrunched-up expressions.
Nakamura doesn’t think Rick can swing it? What the hell, Rick’s standing right there!
“I’m sure he could swing it just fine, if it was necessary,” Messina says at last, with a gratingly encouraging smile at Rick. “Still, why should he have to? No need to force it! Height and other purely physical factors aren’t really important for more than a fleeting first impression, so it’s not —”
And suddenly it’s a point of pride. “I can swing any damn thing I want to, okay?”
They look at him again. Nakamura goes away and comes back with a large, deep plastic tray which he deposits on the table between the two stacks of booklets. It’s full of… clothes. In a manner of speaking.
“Here,” Nakamura says to Rick, holding out a black leather collar studded with silver spikes. “Put this on.”
Rick stares at Nakamura. Nakamura stares back. And Rick takes the damn collar.
What the hell; it’s just an undercover gig. Rick’s done this kind of thing before. Not exactly this kind of thing, with the gay BDSM bit. But close enough — there was this one nightclub where he was a waiter for a couple of weeks, which was pretty much the same kind of thing, basically. Right?
Right. All just part of the job.
He inspects the collar for a moment and then slips off his tie, stuffing it in his pocket. He has to open a couple of shirt buttons to get the collar on, but the buckle closes easily — the leather is soft with use, because Nakamura is annoyingly talkative and pedantic but damn good at his job, and never makes mistakes like handing out too-new equipment — and the collar itself is surprisingly comfortable. Pretty much like a tight tie, really.
He can so swing it. Fuck them.
Nakamura twists his mouth into a thin, humorless approximation of a smile. “Right. Now kneel down like a good little pet and cuddle up to your master, would you.”
Rick smirks at Nakamura as he kneels down and leans against Messina’s leg. Like this is such a big thing? He can be cuddly and sexy and submissive.
But when he looks up at Messina to try some smouldering (one of the women in the nightclub was famous for her smouldering), Messina’s watching him all wide-eyed and doubtful.
Rick hunkers down a little more. After some thought, he also puts a hand on Messina’s calf, tries for a sweet, admiring smile and pouts a little, the way the models in magazines always do.
“Uhm,” says Messina.
“Not that your own special brand of aggressive submission isn’t entertaining, Delaney, but I’m afraid that you have flunked the test,” says Nakamura. “Nobody’s dumb enough to buy that.” Oh, fuck him and his braying laugh. He always gets way too much of a kick out of the embarrassing assignments. “I’ll be right back with the rest of the equipment. First contact’s scheduled for this Wednesday.”
“Better whip to it then, huh?”
Messina chuckles at his own joke; Nakamura rolls his eyes, but grins tolerantly. Rick just glares at them both and takes off the damn collar.
They go to Messina’s place because it’s closer. It’s tiny, smaller even than Rick’s closet of an apartment, but it’s spotless, and obsessively neat. At least it is before their cramming session starts.
Messina’s fridge is just as spotless and empty as the rest of the place, so they go down to the corner shop and stock up on pretzels and chocolate and soft drinks (Rick grabs a couple of cans of beer before he remembers and then puts them back, trying not to think).
And then they start in on Nakamura’s research notes about the Gomorrah, and its cash flow and licensing situation, and various Carlsburgh Clan thugs and foot soldiers, and the lieutenants possibly running and/or frequenting the club, and how to apply nipple clamps and simple bonds, and how to tell an actual BDSM afficionado from a thrill-seeking tourist — or undercover cop, as the case may be.
“So, I just wanted to say,” Messina ventures at some point, and when Rick looks up, the man is smiling a strangely shy little smile. “This may be an odd assignment to have as our first case together, but — I. Even so, I think it’s a good thing. I’m going to do my best not to disappoint either the superintendent or you, and… I am really glad to be working with you, Richie.”
“Don’t call me that.” It just slips out; a harsh bark that makes Messina jerk a little, almost like Rick slapped him.
What the hell kind of speech was that — it sounds for all the world like Messina is expecting this working together thing to be permanent, when Rick expects Fitz back any day now. Any fucking day.
“But — oh. I’m sorry. I just thought… Detective Fitzpatrick called you —”
“He’s my partner. You’re just a stand-in until he gets back to work.”
The smile has faded. Messina looks down at his hands, and… damn it.
Messina’s a good cop, Cooper says so and Rick has no reason to disbelieve it, and he seems like a nice guy, and he’s already had to put up with a lot of Rick’s foul mood. He hasn’t complained, has been cheerful and friendly, has tried to…
It’s not that he’d be a bad partner. Not at all. He just isn’t Rick’s partner, because Rick already has one. Fitz just needs a couple of weeks or months to get his head on straight, then he’ll get back to work all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and good as new.
Rick gets up to go to the bathroom, and gets the last bottle of Carl Cola from the fridge on his way back. They both seem to like it best — should have bought more of it.
Messina’s back to leafing through the case info, but he looks up when Rick kicks at his foot, and accepts the bottle Rick holds out with a smile.
“Look, Messina,” Rick starts, and then doesn’t know how to go on. So he drops it and just says the first thing that comes to mind. “What about your own partner? I mean, you have one. Right? In Chicago.”
“He’s dead,” Messina says.
It comes out so simply and easily that for one shocked moment, it sounds almost casual to Rick. But then Messina catches Rick’s gaze, and there’s no mistaking the look in his eyes as anything even close to casual, or simple, or easy.
His tone remains eerily light when he goes on. “There was a protection racket that nobody seemed particularly interested in except us. Not long after we started digging, Jesse was killed in a hit-and-run that nobody except me seemed particularly interested in, either. And then it was suggested to me that the climate might be healthier for me elsewhere. I guess a second accident would have been too much of a coincidence.”
Rick’s not naive; he knows cops are just as likely to be cowardly and greedy and mercenary as the next guy. But somehow he’s still always appalled and chilled — and yeah, shocked — when he’s confronted with outright corruption on this scale. It’s just wrong… it shouldn’t be possible that someone who should be protecting people and upholding laws just looks the other way, or worse.
“There was nothing to achieve by staying, so I agreed to a transfer,” Messina adds after a moment, when Rick doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t sound defensive, just matter-of-fact — almost detached, except for that look. “It’s alright. I won’t forget.”
There’s more than determination in that look; more than a glimpse of underlying steel that Rick has never before suspected Messina of having. There’s anger. No, rage — the icy, hard kind of rage Rick never really gets, because his own anger burns quick and hot and all-consuming and then dies. This rage is cold and patient and implacable, and — yeah. Rick gets why whoever murdered Messina’s partner got him transferred.
Cooper’s unit seems to pick up a lot of odd cops like that… cops that don’t fit in anywhere else. Rick’s never sure whether that means someone high up really hates the Superintendent’s guts, or thinks the world of him.
Rick also never knows what to say in moments like this.
“Fuck,” he gets out finally, roughly, because he has to say something. “I — that really sucks.”
And then he wants to kick himself because it’s totally inadequate, to the point where it sounds almost like Rick’s playing this down, when he didn’t mean it that way at all. He just doesn’t know how to respond. There are no words for this kind of thing — or if there are, Rick doesn’t know them.
But Messina nods and doesn’t say anything, and after another moment he smiles a little, and it’s crooked and looks like it hurts, but it’s real. He got it, got just what Rick meant.
If Rick has to work while Fitz’s away, then he does need someone to work with. He doesn’t like working solo, and what’s more he’s crap at it, and Cooper (and everyone else and their grandmother, and her little dog, too) knows it.
Rick needs someone to watch his back and anchor him and balance him out, to bounce ideas off of, and to give him a kick in the ass every once in a while. He could probably do worse than Messina.
“Delaney,” says Messina. “We should —”
“Rick,” Rick says, gruffly, “Rick is fine,” and goes to get a bottle of water when Messina smiles at him all surprised and bright and happy.
Rick isn’t used to cops smiling like that, but he guesses there’s no reason why he can’t get used to it.
“Why, hello there,” says the muscle-bound bouncer-type in the studded leather pants and vest. A long moment later, he drags his gaze up to Rick and grins at him, too. “I’m Tony. Welcome to the Gomorrah!”
“Rick. We’re glad to be here.” It’s a bit short, but Rick’s not about to thank the man, not with Nakamura’s extensive notes on dominance games fresh in his mind. He doesn’t stand up either, just remains seated in his comfy easy chair. “This is Jon.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Jon says politely. He’s curled up on the ground, leaning lightly against Rick’s leg. It’s not as weird as it might be; they’ve practiced this over and over in the last two days, to the point where it’s become almost familiar. Practicing was awkward, at times, but when Tony’s gaze wanders downwards again, Rick is glad they didn’t cut corners.
Rick puts a not-quite-casual hand on Jon’s shoulder, smoothing soft fabric over firm muscle. He can’t think of him as Messina anymore; it’s hard (and of course counterproductive in terms of the assignment) to keep that kind of mental distance from someone you’ve been “getting physically comfortable with”, as Nakamura likes to put it.
Rick would have called it a really bizarre, carefully planned and uncomfortably stilted version of making out, himself.
“The pleasure is all mine,” purrs Tony with a broad smile that is solely for Jon, this time.
When the man looks up again Rick catches his gaze and holds it. Tony is the one who looks away first, something like a roguish grin tugging at the corners of his mouth.
Rick can tell this is going to be a long assignment… for a whole bunch of reasons.
Tony arranges himself in one of the easy chairs across from Rick, waving at someone across the room with a casual air of command that Rick commits to memory, the same way he’s been collecting looks and motions and attitudes ever since they passed through the club’s door.
“So!” The friendly cheer Tony radiates when he claps his hands seems oddly incongruous considering the way he’s dressed, but hey, it’s not like Rick’s really fit to judge that kind of thing. “I’m here to show you the ropes — not just figuratively speaking, but that too. Get you settled in, answer any questions you may have about the Gomorrah’s rules, show you around… introduce you to anyone you would like to get introduced to, if you’re shy.”
Rick snorts a little and takes another look around. This part of the club looks like a cross between a high-class hotel lobby and an expensive café, with small groups of easy chairs dotted about, pleasingly interspersed with plants and more or less abstract statues of various levels of carnality. A bar runs along the far side of the room, and about half of the men lounging on barstools seem to be there mostly because of the proximity to the club entrance. Every guy who walks in is subjected to their open and intense scrutiny, with no attempt made to conceal either the attention itself or its sexual nature.
There’s enough for the gawkers to see: Guys are walking in regularly. Considering the early hour and that it’s a Wednesday night, there’s a surprisingly large number of men around. Not all of them are dressed in leather and studs the way Tony is, and all of them are wearing enough that they wouldn’t be arrested if they went out on the street, but most of them would get pretty cold.
Like the young man who comes up to them with a tray and sets tall, frosted glasses with what looks like freshly squeezed orange juice in front of first Tony and then Rick and Jon. He’s wearing tight, but unremarkable jeans and a plain black collar, and nothing else.
He puts down a fourth glass, hands Tony a folder, and props the tray against the side of the table before folding himself down at Tony’s feet with a showy kind of grace that Rick is certain has to be practiced.
“Andrew,” Tony says by way of introduction. His fingers are already threading through the young man’s hair, petting him with absent possessiveness.
Rick doesn’t bother to disguise the once-over he’s giving the Tommasi clan’s youngest child. Tony notices, and doesn’t seem to mind at all. Quite the contrary, he puts a hand on Andrew’s shoulder and turns him a little, giving Rick a better view.