whogeek: The WhoGeek w/ blue/white/red target (Carter Stare)
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Dean knew I was watching him. He always knew, just like I could always tell when he was watching me. It was, odd, to see this side of him. He was open with these two. Relaxed, comfortable, smiling and joking, but there was an edge of dangerous protectiveness. Especially around Mandy. “So.” I turn to face Ryan, who’s got one eyebrow lifted at me. “How did you find him here? I know for damn sure he doesn’t talk about us. Doesn’t want us getting ‘mixed up’ in what he does. Took you too long to get here for you to have followed him. You got a tracking chip in his shoe or something?”

Now there’s a thought, put a GPS tracker on him. “In his truck, actually.” Ryan laughs at that.

“We should have done that years ago. He was always hard as hell to track down. Too many times we found him in bad neighborhoods, picking fights with the locals.” A couple of guys wander over and order beers for a table. Ryan serves them and calls out as they wobble away. “Keep it in your pants tonight, boys!” He shakes his head with a small grin and heads down the bar.

I suddenly realize what a fount of information Ryan could be for me. There’s plenty I know about Dean’s past: both from what’s in his file and from little things he’s let slip, but not much about his family life, or one of the things my cock would really like to know, which is whether he swings both ways. I’m about to wave Ryan back over when someone slides into Dean’s abandoned seat. “Hey handsome. You look in need of some conversation.” He’s handsome in his own way; smooth, angular face, muscular without being bulky, and offering a friendly smile.

Clearly Dean is ok with being friends with gay men, if Ryan is any indication, but it’s hard to judge if he’s actually interested in men. I make a snap decision and smile back. “Maybe I do need some conversation. Carter.” I hold out one hand.

“Andrew. How’d you find out about this place?”

I give a wry grin. “A, friend of mine knows the owners. You?”

“Well, my friend doesn’t know the owners, but she did say it was a safe place for all kinds of people. There’s too much hate in the world for guys and girls like us, it’s nice to find a place where we can be ourselves.”

I lift my glass with a smile. “I’ll drink to that.” Andrew clinks his beer to the glass and we take sips from our respective drinks.

We fall into easy conversation. He’s a cameraman at one of the local news-stations, his friend, a pretty Asian woman sitting with a striking redhead, works sound.

I tell him about being a security consultant, and how some of the guys quit when they found out I bat for both teams.

I can’t help my eyes flicking over to the door of the back room when it swings open and Mandy and Dean walk back out. Mandy is smiling broadly, and she practically bounces back to her place behind the bar. I continue watching Dean as he shakes his head slightly, looking slightly exasperated as he moves to reclaim the seat he abandoned not fifteen minutes ago. Shock crosses his face when he sees me talking and smiling with another guy, and he tries to pull the mask he uses under back on, but not before I see a mix of emotions flash across his face almost too fast to decipher.

He turns and heads quickly for the door, and I know I’m tracking him, but I can’t help it. Hell, there’s a reason I haven’t taken any of the guys who’ve put out the signals to bed. Last time I did I almost moaned out Dean’s name when I came. Dean shoves the door open and disappears out into the night, shoving his hands into his pockets as the door swings closed.

Andrew’s glancing back and forth between me and the door, eyes narrowed. “Look if you’re leading me on…”

I must be pretty transparent right about now, and that makes me angry at myself. “No, I haven’t been trying to lead you on. He and I aren’t… we’re just…I wasn’t…”

“But you want to be. I’ve seen that look on plenty of faces before.” The anger that was bubbling up in him moments before is gone, replaced with understanding. “Let me guess; he’s either the friend who knows the owners, or a coworker who didn’t know you like men, and you’ve wanted him for a while, but you’ve been worried that going after him will ruin whatever relationship you already have.”

I swallow hard and run one hand through my hair, making it stand up even more than normal. “And you’re very astute.” I growl a little at myself. “I think I just screwed things up anyways.” I stand up, and so does Andrew. “Thanks for not…”

“Getting huffy about it? Don’t mention it. Good luck with him. I hope things work out for you.” He turns and walks back to his friend.

I pull out my wallet, intending to pay for the bottle of scotch that Andrew and I somehow drained after Dean followed Mandy, when she’s suddenly right there. “Carter. You’re going to explain a hell of a lot, right now.” I hold up the cash in my hand, and she waves it away. “On the house tonight, so long as you give me a good explanation for what just happened between you and Dean.” I’m pretty thoroughly drunk right now, and I can’t control my reactions the way I normally would, and I’m already off kilter enough as it is. Mandy reaches out with an annoyed huff and grabs my wrist, pulling me towards the back door before I can really comprehend what’s happening. The strength of her grip on my arm tells me more about her than seeing what she did with the thug earlier. It’s iron tight, and would take a good effort on my part to get out of, but she’s not exerting pressure, not intending to hurt, simply a tight grasp that will not be disregarded. Moments later we reach what can only be described as a small lounge area with a couch among the shelves and supplies in the back room and Mandy pushes me onto it.

“I don’t know what you want from me.”

“Bull.” Mandy starts pacing in front of me, gesturing wildly as she speaks. “I saw the way you’ve been watching Dean all night, and I know how he talks about you. Hell, I don’t even think he realizes what all he says sometimes; he can be pretty dense like that. How much he gives away. And he definitely didn’t realize everything his face said when he saw you talking to that other guy out there.”

“Are you saying Dean…”

“Has sex with girls and guys? YES! Damnit!” Mandy takes a moment to curse fluently in English, and Spanish as she paces away from me. She reins in some of her anger and whirls back to me. “Hell, he and Ryan had a thing for a while. And normally he’ll tell me what he’s been up to, he’s happy to see me, talk to me, but lately he’s been… quiet, distant. I mean, he’s never been one to talk a lot, but he’s even more reluctant to talk about his dates, and he’s almost completely stopped talking about the guys he’s taken home.” Suddenly she’s in my face, arms braced on either side of my shoulders. “And then you came here. Everything makes sense now.”

I push Mandy back and move her so she’s sitting beside me on the couch. “Then explain it to me. Because you aren’t making any sense.”

Mandy leans back, massaging her temples. “Dean’s always been pretty open about sex. I mean, he’ll have sex with just about anyone, guy or girl. But he’s never really wanted to settle down, with anybody. A free spirit in his own right.” She shakes her head fondly. “On occasion he’ll come up against someone he really wants, starts making a little noise about settling down, but it never comes to anything, and it’s always a girl. It never amounts to anything, and he’s been surprisingly lucky in that none of the break-ups have been bad. He’s still on pretty good terms with Rachel, and she was one who could have actually been called a girlfriend. Except, recently he’s only been taking girls home, always turning down guys he would have taken before. I’ve been worrying about it for far too long, and when you came in, and he heard your voice, he tensed up so suddenly. It all makes sense.”

I blow out a breath of air. “I still don’t understand.”

“What would you do if you liked someone, and you thought you couldn’t have them? People tend to do one of two things; find a surrogate who fits the object of their desire, or avoid anyone who looks anything like them. I know. Being a bartender, I see this kind of stuff all the time and people talk to me about it. I’m like an advice columnist and a psychologist and a confidant rolled into one free package.” She grins a little, and it’s like there’s a puzzle falling into place in my mind, what Mandy is saying dropping into place and I can almost see the whole picture. “Dean… He always figured that if he settled down, he’d marry a nice girl, maybe have a couple kids, all that stuff. Hell, I shoulda known something was off when he turned down Sam that night. He’d never turned down Sam before.”

I lift one eyebrow at that. “Who’s Sam?”

She blushes a little. “Dean and Sam have … an agreement. They can’t get anyone else, the other will give ‘em a good time. Fuck buddies. Nothing else between them, just a good time in bed. That’s all he’s ever looked for in a guy. Hell, that’s all he’s ever looked for in most of his partners. Everything finally made sense tonight. First you come here, and even from back here he could distinguish your voice. Then, when we came out after…” Silence falls over her, before she shakes her head “when he saw you talking to Andrew, his face told me everything. He wants you, but normally, he’d just go after you if he thought you would be receptive. So there’s something different about you. Maybe it’s because you’re his boss, but that’s never really stopped him in the past. Then I put everything together; he doesn’t just want you for sex, he wants you for you. Realizing that would really throw him off.” She looked thoughtful for a moment. “It explains the weird behavior and the jealousy over you talking to Andrew.”

“And hurt.” The image of Dean’s face clear with pain flashes into my mind before I can control it.

Mandy sighs, and I look up to see her blue eyes have gone soft and warm with sadness and worry and understanding, like she can see right through me. It’s disconcerting to think that this girl who barely knows me can do that. “He’s always needed someone to make sure he takes care of himself. No matter how macho he acts, his focus is always on other people. Always protecting me, mostly from myself, and Ryan from, well, his parents weren’t the greatest behind closed doors.” She shakes her head. “Anyway. Dean’s always been protecting others. He’d come crashing in to defend us, but he wouldn’t really let us do the same for him. We always had to be subtle. I, well, I have a habit of dropping by his place now and then with food and supplies to stock his fridge with. He knows I do it, but he never really acknowledges it. It’s the only way he’ll let me take care of him at all. He doesn’t really take care of himself.”

I can’t help the chuckle that escapes at that. “I think that’s a bit of an understatement.” She laughs, and I think I’m forgiven for whatever I did wrong. “Ok. If you’re the closest he has to family…”

“How can you get him into bed?” I nod, settling on the couch to face her. “Well, after watching you two all night I’d actually told him to just forget his whole fixation on eventually settling down with a nice girl and starting a family and jump you. I think, seeing you with Andrew made him think he’d waited too long and now he wouldn’t even have a chance with you. I also think he didn’t realize exactly how much he really wanted you until then, and not even having a chance hurt a lot more than he expected it to. I think he’s a bit in shock right now. He’s having to come to terms with suddenly realizing all of that, and that could take a while. Give him a couple days and if he doesn’t make a move give me a call. Don’t go over there tonight. He’ll just react badly.”

That makes sense with what I know Dean is like. “So I haven’t totally fucked things up?”

“No. He needed to realize this. I don’t think he’ll be very happy about how he realized it, and he might not be very friendly towards you for a while, but I know he’ll come around. He’ll come to a decision and act on it. For now, don’t worry about it. He’s got to work through this on his own. Now.” Mandy rose gracefully to her feet. “I still have a couple hours before we close. You can hang around back here if you want, or come out front, but if you plan on leaving now I’m gonna insist on calling you a cab.”

I stood up as well, “As much as I would enjoy staying for a while longer, I…”

“Need some time to think things through yourself?” Another kind and knowing grin. “I’ll call a cab for you.” She starts back towards the front.
I reach out and stop her with one hand at her elbow. “Thank you, Mandy.”

She turns and puts one hand over mine. “Take good care of him. And don’t be a stranger. If you’re going to be a bigger part of Dean’s life, I want to see you more often. And if he ever gives you any crap,” The grin that spreads across her face is wicked “send him to me.”

I find myself chuckling and nodding. “I’ll do that.” She pulls away and heads back out to the bar, and I sink back into the cushions for a moment before heaving myself up again and following her out to catch the cab she calls for me.

**********

Fuck. I’m in some serious deep shit now.’ I left IceFire almost three hours ago, and I haven’t stopped pacing or thinking the same things in different ways. ‘What the hell is wrong with me? I can’t be in love with Carter. Mandy’s wrong.

Another part of my mind speaks up: ‘Yeah? And when has she been wrong about relationship stuff before? She’s the one finally convinced Ryan and Dave to get their asses in gear and get together.

But I’m not a relationship kind of guy. And no doubt if I go after Carter he’ll want something long term.

You could do long term. Always thought you’d eventually settle down, have a family. What’s to say you can’t do that with Carter?

My mind instantly flashes to seeing Carter talking, no flirting with that guy at IceFire and it feels like an iron band is suddenly wrapped around my chest and constricting my breathing. I drop onto the end of my bed, once again stunned by the ferocity of the jealousy and possessiveness and hurt that rips through me. ‘Damnit. When the hell did this happen?’ I run both hands over my head in frustration. Watching Carter flirt with someone else, the hurt that I wasn’t the one he was flirting with, the jealousy towards the other guy that he was getting those smiles and looks from Carter, and the almost overwhelming possessiveness because I know Carter and who he really is. I’m the one who knows how fucked up he is, because I’m just as fucked up. I’m the one who knows about his ex-wife and her husband and that whole shitty mess. I’m the one who’s always been loyal to him.

That last thought seems to trigger another realization: I’ve lusted after Carter for so long, and I’ve seen how he protects his people, and every time he gives me that look that says he’s proud of me or he praises me or says he needs me on his team, I feel like I walk taller, prouder. Knowing that Carter needs me, that I’ve done something that gets me one of those looks or praise makes me feel like I can do anything.

I flop back on my bed, fully thinking I’m not sleeping tonight, when suddenly my phone alerts me to a text message. I dig it out of my pocket and flip it open. It’s from Mandy, and I read it quickly. “Make the first move.”

My stomach flips and my brain starts a new train of thought. ‘Did she talk to Carter? Does he know? What the hell am I gonna do now?

If she talked to Carter and she got a vibe that said he didn’t want anything with me, she wouldn’t have told me that.

But he was flirting with that other guy. What good would it do to go after him now? He’s probably already fucking him.’ Another wave of that pain rips through me again, and I stand and start pacing again with a growl. “Fuck. Why the hell did I have to go and fall for Carter?” I stop and blink at that. I really have fallen for Carter, and saying it suddenly makes it real, and my entire thought process seems to simply shift gears.

'I want Carter. And not just for a good fuck. But he knows me, and he knows what kind of people I take to bed. He’s never known me to go for an actual relationship, but I know if I go after Carter I can do that. I just have to convince Carter that I can do the monogamous thing.' I sit down on my bed again, running one hand over my head. 'How can I show Carter that I want him, and for more than just a one-time deal?'

“Mandy.” I flip my phone back open and scroll quickly through my contacts to find her, and hit send.

“Goddess of relationships, what does my humble subject want?” I can hear the smile in her voice even over the phone.

“Mandy, you’re right. And you need to stop watching that show.” I know she’s grinning now. “But, I…I… how can I convince Carter that I want him, and I want a relationship with him?”

She sighs, and I can practically see her settling onto the couch in her back room, getting set for a long conversation. “How about, before you approach him, you actually manage to say how you really feel about him.”

Panic briefly flashes through me before I quash it. “What?”

“Dean.” She barks my name out, her voice taking on that commanding edge she pulls off surprisingly well. “You know exactly what I’m talking about. Tell me what you really feel for Carter.”

Of course she’s right, and it’s really no surprise that she has to order me to actually say it aloud. I take a deep, surprisingly shuddery, breath and say it. “I… I’m in love with Carter.”

“Good.” Her voice quickly returns to being bubbly and happy. “Now, you want to know what I saw today when I was watching you and Carter?”

“Yeah, sure. Go ahead.” She’ll tell me anyways, whether I want her to or not.

“He wants you. Probably just like you want him. I got the vibe that he’s not really one for just a quick fuck. If he takes someone to bed, he wants there to be some kind of deeper connection than just someone he met in a bar or a club. Sounding right?” I make a noise of agreement. “You’re both cops, and I get the feeling that at some point a fellow officer found out about his sexual flexibility, and stirred up a huge mess over it. I think he’s been scared that if he makes a move on you, you either wouldn’t be receptive and he’d have made a fool of himself, you’d be disgusted and leave his team and make a mess of it, or you’d just be in it for some good sex.”

“So, why was he flirting with that other guy?”

Mandy sighs heavily. “I think he wanted to feel you out and come out to you all at once. Knowing that you’re fine with Ryan made him confident that you weren’t gonna be making a big deal about who he chooses to bed. He probably wanted to see how you would react.”

The pain this time is expected, and isn’t quite as intense as previously. “And I was just drunk enough to react and show everything.”

“Dean, you left so fast, and you didn’t see his responses to your reaction. You want to know what I saw on his face? Longing and guilt and lust and ‘shit I screwed that up’ and desperation. Why would all that show if he didn’t want you more than a guy he’s just met?” Her voice is soft and soothing, and I sigh.

“What should I do? How can I convince Carter that I want him for… for good?”

Her response is a little bit sarcastic. “I know this is a novel idea, but you could just talk to him. Tell him how you feel, and be totally honest about it.” She sighs heavily over the phone. “I don’t think you should rush to take him to bed and have your wicked way with him. Go slow. If he’s agreeable, sleep together for a while before you ever have sex. I know you usually rush to the physical stuff, but if the two of you get together you’ll have to get to know this new dimension of your relationship. You hide so much of yourself for your job, even from the rest of your team, you’ll have to be as honest with Carter as you are with Ryan and me. Remember how you used to take care of me when I would get sick?”

I chuckle. Mandy sick is pitiful. She doesn’t get sick often, but when she does it hits her hard. She stops thinking, talking, and is more interested in curling up and sleeping than doing anything that would help her get better faster. I always hang around her apartment and make her soup, one of the few things I can make. “Yeah, I remember.”

“Do stuff like that. Let Carter see more of that side of you. You don’t have to act all tough-guy around him all the time. Let him see all of you, instead of the parts you want him to see. I know it’ll be hard for you, but you’ve got to let him in if you want any kind of solid relationship with him.”

It’s my turn to sigh. “Yeah. Thanks, Mandy. Stay safe.”

“Hey, that’s what friends are for. Now get some sleep, you’ll need it.”

“Yeah. Night.” I hang up and flop back onto my bed, letting out a deep breath. I twist around to look at the clock beside my bed and groan. 3:27. 'Carter wants us back to do all the paperwork at 10:30. Damn. I’ll talk to Carter tomorrow.' I nod to myself and follow Mandy’s order to sleep, stripping to my boxers and crawling into my bed, falling asleep within moments.
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