There was a certain type of weather that you only seemed to get in Miami and only when spring had entered the slow, swollen slide into the heat of summer. At that time of year it was both hot and damp enough that you felt able to just reach out and wring steaming handfuls of water from the air itself, and every second spent outdoors was a reminder that there really was nothing like a Miami summer anywhere else in the world.
Speedle wiped his forearm across his brow with a grimace and reflected that this was pretty damn lucky for the rest of the world really.
It wasn't quite unendurable yet but he'd been here long enough that he could feel the turn in the air and knew that in another month or so they would be into the type of weather that made him feel like he was being slowly stewed in his own skin, ready to be served up on a platter as the chef's special. Very soon he would be gritting his teeth and wishing that he had just enough sway to allow him to stay in the nice air-conditioned lab and send Delko out for all the field work.
Times like these he almost began to get nostalgic for the clean bite of a New York winter – just for an instant – before remembering with a jolt that he hated the cold and he hated winter and snow and everything else that went along with it. He had come to Miami to get away from those things. And it wasn't perfect but he had woken up one day a long time ago and it had been the one place he could remember ever having been happy, and so he had turned his bike south and never let himself look back.
And he was happy enough in Miami most of the time, but its relentless heat and sun still had the power to make this boy from Queens more than a little bit cranky. Especially when he was trapped going inch by inch on his hands and knees across someone's filthy back yard without so much as a scrap of shade and the back of his neck tingling in an angry reminder to be more careful when applying sunscreen.
He'd felt his already limited patience evaporating almost as soon as he and Megan pulled up and it hadn't taken long for him to snap. One of the members of their victim's family had refused to be shepherded to one side and had bothered him with just one dumb question too many and that had been it. He'd felt Megan's glare blister the side of his face but he'd already felt like a piece of scum as soon as he'd seen the family member's face crumple at his sharp retort. Speedle had apologised immediately and they had smiled weakly and left him alone after that, but he could feel Megan brewing a lecture for when they got out of here and knew he deserved every word.
It had been a combination of the heat and another night spent staring bleary-eyed at a computer screen unable to sleep, but there was no excuse for snapping at a victim's family like that and shame settled like a hot stone on top of his stomach. He had been there and he knew how it felt to be so confused and so powerless that you just groped in front of you for the nearest person who looked like they knew what they were doing. How it felt to push everything else down and force yourself to believe that if you could just catch hold of them you could make them pull you out of this hole you had suddenly fallen into.
He was that person in authority now - that nameless badge - and that meant it was part of his job to help people when their world dropped out from under them. Even if some days he felt like this was entirely beyond him.
"You all right?" That was Bernstein, moving entirely too quietly and making Speedle start as he was brought back to the present. Bernstein squatted next to Speedle, head inclined curiously and his eyes little more than dark smudges behind his designer sunglasses. "Use a hand?"
"Thank you, I have done this before," Speedle didn't bother forcing his voice into politeness. If there was one thing he couldn't stand – and really there were many – it was being patronised. And lately it seemed that Bernstein was always there, watching him work, asking if he wanted help and just generally giving the impression that he thought he knew Speedle's job better than Speedle did. That along with the Miami sun was enough to make Speedle's blood boil.
Bernstein just grinned at his tone, a flash of teeth and amusement and always quietly laughing at some joke that Speedle couldn't quite get. The heat didn't seem to be affecting him either: there was a slight sheen to his skin but other than that he looked as crisp as if he'd just stepped off a yacht while Speedle was hot and bothered and sweating like a pig.
"Ok, I'll be over here if you need me," Bernstein nodded towards the back of the house and strolled over to join a pair of uniformed officers. Speedle watched his broad back moving under his polo shirt and the slightly darkened patch that clung between his shoulder blades. He thought about asking what deodorant Bernstein used.
When Bernstein had first started working with the team something about his face in profile and the bald arc of his skull had reminded Speedle of Emile, the man who had taken him in when he first came to Miami. And this resemblance had unsettled Speedle to the point that he hadn't quite known how to act around Bernstein and had done his best to avoid being sent on cases with him. As time had gone on Speedle had gotten used to Bernstein being around and the resemblance had faded to the point where he now wondered what he had been thinking initially. Bernstein's eyes were different and his mouth and the way he carried himself and Emile was three years cold in the ground so there was no point in thinking like that.
It was a shame that Bernstein had recently gotten it into his head that Speedle didn't know what he was doing, because other than that he seemed like a good guy and an even better detective. Speedle had ignored the attention at first but it was becoming increasingly annoying; he had been a CSI for six years now and he was good at his job and he didn't need some police officer always looking over his shoulder and offering advice like he was going to screw things up. In his crueller moments Speedle wondered if Bernstein had been speaking to someone who had mistaken him for Delko.
Breaking into his thoughts, Megan's voice rang out from the other end of the yard. There was an edge to her voice that wasn't quite excitement but sounded like the closest thing to a breakthrough Speedle had heard all morning so he dusted off his pants and loped across to see what she had found.
After two more hours at the scene and a further six running Megan's find through the lab they were still no closer to tying this up. They had performed just about every test known to man on the scraps of green thread but not even Felix – the King of Fibres himself – had been able to turn up anything conclusive enough to hold the victim's ex-boyfriend, who was looking pretty sweet in all of this.
There was still a whole lot of road to be run with this one but trace was turning up nothing fast and Speedle wasn't sure what new angle to approach it from. He had been preparing himself for a long, frustrating night in the lab when Horatio had put his head round the door and told Speedle to go home and come back in the morning with fresh eyes. And once Speedle had been sure he wasn't about to fall off his lab stool with shock he had been only too happy to oblige.
Before he left he had stopped by to see Alexx and she had taken one look at the back of his neck and found him some lotion to take the heat out of the burn. The skin there still itched and felt overly-warm and only added to the needles that had been digging into his head since lunchtime and were spreading downwards in a slow, tight creep towards his shoulders. He'd popped a couple of aspirin - hesitated and popped a couple more, hoping they would kick in some time soon. The day sat heavily on him but he was more frustrated than anything else: wired and wanting nothing more than to go home and order a pizza and then take his bike into the city and see what he could find to help him blow off some steam.
But as he slunk across the parking lot – head down, shoulders hunched, and Do Not Disturb written in every line of his body – a voice called out his name. He hesitated for a second before grudgingly turning around with his most discouraging expression firmly in place.
Bernstein was striding towards him, moving quickly but without giving any particular impression of hurrying. A pretty neat trick but Speedle still sighed impatiently and yelled back "What? Don't tell me our suspect has skipped town, please."
"What? Oh. No, nothing like that." Bernstein reached him, a look on his face that Speedle hadn't seen before but which made his palms suddenly itch. "No, I was hoping I'd catch you. The Heat are playing this weekend and I was wondering if you'd want to go watch the game."
Speedle blinked. He glanced around uncertainly to confirm whether he was still where he thought he was or if this was all some strange lab work-induced hallucination where Detective Bernstein sauntered into view and asked him out. Perhaps Alexx hadn't been hyperbolising and he really was suffering from heat stroke.
His confusion seemed to go completely unnoticed. "And then go get some beers and a bite to eat. Get to know each other. Tickets aren't a problem: I know a guy that works at the Arena and he always gets me good seats."
Speedle furrowed his brow, making an effort. "The Heat are... football, right?"
There was a slight pause in which Bernstein's face gave the same flicker that Speedle had been seeing on other guys' faces since middle school. Even now it still had the power to make him feel like that same nerdy kid who had always been picked second-to-last for softball – just before the kid with the neck brace – and who had always preferred to read a book than watch the game on television. It had taken him a long time to realise that a lot of his peers had been considerably more interested in the cheerleaders than in the game itself. And that was one more area where he'd just been different from them.
Then Bernstein glanced down and cleared his throat in what sounded suspiciously like a stifled laugh but without the snide edge Speedle had expected. And when Bernstein looked up again there was amusement but not mockery there. "Ok, so you don't like sports. Do you like seafood?"
"No." It brought him out in a rash.
Bernstein shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "Well, what do you like?" he asked, slight challenge in his tone.
And Speedle thought about it: because, really, what did he like? He liked to read and he liked to watch the Discovery Channel and he liked to debate with other criminologists on the internet and he liked getting a good night's sleep – although that never happened – and he liked having dinner with Alexx and her family and seeing friends who never asked him about his job. And he especially liked riding his bike for hours: just choosing a direction and taking off so fast that he could forget that there was ground beneath him, so fast he could outrun everything snapping at his heels.
Bernstein shifted his weight again, face tightening, and what Speedle said as a reflex more than anything else was "Music. I like music."
The corner of Bernstein's mouth crooked slightly and Speedle immediately rushed to clarify: because, jeez, everyone liked music. "I like listening to live music. Watching bands play. Just, uh, going to places, bars and restaurants where they have a live band."
That information was stored away with a solemn nod of Bernstein's bald head. "Music I can do. There somewhere particular you want to go?"
And there was still room for him to manoeuvre his way out of this: he could say he was tired or he was busy or that he didn't think it was a good idea and Bernstein would shrug and say that was fine and that would be the end of it. And tomorrow he would go into work and he would speak to Bernstein about the case and it would be like this whole conversation never happened. Speedle had always done his best to keep his work and his personal life completely separate and this situation should be causing all kinds of alarm bells to ring loud enough to deafen him right about now.
But all he could hear was scrabbles of parking lot grit scritch and crackle beneath Bernstein's expensive patent shoes as Bernstein watched him with cool eyes and waited for him to say something. And if it had been anyone else – almost anyone else – Speedle would have made his excuses already. But this was Bernstein and he knew whatever happened would stay outside the workplace and that made all the difference.
So he said "Mmm. Yeah. Do you know Tulley's? It's got a restaurant which serves pretty good ribs and they have live music Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays." Tulley's was a decent enough place but not his favourite by a long stretch. He wouldn't really miss it if he couldn't go back there after this, it wouldn't be any great loss.
Bernstein nodded. "Today's Wednesday."
Speedle blinked. "Uh yeah..."
"You got plans this evening?"
Speedle glanced across the parking lot again, flexing his fingers nervously around the hem of his tee shirt. He hadn't meant tonight and his first instinct was to put Bernstein off so he could have room to think but he stamped down on that coward's response and said as casually as he could "Um. No. Tonight's good."
Because he'd walked out of that building wanting a distraction and Bernstein with his broad shoulders and his sharp smile was certainly that.
"Great," Bernstein smoothed down the front of his crease-free shirt, looking a little like a realtor who'd just closed a sale. "So how about I pick you up at, say, nine? That fine with you?"
"Uh, yeah," Speedle cleared his throat and tried to shake off the feeling that he'd somehow been sucker-punched. Nine was time enough to get home, check his email and take a shower first but some narrow and irrational filament still squirmed deep inside him at the thought of being driven somewhere. Even to this day he still baulked at situations where there wasn't a clear and immediate exit route. But he had already told Bernstein yes and it had been a long time since he had allowed himself to be ruled by these concerns from a previous life.
So Speedle gave Bernstein his address, confirmed the time he would be picked up, and raced home on his bike feeling strangely jittery and outside of himself. It had been a while since he had ventured out on what would commonly be considered a date and he was half afraid that he had forgotten how it was done. It was entirely possible that he'd forgotten how people on dates were supposed to talk and how they were supposed to act and how he was supposed to not make an ass of himself.
After a quick shower – one eye on the clock – he stood in front of the mirror above the sink and wiped a large enough gap in the condensation to peer critically at his reflection. He didn't make a habit of looking at his own face or of paying much attention at all to the way he looked. He had a tendency to regard his body as the thing that carried his brain from one place to another and as long as his brain was in good shape he didn't give much thought as to whether its ride was looking good or not.
He never had any trouble getting laid when that was what he was after. Crude but true. And Bernstein had been the one to ask so he must be alright-looking he supposed. He poked at his face where his cheekbones should be – where they would be if his face had ever lost its childish roundness – and rubbed the flat of his palm against his stubbled jaw with a frown. If he were going out by himself to pick up he would shave again before prodding optimistically at his hair and throwing on something a little tighter than he'd normally wear.
But this was Bernstein and Bernstein was a smart man and would notice immediately if Speedle shaved and... well. Ok, so the plan was to get some kind of play tonight but he didn't want to come across as desperate or anything. He didn't jump someone's bones just because they were tall and dark and had wanted to know what Speedle liked. Not if he had to work with them anyway.
So he didn't shave but he did vague things to his hair with the wax he had kept buying after Megan had presented him with a tub his second week on the job. When he had transferred his puzzled look from the tub to her she had gestured at his hair, saying "Please. Do something. You're killing me here."
He missed that Megan. The one who had emerged from Sean's death was someone else entirely, lost in sharp tics and frustrated eyes and it was growing less and less likely that she would find her way back to being the person she once was. Speedle didn't like it but he couldn't pretend not to understand.
The latest tub of wax was down to its last few scrapings and he made a mental note to get some more the next time he was ordering stuff online. He pulled on a pair of dark jeans and a clean tee shirt and hesitated briefly before throwing an unbuttoned shirt on top of that. It was pretty much what he wore to work and entirely good enough for Tulley's.
After checking his watch for perhaps the twentieth time he prowled around the confines of his apartment, flicking absently through the pile of books he was reading and switching on his computer to prod irritably at the half dozen journal articles he was writing before closing the files without saving any of the changes. He thought about tidying but didn't.
Bernstein arrived at nine exactly – something that really shouldn't have surprised Speedle – and he was also dressed pretty much how he did for work and looked just as big and calm and self-assured as he always did. He had shaved though, and as Speedle closed the front door of his building behind them he saw Bernstein smirk when he realised Speedle hadn't.
It had been a few months since Speedle was last at Tulley's and the place must be under new management or something because it was nowhere near as good as he remembered. It still served ribs and the couple on an adjacent table seemed happy enough with theirs, but the bored waitress with the harelip scar informed them that there was a forty minute wait to be served and that they were out of pretty much everything on the menu. Oh, and yes: prices had gone up a bit in the past couple of months.
There was a band warming up on the small raised stage when they arrived, and Speedle had a few moments of irritated relief that at least that was still going. And then the music itself registered.
Bernstein held out until about halfway through the second song before he made a face and sat back in his chair disgustedly. "Now how did I know it was going to be whiny white boy music?"
"Well, I'll hold off on making you that mix tape then," Speedle said dryly.
"I'd appreciate that."
There was a pause while Speedle frowned and tapped the pads of his fingers against the plaid laminate that passed for a table cloth. His gaze rested on the jug of iced water the waitress had brought over as soon as they had been seated and his fingers stilled, half against the table and half frozen in midair. Neither he nor Bernstein had poured themselves any water yet but there was a greasy-specked smear running along the rim of the tumbler closer to him.
Speedle carefully picked his hands up and away from the table and placed them on his thighs. "It's not normally like this, I'm sorry we came here. Do you want to leave it?"
Bernstein looked at him sharply with something like alarm and Speedle quickly said. "Go somewhere else I mean, not... There's a blues bar a couple blocks away. You like blues?"
"You like blues?" Bernstein asked, sounding surprised and impressed.
Speedle rolled his eyes. "What, I'm not allowed to like blues? Yeah I do. And if you do as well then we could go there instead. It's probably the best place in the area."
Behind them the singer made a sound not unlike a wet finger being drawn along a balloon and the corner of Bernstein's mouth turned up slightly. Clearly, the fact that Speedle hadn't initially suggested the best place wasn't lost on Bernstein. And nor was the fact that Speedle was suggesting one of the good places now.
Speedle kept his palms flat against his thighs and forced himself not to fidget under Bernstein's look until it broke with a broad smile and Bernstein said "Sure" and got to his feet.
On the ride home after agreeing to tonight, Speedle had wondered if Bernstein would be very different outside of a work environment. There were reasons why Speedle did his best to avoid socialising with most of the people he worked with, and several of these reasons were connected to the first office party he had been dragged along to.
When their food arrived, Speedle used the distraction to observe Bernstein and try to gauge for himself where the gap between Bernstein at work and this off-duty Bernstein lay. There seemed a tendency to hold eye contact just a bit longer and to let that quiet amusement that was always there brim just a little closer to the surface than he normally would. But he appeared just as calm and as steady as always and a little of the tension in Speedle's shoulders began to ease at that.
The bar was threaded with smoke and warm lighting that gave everything a faintly sepia-tinge like a photograph from some past era. Off to Speedle's right a kid with scrubby blond dreads was picking at a guitar and as Speedle watched Bernstein eat he couldn't help but think that he would miss this place if he had to lose it.
This was one of the few bars that Speedle came to fairly regularly when he just wanted to forget about the less desirable parts of his job and lose himself for a while. He had never taken anyone else here before and his lack of recent experience in dating made him uncertain whether or not he was expected to force himself to talk over the music or whether he could just listen to it a little without being too rude.
Luckily, Bernstein seemed perfectly content to soak up the atmosphere and to let their conversation ebb and flow and have its rough edges wrapped up by quiet guitar and a husky tenor. On every other date Speedle had found himself on since he came to Miami the slightest lapse in conversation had been treated like a disaster that the other person had immediately done their best to cover up. Bernstein made no such effort and it was refreshing to find someone who wasn't afraid of silence.
The song gave way to applause, and Bernstein leaned across and asked quietly "So what about you? What made you come to Miami?"
Speedle felt that familiar drop in his stomach, the same every time someone asked that question. He imagined it was going to be a question he was going to have to keep answering unless he lost his accent. Bernstein had been talking about how his family had moved to Miami when he was a teenager and had waited patiently for Speedle to respond in kind before asking. He tucked away that keen, sharp tone he used on suspects but that question always made Speedle feel like he was under interrogation and he cleared his throat uneasily.
On the nearest wall there was a painting rendered in broad slashes of red and orange that seemed to be of a canal and two indistinct shapes huddled in a gondola. It could be new. Speedle didn't think he'd noticed it before.
"Oh, you know," he said carelessly, still looking at the picture and thinking how out of place it seemed in here. "The weather's good and I like my job most of the time. I had a... I had a friend who lived here, well, the uncle of a friend really, and it, it sort of went on from there. Miami's just a good place to live in a lot of ways, you know?"
He turned back to Bernstein who immediately flicked his eyes away and nodded absently. Bernstein picked up his fork and pushed at a leftover piece of steak before turning back to Speedle, his expression distracted like he'd forgotten something but wasn't sure whether or not it was important.
"Mmm. Uh huh, yeah, that happens," he looked at the fork in his hand before glancing up again, eyes clearing as if in realisation. "Hey, you know, I used to ride a bike when I was in college. Big ugly thing that cost me a fortune in gas and barely even went above the speed limit but I thought I was the coolest guy on campus. Yours is, what, a Ducati?"
"Uh yeah," Speedle said, blinking at the sudden change of direction. He cleared his throat again and responded more strongly. "Yeah, a Ducati. What did you ride?"
"Oh, I don't even want to say. Lawnmowers laughed when that thing went past. I haven't ridden in years though, I'm not sure I'd even know how to do it now without getting dumped on my ass."
And the correct response to that was probably for Speedle to make some offer of lending Bernstein his bike at some point, but Speedle was damned if he was going to let his Ducati get scratched up by an inexperienced rider. So he pretended to be distracted by the music and said nothing. He was no good at knowing what to say in this kind of give and take, and most of the time that was just fine but sometimes he really hated how an everyday conversation could make him feel so awkward.
His discomfort seemed to go unnoticed by Bernstein, and after a pause filled with the opening chords of Running on Faith, Bernstein began talking about his nephews and how he had caught them trying to get their sister to eat a slug.
It was a good story and Speedle nodded along to show he was listening but really he was noticing the way Bernstein would pick up his glass of water and put it down again two or three times before taking a sip. Speedle had ordered a vodka and tonic with his meal but stopped at one when he'd realised Bernstein wasn't going to drink anything because he was driving. Speedle watched Bernstein's throat moving and wondered what it must be like to be that careful.
It was only when the band finished and the bar gave definite signs of closing around them that Speedle checked his watch. He looked across the table, surprised, and found Bernstein laughing quietly at him. Bernstein's hands were big and dark on the table and when he brought them above his head in a sudden stretch Speedle followed the movement with his eyes.
"Ready to go?" Bernstein asked.
"Yes," Speedle said.
The next day Speedle skulked around the lab snapping at anyone who came within ten feet and ignoring everyone's attempts at being pleasant. He wasn't that surprised when no one seemed to notice anything different about his behaviour.
Last night kept intruding on his thoughts no matter how he tried to focus on the work in front of him and he still wasn't sure what he felt about how things had turned out. He'd thought things had been going well – surprisingly well considering how few people Speedle could really tolerate for extended periods of time – but then at the end of the night Bernstein had pulled up to the curb outside Speedle's apartment and hadn't turned the engine off.
Speedle had waited for a few awkward moments and then said, at last "Uh, don't you want to come in?"
Bernstein had moved his fingers on the steering wheel, squinting out through the windscreen before turning towards Speedle. "I'd better not. I've got an early start to make on some paperwork tomorrow."
"Oh," Speedle had said distantly. He had forced his expression to go perfectly blank, hastily masking his surprise and disappointment and realising with a queasy feeling that he had obviously forgotten how dates went after all. He had probably been making an ass of himself the entire night. "Well. Then. Uh, good-"
He'd broken off what he had been saying – whatever that had been – as Bernstein leaned in, slow but steady, and with one hand cupping the side of Speedle's jaw and then a mouth pressing against his own. Speedle had frozen for a moment but recovered quickly and kissed back. He had felt slightly stunned but had moved closer in his seat and gotten barely a few seconds of his hands on Bernstein's shoulders before Bernstein pulled back and carefully pushed him away with one of those large hands to the centre of Speedle's chest.
"Goodnight," Bernstein had said, a trace of the kiss lingering in his voice.
Speedle had hesitated uncertainly and then decided that hesitating made him look like an idiot so had quickly gotten out of the car. His head had been reeling but he had still done his best to play the whole situation as cool as Bernstein had been and had just nodded stupidly as Bernstein waited for him to open the front door before driving away.
Since then Speedle had pretty much convinced himself that it had all been a giant mindfuck. Bernstein's twisted idea of a joke perhaps: take Speedle out and toy with him for a bit and then leave him high and dry at the end of the night. Because either Bernstein was the biggest, most muscular and maddeningly hot prick-tease in the state of Florida or – more disturbingly – his intentions on Speedle were honourable. Meaning that he expected some sort of a relationship to come out of this instead of a nice distraction. Which was an uncomfortable thought as Speedle didn't actually do relationships. He should have known that this would all turn out to be a big mistake.
He heard the lab door open and close and footsteps tap across to where he was glaring into his microscope.
"Hey," Bernstein said in that low voice with a smirk stirred into it like cream in coffee. But that was normal for Bernstein and it was normal for Speedle to just grunt in his direction without looking up so that was what he did. He scowled at the enlarged fibres and pretended he wasn't aware of Bernstein standing right there, pretended that every sense he had wasn't ignoring the fibres in favour of the detective by his shoulder.
The lab was quiet enough that he could hear Bernstein breathing: slow deep breaths like he had all the time and all the oxygen in the world. He just stood there breathing and didn't say anything and after a sufficiently discouraging length of time Speedle looked up, irritation on his face because, really, he was busy and if Bernstein had something to say about the case he should just come out and say it. And if he had something else to say then he could maybe just say that too.
Bernstein looked at him, all professional but with that warm edge that made Speedle suddenly remember what his mouth had tasted like. "I'm on my way to pick up Chenoweth. Found a hole in his alibi you could drive a truck through so we're going to see if he'd care to help us with that. Delko's going with me but I wanted to know if there was anything I should be looking for – if you knew what sort of fabric those fibres came from yet."
Speedle told him everything he knew. Professional. They were professional.
Bernstein nodded, absorbing the information easily. Then he said "I had a good time last night. You doing anything this weekend?"
Which threw Speedle, because hadn't he just that moment decided that last night had been a disaster or a mistake or something else that it was in both their best interests not to repeat? He wanted to ask if Bernstein had any paperwork he needed to be doing over the weekend but instead his traitorous mouth simply replied "I'm busy Friday night but I can do Saturday."
Bernstein grinned, that self-satisfied grin that did things to Speedle's insides and made Speedle really glad that he had long practice at forcing his brain to ignore certain impulses it wanted him to act upon. "Saturday is good. I'll pick you up, same as before?"
The lab door opened and Delko breezed in, as loud as always, but Bernstein's attention didn't waver until Speedle had nodded and then Bernstein was gone, his grin seeming to hang in the air like the Cheshire Cat's.
This time Bernstein picked the place and Speedle looked around curiously as they waited for their food. It was somewhere he'd never been before, tucked far enough back that you would miss it if you didn't know it was there, and inside was filled with low-key classical music and sloping shadows that made it too dark to see what gender some of the couples in the booths were. He got the impression that no one cared about that anyway.
Bernstein caught him staring and folded his hands on the table. "It doesn't have a band. Mind you, if the band was anything like in that place you took me last time I'm saying that's a bonus."
"I think I'm, like, ten years younger than everyone else here," Speedle said without thinking, squinting at a couple a few tables along. His brain caught up with his mouth and he glanced at Bernstein, relieved to see he looked amused.
"Yeah, you are kind of a twink," Bernstein said dryly.
Speedle snorted. "I'm not complaining: it's been a long time since I felt too young for something."
"Well, just so you know, you're also too young for sports jackets with jeans. I just want to save you the heartbreak of finding that one out for yourself."
"Thank you. I had been wondering."
Bernstein inclined his head solemnly then shrugged. "There isn't an age policy. I come here a lot and they're always very good, but if it's all a bit boring for you then I have it on fairly good authority that Miami has several other places to eat."
Speedle sat back and looked away again. This was one of Bernstein's good places then, not a back up like Tulley's had been. He wondered whether this was some sort of acknowledgement of the blues bar that Speedle had been prepared to sacrifice; a similar offer, like they were exchanging places. Or maybe he was the only person who thought like that and Bernstein had just taken him there because they did good food.
The food was good, it only took a couple of mouthfuls to realise that. Speedle mostly survived on takeouts and whatever the canteen was serving but he had been raised around good food and he could tell it when he tasted it. The atmosphere between them was both calmer and with a stronger thread of anticipation running beneath the surface. Speedle couldn't remember the last time he'd been on a second date with someone, at least not when he hadn't already slept with them.
When he had taken Bernstein to the blues bar they had spoken about a lot of things but not about work, and Speedle would normally prefer to keep it that way but these were slightly different circumstances than he normally found himself in. And as he eased it into the conversation now he thought Bernstein looked relieved. There was a limit to how well Speedle wanted them to get to know each other after all; he didn't want Bernstein to make this bigger than it was.
As if he had read Speedle's mind Bernstein used a momentary gap in the conversation to say "I used to come here with my ex Ian."
Speedle looked up, narrow-eyed, but Bernstein continued mildly. "He introduced me to this place, oh, at least seven years back. I like to think it's been here for the last century or so. Feels old enough like it could have been."
Speedle made one of those nothing-sounds in his throat that he thought was expected after statements like that and Bernstein grinned and pushed his emptied plate slightly towards the centre of the table.
"Of course, after he broke up with me I claimed it as my own. He's moved to Berlin now so I don't think he's got any right to complain about it really. He's a decent guy. Messed me up a bit but we can laugh about it now. It's always good when you can still talk to your exes, don't you think? I hate it when they just go and drop out of your life altogether."
And here was where Speedle was meant to respond like a normal human being and then offer up some anecdote from his own past relationships. But his tongue felt glued to the roof of his mouth and for a second all he could produce was a short wheezing bark that he hoped sounded more like a laugh than he suspected it did. He recovered quickly though, just like always, and carefully said "Yeah, I hate it when that happens."
"Mmm," Bernstein nodded and picked up his glass, tilting it towards himself and then turning it slowly one way and then the other. They both watched as the water inside lapped right up to the edges of the rim without quite spilling over before he set it down again.
"Ian was an accountant – still is, really. Hated me being a cop, but that's what we do in my family, you know? I got a sister who's a cop too - works Vice – and another sister who's in the Air Force and a brother who's a Marine. It's either police force or the armed forces; it's like the family business. I wanted to rebel I guess I could have been, I don't know. A dentist or a - or a writer or something."
"Or a dancer," Speedle said as idly as he could, watching his fingertips slide against the table's varnished surface.
"Nah, I could never tell my pliť, from my pirouette."
Speedle looked up, head cocked and eyebrows drawn together. "Uh..."
"My niece takes ballet," Bernstein supplied, perhaps a fraction too quickly.
"Sure she does." Speedle sighed and scowled at his fingertips and decided to carve a piece off of himself without letting himself think too hard about his reasons. "I'm not really - me and my family aren't really close so we don't have a family business. Or, they do, but I'm not a part of it."
"Oh," Bernstein said carefully.
That hadn't come out quite right and Speedle could see Bernstein with his cop's instincts and his cop's experience assuming the very worst. And it was the thought of Bernstein picturing him as the victim in some type of scenario that made Speedle struggle to clarify before that image of him had time to crystallise and become fact for Bernstein. "It's not like... we didn't have a falling out or anything. Not really. I still call every so often to let them know how I'm doing and everything. It's just like they have their life in New York and I have my life here. It's just... easier this way."
"Right," Bernstein nodded as if that was any kind of an answer and seemed to accept it. "So how did you get to be a CSI then? What made you decide on that?"
Speedle shrugged and spoke slowly so as not to let anything else break free. "It seemed like a good idea at the time. No, really, I like working with the science and this is a good way to do that, and it can get pretty interesting sometimes. My... friend who lived here used to work at the lab and he took me round and it just felt like something I could do and something I could be good at. That's really it. It's not a bad job, and it's got opportunities for promotion if I want them, so that's good enough for me."
There was a moment where he thought Bernstein was going to ask something else but instead Bernstein nodded again and raised his glass of water as if he were making a toast. "Hell, that's good enough for me too. Never underestimate promotion as a great motivator."
He turned the glass between his fingers and placed it back down on the table without drinking and Speedle suddenly wondered if Bernstein wasn't allowing himself even one beer because he was driving or because he was driving Speedle – whether he would be doing the same for an empty car. Speedle was rarely careful for himself and the thought that someone else would be careful for him made the back of his neck prickle uncomfortably.
Bernstein caught his eyes and held their gaze steadily and something inside Speedle gave a little tense and a kick as if it had suddenly remembered precisely why they were here. Across the table Bernstein's eyes seemed to occupy their own little patch of shadow and Speedle could tell that it wasn't late even without checking his watch, but when Bernstein asked if he wanted to go Speedle licked salt off his top lip and said yes.
There was a moment when Bernstein pulled up outside Speedle's building for the second time, a moment where he kept the engine idling and Speedle bit the inside of his own lip and thought about how he wasn't going to give this a third chance. And Bernstein was clearly just as smart as he looked because he turned the engine off and Speedle bit down harder and glared out the window to keep the smile off his face.
Once inside, Bernstein scoped the place just like the Academy trained him and Speedle saw him smirking at the piles of books and the piles of paper and shoes and aimless clutter everywhere. It may not have been tidy but it was clean and germ-free and that was far more important.
Briefly, Speedle wondered whether to go through the rigmarole of asking whether Bernstein wanted coffee. But the way Bernstein was just standing there watching him – eyes dark and intent – made that seem a little redundant. Besides, there wasn't any coffee in the apartment because Speedle hated the stuff and refused to buy any for the few occasions he chose to play host.
He'd gotten one hand on Bernstein's arm and the other twined into his belt loops before Bernstein pushed him away slightly, and damn if Speedle wasn't getting tired of that hand in the centre of his chest. "What?"
"Do something for me," Bernstein grinned, up close and smelling warm and male and also like something that might turn out to be too expensive for Speedle to touch.
Speedle blinked at him. He really hoped that this wasn't the part where he got to find out that Bernstein wasn't as regular and normal as he had first appeared. "What?"
"Shave first," Bernstein chuckled quietly; stroking a thumb across Speedle's cheek and making that side of his face tingle pleasantly. "I'm old enough that showing up to work with razor burn is just something I'd prefer to avoid."
"Oh." Speedle rubbed his own hand against his cheek, and yeah, he was pretty damn scratchy. Perhaps if he'd just shaved that first time they could have gotten to this point a bit quicker but he wasn't going to ask whether or not that was true. "I can do that. As long as it's just my face you want me to shave – anything else and I can see us having a problem."
Bernstein snorted. "Save that for a special occasion."
So he shaved – faster than he thought he ever had done in his life – and when he was smooth and soft-faced Bernstein was there to kiss him into the nearest wall. Speedle grinned against Bernstein's mouth, drawing that plump bottom lip between his teeth and making a breathless sound that had the rhythms of laughter but wasn't the same when Bernstein pushed his hands up under Speedle's tee shirt, palms hot against his waist and the small of his back.
It was a struggle to peel himself away from the wall and to steer Bernstein in the direction of the bedroom. It was even harder to do that and keep kissing Bernstein at the same time while doing his best to get rid of some of the infuriating layers between them. The last button of Bernstein's shirt came undone just as Speedle backed into the door frame, yelping and stumbling but with Bernstein holding him up and snorting with laughter. And as there was now a lot more bared skin beneath Speedle's hands he found he couldn't even be pissed at that although it fucking hurt.
Gradually, he registered that Bernstein was saying something and Speedle dragged his brain back from its immediate thoughts on how to get Bernstein's pants off and the pair of them on the bed in the fastest time possible. "Huh?"
"I did have paperwork, you know," Bernstein was saying breathlessly, dipping in for another hard kiss and one hand slipping down the front of Speedle's pants.
"Wuh?" Speedle replied, not sure what he was talking about and really not caring.
"Last week. When you invited me up and I said I had paperwork. I really did. I wasn't making that up."
"Oh," and that did make sense but it wasn't something he had any interest in right that moment. Now that he had Bernstein with his shirt off and his hard dick against Speedle's hip he really couldn't have cared less about whether or not Bernstein had been lying that first time. As long as Bernstein's hand kept up what it was doing and they made it to the bed some time in the next few seconds Speedle was calling this a win. "And here I was worrying that it meant you respected me or something."
Bernstein laughed but it sounded uncertain and he looked like he was going to waste time saying something else that didn't matter so Speedle just surged up to kiss him and pulled him across the room. He misjudged the distance slightly and didn't stop until the backs of his calves hit the side of the bed and he almost fell with a large and heavy Bernstein on top of him before Bernstein and his quick reflexes steadied them both.
Bernstein's fingers dug into Speedle's arms, just a little too tightly for comfort, and his breathing was fast and unsteady. "Easy. Is there any way we can do this without either of us breaking something?"
Speedle blinked at Bernstein's mouth and said totally deadpan: "I think I can manage that."
Some insistent and obscenely cheerful noise cut through Speedle's pleasant dreams of thick dark thighs, muscles straining against his own and the thick taste of salt on his tongue. He groaned and cracked open an eye to be met with the sight of Bernstein coming out of the bathroom, whistling loudly and with just a thin ratty towel wrapped around his waist.
Speedle closed his eyes for a couple of seconds and then opened them again; half-convinced he hadn't actually woken up yet. And while his sluggish brain was slowly reminding him of all that happened last night, it didn't seem to have an answer for why Bernstein was still here, and why Speedle hadn't kicked him out before morning like he did with everyone else he brought back. Of course, Bernstein did have about four inches and fifty pounds on Speedle: that might have something to do with it.
Whatever the reason, Bernstein was still here and whistling and dressing and providing a pretty nice view but being altogether too fucking loud and cheerful for whatever indecently-early hour it was. Speedle grunted an inarticulate warning at him to shut up, and Bernstein turned his head and came over, too big and broad and amused for it still being practically the middle of the night.
"Good morning," Bernstein was grinning down at Speedle like he found something funny, and Speedle suspected his glare didn't have its normal potency while he was still having trouble focussing his eyes. It didn't seem to phase Bernstein anyway. "Yeah, I didn't figure you for a morning person somehow."
Bite me was what Speedle tried to say but it just came out as an embarrassing mumble which Bernstein didn't even pretend not to laugh at. Someone was going to pay for this.
"I'm going home now to change," Bernstein's teeth were also too big and too bright for this time of the morning so Speedle closed his eyes against their glare. He felt fingers brush through his hair and meant to shake them off, but it felt pretty good so he just mumbled something again as he felt cool lips that smelled the same as his mouthwash press against the corner of his mouth and heard as if from another room "We'll have to do this again some time. And if you find my underwear, I'd like it back at some point. See you at work, Speedle."
And then there was the distant click of a door closing and he must have fallen asleep again because the next thing he knew was the alarm blaring obnoxious Euro pop in his ear. He slapped at it and vowed as he did every morning to sit down and work out how to set the damn thing to a different station.
After a few seconds spent preparing himself for movement, he lurched out of bed and almost tripped on what he assumed was Bernstein's underwear. Somehow they had gotten snagged around his left ankle and he absently threw them back onto the bed before stumbling into the bathroom, avoiding the mirror on the way to the shower.
At the first drumming of water across his shoulders Speedle groaned and stretched out the complaining muscles until they sang beneath his skin. There were little aches and twinges all along his body that made him grin wryly – safe where no one else could see – and hum in deep satisfaction as memories of last night began coming back to him in greater detail. Along his hips and the insides of his thighs purplish smudges were beginning to rise and he ran the tips of his fingers along them like a new kind of braille.
And maybe he should be worried about how work will be now after this, but that was something he couldn't bring himself to care about right at that moment. Because right now he was thinking about that moment earlier when he was still half asleep with the bed smelling of sex and Bernstein's fingers brushing through his hair. He was thinking of how Bernstein had said something about doing this again. He was thinking about that and he was thinking about how Bernstein would need to drop by Speedle's apartment if he wanted to reclaim his underwear anyway.