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the island of conclusions

That Ain't Why I Stay (Southland fic, R)

the island of conclusions

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That Ain't Why I Stay (Southland fic, R)

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Not exactly the first Southland fic I thought I’d write. But I needed some jumpstarting, and the Five Acts meme provided it.

Title: (Well, they say this place is evil) That Ain’t Why I Stay
Rating: R
Pairings: slight Ben/OMC, slight John/OMC.
a/n: title from Warren Zevon, “Join me in LA.”
a/n: kind of an AU coda to 3.01, but no spoilers for the episode.
a/n: written for write_light as part of the Five Acts meme. The acts included are: UST (wanting but not getting); public/anonymous sex and voyeurism thereof.
Disclaimer: Not mine, no profit.

Summary: Ben follows John home. But John doesn’t go home.

God help him, but Ben followed John home.

There’d be hell to pay when John found out he’d done it. And John would find out, Ben wasn’t kidding himself about that.

Still, he was worried enough to do it anyway. He’d just wait outside, he told himself. Make sure Cooper made it safely from his car to his front door. Because given what it had cost John to maneuver his way into the car in the first place, Ben wasn’t sure getting out again was a foregone conclusion.

But John didn’t go home. At a certain point he turned left instead of right, and Ben had to scramble a bit to track him through the glaring LA night.

When John pulled up in front of nondescript bar with a couple of leather-jacketed guys smoking outside, Ben felt a little stupid. Of course. Considering the number of increasingly less copacetic phone calls John had made over the course of the day looking for meds, Ben should’ve known he’d go looking what he needed through other means.

Ben parked half a block away and watched John lever himself gingerly onto the street. John gathered himself for a moment and then made his way into the bar with only the slightest telltale stiffness in his gait. It was an impressive effort.

Drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, Ben tried to decide what to do. He should probably just leave his partner to his own devices; John clearly knew his way around this kind of thing, didn’t need backup or rescuing. But instead Ben found himself waiting a few minutes, then tugging his jacket collar closer around his face, and following John into the building.

It was all men inside. Ben had known it would be, but the reality of it was still set him back a little. At least it wasn’t disco-y or anything, Ben thought, and then laughed at himself for expecting such a stereotype. No, the lights were standard barroom dim, everyone was pretty much fully clothed, and a pool table occupied center stage. It was just entirely male—and even for someone who spent most days in a police squad room, that was a little disconcerting. The aura of uncut testosterone, lust, and booze hit him like a blow, left him itching for something he couldn’t name.

John was already sitting at the bar, fingers curled around a beer glass, so Ben hung back, loitering near an old-fashioned jukebox, trying to figure out how to play the situation.

He watched John sidelong, not sure what he was looking for. The older man had just asked the bartender something, and guy was shaking his head. Ben could tell from the minute tightening of John’s jaw that he’d gotten the wrong answer. John dropped his eyes, his fingers tracing restless patterns on the glass, his shoulders curling in a little, self-protective.

The bartender started telling him some story, though, and John tilted his head, listening, eyes crinkling in that sardonic skepticism Ben knew so well. He looked as much in pain as he had all day, but Ben thought that here, in his civilian clothes, elbows on the bar, John looked ever so slightly more at ease than he had on shift, as if shedding even that one level of reserve had been a relief, the lightening of a burden.

So intent was Ben on watching John that the first deep voice offering to buy him a drink came as a genuine surprise. He turned to meet the guy’s eyes—dark-brown, set in an olive-skinned face above broad shoulders. He thought about it for a moment. It wouldn’t have been without precedent—some experimentation had been normal, even expected, with the crowd Ben’d hung with in high school. He’d tried things out with guys a couple of times, but it had never stuck, never meant as much to him as it did with girls.

“No.” Ben shook his head. “I’m waiting for someone.

The guy moved on, seemingly unbothered, and Ben turned his attention back to John, trying to figure out what was different about him in this setting.

It wasn’t that John was doing something in particular—he wasn’t doing much of anything at all except drinking his beer. It was just that the press of men around him, laughing, flirting, hands grazing hips and arms and other places besides—knowing that under better circumstances John would be taking part in that dance of casual touches and teasing looks—changed everything.

Watching him unseen like this, the stretch and release of dark-colored cotton across his shoulders, the off-duty curve of his neck, Ben thought maybe he was seeing John as a sexual being for the first time. Even when John had come out to him that time in the car, in his ridiculously oblique Cooper manner, Ben had been so overwhelmed by the earthshaking fact that John trusted him that he had barely given any thought to the physical, sexual reality of the life John lived. Had never thought about John doing other things with his body than being a cop.

The realization that he probably did do other things—lots of other things—sparked something in Ben, a curiosity he couldn’t do anything about. It coiled tight in his veins, pent up there, straining to get out. And so, when the next guy came round—buzz-cut and graying, built like a barrel—Ben recklessly accepted the beer, let the man lean over him when he came back, hand on the wall behind Ben’s head and knee almost, but not quite, between his legs.

A few pulls from the bottle, and the man pressed in farther, lips on the corner of Ben’s jaw, then leaving a trail of hard kisses down the side of his neck. They felt better than Ben would’ve thought—like the humid wind that promised a storm. “Hey,” the man whispered roughly, “let’s get out of here.”

But Ben had just seen, over the older guy’s shoulder, John following a dark-haired beanpole of a man into the bathroom, moving slow, like his bones were made of glass.

Suddenly ruthless, Ben put his lips to his companion’s ear. “I’m a cop,” he said, low and sharp, and would have laughed at how fast the other guy scrambled back, if he hadn’t been swamped by an ice-cold wave of unease about what was going on with John.

It took a surprisingly long time for him to shoulder his way through the crowd, and by the time he got to the bathroom door Ben was having second thoughts.

What was he going to do? he asked himself. Bust in there like an avenging angel, interrupt Cooper in what was at best a well-deserved hook-up after a miserable day, and at worst an illegal drug deal that he wouldn’t thank Ben for breaking up?

He leaned against the wall and tapped a heel against the siding, arms crossed over his chest in a futile attempt to rein himself in.

Then he pushed himself off again. Something wasn’t right—not tonight. He could tell.

They’d sought the minimal privacy of one of the stalls, Ben saw when he went in—quietly, not with the slam he really wanted. But something, some wayward hand or knee, had swung the door part-way open again, so that Ben had a quarter-profile view of John’s jeans tugged down around his hips and the dark-haired man on his knees in front of him.

With truly exquisite bad timing, he’d come in right at the tail-end of what looked to have been one hell of an orgasm.

And it was wrong, so wrong, but the sight of John’s sated face, features gone soft with drugs and pleasure, his fingers threaded through the other man’s hair, made Ben’s belly tighten a little, sent the faintest shiver of desire through him.

He froze. He had no idea what to do now.

After what seemed like an eternity, the kneeling man swallowed one last time—Ben could see his Adam’s apple move—and slid his mouth off John, obscenely slow. He rose to his impressive height, and turned towards Ben, who he’d clearly known was there the whole time.

John, however—John looked out of it in a way that Ben had never imagined he would see. In a way that turned Ben’s lust to heartache. His head hung heavy on his neck and his eyes were shut. He was breathing noisily, heavily, and his hands were clumsy as he tucked himself back in. If he knew there was someone else in the room, he gave no sign of it.

The tall man raked his eyes over Ben. His mouth was vividly red, lips wet and a little swollen, and there was a horrible mixture of cold contempt and real concern in his eyes. Ben didn’t think he had ever wanted to hit anyone more, not even his father.

“You the boyfriend?” the tall man asked, with feline composure. “Can’t say I’m sorry to see you. The amount of Ox he has in him, he’s gonna need a ride home.

“Ox?” Ben growled. “You gave him Ox?”

“Oh, sweetheart. I didn’t give him anything. He paid good money for what he got. Except for that.” The man licked his lips. “That was free.”

The drug dealer leered down at Ben from his crazy height. But if he thought that kind of advantage made one iota of difference to Ben’s ability to damage him, he deserved a thorough education in his mistake. Ben’s fingers itched themselves into fists, clenched rigidly at his sides.

“Get out,” he snarled. “Just get the fuck out.”

The dealer nodded mockingly, rubbed an insolent hand across his mouth, and eased his way out the door.

Left alone, Ben hesitated.

He was good with women, he knew that. From Girl Scouts to grandmas, he could muster up just the right kind of smile to put them at their ease (or get them to return his calls, as the case might be). Apple-pie good looks, his mother always said, but it was more than that, some instinct he’d been born with. But with men—Well, it didn’t take some Department headshrinker to figure out why guys, especially older guys, made him feel ham-fisted and tongue-tied, out of his depth.

Still, this was Cooper, and there was no turning away.

He closed the distance between them, and ducked his head so that he came under John’s unfocused gaze.

“Hey,” Ben asked cautiously. “You okay?”

“Sherman?” John’s voice was unsteady, a little slurred. He reached up slowly and put a hot hand against Ben’s cheek, as if he didn’t quite trust his eyes. “Ben?”

Ben put his own hand over John’s, felt the strength of it, the roughened skin across the knuckles. “Yeah,” he said, “it’s me.”

With a ragged sigh, John sagged forward until his forehead was resting against Ben’s, gave him his weight. Ben staggered under it for a moment, but then bore up.

“It’s Ben,” he repeated. “Come on, let’s get you home.”


  • Oh, my goodness. This is both hot and heartbreaking. Amazing job! I hope you continue to write Southland fic.
    • Thank you! I knew it was going to a little heartbreaking, because, well, it's them--but I'm glad it was a little bit hot too :) I hope that now that I've broken the ice on it, I can write some more--I love the characters, but they are hard.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!
  • So heartbreaking..
  • With a ragged sigh, John sagged forward until his forehead was resting against Ben’s, gave him his weight. Ben staggered under it for a moment, but then bore up.

    GUH. Wow, I love this.
    • Thank you--I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I thought I would never be able to write these guys, so I'm glad you thought it worked out okay--

      Thanks for reading!
  • This is SO well written! Like someone else said, both hot and heartbreaking.

    I can't believe this is your first Southland fic, because you captured both characters perfectly!
    • Thank you for the kind words! I knew it was going to be a little heartbreaking, given the circumstances, but I'm glad you thought it turned out a little bit hot, too.

      And I inhaled the first two seasons over the holidays, and have been mulling over the characters, despairing about how I could never write them--so I'm glad you thought they worked okay.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!
  • Great story. You really captured the characters.
  • ..........!

    So very good. And haunting.
    • Thanks so much! I find the characters haunting--I'm glad you felt this captured a little of that--

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Edited at 2011-01-15 02:10 am (UTC)
  • I just discovered this show over the holidays, and as usual you do a heartbreaking job of wriggling right inside the characters' heads.

    Good stuff! I hope you'll write more. :)
    • Me too! I just inhaled the first two seasons over the holidays, and fell a little bit in love. It's taken a while to work up to writing these characters--so I'm really glad you thought I got inside their heads a bit.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • Ohhh wow I would probably quote like half of this, it's so raw and heartbreaking. Their characters are pretty hard to grasp but you did a great job in capturing their mannerisms and Ben's concern for John just perfectly!
    • Thank you so much for the lovely feedback! The characters are so hard, so hidden and subtle, I'm glad you thought I captured a bit of them. I hope things aren't always heartbreaking for them....

      Thanks for reading and commenting!
  • Aww...it's heartbreaking to see John at such a low :( Love this ficlet though. Very well-written :)
    • I know, I felt kind of bad putting John there--though he didn't seem too far from it at the end of 3.01...I'm glad you enjoyed the fic, tho'--thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • Fantastic fic, terrific portrayal of the characters at vulnerable times. Inspiring!
    • Thank you for the kind words! It was little scary trying to write John in such a vulnerable state, so I'm glad it worked for you. Thanks for reading!
  • Loved this! Hope you're going to keep writing.
    • I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I really hope to write more--I love these characters.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!
  • I really, really love this. I love how you draw this process Ben's going through of tiny decisions, one at a time - to follow, to watch, to help, to intervene, to confront - and all the accompanying emotions. They have such a complicated relationship, and this is a really amazing look at one tiny bit of it, and at John's vulnerability, through Ben's eyes.
    • I'm so, so happy you enjoyed it! You know, I was the most nervous to write/post this of any fandom I've tried so far--because all the character interactions/tells are so tiny and nuanced--and often "gray" in the show's terms--even though the issues at stake are huge and volcanic. Which is to say, I'm really glad you thought I managed to capture some of that.

      Thanks for reading!

      Edited at 2011-01-24 10:36 pm (UTC)
  • I like that Ben sees John's vulnerability and how much effort it must take to hold things together during shift when he's in pain. Gorgeous look at both of their characters.
    • Thank you! I liked the idea of Ben suddenly seeing John from a new perspective--glad you thought it captured their characters a bit. Thanks for reading--I'm really glad you enjoyed it!
  • I am really glad Ben followed him! Thank you for writing!
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