THE STRANGER IN THE ROOM
This story is part of the Events Challenge set by Kates89. The two characters that I picked were Sid Hammerback and Terrence Davis (which made me very happy as Terrence is one of my favourite minor characters and rarely used in fanfic). My chosen event was a wedding - and although I like to think outside the box whenever I can, there was only one person who would invite both of these fine gentlemen to his wedding...
(The episode mentioned is "Cuckoo's Nest" in Season 6. This story takes place after season 9.)
"Mawwage. Mawwage is what bwings us together today." (William Goldman, 'The Princess Bride')
Talk about a cop convention. Terrence gave an easy grin and leaned back in his chair. Who else but Don Flack would invite a former gang member and informant to a reception full of New York's finest? Lifting his champagne glass, he held it up to the light in a secret toast. "My man Flack," he murmured. If he leaned to the left and squinted through the crowd, he could just make out the groom at the main table up on the platform, laughing with his girl. No, make that his wife, as of two hours ago. By the look on her face, the deal was good. She loved him, no question, and he sure as hell loved her back, that much was crystal clear. Second chances, Terrence thought. Guess that was something the two men had in common.
Flack's laugh was infectious. No doubt he had just told some lousy joke - the guy sure had a stock of them - but the grin on his face could always turn even the worst pun into Grade A comedy gold and soon all his friends were laughing too. His best man - Messer - punched his arm and groaned theatrically. Farther down the table, Mac Taylor gave a quiet smile. Now there was a guy you could trust. Someone who understood all about honour and loyalty. Only two men had seen Flack hit rock bottom, and they were both his guests tonight. Taylor's gaze shifted and, for a moment, they connected, memories passing between them, past overtaken by present. Flack as he was that day; lost and hurting so bad that his life teetered on a knife edge. Terrence had caught him, and Taylor had dragged him back from the brink so that he could stand here, right now, flushed and drunk in the glow of his happiest moment.
With a wink and a lazy nod, Terrence broke the link. Too much emotion was bad for his karma. Besides, this here was a classy occasion. Not so slick as his nightclub, but not half bad for a cop and his cop wife. Time to play it cool and take in the scene, as the guests began to rise from the ruin of their feast. Terrence knew how to mingle. In his own world, he was the master; but here... well, here he was the enigmatic stranger, and that role he was born to play. Glass in hand, he got up, stretched his legs and smoothed his jacket, ready to bring on the charm.
Which was when he saw it. Red sauce, all down his lapel, like some kind of blood trail. Not cool, and not the look that he was going for. Moving quickly, he pushed through the double doors nearby and set off down the hotel corridor in search of the mens' room. Away from the crowd, the air felt cold and the noise from the hall was a muffled echo. Busboys strode by, carrying empty plates in impossible stacks. Terrence felt a thrill just watching them pass; like a circus act in motion. He was so caught up that he almost missed his destination, doubling back at the last second. No one saw him stumble. Still smooth, he grinned to himself as he slipped through the doorway.
Someone else was already in the room; another wedding guest, Terrence judged, by his worn tuxedo and his tipsy air. An older man, with grey hair and a narrow face - almost too narrow; and man, those eyes...
"Are you okay?" he said.
"I'm sorry. I didn't think anyone else... Don't mind me," smiled the stranger. The carefree look was strained, and Terrence was unconvinced. In the sink, a silver trail spun down the plughole. Was that sweat or water on the man's forehead?
"Don't tell me you had the chicken," Terrence quipped. "'Cause you don't look good."
"Caesar salad... oh! I see what you mean." He turned off the faucet and gripped the edge of the sink, but this time his smile was real as he countered the question with one of his own. "Don't tell me you're suggesting that Don Flack would serve bad food at his reception, Mr...?"
"Davis. And you know that ain't so." Terrence eyed him shrewdly, sharing a grin at Flack's expense. The man wiped his wet hand on his vintage tux and held it straight out in an old-fashioned gesture of friendship. Manners. I like that, Terrence thought, and clasped it firmly.
He raised one eyebrow in cool appreciation. "Good name."
"Thanks - I'm quite attached to it. You know the groom, then?"
"I do." Enjoying himself, Terrence waited for 'the look' - curiosity, surprise, the itch of a puzzle unsolved - but this time, it never came. "We're old friends," he added, pushing now, just a little. Sid nodded.
"Good," he said. "Everyone needs friends."
Okay. This guy was dancing to his own beat, not with the crowd. Terrence really liked that. "Flack can pick 'em, for sure," he said. "Women too."
"Jamie?" Sid Hammerback grinned. "Oh yes. Now, if I was a younger, wiser man I'd have given our blue-eyed detective a run for his money." He coughed, and looked down for a moment. When he glanced back up, his white face was just about as pale as it could be, but his smile was wicked.
Terrence was no fool. I get it, he thought, with a sudden flash of understanding. The guy was sick. But he was also proud. This was Flack's day, and it was gonna stay that way.
"Now look, Sid Hammerback," Terrence said with a nonchalant air that fooled nobody. "I just gotta clean up my act a little here, if you know what I mean. But I got all turned around. Need a guide... You think we could go find that party together when I'm done?"
"It would be my pleasure," Sid beamed, weaving slightly in a way that had nothing to do with alcohol, Terrence realised.
He pulled a handtowel from the unit, soaked it and began to scrub at his lapel. Sid waited, leaning against the wall and breathing carefully.
Footsteps pounded in the hallway; high heels coming closer. Listening with one ear, Terrence expected them to pass by but they stopped and, suddenly, a dark head poked around the door.
"Well now, there you are," the woman cried out, unashamed to be invading their male domain.
Two crimson spots appeared on Sid's pale cheeks.
She was fine, this Jo; a real class act, with her hair spun up in a loose swirl, like chocolate, and her legs going all the way down from her deep blue dress to her high satin shoes. Sid Hammerback, you dog, Terrence thought - but watching the look that passed between the two of them, he kicked the obvious answer to the kerb. This was something else. Something he had seen before, on Taylor's face as the man stood in his apartment like judgement come to call. Or in Flack's eyes when he finally woke from his stupor and knew that Terrence had saved his life.
This was friendship.
"We missed you," Jo said fondly, striding across the room. "And as I recall, you promised me the first dance, Dr. Hammerback. I hear you've got moves..."
"Oh, come on..." The red patches on Sid's cheeks grew darker, but he was beaming. "Though there was a time when I could samba with the best of them..."
Jo linked her arm through his. "I'm afraid it's strictly one-two-three so far. But hey, you never know. And I'm game, if you are."
"Just don't make me disco," he joked, as she began to pull him away.
"Lord, no." Passing Terrence, Jo gave him a friendly nod; the kind that a generous woman, who knows her worth, will always give to a stranger. Terrence accepted it graciously.
"Wait." Sid pulled her to a halt. "I was going to show this young man the way back. He's lost."
Jo's casual glance turned into a penetrating stare.
"You know what?" Terrence said. "It's okay. I can find it myself. You go have a good time."
"Oh, he will." Jo's face was calm, but her gaze was unnerving. "Mr...?"
"Davis. Terrence Davis." Read my soul, why don't you? he challenged her silently - but maybe she approved of what she saw there because, seconds later, she gave him a radiant smile.
"Why not come with us now?" she suggested. Her charm was hard to resist.
Terrence liked that. He liked it a lot.
Dashing the last of the sauce from his jacket, he followed them out of the door. No call for the enigmatic stranger. Friendship was the best dance of all, and this was a smooth beginning.
"Do you samba, Mr. Davis?" Sid asked politely, as they set off down the hallway.
"I've got moves," Terrence said, enjoying the spark of delight in the other man's eyes.