Better Than Ice Cream
NC-17 for f/f slash -- Francesca/Irene
This story is inspired by the season 2 Due South episode "Juliet is Bleeding." For those who haven't seen it, Carrie-Anne Moss (now of Matrix fame) plays Ray Vecchio's childhood sweetheart, who also happens to be the younger sister of Ray's recurring mafia nemesis. Once when I was bitching about not having anyone to slash Frannie with, my partner reminded me of Irene Zuko. So here it is. This is an historical piece, and the year is 1981.
All characters herein are the property of Alliance Television, and I do not intend to make any money off of this piece of fanfiction. The title of the story is stolen from the Sarah McLachlan song "Ice Cream."
This story will be available at the Due South Fiction Archive, as well as on my own site, http://members.tripod.com/HthW -- please feel free to forward it to anyone or link to it at will. Send all feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
Better Than Ice Cream
"Ray. Ray. *Ray.*"
It wasn't exactly the angels singing, but there was something romantic about the distant voice chorusing in Irene's head, the sound of Ray's name accompanying the touch of his slim fingers under her bra and the taste of his tongue as it caressed hers. Ray, Ray, Ray. She ran her fingers through his hair, sighing softly into his mouth. Ray.
"Goddamit, Ray! Open this fucking door before I break it in!"
"*Shit!*" Ray jerked up abruptly, just as Irene recognized the voice, and she knew the hollow, hunted look in his wide eyes was probably reflected exactly in hers. "Just a sec, Dad," he called back, not quite keeping the tremble out of his voice. As Ray pulled his t-shirt back on, Irene obligingly rolled off the far end of his trundle bed and lay flat behind it, arms at her sides, staring at the ceiling like a dead body.
"I'm *coming!*" Irene could feel her heart bounding from one side of her chest to the other; she wanted to pull her uniform blouse closed, but she was afraid to move. Hell of a position for a Zuko, cowering on the floor at the sound of a penny-ante drunkard's voice. Frankie would go ballistic. For so very many reasons, really.
She heard the sound of the door opening, and Ray's voice, now under control, the quintessential bored teenage male. "Whaddaya want, Dad?"
"Your sister just came home from school and she's crying. What the hell happened to Frannie?"
"How would I know? Ask her."
"You watch your mouth, boy. How would you know? You damn well oughta know. You go to school with her all day, you don't know when your own sister's in trouble? What if some boy is giving her trouble, huh? What about that, Ray? Who's gonna take care of Frannie? I gotta do everything around here? You get in there and you help your sister, you get it?"
"You get it?"
"Yeah, I get it. I hear you."
"You better. I'm going out tonight, and I want to see my little girl smiling like an angel when I get back."
The click of the door was quiet, but Mr. Vecchio's footsteps sounded down the hall of the old house with a resounding series of creaks. Irene sat up when she heard the hollow, rhythmic thumping that she rightly assumed to be Ray banging his head against the door. "It's all right," she said a little shakily as she pulled herself up. "Ray, he's gone. I heard him go."
But then Irene had sense enough to shut up and pretend she wasn't there. You weren't supposed to be there when this kind of thing happened, when reality intruded on the big lie and you could see the strings, see what really made this neighborhood go around -- fear and family and booze. She sat on the edge of Ray's bed and buttoned her blouse as Ray pulled himself back together from his sudden fright.
She'd seen this before. You couldn't live here and not see it -- if not close up like this, then at least the evidence. All her life she'd walked home from school right past the lot where the boys played basketball; all her life Irene had stopped to watch them. She never cheered for any one team, just watched them, and felt a certain protective sense that she guessed was probably a lot the same feeling that Zuko men had when they walked these streets. Her lot, her boys. Some of them were crooked-nosed and black-eyed from feuds that flared up and blew over once a week among themselves. Some of them bore stranger, more unnerving marks, the broad red marks of belt straps across their bare, sweaty backs and cigar burns along their thin, strong arms. Some of them wore saint's medals, and some wore heavy gold rings, rings she recognized as gifts from her own family; many wore both.
Irene loved them all, in her own way. She stopped every afternoon to watch them shoulder against each other, yelling and laughing, bonded together in an unspoken pact to ignore the pain. They shot hoops together, the poor and the damned and the wounded and the wicked and the dreamers, and they were all from Irene's neighborhood, boys she knew from school and church and just from the vacant lot. Young and fast and proud and beautiful in their hard, stubborn bravery.
She loved Ray Vecchio best of all, of course. He wasn't as brave as some, but then again, he wasn't as hardened as some, either. He was gentle, with soft brown eyes and a sense of humor and, unlike most people Irene knew, he wasn't under the impression that the world began and ended with this one neighborhood, or even with Chicago. Ray was going to be somebody. So was Irene. He was going to college next fall, and that would be the beginning of everything for them. The beginning of their real lives.
Assuming, of course, that Ray's father didn't catch them fooling around on the bed in the middle of the afternoon. That would pretty much be the beginning of the end.
"Sorry, Irene," he mumbled, crossing back to the bed with his head drooping. He was apologizing, she knew, for the weakness, for letting his girl see him afraid. Someday, Irene assumed, he'd grow out of that. Someday after they'd gone away, and Ray had figured out that in other parts of the world, civilized parts, two people could be together and take care of each other, not just be the big, strong Italian man and his lady. Ray was smart, and more importantly, he was sweet. He'd learn.
She reached up and stroked his arm. "It's okay. I was so scared I thought I was going to go into a coma."
"Aw, he wouldn't hurt you, Irene. I've never seen my dad hit a woman."
Irene didn't correct him, didn't tell him that it wasn't him she was afraid of, but what would happen when word got out. She knew that Ray would never let her talk about Frankie, about the family. He didn't like to think about it. She couldn't honestly blame him. "Are you going to go talk to Fran?"
"Nah, don't worry about it. She just does this sometimes -- comes in and throws a big fit and gets Ma all worked up and goes into her room to pout. She'll be fine by dinner. I think it's just a girl thing -- no offense, baby."
Which meant, as Irene had figured, that Ray hadn't heard the latest news yet. He would, of course. Once something got out around here, everyone heard. "I think it's more than that this time. I think I should go talk to her."
"Irene...." Ray brushed her waves of hair off her forehead, tucked them behind Irene's ear. "Stay."
She sighed. "Ray. I can't. You know I shouldn't." It didn't need explanations. Because of the way he couldn't resist her, because of the way he made her feel, because of everything that could go so unimaginably wrong if they made one false move, Irene shouldn't stay any longer than this. "I'm just going to see Francesca, and then I have to get home."
"I'll come tonight."
"No. Not tonight." She needed longer to recover, to get her bearings again. She took Ray's hands between hers and kissed those long, artistic fingers, placed her cheek in his cupped palms. "Come later. Not tonight. I love you, Ray."
He said nothing -- not because he had nothing to say, or because he was playing macho, Irene knew. Sometimes Ray just had trouble speaking. He would smile at her instead, like he was doing now, a wistful, heartfelt smile.
Irene knocked lightly, but then just walked into Francesca's room. It had been a long time since Irene was welcome openly in the Vecchio household, a long time since she and Frannie had played with Barbie dolls and EZ-Bake ovens in this very room, but some things never changed. There were some people who always stayed your friends, even if you couldn't see each other much anymore.
Nothing had changed in Frannie's bedroom since Irene had started coming here years ago. The same stuffed animals were stacked in a pyramid on top of the same faded white chest of drawers. The same goldenrod-colored dust ruffle fluttered from her bed, and the same yellow bedspread still didn't quite match it in color. The bench in front of Frannie's vanity still squeaked when Irene sat down on it.
She wore the same school uniform Irene did; in fact, lying face down on her bed like this, even Irene couldn't see much about Frannie Vecchio that distinguished her from Irene herself. Both sixteen, both slender and fair skinned with fine, wavy, dark brown hair at just longer than shoulder length. The brick-red knee skirt and the white blouse with its Peter Pan collar and the white ankle socks served their purpose quite effectively: to erase distinctions, to hide the difference between one family and the next from the eyes. Everyone still knew, of course. They knew a Vecchio from a Zuko, with the same faith that a blind man knows that it's dark at midnight.
The bench squeaked again as Irene stood up. She moved on her knees across the bed and laid her hands on Frannie's sharp shoulderblades, warm through her thin blouse. Underneath, Irene could see the black outline of Francesca's bra, and she sighed to herself. It was hard to keep from feeling like Fran brought this kind of thing on herself. She always had wanted to stand out, to be glamorous and vivid in her glistening red lipstick and sharp black eyeliner, her black satin bras and her stockings with the rib up the back that drew everyone's eyes to her long legs. Didn't she know it was only a matter of time before someone lied about her, and hadn't she expected that everyone would believe it because they wanted to, and because Frannie herself made it so easy to believe?
It gave Irene kind of a queasy feeling, to realize how much she still had that voice inside her, that collective voice of the neighborhood. What was she saying to herself? That Frannie deserved this? That she had asked to be slandered and looked down on and abandoned? She was the flip side of the boys who shot hoops in the empty lot -- young and fast and proud and beautiful. She was just like them, playing through the pain, in love with the power of her body since she couldn't bring herself to think about the fragility of her life.
With that welling, possessive love directing her, Irene lifted up Fran's hair and slipped her fingers against the warm curve of her neck. "Hey. Hey, Frannie. Talk to me."
"Is this your fault?" The question sounded forlorn; Irene knew the answer she wanted to hear was *no.* "Is this because of you and Ray?"
"You think he knows about that? If Frank knew about Ray and me, he wouldn't waste time spreading rumors about you. He'd tell Daddy, and Daddy would bring the cops here to arrest him for rape, and he'd go to juvenile hall where my cousins and their friends would rape him and beat him to death in the showers." The words came out chillingly calm. Business as usual in the Zuko family. Her gender might protect her from having to pursue the family trade, but it couldn't make her unaware of what went on just outside the protective doors of her own house. Irene, like her mother before her, knew more than she would ever be able to say about the business. She certainly knew more than she ever wanted to say, and yet at the moment that she admitted it out loud for the first time, she felt icy inside, and the words came out with a serenity that terrified Irene.
Francesca turned her head at last to face her friend, blinking in amazement. Everyone knew the Zukos were Mafia, but it seemed so normal to other people. You had to be in the middle of it to recognize the full extent of the Family's cruelty, its harsh, implacable efficiency. Unless he was her husband, a husband that the Family approved of, the man who had Irene Zuko's virginity was finished. It wasn't, after all, really hers to give -- only the Family's to bestow, or an outsider's to steal. Irene smiled down at her friend; it was sweet, how Frannie didn't see that. How innocent she was of the danger they were all in. Ray had been just as bad at first; now she thought he understood a bit better.
Why? Why. As though anything made sense around here. "I don't know. Maybe because he hates Ray. Maybe because he wants you and he knows you don't want him. Maybe he's just an asshole, I don't know. It doesn't matter why." She was rambling now, and she knew it. "Why does your dad drink? Why does mine put hits on people? They do, and Frankie lies, and that's that. That's how it's going to be, for as long as we live here."
"Where else would we live?"
Irene couldn't help but smile; it was all funny, really, how small their world really was. She pressed her forehead against Frannie's and coiled her hair up inside Irene's closed hand. "Anywhere. You and Ray and me, we won't be here forever. Things are going to change for us, Frannie, I swear it."
They snuggled together, just like they used to in Irene's tent when Frannie used to spend the night, after they'd scared each other sick with stories about serial killers with hooks for hands and sick senses of humor. Their legs interlaced, their breath warming each other's lips, cheek to cheek and chest to chest. This time the stories were real, though. There were true things to fear, guns and hate and their own families and the ever-present feud that took no prisoners, just broke bones and buried bodies and made Frannie's thick eye makeup run down her sharp, delicate face like a rain of grey ash, like smoke signals. Frannie wiped her nose with the back of her hand, inadvertently poking Irene in the nose as well, making her chuckle. "Why are you being so nice to me?"
Sick. Sick that they'd gone this far, turned into such ridiculous cartoons of themselves -- the pretty rich Catholic girl and the cheap Italian tart -- that this closeness was suspicious now. It used to make so much sense. "Maybe..." Francesca's soft hair running through Irene's fingers, the smell of soap and musky perfume on her neck; Irene arched her back slowly, stretching out muscles grown tight and twisted through constant wariness. "Maybe I...." Maybe what? Maybe you're the only person whose opinion matters to me -- the only one whose words I trust? After three years of estrangement, what right did she have to have faith in Frannie? "Maybe -- oh --"
Thin and tough and graceful, like the boys who played ball in the lot, Francesca wrapped her legs around one of Irene's. For a quivering, nauseous moment, Irene wondered if this was how Frank felt -- thrilled beyond rational thought at the warm fullness of Fran's lips, hyper-aware of how her breasts flattened under Irene's weight, dying to know what the heat between Francesca's legs would be like--
No. No, Frank was her brother, and Irene loved him, she supposed, but he wasn't capable of feeling the way she did. He would never let himself feel this weak, this needy. If he ever found himself, by some miracle of God, in Francesca's bed like this, he wouldn't be quivering in her arms, and he wouldn't be entranced by her glistening, feline prettiness and the humor and joy behind those mascara-spidered lashes. He certainly wouldn't miss her mouth when he leaned in to kiss her, tasting her skin and her makeup. But Irene Zuko was not as calculated as her brother, not as focused on what she wanted and where to find it. She only wanted, longed, stretched toward it.
Francesca saved the kiss, making it fond and playful and putting it squarely where it belonged, her mouth to Irene's. It was the kind of kiss that woke the dead, so shockingly strong from Frannie's soft mouth, so perfectly straightforward and real -- so so so so everything it should have been that Irene was close to tears, nearly whimpering, on the edge of screaming and screaming until the fear and the despair couldn't be heard over the sound.
No. Too easy to cry -- Irene had been doing that all her life, so much that it meant nothing anymore. Her hands, which had been scrabbling aimlessly up and down Fran's arms, her fingers tugging lightly on the fabric of her blouse, suddenly had a knowledge that Irene didn't think her head could summon up, and she pushed up, breathless, as she began to pull the buttons loose with rough, quick competence. Not one broke.
She could do this. She knew how. Francesca's skin was hotter than Irene expected, her body languid and undefended while Irene wanted to thrash and squirm, and it seemed that Frannie's much-noticed cleavage was more due to well-chosen lingerie than to natural attributes -- but minor differences aside, her body was just what Irene would have imagined it to be, and very, very much like Irene's own. Same height, Irene maybe a little broader through the shoulders and Frannie maybe a little thinner and flatter chested. Irene's mouth was wider, Francesca's legs were longer. Minor variations on a theme. Mostly, though, it was a familiar body, and running her hands over it, feeling it shiver and the muscles jump slightly under the skin, Irene had no trouble recognizing it. This wasn't weird or crazy or kinky at all, and she didn't feel the slightest bit guilty for relishing the sensations; it was just like touching herself, and Irene had made her peace with God on that score years ago.
What Irene really wanted was to see it -- to step back and see what her body -- Frannie's body, Irene's? -- looked like when it was sexy and yearning and draped across the bed ready for just the right touch. Irene pulled away the clothes that blocked her view, Frannie's shirt and her blue plaid skirt, her black lace bra and her incongruously demure cotton underpants. Kneeling across her legs, Irene leaned over Francesca's body, staring at it with a curiosity that was wholly scientific and wholly lustful at once. Tension showed in the way Frannie's toes were pointed and the calf muscles pulled tight, the way her spine curved, sinking her deep into the mattress; sweat was beginning to bead in the shallow valley around Francesca's navel, and in the deeper one between her breasts. Irene lathed her tongue quickly around Frannie's stomach, causing her to yip excitedly, and then began to slurp the salty moisture thirstily from between Frannie's breasts.
Her hands pressed Francesca's breasts together, caressing them in warm, uneven circles with her palms. The way Frannie was working her legs out from under Irene and spreading them wider and wider, the death grip of those long-nailed fingers in Irene's hair, the way she threw back her shoulders and pressed her nipple into Irene's mouth when she accidentally grazed one with her tongue -- God, it rewrote the whole language, turning the words that Frank had tried to use against Frannie into the answer to Irene's every prayer. Slut, whore, easy -- easy, so easy to grow dizzy on the thundering of Francesca's heart, the rough, slickened skin around her nipples, the scent of juices that seeped down Francesca's inner thighs. Easy to make it all happen, just with the circling of her fingers and the brush of her mouth against Frannie's body.
Easy to get like that, Irene knew, to lose yourself in the singing of your body and the heady, illicit dreams of what next what next. She'd been there before herself, many times, under Ray Vecchio just like Francesca was weighed down under her now. Easy to be wanton in a moment like this -- hell, it was impossible not to. It was Irene who was turning into the slut, driving them both crazy, higher and hotter and deeper with every muffled, gasping breath. Fully dressed, Irene was wet and flushed and turned on like a flood light, and what she wanted and where to find it were becoming clearer all the time. She wanted Frannie to come, wanted it to bleed over into Irene as she filled her eyes and memory with Frannie naked and arched up and noisy with sex and joy. Slut, yes yes yes, Irene was ready to be the slut, ready to make it all easy on Frannie.
Instinct made her thrust two fingers into Francesca, and for a brief moment Irene, who had never had anything, not even a tampon, inside her like that, was deathly afraid she had hurt her friend. Fear melted quickly as she realized how deeply and easily her fingers had disappeared into Frannie's heat. She began to do it again, over and over, her left hand still kneading Francesca's breast lightly. It was having exactly the desired effect, forcing Francesca still farther open to Irene's eyes, her heels dropping off the sides of the bed, her hips bucking up high to meet Irene's fingers every time they pressed in. Francesca pinned Irene's left hand to her breast with one hand, letting the fingertips of her other drop toward Irene's right hand, trying to touch herself in rhythm with Irene's gentle, insistent driving motion. Irene knocked her hand away, playfully the first time, more firmly the second. Frannie's palm swept some hair off her own forehead, then braced firmly against the wall behind her, forcing her body down against the knuckles of Irene's hand.
And if you can't breathe, or can't breathe deeply enough to keep your head from spinning dizzily, the only reasonable thing to do is to pin your mouth to Francesca Vecchio's, so as you gasp and swallow you're taking in the taste of her, and when she screams it's into you, all through you.
Francesca had to put her hand up against Irene's cheek to push her mouth away. Irene's vision was hazy, but she felt Frannie's cool fingers stroking her face, and then her unbearably hot tongue tracing the same broad path up her cheek, and she didn't exactly black out, but with her next rational thought she was lying peacefully against Frannie's side, her head on Francesca's chest, and she didn't remember much specifically except easy good easy good right yes *perfect.*
Rumpled and a little confused, Irene tried to wind her way backwards through the labyrinth of her mind. How did this happen? What had they been talking about that brought them to this? A part of Irene answered *who the hell cares?* but on the other hand, Irene did. She'd always found it hard to stop thinking, to stop caring. She worried about her neighborhood, her planet, her future, and most of all about her family: She worried about Ray if they were ever caught together, and Frankie because he was her brother, her goddamned brother, and her last hope of someday having a normal family life before he went into the business just like their father, and her mother because Mom was always so unutterably sad, and Francesca because, well, shit, why was it always the sisters and the daughters that got hurt and hurt bad when some goddamned man in this neighborhood had to prove his macho? And the bright-eyed, bright-feathered, fragile-fierce girls, girls like Frannie Vecchio, didn't have a basketball court to go to, didn't have any safe, pure way to sweat out the pain and trample it into the dead concrete and leave it there. They were supposed to go to church or get jobs waiting tables or working perfume counters, and be good, and stay down, and God help them if they wanted to wear black lace and talk fast in shrill voices and fuck until they blacked out.
Irene had to care about things like that. She was a Zuko, and this was her neighborhood. Dad always said they had to make it a good place to raise a family.
She kissed Frannie's lips softly, noticing for the first time that Frannie kissed almost exactly like her brother Ray did, warm and lazy and secretive, somehow. As if drugged, Irene obeyed mindlessly when Frannie pushed her up into a sitting position and arranged her knees against Irene's back to prop her up. She could see them both in the vanity mirror in front of them, herself rumpled and vacant looking, Frannie flushed and sweaty and sparkling with energy, sleekly naked and apparently without shame. She reached to the nightstand beside her bed and picked up a brush, using one hand to steady Irene's head and the other to run the brush through her hair with heavy, oddly sensual strokes. Irene couldn't help but purr in pleasure.
Was there something she should be saying, something to comfort Frannie like she'd come here to do? There was still Frank to be dealt with, and the matter of Francesca's seriously compromised reputation, but Irene had never found that talking was the best form of comfort. Her mother always tried to talk to her, tell her it was all right when it wasn't, tell her things would pass when they never would. It was always Frank, stupid, tactless Frankie, who knew what to do when Irene yelled and her father struck her down with his flat, heavy palm and she huddled in her tent crying tears of fear and anger. He used to sneak up to her room and bring her Rocky Road ice cream dripping in chocolate syrup. It was better than words. Anything out of Frankie's mouth was ten-to-one going to be a fucking disaster, but sometimes when he didn't talk at all, he was - well, her brother. Irene's brother, and God, she missed him, wished the stupid son of a bitch had listened to her and stood up to Dad and been the first to get out. Wished most of all that he had even *wanted* to.
"Now you're the one being nice to me - and I'm the one whose brother-"
"Hey," Francesca said, her voice as bright and crisp as ever, bearing no trace of her heartbroken crying fit not thirty minutes before. "It's over when dogs sing, and anyway, if a boy says you let him put it up your ass, you can't really make it go away, you can just-"
"Fuck his sister?" There was a twisted logic to it. Irene did not doubt that Frankie would understand the theory, if presented to him in abstract terms. Frannie just smiled.
Irene leaned back, letting Francesca wrap her in her arms, watching their reflection bemusedly. Very similar, especially with Francesca's lipstick half on her lips and half on Irene's now - except that Irene's face was stronger and more square, and Francesca's was kittenish and more shockingly beautiful, and oh yeah, Irene was demurely dressed in a Catholic school uniform and Francesca was gloriously, amazingly naked. Plaid kilt disguising the slut, sleek body displayed without shame disguising the vulnerability that dumb, half-blind Frankie had stumbled over and kicked the shit out of. Each of them hiding the sins of the other, the only two sins that mattered for a girl growing up around here: being a whore and getting hurt.
It hurt like hell, this hard, miserable life with unemployment lurking on one end and mafia money on the other, and in between a vast chasm of loneliness and alcoholism and doubt. But things made it easy now and then: the candles you light in front of the Virgin Mary at church, the hope you have of going to college and studying calculus and philosophy and Shakespeare, the ice cream your brother brings to the place where you hide from the most powerful man in your small world, the feel of your friend, your long-lost, still-priceless best friend as she holds you to her with heat and sweat and devastating, angelic beauty.
Someday it was going to be different. Someday just wishing to be free would make it true for Irene, and she wouldn't forget the people who brought her through, soft and easy and still alive, to the other side.
"Your love is better than ice cream
Better than anything else that I've tried
Your love is better than ice cream
Everyone here knows how to cry"
-Sarah McLachlan, "Ice Cream"