Summary: One year after he gets out of the Corps, Ray opens the bar he always joked about.
Disclaimer: This is based on the ficionalised HBO series, not the actual people portrayed in the book.
Notes/Warnings: This is my bartender!Ray fic that was supposed to be light and happy and turned into something more serious.
One year after he gets out of the Corps, Ray opens the bar he always joked about. He knows no one thought he was being serious, because that's how he likes people to think of him, but he was, dammit, and he'd done it all properly, fuck you very much - he'd done up a business plan, worked out the financials, researched things like licensees and business loans, and thirteen months after his paddle party, Devil Dogs had its grand opening a few blocks from good old Camp Pendleton.
The opening night is the kind of awesome that Ray normally doesn't remember. He dresses up, as much as he ever does, in jeans and a white button-down with the sleeves rolled up, and does his best impersonation of a respectable adult. The crowd, predictably, is mostly Marines, guys who don't need to ask if Ray's a grunt because it's written on the walls, very nearly literally - Ray's paddle is hung pride-of-place above the giant mirror behind the bar and the walls are covered with photos and articles about the Corps, most of them complimentary but not all because hello, he's Ray fucking Person, he lives to mock the Corps and that hasn't changed.
Ray recognises a few of the guys, gives them each a free drink, and listens to their stories about all the shit he's missed since he got out. It's like being back in the Corps, and he can almost forget that he's not out on libo with them, getting as drunk as possible as quickly as possible. A few times he has the jarring realisation that he's on the wrong side of the bar, is pouring the drinks instead of downing them, and it feels strange, wrong. He feels, for perhaps the first time in his life, like a proper adult, one who's got his own fucking business now. It's enough to make him grope for the whisky and down a shot.
When he finally kicks the last Corporal out, the sun is starting to stain the sky with light and the silence is ringing in his ears. He'd only had a few drinks, heavily mindful of his responsibilities despite what everyone thinks of his mentality, but his head is pounding anyway, and sweat is making his shirt stick to his skin. He looks around at the empty bar, the destruction thankfully minimal despite the herd of drunk Marines. None of the furniture got broken, which he's honestly surprised about, and figures everyone was being on relatively good behaviour for the big night. He's got a suspicion they won't be so careful tomorrow night.
Jesus, tomorrow. He's going to do all this shit again. And again. And again. Holy Jesus fucking Christ on a pogo stick.
Ray pushes away from the door, stumbles over to the bar. He gropes for the phone, fingers numb and slick on the plastic, but pauses with his fingers on the buttons. He looks around the bar, ghost images of Marines laughing and drinking swirling in the air, and slowly puts the phone down. He needs sleep before he does anything.
He's got a small apartment above the bar, everything still white and new and lifeless. He strips as he goes, shucking his boots and peeling off his shirt. When he eventually collapses on his bed he's wearing just his boxers, the air blessedly cool against his slick skin. He falls asleep sprawled all over the place, exhaustion and giddy fucking relief at getting through the first night dragging him under.
He spends a good couple of hours the next morning cleaning the bar, iPod blaring in his ears. Every now and then he'll think of something that happened, a joke someone said or that spontaneous chorus of We Are The Champions, and laugh. When he thinks of doing it all again tonight, it's not the mind-numbingly scary idea it was last night. He's actually kind of looking forward to it.
Cleaning done, he goes back upstairs and boots up his laptop. He wades through the usual spam, forwards and quick notes from his friends before opening up a new email, tapping thoughtfully at the keys. He's not sure why he's hesitating, would deny under torture that he was, but for the first time in his life, he can't figure out what to say.
Luckily, he's always had a brilliant way with words, so he starts typing and hopes that it'll eventually figure itself out. He ends up with a good three paragraphs of patented Ray Person wit, the last of which details the fact that he is now a respectable businessman with his very own bar and he's gonna settle down with a wife and a white picket fence any day now and that's a big fuck you to everyone who's ever said he wouldn't amount to anything and that includes you, Brad fucking Colbert the Great.
For some reason, he doesn't mention that the bar is right next to Pendleton.
It takes a week for Ray to realise that his bar is actually going to be kind of popular, and that even when it's not Marines, it's Marines' wives who somehow feel closer to their deployed partners by hanging out at their favourite bar, or women in short skirts like men in uniform, or scrawny guys with stick-thin limbs who think they're tough for hanging out at a Marine bar. He spends each night rushed off his feet, trying to do at least six things at once.
Eight days after the grand opening, he hires two bartenders-Nick and Dave, both likeable young guys who don't mind working hard and can handle the sort of things drunk Marines get up to. He gets a bitch of a headache when he realises he's going to have to sort out wages and shit, but he knew going into this that he'd have to deal with that crap, so he grits his teeth and muscles through. Besides, it's worth it simply for the chance to have a night off every now and then, and the knowledge that he can duck upstairs or out the back for a breather when he needs it.
After that, things settle into a routine, and Ray finds himself settling into the role of bar owner better than he thought. When someone he knows comes in, he comes around the bar and hangs out with them for a while, shooting the shit like they're in the middle of Iraq, drinking warm water while leaning against a Humvee. The first time someone from Bravo Two comes in-Lilley-he gives him a free beer and grills him on all the other guys.
A week later, Walt comes in, and Ray hugs him so hard he's surprised he doesn't break something. Walt laughs, pushes Ray away and demands a beer. He gets free beers the whole night.
Walt's been there a couple of hours when he finally asks what the hell made Ray do this, open a bar and be an adult, and Ray says it's the only thing he ever saw himself doing once he got out of the Corps. When Walt asks why he put down roots right next to Pendleton, Ray shrugs and hands him another beer. He knows Walt notices his non-answer, but he's a good enough friend that he doesn't mention it.
News gets around quickly, that never changes, and within a month of opening, he's had emails or voicemails from just about every member of Bravo Two and from a few other guys as well. Rudy says that he's glad Ray has found his place and is still taking care of his brothers. Q-Tip says he expects a free beer and a karaoke machine when he gets his ass back on American soil. The best message is the one Nate leaves, saying that he's proud of Ray, that he always knew he'd do something good like this, and that when he's got the time, he'll visit and check in properly. It makes Ray smile for a reason he can't explain, because he's never been one of those guys that's all eager for their LT's approval, but knowing he's got it anyway is good, comforting.
Brad only mentions the bar once, in reply to Ray's original email about it, and it was just a quick couple of lines, probably sent in between training missions, the usual Colbert sarcasm shining through the little black letters. He mocks Ray's ability to run a business, and declares he'd never trust anything Ray served for fear Ray had pissed (or worse) in it, and it's what Ray expected, but it still rings wrong. He wonders if he should've told Brad where his bar is, but he doesn't.
Sometimes someone will tell him they'll be MIA for X amount of time because they're being deployed, and everyone in that unit gets a free beer. Sometimes a wife or girlfriend will come in, eyes big and sad, and Ray will let them sit in the corner, with a beer or even coffee if they want it, listens when they want to talk.
Sometimes someone will say the wrong thing or punch the wrong guy on the arm and it all kicks off, battle-frayed emotions blowing apart like a mortar's gone off, but everyone works to get it sorted out, pulling guys apart until heads have cooled and sanity reigns again. Ray doesn't bar anyone for things like that, even though he knows other people would. But fuck those assholes, he knows what these guys are going through, the memory of tackling Rudy still fresh in his mind.
Sometimes a guy will come in and silently hand Ray a photograph, and then it's a free shot for everyone and a moment of silence. The photos get stuck to the mirror behind the bar, lining the edges of the glass.
Sometimes Ray will look at the mirror, the dusty and sunburned faces staring back at him, and wonders how long it'll be until there's a face there he recognises. Once, after a long night when his eyes are gritty with the need for sleep, he's locking up when he glances at the mirror and swears he sees Brad's picture there. He closes his eyes, and when he opens them again, Brad's gone, but the sick feeling doesn't leave Ray for a good two days.
The beginning of December is the bar's one-year anniversary/birthday. Ray hasn't quite decided which is appropriate but he just says fuck it and throws the biggest party possible. He leaves Nick and Dave in charge, trusting by now that they can handle anything, and spends the night getting drunk, already kind of high from the idea that he made it a whole year. He laughs with all the guys who slap him on the back and tell him good job, downs shots with those that said they had a bet going that he'd never make it so long. He got the karaoke machine Q-Tip wanted a while ago and a couple of hours into the night, he grabs the mic and sings all his favourite AC/DC songs, mostly shrill and off-key.
There's beer and sweat staining his black wifebeater, he's got a stack of paperwork to plough through in the next week, and he's drunk enough that he's going to have the mother of all hangovers tomorrow, but as he's clutching the mic screaming out Back in Black, he can't remember ever feeling so happy.
When Christmas rolls around, Ray decorates the bar in the gaudiest decorations he can find until the whole place is a riot of sparkling colour. There's a tree in the corner, and every now and then a present will appear under it, the name scrawled on the paper belonging to one of the photos on the mirror. Ray can't remember when the first present appeared, when the tradition started or who started it, but he knows that next year, it'll happen again, they'll remember their brothers again.
Walt and Lilley are deployed in Iraq again, and all the other members of Bravo Two are with their families, scattered across the country. Only Ray remains, carefully carving a place for himself here, slowly making it home. On Christmas Eve, he looks around the bar and compares it to the first night; a lot has changed.
In addition to the photos and articles hung on the walls, there are now personal photos from various units and platoons, including a couple of Bravo Two. There's a photo on the left side of the door of Brad, Walt, Trombley and Ray, snapped by Reporter when they weren't looking. On the right wall is a large First Recon banner that had arrived anonymously a couple of months after the bar opened. Ray likes to think it was someone in Command-maybe even Godfather-silently and secretly giving his approval. In the back corner there's the karaoke machine, plus a set of drums and a guitar. Sometimes, if he's not too busy, he'll grab the guitar and play a few songs with the guys. He likes those nights.
Glancing at his watch, Ray isn't quite surprised to see that it's well past midnight-he'd shut early because it was Christmas Eve and business was slow, but it's still kinda strange to have the bar empty this early. He grins, walks around the bar and pours himself some of the really good Scotch. He raises it in toast, smiling around at the empty bar. It's nearly perfect.
Summer is rolling through, although it being California the weather stays pretty much the same, and Ray is killing time in the afternoon, sprawled at one of the tables with a book. The bar doesn't open for a few hours and he's up-to-date on all of his paperwork for the first time since the bar actually opened, so he's celebrating with a cool beer and some post-apocalypse zombie fiction. It's pretty cool shit, and there's an ex-solider in the rag-tag band of survivors who's pretty hardcore. Not as hardcore as he would be if he was a Marine, of course, but you can't have everything, so Ray still cheers him on as he gleefully decapitates zombies.
There's enough background noise outside that he doesn't hear the quiet scratching at the door, the slow turning of the lock, and with his back turned to the door, he doesn't see the movement of someone outside either. The first he's aware of the intruder is when they speak and Ray is thankful no one's there to witness the shameful lapse in his sneaky-ninja-asshole skills.
Ray jerks, jumping to his feet and spinning around. He's got his fists raised automatically, because anyone trying to rob his bar is going to have their ass handed to them on a fucking plate, but they fall to his sides, limp and useless, when he sees who it is. Brad stands by the door, dressed in jeans and a tee shirt. Ray can't remember ever seeing Brad in civilian clothes before and he looks stupidly good in them, relaxed and at ease, like the stress and responsibility of being in the Corps melts away the second he shucks his uniform.
“You're here,” Ray says dumbly, and then shakes his head, grins widely. “Fuck, Brad, why didn't you tell me you were back in the country?”
Brad shrugs one shoulder. “I don't tell you everything. Like you don't tell me everything.”
Ray's not stupid enough to miss the subtle accusation, and he scrunches up his face. “It... slipped my mind?”
Brad's laugh is dry and sharp. “Sure. It slipped your mind that you moved across the country and set up shop five fucking minutes from fucking Camp Pendleton? What the fuck, Ray?”
Ray frowns, picks up his book and moves to put it behind the bar. He's pretty sure Brad doesn't miss the fact that he's just put a very physical barrier between them. “What's it matter to you, Brad? I mean, you're off in merry fucking England and I've gotta make a living. This is as good as place to do it as any and I get to hang with my friends most nights.”
Brad crosses the bar in a few quick steps, somehow managing to make the movement look easy and slow. He leans against the bar, leaning forward slightly so that he's almost invading Ray's personal space but not quite; destroying the barrier Ray put between them.
“Is that the only reason you did it, Ray?”
Ray doesn't answer, grits his teeth and keeps his eyes firmly downcast. He knows everything is written on his face, anyway, because his poker face goes to shit when Brad is involved. Brad's laugh this time is softer, the kind Ray used to get in the Humvee after a rousing chorus of cheesy eighties pop.
“This is verging on pathetic, even for you, Ray,” Brad says, but his tone is warm, takes the sting out of the words.
Ray looks up, eyes wide, and that's all Brad needs to lunge forward and kiss him. Ray makes a little yelping noise that he'll deny to his dying day, which again is all Brad needs, and he slips his tongue past Ray's lips, a teasing little slide before he pulls back completely. He sits down on a stool and smirks at Ray, who can only stand there stupidly. After a second he licks his lips, and then grins, slapping his hands down on the bar.
“Fucking yeah, homes, it's about fucking time! I gotta follow you around like a puppy dog for another four years before you jerk me off or can I expect that in the next ten minutes?”
Brad throws his head back and laughs. “You perverted little hick, is there any time when you're not thinking with your cock?”
“My cock is awesome, homes, you just wait and see. But seriously, I have a bed upstairs, am I going to have to drag you?”
Brad shakes his head, but stands up and follows Ray up to his apartment. Ray doesn't even waste energy talking bullshit because if he knows Brad at all (and he really fucking does) he's going to need all the energy he's got.
He knew opening the bar would be a good decision.