April After All

(Many thanks to China Shop for beta!)


After Ray and Fraser split, Ray goes on a couple of dates with this guy named Mike. This is at the seven-month point, when he's just starting to feel like things might be okay after all, when it's starting to look like he might actually survive. He knows this place, this hopeful place you get to after The Land of Fucked and Miserable; he's been in this place before. This is the place where you start to notice stuff again, like hey, what do you know: it's spring! and huh, somebody made me and Vecchio partners?

It's a good place, but it's a real fragile place. If things go sour, you can wake up in that other place again just as easy, walking around your disgusting apartment in your underpants, drinking a stale beer at ten o'clock in the morning, thinking about how you've sucked at love since the very beginning when Shelly Dudley ate her Captain America sticker just to keep you from getting it--and Christ, if that ain't a bitter ex, Ray doesn't know what is. So yeah, hope is nice but it's scary, too. Ray's been burned enough times by now that he spends half the time he's with Mike trying to beam secret messages into his head: Be nice, don't fuck with me. Please.

So naturally, Mike blows him off. Does it over the phone, too, when Ray's at work, for Christ's sake, with Vecchio standing three feet away. "Listen, Ray. You're a sweet guy, but I just think it's too soon, you know? I mean, you just seem kinda...cautious, still."

Ray glances at Vecchio, who's squinting at the copier like it's taking up all his attention. Ray scowls. Turns his back to Vecchio and hunches over. "What do you mean, cautious? I'm not fucking cautious. I--"

"I'm sorry, Ray. Maybe in another couple of months. You have my number. Take care, okay?" And the line goes dead.

Ray feels his shoulders slump. He sits there listening to the silence humming for a couple of seconds before he finally sets the receiver back in the cradle. He can feel Vecchio watching him now, like Vecchio's eyes have special powers and they can drill right through his skin. Vecchio thinks him and Ray have stuff in common--he's made noises about hanging out before. Ray guesses on the surface it might look that way, what with Vecchio being Fraser's partner at one time too, and the living-undercover-thing, and how they both were married to Stella. But what Vecchio don't know is this: whatever commonality they might have is completely superficial. Nobody knows what Ray has been through in his life. Nobody ever can.

"Hey," Vecchio says softly now. "You want we should go get some dinner or something?"

Ray shakes his head but he doesn't say anything, doesn't look at Vecchio.

Vecchio shifts. "Come on. My treat tonight, all r--"

"Don't," Ray says, half-turning. "Just...do not do that. I gotta...I'll see you tomorrow." And he's out of there.

He gets to his car and sits behind the wheel for a while, feeling gut-punched and pissed off and sick to his stomach. The sun is going down. The trees are green and the birds are chirping. The sky looks blue and pink and gold. Ray thumps a fist on the steering wheel. He should have known better than to try and date a guy like Mike, anyway, with his put-together apartment and his job at the...at wherever the fuck it is that he works. Sure, Mike might be hot, with that close-cropped fair hair and that cut boxer's build. He might own a sweet re-built 1953 Indian Chief and the LP of MC5's Kick Out The Jams with the original liner notes intact. But that doesn't matter. Ray doesn't care. In fact, he is glad to be rid of stupid Mike with his stupid cool stuff. Sayonara, Mike! You had your chance.

Ray sighs and lets his head fall back against the seat, scrubbing his hands over his face. Yeah, right, he thinks. Who does he think he's fooling? He's got nothing and nobody--not even a fucking prospect on the horizon. And he cannot believe how unfair that is, because it's not like he isn't making an effort, here. It's not like he isn't pulling his weight. Why won't the universe just cut him a fucking break, already?

After a while, he sighs and lets his hands fall away from his face. Fumbles for his keys and sticks them in the ignition. One thing he knows for sure: he is not going back to Fucked And Miserable Land tonight, no fucking way. He is springing himself, is what he's doing right here. He is gonna go to a certain bar he knows and get shitfaced and then laid, or possibly laid and then shitfaced, depending on how the night goes down. Misery can have him tomorrow, maybe. But tonight, he is his own man.

*

He dresses in a brand new pair of skinny black jeans and his best fuck-me t-shirt. Sticks some condoms in his pocket and mugs at himself in the mirror. And fuck, he might be heartbroken and maybe a little bit old, but he still has it, baby; he is one sexy man. He shoves a hand into his hair, messes it up a little more. Yeah, yeah. All right then.

The bar he picks is a place called Reilly's, and it's not exactly a fine upstanding kind of establishment. The floor's sticky. The room is dark. The music comes from the jukebox in the corner and there's nothing danceable about it, but there's a guy dancing anyway, slow and drunk and off the beat, one hand braced on the speaker. The regulars are at their tables--around here, it's a mix of elderly queens and slumming college kids looking half freaked out and half impressed. A few working trannies, too, over at the bar. And, of course, Ray's target audience--the lone guys in the shadows, all of them pretending that they aren't really here. It's still early, but Ray sees one happy couple heading off toward the john already.

He slides onto a stool at the bar, jerks his chin at the bartender. She's talking on the phone with somebody, but she props the receiver between her shoulder and her chin so she can get Ray his beer.

He takes a long sip and turns around, leaning back with his elbows on the bar. Then, just in case he isn't obvious enough, he lets his legs sprawl a bit: come and get it.

All of three seconds later, he gets his first bite--a tall guy, younger than Ray but not too young, wearing a ball cap and a Bulls t-shirt untucked, fratboy style. Option B, then, Ray thinks, and sets his beer on the bar. When the guy asks "Can I get you a drink?" Ray shakes his head, grins up at him slow, says, "Nah. Lets just cut to the chase."

The guy gives him an answering grin and tilts his head toward the door. And hell yeah, Ray thinks, lighting up a cigarette as he follows the guy outside. Tonight he is gonna get a blowjob from a jock; misery can go fuck itself.

*

Except, Ray thinks half an hour later, he forgot about one essential thing--which is that the universe has it in for him and hates his fucking guts.

He shoves Mr. Jock--a.k.a. Dean Larkin, according to the profile that came up when they printed him downstairs--into a wooden chair in front of the obs window in Interview One.

"You going to uncuff me or what?" Larkin says.

"No," Ray says, without looking at the guy. "And shut up." He paces to the door and peers out the little window. The hallway is empty--no sign of Vecchio yet. Ray takes a deep breath, smells stale sweat and cigarette smoke, feels his ribs twinge where Larkin got a hit in. His bottom lip is cut, too--he can taste it when he swipes his tongue there--and there's a bruise coming high up on one cheek. Larkin looks a whole fuck of a lot worse, though, so that's something, anyway. Ray smiles tightly.

"Hey," Larkin says, and shifts his weight, making the chair creak. "Hey, detective."

Ray taps his fingertips against the door. Anytime, Vecchio, he thinks.

"You think I'm gonna keep my mouth shut?" Larkin says. "You think people aren't gonna believe me?"

Ray rolls his shoulders out, takes a nice, slow breath. Tries not to let it get to him. People already know he's queer. He's sure they do. If they weren't tipped off by his total lack of discretion about who he flirts with, then they had to have caught on when he moved to Canada with his partner--which is not exactly the kind of thing straight guys do with their pals. So yeah, if there was going to be some kind of reaction, it would have happened already. Plus, anyway, they have that thing now, that Committee thing, with the human rights pamphlets and those stickers. Ray's got nothing to worry about. He is golden.

"Flap, flap, flap, man. That's my mouth, spreading the news about your queer ass all over this station." Larkin grins at him, shaking his head. "You should have just let me have your wallet. You are so screwed."

Ray's halfway across the room before he knows what he's doing, and Larkin lunges up off his chair with his teeth bared, and that is greatness, because Ray is itching to pop him one. He pulls a fist back and Larkin sneers...and then Vecchio pushes in through the door with a bunch of papers in his hand. Larkin and Ray both stop and look at him.

Vecchio sizes up the situation in a glance. "Sit," he tells Larkin, and Larkin does. Vecchio shuts the door and locks it behind himself. He gives Ray a look and Ray lowers his arm, cracks his neck and thumps into the chair next to Larkin's. "Okay," Vecchio says, sitting down across from Ray. He pulls a blank statement form out of the stack, clicks the nib of his pen into place and gives Ray a nod. "What happened?"

Ray shrugs. "Punk tried to mug me," he says.

Vecchio looks up from the paper, gives Larkin a slow once-over, taking in the blacked eye and the bloody nose, the ripped-up t-shirt and the cuffs on his wrists. He gives Ray a wry smile. "We got ourselves a criminal mastermind, huh?"

Larkin snorts. "Yeah, well, I wasn't exactly making him for a cop, seeing as how he had his fucking hand down my pants."

Ray doesn't move, doesn't say anything--just stops breathing and lifts his eyes to Vecchio's face.

Vecchio keeps his gaze on Larkin. "Did I ask you to talk, dirtbag? No, I did not. You keep your mouth shut until I point at you, understand?" He keeps looking at Larkin until Larkin looks away. Then he lifts that same steady gaze to Ray. "While the night's young, Kowalski."

The relief feels like that moment at the top of a ferris wheel when the world drops out from under you. Ray wipes his palms against his jeans and takes a deep breath. "So," he says. "I was at this bar on Clark--Reilly's. This guy comes over and offers to get me a drink. We, uh. Come to an agreement. I follow him out to the parking lot so we can get in my car. We're halfway there, he pulls a knife on me, tells me I gotta give him my wallet. There's uh, an altercation--I think you can see how that turned out. And so, you know. Here we are."

Vecchio writes this down. Ray gets up and paces around some, while Vecchio's busy. The night janitor's in the hallway, now, mopping the floor with her headphones on. It's late. Ray's lucky Vecchio was still here when he called.

"He cut you?" Vecchio's still writing, his eyes on the paper, his pen still moving on the page: scratch, scratch, scratch.

Ray feels himself smile, a little. "Nah," he says.

Vecchio nods. "All right." He writes a last sentence, signs the bottom of the statement, gets Ray to sign it too. "So," Vecchio says, piling the finished form on top of the others. "We pressing charges?" He looks up at Ray, and Ray takes a breath, meets his eyes.

"Yeah," Ray says.

Vecchio presses his lips together, but he holds Ray's gaze as he nods. "Okay then," he says, and lowers his eyes to the stack of forms in his hands. He nods again. "Okay--dirtbag. Imagine me pointing."

Larkin curls his lip. "I got nothing to say except I want a lawyer."

"Sounds good to me," Vecchio says. He pulls Larkin to his feet. "Come on, genius--you can wait for legal aid to come through downstairs. We got a bunk down there with your name on it."

Larkin goes where Vecchio pushes him, but he leers at Ray as they walk by. "Flap, flap, flap," he says. "Fucking f--"

He doesn't get to finish that sentence, though, because Vecchio grabs the back of his neck and shoves him hard against the wall, smushing his face into the plaster. Vecchio's expression never changes. He still looks calm and cool and collected.

"What the fuck?" Larkin says, struggling up off the wall.

Vecchio slams him back again. His shirtsleeves are rolled up, so Ray can see the tendons standing out on his hairy forearms. The rings on his fingers wink in the fluorescent light. A little gold cross falls forward to dangle out of his open shirt-collar, and fuck, he isn't even breathing hard.

"You watch your tone," he says. "That's what." He gives Larkin a shake and then takes his hand away, lets him up. Larkin cranes his neck, staring back at Vecchio like Vecchio's crazy. Vecchio ignores him. He wipes his hand against his pants, tugs his shirt into place and takes Larkin's arm again. "Get the door," he tells Ray.

Ray blinks and forces his mouth to close. "Okay," he says, and does.

*

Vecchio takes Larkin down to booking. "Wait at my desk," he tells Ray, and Ray just nods like a kid and does what Vecchio says, feeling kind of weird and unreal and stunned. Vecchio's desk is neater than Ray's. He has his files in stacks, with post-its attached to the top of each one: open cases and at trial and resolved. It's kind of eerie. Ray has to stick his hands under his arms to keep himself from fucking things up.

"Carwash," the night janitor sings. "We're workin' at the carwash!" She shimmies, too, as she works that mop, her behind swinging with the groove. Ray smiles, rocks Vecchio's chair back on its hind legs, nods his head to the imaginary beat. He wonders if she knows he's here.

"Jesus, Kowalski," Vecchio says mildly, "Didn't your mother ever tell you you could crack your head that way?" He's standing in front of the desk with his coat over one shoulder and his other hand in his pocket. He doesn't look ticked off--he's maybe even smiling a little--but Ray lets the chair thump down anyway, and gets to his feet.

"That was, uh." He doesn't know what to say to Vecchio. He feels like of all the shit he hasn't been seeing these past few months, he's been not-seeing Vecchio the most. Should he apologise for that? Or would that make him seem like a pussy? He doesn't know anymore.

"You know that punk had outstandings in three other states? Took for fucking ever to get him booked. You owe me one, Kowalski. I am beat."

Ray crosses his arms over his chest. "Yeah, well...god forbid you should actually have to work for a living," he tries.

Vecchio grins. "Fuck you, Stanley," he says. "I try to do you a favour, and look where it gets me. Your gratitude is overwhelming."

Ray has to look down at the worn-out tiles for a minute, has to swallow hard for no good reason at all. "Bite me," he manages finally, and looks up at Vecchio again.

Vecchio scowls at him, but his eyes are warm--and so is his hand when he brings it up to cup the back of Ray's neck. "Come on," he says. "Ma made me promise to bring you by this week; you might as well make it tonight. You keep a civil tongue in your head, I might even heat you up some leftovers." He gives Ray's neck a squeeze and tugs him toward the door.

And Ray notices that Vecchio has a callus on his thumb and a way of walking which is just this side of comical. He notices that Vecchio's deodorant apparently doesn't work so good because there's a wet spot under his arm, and that Vecchio's voice changes when he talks about his family, so you can tell he loves them no matter what his mouth is saying. He notices Vecchio drives like he fights, surprisingly sexy, and that he has a scar by his lip and a dimple in his chin, and a way of saying certain words with an accent--even though he says he doesn't talk Italian.

"I'm still kind of cautious," Ray says, stupidly, blurting it out in the middle of some story Vecchio's telling about some additional way the IRS screwed him this year.

Vecchio stops talking and smiles, slow and sweet. "Yeah," he says, still looking out the windshield at the late-night street in front of them. "I know that. I know."