DueSouth Seekrit Santa Story


Here and Now

for buzzylittleb

by jamethiel_bane

Author's Notes: Here's cheers to the betas! debra_tabor, nos4a2no9, justjeanette, _bounce_, sansets and catwalksalone provided subtextual analysis, enthusiasm and (mostly) managed to restrain my enthusiasm for the semi-colon. Any remaining mistakes are entirely my own.

Chicago, 1971.

When Ray is eleven years old, his mother sends him to fetch his father home from the bar. Usually his brother Toby would go, but Toby finally got Luisa Bernetti to go out with him last summer. They've been going steady ever since and tonight is the night Toby meets her parents. Maria and Frannie can't go -- you don't send a girl to a place like Fanelli's -- and besides, they're too young. His father went to join the card- game that's been running out of Fanelli's for the last 20 years instead of going to mass with the family. It's 8:30pm now, and dinner's been ready since 6:00pm. Ray just wants to eat, but Ma won't put dinner on the table unless the old man is there to eat with them.

The air in the bar is blue with smoke. The old men sitting at the bar turn around for a second, but lose interest when they see Ray. One of them nudges Pop ("the old man" mutters the back of his brain rebelliously) and he turns around a little unsteadily, squinting to focus his eyes on Ray.


"Yeah, Pop. It's me. Ma said that the Osso Bucco will get dry if she cooks it any longer. You need to come home now."

Pop squints at him for a second longer and then nods, downing the rest of his shot and reaching a shaky hand down into his pocket for his wallet, but Tony the barman waves a hand at him. "Save it, Vecchio. We'll put it on your tab."

There is a chorus of muffled snorts and the guy third from the end of the bar (Ray thinks his name might be Sal Gazzo) mutters "Sure," but Ray doesn't know what that means. Pop is getting off the stool now, swaying slightly. He takes a step forward, reaching to lean on Ray and Ray flinches. He can smell the sour smell of whiskey on Pop's breath. Pop puts his weight on Ray. It's really too much weight, but at least he's up and moving now. Ray starts towards the door, but Pop has other ideas.

"This is m'son. This is my boy Raimundo. He's a good boy," and Ray is forced to stand still, burning with embarrassment and fighting back the urge to deny any relationship. They already know who he is and he just wants to get out of here.

Ray stands there and meets the indifferent stares and nods as he helps his father into his coat and scarf. "Okay, Pop. We need to go now," and finally they're out the door.

Pop stops three times along the way. The first time is because he's forgotten that they need to turn east before they swing north and the second time is because he needs to take a piss. Ray stands there at the edge of the side-walk -- with his back to the old man and his ears burning. Pop's grunt and the hiss and splash of urine hitting the side of the building reaches his ears and even though the street is deserted, Ray feels like he's branded by being the kid of this drunk who pisses in public. Pop zips up and puts his weight back on Ray's shoulder and they start making their slow progress forward.

The third time is when Pop sinks to one knee and then falls flat on his ass on the side-walk with a thump. His feet are sticking out over the gutter and into the street, but Ray can't bring himself to care. He just wants to get home. "Come on, Pop." Ray can hear the whine in his own voice and knows that it isn't the smartest thing to do. That Pop hates it when he whines, but he can't stop himself.

"You know, I wasn't always like this. But here and now, this is all I can be. I don't want this for you, Raimundo. You're a smart boy. Dress snappy. You can be something." Pop reaches out to (probably) pat Ray's cheek, but Ray steps backwards and avoids him. It's probably okay, but sometimes (only sometimes though) Pop turns nasty when he drinks. He watches as Pop levers himself up to keep on with the journey home.

When they get there, Ma fusses around Pop, taking his coat, hanging his scarf up on the tree in the hallway. The rest of the family is already seated, but Frannie is hovering about half-way up the first flight of stairs, clutching her ragged old teddy that's been handed down from Vecchio to Vecchio and staring through the banisters. Ray goes up and takes a seat beside her.

"Can we eat now, Ray?"

The look on her face breaks his heart. "Yeah, sure, Frannie. I think Ma got chocolate gelato for dessert."

She slips a hand in his on the way to the table. It's faintly moist and sticky but he holds it anyway.


Chicago, 1997

Ray looks at the photos in front of him. He's been stuck in this airless, windowless room for three days. He can name over three-quarters of the goumbas that he's meant to have worked with since Armando Langoustini clawed his way up through the ranks of the made men with viciousness and knowledge of everyone's wants. You want a shipment of AK-47's and enough ammunition to kill the population of a small country? Armando is your man.

Only now Ray is your man, and Ray is not Ray, he's Armando. Jesus Christ he's got a headache. Not to mention that Special Agent Franks' deodorant gave up its last efforts about five hours ago and these metal chairs are NOT comfortable. Fuck it, they're in the basement of the 27th: they're not designed to be comfortable, they're designed to make perps as uncomfortable as possible. Probably to make them reflect on their sins. They're certainly making Ray reflect on what he must have done to deserve what's happening to his suit. His trousers have lost their crease, his shirt is rumpled and Ray doesn't think that even his dry- cleaner is going to be able to get Franks' stink out of his clothes. Ma is going to have a fit if he doesn't come home for dinner.

Franks is flashing pictures up at him, and Ray is hungry and tired and just wants to get home to his family. He hesitates on the name of Artie "The Bear" Dennini and Franks explodes.

"You decide to do this and you are here. Right now, with me one-hundred percent. I need your total commitment on this or we might as well forget it and cancel this operation. We have a week to get you reacting to these guys like you've known them for twenty years and if you get made the first time you meet them you are useless to us. Useless." Franks scrubs his face tiredly. Ray thinks about his father's debts (thank God the bank never gave him a mortgage on it, or they would lose the house too) and how Frankie Zuko struts around saying that he cares about Ray's neighborhood even though Frankie is the worst thing to hit it in years.

Armando is far worse than Frankie Zuko. Armando is what Frankie Zuko wishes he could be. Ray knows that if he can beat down Zuko, he can be Armando. Better than Armando. He can be what Armando (if he wasn't dead) wishes that Armando can be. And then he can put it down and walk away and sleep at night because he has done his part to stop them. Ray has seen it all before. Yeah, they're a part of the community and have shaped it, but then so was polio. Ray waits until Franks turns around and then meets his eyes.

"Yeah. I'm here."

He never does make it home for dinner that night.


Vegas, 1998

Armando stares impassively as Sal and Tomas force Freddie Caruana to his knees on the carpet. Freddie's been a bad, bad boy: skimming from the top, doubling up on some businesses (but only if he thinks they can afford it and won't complain). He's been clever, but not clever enough. Really, Armando doesn't know whether to feel admiration for the kid's balls or pity for his brains. Ray's not sure what he thinks about Armando thinking that.

If he'd tried to brazen it out, Armando might have had his elbows broken and left it at that. But Jesus Christ, the kid is crying. Crying. You can't have a mobster who fucking cries, it's bad for the image. Armando stares at Freddie for a while until Freddie's wails trail off into broken sobs. There's still a hitch in his breathing every so often, but that's okay. He can talk without sounding like he's going to spray snot everywhere, which is what Armando cares about.

"So. Freddie. I'm out seeing the sights, having breakfast at Boardwalk Casino -- and may I just take a moment to say that for $1.29, their breakfast special really hits the spot, that it isn't so bad to be one of the masses. So I'm having breakfast when a guy I know comes up to me and tells me that there is some concern among the people we provide security for at the sudden hike in premiums. I think that this is just the usual, bitch and moan about how hard times are, but then he tells me that there have been double collections for about 2 months now.

"So I do a little digging. A little investigating. And what do you think I find?" Armando walks forward and Freddie's head tilts back to follow him. Armando lays a hand alongside Freddie's face and slaps him gently. Or maybe not so gently: Freddie blinks back tears.

"What I don't understand is, why you wouldn't come to me on this? I'm a reasonable man. Also, not a bad idea: you've proved that those businesses have maybe been a little lax in paying for their protection. If you can squeeze them and they don't yelp, then they've still got something in them. Having a man who can spot that is very important. But going out on your own like that? Not the smartest thing. So talk to me."

Freddie sniffs and opens his mouth. Armando gives him an encouraging smile. "It's just -- Boss, there is so much more I can do here. I, I got talents. And I'm stuck on this fucking milk run and even that's not the way it should be. I mean, they don't respect us any more. We should really make them respect us."

Armando nods. "Freddie. I can appreciate where you're coming from. I really can. But the trouble is, you didn't come to me with this. You didn't come to me and say 'Boss, I think we can do more. These are my ideas.' You didn't give me a chance. Then you went and stole from me: you want to talk to me about respect? How about you showing me some."

Freddie reaches a hand up imploringly and Ray has a second to think God. Maybe I can save this kid after all. Then he sees that Freddie's other hand is going for his ankle gun.

Which Sal and Tomas have obviously seen too. Tomas grabs Freddie's hand and twists. There's a sickening snap but Freddie's whimper of pain is lost as Sal casually back-hands him. Freddie's nose streams blood, Sal grabs the gun out of the holster and coolly unloads it and sticks it in his belt. Ray looks at Freddie and feels sick.

Not that it shows on his face, of course. Armando stares back at the kid impassively and Ray wills the kid to shut up, just shut it, don't make it any worse but Freddie obviously isn't hearing him because he's angry and twists up to spit at Armando. Sal jerks Freddie's head back and is obviously going to hit him again when Armando holds up a hand.

"See, you're making this very difficult for me personally. I like you, Freddie. You got potential. Which is why it makes me sad to see you throwing this all away."

Freddie laughs, which makes the blood bubble unappealingly out his nose. "Throw what away? The chance to be the lowest man on the ladder for ever, clean up all your shit and never get anywhere? I know you can offer me more than that, Boss. I'm sure the Feds would be very interested in your business activities, if you know what I mean."

Armando stares at Freddie for a second and shakes his head. "You dumb punk. You think you're in a position to negotiate here?" He looks at Sal and nods. "Get rid of this for me, will you?"

This seems to penetrate: Freddie's bravado melts and he starts crying in earnest. "Boss, no, wait. I didn't mean that, I swear I wouldn't. I just -- please, ya gotta let me, please --" Freddie is falling forward and clutching Ray around the ankles, rubbing his bloody tearstained face on Ray's shoes. Ray has to resist the urge to say Yeah. Fuck it. Come on, kid, we're getting out of here and drawing his gun and incidentally taking out a fucking announcement that he's an undercover cop and getting them both shot. Yeah, that sounds like a really good idea. Not to mention that if he didn't die here, the Feds would probably shoot him themselves for blowing a year long undercover operation. Ray opens his mouth and for one horrible second his voice won't work, and then --

"Take care of this." Thank God his voice is steady. Ray concentrates on not throwing up for a second as Sal and Tomas hustle Freddie out the door. Ray stares intently at his feet for a second and thinks Here and now, I am Armando.

"And Sal? Contact my valet. I've got blood and snot all over my shoes."


Chicago, 1998

Armando is doing the Iguana family proud. Muldoon is crazy, but he's sharp. Things are going well: they've finally stopped dancing around each other. When Muldoon mentions what he has to trade for the deal he wants Armando to broker for, the hair on Armando's neck stands up.

This is big. This is huge. Muldoon's wary though: have to play it smart. Armando has his dignity, not to mention he's representing the entire south west branch of the family. Brokering a deal like this could make them.

Which is why he gets such a shock when Benny turns up at the door and starts calling him Ray. He tries to play it cool, but Muldoon recognizes Fraser. And Jesus, what were the CPD thinking? Getting a skinny blond guy to play him. At least he's good looking, even if he doesn't know how to dress.

This is a complete fuck up. He can tell Benny has seen Armando in his eyes. Ray's not sure that he isn't Armando. But he can be Armando, if he can just hold it together for a little while longer.

"You. Dead guy. Get up."

Armando has his uses. Muldoon's convinced and the bait is taken.

"So long Armando Langoustini. It's been good knowing you."

The skinny blond guy is so totally fixated on Benny that Ray's own heart gives a twinge of sympathy. Not that he ever felt like that around Fraser, but he's seen it happen before. Fraser has this -- unique field, almost like gravity. You get in range and sooner or later you get off balance and start falling.

Ray's glad he got away before it happened to him. Or maybe he didn't. Ray can't work out whether he feels glad or sick. Now he's going to be going back to Ma, Tony, Maria and Frannie. Ray is starting to feel dizzy. He's not sure who he is any more.

Luckily, his replacement picks a fight. Either as Armando or Ray, fighting is one thing he knows how to do.

So it turns out that the blond guy's name is Stanley Kowalski. He's nervy and twitchy and Ray sympathizes, he really does. Undercover is lonely. That's a fact that they both know in their bones. But fighting with Kowalski makes Ray feel more alive than he has done since he went into the basement of the 27th with Franks as Ray and came out as Armando. Maybe if he fights to be Ray it'll seem like some kind of a prize.

Maybe it's being shot, but the feeling of being off balance seems to be worse when Fraser and Kowalski disappear. He gets a chance to be Armando again and it's -- a rush. An honest to God rush to see hardened criminals trip over themselves to help The Bookman.

Ray wanders round the station feeling like a ghost. He's done what he can: he doesn't have any snitches any more, but he can't just go home. Cyrus Bolt is a lunatic. He'll slip up sooner or later. Huey and the new guy leave and the knockout blonde is about to leave too.

"I'm sorry; I don't think I've had the pleasure." Ray remembers this. Smooth and charming: he can do this.

"Stella. Stella Kowalski." Stella extends a hand for him to shake. She's charmed and he's feeling better about being Ray Vecchio already.


Florida, 1999

Ray's hand leaves a sweaty smudge on the accounts book. The fan stirs the air lazily, but doesn't do much for the humidity. In the corner, Stella looks worn as she totals up last month's receipts.


There's a fly buzzing against the window in the office. Over and over it dashes itself against the glass. Ray watches is for a moment, hypnotized and then realizes that Stella has been speaking to him for a while.

"... overheads are just too high. We really need to cut back, raise the prices or get people spending more in here. Or a combination of all three." Stella pauses expectantly and then sounds even more worn when he doesn't comment. "Ray. I know this isn't the life you imagined ?"

"Stella. It's not that I don't want it, I just --" Ray cuts himself off, frustrated, and shoves the chair back to stand and stare out the window. Stella makes an understanding sound and comes up behind him, linking her hands together in front of his chest and laying her head against his shoulder blades.

"What do you say? We'll call it a night. I picked up some mango, lime and cilantro salsa at the deli. That will go really well with the Mahi Mahi you picked up this morning. It's been curing in lime, we won't even have to cook." Stella rubs encouraging circles on his chest and Ray has to clench his hands to stop himself from picking up her hands and flinging them from him.

"Stella. We need to get this done." Stella retreats, rebuffed. Ray steels himself to turn and start the familiar dance: It's not you, it's me. I thought I wanted this: I did want this. Only I'm not who I thought I was when I wanted this. He's actually opened his mouth to speak when he hears raised voices at the bar. That is not celebration for a strike.

Ray strides to the door and opens it, taking in the situation at a glance. There's Tom, the bartender: soaking wet. It looks like someone's upended a glass on him. And what do you know? Across from him are a group of five college kids. Their faces are flushed with alcohol and one of them is brandishing an empty coke cup. Ray picks up a dishcloth from the end of the bar and walks over to hand it to Tom.

"Boss." Tom nods and takes the cloth, mopping at his face and then hair before dabbing at his shirt.

"Tom. I'll handle this. Go get cleaned up." Tom hands him the damp cloth and Ray folds it precisely in half, then half again as he walks over to the group. Taking his time. He puts the cloth on the bar and smiles and the boy holding the empty cup decides that this is a sign of conciliation. Of friendliness.

He is so wrong.

Ray reaches over and grabs the punk by the front of his shirt, swinging to pin him to the pillar by the end of the bar. He can feel his eyes go cold: the kid looks terrified.

"Listen, you dumb punk. You and all your friends are going to leave my bar and never come back again, or I swear I will kill you and then feed your corpse to the alligators. Do you understand?" The kid doesn't answer and Ray shakes him, thumping his head up against the concrete. "Do you understand!" Ray can feel the ugliness welling up inside him and he knows this kid's name could be Frankie or Irene or any of the other people he's gotten killed over the years. Even as Ray his hands were never clean.

Stella comes out of the office, clutching a phone to her ear. "I've called the cops." She looks at the rest if the group, frozen in terror and adds dryly "You might want to leave now."

The kids scramble to the door. Ray watches them go and starts when Stella carefully wraps a hand around his. "You can let go now, Ray." He uncurls his hand from the punk's shirt. It looks like the kid is thinking of mouthing off. Ray meets his eyes and the kid slowly backs towards the exit, hands held up.

Ray turns to face Stella and she almost flinches, chin rising imperceptibly. She walks into the office to collect her bag and then says coolly "Shall we go?" They ride home in strained silence.

When they get home Stella goes straight to the fridge to put dinner on the counter-top. Ray has a momentary flash of Oh, thank God. We're not going to talk about this now when Stella pours two careful glasses of wine for them and says "You know, Ray. It's not that this isn't working, because it could. But since we've been here, I've gotten the feeling that you don't know what you want." She opens up the salsa container and bends to get the plates out of the cupboard. Plating up the separate portions. Not looking at him. She rinses the container and sets it neatly in the dishwasher. Dishes up the fish.

"I do love you, Ray. I'm also a grown up, and I know that trying to keep someone in a place they're not sure they want to be is an experiment doomed to failure. You know what? I love it here. Here and now, this is where I want to be. Heat and mosquitoes and all. You just have to decide if this is where you want to be."

She hands him his plate and glass and turns to pick up her own. "Let me know what you decide."

Ray sits with his feet in the pool for the rest of the night. The moist Florida air feels cool on his skin. The sunrise warms him. He may have been here for a year, but this is not his home. Then Stella's in the kitchen cooking pancakes. He opens the door and she smiles wryly.

"Want some pancakes before you go?"

"Yeah. That sounds good." Ray smiles at Stella and she smiles back. The sunlight's on her face and he'll miss her.


Chicago, 2000

Ray is in the break-room at the 27th, wondering whether throwing out the dregs and making a new pot would make the coffee any better when someone shoulders past him. He's about to say "Hey. What the hell do you think you're doing?" when he realizes it's Kowalski. Which is a pretty big surprise in and of itself. When did he get back from Canada? Ray's about to ask him when he gets a look at Kowalski's eyes and realizes that he doesn't even know that Ray's here. Ray thinks about making Kowalski see him, but decides to leave well enough alone.

Kowalski downs the dregs of the pot without even grimacing. It's a pretty heroic effort given that the pot has been on since two o'clock and it's now past five. Ray's still thinking up something to say when Kowalski turns and walks back into the bullpen. Jesus, he's seen zombies with more life in them.

Ray trails along behind. Welsh has been loading him down with any penny-ante cases that come along. Nothing that's challenging. Yeah, Welsh says it's because he doesn't have a partner but Ray thinks he's been paying his dues for having quit when he and Stella moved down to Florida. Maybe Kowalski will shake things up a bit.

Welsh moves into the middle of the room and clears his throat. "Ladies and Gentlemen. Some of you will remember Ray Kowalski, formerly known as Ray Vecchio. He's back and he's a member of our fine police force. He'll be working with you, assuming that anyone around here actually does any work." Welsh stares round the room at this and the decibel level increases five fold as everyone his gaze falls on finds either a fascinating piece of paper or an increased typing ability. Ray snorts. They ought to hire him out to secretary school: he'd get the average speed up ten words a minute.

Unfortunately, the snort has drawn Welsh's attention to him. Welsh eyes him for a second before saying mildly to Kowalski "Detective Vecchio here will be your partner. You can share a desk with him until we requisition another one from supplies. Miss Vecchio will take care of that for you."

"Wait -- partner?" Ray moves into the room at this but a glance at Welsh tells him that he's wasting his time. Frannie is standing next to Welsh with big eyes, nodding eagerly. Ray moves after Welsh to argue with him "Wait -- I don't need a partner."

Welsh walks into his office and smiles at Ray. "You've got one. And also the Smith murder. You might want to actually go and investigate that." Welsh seats himself at the desk and pulls over a file. Ray is about to follow him in to argue further when he hears Frannie say "Canada" and "Fraser". She's starting to show in about her fifth month of pregnancy and she knows how to use it. She's got Kowalski trapped in the corner by Ray's desk. Ray shakes his head. Kowalski may as well give up gracefully and tell Frannie what she wants to know. It's easier that way.

Kowalski looks increasingly ill and desperate though. Ray frowns at him and walks back towards his desk. He yells "I don't want him." over his shoulder at Welsh who waves a dismissive hand. Kowalski's head jerks towards him and the corners of his mouth twitch in a humorless grimace. When Ray gets to his desk, Kowalski is looking worse: he's actually sweating.

Ray guesses Chicago would seem warm after Canada. He hands the Smith file to Kowalski. "We've got a case. We'd better go interview the family. Come on, we'll take the Riv."


They've taken the Riv every day for the last two weeks. Ray is starting to think that taking the Riv is a bad idea. Of course, if he had known that he would be running after two heavily armed gang members into a junk yard, he wouldn't have worn the gray Armani. Or any Armani, for that matter. His jacket sleeve is torn, he has oil on his legs from where he slipped over and he hopes the dry cleaner will be able to get the rust stains out of his tie. And he's also stepped in dog crap. He'll have to hose his shoes off tonight and hope the smell fades. Not to mention getting the Riv detailed this weekend.

They got the guys though. Or Kowalski did. He climbed up and over a pile of cars to drop down in front of two heavily armed criminals. Kowalski must have twisted his ankle because he's limping. Kowalski's jacket sleeve is also torn, but he's got blood dripping down his hand.

"God, working with you is almost like working with Fraser again. Only at least you actually get dirty. Want to go grab something to eat?" Ray is feeling magnanimous. Not only have they just solved the Smith case (not hard, really. The daughter did it) but they've managed to catch two scumbags dealing illegal firearms in the process. This ought to get his solve rate up again.

Kowalski stares at him hard for a second then jerks his head in a quick no. "Nah, I gotta go. Get this seen to. You okay processing these guys, or you need me to do the paperwork?"

Ray feels guilty. "No, sure. Take off. See you tomorrow."

Kowalski raises a hand in absent farewell and strides towards the gate. He's just disappeared from sight when Ray remembers that he never did hear where Fraser is.

Only Ray doesn't see him tomorrow. He doesn't see Kowalski for the next three days. Oh, Kowalski's around. Somehow, though, Ray always manages to come into a room as Kowalski is going out of it. The paperwork on the Smith case is typed up (and yeah, misspelled) and left in a pile on their desk. Ray's got no reason to go looking for Kowalski except that Ray hasn't seen him. Not that Ray wants to see him, but the guy is his partner. He should at least know where Kowalski is.

Finally he corners Kowalski in the men's room. Ray thinks about asking Kowalski what particular bug he's got into his head, but something stops him. Instead, Ray leans casually against a wall and watches Kowalski aim to remove every bit of dirt that's ever been in contact with his hands ever. Along with most of his skin cells.

Eventually Ray's silent stare gets to Kowalski, who shrugs an irritable shoulder and says "What?"

"Ah, nothing. Just thought you'd like to know you got your own desk."

Kowalski snorts. "About time."

Ray laughs and gestures for Kowalski to precede him. "This is the police department. You're lucky you got a desk at all. Come on. You can go move your mess into your own space now."

Kowalski doesn't smile, but he seems to relax in some slight way. "Fuck you. It's not mess, I got a system."

"Yeah. It's called 'toss it in a pile and then tear your hair out and bully my sister into helping you when you need to find something.'"

Kowalski actually laughs. "Hey, it works."

Ray stares at Kowalski some more. That's the first time he's seen Kowalski laugh. He's about to mention it when Welsh puts them onto surveillance of a suspected illegal gambling ring in Chinatown.

They're sitting in Kowalski's crappy department issue vehicle when Ray remembers to ask "Hey. Didn't you have a classic car? '67 Pontiac or something?"

Kowalski wedges his shoulders into the corner of the seat and turns to look out. "GTO. The Goat. Yeah. Sold it, a while back. Not much call for classic cars up in Canada."

Ray sits up. This is the first time Kowalski's mentioned Canada. It's like the past two years of his life don't exist. "So what happened up there? Couldn't handle the weather or something?"

"Yeah, something." Kowalski takes hold of the bracelet round his wrist and runs his thumbnail over the metal beads with a clacking sound. "Nothing happened."

Ray stares at Kowalski's hands for a second. They're pretty expressive. Kowalski's whole body is expressive, more than the man himself. Although mostly what Kowalski's body has to say is "Leave me alone."

Later that night Ray considers calling Benny to ask what's up with Kowalski. Mind you, the hour is pretty anti-social, and Benny's always been someone who believes in that "Early to bed and early to rise" stuff. Ray makes a note to call him later in the week.

The surveillance lasts for two more weeks. Ray thinks that it's only because the Mayor doesn't like money changing hands where he can't tax it. He's sure that they wouldn't have gotten a budget like this for anything less than a serial killer who was targeting particularly photogenic children who were personally related to public figures.

By the end of a week and a half he and Kowalski have exhausted just about every topic they have in common except one. They agree on the White Sox's chances for this year (pretty good); disagree on the Blackhawks' performance ("Pretty fucking woeful." "Blackhawks. What is that, hockey?") and agree that something has to be done about the coffee in the station. About the only thing they don't talk about is Fraser. With every moment they don't talk about him, Fraser becomes a more tangible presence. Ray swears he could say "Hey, Benny!" and have Fraser answer from the backseat.

This makes Ray feel irritable. His neck muscles have tensed right up and he can't relax. Add that to the fact that the Vecchio household was out of coffee this morning and he hasn't had time to stop for lunch. Ray's feeling particularly stubborn. He leaves a message on Benny's answering machine that morning.

Kowalski is taking advantage of the warmer weather to dress even more like a kid than usual. He never wears a tie, but at least he sometimes wears shirts like a proper grown up. Not lately though. Ray calls him on it.

"Kowalski. When you going to wear a suit to work?"

Kowalski is standing over his desk surveying the piles of paperwork. He glances up out of the corner of his eye and waves a hand dismissively at Ray. "I wear a suit when I have to go to court. When I have surveillance, like we do tonight, I like to be comfortable." With that, Kowalski stretches, displaying lean stomach muscles. Ray finds his mouth watering.

"I'm going to get something to eat. You want to get something to eat? We should get something to eat before tonight." Ray turns and wheels out of the bullpen. Kowalski matches Ray's stride with an easy lope and Ray can smell him. Soap and a slight hint of sweat.

The smell is even stronger later on that night. Ray is torn between opening the window and just breathing deeper. Kowalski's got a pen from somewhere and is tapping it on the steering wheel. It's driving Ray nuts. He reaches out to grab the pen, but misses and ends up holding Kowalski's hand. Kowalski's head whips around and they stare at each other for a long minute. Ray takes a deep breath (he smells GOOD) and snatches the pen out of Kowalski's hand. Ray lets go of Kowalski's fingers, but he can feel the shape of bone and warmth of skin imprinted on his own hand.

Kowalski's hand felt right in his. This makes Ray feel mean and he finds himself saying "So. Have you heard from Fraser yet?"

Kowalski's chin jerks up but he still holds eye-contact with Ray. "No. I have not heard from Fraser."

"Wow. You spend a couple of years with a guy, go with him on an adventure when he leaves the country. You spend, what, two years with him and then you just leave? That's pretty cold."

"I didn't just leave."

"Really? Cause that's what it looks like from here."

Kowalski looks out the window and says in a strangled voice "Fraser's fine by himself." There's a moment of speaking silence that Ray's pretty proud of. Kowalski obviously feels it because after a moment he says bitterly, "He doesn't need me." There's silence for a second and then Kowalski sits up. "Hey. Isn't that "

Ray looks out and sits up as well. "Oh yeah. It sure is." Ray contacts dispatch for backup. "Who would have thought that this crap shoot would turn up something! I'll cover the front door, you take the side. We'll wait till backup gets here."

Kowalski nods and gets out of the car. Ray follows, feeling vaguely uneasy. He takes up his position by the front door waiting for the patrol cars to get here.

At least, that's the plan. It was a good plan. Unfortunately, it's only a good plan if both people follow it and the moment Ray hears Kowalski walk into the building and shout "Police officer! You're under arrest, put your hands behind your head!" he knows the plan is fucked.

Ray bursts into the building in time to see Kowalski getting a crowbar smashed into his ribs. He aims and fires and for the next couple of minutes everything's a confused blur. Kowalski's on the ground clutching his ribs, but he's groaning so he seems to be okay. The bad guys are down on the floor and Ray has a bad moment: they're spread too wide and there's no way he can cover them all and the guy on his right is reaching for his gun, but then the uniforms arrive and it's okay.

Everyone's cuffed and read their Miranda rights and Kowalski finally gets up off the floor. Ray hands his perp over to the uniforms and takes Kowalski by the arm.

"What the hell was that?" Ray is furious.

"What?" Kowalski is defensive and trying to give him attitude, but the fact that he's folded round some ribs that are probably broken sort of negates the toughness factor.

"That. That 'going in alone without letting my partner know what I'm doing so he can back me up'. What, you're so sick of this life you're trying to get yourself killed?" Ray hears the last of the patrol cars drive off. They probably should get back to the station to help with the processing and interviews but he wants to get this sorted first. This thing, whatever it is.

"God no! It's not that!" Kowalski is so offended that he actually straightens up. Still looks like crap though: white and pasty.

"Then what is it? You explain it to me, Stanley, because I'm drawing a blank here."

"I'm not. There's nothing --"

Ray is furious. He grabs Kowalski by the arms and pushes him up against the wall. "Jesus. Are you so fucked up that you can't even admit that what you're doing is stupid? Is this why Fraser sent you away, because you didn't have enough sense to take care of yourself?"

The vein stands out in Kowalski's forehead. "Fraser didn't send me away. I left. I left because he didn't want me. Not the way that I wanted him."

Ray gapes at Kowalski for a second. "What the hell?"

"Are you stupid? You know what that means, right? That means this." Kowalski flips them around so that Ray is pressed against he wall and drops to his knees. He unbuckles Ray's belt and presses his hand against Ray's trousers and Jesus Ray is hard.

Ray's breath hisses through his teeth and whatever else he was going to say is forgotten as he bites out "Fuck!" and his head drops back. Kowalski gives a bitter quirk of his lips, and draws down Ray's fly.

"Jesus!" Ray's head thumps back against the wall as Kowalski takes the head of Ray's cock between his lips and flicks his tongue over it. Ray says something that sounds like "Nnngh!" and Kowalski gives little laugh with a break in the middle. Ray looks down at Kowalski and says desperately "Don't stop. Please."

Kowalski smiles and takes Ray's cock in deeper, using his tongue to caress the underside of the glans. Ray loves the way Kowalski looks as he's doing this, intent and peaceful. Kowalski adds some suction, backs off and tongues the sweet spot underneath the glans lightly and Ray suddenly can't think of anything except Oh, God. Good. Harder. Ray's hands slide around the back of Kowalski's head, cradling him, and it's good. It's so good.

Ray thinks he must have said something like this to Kowalski but he can't remember. Can't think with that hot-wet-tight mouth stretched around him. Kowalski's hand comes up to grip the base of his cock and starts jacking him. It feel fantastic, it's the best Ray has ever had and he doesn't want it to end except that it's going to because -- fuck -- he's coming.

He tugs at Kowalski's hair and says "Nnngh!" but that's the best he can do. Kowalski gentles his movements and they rock together for a second before Kowalski draws off and spits discreetly behind a forty-gallon drum.

Kowalski stands in front of him looking wary and unsure for a moment, and then Ray draws him in. Ray kisses Kowalski tenderly and reaches a hand down to his belt but Kowalski stops him with a slightly embarrassed laugh. "I'm good. I mean, I already. While I was blowing you."


Kowalski draws back and looks at Ray searchingly. "It's okay. Look, this is a thing. Heat of the moment, we can just forget it. Pretend it never happened."

Ray zips himself up. "Why would I want to do that?" He meets Kowalski's gaze and steps forward, forehead resting against forehead. Ray's rests his hand on the back of Kowalski's neck.

"Look. I don't know how to say this. So. I'm not promising you anything, except that I want this. I want you. I want to see where this goes. So how about we go and have a shower at your place, check on the interviews at the station and then sleep for a day and deal with the rest of the world when we get up."

Kowalski smiles and it's the most beautiful thing Ray's ever seen. "Sounds like a plan."

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