The Deal

(Many thanks to Gurrier and Estrella for beta!)

NOTE: this story contains adult content.

March 14 2:45 pm

Init. interview w/ Hyronia Dembe

present: HD, det. Kowalski, det. Vecchio

loc: 1907 S Halsted

One of the things Ray never expected about Vegas--one of the thousand and one little things--was how freaking creepy it was. Especially at night time, when that neon changed the colour of the sky and all the suckers lined up like sleepwalkers, just waiting to get screwed. The place was one hundred percent fake, a twenty-four hour freakshow. Like a circus you couldn't leave, where the organ music never stopped and all the clowns really looked like that.

And it's not like this place is creepy in the same way--it's just an art gallery, after all, with the white walls and the careful lighting, gleaming hardwood underfoot. But if you actually look at the stuff they got hanging on those walls, you start noticing things. Like, the guy in the first piece, the one nearest the door--he's just a normal guy in a nice-looking suit...except he's got this giant ugly buffalo head. For no apparent reason. Ray guesses it has something to do with artistic license or what have you, but still. Creepy. He frowns down at the notebook in his hands, tries to keep his head in the here-and-now.

Dembe herself is one of those fancy-schmancy Pilsen-district artistes, with her thousand little braids piled on top her head, and her bare feet with the little rings on her toes, and her obviously made-up name. Kowalski knows her, of course. Ray figures he ought to have expected that.

So he's left to stand around not looking at things while Dembe and Kowalski get caught up. Yeah, she's owned this place for about a year now. No, she and somebody named Darwin are splitsville. But hey--what about Kowalski? Last she'd heard, he'd been planning on moving up to Canada or someplace. What's he doing here?

Kowalski's whole body goes tense. He grimaces, ducks his head. "Um. Well, you know...That didn't work out."

Dembe's face falls. "Oh, shit...Ray, I'm sorry, I didn't..."

Kowalski gives her a tight smile. "No, no, don't worry about it. I'm good. I'm...seeing somebody else now, actually." He gives Ray a quick look out of the corner of his eye, but he doesn't lift his head, doesn't meet Ray's eyes--even though he has to know Ray's watching him.

Dembe crosses her arms over her chest. "Yeah? Well...good for you. Good for you. Are you happy?"

"Yeah," Kowalski says, "Sure. Things are good." But he hesitated before he spoke, and he's still not looking at Ray. The lie is right there where anybody could see it. Kowalski's fucking miserable.

The silence stretches for a couple of uncomfortable moments, then Kowalski kind of shakes himself and takes a breath, and he asks Dembe to show them the art that got vandalized. Ray follows them, writes down the questions Kowalski asks and Dembe's subdued answers. The ruined pieces were less creepy than the others: a long-haired female nude, a vacant building, three crows in an orange sky. They've all been slashed right through the canvass, probably with some kind of knife. Ray takes pictures. They get their coats.

"We'll find the guy," Kowalski tells Dembe.

She nods like she believes that too. Kowalski smiles at her and then they leave.

***

"So. Vecchio."

"..."

"Hello-o. Raimundo."

"What?"

"You want lunch?"

"No, I do not want lunch. Jesus Christ, Kowalski--I'm trying to write case notes, here. Are you blind or something?"

"Well, la-de-fucking-dah. Fine, then."

"Just...shut up and watch the road."

***

March 14, 5:00 pm

Interview w/ Darwin Dobbes

present: DD, det. Kowalski, det. Vecchio

loc: 3498 W. 21st St.

"So put your goddamn glasses on, then!" Ray ducks back into the stairwell just as a bullet smacks the wall by his head. Feels the spray of shot-up drywall that could have been his skull. Darwin Dobbes is Dembe's ex-boyfriend. Interviewing him is just part of the regular procedure, but Ray's highly trained detective senses are saying they might be onto something here.

Kowalski is one step down, pressed against Ray's other shoulder. He has his gun in one hand, but the other one's fumbling in his breast-pocket for his glasses. "Sorry, sorry," he says, "Hang on..."

Ray snorts. He shifts his grip on his own piece and takes a quick look around the corner, but unfortunately Dobbes is right where they left him and he's just as bugfuck as he was a minute ago. He screams something about the meaninglessness of art and life and love in particular, and Ray gets another faceful of drywall dust.

"Fuck!" he says, "Goddamn stupid...Fuck! What kind of police department lets a guy with severe astigmatism out onto the streets with a fucking gun?" He leans around the corner again, gets off a couple of shots before Dobbes drives him back. "I mean, Christ, Kowalski. I'm sorry, but I'm not the goddamn Mountie, you know. I'm actually gonna need your back-up."

He starts to lean around for another shot but Kowalski grabs his shoulder and pushes him back against the wall. Holds him there with one hand in the middle of his chest. The guy finally has his glasses on, but Ray doesn't like that look on his face at all. Still, he cedes his place at the top of the stairs, watches as Kowalski dodges around the corner in that quick, graceful way he has and takes one careful shot. Dobbes gives a sharp curse. The rifle clatters to the floor and Ray follows Kowalski into the hall.

He gets his handcuffs on the weepy but uninjured Dobbes while Kowalski empties the rifle. Neither of them says anything. Kowalski's mouth is tight. He's holding himself all stiff and upright, and for the second time in as many minutes, Ray finds himself thinking of the Mountie.

"Nice shot," Ray says, tentatively.

Kowalski shrugs and doesn't look at him. Pushes the glasses a little higher on his nose. "I'm gonna go call for a black-and-white. You stay with our pal here."

Ray watches Kowalski disappear around the corner, then leans back against the wall and lets his eyes close. "Ah, hell," he says aloud.

Next to him, Dobbes lifts his head. "There is no hell," he says damply, "Nor any heaven to soothe our downtrodden souls."

Ray puts his foot on Dobbes's head and pushes it back down to the floorboards. "Shut it," he says, trying for fierce. But he ends up just sounding distracted.

***

"Listen..."

"Forget it."

"Kowalski..."

"Ve-cchee-oh."

"Oh, for Christ's sake. You are such a prick, Stanley, you know that?"

"Right back at ya, pal."

***

March 14 6:00 pm

Interview w/ Darwin Dobbes, Pt. 2

present: DD, det. ASSHOLE, det. Vecchio

loc: Twenty-Seventh Precinct, I.R. 2

"Hoo-kay. Darwin. Let's go over this from the top."

Ray clasps his hands together on the table in front of him, breathes out slow through his nose. One of the many areas in which him and Kowalski have difficulties with their working relationship is here, in the interview room. Because Ray has always had a particular style when it comes to getting perps to talk, and that style is--how shall we say?--kind of forceful.

"My name isn't Darwin," says Dobbes, loftily. "I am Marcel Duchamp."

But see, in any good interview, you got to have a good cop along with your bad cop. That's how it works. It's like the most basic law of nature. And since Kowalski already kicked a hole in the wall and then threatened to do the same thing to Dobbes's head, Ray's options are kind of limited here.

So he bites his tongue and he can practically feel the blood vessels in his head constrict. "Marcel Duchamp," he repeats flatly, buying himself time to calm down.

Dobbes leans forward earnestly. "It's a nom de guerre," he confides.

"Right." Ray taps his fingertips on the table--once, twice. And then all of a sudden he's on his feet, and chairs are flying out of the way and somewhere there's the sound of something breaking. He gets a double handful of Dobbes's shirt and slings him up against the wall and yeah, oh yeah does that feel good. "Nom de what now?" he screams into Dobbes's wide-eyed face. "You want to change your wording there, you goddamn whining little freak?"

And then Kowalski's hands are on his shoulders, hauling him off, pushing him out the door and into the hall.

"What the fuck was that?" Kowalski's yelling now. That one vein is standing out in his forehead; the traffic in the hallway kind of rearranges itself around them. "You're supposed to be the good cop in there, Vecchio. I mean, Jesus. What the fuck is with you today?"

Ray spits out a bark of disbelieving laughter. "Oh, that's rich, Kowalski. That is really fucking rich." He shakes his head and moves to push past Kowalski to the interview room.

Kowalski pushes him back. "We aren't done here, Vecchio."

Ray feels everything get real quiet inside his head. "That right," he says.

Kowalski leers at him, one hand still pressed to the middle of Ray's chest. "Yeah," he says, "That's right."

Guy has no goddamn sense of self-preservation. It's a known fact. Ray has a minute to wonder why that is, exactly, and then the knuckles of his right hand are making a satisfying thwack against Kowalski's teeth and his chin.

Things don't get too far before there are people pulling them apart--two, maybe three punches each. But it's far enough. Ray feels his own lip swelling up, sees the blood where Kowalski's is split. And normally at this point he'd still be feeling pretty pleased with himself about the damage on the other guy's face--adreneline pumping, blocking out the pain, too early for any kind of consequences. But everything's different today. Everything is fucked up. Because looking over at Kowalski's messed up face--seeing those blue eyes glaring back at him--the only thing Ray feels is finished.

***

Kowalski came back from the frozen north with a couple of new scars and a permanent sneer, and every time he looked at Ray it was like there were sparks in the air between them. Nobody was sure at first what those sparks were going to mean. The general consensus seemed to be murder, though--or at least mayhem--but Kowalski had something else in mind.

He waited until after the thing with the Santa Claus smugglers was pretty much closed and in the can. This was about a month after he'd come back to Chicago. Maybe two weeks after a detective shortage forced Welsh to pair the two of them up. It was late at night--or early in the morning, depending on your point of view, and the two of them had worked for twenty hours straight to bring in Molina and his crew of jelly-bellied criminals. They were punchy and sore from that last chase in the basement of Bloomingdale's, and Ray's bad shoulder was giving him the gears.

All he wanted to do was finish the fucking paperwork for all these arrests and get the hell home to his shower. So okay, maybe he was being a bit of an asshole to Kowalski, telling him off for not concentrating on the F-50's, for jigging around in that way he had and misspelling every other word. "You're like a six-year-old kid on a sugar-bender, for fuck's sake. Just sit still already. And Jesus--look at this: what the fuck is this? Dyemond smugglers. Christ."

Kowalski stood up. He stood up fast enough to knock over his chair, grabbed the stack of F-50's right out of Ray's hands and dumped them in the trash. "Come on," he said.

Ray looked at him.

Kowalski grinned. "You scared of me Vecchio? Come on."

So what else could Ray do? He stood up and followed Kowalski through the mostly deserted bullpen and out into the hall, which was where Kowalski did a quick look around and pulled Ray into the supply closet.

"What the hell?" Ray said.

Kowalski laughed. He hadn't turned on the light and Ray couldn't reach it from where he stood, so it was real dark in that little space. Ray put out a hand, felt mop-handles and a stack of paper towels and then something warm and solid. Kowalski's ribs. He started to pull his hand away but Kowalski caught his wrist, held him there.

"I got this thing," Kowalski said. "Like...a reading thing. Like dyslexia or something. Anyway, I can't spell for shit." He was standing right in Ray's space, close enough that every breath Ray sucked in smelled like Kowalski's sweat and after-shave and whatever fancy gel he used to get that stupid hairdo. His ribs moved under Ray's fingers and the t-shirt, lifting and falling with his breath. "So you think you can cut me a little slack, there, Vecchio? I promise I won't...take advantage."

Ray opened his mouth to answer, but the only thing that came out was a gasp. Because on those last couple of words, Kowalski had shifted even closer and closed his fingers on Ray's crotch. "Jesus," Ray managed. He grabbed Kowalski's wrist but he didn't try that hard to push him away. Those fingers felt too fucking good on his cock, which was so hard it hurt, he realized, and had been for a while. "Jesus, Kowalski, what the fuck are you doing?"

Kowalski laughed again, his breath hot against Ray's temple. He had let go of Ray's wrist, moved that hand up to the wall behind Ray's head. The whole lean length of him was pressed against Ray now, pushing him back against the mop handles. His hand was...fuck...was stroking Ray just hard enough through his pants. "Shut up," Kowalski said. His voice was low and amused, buzzing right in Ray's ear. "I'm not blind, Vecchio. You watch me all the time. I know you've been thinking about this."

And oh Jesus, did Ray ever want to argue with that. Kowalski was such an arrogant prick, and Ray was fucking straight, really, for the most part; he didn't do this, he hardly ever did this, so what the fuck did Kowalski know anyway? He opened his mouth to say some of that but before he could think of the words, Kowalski's long fingers found their way inside Ray's pants, so instead of a well-reasoned argument, all Ray said was: "Unhhh...Oh Jesus."

And Kowalski laughed again, and moved his hand on Ray's cock, tight, tight, smearing pre-come down the shaft. "See?" he said, unbearably smug, "You want me bad, Vecchio. But don't worry. Just happens I'm feeling obliging today. So. Lucky you."

Ray's head hit the wall behind him--he heard it, but somehow never felt it because those fingers were moving up again, Kowalski's thumb sliding over the head of Ray's cock, rough and callused, and it kind of hurt but god, it was so good that Ray had to grit his teeth to keep from groaning right out loud. He twisted his own fingers in Kowalski's t-shirt and pulled him closer. Kowalski moved against him, stroked down again, and then there was heat on Ray's neck, Kowalski's breath--wet and warm and shit: that was teeth, biting hard. Ray swore, breathless and pushed helplessly up into Kowalski's tight fist. Kowalski laughed and bit him again, and then he sank down to his knees.

Ray grabbed hold of the shelf beside him. Reminded himself to keep breathing. Kowalski's fingers had left his cock, were hooked in the waistband of Ray's pants and underwear and were tugging them down, out of the way. Ray felt Kowalski's breath on him, and god, lips and spit, and that tongue like a fucking miracle, all cool at first, slick and wet, and then nothing but heat and suction.

So Ray locked his knees as best he could, pushed his free hand into Kowalski's hair and held on, still not sure if he was trying to pull Kowalski in harder or push him away. Ray's breath was coming in desperate pants and he moaned in spite of himself--quiet at first, but then again, louder. He bit his bottom lip, trying to shut himself the fuck up, and then there was blood on his tongue, and Christ, he'd just moaned again anyway. Plus it seemed that he'd used the fingers he had tangled in Kowalski's hair to pull him even closer because Kowalski was right there--right fucking there--against him.

Kowalski was gonna be such a smug little prick after this. Ray ought to have pushed him away right at the start--roughed him up a bit or maybe even punched his lights out for presuming. Because now Kowalski was hanging onto one of Ray's hips, his fingers pressing in hard, hard. He'd wrapped his other hand around the base of Ray's cock and was sliding it up and down with the motion of his mouth, and his tongue was...was Jesus, Ray didn't even know what that was his tongue was doing but it was good, so fucking good, and Ray hadn't come with anybody else in such a long time. He could feel it building, could feel that tight explosive warmth low in his belly and he tightened his hand on Kowalski's head, and Kowalski moaned around his cock, sucked even harder and took Ray deeper into his mouth. "Kowalski..." Ray gasped, and then his voice was gone, and Kowalski was swallowing, swallowing, sucking him down.

Everything went away for a minute or so, after. Ray felt like his head was buried in cotton, or maybe covered up with water--something like that. He still had a hand in Kowalski's hair, and Kowalski's forehead was on his hip, kind of resting there, and Ray was flushed and sweaty, still breathing hard. After another couple of seconds he could hear Kowalski breathing not much easier down below. Ray swallowed. He slid his hand out of Kowalski's hair and pulled his pants up, fumbling to get the zipper closed. Kowalski stood, hissing a little, probably at the pain in that one bad knee. Ray felt the air between them move and then Kowalski found the chain for the light and pulled it on.

Ray was expecting that cocky half-grin, the one that came with narrowed eyes and a jutted chin--the one Kowalski used when he was playing dirty, meeting with criminals, bluffing it was him with the upper hand. But there was no triumph in Kowalski's face; he wasn't even smiling. He met Ray's eyes as he wiped his chin with his sleeve and after a moment Ray had to look away. Because that was knowledge in there, and a certain kind of sympathy, and it hit Ray right in the gut, like an illegal punch. Like a low blow. Him and Kowalski, they'd lived through the same fucking train wrecks. This thing that had happened in here--this fumbling, fucked up contact--it wasn't a contest Kowalski was trying to win. Instead, it was an offer.

Ray closed his eyes, ducked his head, ran a slightly shaky hand over the spot where his hair wasn't. "Fuck, Kowalski...I don't know. I just don't fucking know."

And Kowalski blinked down at his feet for a second, then nodded without saying anything. He reached past Ray and snatched a box of pencils from the shelf, poked his head into the hall, made sure it was clear, and then was gone.

*

There'd been no fighting, down in Florida. They'd never slammed doors or shouted at each other, never said anything to regret. Stella was cool and careful, always; didn't argue unless she knew she would win. Ray'd learned fast not to bother disagreeing. He might be a goof about love and romance, but he'd never been a sucker for bad odds.

So when she'd sat down one day after breakfast and said, "Ray, I'm sorry--this isn't working," he'd just looked at her for a long, long time with his mouth half-full of coffee and his stomach sinking fast, and then he'd forced himself to swallow everything and he'd nodded, and agreed.

*

He never did give Kowalski an answer. Just showed up at his door one night, about a week after the thing in the supply closet. Drank an awkward beer in front of the television, neither of them talking, neither of them watching the Bulls game either. After what felt like hours, Ray caught Kowalski watching him, sidelong. They both cracked up like a couple of twelve-year-olds, then Kowalski rubbed his hands over his thighs in their ripped-up CPD sweatpants and gave Ray a quick, uncertain look.

"So, Vecchio...you want to fuck or what?"

And Ray grinned and shook his head, but not in denial or anything. Kowalski gave him that slow, killer smile and leaned back against the arm of the couch. He had on a faded cotton t-shirt with the AC/DC logo peeling off the front and those sweats were worn out and loose and Kowalski was blatantly hard inside them. Ray licked his lips and jerked his head in a nod.

So on the television, the Bulls took a steady beating and lost by eleven points. But Ray jacked Kowalski good and slow until both of them were gasping, then he stripped him out of those raggy sweats and fucked him over the arm of the couch. By the time they got finished with each other, basketball didn't seem so important. Nothing did. Ray went home and slept like a baby, and the next day they were fucking Starsky and Hutch together, supercops, tough guys, and they closed the Poirier case no problem.

That night they fucked half-drunk in Kowalski's bedroom and then it was, like, official somehow, a regular thing. They never really talked about it. Never got romantic or anything. But Ray started spending more and more time at Kowalski's place, and Kowalski made room for him without saying anything about it--kept some actual food in the refrigerator, started buying real coffee, Ray's brand of beer. And it worked. They worked. For the first time ever Ray was getting regularly laid without any of the emotional bullshit. Him and Kowalski were the same as they always were. Nothing had to change; they just added some stuff on. Like, weekdays they were these guys:

"Yeah, but Vecchio: he's Dutch."

"So?"

"So Dutch people come from Holland, smart guy. That's how it works."

"Fuck off."

"Telling you."

"Well...but you're still wrong, asshole, because neither of them owns a Camaro."

But then weekends, they did this:

"You awake?"

"Muh."

"Want to go to Buck's with me today?"

"What for?"

"Goat needs a new tail-pipe. And I want to look for those...ah...mirrors. With the...oh Jesus, that's nice."

"What? This?"

"Mmmmm..."

"Or this?"

"Unnhh...god, Vecchio, yeah..."

And it was easy. That was the whole thing: they were partners and buddies and fucking sometimes, and nobody needed anything more complicated than that, and nobody owed anybody anything. Honest. Simple.

Right. And if anybody buys that, Ray's thinking now, boy has he ever got a bridge he wants to sell them.

***

He's in the Riv, and the Riv is parked on the street, and the street is the one outside Kowalski's building. He's been here for a while, thinking and tapping his fingers on the steering wheel, but there really isn't anything to think about. He knows he's got to go up there.

He sighs. Brings his forehead down to thump it lightly against the steering wheel: one, two, three. Bending his head this way makes his punched eye throb a little, these sharp spikes of pain just at the top of his cheekbone. He doesn't mind it, though. Right now, any kind of distraction from what's going on in his head is kind of welcome.

But okay.

The interior light blinks on when he opens the door, and he winces as he climbs out into the street. There's not much traffic. It's pretty late. Kowalski's lights are still on, though. Ray's been watching.

He doesn't have to buzz to get into the building (the fucking security system's been out of order since the first time Ray ever came here) so he just goes up there, taking the stairs a couple at a time because if he slows down at all, he might never make it. Kowalski's door is the one with a deep gouge in the wood, right below the number: 22. Ray puts his hand up and traces the damage before he finally knocks.

There's nothing but silence for a couple of breaths. Then Kowalski's bare-footed approach, the sound of the latch, the faint scrape of the door coming open. Kowalski stands there with his hand on the knob, and he looks...tired. He's wearing the clothes he wears when the day has been unexpectedly brutal: a pair of sweats so old Ray thinks he might have had them since high school, and a stretched-out t-shirt with nothing left on the front of it at all. He's showered and his hair is a mess. The bruises on his face are really evident.

Ray lowers his gaze to Kowalski's feet, to the weirdly long toes curling into the welcome mat. He hears Kowalski sigh, but he still can't look up. After a minute, Kowalski turns and goes back inside, so Ray just follows him.

The TV's on but it's muted: some kind of infomercial for a cooking thing. Kowalski sits on one end of the couch, lets his head fall back and closes his eyes. Ray sits on the other end. He doesn't know what to do with his hands so he closes them over his knees.

"So, uh...Dobbes gave it up. Welsh was in there for thirty seconds, had him fucking singing. Turns out your friend got some kind of Arts Council grant the guy wanted. Sour grapes."

Kowalski doesn't open his eyes. "Figures," he says. "Fucker always did have it in for Nia."

"Well. Now they got him on attempted murder, plus a bunch of other stuff. I don't think they're even going to let him post bail."

Kowalski lifts his hands up to scrub at his face. "Fuck. You probably needed my signature for the..."

"No. Nah. Welsh signed off without it."

"Oh." Kowalski leaves his hands where they are, speaks through them, his voice muffled. "That was...he didn't have to do that."

"Yeah." Ray tears his gaze away from Kowalski. On television, a guy with a bad weave is showing Suzanne Summers how to dehydrate an apple. She looks excited. "Yeah," Ray says again.

Beside him, Kowalski exhales loudly, slams his fist into the arm of the couch and says, "Look. Look."

Ray glances at him, then away. Props his elbows on his knees and waits for it.

Kowalski shifts, making the couch dip and groan where the springs are weak. "I get that I'm not the easiest guy to get along with, okay? I fucking get that." He shoots a quick look at Ray and then sighs, rubbing at his forehead. "I'm a prick sometimes. And I'm...messed up. There's some things I just don't know how to do anymore. But Vecchio...Ray. This is all I got right now. Okay? I am not holding anything back."

Ray can't look up from the rug between his feet--not for all the money in the world. "I know," he says. "I know that."

Because Jesus, he does. He knows it better than anybody: what it feels like to be a pretty good guy, generally speaking, who just hasn't, on all the times it really counted, managed to be good enough. What it's like to throw yourself into the well of somebody else, and to feel yourself falling deeper and deeper, until you finally get that there's not going to be a place to stop. He fucking knows what that does to you--and what that takes away. This is what they have between them, him and this other Ray. It's not the only thing, but it's the main thing, and he's a world class idiot for forgetting.

Which evidently is what Kowalski's thinking too. Because he unfolds that long body from the couch, paces a few steps, turns and makes an exasperated gesture. "So...what the fuck?"

And this time Ray forces himself to look up and meet Kowalski's gaze. The anger and confusion there hits him like a physical blow, but he doesn't look away. "So I'm an asshole, okay? I had no right to get mad at you for that. I know the deal."

Kowalski takes a deep breath. His mouth opens like he's going to speak, but he doesn't. He just pushes his hand through his hair, crosses his arms over his chest. There's a silence. Somewhere inside it Ray finds the guts to stand and cross the room. Kowalski's gaze meets his for a second. His mouth tightens. His eyes fall closed. Ray gets as close as he can without stepping on him, gets them toe to toe, gets a lungful of Kowalski's clean warmth inside him. "I know the deal," he says again. Leans forward so he can brush his lips over Kowalski's cheek. "It's just...sometimes, I goddamn hate it."

Kowalski laughs, short and breathless, like he doesn't want to do it. But those arms unfold, and Ray feels fingers clenching in the shirt at his waist. Feels Kowalski kind of lean in toward him, just a little. "You're no fucking picnic, either," Kowalski says, soft, only halfway joking.

Ray brings a hand up, touches the cut in Kowalski's lower lip with his thumb. "I know that, too," he says.

Kowalski's eyes come halfway open. This close, Ray can't even tell what colour they are right now--just that they're dark, and dilated, and amused. "Yeah, so. Where's that leave us? We're both assholes, we got serious rage issues, this is never going to work?"

Ray smiles. "Something like that."

Kowalski laughs again. It sounds easier this time. "So long as we're clear," he says. And he lowers his head and gets his mouth on Ray's neck, biting just hard enough to sting.