Just The Way I Am by Bakaknight

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Title: Just The Way I Am
For: Andeincascade
Pairing/Characters: Vecchio(/Fraser)
Warnings: Only what's already canon.
Author's Notes: Sweetness, you asked for a Ray/Ray, or a Fraser/Vecchio/Kowalski. As you fortunately also requested a Vecchio backstory as your third choice, I now present a brief history of Franni--
Just kidding.
I would like to thank my betas, who not only know who they are, but also did not pelt me with rotten items of fruit.

P.S.: You may note that the tag reads 'F/K/V', but the story contains, well... It seems to contain otherwise. I assure you that this is not the true case; this part of the story simply ends where it ends because that's where it wanted to end.

(Why no, I'm not cheating with that. What a horrible thing to suggest!)



First thing I remember, first thing I really remember and not something like a mostly-imagined flash that you get sometimes if grown-ups tell you about things that you did when you were a kid and this that and the other, but the first memory that I'm completely and 100% positive is my own, is of my Ma cooking.

Ma's always been a wonderful cook. Sometimes when I was a kid and Danny and I were walking back from the school bus, we might play 'guess that smell' on her cooking. Danny normally won, but I think I let him.

I don't remember much about that part anymore.

But the first thing I know I remember is her cooking. The smells coming from the kitchen, how she'd stir the sauce in the pot and lean forward to catch a whiff, but would never take a taste. I never saw her taste her own cooking while she was preparing it until after what happened to my brother.

It took her three years before she started to smile while she was cooking again.

****************

I was just a kid. Just a fucking kid. I didn't have a clue what to do when faced with that much blood, and then Frankie turned around and gave me a look.

I swallowed, and nodded, so when the principal and the police were asking questions with my Ma there with me, losing wages because my father was such an alcoholic loser, I didn't tell the truth. Someone else, another kid my age, was stuck in a hospital bed, and I couldn't summon up the courage to tell the truth.

I didn't become a narc that day, so I didn't lose Frankie Zuko's near-approval of me and my existence. But every now and then, when I can't sleep, or when I haven't been able to sleep for a while because I've been working on a big case; it doesn't happen every time, but every now and then?

I wonder if maybe I lost a little bit of my soul that day.
 
***************

Uncle Lorenzo used to be a major player. He's my Great Uncle, actually. Great Uncle Lorenzo, on my Pa's side. He's a nice old guy, knows plenty.

He was also, once upon a time, a fairly decent mobster.

And Zuko Sr. knew this. It was part of why he'd even taken a chance on my Pop in the first place.

But honest? He wasn't a bad guy. He'd been that perfect balance between doing enough good that he didn't get arrested, small time enough that the cops didn't want to care about him and big time enough that the mob didn't want to bother him. He was able to retire with more money than he and his wife and three kids needed, and so they managed to live the high life. His kids, on the other hand, did make the sorts of stupid mistakes that their father had avoided; two wound up dead, while the third spent a lot of time in and out of jail - when I was applying to the police academy, I had to defend any contact with my second cousin I'd had since I turned eighteen.

That second cousin once did some work for the Zuko family, and that was how Mr. Vecchio met Mr. Zuko for the first time. It would prove to not be the last.

I had been a bit on the large side when I was a kid, but though that really should have left me as the prime target for bullies, somehow I wasn't. Took me a while to work out that it wasn't because I was particularly intimidating or anything. It had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with who my father was.

Ah, yeah. My dad. Until I was about six, he was my hero. Then he wasn't my hero anymore; he was just the drunk guy who hit me when I wasn't quiet enough for him.

But still. Everybody in school knew that he'd done Frankie Zuko's dad a favor or something, done something really big. When I got older, some of the rumors said that he'd killed somebody, but I really didn't think that was it. Pa Vecchio couldn't have killed somebody if he were forced to. Didn't have the guts. Near as I could guess, most of it had something to do with Zuko Sr. betting on how much my Dad'd win at pool for some weirdass competition - although there were a few mentions in his police file about his being a suspect in three assaults. Playing pool was the only thing he ever really did right. That and the way he treated my Ma. Always with respect to my Ma, even if he were beating the living shit out of us kids.

Nobody wanted to mess with the Vecchio kids at school. Because the theory went, if you mess with us, you mess with the Zukos. And Frankie always had kids around him.

We weren't exactly close in school, but he knew who I was, and he and his goons never did beat me up, so I guess there must have been something in it.

Then my brother died.

Ma wouldn't let him so much as come near the body. Her family handled all the funeral arrangements, and Pa wasn't allowed near the body. He said he didn't want to come to the funeral; he said a lot of things that week. One minute he told me he loved me, the next he slapped me round the head, called me a little shit, and ordered me to get out of his sight.

The last time he hit me, I slammed into the wall. It hurt, but I got back up again, shaking and bleeding from where one of the picture frames had been squashed into my arm before it crashed to the ground with a tinkle of broken glass. Then he hit me again, and I didn't duck, so he knocked me into the door frame and I broke my arm. I cried the whole night in the hospital, but not because of the pain.

I cried because I kinda felt like it was my fault he was dead - you know how you think like that when you're a kid? It felt like my fault that little Danny was dead. If I'd been watching him (but he'd been in kindergarten, well away from me), if I'd been looking out for him properly, if I'd noticed that he'd left his inhaler on the dresser that morning when we were getting ready for school, if I'd been the kind of big brother he really deserved, then maybe he wouldn't be dead.

Well, that was what I thought, anyway. Which really didn't make much sense, given as how it was a damn stupid asthma attack that killed him. Pa was supposed to ask him, every day, before he left for school (because Ma had to leave early to go and work in her bank job), if Danny had his inhaler with him. And that day he'd forgotten. Well. Not that he'd ever asked in the first place. I always asked him, or reminded him, but I was real nervous that morning; spelling bee, and Frankie didn't want me to get a better score than he did, but everybody knew I was the best speller in the grade, so I had to be careful to not get higher than he did but not go so low that people would suspect, and I'd been up half the night worrying about it.

Little Danny died, and my Pa wasn't allowed near his body.

Ma should have divorced him then. She didn't because she didn't believe in divorce and neither did anybody in our community, but after Pa was dead and she started to smile a little bit more, she told me one night -- the anniversary of what happened to Danny -- that she should have divorced him anyway. Then she burst into tears, and I held her close as she cried until she stopped crying and Frannie helped me put her into bed.

After Danny's funeral, Pa was never allowed to touch us kids. Ma wouldn't let him come near us if he was in a temper, or drunk, or even if we'd done something bad that day.

The one time he did, the one and only time he laid a hand on any of us ever again, he punched Maria. Gave her a black eye that stayed purple for a week, and Ma yelled and yelled at him until the police came and she made him leave for the night.

With all the sudden police attention towards our family, though, Frankie Frankie Zuko and his gang wouldn't protect me by distant association anymore. I had to toughen up for myself.

**************

I loved her. I honestly did. Irene was a real classy lady, and even Frankie thought we made for a pretty decent couple.

Their old man had other ideas, though. Said a kid like me with a dad like mine couldn't possibly date his daughter. And that was the first time that he cut back the vine.

Still, I loved her from afar. We used to dance together, every PE class we could, and I promised Frankie that he could be best man at my wedding. We were kids, I was joking, but Frankie seemed to take it pretty okay. And everything was great, so long as I didn't think too hard about what Frankie did to that kid that one day on the basketball courts and all the blood everywhere.

When Frankie set up my Frannie with that other kid he knew, Alberto, I was all for it. He was a big guy, and my sister liked him pretty well - she'd even been complaining the other week about how I never introduced her to any of my friends or anything, especially that one cute tall one with the brown hair and the sweet blue eyes. And that was Alberto alright.

They went through High School, dancing around each other. My Pop didn't approve until he heard that Frankie Zuko had set them up in the first place - then he was all for it.

They were High School Sweethearts, Frannie and Alberto. They got married when she was twenty-three, but I knew he'd been pressuring her right from the day she turned eighteen. But my little sister, she wanted to finish college, maybe see the world a little bit.

Pa told her she should marry him though. Told her that the only thing she had going for her was her looks, and those wouldn't last forever. Said that she didn't have the smarts to make it in college, and when she dropped out partway through (Art major, but she was really good at it), he said that this just proved how right he'd been all along.

My little sister had seen Rome, she'd seen Brussels and our few cousins who lived there, but after she dropped out, she visited our family down in Florida. Alberto followed her down, and when they came back she was excited and planning the wedding; if you didn't look too close you wouldn't see the tears in her eyes.

Around a year later, Alberto got sent down for assault, and they found that his prints matched a coupla unsolved robberies. Frannie went to court each day, holding a lace handkerchief and dressed all in black, but I could see that there were bruises on her throat on the day of the arraignment, and I made sure that people knew that advocating bail would be a really bad idea.

Frannie divorced him all of two days after he got put away, and I helped her bring all of her luggage back into the house. Ma welcomed her back with open arms, and wouldn't let her lift a finger for a week.

*************

Annie - long before she became a nun - was always a wonderful girl. She had this infectious smile, and when she laughed the whole room seemed to fill up with joy. I met her in Sunday School when I was seven, and her family had just moved to Chicago.

We were acquaintances, really. Until I asked her out on a dare from the basketball team captain - what was his name again? Frederick? Devon? It's been a long time since I thought about any of them. Or about basketball.

She accepted, and as we walked hand in hand down the school corridors for that first week, she told me that she knew that the only reason I'd asked her out was because I'd been told to, and that she was happy that I'd taken the dare. The way she squeezed my hand tighter as she said that made my heart skip a beat.

Her dad caught us in that basement though, and while he raged, she sobbed, and even though I wanted to put my arms around her and dry those tears, I didn't want her to get into more trouble.

So I kept silent, and for years I blamed myself. When she told me that I'd helped her set her mind free that night, I didn't feel relief.

I felt gratitude because now I knew that her special smile, the one she'd given to me after she'd squeezed my hand that day, now I knew that smile hadn't been a lie. 

************

I was not an English major.

I took Business and Economics. I had wanted to take art, but helping support my family came first.

***********

I'd known Ange since I was six. Our parents used to take her and Maria out for playdates and eventually, one day when I was picking Maria and Frannie up from a sleepover at her house, she winked at me, and that was how it all started.

She was a sensible girl, and I figured I could use a sensible girl in my life, and she wanted to be a cop when she was older.

Our mothers both cried at the wedding. I wished that Danny could have been there, I was thankful that my father wasn't, and she smiled at me as her dad walked her down the aisle. I thought she might be the most perfect thing I'd ever seen in my life.

She joined the Academy, and a few years after I'd done with University, I followed in her footsteps. It felt right.

**********

The old police officer who lived two blocks down owned a Buick Riviera. I used to walk home past his house every day, and when it was his day off, I'd get to see him just sitting outside, the car parked beside him. If he had a day off on a hot Friday, he'd wash her carefully, and then dry her off and sometimes he'd use a buffer.

That all ended when I was thirteen, and a Molotov cocktail flew through his window. They saved most of the house, but didn't manage to save the garage. His Riv went up in flames that night, and he was never as good a cop after that.

One time, when I was a lot older, I found him. He was still in that old house of his, but it smelled weird. Old. A little bit like death and dust and slightly sweet and musty like wood rot. I couldn't remember if it was wet rot or dry rot that smelt like that, but I did know that it was bad.

He was long retired then. Called the cops, said he'd heard someone sneaking around his back porch. He'd had cancer too; couldn't throw a punch right anymore or anything.

My partner, he didn't take the guy seriously. Not at all. But me? I knew that if this guy thought somebody had been hanging about on his porch, then he was right.

And when I searched that porch, I found a teeny-tiny little bomb, taped under the decking. By itself, it probably wouldn't have blown the whole house up, but it'd been put next to the old barbecue gas tanks. And if those had gone?

I got the bomb quad, forensics, the union, the whole shebang, onto it. Not that it turned out to really matter.

He died about two weeks later. What they'd used to treat the cancer in the first place had left him with a completely different cancer in his blood, almost impossible to find if you weren't looking for that one. He stood up from his chair and collapsed and that was how I found him when I came over to see how he was.

I didn't go in for the whole 'Community Policing' thing much after that.

**********

I didn't leave her, and she didn't leave me.

We sort of left each other. We'd never worked at the same precinct, so we didn't worry about any of the fallout from our coworkers. We didn't even exactly fall out of love. We just both woke up one morning and realized that even though we cared about each other, it wasn't ever going to work out between us. We'd been far better as friends than we had ever been as boyfriend and girlfriend.

We'd never precisely fought. She knew me too well for us to fight, knew how to talk me down and make me just stop. We didn't break up when I bought the Riv, because getting a divorce over something like that would be stupid and wrong, and Ange wasn't stupid, even though I was wrong to spend our savings on my dream car.

But as it turned out, we didn't share the same dreams.

We parted friends, and she's still invited over, every year, for Christmas and Thanksgiving, and birthdays. She declines most of them, except the birthdays.

*********

The Mountie got into my car willingly enough, and the conversation inevitably turned to the sorts of things he and his Dad used to do for Christmas.

He said nothing.

Not nothing as he didn't say anything. Actually, he kinda went on for a little while about how policework didn't take a backseat just because there was a religious holiday, and that criminals often took advantage of such seasons, although he did add that many parts of Canada were cold enough that taking the sort of risk that any criminal might encounter became even more deadly, and-

I got the picture, though.

My new friend and his father had never really done Christmas. Or any other holiday.

Right then I knew that taking Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police home to meet my Ma was the best thought I'd come up with in a long time.

********

The Mountie should never look creased. The Mountie should never look dirty, or rumpled, or damaged.

Or hurt.

Frankie Zuko had messed with the natural order of things.

He didn't complain. But he did wince, just a tiny amount, just enough to let me know.

I saw red.

*******

I shot him. I saw a fucking gun, and I shot at her, but he moved so I missed and it was an accident. That was what I put down on every single piece of paperwork that came my way, although I left the expletive go untyped, unsaid, unwritten, but there in presence.

I shot my best friend. My partner.

I shot him.

It was an accident. I was aiming for her.

I didn't have the paperwork to distract me as I waited in the ER. I might have almost wished that I did.

And as I sniffed and held back the tears that gathered in my eyes even while shock gathered in my system, I knew two things.

One was that I would do it again, without hesitation. If it would save him, I would do it a thousand times more.

The second thing I knew in that moment is something that I still plan on spending a long time discussing with Benny.

******

He has no power over me, I realized, walking away as the conversations around the wake began. Ostensibly, I was there with Ma and Frannie and Maria, and I had to get Ma home. She doesn't do so well in the cold anymore, and the day which had started out cold and crisp had rapidly turned into damp and dreary. Rain dripped down from the leaves of the trees around the Zuko plot, all gathered moisture from the steady drizzle that had been with us since about eight that morning.

Frankie and I, we'd been like two dogs with a really great stick, fighting over it. And now that stick had broken, and we would finally go our separate ways. Back to our masters; off he would trot into the darkness that was all he had left. As we went our separate ways, I understood at long last, as I saw Benny dressed in his bright red, waiting for us, holding his Stetson in his hands.

I'd followed Benny back into the light so far, but he'd held my hand nearly every step of the way. I felt just about ready to keep going on my own then.

*****

There was that train.  It was going along beneath me, and I was completely and utterly terrified.

I was holding the wolf in my arms.

I had to do it.

I jumped.

****

He hugged me goodbye. I may have flinched at first, but I reached up and tentatively patted him on the shoulder. I could feel his grin beside my cheek, and I couldn't help but grin back.

His grin, that slightly lopsided expression with the just-barely crooked teeth, the teeth that were sometimes the only thing to remind me of just how human he really was; his grin never fails to make me smile back. His face is always handsome, but when he smiles it's as stunning as a burst of light through clouds on a snowy day, and you know it'll be bright and clear soon.

I've seen him stumble about, blind in the forest. I've seen him fall so hard and so far and so fast that nobody knew until it was almost too late. I've seen him look so completely lost in this world, without a single scrap of memory, and I've seen him when he thought he'd have to shoot his own wolf.

I've seen him at his worst, but I'm not always thinking about those moments when I look at him. To the world, he's the supermountie, and even I get caught in that spell sometimes. And then I blink, and he's not 'Constable Fraser', he's just my friend Benny again.

"I'll be back before you know it, Ray."

Then Benny turned to go, patting his leg once to signal Diefenbaker, who followed him onto the plane with a noise that might almost be called a bark - if the wolf wouldn't have been insulted by that word.

I had no idea that it would be the last time I would see him for so long.

If I'd known, I would have hugged him longer, harder; hell, I might never have let him go.

***

I flinched when I saw the uniform. It was bright red and the buttons seemed to gleam at me, reflecting something I really wasn't sure I wanted to see - which was ridiculous. I look at this face every morning in the mirror when I'm shaving, I know who I am (or rather, who I am supposed to be). I should not fear my own image in a shining brass button.

The doorman in his red uniform smiled up at me kindly, and I saw that his eyes were a gentle brown and his hair was graying at the temples, and under the edges of his hat I could just see the faint outlines of a receding hairline, and as I walked past him I did the spy's brush-pass to hand over the single tiny note I'd scrawled up this morning. It was easily the most dangerous drop I'd made the whole time I'd been in Vegas; not that the note contained anything particularly incriminating, not that the man bedecked in more red and gold than should be allowed on anything save a Christmas tree looked particularly incompetent. No, that had nothing to do with it.

But I was still thankful that my Mafia bodyguard had gone in ahead of me, because otherwise, he might have noticed that on the inside I was shaking like a leaf.
 
**
 
The person they'd gotten to replace me was... Distinctly not me. Not at all. He didn't look Italian, he didn't even dress right! I doubted he'd ever seen a scrap of Armani in his life!
 
Benny likes him, he wants us to get along. For Benny's sake, I'll try not to kill him. I don't want to know what Benny sees in him.
 
Well.
 
Aside from how relaxed Fraser was around him. Calmer than I'd expected; I wasn't sure if I liked that he was happy, or if I was angry that in the eyes of one person (the most important person?), I'd been replaced.
 
I still hate him though. 

*

And all of that? All that history? All those little moments in time that I lived through and that I muddled through and that I tried to understand?

It's led me to the here and now, and I'm lying on the floor of a goddamn shopping mall, blood pouring out of me and, shit, I can feel myself slipping away.

Benny's trying to keep pressure on the wound and I can hear sirens in the distance. He's telling me to hold on, and I just... don't... know...

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12 Comments

exbex said:

This is brilliant. You've captured Vecchio perfectly.

Whoa, really? Thank you! I seem to be spending a lot of time in his head for these Santas...

I love all this back-story you've developed for Vecchio, down to the littlest details.

Like this: But the first thing I know I remember is her cooking. The smells coming from the kitchen, how she'd stir the sauce in the pot and lean forward to catch a whiff, but would never take a taste. I never saw her taste her own cooking while she was preparing it until after what happened to my brother.

Thank you.

You're very welcome.
They say that god is in the details. Sometimes I worry that anything I write is just composed of the details, with nothing else, but I'm glad that it works out sometimes. :D

Great Ray Vecchio origin story, Anonymous Author! One of the parts I liked the most was the whole RayV-Frankie Zuko arc from the time they were kids all the way to the denouement of Juliet's Bleeding.

Vecchio "seeing red" and his obvious love for his siblings and Ma were fantastic touches on one of THE best Vecchio-centric fics out there.

Favourite quote:

I'd followed Benny back into the light so far, but he'd held my hand nearly every step of the way. I felt just about ready to keep going on my own then.

*hearts*

Yay. That scene was a near-last minute addition, but I'm glad you liked the line.

....
Sorry, did you just call it one of THE-
ng.
That may be one of the bestest comments I've ever gotten ever.
-huggles you-
I definitely don't deserve it, but thank you.

Wow! I'm speachless. Great story.

I've always wanted to do that to somebody. In my family, it's difficult to get anybody to shut up for long enough for that to happen, so to be the person causing speechlessness is a fairly huge thing.
:D

Linden Author Profile Page said:

Yay! Vecchio backstory! I absolutely loved getting to know all the little details, loved that they were so down-to-earth and real, and blended so well with the canonical stories and characters.

-shifty- Would you believe that I almost forgot to include Ange? Take THAT, canon stories!

This was great! *hugs Vecchio*

He IS terribly huggable, isn't he? I just kinda wanted to wrap him up in a great big huggly blanket when I was writing this (especially that vegas-buttons scene. Br).

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