First Time For Everything by Prudence Dearly

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Title: First Time For Everything
For: Sionnain
Pairing/Characters: Ray/Ray
Warnings: none
Vidder's/Author's/Artist's Notes: huge thanks to my two betas, who made this so, so much better.

 

The first time they saw each other again.

 

Ray Vecchio stood in the almost-darkness, getting used to being here again. Nothing had changed. The squad room was still the same jumble of beat-up furniture, scuffed linoleum, piles of paper everywhere, and obsolete computers perched precariously on desktops where premium space was given to coffee cups and cops' feet.

 

There were two pools of light: one over the desk that had been Ray's, and the other falling in neat slices through the blinds of Lieutenant Welsh's office window. His door stood half open, and Ray heard voices.

 

He didn't hurry over. He was savoring the smell of the place - well, maybe not savoring exactly, but noticing and having it ring the bells of memory. The air hadn't changed in the six months since he'd been here last. Three months' sick leave and three months' debriefing with the FBI while taking time to kick back in Florida, and nobody had thought to open a window.

 

Welsh's voice rose suddenly, and Ray wandered over, letting his fingertips run along the surfaces of the desks and chair backs on the way. He'd had the big homecoming last time, bursting into the station like a hero on horseback, with Benny beside him. It had been like a dream, one of the many dreams he'd had of coming back to the 27th: all rush and noise and excitement, and things getting out of hand. And now here he was again, with time and space to breathe and take stock of the things around him. He wondered if the paperback he'd left in his desk drawer before Vegas was still there.

 

"...a dearth of experienced officers around at the moment," Welsh was saying. "You'll just have to make do."

 

"The guy's a moron, sir." Ray stopped dead. It was Kowalski's voice.

 

"Last time I looked, the sign on my door said 'Lieutenant,' not 'match-maker,' Kowalski."

 

Ray stood in the shadows just outside the office. The Lieutenant was sitting at his desk, hunched over his desk, tie loosened and sleeves rolled up. An empty plate and a coffee mug sat at his elbow. Ray wondered if he still made his own sandwiches from scratch.

 

Kowalski was sitting sprawled on the couch in the corner, legs splayed, flicking a pen through the fingers of one hand. Ray felt a surge of resentment. Since when did Welsh let his detectives hang out in his office? Kowalski looked at home, like he was killing time. Ray glanced back at the desk that used to be his own; Kowalski should be over there writing reports or something. Or not here at all, which would be better. Ray had been gearing up to see Kowalski the next morning, not now, when he was already tired and still hadn't figured out whether he was relieved to be back here, or just resigned.

 

"As it turns out, there is one other option," Welsh said. "We have a transfer coming in next week. Experienced officer, good record, and he's familiar with Chicago. He'll be on desk duty for a while, but after that he may need a partner."

 

Ray's stomach turned over as Welsh flipped open a yellow personnel folder, and held it out to Kowalski, who got up and came to get it, tilting the paper to read it in the lamplight. Then his head dropped and his arms flopped to his sides.

 

Ray hovered just outside the doorway and watched Kowalski standing there like a puppet with the strings cut. He wasn't even swearing or jumping around, like Ray would've expected. He looked... well, looked pretty much like Ray felt right now. As if he could feel months upon months of aggravation stretching out in front of him, and he really couldn't be fucked dealing with it.

 

"Great," said Kowalski, standing up straight again all of a sudden and holding the file out to Welsh. "That's just great."

 

"It's a pity I can't dedicate more time to arranging the world exactly the way you'd like it," said Welsh, taking the file back, "but unfortunately I have a station to run."

 

Which was, of course, when he looked up and saw Ray standing in the doorway. Kowalski spun around, but Ray steadfastly ignored him, keeping his eyes on Welsh, who rubbed a hand over his mouth and said, "Ah, Vecchio. I have the paperwork ready for you."

 

Ray walked in, feeling Kowalski's eyes on him. No need for that awkward meeting in the morning, now - they could cut straight to the stand-off. Ray bent to sign the final transfer documents. Getting seconded by the FBI and then returning to his former position, it turned out, required about half an Amazon rainforest's worth of paperwork. As he signed the various pages, he heard Kowalski leave and shut the door.

 

 

*

 

 

The first time Kowalski said he loved him.

 

Ray slammed his desk drawer shut and locked it, then gave the entire bullpen a challenging 360-degree glare. Frannie kept her head down. Huey and Dewey rolled their eyes at each other. Kowalski took no notice; his feet were up on his desk and he was reading a case file, chewing on a toothpick. On the other side of his desk, his partner, Monteith, hunched his shoulders nervously. The guy did everything nervously. It was beginning to piss Ray off.

 

It had been three weeks. Three weeks since Ray had brought in the little electric coffee grinder and one-cup coffee maker. If he was going to be stuck on desk duty, he was going to have decent coffee to drink, and even Lieutenant Welsh's pointed comments about the last time a Vecchio tried to turn his squad room into a coffee shop could not dissuade him. He kept everything in a cardboard box in one of the break room cupboards, and all had been well until the day Ray realized somebody else had been drinking his coffee.

 

Thus started the Great Coffee War. Ray staked out the break room as well as he could and leaned on the uniform cops to snitch on the thief. He even asked Frannie to keep her ear to the ground, but without result. It kept happening. Frannie pointed out that it was only half a dozen cups of coffee, what was his problem?

 

"I am stuck at my desk every hour of the day," Ray said, "every day of the week. The least people could do around here is not steal my possessions out from under my nose."

 

Frannie had raised her eyebrows and her hands and edged past him. "You should drink less coffee anyway," she said as she went. "You're way too uptight."

 

It had got to the point where Ray had to resort to locking his coffee beans in his desk drawer and making loud remarks on the state of affairs when a cop couldn't trust his fellow officers.

 

The following Thursday night, he was standing in the squad room and letting his aggravation build to cover everything else he would otherwise be feeling. The rest of Major Crimes was pulling an all-nighter. Huey'd had a tip about a drugs ring, and that had been the thin end of the wedge for a couple of the west-side gangs. Multiple arrests, lots of noise and camera crews, and the cops looking like the good guys for once. And Ray had been playing ball at the Y because desk duty ended at 6pm, like some kind of office job. Desk duty was the pits. He wouldn't even be here except that Welsh had called him in to ID a body in the morgue that might have been one of Ray's snitches from back in the day - only it wasn't, so he was standing here feeling like a useless idiot. A useless idiot whose desk drawer was standing an inch open when it should have been closed and locked.

 

Ray scanned the squad room and drew in a deep breath through his nose. No scent of decent coffee. Just the usual shitty stuff, plus residual cigarette smoke, plus the ever-present smell of Dewey. Ray felt like Fraser, walking slowly between the desks, casting about for a scent, stalking his prey. He was a little comforted to think that Fraser would probably take the theft of a detective's coffee just as seriously as he was. God, he missed Benny. Especially on bad days like this.

 

Never before had Ray actually cracked a case by personally sniffing out evidence, but this time it happened. The culprit had brewed up his coffee in the break room, and by the smell of it, he was still there. Ray was going to catch the guy red-handed. He stepped silently up to the doorway and looked in.

 

Kowalski was leaning against the bench, legs stretched out long and straight, head bent reverently over a mug clasped in both hands. The rich, bitter scent of the best coffee money could buy filled the room, overlaying the usual smells of dish soap and the trash can. Kowalski's eyes were closed and there were deep blue smudges under them, but then a 36-hour day would do that. His only movement was the slow rise and fall of his chest as he breathed in the steam from his mug.

 

He breathed out again with a low groan, opened his eyes enough to look into his coffee, and muttered to himself, "Vecchio, I think I love you." Then he drank, with a relish and solemnity that would have been funny at any other time.

 

Ray waited until Kowalski took a break before saying, "So it was you?"

 

Kowalski twitched, his eyes flashing up to Ray. He looked guilty for a moment. Ray didn't give him a chance to answer back.

 

"You could've just asked, you know." This seemed to confuse Kowalski. "I mean, it's just coffee," went on Ray. "I wouldn't mind, once in a while." That was probably a lie, but what the hell. It might be true, he just hadn't had the chance to find out. Ray propped himself up against the doorframe and rubbed at the back of his neck. "Rough day, huh?"

 

Kowalski nodded slowly. Ray wondered when the last time was they'd had a conversation lasting this long. Back when Fraser was around, during the whole Muldoon fiasco, he supposed. No wonder Kowalski was looking at him like he was waiting for the punchline. Ray rubbed his neck again. He was getting a headache.

 

"This is the only time I've done it," Kowalski said. He didn't put the coffee cup down, or even straighten up from his slouch. So, guilty but not repentant. "It's been someone different each time. I asked around." Ray raised his eyebrows. "Welsh had some after his ex-wife called that time. And it was Huey and Dewey a couple of weeks ago."

 

"Huh. You should be a detective."

 

"Ha ha," Kowalski deadpanned. He shuffled a bit. "Look, I'm sorry, I just - "

 

"Forget about it." Ray put his best mobster drawl into the phrase. "Knock yourself out."

 

Then he went home and went to bed, and the next morning he started a new routine. He bought himself top-quality take-out coffee on the way to work and carried it straight into Welsh's office, where he demanded to be taken off desk duty.

 

 

*

 

 

The first time he realized he was having inappropriate feelings about his partner.

 

Ray got to the front door first and pulled it open, but he only had a second to see Fraser standing there before he was elbowed out of the way as Ma and the kids piled out of the house and onto their favorite Mountie.

 

Ray grabbed Fraser's elbow as he was bundled into the house, and managed to haul him aside for a hug.

 

"Hey, Benny, how are you?"

 

"I'm fine, Ray," Fraser said, clapping Ray on the shoulder.

 

"Here, let me take your coat."

 

Ma was yelling at the top of her voice that Benton was here and was everybody ready to eat? Maria herded the kids through to the dining room, stopping to hug Fraser on the way, and the kids were all chattering at Fraser at the tops of their lungs. Gina and Christina grabbed a hand each and led Fraser down the hallway, asking him where he'd been and what he'd been doing.

 

"Well, I've been on a quest," Fraser answered, in that entirely serious voice he used when talking to children.

 

"Wow!" they chorused. "Like in the movies? Like with Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table?"

 

"A bit like that. You see - "

 

"Where's Francesca?" demanded Ma, who had just done a head count and come up one short.

 

"She's upstairs. She's coming," said Maria, and gave Fraser a knowing look. He frowned briefly at Ray, but didn't have time to inquire, because Ma was saying grace. For the length of the prayer, silence reigned. Then there was a chorus of "Amen"s and everyone dug in.

 

Fraser was telling the girls about his quest for the Hand of Franklin, over the snowy white wastes of the frozen North, when Frannie came in. He broke off in mid-flow, and his eyes went wide.

 

"Take it easy, Frase. I guess Ray didn't tell you?" Frannie leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, her belly bumping against his side. She eased herself down into a chair. "What, did you want to give him a heart attack?" she said to Ray.

 

"I thought he might enjoy a surprise," Ray replied, grinning.

 

"I, uh, I didn't even know you were married," said Fraser, which was entirely the wrong thing to say. Ma immediately threw her hands in the air and started lamenting the behavior of her youngest child. Maria quickly jumped in to defend Frannie's right to live her own life, and Frannie told Maria she could speak for herself thank you very much, and Tony bellowed from the far end of the table that they hadn't had the butter down there yet.

 

After dinner, Ray took Fraser out to the back porch and they sat on a couple of creaky old chairs. The sounds of the neighborhood in summertime drifted from the street and other people's backyards. People were talking and playing music, kids were running around and getting yelled at to come indoors already. In the Vecchio household the kids were watching TV while doing their homework, and the women were in the kitchen tidying up and setting the world to rights.

 

"Bet you didn't miss this," Ray said.

 

Fraser let out a quick laugh. "I find your family very congenial, Ray, you know that."

 

"Yeah, I know that." He looked sideways at Fraser. "Ma says this about everyone, but she's right about you. You've lost weight."

 

"My new posting is very hard work." He drew in a deep breath of appreciation. "I like it." He looked at Ray. "I like it here, too, though."

 

"I didn't think you'd come back."

 

"Oh, I'll always come back to visit." He paused, and made sure Ray was looking at him. "I have family here."

 

"Ah, stop it, you're getting all mushy."

 

They sat in companionable silence for a while.

 

"How are you enjoying work back at the 27th precinct?" Fraser asked eventually, and his tone was just slightly too cheerful.

 

"It's fine."

 

"I hear you've been working with Ray Kowalski."

 

"That's right."

 

"I knew you two would become friends."

 

"Yeah, we've been getting along like a house on fire."

 

"I'm sure."

 

"You know: screams, injuries, destruction of property."

 

"Now, Ray -"

 

"Okay, okay," Ray surrendered. "It's not that bad. But don't try to pretend he's not a pain in the ass, Fraser, because we both know better. Come on, four months on the ice fields with that guy? How did you even make it? I bet by the end of the trip you wanted to kill him."

 

Fraser lifted his chin. "Ray is my very good friend. He's an excellent detective and a fine companion."

 

"And you wanted to kill him." Ray leaned in. "Come on, Benny, say it. You know it. I know it. Kowalski knows it, for sure. Just say it. Say by the end of the trip you wanted to kill him."

 

"No." Fraser shifted uncomfortably.

 

"Say it, Benny. It's the truth, all you have to do is tell the truth. You wanted to kill him, right? By the end of the trip, did you wanna kill him?"

 

Fraser rubbed at his eyebrow. "It was more like the middle of the trip - "

 

"Ahhh." Ray sat back smugly.

 

"He wanted to kill me first!" went on Fraser defensively. Seeing Ray's smirk, he narrowed his eyes. "By the end of the quest, our friendship was, if anything, even stronger than before." He pursed his lips disapprovingly. "This antagonism is not becoming, Ray. I thought you'd gotten past your initial difficulties with Ray."

 

"Well, I have."

 

The back door opened and Frannie came out, carrying two steaming cups.

 

"Ah, Francesca, let me get that," said Fraser immediately, springing to his feet.

 

"Thanks. It's tea for you, Frase, and coffee for my no-good brother who hasn't done a dish in his life." She passed Ray his cup, and put her hands on her hips, bracelets jangling. "Seriously, Ray, you leave a pregnant woman to do the housework?"

 

"Last night I tried to help you out of a chair and you gave me a five minute lecture on how pregnant women aren't sick!" he protested.

 

Frannie flapped a hand at him, brushing him off.

 

"You come back inside when you're done, okay? We wanna hear all Fraser's exciting new stories from up North." She gave Fraser a bright smile, and wandered back inside, one hand idly rubbing her belly.

 

Fraser watched her go cautiously, then sat down abruptly, and whispered, "Ray, I don't wish to be indiscreet, but... Well, is Francesca... I mean, does she...?"

 

"She's pregnant, Benny."

 

"Well, yes, Ray, I know that." He tipped his head to one side. "Who is... the gentleman in question?"

 

"She met this German diplomat guy a while back. Seems nice enough."

 

Fraser squinted at nothing in particular. It was his thinking face, the one he used when he wasn't sure if there were any questions he was allowed to ask. "You seem remarkably relaxed about the situation."

 

"Well, I checked the guy out."

 

"Checked him out?" Fraser's expression was skeptical.

 

Ray shrugged. "I got some friends in the FBI to ask around, and I put a tail on him, and when we found out Frannie was pregnant, he and I had a talk."

 

"Ah, yes, I remember now. Ray - Ray Kowalski, I mean - mentioned something about helping you," Fraser did air quotations with his fingers, "'sort a guy out' for Frannie."

 

"Kowalski came along. He was Frannie's brother for a while, and he's got this weird, jumpy thing going on that freaks people out. Anyway, we had words with this guy, and like I said, he seems nice enough. A little confused, maybe, and his English isn't great, but he seems to really like Frannie, and she really likes him." Ray slid Fraser a sideways look. The resemblance to Otto was definitely there, but mentioning it would only make Fraser uncomfortable. "It's not ideal, but - " Ray shrugged. "- she's happy."

 

"Yes," said Fraser. "I can tell." He sipped his tea while Ray turned his coffee cup round and round in his hands, staring into its depths. "And what about you, Ray?" Fraser's blue eyes were intent. "Are you happy?"

 

"I'm doing okay."

 

"Ah."

 

Ray refused to rise to the bait and so they sat in silence for a while longer.

 

"You talk to Kowalski often?" he asked eventually.

 

Fraser nodded. "About as often as I talk to you - whenever there's a phone within reasonable sledding distance."

 

"He talk about me?"

 

"Occasionally. Perhaps as often as you talk about him." Fraser finished his cup. "I really am glad that you're getting along better now than you were."

 

Ray nodded. "We're getting along better," he repeated. He sipped at his coffee. He wasn't drinking so much of it now that he was working with Kowalski, who drank enough for both of them.

 

"I think you'll find, the more you get to know him, that Ray Kowalski is a very good man, and a good detective, and his idiosyncrasies - "

 

Ray held up a hand to stop Fraser where he was. "It's okay, Benny, you don't have to try to convince me. I know he's a good guy." Ray raised his cup to his lips, and added, "I'm actually getting to like him."

 

When he looked up from his cup, Fraser was watching him. Ray opened his mouth to say something, quickly, to break what was suddenly and inexplicably an awkward moment.

 

"Ray! What are you doing, keeping Benton out here? He'll catch a chill." Ma Vecchio had appeared at the back door.

 

"Ma, he's just come from the North Pole, he's fine."

 

"He's only wearing a shirt, and the evenings get cold. Come inside, Benton."

 

Ma hustled Fraser back indoors, ignoring his muted protests that he was really very snug, and Ray followed them. He paused at the door, though, and took a moment. Something had settled in him that he hadn't realized was out of place, but the change didn't make him feel any better. He tipped out his coffee cup into the potted plant by the door, and muttered to himself, "Goddamn it, Benny."

 

 

*

 

 

The first time he really knew he was in trouble.

 

Everything was suddenly, deafeningly silent. It was as if someone had pulled the plug on the soundtrack of Ray's life, and now there was nothing but white noise.

 

He surfaced, and gasped for breath. The sun was glaring off the water and into his eyes. He swiped at them with one hand, splashing around, trying to work out where Kowalski had gone.

 

There. A shape broke the surface, and he saw arms waving and a dark jacket billowing with trapped air, only a dozen yards away.

 

"Hey!" Ray splashed over and tried to reach past Kowalski's thrashing limbs. "Hey!" He managed to grasp one wrist, and Kowalski jerked, startled. As soon as he saw Ray he lunged for him, desperately relieved. Ray grabbed a handful of Kowalski's coat, and they struggled back towards the shore in an ungainly kind of doggy-paddle. There was a ladder beside one of the docks, thank Christ, and Ray clung to it while Kowalski pulled himself up out of the water, then followed him up onto dry land. They both collapsed onto the rough wooden planks of the dock and fought to get their breath back.

 

"You okay?" gasped Ray.

 

"I'm fine," came the reply, and Ray went limp with relief. He lay on his back with a hand over his eyes and tried not to think - about the chase, the sight of Kowalski tumbling into the water, the rush of air around him and the dark, silent confusion of the lake.

 

"What happened to Speight?" panted Kowalski at last.

 

"He got away."

 

Kowalski squinted at him, then sat up so he could squint at a better angle. They'd chased James Speight through three different warehouses and finally onto the roof of a boat house, and Ray had had the guy covered when Kowalski had slipped on something a seagull left behind, and went crashing into the water. How could a guy move like Fred Astaire one moment and be so incredibly clumsy the next?

 

"You jumped in after me," Kowalski said. Ray didn't bother to answer. "Why'd you jump in after me? You had the guy right there."

 

Ray summoned up some sarcasm. "Oh, so I should've just arrested him and let you drown?" He raised his head and looked at the boat house. It didn't look as high from down here as it had in the moment before he'd jumped. But then his head had been full of screaming images: Kowalski with a broken neck, a broken arm, a concussion, drifting deeper and deeper into the lake, lungs filling with water, eyes open, mouth open, every second taking him further away. Ray hadn't stopped to shed his coat or his shoes before hurling himself off the roof. He wondered what had happened to his gun.

 

With a long sigh, he clambered to his feet, then reached down to help his partner up.

 

"I can swim, you know," said Kowalski, as they started to walk, slowly and squishily, up the dock and back towards the warehouses. "I just, uh." He sniffed and twitched. "I don't like to. I had this bad experience once, being under water."

 

"Me too," said Ray, trying to shake the excess drips from his sleeves.

 

"I was trapped in a sinking ship," said Kowalski.

 

"I was locked in the trunk of a car," countered Ray.

 

Kowalski frowned. "Fraser?" he guessed.

 

"Yeah. Well, to be fair, it was my idea to go in the trunk, but it was his case."

 

"Huh." Kowalski thought for a moment, then said, "Was there any..." he waved a hand expressively. "Any buddy-breathing involved?"

 

"Any what?"

 

"You know, any... helping you breathe."

 

They came to a halt, and regarded each other warily.

 

"He pulled me out," said Ray. "He saved my life."

 

"Yeah, yeah," said Kowalski quickly, nodding jerkily. "Yeah. So, like, no buddy-breathing. No mouth to mouth or anything?"

 

"Um, no." Ray narrowed his eyes. This was not the first time Kowalski had mentioned Fraser in connection with strangely intimate gestures. Maybe when they had a moment and weren't soaked to the skin he'd dig into that a little more. Then again, maybe he wouldn't.

 

"Okay." Kowalski's eyes tracked around for a moment, looking at anything but Ray. "And if you'd'a had to, would you..."

 

"Would I buddy-breathe you?"

 

"Yeah."

 

"No," lied Ray smoothly, and took a perverse pleasure in Kowalski's outraged reaction. Then his partner's eyes narrowed and he pointed two fingers at Ray's chest.

 

"You jumped into the lake after me."

 

"That was different." Ray started walking again.

 

"You jumped off a roof into the lake after me," persisted Kowalski, hobbling after Ray while stripping off his soaking jacket and wringing the water from it.

 

"I had to, you're my partner."

 

"Exactly."

 

 

*

 

 

The first time Kowalski called Ray his boyfriend.

 

It was crowded and noisy and somebody had already spilled something sticky on his shoe. Everybody was yelling to be heard over the music and the sound of everybody else yelling. It was only ten at night and the people here were going to keep drinking and yelling and jostling until morning, when they would spill out into the street and start making mistakes they would really regret in the morning.

 

Speaking of which. Kowalski was eyeing him from across the room, trying to semaphore "Get your ass over here" without moving anything but his eyelids and eyebrows. Ray got the message. He pushed his way through the crowd and came to rest next to Kowalski, who leaned in close to talk into his ear.

 

"I found her," Kowalski said, his breath tickling the hair on Ray's neck. Ray swallowed and shifted closer, tilted his head so he could hear better. "She's upstairs with her brother and a bunch of guys. Just hang back and, uh, follow my lead, okay?"

 

Kowalski was the only reason they'd even got this far. Harvey Croucher was a small-time club manager who'd been expanding his business into drugs and protection. He was in the sights of the DEA and the FBI, and since a couple of disappeared hookers didn't trump drugs and weapons charges, the Chicago PD was last in a long line of interested parties who would get severely pissed if Croucher got tipped off to cover his ass. But Croucher's driver had been seen with one of the girls the night she went missing and was urgently wanted to help the police with their enquiries.

 

So Detective Ray Vecchio was not here. He'd left his badge and his gun in the car, along with Kowalski's. They were just two guys in a bar. And hey, looked like Kowalski just ran into someone he knew.

 

The woman was in one of the side rooms with a group of guys in dark suits. She looked like a butterfly in amongst them, with her blonde hair and bright clothes. She was about forty, pretty and blonde and slim-built, and Ray couldn't help the knot in his stomach that came from remembering that Kowalski had a type.

 

Ray recognized the men from the surveillance photos. Harvey Croucher and his brother, with their business partners. They were all large and loud and heavy with their own importance. Small fry in the grand scheme of things, but big news in this neighborhood, and plenty dangerous for a couple of unarmed cops who were officially not here.

 

The woman saw Kowalski, and her face lit up. She set her drink down on the table behind her and pushed out of the group of men. Then she was wrapping her arms around Kowalski, and he was hugging her back, and when they broke the hug, Ray saw that Kowalski was really smiling. He liked her. This was Lauren Croucher, Harvey's younger sister, and she was a decent woman who didn't choose her family, or so Kowalski said. He'd worked undercover in a bar run by Croucher five years ago when he was with Vice, and Lauren figured out he was a cop and warned him to get the hell out. Never gave up his cover. She was good for information, but only if they could get her alone for a second. The music wasn't as loud in here, but the voices were louder to make up for it, enough to give them some cover.

 

"Hey, let me get you a drink," Kowalski said, drawing Lauren away, his arm around her waist. They were almost home free when Croucher pushed out from between his brother and his cousin and yelled, "Lauren!" She turned back, and Kowalski winced in disappointment before turning around, too. Croucher came striding up to them, and looked Kowalski up and down.

 

"Who's this?" he demanded, surly and half drunk.

 

"You remember Ray? He worked bar for us at the Blue Room, how long ago was it?" She turned to Kowalski, laying a hand on his stomach. Croucher's eyes narrowed.

 

"And who's that?" Croucher jerked his chin in Ray's direction.

 

"That's uh, that's a friend of mine," said Kowalski.

 

Croucher was looking suspicious now, instead of just protective. Lauren broke away from Kowalski's arm and turned her head from him to Ray and back again.

 

"Ooooh," she said coyly, "is this your boyfriend?"

 

Ray thought his heart stopped. Time slowed down to warm treacle as Kowalski smiled at Ray and said, "Yeah, you got me. This is my boyfriend. Ray." He turned the smile on  Lauren. "Ray," he repeated. "My boyfriend."

 

Croucher's head tilted back and he said, "Ooooh," too, and then, "The Blue Room, right, sure." He clapped Kowalski on the shoulder. "You know, the cops shut that place down. Guess that put you out of a job, huh?"

 

"Yeah, I've been working in, uh, San Francisco," Kowalski said, and Ray repressed the urge to roll his eyes. "I just moved back to town. Didn't know I was gonna start running into old friends again so soon." He cast a look at Lauren, but she had come to link her arm through Ray's.

 

"Don't worry, honey," she said in a low voice, and he was amazed at how she kept her face so kind and relaxed. "Harvey's loved gay guys ever since he saw The Bird Cage. You're a cop too, right?" She was careful to turn her head so nobody could see her shaping the words.

 

"Yeah," managed Ray in a strangled voice. Kowalski was making nice with Croucher, saying something about yeah, he might be in the market for a job, and Croucher was saying he was starting up a new gay club because the cops closed the Blue Room down, did he know? and clapping Kowalski on the shoulder again.

 

"It's kinda dangerous for you boys to come in here, don't you think?" There was a hint of worry in her eyes now, and Ray pulled himself together.

 

"We're looking for a guy called Tommy Amberley. He's been driving cars for Harvey."

 

Lauren pursed her lips, and deftly let the two of them drift further away from Croucher and his friends while she talked to Ray. She knew Amberley. He was picking up some goods at midnight tonight. She whispered the address to Ray, and added, "Can you nail the guy?"

 

"Uh, yeah, I think so."

 

"Good." She nodded her head firmly. "He's a creep." Ray carefully didn't look around the room at the people Lauren was related to.

 

"Hey, buddy, let's get you a drink." Harvey Croucher lurched up. "What's your name again? I feel like I know you from somewhere."

 

"It's Ray," said Kowalski, appearing beside him, and looking relieved that Croucher wasn't pawing him any more.

 

"Isn't that the cutest thing?" said Lauren. "They're both called Ray! What are the chances?"

 

"God, yeah, I know," agreed Ray and Kowalski, and they all laughed.

 

"Let's get these guys a drink!" bellowed Croucher. Ray tried to resist, but Kowalski shot him a warning look, and he knew they couldn't get out of this now without offending Croucher and making him suspicious again. They were guests of Lauren's, so they'd have a drink.

 

Ray wanted a beer, but Croucher got them a round of ouzo. The taste of it coated Ray's mouth and made him want to retch. He pulled off his jacket and hung it over one arm, and then he undid another button of his shirt. Lauren stuck close to both of them, keeping up a buffer between them and her family, making sure Harvey stayed drunk and distractible. But that meant when the ouzos came round again, Ray and Kowalski both had to drink. Their eyes met over the shot glasses. Ray couldn't read Kowalski's expression.

 

They downed the shots. Ray shook his head a little. He hadn't eaten since lunch, and besides, he wasn't used to this any more. The taste and the hum of it in his body. The most he drank these days was a beer on a Sunday afternoon, after lunch, sitting on the porch. It had been years since he drank like this, standing around, talking about sports and old bars. Harvey and his brother drifted off into conversation about someone Ray didn't know, and he felt Kowalski's hand on his elbow, hot and damp through the cotton.

 

"You get anything good from Lauren?" Kowalski breathed, and a tingle ran all the way down Ray's body from his neck to his knees. Ray managed a nod. "Okay, good, we gotta get the hell outta here."

 

Ray wanted to say something sarcastic, because no kidding, of course they had to get out of here, but he just nodded dumbly again. Croucher had gathered a small crowd around himself, and now he stretched his arms wide, and with one deeply-inhaled breath launched into an impromptu rendition of "I Am What I Am." Half his audience seemed impressed; the other half was gaping. Ray felt Kowalski's hand clamped on his elbow and allowed himself to be towed out of the side room and back into the main bar.

 

Dance music was playing now, with the volume cranked right up. Ray could feel the bass beat shuddering up from the soles of his feet. They'd cleared a space at one end of the room and people were dancing, arms in the air, grinding up against each other, as if it was possible to get closer and sweatier than everyone was already. Ray wiped a hand across his eyes, and caught his jacket just before it slipped to the floor. Kowalski was pushing his way to the door, turning and sliding through the crowd, and Ray bumbled along in his wake.

 

Kowalski pushed the door open, hard, and they tumbled out, past the bouncer and the line of people outside, and into a night that seemed unbelievably quiet and cool. Ray stopped and took a deep breath. No such thing as fresh air in Chicago, but this was about as close as it got.

 

"Okay, come on." Kowalski put an arm around him and started guiding him down the sidewalk. "We don't have time to hang out on street corners."

 

"Hey, get off of me," muttered Ray, but he didn't mean it. Kowalski guided him across the street and down the block to where they parked the car. "I'm not that drunk," Ray said. He was watching Kowalski's face under the streetlights, the orange glow glinting off his stubble and making his spiky blond hair look sharp enough to cut. Ray wanted to stretch out a hand and brush his palm over Kowalski's hair, and see if it was sharp or soft.

 

"Yeah, right," said Kowalski. He opened the passenger door. Ray stood there, still looking at him. Kowalski made an elaborate gesture, ushering him into the car. "Come on, let's move, we don't have all night, get in, get going, thank you."

 

Ray folded himself into the car and Kowalski slammed the door shut. In the seconds it took Kowalski to circle the car, Ray tipped his head back against the headrest, and took a long, deep breath.

 

 

*

 

 

The first time he kissed him.

 

The day after Frannie came home from the hospital, Ray said casually to Kowalski, "Hey, Frannie brought the baby home yesterday. Wanna come over and visit?"

 

Kowalski's head snapped up and he said, "Yeah!" Then he added, "I mean, if she's up to it. Frannie, I mean."

 

"She wants to see you," Ray said. "She's staying at the house for the first few nights until Otto gets back."

 

Frannie's boyfriend had been off on a diplomatic paper-pushing trip to Europe, booked to get back two weeks before their baby was due. Ray was privately kind of glad the guy wasn't there for the birth when it happened early. Otto spooked easily and had fainted at Lamaze class. Ray had been wound up enough by himself without having to watch his not-brother-in-law's blood pressure or run interference between him and Ma Vecchio.

 

As it was, when the call came that Frannie had gone into labor, Otto was stuck in Belgium. Ray had been at work, but was primed and ready to burn rubber to the hospital. Maria laughed derisively and told him to kick back and relax.

 

"I don't remember you getting this excited when I gave birth," she said pointedly.

 

"You had a husband," snapped Ray, "and besides, I'm her big brother." He knew Maria was rolling her eyes at him, but she promised to call when the baby was actually close. Ray had chewed through three pencils by the end of the morning, and Kowalski ended up taking him out to a sports bar to watch a game Ray couldn't remember. They sat there and ate pretzels and drank a couple of beers while the morning turned to afternoon and Ray kept checking his phone and asking what was taking so damn long?

 

When Ray finally left for the hospital, he almost felt as if he should ask Kowalski to come with him. But it would be too weird. Kowalski hadn't been around the family much since Ray got back. Even once they'd started getting along okay, it wasn't like they were really friends, and by the time they got to be friends as well as partners, Ray was working hard to make damn sure it didn't get any further than that. Maybe he was over-protective of his space, going too far to keep his distance - but better that than getting in deeper than he already was.

 

But now there was Amelia. Kowalski's eyes lit up around her. That first visit, he'd been jittery and excited all the way from the station to the Vecchio household. He'd bumped Frannie too hard when he kissed her on the cheek, apologized, looked like an idiot, and then turned to the bassinet. Two minutes later he was settled on the couch, the baby in his arms, and he couldn't take his eyes off her. After that, there was no way Ray could have stopped inviting the guy over. It would have been cruel.

 

After the second visit, Frannie had given Ray a soft, tired smile, and squeezed his hand. "It's nice that you bring him," she murmured. Amelia burbled in her arms, pink and content after a feed.

 

That was the point where gravity kicked in, and he fell in love with Kowalski. Ray looked down at his niece and remembered the glow in Kowalski's face as he'd cradled her, and Ray finally recognized the warm, tight feeling under his ribcage that had been growing over the past couple of months. He was in love. Typical that Kowalski wasn't even in the room when he finally worked it out.

 

Knowing it only made Ray more determined to keep everything normal between him and Kowalski. Their relationship was a comfortable mix of irritation and cautious friendship, and he was damn well keeping it that way. When Kowalski danced around, or grinned, or cracked some wiseass joke, Ray was good at not reacting. And Kowalski was oblivious. Ray was pretty sure Kowalski figured any weirdness on Ray's part was down to him still feeling awkward around the guy who'd lived his life for a year.

 

But now Ray was tired. It seemed as if all he did these days was watch himself. Stay safe, stay careful, don't step over the line. Don't look too much, don't look too little, don't smile too much, don't jerk away if you happen to touch him accidentally. Maybe that was why it all got out of hand before he realized.

 

They'd had a good day, made a clean collar, and managed to avoid getting drafted into the mass family effort of getting Frannie, the baby, and eighteen tons of baby stuff into the apartment she was sharing with Otto. When Ray rang Maria's cell phone to check on progress, she told him to just stay away, there were already five people too many in this sardine can. Ray had hung up to the sound of a crash and voices raised in an accusatory chorus of "Tony!"

 

"How's it going?" Kowalski was pulling on his coat, too.

 

"Sounds like a nightmare," Ray said. "I'm gonna go home and cook dinner."

 

Kowalski's eyebrows went up. "You cook?"

 

"Naturalmente," replied Ray. "Best manicotti you ever tasted."

 

"Oh yeah?"

 

Which was a challenge, and Ray had accepted without thinking. No, he had accepted without letting himself think. So what if Amelia wouldn't be there, and strictly speaking there was no good reason for Kowalski to visit. Fuck it, the guy could come over for dinner. This was not a big deal.

 

When they were at the store buying fresh basil and a few other things he needed, Kowalski picked up two carrots and had a small, private sword fight with them. He looked like a big, dumb kid in his loose jeans and tight blue Bulls t-shirt, with his hair sticking straight up and his glasses hooked into the neck of his shirt. The badge on his belt and gun under his jacket would come as a shock to anyone who just happened to be looking at the guy, who was now fingering an eggplant like he'd never seen one before in his life.

 

Ray shook himself. This was going to be okay. This would be fine.

 

It was fine. Kowalski settled in at the kitchen table with one of Tony's beers while Ray bustled about grabbing pots and pans and ingredients. Christina had left one of her coloring books out, with magic markers all over the place, and Kowalski was flicking through it, drawing moustaches on the princesses. Ray went to get the CD player from the other room, and when he came back, Kowalski had found a page with Spiderman on it and was hunched over, carefully finishing the red bits of the costume.

 

Ray looked at the back of Kowalski's neck, stretched out long and pale as he bent over the book, and his wiry arms leaning on the table. Kowalski'd been all fired up today, full of ideas and spark, and those lightening grins that lit up his face and the world around him. Now he had marker ink on his fingertips and seemed weirdly zen, concentrating on staying inside the lines. He reached out without looking and picked up his beer, long fingers wrapping around the neck of the bottle.

 

Dammit. He should never have let Kowalski come over, but he had and he would just have to suck it up - no, no, he would just have to snap out of it and act like a normal person. And stop lurking in the doorway.

 

He carried in the CD player and plugged it in beside the toaster. Tony Bennett crooned softly from the corner as Ray went to the fridge. "You wanna help?" he said over his shoulder.

 

Kowalski cleared his throat and put the cap back on the marker. "Sure."

 

"You can grate the cheese." Ray set the mozzarella and the grater in front of Kowalski, with a dish and a look. "Don't cut yourself."

 

"I'm pretty sure I can grate cheese without injuring myself," said Kowalski, sounding a little pissy. Good. Pissy was safe. "What's the apartment like, anyways?"

 

They chatted about Frannie and Otto, and why they weren't married. Kowalski seemed to understand Frannie's reluctance. "Maybe she just doesn't want to rush into it."

 

"Rush into it?! She had a baby! Whatever she rushed into, it was nine months ago. She's not rushing any more, she's being ridiculous. She says she's happy the way things are and she doesn't want to ruin it by getting married." Ray waved his knife in the air as he spoke. "I told her, what's to ruin? You're living in sin, Ma's in confession every day, the guy's even proposed - she'd be making everyone happy. But no."

 

"Cut her a break," said Kowalski, popping a chunk of cheese into his mouth. "It's not like she's saying she'll never get married, she just doesn't want to right now. No wonder, with you all in her face about it." He gave Ray a glare, challenging him to deny it. Then he added, "Probably she wants to lose weight first anyway."

 

"Are you calling my sister fat?" Ray raised an eyebrow at him, and Kowalski sniggered.

 

"Like I'd dare."

 

"Stop eating my cheese."

 

Kowalski picked up another lump and tossed it into the air, catching it in his mouth. Ray rolled his eyes again and was turning back to the onion when Kowalski sprang up out of his chair, sending it clattering to the floor, and spun around on his heel.

 

"What the hell -"

 

Kowalski's eyes were bugging out of his head and he flapped his hands wildly at himself. His mouth was open, and he made a strangled sound. His face had gone bright red. Ray threw his knife into the sink and lunged for Kowalski, but he was panicking, stumbling around blindly. Ray followed him, catching him by the shoulders and wrestling with him for a moment, until he was behind Kowalski with his arms around his skinny chest. He heaved. Kowalski jerked like a salmon. Ray readjusted his grip, and heaved again, pulling Kowalski off his feet. The piece of cheese sailed out of Kowalski's mouth and across the room. Ray, still plastered against Kowalski's back, holding him in an iron bear hug, watched it land beside the fridge.

 

The two of them collapsed onto the floor. Kowalski was heaving for breath, coughing and spluttering, eyes streaming. Ray was still wrapped around him, in a tangle of arms and legs.

 

"You're okay," he was saying, over and over, "you're okay, you're okay." He didn't really know he was saying it, didn't really know he was clutching Kowalski way too tight, didn't realise he was pressing his lips to Kowalski's temple until he felt the warm skin there under his lips.

 

Ray froze. It was as if everything in the room had suddenly been brought into sharp focus. The two of them, sitting on the floor, Kowalski half in his lap, chest still working with the effort of breathing, Ray cradling him, kissing him. The blue and white kitchen linoleum around them, Kowalski's chair on its side, the cheese glistening on the ground. The pan on the stove sending up billows of steam, and the smell of garlic spicing the air. The moment expanded like a soap bubble, and Ray felt as if he had been sitting here kissing Kowalski for an eternity, terrified and desperately content.

 

He drew back slowly, carefully. As soon as his lips weren't touching Kowalski, Ray couldn't sit there a second longer. He pulled himself up off the floor and helped Kowalski back into his chair, then went to the sink and filled a glass with water. Kowalski took it and gulped it down without looking at Ray, who stood with his back against the bench, gripping it with white knuckles.

 

When Kowalski had finished coughing and drinking, he put the glass on the table, then lowered his forehead to rest beside it.

 

"Jesus fuck," he croaked, voice raw. He splayed his hands flat on the table on either side of his head. "I can't believe I almost got taken out by cheese."

 

Ray closed his eyes for a moment.

 

"This is why your mother told you never to play with your food, Stanley," he said. It was amazing how normal his voice sounded. Kowalski didn't bother to raise his head or say anything - he just lifted his middle finger, before placing his hand back on the table. Ray refilled the glass with water, put it by Kowalski's elbow, and went back to cooking.

 

 

*

 

 

The first time they slept together.

 

Ray stood and watched the situation unfold with a growing sense of inevitability. "Best not to leave him alone," someone said, and another voice piped up, "Does he have someone who can stay with him tonight?"

 

" - shouldn't do any serious harm," a paramedic announced, "but you'd better keep an eye on him. He might fall and hurt himself. And you never know exactly how someone's going to react to this kind of thing - he needs supervision until it wears off, just in case."

 

"What about his parents?" Welsh asked. Ray shook his head grimly.

 

"Nah, they're out of town. Went on some convoy thing to Minnesota."

 

Welsh nodded, not really listening. "Take him home," he ordered, and went off to deal with the growing publicity nightmare that was a cop getting shot in the ass with a tranquilizer dart by a zookeeper. The press was going to have a field day - literally, since the whole thing had taken place on the new Savannah Park development. Turned out a cop stalking an extremist animal rights activist across the grasslands looked like some kind of small mammal run amok. The tearful zookeeper was still apologizing profusely to anyone within earshot, although she'd made sure she was out of sight of Kowalski, who was seething in the back of the ambulance.

 

"Can we go already?" he called to Ray. "There's nothing wrong with me." He pushed himself off the gurney, knees sagging, arms windmilling as he tried to get his balance, then tumbled back, with a grunt, and grabbed his ass where the tranquilizer had hit. "Ow."

 

Ray stood by the ambulance doors and watched the performance with a sense of impending doom. Any hopes that Kowalski could be safely left on his own were shot down right there.

 

They ended up borrowing a wheelchair from the ambulance, which got them to Ray's car okay, but when they got to Kowalski's apartment there was only one option. Kowalski with spaghetti legs wasn't getting very far. At least he weighed less than Fraser, although Ray didn't say so as he edged his way into the building with his partner slung over his shoulder. Instead, he made some pointed comments about the effects of a diet in which pizza and coffee were the two main food groups. Ray concentrated on the ache in his back, to keep his mind off the fact that he had a steadying hand on Kowalski's thigh, and Kowalski's ass was inches from his face.

 

"I'm fine," came Kowalski's slurred voice from somewhere in the region of Ray's own ass. "I can walk. Put me down."

 

"We tried that already. Everybody laughed at you."

 

"They did?"

 

"Yeah."

 

"Assholes. Are we home yet?"

 

"Yeah." The elevator dinged and Ray hauled Kowalski into the apartment, dumped him on the couch, then straightened up with his hands on the small of his back. Kowalski lay where he'd been put, blinking dazedly.

 

"You know what you are, Vecchio?" Kowalski chirped. "You're my partner."

 

"Well done. That only took you three months to figure out."

 

"And you know what that means? Do you? Vecchio?" Kowalski raised his voice. He'd seemed mostly coherent in the car, but sounded drunk now, and dopey.

 

"What?" snapped Ray. He was exhausted and hungry and he was going to have to put Kowalski to bed, which would be bad enough even if his mind wasn't already flashing through a hundred images of laying Kowalski down and stripping him slowly. Boots, socks, jeans, shirt and t-shirt, and finally underwear. Kowalski wore boxer-briefs. He knew because Kowalski also wore loose jeans and the band of his underwear was sometimes visible, between his belt and a strip of pale, lickable skin. Ray repressed a shiver.

 

"It means," Kowalski was saying, waving one hand heavily in the air, "it means that it's just you and me. You and me. Partners, right? That's good, right? Vecchio?"

 

"Yeah, Kowalski, that's good."

 

"I have to pee."

 

"You've gotta be fuckin' kidding me."

 

Ray woke up the next morning with Kowalski draped over him, and it wasn't fucking fair. He stared up at Kowalski's bedroom ceiling, and even with his better judgement telling him he was a moron for getting into this situation in the first place, and his hindbrain trying to give him an erection despite the fog of exhaustion and despair, the loudest noise in his head was the overwhelming cry of It's not fair!

 

He'd spent minutes pacing in the living room, hands running over his head. God, this was humiliating. Kowalski hadn't said anything about the kiss after the cheese incident, had been politely ignoring that whole evening since it happened two weeks ago. And now this.

 

They were both fully dressed, apart from shoes and Ray's suit coat which he'd managed to struggle out of and fling to one side at some point during the night. He'd had to manhandle Kowalski into the bathroom and leave him there, propped against the toilet tank, while Ray paced in the kitchen and ran his hands repeatedly over his head. He would dump Kowalski on the bed, and go watch TV. That was the plan. Minimize contact. Because not only was Kowalski demanding intimate assistance, he was also getting handsy. He'd slung one arm over Ray's shoulders and with the other gripped the front of his shirt, knuckles rubbing over Ray's chest with each lurching step. "I can't feel my ass," he'd whispered wetly into Ray's ear, as they staggered through the bathroom doorway.

 

"Let me."

 

"What?"

 

"Let me just stand you up here, and you can, you can, do whatever. Shout when you need me." And he'd escaped. For the moment.

 

"Vecchio!"

 

Step one in the plan worked okay. He hauled Kowalski to the bedroom and slung him onto the bed, then tugged his jacket and shoulder holster off. That was when step two, retreat to the couch, fell apart, because Kowalski opened his eyes and his arms, and grabbed Ray in a bear hug.

 

He would not let go. Ray wriggled and cursed and even pinched Kowalski's sides and arms, but the guy would not let go. He clung to Ray like a limpet and started snoring in his ear. And Ray, eventually managing to squirm so that he wasn't being strangled from below or squeezed from above, lay on Kowalski's bed and stared at the ceiling.

 

"This would be hilarious if it wasn't my life," he told the light fixture. "This is like winning the lottery, but backwards. This is not something that happens to people. Are you listening to me?" Kowalski's fingers were digging into him, probably leaving bruises. "I swear to God, Kowalski." Ray squinted down at the top of Kowalski's head, resting on his shoulder.

 

That was how they woke up. Kowalski raised his head, blinking half-closed eyes and flexing his fingers which were still tangled in Ray's clothes. Ray met his bemused gaze and raised his eyebrows.

 

"Are you awake?"

 

"Mm," grunted Kowalski.

 

"Are you still tripped out or are you sober?"

 

"What hap -"

 

"Kowalski, are you high?"

 

"No." Kowalski finally, finally released his grip, and rubbed the heel of his hand into his eye. "What the hell happened?" he croaked.

 

"Okay, good." Ray rolled over to the side of the bed and sat up, looking around for his shoes. He slipped them on and stood up, pulling his tie off and trying to straighten his shirt. It was rumpled and untucked from having Kowalski burrowed into it all night. "I'm done, Kowalski," Ray said tiredly. "I'm sorry, but I'm done. I can't take this any more."

 

Kowalski was sitting up now, looking baffled and not entirely awake. Ray guessed the guy was never fully awake until he'd had coffee. Well, too bad. This couldn't wait. In fact, Ray was already edging towards the door.

 

"What, what d'you mean?" asked Kowalski, his voice gravelly.

 

"I can't be partners with you any more."

 

"You're breaking up with me?" Kowalski blurted out. Then he seemed to hear himself and quickly amended, "I mean, you're... you're... You don't wanna be partners any more? Why?"

 

Ray let out a bark of laughter and spread his arms. "Look around, Kowalski! Look at what you're doing to me!"

 

"Ah, shit, did I do something to you? I swear, Vecchio, I was drugged out, I can't even remember - "

 

"No, you moron. I mean, yes." He dropped his head and tried to pull himself together. "I just can't do this any more. It's too much. It's too hard." He raised his head again as he said this, just in time to see Kowalski glancing at his own crotch guiltily. Then Kowalski was scrambling off the bed.

 

"Vecchio, you don't mean that. We're good partners, you know that. Our solve rate's good and we hardly ever try to kill each other any more. Even the Lieu thinks we're good. Come on." He stood in front of Ray and did a little ta-da move, the way he did when he was pleased with himself - except this time there was desperation on his face. Ray's stomach turned over. He'd thought he could resist any persuasion Kowalski could throw at him, but this was tough. The guy's eyes were wide and very blue. "You know you can't do better than me."

 

"I'm sorry."

 

He turned to go, and found Kowalski in his way, suddenly in his face, grabbing him by the arms. "You can't go," Kowalski insisted, "we worked too hard to get here, you got no idea -"

 

"I've got no idea?!" repeated Ray, trying to shake Kowalski off. "Get off of me!"

 

" - and there's no voodoo or whatever but it's still good, and now I've got these feelings - "

 

"What? I have no idea what you're talking about. You have no idea what you're talking about."

 

" - but he said you probably didn't and then he said no man is an island, which, I don't know what that means, but I figure - "

 

"Kowalski!" He grabbed at Kowalski's wrists, trying to pry him away, trying to push past him. "We can't be partners any more! Period! End of story!"

 

"Why not?" yelled Kowalski into his face, and Ray kissed him. Properly. On the lips. With one hand snaked around to the back of Kowalski's neck, and hearing the "ungh" of Kowalski's next word being blocked out. He felt Kowalski's body jerk with surprise and pull away. Ray let him go, heart racing.

 

"That's why," he said.

 

Kowalski stood there in the doorway, mouth partly open, eyes blank, and for the second time he looked to Ray like a puppet with the strings cut. And again, just as abruptly as the first time, he came back to life with a twitch.

 

"Oh," he said. Ray backed up a step, giving him some space. He was pretty sure Kowalski wasn't going to deck him or call him a pervert or anything. Best case scenario, he would just stand aside and Ray could get the hell out.

 

"I didn't know," Kowalski said, very softly. He didn't stand aside.

 

"God," muttered Ray, unbelieving. "How could you possibly not know?"

 

"How the hell was I supposed to know?" Kowalski's voice ratcheted up. "You didn't say anything."

 

"Didn't say anything?" repeated Ray. "Didn't say anything?! I kissed you!" he yelled. "I wrapped my arms around you and kissed you on my kitchen floor!"

 

Kowalski stepped back, startled by Ray's shout. "I thought you were, you know," he rotated a hand vaguely, suddenly looking worried, "comforting me. 'Cause of the nearly choking to death."

 

"Comforting you by kissing you on the face!" said Ray. "Jesus, Kowalski, do you hear yourself? Who comforts his partner by kissing him?"

 

Kowalski shrugged uncomfortably. "Fraser..." he began, and trailed off.

 

Suddenly it made sense. Fraser. Ray had been closer to Fraser than almost anyone else in his life. He'd definitely done more weird things with Fraser than with anyone else in his life. But he'd never thought it was normal. Kowalski, though, he'd had full-on Fraser for a year, when he was under cover and lonely and vulnerable, when he'd needed a friend as well as a partner. Cops almost always bonded with their partners, but when you were bonding over that many near-death experiences and bizarre Canadian crimes, it must've been like industrial-strength bonding. Then they'd gone on a three-month trek into the wilderness together, shared God-knew how small a tent, and it wasn't as if Kowalski was the king of personal space to start with. After having Fraser broadcasting at him all that time, no wonder he'd gotten his signals mixed. Ray had a moment's conviction that this was all Fraser's fault, and determined to grab hold of that and cherish it later.

 

"Let's not try to take Fraser as the benchmark of normal here, all right?"

 

Kowalski rubbed both hands over his face and then through his hair, scrubbing the tufts in a dozen different directions.

 

"Okay, so, uh..." He pulled his shoulders back and licked his lips, and met Ray's eyes without flinching. "What does this mean? You really want to not be partners any more?"

 

"I think it's a bad idea," said Ray.

 

"And what else?"

 

Ray opened his mouth, then closed it. "What do you mean?"

 

"I mean," said Kowalski, and he still wasn't looking away, "what else?"

 

 

*

 

 

The first time Ray said it back.

 

"You seriously had no idea?" Ray hooked an arm over the back of the couch. "Aren't you supposed to be a detective?"

 

Kowalski gave him a sarcastic smile, but didn't take the bait. He had that look in his eye that meant he'd latched on to something and wasn't about to let go. He slouched back on the couch, folded a slice of pizza into his mouth and took a huge bite.

 

"Jeeze, I thought I was sending out signals like a fire alarm," said Ray, shaking his head. "Turns out I should've sent you a written invitation." Kowalski said something unintelligible around his mouthful. "Aw, come on," complained Ray.

 

Kowalski took a swig of beer to wash the pizza down. "So, how long have you had the hots for me?" he said, once his mouth wasn't full any more.

 

"How did we even get onto this?" Ray grabbed his soda and sipped at it.

 

"Come on, Vecchio. 'Fess up. How long."

 

"If you didn't notice, I don't see why I should tell you now."

 

Kowalski reached over, took the soda out of Ray's hands, put it on the table next to his pizza slice and pounced. There was a tussle, which Ray lost. He ended up on his back, with Kowalski lying on top of him, holding his wrists and grinning down at him.

 

"Tell me," said Kowalski. "Was it right away?"

 

"No," said Ray, struggling a little, just for show. "I hated you right away."

 

"Oh, yeah, I remember that." Kowalski pushed his thigh in between Ray's and applied some controlled pressure. Ray stopped struggling. Kowalski leered. "So when was it? When we got partnered up?"

 

"No, I hated you then, too. You drove me nuts. Not in the good way."

 

"So when? When did you first start looking at me like that?" Kowalski pressed a little harder, and Ray couldn't help a squirm. "Yeah, that look. I'm sure I would've noticed that look."

 

"You don't notice anything. This whole thing started up and you didn't even know."

 

"So maybe you should've said something," Kowalski pointed out. "Maybe you should've told me."

 

"Right, just stroll into the bullpen and say, hey, Kowalski, your ass looks fine in those jeans, wanna go out some time?"

 

"That'd work." Kowalski gave him a wriggle back, as a reward.

 

"Hey, Kowalski," Ray went on, "what did you mean when you called me your boyfriend?" He kept going, ignoring Kowalski's reaction to that. "Hey, Kowalski, let's make last night a regular thing. Hey, Kowalski, stop falling off of buildings or it's gonna get real obvious that I'm in love with you." He stopped and swallowed. Silence sat between them, thick and close. Kowalski wasn't leering any more. "That the kind of thing you'd need?" Ray finished, a little hoarsely.

 

"Yeah," said Kowalski, and his eyes were bright and warm. "You would need to spell that out for me."

 

Ray couldn't quite meet Kowalski's gaze. He tried to recover himself with a little snippiness. "Well, I'll live for the day when you notice what's laid out right in front of you."

 

Kowalski gave another wolfish grin. "Hey," he said, "there's a first time for everything." And he kissed Ray, slow and deep and thorough.

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30 Comments

Sionnain said:

OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG I LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE THIS SO MUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCH HI IT'S LIKE 2 AM AND I NEED TO SLEEP BUT THIS IS MAKING ME SO HAPPY AND I'M CAPSLOCKING AT YOU, LOVELY LOVELY PERSON WHO WROTE ME THIS AND I WILL SERIOUSLY COME BACK TOMORROW AND QUOTE EVERY LINE I LOVE AT YOU (WHICH IS LIKE THE WHOLE FIC OKAY) BUT BOYS, OH, *BOYS* I AM FLAILING WITH LOVE, HERE, OKAY.

::TWIRLS YOU FOR FOREVER::

SERIOUSLY TOMORROW YOU WILL GET ANOTHER COMMENT WITH SPECIFICS BUT JUST KNOW THAT I ADORE THIS FIC AND YOU AND THEM AND NOW I WILL STOP CAPSLOCKING BUT OMG BOOOOOOYS

:D! :D! :D!

Anonymous said:

eeee so cute! omg I love them so much.

"Last time I looked, the sign on my door said 'Lieutenant,' not 'match-maker,' Kowalski."

WELSH! OMG and Fraser! "And he said you probably didn't and then he said no man is an island"! I almost died laughing. Oh man I LOVE Ray/Ray where Fraser gets to be around.

This is amazing.

Thank you so much, I'm so glad you liked it :)

Sonia Author Profile Page said:

So adorable!

Awww, this is was adorable. BOYS!!

Sionnain said:

Okay! I'm back to tell you all the things I loved about this!

It's so CLEVER. I love the structure and how each section means what it says but not what you'd think, and how you framed it all around first-times. YOU ARE CLEVER, WRITER! The writing is brilliant, too, gorgeous and so perfectly them.

VECCHIO. Oh, man, your Vecchio makes me SO HAPPY. He drinks soda! (Teetotaler!Vecchio makes me so happy okay) He's a-okay with liking boys but freaked out by liking Kowalski!

"This would be hilarious if it wasn't my life," he told the light fixture. "This is like winning the lottery, but backwards. This is not something that happens to people. Are you listening to me?" Kowalski's fingers were digging into him, probably leaving bruises. "I swear to God, Kowalski." Ray squinted down at the top of Kowalski's head, resting on his shoulder.

AHHHHH. I love that so much!


Their banter!

"Huh. You should be a detective."

"Ha ha," Kowalski deadpanned. He shuffled a bit. "Look, I'm sorry, I just - "

"Forget about it." Ray put his best mobster drawl into the phrase. "Knock yourself out."

BOYS. Vecchio and a mobster drawl=hot like burning, especially when he's using it to be an ass to Kowalski. I LOVE IT.

That entire exchange about buddy-breathing had me GLEEFULLY SQUEAKING.

Fraser! Fraser giving Vecchio advice! HOW DID YOU KNOW I LIKED THEM ALL BEING FRIENDS. ::beams::

AND KOWALSKI. Oh, he's so great in this! So adorable and intense, twitchy and ridiculous and hot and awesome. Jittery around small children! HE ALMOST CHOKED ON A PIECE OF CHEESE AND THOUGHT VECCHIO KISSING HIM WAS SUPPOSED TO BE COMFORTING. I just. BOYS. And I love love love that image, btw, of Vecchio and Kowalski ON THE FLOOR together after that, ahhh. Your descriptions are awesome, I could see all of this so perfectly!

"Let's not try to take Fraser as the benchmark of normal here, all right?"

Kowalski rubbed both hands over his face and then through his hair, scrubbing the tufts in a dozen different directions.

"Okay, so, uh..." He pulled his shoulders back and licked his lips, and met Ray's eyes without flinching. "What does this mean? You really want to not be partners any more?"

"I think it's a bad idea," said Ray.

"And what else?"

Ray opened his mouth, then closed it. "What do you mean?"

"I mean," said Kowalski, and he still wasn't looking away, "what else?"

...the noise I make everytime I read this exchange? Trufax scares my cat *and* my pet rabbits. I JUST LOVE THEM SO MUCH OKAY.

The entire last scene is AWESOME.

Hey, Kowalski, stop falling off of buildings or it's gonna get real obvious that I'm in love with you

VECCHIO OMG I LOVE HIIIIIIIIIM. That sentence *maybe* my heart explode with glee fyi.

Ray couldn't quite meet Kowalski's gaze. He tried to recover himself with a little snippiness. "Well, I'll live for the day when you notice what's laid out right in front of you."

Kowalski gave another wolfish grin. "Hey," he said, "there's a first time for everything." And he kissed Ray, slow and deep and thorough.

THEY HAVEN'T INVENTED A NAME FOR THE NOISE I MAKE AT THIS PART OKAY. IT MAYBE BREAKS SOME KIND OF PHYSICS LAW.

This captures everything I love about this pairing, and it is the best, the end. ILU, AND WHEN I FIND OUT WHO YOU ARE, YOU BETTER GET READY FOR MORE CAPSLOCK AND ADORATION. FYI.

Hey there darl, thanks so much for your detailed and squeeful feedback. I'm so pleased you liked it. *grins*

Terrific! Loved the progression from dislike through attraction to love and confessions.

"No," lied Ray smoothly, and took a perverse pleasure in Kowalski's outraged reaction. Then his partner's eyes narrowed and he pointed two fingers at Ray's chest.

"You jumped into the lake after me."

"That was different." Ray started walking again.

"You jumped off a roof into the lake after me," persisted Kowalski, hobbling after Ray while stripping off his soaking jacket and wringing the water from it.

"I had to, you're my partner."

"Exactly."

HEARTS.

And Fraser telling Kowalski Ray probably didn't reciprocate! Hee.

sli Author Profile Page said:

I enjoyed this like crazy, all the way through. Your descriptions are so fantastic (Kowalski's jacket billowing in the water ♥) and the progression is delightful and I love it very much.

Awesome, thanks so much.

That was the point where gravity kicked in, and he fell in love with Kowalski.

I love that love is a science thing, a physics thing. \o/

There's such great banter and so many quotable lines in this story it's not even funny.

I love the slow dance from dislike to friendship to something more.

"Yeah, we've been getting along like a house on fire."

"I'm sure."

"You know: screams, injuries, destruction of property."

That makes me gleeful!

Well done, mystery author!

Thanks so much, hon.

Jade Lennox Author Profile Page said:

This is wicked sweet. I love the structure and the affection.

Thanks so much :)

We're good partners, you know that. Our solve rate's good and we hardly ever try to kill each other any more.

Heee!!

Ray had a moment's conviction that this was all Fraser's fault, and determined to grab hold of that and cherish it later.

See, the Fraser Weirdness Effect hasn't worn off, even though he's back in Canada. It's permanent, and they're going to have to just get used to dealing with it. Together, of course. ;)

So adorable! Poor RayV, he never really had a chance!

See, the Fraser Weirdness Effect hasn't worn off
Heee, damn straight :)

Loved it! Your Rays are so Ray!

Oh, this was so good! I fell in love a little bit more with it with each section. Your Vecchio just made me want to hug him so hard and the sheer affection of the boys for each other and you for the boys just shone through the whole thing.

I think this was my favourite part of all:

"This would be hilarious if it wasn't my life," he told the light fixture. "This is like winning the lottery, but backwards. This is not something that happens to people. Are you listening to me?" Kowalski's fingers were digging into him, probably leaving bruises. "I swear to God, Kowalski." Ray squinted down at the top of Kowalski's head, resting on his shoulder.

HEE. *smishes Vecchio some more*

Yay, thanks so much! I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

snoopypez said:

I am madly, hopelessly in love with this story. I just.. can't even think of words.

Wow. I'm so incredibly pleased that it worked for you!

Wow. I'm so incredibly pleased that it worked for you!

Ahhh, I don't even know what to DO with this, it is so awesome and wonderful. I want to snuggle up in it like a blanket! I love Ray slowly losing his ability to deny what's going on; I love the little glimpses of Fraser, just being Fraser, and absolutely not being a good benchmark for normal; I utterly adore your Kowalski, and the way Ray sees him, especially the little gem of a scene where Kowalski's making carrots swordfight, and acting like a big kid, and drawing mustaches in the princess coloring book. This fic is such a keeper.

Heee, thanks so much! I'm so gleeful!

Oh, I LOVED this! Beautiful flow, lovely and descriptive, adorably confuddled Kowalski and wonderful Vecchio! &hearts &hearts &hearts

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This page contains a single entry by agent142 published on December 11, 2009 4:35 PM.

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