Reasons That Need Exploring At This Juncture by belmanoir

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Title: Reasons That Need Exploring At This Juncture
For: exbex
Pairing/Characters: Ray/Ray, Fraser
Warnings: none
Vidder's/Author's/Artist's Notes:
  I would like to thank my story consultant, cheerleader, and beta!  She is the best.
They've been out on the ice for three months. Ray's almost used to being cold, but he still isn't used to Fraser skinning and butchering dead things for them to eat. So he's looking the other way and trying not to vomit when Fraser says it.

"Your leave of absence is up in two weeks, Ray."

Then Ray is really trying not to vomit. What is that? Is that Sayonara, Ray? Is it You should quit your job and move to this frozen hellhole and I want you to do it in a timely fashion that is in comfortness with regulations? How is Ray supposed to know which it is? And can he really spend the rest of his life being careful how he pees so that his dick doesn't literally fall off, bam, gone?

"If you want to apply for an extension, the deadline is Friday, but I must confess I'm anxious to get back to the Consulate. Heaven only knows what Turnbull has done to the filing system in my absence."

Ray double-takes. "You're coming back?"

Fraser blinks, looking hurt. "Why wouldn't I, Ray?"

"I just thought--this is your home, right?" Ray waves an arm at the whiteness. "A land so wide and savage, et cetera."

Fraser tilts his head. The snow makes his eyes freakishly blue and stabby. "Yes. Or it was. Maybe it always will be. I'm glad we had a chance to explore it together. But home is where the heart is."

Another fucking cliché and what does it mean? "Your dad teach you that?"

Fraser's lips part into one of those surprised, lopsided smiles of his. "No."

Then it hits Ray. This is because he told Fraser that his mom told him Vecchio and Stella split up already, for which, thank fuck. Ray's pretty much figured out by now that Fraser's reasons that don't need exploring at this juncture look something like this:

1. Vecchio
2. Vecchio
3. More Vecchio

and so on down the line. So okay, Fraser's planning to go back and move in on Vecchio. Okay. Ray can deal with this.

***

Ray cannot deal with this. They're at O'Hare and everything is so familiar he might start bawling with happiness and pissed-off-ness. Home is where the heart is, Fraser said. Ray tries to think about what his own speech would be like. I first came to Chicago because I was born here and stayed because I never moved. He thought maybe going up North would sort him out, help him figure out where he belonged. Now he's back in the Windy City because he ran out of vacation time.

It's a good story. He should tell it at parties.

He's got no one to call and nowhere to stay and he hates hotels. He hates living alone, too, fucking detests it. He looks at Fraser as they stand in the taxi line. Fraser looks back.

"Where are you staying?" Ray asks.

Fraser's gaze drops. "I suppose my cot is still at the Consulate."

"So, uh--" Ray screws up his courage. "You're not staying with Vecchio?"

Fraser looks confused. "They don't have a spare room, Ray. I suppose I could sleep on the sofa, but--"

"You want to apartment together?" Ray says real fast.

"What?"

"You know. We could do the roommate thing." He pretends to be adjusting the straps of his backpack so he doesn't have to look at Fraser. There's a long, long pause. Ray accidentally unbuckles something and has to leap to catch his pack before it accidentally squashes an innocent bystander, and while he's doing that he accidentally looks at Fraser.

Fraser is smiling. "I'd like that, Ray."

Reason #1, he thinks. Fraser.

***

Ray flags down a taxi and they check into a hotel, just until they can find a place. The first thing Fraser does is call Vecchio. Ray tries to focus on the classified section. Even with his glasses on, the tiny newsprint won't resolve. Maybe he needs new ones. He wonders, not for the first time, if he'll be blind when he's old.

He doesn't need his eyes to hear Fraser's face crack into a grin. "Hello, Ray...We're back...Yes, in Chicago...Yes...Well, I do live here, Ray...Thank you, but Ray and I have reserved a room in a hotel. It seems very comfortable...I'd love to. Let me ask Ray." And that stupid grin's running through all of it. Fraser covers the phone with one hand, carefully. "Ray, would you like to have dinner with Ray Vecchio?"

Ray feels like he's going to vomit again. "Nah, Fraser, you go ahead. I'm gonna hit the sack." He falls back dramatically onto the hotel bed and is distracted by the amazing discovery that places you sleep can actually be comfortable. Reason #2: beds.

"Are you sure?" Fraser sounds a little anxious. But is it I-really-want-Ray-to-go-to-dinner-with-me-and-the-guy-who-has-been-banging-his-ex-wife anxious, or is-Ray-mad? anxious, or I-feel-guilty-because-I-am-ditching-my-buddy-so-I-can-get-laid anxious?

Ray can't move, though. The bed has him now. "Yeah, I'm sure. And tomorrow we'll hit the street, yeah?"

Fraser nods and turns back to the phone. "He's worn out from our journey, but if you could pick me up...Thanks, Ray. I'll meet you in the lobby."

Why is he meeting Vecchio in the lobby? Why can't Vecchio come to the room? What is Fraser hiding? Dammit, dammit, dammit. Ray tells his brain to shut off and stop making him crazy. There is nothing suspicious about meeting someone in a lobby, he tells it. Immediately his brain presents him with a billion possible suspicious lobby meetings. Then he remembers that the hotel has a shower.

A shower. Holy fuck. He can hear the heavens parting and a choir of angels doing that ahhhh thing. Helloooo, Reason #3! He's in the bathroom before Fraser's out the door.

***

Ray gets the GTO out of storage. He and Fraser cruise around a little with a newspaper. Neither of them are in a mood to be picky, so they find an apartment pretty quick. Ray's planning to rent a U-Haul, but then he remembers Fraser's bad back and his own laziness, and springs for movers. He's just got the living room set up to his satisfaction and is wondering where Fraser is, when the door opens and in walks Vecchio with a box. "What did you put in here, rocks?" Vecchio is saying.

Ray has this weird moment of vertigo, just like he did the first time he saw Vecchio. It's kinda like seeing a movie star--you know they're a real person, you've seen pictures and read interviews and watched them on TV, but they're still not supposed to be in your living room wearing an ugly button-down and smiling at you.

"Hey, Kowalski. You mind if I put this on the coffee table?"

Ray starts. "Nah, be my guest. Which I guess you are."

"It's books, Ray." Fraser appears in the doorway wearing his pack and two duffel bags slung across his shoulders. Things thud and rustle as he tries to maneuver himself through the door-frame.

Vecchio rolls his eyes at Ray. "So the only substance denser than rocks, then."

Ray snickers. "You need help with the rest of the boxes?"

Vecchio rolls his eyes again. "There is no rest of the boxes. Just this, and that stuff Fraser's carrying. We dropped the cot at the dump on the way here."

"It was in pristine condition, Ray," Fraser says reproachfully, setting his bags on the floor.

"Tough luck, Benny, you're just gonna have to buy a bed like the rest of us. Hey, when do we pick up the wolf from quarantine again?"

Ray's eyes narrow. Yeah, he called it. Vecchio wants Fraser to buy something the two of them can fit in. And if Ray's Reason #1 is Fraser, and Fraser's Reason #1 is Vecchio, where the fuck does that leave Ray?

***

But the days pass, and Vecchio is over at their place all the time but he's not spending the night. He's just sitting on their couch eating pizza (Reason #4: pizza that tastes like it's supposed to) and complaining about Welsh and fighting over the remote with Ray. Some nights Vecchio picks up Fraser and they go out to eat, but Fraser is working the early shift at the Consulate again so he's always home by nine.

Ray's the new guy at the thirty-two and that means the crap shifts. He's waiting for the day when he drags himself home at three in the morning after a night of overtime and catches Fraser and Vecchio making out on the couch, but it hasn't happened yet.

In the end, what weirds Ray out isn't that Vecchio and Fraser are dating, because he's starting to think maybe they aren't. It's how fucking normal Fraser seems all of a sudden. Yeah, he's still a giant freak who licks things, but his giant freak anecdotes actually fit into the conversation. He focuses his eyes on people when they talk. He watches old movies on TV and drinks milk out of the carton and knows the number of the Indian takeout place around the corner and sings too loudly in the shower. Sometimes he makes pancakes for dinner. Even the way he cheers for curling seems like a regular guy thing when he's on the couch in jeans chowing down popcorn instead of standing in his office in the serge.

And the roommate thing--the roommate thing is great. Ray hated living alone. He likes seeing Fraser's stuff in the refrigerator and Fraser's towel hanging in the bathroom. He likes that when he and Fraser finish work in the middle of the night, he doesn't have to drive Fraser home because Fraser lives at Ray's place.

Fraser seems to like it too. He sits at the kitchen table sorting their mail and dividing up the bills like it's the most fun he's had in years. And one day, Ray walks in and Fraser is on his knees, very carefully drawing something on the floor in Sharpie. He jumps when Ray walks in, but in true Fraser style he doesn't mess up the drawing. Ray looks, and it's the dance steps from his old apartment. They're perfect, line for line and inch for inch. Yeah, he learned those moves by heart somewhere between the sixth and seventh month after his divorce, but he can't help grinning. Reason #5, Fraser again.

"Thanks, Fraser. That is very helpful. You, uh--you think you could help me set up the hustle basic, too? I have trouble getting it that neat."

Fraser beams back. "Certainly, Ray, if you could just show me the step."

"I, uh--I don't think I can remember it, that's why I need the drawing. But here, they do it in Saturday Night Fever, I'll put it on."

So he does, and Fraser watches, frowning. "I'll need a better sense of scale," Fraser says. "Here, if you wouldn't mind--" He holds out his hands, and okay, Fraser's not a good dancer, but he's kind of slowly repeating the movements on the screen and he's certainly not dancing like a block of wood the way he did last time Ray saw him. He's close and his hands are warm.

Ray can't tell if this is a thing or if he wants it to be a thing, and while he's wondering the door opens and Vecchio walks in (yeah, Fraser gave him a key, and Ray can't decide if that's weird or not). At the sight of Ray and Fraser dancing he freezes. "Sorry, I knocked, but I guess you couldn't hear me over the TV--"

Fraser doesn't turn a hair. "Hello, Ray. I'm just helping Ray with a little decorating project," he says, and goes to get a piece of chalk to map out Ray's dance step.

Which leaves Ray and Vecchio kind of staring at each other, the Bee Gees blaring in the background, and suddenly Ray's wondering whether Vecchio can dance. He hurries away to turn off the TV.

"Hey, it's just getting to the good part!" Vecchio objects.

So Vecchio's not against dancing in principle. This is good news. Wait, no it's not. Or is it? "Uh, I'm gonna go make some coffee, you want some coffee?"

"This time of night, I drink any coffee and I won't sleep a wink, but thanks."

"Hey Fraser, you want me to start some water for bark tea?" Ray calls.

Vecchio laughs like Ray's making a joke. "Yeah, Fraser, we can make you some bannock while we're at it!"

"Huh?" Ray says.

Vecchio frowns at him. "You were kidding, right? Fraser hates bark tea."

"What?"

Fraser is stockstalled in the doorway, piece of chalk in hand.

"Yeah, he says it tastes like mushrooms and emptiness," Vecchio says. "But there's some Earl Grey in your cabinet."

"A cup of Earl Grey would be lovely, Ray, thank you," Fraser says quietly.

Ray doesn't even know what to say, so he just goes in the kitchen and opens the cabinet above the sink, and yeah, there's a little box of Earl Grey sitting there, half the teabags used.

He throws Fraser's tea mug across the room and watches it smash. Then he goes in his room and locks the door.

A few minutes later, Fraser knocks. "I sent Ray home. May I come in?"

"No!" Ray rolls over and punches his pillow. It doesn't hurt enough to help, but if he punches the wall Fraser will want to patch him up and that's not happening, not tonight.

"Ray, I--" He can hear Fraser sliding down the wall. Fraser is sitting on the floor on the other side of his door, leaning against it. Ray tries to stay mad. "I wasn't lying to you," Fraser says.

"Fuck you!"

Fraser doesn't even tell him not to swear. "Ray, please open the door." Dief's scratching at it now, too.

If he opens it, he'll hit Fraser, and he's never doing that again. He wants to turn the music up loud enough that he can't hear Fraser and dance, but his stereo is in the living room. "I bet you don't like pemmican, either."

The door creaks as Fraser shifts his weight. "Ray is right, I don't like bark tea. But I didn't drink it to pull one over on you. I was homesick, and it tasted like home."

"I thought home is where the heart is!" he yells. This was supposed to be Fraser's home, right here with Ray.

"Exactly. Will you open the door?"

It's like one of those stupid logic puzzles from school. Fraser was homesick, and home is where the heart is, and Fraser wanted to come back to Chicago because--"You were Vecchiosick," Ray says.

Fraser makes a laughing noise on the other side of the door. "It was easier to think about Canada."

In a sudden flash of detective-brain, Ray gets it. He opens the door. Fraser overbalances and slumps into Ray's room. He looks up at him from the carpet with those bright blue eyes. Dief bounds over Fraser and butts his nose into Ray's hand. "You didn't think he was coming back," Ray says.

Fraser's eyes mist over abruptly. He sits up. "Did you?"

Ray shifts uncomfortably, because of course he didn't. No one did, except maybe Frannie. Guys with better covers than Vecchio get shot every day. He sits on the floor next to Fraser and scratches Dief's ears. "Back when, uh, back when Stella and I first split. It used to really hurt to think about her, you know? And sometimes at night I'd want to think about her and our great big bed and how warm it was, but then I'd find myself thinking about my bed when I was a kid instead. I had a bunk bed, and I slept in the bottom bunk because I, well, I fell out of the top one a couple times. I had glued these glow-in-the-dark stars on the bottom of the top bunk in the shape of a motorcycle. And after Stella left I'd lie in bed picturing that motorcycle and thinking about my Raggedy Ann sheets and I'd want to curl up under those sheets so bad, sometimes I'd start crying."

"Yeah." Fraser breathes in and puts a hand on Dief's back. "I'm sorry, Ray. You deserved better from me."

"Fuck that, Fraser. You could have talked to me. I could have helped."

Fraser frowns. "You helped enormously, Ray." His eyes are focused on Ray like zoom sights. Ray used to think that was something special, something that Fraser saved for when it was really important. These days he does it all the time. Ray hardly ever gets that feeling now like his words are going in Fraser's ears and just kind of ricocheting around between his skull and whatever the fuck kind of Fortress of Solitude Fraser keeps his brain in.

It was just a Vecchio-haze, like Ray's Stella-haze all those months after she left him when he looked at people and he could see their mouths moving but he couldn't actually hear them because he was thinking about the inside of Stella's wrist or that annoyed little sound she used to make when there wasn't enough orange juice left in the carton for her bowl of cereal. Ray wasn't all there last year either and Fraser did help. He couldn't fix it but he was the only thing keeping Ray moving half the time. They both did the best they could, and maybe their best wasn't so great but it was okay. It was good enough.

"I would take it as a kindness if you didn't tell Ray Vecchio any of this," Fraser says quietly.

"Any of what?"

"My erratic behavior last year. The ice fishing on the reservoir and so on. He would feel responsible."

"Uh, Fraser, he is responsible."

Fraser frowns at Ray again. "He was doing his duty."

"Are you and Vecchio a thing?" Ray blurts out.

Fraser twists his mouth in that way that means he can't follow the conversation and it annoys him. "A thing?"

"You know. Are you looking to crush his smokes?"

Fraser blinks a few times. "Ray hates cigarettes." Then light dawns. He smiles. "Ah. You aren't the first person to ask, but no, I'm not. He's my--" Fraser pauses, and then his smile widens. "He's one of my best friends."

Ray laughs and shoulder-bumps him, feeling happy and sheepish. "Sorry about your mug."

"Don't be. It was a gift from Constable Turnbull." Fraser starts giggling, and then they're cracking up like a couple of kids and Ray thinks maybe he's pretty high on Fraser's list of reasons after all.

***

Ray buys Fraser a new mug that says "Cops Do It With Donuts" and the whole thing blows over. They find something new to fight about the next week, but that's okay. That's just a normal friend thing.

This time it's whose turn it is to do the dishes, and neither of them is gonna back down. By ten minutes in Ray is shouting. Fraser is spewing infuriatingly reasonable bullshit about five times louder than normal and chopping his hands around inches from Ray's nose.

They're both extremely taken aback when they hear the front door burst open. Vecchio shouts, "Hey! I'm coming in, break it up!"

Ray flushes and Fraser tucks in his shirt. They have time to shoot each other a really embarrassed look before Vecchio appears in the doorway. "What the hell is going on here?"

Ray starts washing the dishes.

"Nothing, Ray. Ray and I were just having a slight altercation about housework." Fraser sounds like he's dying of mortification.

"Fraser, you were yelling. I thought someone was about to get killed in here."

"I was not yelling," Fraser snaps.

Ray snickers. "Yeah, and I'm banging the Queen Mother."

"Ray, there is no need to disrespect--" Fraser realizes his voice has gotten loud again and slams his mouth shut.

Ray takes pity on him. "C'mon, Vecchio, we were just having a fight. You telling me you and Fraser never had a fight?"

Vecchio looks sad all of a sudden. "Sure we did. I just always did all the yelling. Fraser doesn't--Fraser didn't--I never heard him yell before."

And man, does Ray know that feeling. He shoots Vecchio a cocky grin. "That's because you're not as irritating as I am. I am world class. Just ask Stella." Vecchio smiles reluctantly back. Fraser looks grateful. Ray isn't sure which of those two things is making him feel like he just won the World Series.

He feels a lot better about everything after that. He got something special after all, something Vecchio didn't get. What kind of friends don't even fight?

***

One Friday night he comes home with a bag of groceries. It's not his usual thing, but he's having trouble cracking a case and he thinks doing something with his hands will help. So his heart sinks kind of a dumb amount when he's going up the stairs two at a time and runs into Fraser on his way down. "You going out?"

Fraser looks at the brown paper bag and his mouth goes all apologetic. "I was going to the Vecchio house for dinner."

"That's cool," Ray says hastily. "That is a-okay. I was gonna make pierogi, but--"

Fraser looks even more apologetic. "Ray, we don't own a rolling pin."

Ray considers drop-kicking the bag. "Ah, fuck."

"Why don't you come with me? We'll make pierogi tomorrow."

It's been forever since he saw the Vecchios. The idea suddenly seems really great. They're the closest thing to family he's got in the city. Fuck, he's a loser. They only ever put up with him because he was undercover as Vecchio, right? "Sure, just give me a second." He runs upstairs and shoves the entire bag into the refrigerator without unpacking it.

He stops on the way to get flowers. You can't just bring an extra person to someone's mom's house. Normally he'd go for a bottle of wine, but the Vecchios can be weird about liquor so flowers it is. He doesn't know what kind of flowers Mrs. Vecchio likes, though, and neither does Fraser.

But Ray remembers from some psych eval in the files that Vecchio likes yellow daisies (and thinks sunflowers look like alien technology) so he grabs some of those mixed with orange roses and some nice green leaves. It's beautiful and only $9.95. Reason #6: the cheap-ass flowers at Korean grocery stores.

Fraser gives him a weird look when he gets back in the car with the flowers. Ray blushes for some stupid reason he doesn't even know what it is.

Mrs. Vecchio seems happy to see him and she likes the flowers, so he feels pretty good about the whole thing until he follows Fraser into the dining room and Fraser says, "Oh dear." Ray can't see around the brown uniform, but then Fraser takes another step in and there's Stella setting the table, looking happy and comfy and wearing her favorite yellow men's-shirt-style dress.

First Ray feels awful. Then he feels confused, like maybe he just thought Vecchio and Stella were broken up but really they got married when he wasn't paying attention. Then he remembers how Stella latched onto his mom from the first time he brought her over for dinner. Of course she did the same thing to Mrs. Vecchio. She looks up and says "Constable Fraser," in kind of an annoyed-but-willing-to-be-friendly voice, and then she sees Ray and her face goes all Hitler.

It's that same look she had all last year, the one that made him crazy. But it's been a while and the Stella-haze is mostly gone. He's got his observational mojo working again. All of sudden he recognizes it. Back when she was first starting out she used to wear that expression before every trial, and it meant she was nervous and acting tough. It's game time, suckers! Ray used to say when he saw it. He wonders what she would do if he said that now.

He gives her the best smile he can, which is not great. "Hey, Stella."

"Ray."

Then he goes over to talk to Frannie, who is about to pop, who knew? Well, obviously everyone knew who'd seen Frannie recently. But this means she was pregnant when they left, which he would not have predicted. "Who's the dad?"

Frannie smacks his arm hard. "There is no father, I have never slept with anyone but my ex-husband." She lets him put his hand on her stomach and feel the baby kicking and it's pretty magical.

Vecchio and Fraser are having some kind of whispered argument over by the window. It's gotta be about Fraser bringing him and the look on Stella's face, right? So he goes over and says, "Hey, I can behave."

They look at each other and sigh. That is it, Ray is gonna show them. He sits next between Frannie and Vecchio at dinner. He mostly stays quiet except to answer Mrs. Vecchio's questions and chat with Vecchio about the latest City Council corruption scandal, even if his heart pounds every time he looks at Stella. Even if, when she finally loosens up and starts telling a story about work, he wants her to be telling it to him. He wants them to be a one-two punch like they used to be. Stella used to be all his reasons.

"...So I'm thinking, who is this buttplate and why does he think I'm going to--"

Fraser's head swivels in her direction.

"What?" she asks.

"Nothing," Fraser says.

Stella frowns at him for a second. Then she smiles. "Oh! Come on, you must have heard Ray say that before."

Fraser licks his lip and smiles awkwardly.

She snickers. "You just thought he was being weird? Nah, that was ours. There were a bunch of them, like--" She looks at the kids and shuts up, which is good because Ray does not want to have to explain to Mrs. Vecchio what a creamerfuck is.

"I was also being weird," he says.

Stella grins at him and he feels like he's in the Vomit Comet just entering zero gravity. "We were an odd couple, all right."

"As in, 'the Kowalskis, they're a bit odd, aren't they?'" He grins back at her but he's terrified, terrified she's not going to say the next line.

She says it. "Something not quite right there." She shakes a hand at her temple.

"How has he survived this long on the Force?"

"Does she act like that in court?" It's been a million years since he's heard Stella laugh. She's got a great laugh. Everybody's giving them funny looks, but that's never bothered them before.

When dinner's over he offers her a ride home. She gives him a once-over and then nods, looking kind of uncertain. Fraser is none too gracious about bumming a ride off Vecchio, and Vecchio is none too gracious about agreeing, but whatever.

***

When he comes home at three in the morning, Fraser's still up, polishing his boots at the kitchen table and looking worried. He looks even more worried when he sees Ray's grin.

Ray's grin widens till it's hurting his face. "Nah, I didn't bang her."

Fraser's eyebrows go up a little. He shoots a meaningful glance at the clock, and when Ray turns to look at it he notices there's a brand-new rolling pin in the dish rack. Life is good.

"Ah, we just watched Die Hard and ate tater tots," Ray says. It was amazing. It was life-changing. It's like that stupid line is true after all, the one people always tell their kids when they get a divorce. He loves Stella, they were put on this earth for each other, but he's not in love with her any more. She's still beautiful and they'd still be great in bed, but it's not like it used to be, when he'd catch a glimpse of her at the station and the porn soundtrack would start in his head and his body would feel like a smashed bottle.

Because there was all this other stuff, and he realizes now that they can still have that stuff. They can still MST3K Masterpiece Theater together and drive too fast on Lake Shore Drive with the windows rolled down. They've got a brunch date for next week. Reason #7: Stella. Reason #8: Lake Shore Drive. Reason #8A: highways in general. Reason #9: 24-hour pancake places. Reason #10: Stella. He'll have to put them in order later, because Stella deserves better than #7.

Fraser looks at him hard for another couple of seconds. Then he nods, satisfied, and goes back to polishing his boots. "I'm glad it went well."

"But thanks for waiting up," Ray says, suddenly ashamed. "I, uh--I could have been a wreck right now, easy."

Fraser smiles at him and Ray realizes something else. He and Fraser--they're a done deal. They don't need sex to glue them together. Which is good because Ray likes guys and Fraser is very pretty but he just--Ray's not that into the way Fraser smells. Not that Fraser smells bad or anything. Mostly these days he smells like starch and Earl Grey and Ray's laundry detergent because Fraser is awful about buying his own. But it just doesn't turn Ray on. Now that's he's not quite so confused about Stella he can see that, and stop wondering if he's supposed to be feeling some other way.

The next morning, he and Fraser are both sleepy as hell. But Ray doesn't care because for the first time since Stella left he looks at the coffee maker, and the pot has only enough coffee for one person and it looks like the right amount. A good amount of coffee to have. Fraser tosses the bag of Smarties across the kitchen at him, and Ray catches it without looking while he fills the kettle for Fraser's tea. Reason #11: still Fraser.

***

And that's when the real weirdness starts. Well, two days after that, anyway. Ray's driving them home and asks if Fraser wants to stop for dinner.

"Oh, I can't, Ray. I'm playing basketball with Ray and some of his friends this evening. But I can take the train the rest of the way home if--"

"Basketball? Vecchio plays pick-up basketball?" It's the funniest thing Ray's ever heard. Vecchio's a couch potato if Ray ever saw one.

Fraser frowns. "Ray played for his college basketball team, you know, Ray. He's very good."

Which Fraser would say no matter what. "Ah, college, that's ancient history. Does the guy even exercise?"

Fraser raises his eyebrows. "He plays pick-up basketball."

Ray chuckles. "This I gotta see."

"You know, Ray, basketball at Chicago city universities is very competitive--"

Ray's not listening.

Vecchio looks ridiculous in his sweats (although not as ridiculous as Fraser, who either for some reason bought sweatpants that are several inches too short and show a lot of tube sock, or else they're his sweats from before his growth spurt). And he nags all the way there in the car, all "These guys take basketball very seriously" and "When's the last time you were on a court?" and "Please don't embarrass me like Fraser does" and then he moves on to Fraser with "And please don't bring up how it's Canadian, okay, there are only so many times red-blooded Americans can listen to that damn peach-basket story." The only thing that saves it is the way he drives.

"Anyone ever tell you you coulda been a taxi driver if you weren't a cop?" Ray asks from the back seat. (Reason #12: taxi drivers and the crazy shit they pull, even if Ray's the first to curse and honk his horn at them.)

Vecchio smiles like he gets that it's mostly a compliment. "Ah, I settle for being Fraser's personal chauffeur."

"We should really teach him to drive."

Vecchio gives him a Look in the rearview mirror. "Great idea, we'll use your car."

"Oh, right. Well, maybe Frannie could teach him." They both laugh at Fraser's shudder.

Ray feels even more confident when they get to the gym. He's easily in the best shape of any guy there, after Fraser. Vecchio hasn't lost the Langoustini weight and probably never will, not eating take-out and Mrs. Vecchio's cooking every night.

"What's with blondie?" one of his friends asks, a fat guy in an "Alcatraz Swim Team" t-shirt. Either he's already sweating or he hasn't washed the shirt in a long time.

"Uffa, you brought another one?" someone else says.

"You all remember Benny Fraser," Vecchio says. "And this is Ray Kowalski. Go easy on him, he's a friend." Ray's picked last for teams, but that's fair, they don't know him.

Then the game starts, and he realizes that if they did know him, they wouldn't even have let him play. He's good, sure, he's kicked a ball around before plenty, and he's in better shape than they are. But these guys know their way around a basketball. Ray gets a chance to try for one lay-up in the first twenty minutes and Alcatraz Swim Team checks him so hard he falls over.

Ray doesn't care. He's watching Vecchio.

Vecchio is good. He's fast on his feet and a team player and he's got this grace. Maybe Ray should have seen this coming in the way Vecchio walks when he's feeling good about something, that roll to it. And then about thirty minutes in he pulls off his long-sleeved t-shirt and wipes the sweat off his face with it. Graying chest hair peeks over the top of his undershirt. It should be a stupid working-class stereotype, balding big-nosed guy in a wifebeater, but Vecchio's close-shaven head is glistening with sweat and his arms are--

Yep, this is weird. Maybe Reason #13 weird.

***

"Hey Fraser, you want to order pizza or should I?" Ray walks into the living room in his briefs, still toweling his hair. "Oh, jackpot!" Vecchio and Fraser have already ordered take-out from Golden Country, so Ray goes over and helps himself to a fried prawn. Reason #13: Golden Country and how sometimes they throw in fried prawns for free because Fraser and Vecchio saved their kid one time or something.

"Jesus, put some clothes on, will you?" Vecchio says, a piece of lo mein dangling from his mouth. He sucks it in with a little slurping noise that should not make Ray want to kiss him. Fuck fucking fuck when did this happen? Turns out Golden Country is Reason #14 after all.

"Hey, you should be thanking me for the free show." Ray grins at him, a little disappointed that Vecchio's eyes don't seem to be wandering, and heads to his bedroom for a t-shirt and pants. When he comes back with a plate and fork, Fraser and Vecchio are both watching something on the news. Oh, it's a special on the Frank Zuko testimony, that's right, they had a couple of run-ins with the guy.

Vecchio shakes his head. "Remember when we wanted protection for Joey Peducci and we couldn't get it? But Frankie sells out everything he supposedly believes in and he gets a new identity, handlers--probably a god-damn allowance."

Fraser looks sad. "Zuko's testimony has the power to save lives."

"Yeah, it's the law of supply and demand. Is that what you agreed to protect when you put on the uniform?"

Fraser shakes his head.

"I wouldn't have picked him to turn," Ray says. "Too scared of his own people."

Vecchio smiles. "I turned him."

"What?"

Fraser glances up, a line between his brows. "He was telling me about it during the last commercial break. Apparently our run-in with Warfield created some difficulties for Ray."

"Yeah, maybe next time you should think about someone else before you start one of your little crusades," Vecchio says.

"Or himself," Ray adds, giving Fraser a hard poke in the shoulder. "He got the shit beaten out of him on that one."

"I heard," Vecchio says grimly. Ray gets the feeling that maybe the Bookman didn't go too easy on those guys. "Zuko heard a Mountie was causing problems, he sent some guys to check it out, he realized that you were not Ray Vecchio," Vecchio recaps, and Ray feels cold. Vecchio's alive, he's sitting on Ray's couch with plum sauce on his chin, but Ray still grabs a blanket when he sits down. He didn't even think about that when Fraser was carrying on.

"So he manages to get himself sent to Vegas," Vecchio says, "and he confronts me with his evidence that Ray Vecchio's not in Chicago anymore. 'So they've got him on undercover somewhere, so fucking what?' I say to him. 'It's not like it's news I got a ringer in the CPD.' And Frankie, he says, 'I know it's you, Ray.'"

Fraser grimaces. "That must have been frightening."

Vecchio leans back with a little bit of swagger. He likes to tell stories almost as much as Fraser does, Ray's noticed that about him. "Nothing I wasn't used to. I mean, come on, he's got no proof. I laughed in his face. 'Look, I had a lot of respect for your old man,' I say to him, which is probably the biggest whopper I told the whole time I was undercover. 'And I was sorry to hear what happened to his little girl, so I'm not gonna tell anyone about this conversation.'" Ray knows exactly what Irene Zuko meant to Vecchio, it was in every line of his report on her shooting. But Vecchio's not showing anything. He's cool as a cucumber.

"'But look at yourself, you're losing your grip, Frankie. You used to be somebody'--also a lie--'and now you're a paranoid delusional junkie. Everybody knows about your obsession with Vecchio. You tell this crackhead idea to a less tolerant guy, you're gonna get yourself whacked.' Then I kind of got in his face, and you know, if he thought it was me, he knew I could take him, so he--"

"He knew you could take him?" Ray blurts out. "Frank Zuko knew you could take him? You went toe to toe with Frank Zuko? When? That wasn't anywhere in the file!"

For the first time, Vecchio loses his flow. He glances at Fraser and bites his lip. "I'm not proud of it."

Fraser leans forward. "You did what you had to, Ray." He's proud of whatever it was, Ray's pretty sure.

What is this? Is Vecchio some kind of secret anti-mob ninja? Is he Batman? Is it gonna turn out he went back in time and kicked Al Capone in the balls too?

After a second, Vecchio keeps telling his story like there was no interruption. "Anyway, so he threatens me some more and then he's walking out the door and I'm like, 'Frankie?' And he turns around and I sock him good in the face. 'I'm not THAT tolerant,' I say."

Ray laughs, but Fraser still just looks worried. "What did he do?"

Vecchio shakes his head. "He didn't take my excellent advice, that's for sure. He told someone else and they thought he was really losing it. Luckily I heard there was a hit out on him in time to notify my handler, and voilĂ ! He turned."

They keep talking, but Ray still hasn't moved past the part where Vecchio is secretly the most bad-assed person in Chicago and how hot that is. Ray hates his life. Reason #15: Vecchio.

***

Vecchio's next move in his campaign to drive Ray batshit fucking insane is totally offsides. Ray's pretty sure there's something in the Constitution about it, and if there isn't, there should be. Frannie's had her baby and when her maternity leave is up, Fraser starts babysitting to give Mrs. Vecchio a break. It's just for a couple of hours a day after his morning shift at the Consulate, before he heads out to partner up with Ray or Vecchio.

So one day it's Ray's turn to partner Fraser. He goes over there to pick him up and Vecchio is home. And not just home, he's wearing jeans and a T-shirt and he's holding Frannie's baby. He's bouncing her up and down and crooning to her in Italian and Ray is swamped by dumb longing. Reason #16: More Vecchio. This is not on.

"Aren't you supposed to be at work?" he demands.

Vecchio gives him a weird look. "I have the day off because I worked last Saturday. That okay with you?"

"No," Ray mutters.

Fraser walks in and Vecchio hands him the baby. "Here, I think her diaper needs changing."

Fraser rolls his eyes and heads back into the other room, baby in hand.

"What is your damage, Kowalski?"

Ray realizes his mouth is hanging open. It takes him a couple seconds to shut it. Because Vecchio is wearing his T-shirt. His Fuck Art, Let's Dance shirt that he lost in the divorce because it was in Stella's hamper when they moved. He wore it a million times so the cotton isn't black anymore, more a patchy dark gray, and it's thin enough that it's clinging to Vecchio's muscles a little. Vecchio is wearing his shirt. "You, uh. Your mom must love you wearing that around the kid."

Vecchio grimaces down at the shirt. "It's one of the few things I own that I don't mind getting vomit on."

Ray is almost grateful to Vecchio for solving his lust problem so quickly. "Hey, that shirt is a classic!"

Vecchio blinks. "Stella didn't seem to think--wait a second, is this yours?"

Ray's skin feels hot. "Maybe."

He expects Vecchio to act grossed out. To his total surprise, the tips of Vecchio's ears turn a slow, bright red. "I should have known," he says, but his voice is only sarcastic for about two words before it turns into a squeak. "I, uh--you want it back?"

If he says yes, will Vecchio take it off right now? Ray clears his throat. "You keep it."

Fraser walks back in with the kid and stops, his eyes going between the two of them. He smiles as he hands the baby back to Vecchio. "See you tomorrow, Ray," he says, sounding pleased for no reason at all.

Vecchio blinks. Then his ears go back to their normal color and he smiles easily. "Yeah, Benny, tomorrow. Later, Kowalski."

***

That night Ray figures it's time to talk to Fraser about it. They're watching the hockey game (Reason #17: the Blackhawks) and the commercials come on. Fraser keeps watching, because he didn't have a TV when he was a kid and he never learned to tune it out, but Ray figures he won't mind being interrupted during a Chips Ahoy ad.

"Hey Fraser."

Fraser glances at him. "Yes, Ray?"

"I, uh. Look, if this blows up you're the one who's gonna have to deal with it, so, uh. Would it be cool if I--I been thinking--" Fuck.

Fraser's eyes glint with amusement. "Yes, Ray?" he asks innocently.

"I was thinking maybe I'd--you are the most annoying man in the world, you know that?"

Fraser nods. He's smirking by this time, or as close as Fraser ever comes to smirking.

"Look, if me and Vecchio were dating. Would that bug you?"

"No."

"No, like for real no? Or no like polite no? Be straight with me, Fraser."

"Straight in what sense, Ray?" Then, just when Ray is about to clobber him, Fraser sobers up. "I think it's a fine idea. For real."

***

Fraser continues to find the whole thing hilarious. And knowing that Fraser's watching, all gleeful, just makes it harder for Ray to act normal when Vecchio's over. He's never tripped over his own feet quite so much in one week. Plus Fraser starts telling stories. The two of them are on a stakeout (Reason #18: stakeouts with Fraser. Sure, when he's not in the mood he can fidget himself practically into the backseat, but when you get right down to it he's being paid to sit in the GTO and shoot the shit with his best friend) and Fraser looks over and says, "Did I ever tell you about the time Ray Vecchio carried me on his shoulders for several days through the Canadian wilderness?"

"What?"

"We had been in a plane crash, and were stranded with no supplies. My head wound made it impossible for me to walk. I must have outweighed him by a considerable factor, but he never complained."

"Vecchio complains about everything, Fraser." A head wound? Christ, he must have been scared for Fraser. Ray used to think about it sometimes on their Quest, about what would happen if Fraser got hurt up there in the snow. About how doomed they would be and it would all be his fault for being useless. Reason #19: 911. Reason #20: Mobile phones. Reason #21: EMTs.

Also, Vecchio must have super-strength. Reason #22: Vecchio.

"He gave me his water," Fraser says.

"Okay, now you're just making stuff up."

Fraser settles deeper into the passenger seat and looks smug. "Nope."

"This is not buddies, Fraser."

Fraser makes a choking noise.

***

On Sunday, Fraser somehow talks Ray, Vecchio, and Stella into helping him with his ongoing campaign to turn the roof garden in their building into something more like a garden and less like vacant-lot drug-deal territory. Vecchio's wearing Ray's t-shirt again and he's got one of those trash-picking-up plastic hands on a stick. He's picking up hypodermics and used condoms, bitching loudly the whole time. Ray and Stella are in charge of the big stuff, broken lumber and the remains of the previous attempts at trees. How Fraser's gonna get rid of it after they haul it into the corner is anybody's guess, but Ray suspects he'll somehow talk the thugs next door into doing it. Once they agreed to turn the music down after eleven p.m., they were lost. Fools.

The oldies station is playing. It kinda horrifies Ray that stuff he liked when he was a kid is oldies now. Fraser and Vecchio sing along to "California Dreaming," and Ray and Stella exchange embarrassed glances at their crap musical taste. "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" comes on next, though.

"Ugh." Vecchio goes to change the channel.

"Ray," Stella protests.

Vecchio throws up his hands and backs away from the radio, and Ray realizes there's someone else's permission he has to ask. "He sounds like a frog!"

"I'm going to pretend you didn't just say that," Ray says. He drops his gloves on the edge of a raised bed and holds out his hands to Stella.

They still do this perfectly, waltzing across the roof in their jeans and sneakers, and Stella still has a cowboy mouth. He dances her away from the others, to where they can barely hear the music, and stops. "Hey, Stella, I want to ask you something."

She looks at his face. "Oh, God, Ray, don't ruin the afternoon."

"What? Oh. Oh! No, uh, I'm not gonna hit on you, that's not--look, you mind if I put the moves on Vecchio?"

She blinks and stares at him.

"He's your ex, right? I don't wanna--"

"Wow. You and Ray. I--Ray and Ray. That's something else." She starts to laugh.

"It's not funny!"

"It is a little. I mean, what are you going to doodle in the margins of your paperwork? Ray and Ray Vecchio. Ray and Ray Kowalski. Mr. and Mr. Ray Kowalski-Vecchio. 'Hi, I'm Ray, and this is my boyfriend Ray.'"

Ray sticks his tongue out at her.

"Come on, Ray, we were never serious. It was just a fling, because his brother asked him to keep an eye on his bowling alley for a couple of months while he and his wife were in Venice. Free Florida beachfront in March, I'm not going to turn that down. Besides--" Her mouth curves. "He's hot, right?"

Ray looks at Vecchio, who's gesturing about something again. There's not much detail at this distance, but he can see the way Vecchio's standing and the curve of his skull, the lines of his arms and hands. If he were wearing his glasses, he'd see the sun glinting off the short gray hairs at the nape of Vecchio's neck. "Yeah," he says fervently, and Stella laughs again.

"I hope you don't mind that I gave him your shirt. It just looked so incongruous on him."

"What's Congress got to do with it?"

Her mouth has a little spasm, and she blinks hard. "I mean, it's not something you'd expect him to wear, so it's funny." There's a hitch in her voice. "I think the two of you would be great together."

"Are you sure you don't want him? You got first dibs. I mean--"

Her eyes crinkle. "That's sweet of you, Ray, but I'm sure. I'm not looking for another husband."

He feels sad and guilty. "You should, Stella. Not every guy's an asshole like me."

She glances over at Vecchio. "No, every guy's an asshole in his own special way." She sighs. "I'm sorry. That was nasty. I just can't deal with anyone else right now. I can barely deal with myself."

He's certain that he did this somehow. "I'm sorry."

Her eyes search his face. "Ray, I know I've been angry and you've been a jerk and I've been a jerk. But it's not your fault we aren't married anymore. Well, it's not only your fault. We both wanted things that weren't fair. It takes two to do the mashed potato, right?"

Ray's blinking back tears all of a sudden too. "Thanks, Stella. I, uh--I still miss you."

There are tears on the end of her lashes without there being any in her eyes that he can see. It always seemed like a mutant power when she did that, like she had tear ducts right in her eyelashes. "I miss you too." She puts her hands on his waist and shoulder again. "Come on, make me feel like I don't weigh anything." So he waltzes her back into the sun.

"How long is this song anyway?" Vecchio asks loudly.

"Eleven and a half minutes," Stella calls back.

"That's a stupid length for a song."

"You think he's jealous?" she asks Ray with a sly little smile.

Ray spins her over to the edge, to where they can see Chicago. The trees and the rooftops and the graffiti on the stuff close-by where he can still mostly see it, and then a big blur of spikes and green where he knows skyscrapers and the lake are. He wants to add this to the list and realizes he's lost count of his reasons.

***

By five o'clock everyone's bored. Even Fraser lets himself get sidetracked from clean-up by his and Stella's conversation about rehabilitating prisoners and whether it works. They're using words like "Orwellian" and "Panopticon" and "the hulks" and Ray's pretty sure they're not talking about the big green guy. All of which leaves Ray and Vecchio to not care.

"We'll, uh, get dinner started," Ray says, and tries to ignore it when Fraser winks at him.

Vecchio's washing his hands about a million times while Ray is trying to fill the pots with water to boil their hot dogs and spaghetti, so they keep bumping into each other. It should be an opportunity for a move but Ray can't quite get up the nerve. "So why do you hate hockey?" he asks just to fill the silence. As conversation openers go, it's not his best.

"Because I'm an American," Vecchio says. "Why don't you hate it?"

"It's pretty," Ray says with a shrug. "Plus, there's fighting. The blood looks really cool on the ice."

He's reaching around Vecchio for the wooden spoon which is still in the dish rack from the last time they cooked, so he feels it when Vecchio shudders. It gives him chills. "What? What did I say?"

"Nothing, that's just really disgusting."

Ray shrugs. "I'm not squeamish unless things are dead."

Vecchio laughs. "Yeah, Fraser told me about that. Next you're gonna tell me you watch figure skating too."

"Sure, when it's on. Fraser likes it."

Vecchio shakes his head resignedly. "The two of you."

Ray hunches his shoulders defensively. "The two of us what?" Suddenly he has an awful thought. "What, is figure skating too gay for you?"

Vecchio laughs. "Nah, it just creeps me out. I had a childhood trauma."

"With figure skating?"

Vecchio nods as he looks through their drawers for the can opener. "My dad took me to one of those ice shows for kids. Two of the skaters fucked up a stunt. He skated right over her hand and sliced her pinky off."

Blood on the ice. "Well, fuck."

Vecchio shrugs. Ray can see his shoulder blades under the soft cotton of Ray's old t-shirt. "My dad thought it was hilarious."

He's telling the story like it's not a big deal, and maybe it's not. Ray wants to comfort him anyway. Take Vecchio in his arms and hold him, shield him from the world. Which is a dumb way to feel about a homicide detective who rocked an undercover mob gig for ten months, but it was a dumb way to feel about Stella too and that never stopped him.

"Listen," Vecchio says suddenly, "when I said 'the two of you,' you thought I meant--are you and Fraser--?"

Ray turns around and leans against the oven handle. "Nope." He realizes that could be misconstrued. "I mean, I like guys. I dunno about Fraser. But we are not living in sin. Is that what you--?" He tries to get back on track, looks Vecchio up and down slow-slow-slow. "I got my eye on someone else."

Vecchio licks his lip, and then the water boils over behind Ray and his hand gets a little scalded and Vecchio gets distracted by giving him advice like "The skin keeps burning for twenty minutes after initial contact so it's important to keep icing it" and "You got any frozen peas?" Ray is never going to get laid again, plus his hand hurts.

***

The phone rings right as the Blob eats Dr. Hallen. "Vecch--" Ray grimaces. "Hello?"

"Hello, Ray. Can you let Ray know I've been unavoidably detained?"

Ray sits up. "Everything okay?"

"Oh yes," Fraser says. "I should be home in an hour or so." Then he hangs up before Ray can ask anything else. The doorbell rings.

"Could have given me some notice," Ray mutters to himself. Luckily he's wearing jeans and his Rawhide t-shirt, which is a good look for him. He opens the door. Vecchio is wearing a shirt in an improbable combination of purple and green that sets off his eyes. He's not supposed to have green eyes, dammit. They should be dark and ordinary and not startle Ray every fucking time the light hits them.

"...Can I come in?"

"Uh, yeah, sorry." He steps aside to let Vecchio in. "Fraser's been unavoidably detained."

"Ah, crap, does he need backup?"

"He said he was fine. You want some cranberry juice?"

"Thanks." Vecchio looks surprised and pleased that he remembered, although Ray's not sure how he's supposed to forget when there's a bottle of it in the fridge all the time.

When Ray comes back from the kitchen with the glass of juice, Vecchio's already on the couch with his feet on the coffee table, channel surfing.

"Hey, I was watching that!" Ray snatches the remote out of his hand and plops down next to him. Maybe a little too next to him. He flips back to The Blob.

"You were watching that piece of crap?"

"It's a classic!" Ray protests, conscious of Vecchio's shoulder about an inch and a half from his own.

"You know your problem, Kowalski? You don't know the difference between a classic and something that's just old."

"Hey, I didn't realize we were talking about your car."

"You know, I can't help but notice your car made it through ten months of Fraser without a scratch and mine didn't last a day," Vecchio says dangerously, and Ray changes the subject.

"This movie is Steve McQueen's breakout role. It was so early he's credited as 'Steven McQueen.'" He snickers.

Vecchio looks at him.

"C'mon, that's funny. Steven McQueen."

Vecchio sighs and sinks into the couch. "These are the worst cops ever."

Ray watches the uniforms investigating Doc Hallen's office. "Yeah, who the hell keeps their flashlight beam at waist height?"

"Idiots, that's who." By the time they get to the part where Steve and Jane are trapped in the meat freezer, Vecchio's had enough. "This movie is awful, change the channel already."

"No way, we're about to get to the great part." Then he remembers that Vecchio and Fraser were trapped in a meat freezer one time. "How many trauma-induced phobias do you have?"

Vecchio shrugs. "Lost count."

"How the hell did you manage in Vegas?"

Vecchio gives him an incredulous grin. "Are you kidding me? No one in Vegas made me climb any buildings or jump onto any moving trains." From what Ray heard, no one made Vecchio jump on that train. "Besides, in Vegas it was only me on the line if I fucked up."

Ray can actually feel his pupils changing into little cartoon hearts. Vecchio is so cool.

Steve and Jane back up against the hanging--uh, the hanging meat part, Ray has no idea what it is--and Vecchio shudders. "C'mon, give me the remote."

Ray sees a golden opportunity. "Nuh-uh." He holds the remote just out of reach. Vecchio grabs for it. Ha! This is going right where Ray wants it to. He puts the remote behind his back. "You can't get it."

"What are you, twelve?"

Ray grins at him. "You just know you can't take me."

Vecchio lunges. There's a few moments of tussling and then Ray is flat on his back on the couch with Vecchio's body pinning him down, Vecchio's hands around his wrists. Vecchio smells amazing, like--Ray doesn't know what like, the only strand he can identify is cranberry juice, but the way Vecchio smells is making him feel like all his circuits are being completed one by one.

He tests Vecchio's hold. It's rock solid. He's trapped by Vecchio's surprising strength and weight. Well, he could get away if he was willing to hurt Vecchio, obviously, but why would he want to do that? This is perfect.

He looks at Vecchio. Vecchio looks back, making no move to take the remote. The moment stretches like Silly Putty. The thinner it stretches, the less it can be passed off as normal guy thing. It almost snaps when Ray shifts a little, spreading his legs in a clear show of Available Upon Request.

Vecchio's eyes widen. Then, miraculously, he lowers his head and he kisses Ray, a gentle brush of the lips. The kind of kiss that's more a question than anything else.

Ray moans and wraps his legs around Vecchio. Vecchio's fingers tighten on Ray's wrists--there's no point Ray raising his head because he can't reach, he's trapped, but he tries anyway--and then they're kissing again. Vecchio's lips are soft but he kisses hard and certain, like he knows exactly what he's supposed to be doing with his life and it's Ray. The remote falls onto the floor with a clatter and on the TV the diner catches fire. No one cares.

Then Fraser's key turns in the lock. Ray curses. "That man has spectacularly bad timing," Vecchio says, hiding his face in Ray's neck.

"Uch, not this movie," Fraser's voice says. "The Arctic is a complex ecosystem. You can't just drop an unstudied alien lifeform into the ocean and expect that--"

"You've seen The Blob?" Ray asks.

"Everyone's seen The Blob, Ray."

"Go away, Fraser," Vecchio says.

There's a pause. Then Fraser says, "Ah." Ray can't see him because he can't move because Vecchio is still warm and heavy on top of him, but he can hear the grin in Fraser's voice, no problem. "There, you see, Diefenbaker? O ye of little faith."

"Benny."

"Sorry, Ray, Ray," Fraser says, still grinning. "I'll leave you two to it, shall I?" The door to his room shuts, but Ray can hear him whistling smugly for several more seconds.

"He did this on purpose, didn't he?" Vecchio's voice is muffled by Ray's shoulder.

"I think that is the case, yes." Ray should maybe be annoyed by that, but he isn't. He gets finally that there's no list, Fraser doesn't have a list and neither does he. There's no order to it, nothing's first or last. There's just everything, his whole life, and it's here. The TV playing in the background and pizza on the coffee table and Fraser and Dief in their room. Outside, there's the whole city, full of people he knows and people he doesn't. He can hear the sounds of a million cars and a million conversations and the kids next door playing their music because it's still only 10:30. And here, right here on Ray's comfy couch, so close Ray can feel the guy's breath in his own lungs, there's Vecchio.

Home is where the heart is.

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12 Comments

exbex said:

I think there may be cartoon hearts in my eyes. Temper tantrums and boys crushing on each other and conniving Fraser, and Stella is so cool and they all get to live in Chicago with each other. *flails* t-shirts....he's not supposed to have green eyes...trauma-induced phobias *flails again*

There are so many other amazing lines as well...\o/ Thank you, author.

Anonymous said:

This is just really, really good. The process of them getting back to Chicago and all getting their shit together. I particularly like your explanation from Fraser's difference in S3&4, illustrated by the bark tea thing. The ensemble is great, specially including Stella. And all Ray's reasons... Bravo.

Sionnain said:

...i'm sorry, but this killed me dead.

I just.


Ray can actually feel his pupils changing into little cartoon hearts. Vecchio is so cool.

EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED WHEN I READ THIS STORY. I don't have words for HOW MUCH I LOVE THIS. Vecchio is AWESOME and Kowalski is so PERFECT and I LOVE LOVE LOVE Stella and Kowalski as bffs so much and that scene with the dancing made me CRY and then STELLA COULD HAVE DIBS and hello there is nothing about this I don't love, and Vecchio is hot like breathing and I cannot blame Kowalski one little bit and seriously I can't EXPRESS THE DEPTH OF MY LOVE FOR THIS STORY TO YOU OKAY.

Ahem.

I JUST LOVE THEM SO MUCH.

(Also this was fantastically well-written, vibrant and it *sparked*. Awesome job!)

*adds self to the list of People With Cartoon-Hearts Eyes*

There are so many awesome parts to this story, but really, for me, this: "Uch, not this movie," Fraser's voice says. "The Arctic is a complex ecosystem. You can't just drop an unstudied alien lifeform into the ocean and expect that--" line made my day, my week, and possibly all of my upcoming 2010.

Because THE BLOB! Steve McQueen. Uch. Fraser the Matchmaker. Dief the Matchmaker. Stella.

\o/ \o/ \o/ \o/ \o/

Jade Lennox Author Profile Page said:

This is painfully good. You know that thing people say? I was keeping a list of my favorite parts of this story to list for you, because that's my favorite kind of feedback, but... I got finally that there's no list. This is too perfect, the cartoon hearts and the jealousy over human!Fraser, and the snark and the t-shirt and the AWESOME Stella characterization.

You are my favourite.

The end.

Except, no, I just. This made me grin and laugh and do that thing where you put your hand over your mouth to stop your heart escaping and was basically utterly perfect. Everything about it, the voices, the way you dealt with Fraser's weirdness in S3/4, how RayK figured himself out, how Fraser's anecdotes illustrated beautifully just how AWESOME Vecchio is, the beautiful word choices (the smashed bottle line was insanely wonderful). This is going straight on my list of the best Ray/Ray fics of all time. I love you so much, mystery author. I've missed my Rays and you just gave them right back to me. *squishes you*

catwalksalone

snoopypez said:

I just. Every single thing about this is amazing amazing AMAZING. Everyone are/is FRIENDS, and Fraser is all amused and matchmakey! Kowalski and his LIST, and his POV, and the kiss and I just..

(and I love how this is basically a love letter to Vecchio. muhahaha.)

I don't want to compromise anonimity, so I should really shut up.

Yeah, Ray has hearts in his eyes and so do I.

What do I love most about this? I don't even KNOW. I love all of Ray and Stella's awful made-up insults, and how everyone thought they were weird, and how they come around to being friends again. I love Fraser and Ray as BFF roommates, and in fact the whole beautiful happymaking F-K-V friendship. I love this particular post-Vegas Vecchio, and all of his traumatic stories, and how completely badass he is. I love that there's no list of reasons. This is wonderful.

RAY KOWALSKI THINKS RAY VECCHIO MIGHT BE BATMAN! WIN!

This is so much fun!! For *flails* many reasons that I can't get my brain to list at this moment, but yes, MANY. Stella and Ray dancing on the roof and getting to be friends again, and Ray and Ray being goofy crushing teenagers, and Fraser whistling smugly and... all of that there kind of cool stuff. \o/!

I LOVED this so very much. Everyone was wonderful in it, right down to the thugs next door. &hearts

fire tits Author Profile Page said:

Wow. I don't think I've ever read a Ray/Ray fic quite like this. You know, with all four of them back in Chicago and happy and friends, if that makes sense? It really worked for me.

I think you did a really good job of sorting out all of RayK's relationships- with Fraser, with Stella, and finally with Vecchio- in a way that felt very true to his character and organic to the story as well. And I have a feeling that was a lot trickier than it seems, because it certainly reads effortlessly.

So yeah, this was awesome. Loved it!

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