Author's Notes: The RCMP and the Chicago PD were totally patient with my bizarre questions (like, "How long does it take to get from Inuvik to Ft. Good Hope and back again on a dogsled?" and "Do members of the CPD really get ticketed if they are parked in front of a hydrant"?). SerialKarma held my hand, Estrella petted me, and MinervaCat gave me many Chicago details. Thanks to everyone.
Story Notes: Here is a warning: this story diverges from canon in several ways, including implying (and stating straight out, haha) that Ray and Fraser are totally gay for each other. And RayK is a smoker. Blah blah blah. Deal, or not.
A Long Time Ago, Far Away From Chicago
Ray looked across the table at Fraser, who was decidedly not looking back. He ran his fingers through his hair, making it stand up more than it usually did, rubbed his eyes hard, bit his lip.
"Christ, Fraser," he burst out. "Just fucking say it."
"Ray..." Fraser stared fixedly at the table. "Ray..."
"Say it," Ray ordered.
"I'm sorry, Ray, this is not..."
Ray slammed his hands down on the table, put his face right up in Fraser's. "Say it," he repeated. "Say it. Ben, you gotta say it, I can't do it by myself, I can't be here alone, this is gonna be the end if you don't -- "
"I want you," said Fraser -- said Ben, so softly Ray almost couldn't hear him, but he saw Ben's lips move, and that was enough. It would have to be enough, because Ray couldn't fucking take it anymore, he needed this to go somewhere, he needed to be able to do something, to do anything, it was fucking time already, it had been months.
He leaned forward, just a little bit more, and pushed his mouth against Ben's.
"I am not kidding, Lieutenant." Ray paused for a sip of coffee. He let it sit in his mouth for a moment and then swallowed it. It was slightly too hot, so it burned his throat, and he felt it burning all the way down into his stomach. He looked up at the Lieu. "This is serious."
"Kowalski, this is just stress. How long has it been since you've had a vacation?" Lieutenant Welsh took a sip of his own coffee and grimaced. "I can't believe I'm going to say this, but I actually miss Francesca and her infernal machine sometimes."
"Here, sir, have an M&M," said Ray, and held a few out in his hand. The candy-coating was starting to come off from the heat of his palm; his fingers were red and green.
"Kowalski..." Welsh stopped and sighed. "Okay, tell me again what's going on."
"Everywhere I go, I'm running into Vecchio. And it's kinda disturbing. In that bad way."
"There's a good way to be disturbed?" asked Welsh. "Nevermind, I don't want to know. You do know, Detective, that Ray Vecchio is dead."
Ray took another sip of coffee and leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. His back cracked a little, and he shifted. "I know," said Ray. "Just like I know Stella ID'd the body. Just like I know that something fishy is happening here -- fishy like the weird cases we used to get when Ben -- Fr -- when. You know when. When I was Vecchio. That kind of stuff."
"Please tell me that you aren't going to ask me if you can bring the Mountie down," said Welsh. He rubbed his eyes. "No, nevermind. Give me some of those M&Ms."
Ray held out his hand again. The formerly green and red M&Ms were now almost totally white, but Welsh took them anyway, and threw the whole handful into his mouth. Ray waited -- in the past four years, working for Welsh as Kowalski instead of as Vecchio, Ray'd learned how to wait for Welsh to process things.
It was strange, he reflected as Welsh chewed his mouthful of chocolate. Strange how everything changes.
Ray leaned back in his chair again, wiped the red and green dye onto his pants, drank more coffee, jiggled his leg, and stared at the commendations on Welsh's wall. Finally Welsh sighed.
"You don't want the Mountie. I don't want the Mountie. No one wants the Mountie coming back down here. I'd bet even the Mountie doesn't want that."
Ray nodded. So did Welsh. Welsh knew -- probably he wished he didn't know, but he knew. Four years later and Ray still had to talk himself down from panic attacks: It is okay, it is all right, it is not a big deal, every middle-aged man has done things that are complicated, every single person in the world has done things that they can't explain, you are back in Chicago and you are okay, everything is fine and you are in civilization by yourself with a nice girlfriend sometimes, everything is fine, everything is fine.
"Everything is fine," said Ray softly.
"Okay," said Welsh, ignoring Ray. "Solve this. If you have to call Canada, call Canada, but it's entirely unofficial. No liaising."
"No, sir," said Ray. "I wouldn't even consider liaising."
"It's not you I'm worried about," grumbled Welsh. "Go on, get out."
Ray nodded at him, stood, and realized he had a whole half-bag of M&Ms in his pocket. He left them on Welsh's desk and closed the door behind himself.
That was not the way he'd wanted the conversation to go. He'd wanted it to be a little smoother.
He would say: "Hey, Lieu. Something weird is happening -- Vecchio's name's popping up all over the place from perps, and when I did a little looking into the files, they'd all been busted by Vecchio before I was Vecchio, you know, back a million years ago in the stone age when I was still undercover at that high school, so obviously I couldn't have had anything to do with it. But it's weird, you know, because Vecchio went and got himself dead down there in Florida four years ago, and now he's all over the radar here in Chicago, and it's weird."
And then Welsh would say: "Forget it. It's ancient history now. Just keep it away from the IAD. Keep it under your hat, Detective."
No Mounties, no sisters of the guy he used to pretend to be, no ex-wives, no investigating other cops. Just Ray finishing his shift and going home to some reheated Chinese food and a hockey game or two. Maybe some ice cream if he could stay awake long enough to eat it.
It would have been the perfect night: no Mounties, no past, no Mounties, no tired Welsh, no Mounties. No perps saying they took the hit to cover for Vecchio and now they want their cut of the cocaine. No guy calling Ray's extension and threatening to go to the papers with proof that Vecchio ordered a hit he never paid for. No traffic cop Ray sometimes went for drinks with calling to say she ran a guy's license plate and it turned out he'd been arrested by Vecchio and the case was sewn up tight -- and then Vecchio let the guy go. No paperwork, no nothing -- but a record in the computer and Janey saying she knew Ray would want to know and she trusted him to handle it.
Four mentions of Vecchio in the last month, all of them bad.
But the last thing Ray wanted to do was call him up and ask him questions about Vecchio's record. Ray knew exactly what he'd say anyway -- he'd say, "Ray, Ray Vecchio was a good man and a fine police officer. I don't know what sort of evidence you have, but I am sure that further investigation will prove that these things are all misunderstandings. Ray Vecchio's methods might have sometimes been unorthodox -- but the same could and can be said of you, Ray, and no one is accusing you of being... a dirty cop."
He'd have that tight-mouth thing happening, the little tic in his jaw, the squint in his eyes. Ray would be able to hear it all over the phone, if he even came to the phone. Like the last time they were on the phone, when Ray had tried calling to apologize, but no one could find him -- and when they finally found him, he wouldn't come to the phone, and Ray had ended up having to talk to the deaf wolf. Ray had ended up having to stay in Chicago, sleeping on the couch in Stella's swank hotel suite and crying in the shower so she couldn't hear.
Ray enlisted the help of the Probationary kid to pull every single Vecchio case file for the three years before Ray became Vecchio. Charlie Something -- O'Connor? Connors? -- had floppy brown hair and buck teeth and he wanted to be a cop because he'd watched too much NYPD Blue and New York Undercover. It made Ray want to puke all over his desk and the files and Charlie's packet of M&Ms -- especially when Charlie carefully shook M&Ms into his coffee, just like Ray always did. If Charlie had been up in Ray's shit, Ray could have smacked him down and it would have been easy -- but he always just followed, and mimicked, and asked Ray for help with his firearms homework. Fucking Probationary officers. None of them stayed in the Academy long enough.
But he helped Ray search through all the files. Ray showed him an example of Fraser's handwriting, and had the kid pull all the files with Fraser's writing in them. That was Ray's deal with himself: if any of the files with Fraser's writing on them looked suspicious, Ray would investigate and then call Fraser. If not, Ray could safely assume that Vecchio kept Fraser out of every single case that Vecchio fucked with.
If Vecchio had fucked with the cases at all -- but from where Ray was sitting, the evidence was damning. And Ray would never forget about his second month on the Vecchio job, when IAD came in and that asshole dickhead Brandauer tried to get at Welsh through him. A fucking smiley face after the one? A blind and deaf wolf could tell that was a zero -- but since Ray wasn't Vecchio, he couldn't be fingered in a lineup.
He'd had his suspicions since then, but who could keep that in the front of their head all the time? Ray couldn't pretend to be a dirty cop who was pretending to be a good cop -- that wasn't the job. And since he spent most of his time with Fraser, he could really be a good cop, and he didn't have to even think about how he was being Vecchio. Fraser knew he was Kowalski, and treated him like Kowalski -- but Ray still had to keep in mind that he was Vecchio. Like, Kowalski smoked and Vecchio didn't, so Vecchio started chewing toothpicks because Kowalski had to do something and it would look too suspicious if a man like Vecchio suddenly started smoking.
Because it didn't look suspicious when a man like Vecchio suddenly got a lot of blonde hair and learned how to dance and held his weapon differently and even lived in a different place.
"So who was this Vecchio guy anyway?" asked Charlie. He had his hand on some photos -- maybe from an op or something.
Ray looked over. "That's him, right there, to the left of the guy in the hat."
"Oooh." Charlie whistled through his teeth. "Sexy."
"Who, Vecchio?" Ray raised his eyebrows. Of all the men in all of the world that Ray would ever maybe think was possibly the slightest bit sexy, Vecchio would be last. Right below Welsh.
"The guy in the hat," said Charlie, and displayed the photo. There was Fraser, smiling into the distance at something someone else was saying, looking away from Vecchio, who was frowning in the other direction. "What's up with that?"
"Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police. RCMP," said Ray, and sat back in his chair. He cupped both hands around his coffee and wished for a cigarette -- but he'd given them up as Kowalski when he moved to Canada, and didn't pick them back up again when he came back to the States. Why bother? Death was coming soon enough, right?
It would have been un-politically correct of Ray to say that he knew right from the very beginning that Charlie was a total fag. Fraser would have frowned at him and said, "Ray, you should really try to be more open-minded. Just because someone speaks with a slight lisp and has hair that is a bit... floppy. Well, that doesn't mean you can look at them and immediately know their sexual preference." Of course, Fraser would have been able to sniff him and inform Ray that based on the evidence that he used blah blah blah to wash his hair and his cologne had a base of whateverthefuck and his shoes were always tied slightly to the left, it was 89.75 percent probable that Charlie enjoyed sexual relations with those of his very same gender.
And from the way he said "Mountie" and curled his lip, Ray would have to say that it was 100% probable that Charlie liked to fuck guys.
Which made it interesting that Charlie wanted to become a cop -- at least, to Ray's mind. Not even the guys over in the 1-9 were openly gay; it wasn't the kind of thing that made a guy popular with the others. But that wasn't Ray's business, and he didn't care anyway. If the kid wanted to make his life harder, that was his choice.
It had taken a long time, but Ray had finally learned that people had to make their own choices. Maybe it was Stella marrying Vecchio that finally sealed the deal.
"Yeah," said Ray finally. "A Mountie. He was my partner for a while -- and don't ask, because it's a long story that does not need exploring at this juncture." Ray took off his glasses and stared at them.
I first came to Chicago on the trail of the killers of my father...
He heard Fraser in his head, could see him in that dorky hat and horrible red serge uniform. Ray fingered the earpieces of his glasses. Nothing like the thick, heavy black ones that he used to have. These were practically featherlight, with wire frames and straight pieces that didn't curve around his ears. High tech glasses for the 21st century. Ray was kinda missing the 20th.
He drained his coffee and stood up, left his glasses on the table. Nothing wrong with a little blurry vision now and then. "I'm going to get another cup. No drooling on the surveillance photos."
"Uh-huh," said Charlie, already not even paying attention to Ray.
Ray glared at him for a moment, but it did nothing, so he walked down the hall to the canteen. He agreed with Welsh: Frannie's cappuccino machine was missed. Some time between when Ray left with Fraser and then came back without Fraser, the cappuccino machine suffered a sad death. Maybe it just pined away, because Frannie was the only one who ever talked to it, and now she was wherever she was with all her babies. Too bad that when he knew her she was his sister, because he could have hit that.
Or maybe not. As his cup filled with watery, weak coffee, Ray thought about listening to Frannie talk all through sex. That would be a definite no.
Charlie looked up from under his bangs when Ray walked back into the room. "I found a lot," he said, and pointed to a pile. "That Mountie is hot, and he had really good handwriting."
"You said he was hot already," said Ray. His stomach started to burn. He'd never been one for ulcers or anything, but there was always time to start. He reached across the table for the files, and while he was at it grabbed Charlie's bag of M&Ms. "And he still has good handwriting."
"Feel free," said Charlie.
"Thanks, I will," said Ray, and smirked at the kid, who smirked back; Ray's smirk turned into a smile, which faded when he looked down at the files. Fraser's neat librarian script on notes and papers, and Ray knew he wasn't going to be able to get through this.
"So what was the deal with the Mountie?" said Charlie. "I know you said not to ask, but there's all this stuff from Canada in each file about liaising, and a bunch of reprimands that it looks like he wrote himself."
"Yeah, every time he thought he did something wrong or might have accidentally misled a suspect, he reprimanded himself. Welsh let him because it was the only way to get him to shut up about it." Ray put all his weight on one side, reached into his pocket, and pulled out a toothpick. He might have to take up smoking again, if everyone was going to be talking about Fraser all the time. He'd take the blame, though, because it was his fault -- if he'd just kept his mouth shut and ignored all the Vecchio stuff, he wouldn't have to be looking through Fraser's case notes and pictures of Fraser with Vecchio and suspects and Fraser's reprimands to himself about the stupidest fucking dumb shit.
"Mis-led," said Charlie. His bottom lip hung out a little bit. Ray wanted to punch him in the face.
"What?" said Ray.
"Mis-led," repeated Charlie.
"Yeah, that's what I said," said Ray.
"No, you said 'missulled'," replied Charlie.
"Whatever, kid," said Ray. He pushed his coffee aside and put his glasses on."Shut up and read the files."
"Yes, sir," said Charlie. When Ray looked over at him, he was smiling.
"How old are you?" said Ray abruptly.
"Twenty-three," said Charlie.
"Oh." Ray had been much younger than that when he joined the force, fresh out of quitting college, high on Stella and life. This kid was high on something -- dick in his mouth, probably. Ray knew how that felt too. He wondered if the kid looked at him and saw some old straight guy who didn't know anything about life. Or maybe it was written on his forehead in gay code: I'VE SUCKED COCK.
Maybe that was why Charlie was acting totally gay -- because he knew Ray wasn't exactly a one on the Kinsey chart thing that told you how gay you were. Ray was more like a fifteen, if fifteen meant that he liked to fuck guys, maybe even a little more than he liked to fuck girls, because the only girl he ever really liked to fuck was Stella. The rest of them were just poor imitations in comparison.
There was no way Ray was going to be able to survive Charlie and reviewing all of Vecchio and Fraser's files. He should have just stuck them in his pants and snuck them out of the 2-7 and done this at home, where he could drink his own coffee and chain smoke an entire pack of cigarettes and put every cigarette out over Fraser's face in all the fucking pictures. The whole thing was ridiculous anyway, because the point was that Ray wouldn't find anything in the files -- everything there was to find would be wherever Vecchio hid it all. Little bits in the computer that didn't correspond to the written files, pieces of evidence missing. How was Ray supposed to find something that wasn't there? Because it was missing, that's how he was supposed to know that it was supposed to be there?
"This doesn't even make sense," said Ray. Fraser's script blurred in front of him: Detective Vecchio and I then chased the suspect over the roofs of seventeen tenement houses...
"Ah, Detective," said Welsh. "Would you mind detecting something?"
Ray looked up from the files. "If I have to," he replied.
"You have to." Welsh tossed a file to him. "Get on this." Welsh raised his eyebrows a little, and Ray frowned. What the fuck?
"Yes, sir," said Ray as Welsh walked away. He looked over at Charlie. "Quit it."
"Quit what?" said Charlie, smiling. Quit that, brat.
"Nevermind," said Ray, and opened the file. A murder in Boystown at the gay church.
"What is it?" asked Charlie, leaning over the table. Ray glared him back into his seat.
"A murder in Boystown, in the gay church," said Ray, and started flipping through the pages. Why wasn't this kept with the 1-9 instead of being thrown over to the 2-7?
"A gym? Someone was murdered in a gym?" Charlie's mouth fell open. "But that's -- that's sacred."
Ray rolled his eyes. "Kid, a real church. Our Lady of Immortal Grace over on Broadway."
"I know that church -- are you going to go down there to check out the evidence?" Charlie sounded just a little too eager. Ray watched him flip his hair out of his eyes. Not that Ray was one to give people advice on their hair, but the kid needed a cut. When Ray was a probationary officer, putting in his time doing files, his hair had to be regulation. Not fair for the kid to get out of it.
"Yes, I am, and no, you are not coming with me. You are going to stay here and you are going to keep going through these files." Ray stood up and snapped the file shut, and tucked it under his arm.
"We've been going through these files for days," said Charlie. "Let me do some real police work."
"I'll let you do some real police work when you're a real cop," said Ray. "Until then, you're on filing duty." He pointed at the desk, and left the room, ignoring Charlie's grumbling. When he was outside the room, he closed the door and leaned against the wall. He reopened the file.
The vic was just a kid; he looked a little like Charlie -- floppy hair, big eyes. He was smiling broadly at the camera. It must have been a school picture. Fifteen or sixteen, tops. Ray looked at the paperwork -- nineteen. Old enough to know better.
Ray remembered being nineteen -- remembered it a little too well. He sure hadn't known any better. Of course, even as a guy over forty he still didn't have a clue.
Ray knew exactly what you got for trusting the wrong person -- you either got a broken heart, or you got dead. And poor -- he flipped back to the paperwork again -- poor Joseph Cardovo got dead.
He'd put money and M&Ms on it that his mom called him Joseph and everyone else called him Joey.
Ray headed out of the station, to his car and the church. He'd start with scoping out the scene, and then he'd move on to interviewing. The file -- which was really just a bunch of scrawled notes on a piece of paper that had been faxed over -- said the kid had been shot in the basement of the church. What had he been doing in the basement of the church? Where the fuck were all the priests and shit? Unless that was what he'd been doing in the basement of the church. Ray made a noise of disgust and started his car. Fucking priests.
The file had also said that no one had been in the church, no one had seen anything, and no one had reported the kid missing. Maybe there wasn't a mother at home to call him Joseph after all.
Ray opened up the file again at a red light. The vic had a juvie record that had been sealed the year before, no next of kin, and his last known address was the GLBT Center of Chicago. He had been shot --
Honking horns had Ray simultaneously stepping on the gas and flipping his middle finger to the cars behind him.
When he got to the church, he parked in a spot marked "Reserved for Visiting Clergy" and sat in the car for an extra few minutes, going back over the file. The kid had been found by the priest this morning. Shot in the back of the head twice, execution style, with a .38. The officer at the scene wasn't from the 1-9 either -- she was from the O.C. task force.
Organized crime, huh?
What did he have to do with the mob? Nothing, that's what he had to do with the mob, except for all the mob cases that kept popping up lately, with the perps all talking about Vecchio. He popped an M&M into his mouth as he considered what one thing might have to do with the other, but his instincts were sleeping.
Ray got out of the car, but left the file in the glove box. He needed to have his own impressions of the scene.
There were a bunch of uniforms standing outside the back entrance drinking coffee and looking dopey.
"I'm Kowalski from the 2-7," he said, and flashed his badge at them. Any uniform worth his -- or her -- salt would have taken the badge and examined it to make sure it wasn't one of those dime store replicas, but these were lazy uniforms and just waved him through. He ducked under the tape and walked into the building, down a set of rickety old stairs, and into a large room. It looked like a basement -- it had hard carpet on the floor and exposed concrete walls, and wooden beams in the ceiling. There was a crucifix on one wall and a mural of Jesus on another, and what looked like writing on the third -- that was where all the action was happening.
A bunch of uniforms were over there, a bunch of crime scene guys, and the wall was covered in blood.
Ray stood with his hands shoved in his jacket pockets, looking around the room, until someone came over to him from the far corner.
"You Kowalski?" she asked. She was a redhead, but with weird blondish streaks, and somehow kind of reminded Ray a little bit of Stella, if Stella was less like herself and more like Ray. If Stella wore drugstore sunglasses pushed on top of her head, and her hair in a long ponytail, and her jeans low on her hips. If Stella wore jeans.
She held out a hand. "Detective Brien, O.C. taskforce. Call me Theresa." No rings on her fingers. No bells on her toes either, just really worn out Dr. Martens. Red.
"Ray." He shook her hand. She had a firm grip. He felt a little twisting in his heart or his stomach or something -- like maybe if Stella was more like Theresa, Ray would be less like a lonely old dickhead living by himself without even a turtle to keep him company.
Except then he never would have got to have ten months of living with Fraser and a bunch of wolves, so maybe it was a fair trade off.
These were not things Ray should be thinking about at a crime scene.
"Let's just get one thing out of the way," said Theresa in a low voice. She leaned close to Ray; no one else could hear her. "This is my case and my scene. I knew this kid, and I'm taking this real personally. You aren't in my division and you aren't in my taskforce and if you wanna stick around and work this case, you're gonna have to take orders from me. You got that?"
"Hey -- do I look like a guy who has problems working with women?" replied Ray, feeling indignant. What the fuck? It wasn't like he asked to be on this case. It wasn't even his jurisdiction! "I do not care about any of that bullshit. I was sent down here to do a job and now I'm gonna do it."
Theresa stared at him, her mouth tight and her eyes hard. She nodded, once, then stepped back. "I'm not trying to be a bitch here, Ray. But --"
"Yeah, I get it," said Ray. He did get it. Of course he got it. What he had was a girl -- a woman -- who climbed the ladder and beat her head against the whole system until they took her seriously. She couldn't have some guy come in and take everything away from her on any case, not even one. She had to put herself and her career first, or she'd end up sitting at a desk, answering the phone for some dickhead captain somewhere. Ray could understand that -- who couldn't?
He was tempted to tell her that he'd had to push his way back into the 2-7 after he came back from being gay and Canadian, but that was not something he could just say, not even someone who reminded him of Stella. Instead he said, "So what's happening here?"
She relaxed a little at that, and Ray was relieved that they didn't have to have a pissing contest. Not just because he wanted to know why Welsh put him on this case, but also because he just didn't give a crap and didn't have the energy to bother giving a crap. He was going to be a detective at the 2-7 until he retired -- or until someone shot him in the head.
"Did you read the paperwork?" asked Theresa. "I faxed everything over as soon as we heard from the Feds what was going on."
Okay, now Ray was feeling a little alarmed. "What?"
"Nobody filled in your Lieu?" She shoved her hands into the pockets of her jeans. She wasn't wearing gloves or booties, which meant the scene had already been picked over, and the body was gone, so the CS guys were just going over everything one more time and Ray didn't need to wear gloves.
"No." Ray shook his head. "There was no filling for us -- what's going on?"
"The gun that was used to kill Joey -- " So Ray was right; someone called this kid Joey. Somehow, being right didn't feel all that good. What a shock. "- is a mob gun."
Ray raised his eyebrows. "Would that be why you are in the mob force and you are here?"
Theresa rolled her eyes. "You're very clever. Ballistics matched the bullet about ten seconds after we handed it to them --"
"Wait. I'm confused about this timeline." Ray glanced over to the corner again. The blood on the wall was definitely fresh. Freshish, anyway. "You're telling me the body's already gone through --" Ray stopped because Theresa was shaking her head.
"There was a bullet in the floor -- they shot the lock off. We dug it out and sent it in." She stopped, shrugged. "They matched it to bullets that killed a guy named Siracusa a couple of days ago -- you know that name?" Ray was not supposed to answer that question with a nod, but he did anyway. "All right," continued Theresa, "so we also have a match to a murder that happened last week -- Hiram Greenburg. You know that name?"
"Everyone knows that name," said Ray. "Accountant to the stars. Two big mob guys in Chicago use him to cook the books."
"But we could never prove it."
"I'd say the fact that someone murdered him with a mob gun proves it," said Ray, but his instincts were suddenly awake and wanting to party. "Okay, hit me, what's the theory here?"
"I want you to look first," said Theresa. She led Ray over to the chalk outline on the floor, in front of the bloody wall. "Two downward shots into the back of the head. He faced the wall and fell into it, then slid outward."
Ray did not say, "I can read a crime scene, thank you." Instead, he stared at the chalk marks. "What was this kid into," he finally said, "that pushed them to this? Why is it so important?"
"I busted him a lot a few years ago -- tricking, possession, selling, using, all of it." Ray glanced up at her, and she smiled tightly. "I used to be Vice. But nothing on him for at least the past year. The priest here says that Joey was cleaning up, going straight -- well, not straight, but straight."
"Huh," he said, but that was definitely something. "What's this?" He leaned over and looked at something glittering in the little crack between the carpet and the wall. Blood and brains covered it, but there was still a shiny bit.
"Here." Theresa handed him a glove, and he took it, used it to pick up the shiny bit. It was a crucifix, and when he picked it up, it came with a chain that was stretched into the carpet. There was a hair on the crucifix, in addition to the blood.
"Guys?" said Ray. "Would you please like to bag this or would you like Detective Brien and I to do all of your job for you?"
One of the CS guys came over with a bag and glared at Ray, who glared back. Then he turned back to the wall. He walked over to stairs, up them, stood outside the door. Theresa followed him. He mimed shooting the lock off, then walked down the stairs.
"It takes at least a few seconds to get down here," said Ray. "Why didn't the kid hide? Did he pack? Why didn't he go for his gun?"
"He wasn't packing," said Theresa.
Ray squatted to look at the hole in the floor. "The trajectory isn't..." He stuck his finger in the hole. "It's like they shot the lock off and then shot the floor so we'd have a bullet. This is a wild goose chase -- and wild geese are not what I want to be chasing." Ray stood up and shrugged his shoulders to work the kinks out of his back.
"We're gonna track this like a mob hit," said Theresa.
"You do what you have to do," said Ray, and walked away, out of the church. The wall had been covered with names. Ray hadn't recognized any of them, but he'd seen enough similar walls to have realized what it was: a wall of the dead.
Theresa followed him out. He crossed to his car, and put the key in the lock, then turned back to her.
"Here is what I think," he said. "Right off the top of my head -- instinct, okay?"
"Okay," said Theresa. She pulled something out of her pocket. Cigarettes. "What do you think?"
"I think that mob hits aren't usually this sloppy. Some guy who's been shooting babies in the head for twenty years is not going to let some twink kid pull his crucifix off and drop it into a little corner for us to find." Ray watched her light the cigarette, inhale deeply, and could feel the cigarette between his fingers. He wanted one so bad. His fingers twitched on his keys. "This is bullshit. And I hate being jerked around."
Theresa crossed the parking lot, cigarette dangling out of her mouth, and slapped her hand on the hood of Ray's car. "That's it? You're gonna say that shit and then pull out?"
"This is bullshit," said Ray flatly.
"Yeah?" said Theresa. "How about I tell you why we called you in?"
"Fine." Ray pulled the key out of the lock and stepped back. "Enlighten me," he said.
"Last month, a name came back up on the Feds' radar," said Theresa.
"How are you getting information from the Feds?" challenged Ray. "They don't give anybody information."
"They gave it to me, because the name was Armando Langoustini," she replied.
"Okay, I need a cigarette," said Ray. She shook one out of the pack for him and lit it for him with a plain blue plastic lighter. She shoved both lighter and pack back into her jacket pocket. They were menthols, and disgusting, and made Ray cough, but after a puff or two, his lungs settled right back into the old rhythm. Like riding a bike, which he never had actually been able to get the hang of.
"Now," he said, flicking ash onto the ground. "You tell me what one thing has to do with the other and maybe I will agree to stay on this case."
"I don't need you on this case," snapped Theresa. She took a long drag off her cigarette and crushed it out under her toe. His eyes flicked from her feet to her face and he scowled.
"Then what the fuck is going on?" demanded Ray. "No bullshit. Just fucking tell me."
"Look, I have no idea. But the Feds said to pull you in, that you knew Langoustini, that you knew what was going on, that you needed to be involved."
"You have to be kidding me. You think I believe that? Try again. One more time."
"I'm serious," said Theresa. "Fuck you, Kowalski. You think I want some dope from the 2-7 on my territory? You got no idea of what we do here, who we know, what we have to --" She stopped and took a deep breath. Ray watched her silently. When she started to speak again, it was around a new cigarette she slipped into her mouth. "What's your connection to Ray Vecchio? Because apparently he's the guy we want for this."
"What the fuck ever," said Ray, and turned, and got into his car. He started it, listened to the engine purr -- it wasn't a GTO but it didn't suck. Theresa banged on the passenger door. Ray shook his head. She flipped him the finger, which made him smile. Maybe if she wasn't a lying fucking Feebee lover, he would even like her. And she had cigarettes that she didn't mind sharing. He leaned over and opened the door for her, and she slid in.
"What?" she said. "What the fuck?"
"Listen, Ray Vecchio married my ex-wife and then got blown up. So tell me, what the fuck do you mean, bringing up his name?" said Ray. He put the car in gear and pulled out of the parking lot, turned, headed for the 2-7, took a left onto a side street to try to avoid rush hour traffic. Fucking Fridays. And Theresa could find her own way back from the 27th, because Ray wasn't her fucking chauffeur.
"Ray Vecchio doesn't appear to be dead," said Theresa. Then she held out the pack of cigarettes. "You'll probably need another one."
He took it, let her light it for him at the stop sign. "Are we sure it's Ray Vecchio?"
"Someone is pretending to be Armando Langoustini," said Theresa. She rolled down her window and ashed out of it. "There's only one person in the entire United States who looks enough like Langoustini to be able to do that, and that's Ray Vecchio -- so dead or not, he's the finger man. And when all these people who are associated with Langoustini's mob suddenly start turning up dead..." She turned her head and stared out the window. "You do the math, Kowalski."
Instead of answering her, Ray blew smoke out his nose. It burned, in the best way. Like anal sex and habanero pepper sauce and that green Japanese stuff.
"I don't think Langoustini-slash-Vecchio is behind this. That's the setup," Theresa continued when Ray didn't answer. "The Feds aren't giving us much to go on, but a PPO could tell that someone wants us to think this is Langoustini's gang. I'd bet a beer that when we trace that hair it will come back as Vecchio's."
"So you know about Vecchio being undercover? Nobody was supposed to know about that," said Ray.
"The Feds know. They told me. I'm not IAD -- it doesn't matter if I know 'cause they know I'm not gonna use it to take anyone down within the force." Theresa paused. "I..."
"Let me think," said Ray, and threw his cigarette butt out the window. He wanted another, and another, and another, and damned if he didn't want to call Fraser and get his help to piece this shit all together. If there was anyone who would be able to figure out what was going on, who'd be able to jumpstart Ray's instincts, it would be Ben. He'd rub his eyebrow and tug at his collar and pull on his ear and know exactly the right place to start.
Ray gripped the steering wheel until his knuckles turned white. Theresa didn't say anything, just lit another cigarette and passed it to Ray.
When they got back to the 2-7, Ray discovered that someone from the case had rounded up a bunch of people on Theresa's orders and brought them all in, put them in interview rooms. When he raised his eyebrows at Theresa, she shrugged.
"Ray, you smell like an ashtray," said Elaine when she passed him. "And the guy in interview three is having hysterics."
Ray looked around the squad room. "Where's Charlie?" he asked.
"Getting files," called Jackson from across the room. Ray glared at her. That was the wrong answer. He turned to Theresa.
"I need a cup of coffee," said Ray. "I'm going to get a cup of coffee. Can I get you anything?"
"Coffee," said Theresa. "Black. This your desk?"
"Yeah, sit," said Ray, and before he was even out of the room, she had his phone to her ear.
He had to wait on a line for coffee, and it was lukewarm so his M&Ms wouldn't dissolve, but he brought Theresa back hers, and perched on the edge of the desk as she finished up her call.
"Okay," she said, then sipped the coffee and made a face. "This is gruesome."
"Whatever," he replied. "What do you have?"
"We're supposed to do the interviews like we don't know this was a mob hit," she says in a low voice.
"Better get started then. Early bird catches the worm. He who laughs first laughs last. And stuff," said Ray, and he slid off the desk and headed down the hall. Might as well start with the hysterical guy in three -- who turned out to be a priest, crying silently.
He cried through most of their interview. His tears got caught in his wrinkles -- his face looked like a giant raisin. He was heavyset, and had almost no neck -- his chin nearly met his white collar. Ray sat next to Theresa, jiggling his leg, sipping a cup of coffee all the worse for not having dissolved chocolate in it, and not saying much. Theresa seemed to know Father-call-me-Jack-O'Dougal; they talked about people and places Ray had never heard of. He didn't bother to make notes -- either he would remember or he wouldn't, and if he didn't, Theresa would.
When Jack was finished listing Joey's many attributes -- the kid was a fucking saint -- Ray had to interrupt.
"So," he said. "Father. Jack. Can you tell us why someone would want to shoot Joey? In the back of the head?"
Ray's money wasn't on the priest; instinct. Instinct and knowing that this wasn't a connected priest -- just a guy trying to help people. But the priest had to know something, because he listened to Joey's confessions. Of course, he couldn't tell Ray anything about what happened in confession, but maybe he could hint around it until Ray got the picture, and that would help prove Joey was somehow involved with the Mafia.
"No. I have no idea." Jack sighed. "Joey was a wonderful boy -- a real inspiration to the others."
"Tell me what's up with that," said Ray. "You're a Catholic priest. He's gay. You're in a gay neighborhood. Yet you want me to believe Joey's an inspiration?"
Theresa sent him a sharp glare. Jack tensed his fists. "Young man, God loves all his sheep."
Ray pushed on a little further: "Even the way -- the -- wrong ones?"
Jack shook his head. "Being gay doesn't go against the Lord. We're a progressive parish, despite the Pope's refusal to recognize -- Detective, there's nothing wrong with being gay."
"Yeah, I know, being somewhat gay myself," replied Ray. Theresa turned fully to look at him, but he ignored her. "So you're a progressive parish and Catholics everywhere are okay with that? You don't think maybe some priest from another parish who hates you and everything you're doing with the church would come down here and shoot a kid in your church to make a statement?"
"No I do not," he declared. Ray could kind of see him in a pulpit, lecturing wayward gay youths on fire and brimstone and living their lives in sight of the Lord. The kind of sermons the priest from his old neighborhood used to give. "If anyone had a problem with what I was teaching these kids, they would have come to me, or gone to the archbishop, or --"
"Yeah?" said Ray. "Or what?"
"I wish I could help you," said Jack. "I really do. But I can't -- Joey never goes back to his old corners and he never goes out to clubs anymore, and if he has any enemies, I've never met them."
"Thanks anyway," said Ray, and stood up, and walked out. Theresa stayed in the room; he could hear her speaking softly to the priest before the door closed -- probably apologizing for his bad behavior.
Ray was still kind of stuck on how much Joey looked like Charlie -- and how if Ray hadn't met Stella, maybe he'd be one of those names on that wall, whatever they meant.
Ray stood outside, smoking one of the cigarettes from her pack in clear defiance of the Please do not smoke here sign on the building. He'd lifted the pack from Theresa's coat pocket on his way out of the interview room. Theresa came out a few minutes later, and raised an eyebrow at him. He silently handed her the cigarettes and a book of matches he'd taken off Jackson's desk.
After she'd lit her cigarette, she said, "So you're gay. I was --"
"I'm not," said Ray. "It's called getting the witness to be all sympathetic and shit. You know, like getting them to talk to you and trust you?"
"Uh-huh." She leaned against the wall and looked out onto the street. "I'm not an idiot, Kowalski. I know about the Mountie."
"Yeah? Then tell me, because I don't know shit." Ray threw his cigarette on the ground, ground it out with the heel of his shoe.
"Vecchio wasn't a dirty cop," said Theresa. "But he wasn't clean. I ran into him when I did Vice." Theresa took long drags on her cigarette and talked through the smoke. And she never blew smoke out of her nose, or blew smoke rings. She smoked like it was just another need -- like eating and shitting and paying taxes. "He was a total asshole, never followed orders. When I was on the phone before -- I was trying to get them to give me his sealed files from when he was undercover. There used to be this rumor going around that they tried to pull him out once, and he had the agents shot."
She stopped like Ray was supposed to say something, but he'd believe it.
"Then he came out," she continued, and lit another cigarette off the first one. "He came out because he was in Chicago for something and he ran into -- guess who? You and the Mountie. And the Mountie asked him for help or something, so he pulled right out. Left a big fucking mess, too."
That wasn't exactly how it went, but Ray wasn't going to correct her. "And now?" he said. She tossed him the almost-empty pack. If he never smoked another Marlboro Menthol, it would be too soon, but he would take it if that's all there was. He took the last cigarette, and lit it off hers.
"Wrong, bud. Langoustini." Ray crumpled up the pack and tossed it near the trashcan ten feet away, then continued. "I called around this morning when the ballistics came back, and heard from some contacts in Vegas. He's laying low, but someone spotted him going in the back door of the Bellagio. The Feds got a picture of him."
Ray didn't say anything, just puffed on his cigarette. He was going to have to stop and get a pack of Camels or something with decent tobacco. When he was a teenager, he smoked Pall Malls; what did he smoke before he was Vecchio? Before he was Vecchio, he was undercover at a high school, and he smoked Parliament Lights. Those were fucking shitty, too.
"So tell me. You knew Vecchio was probably dirty, didn't you? That was why you didn't kick me in the head back there in the car."
"Yeah," said Ray. It felt like he was saying something really important. He took a long drag on the cigarette. "Yeah, I knew Vecchio was a dirty cop."
Ray needed to get a turtle or a cat or something. Not a dog. Just something he could come home and talk to so that he wasn't stretched out on his couch with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other, talking to the fucking stucco ceiling.
There was weirdness happening in the world. Fraser-esque weirdness. Ray was pleased to discover that he could think Fraser's name without feeling paralyzed, but he couldn't say it out loud, he didn't think.
This was the kind of weirdness Fraser was really good at. Fraser. Fraser. Fraser. Benton. Ben. Ben.
Jesus fucking Christ. He and Theresa had spent the whole day interviewing people about Joey and no one had anything helpful to tell them -- he'd turned around, got clean, found God, joined the choir, became an altar boy, and spent a lot of time painting names onto the AIDS Wall. That's what it was -- the AIDS Wall. A list of people known by people who were members of the church who had died of AIDS.
Fucking depressing, if you asked Ray. Which no one did, so he'd kept all his opinions to himself.
And, thinking about being gay and depressed, Ray'd forgotten to check in with Charlie, the most cheerful twenty-three-year-old kid alive, before he went home and got bombed. Getting drunk by himself: a new low. Actually, he'd gotten drunk by himself a lot when he'd first come back from Canada. Left Fraser and Dief, left their little cabin, left his job as The Official Guy Who Can Fix Everything in Tulita... left everything. Except when he'd left, he hadn't realized he wouldn't be coming back. He thought he was just coming back to Chicago for Ray Vecchio's funeral.
The whole thing had been a joke. Everything had been fucked up -- at least, Ray knows it was now. Then it had seemed like his world was fucking ending. Fraser walking in on him, Stella crying, Fraser leaving.
Fraser was the one who left. Ray hadn't left. Ray had been left. That was twice now: twice Ray had been in A Really Serious Relationship With Someone Who He Wasn't Supposed To Be Allowed To Touch, and twice he'd been left.
God fucking damn it.
Ray didn't want to know what the files said. He wanted to find a file that outlined Ray Vecchio's plan for whatever was happening, and kick his fucking head all over the country for doing this. Because someone was going to have to call Fraser and get Fraser down into Chicago; if anyone knew about what Vecchio was doing or planning, it would be Fraser. Fraser.
Ray tried it out: "Fraser," he said. "Fraser. Ben. Benton. Ben. Ben. Fraser."
"Okay, that wasn't so bad, right?"
He stopped again.
"Okay, now I am talking to the ceiling. Is that better or worse than talking to the wolf?"
He stopped to reflect on that, and fell asleep before he could.
In his dreams, Fraser was there, wearing the brown uniform. Ray liked the brown uniform. Fraser usually wore the red one, but the brown one was Ray's favorite. It made Fraser's shoulders look broad and his arms look real muscular, and his legs look long. Ray didn't like the puffy pants -- they were itchy, and they were puffy! Who wanted puffy pants? Except for smuggling things, then they were useful. But aside from that, they were dumb.
Yeah, Ray liked the brown uniform. Fraser had worn it a lot when they were in Canada, if he had to go on official business in town. Mostly he just wore jeans and long underwear and flannel shirts, though, and that was just as hot.
But in Ray's dream, Fraser was wearing the brown uniform, and building a fire in the cabin, and smiling. He was talking, but Ray couldn't hear what he was saying. It was something funny, though -- maybe he was telling the story about how Qiqirn thought he could outrun Dief on the ice floes and tripped over his snowshoes and ended up landing with his mouth on the bag of fish he'd stolen from Mrs. MacPherson. That was one of Dief's favorite stories.
One of Ray's too, because it made Fraser smile and his eyes crinkle up, and Ray loved those lines Fraser got by his eyes, because they made him look less like someone's My First Mountie doll and more like Ben, the guy he was when he wasn't in his hat and uniform. And it had taken a fuckload of time to find Ben under all that Fraser shit. A fuckload of time. Two fucking weeks trekking across Canada. Ray froze his ass off, and almost lost one of his toes before Fraser admitted, all shamefaced and red, that there wasn't really a Hand of Franklin.
Like Ray hadn't known that? So they could have been in a hotel the whole time, with running water and cable television and takeout, if Ray had just admitted that he didn't want to go home, that he'd wanted to stay with Fraser. After all, with Vecchio out of the mob scene, nobody had to go back to the 2-7 and pretend to be him.
It had taken them another three months to start fucking. Ray figured that was mostly his own fault -- he didn't realize he liked Fraser like that, until one day he was cooking supper and washing socks and feeling like a girl about the whole thing, except he didn't want to not feel the way he was feeling. Better than he ever had with Stella. Better than he ever had ever. He didn't need cigarettes and beer and a television because Fraser was teaching him how to carve wood and build fires and make pemmican, and even tea wasn't tasting too bad.
This dream had to be after all that, because when Fraser caught Ray staring at him blankly, he smiled and said, "Oh, Ray," and Ray just kept staring, sighed a little, said, "Ben," and Fraser started unbuttoning his shirt. His tunic. And he shrugged out of it, and left it on the floor, which Fraser almost never did, and unbuttoned his pants, and stepped out of those, too. Ray felt the blast of cold air as Dief pushed out of the door -- the wolf never liked to stay when they were getting busy. Embarrassed, probably. Ray got kind of embarrassed too, because Fraser made him whine and scream and beg for it.
But not like Stella had always made him beg for it -- Fraser didn't care about stupid power games the way Stella did. Fraser just wanted him to feel good. Ben just wanted him to feel good. And he wanted Ben to feel good. So when Ben took off his long underwear and stood in front of the fire fucking glowing and smiling, Ray crawled across the room on his hands and knees -- not so good for the old back, but really good for the sex appeal -- and took Ben's leaking cock into his mouth.
It hit the roof of his mouth before going all the way back, and it tasted like home and all the stuff that Ray always associated with Canada. It tasted like cold and hockey and even curling -- and it sank right into Ray's mouth, right into his throat, and Ben's hands came into his hair, moved over his face. Ray pulled off and took a deep breath and then sank back down and swallowed around Ben's cock, and he could feel his eyes start to water, but that shit wasn't what mattered. What mattered was that Ray's hands were on Ben's thighs and he could feel the muscles flexing and relaxing, felt Ben lock his knees, knew that Ben was going to fall the fuck over because of Ray's mouth and Ray's tongue and Ray's hand on his balls and Ray's finger creeping back to his ass, stopping to rub behind his balls first.
This was all because of Ray -- and not just because Ben needed to fuck, but because it was Ray who was fucking him, and that was totally fucking hot right there. To be wanted for himself, scars and fucked up hair and thick glasses and History With Stella and everything, that was hot.
Ray woke up choking on cock that wasn't there, tears streaming out of his eyes. His hands went up to his head, almost expecting to feel Fraser's big hands there, rubbing his scalp, rubbing his ears and his jaw. He opened his eyes and looked at the ceiling -- he hadn't turned the lights out, and the only thing above him was white stucco. Not Fraser's face, not Fraser's dick, not anything but stucco.
There was no way Ray was going to be able to call Fraser and get out even two words before he started to cry like a little bitch.
Four years. Four fucking years.
Ray sniffed in really hard, then reached over to the coffee table and shook out a cigarette. He had bought Camel Lights -- a classic. He lit the cigarette and inhaled deeply, coughed, and inhaled again. He waited out the tears by chainsmoking, and fell back asleep with a dry mouth. He didn't dream again, though.
Ray spent Saturday turning the case around in his mind. He came up with a bunch of possible scenarios and ate an entire pizza with extra cheese and pineapple and ham and pepperoni.
Ray Vecchio could have decided that he'd really liked being Armando and having his house in the desert or whatever. So somehow he faked his own death and tricked the mob into believing that he really was Armando and they took him back. If that was the scenario, Ray was going to kick his fucking head all over the United States of America and the parts of Canada that Ray could navigate without Fraser and then turn him over to Stella, who would -- do something really bad to him, Ray was sure. Like ignore him, or give him that icy Stella glare.
Ray Vecchio could really have died. Which meant that Langoustini was really still alive and when the Feds thought they'd killed him -- oh, sorry, when he'd died in that really convenient car accident -- they really hadn't. Or the Feds hadn't really killed him, they'd kept him alive in some underground bunker with Hoffa, Elvis, and Hitler. Now he was gaining a higher profile, just doing what mob guys do, and killing a bunch of other guys he didn't like.
The mob could be setting up something really complicated, trying to do something... Ray had no idea what. The mob could be setting up the Feds to believe that Langoustini and Vecchio were both back from the dead and killing people to throw everyone off the scent. Maybe the Iguana family was planning something, planning to go to war against one of the Chicago families, like the D'Amicos, and they were trying to get the heat off by making it look like Langoustini and Vecchio were back from the dead. Cause dead guys could get away with anything.
Of all Ray's theories, that one was his favorite, because it was the only one that made any fucking sense at all. Vecchio had loved Stella -- would he hurt her by faking his own death? No. Langoustini had to be dead, because why wouldn't he be? And what about Cardovo? Ray would bet an entire paycheck that the kid just crossed the wrong person in the mob and they took him down. That part was easy.
Besides, Vecchio had definitely been a dirty cop, but that didn't mean he was going to start going around killing people.
Ray fell asleep with his head on the empty pizza box, but he didn't dream about Fraser. When he woke up, he felt sick -- too warm and too full.
Ray was off shift on Monday, but he couldn't just sit home and stare at his ceiling anymore. He'd spent Sunday puking up his pizza and sleeping, and all he wanted was a cup of coffee. He needed a new toothbrush, too. But he was out of coffee -- and if he was going to leave just to get coffee, he might as well go to the 2-7 and get some work done. The faster he could sort out the bullshit with Vecchio, the faster it would be over.
When Ray walked into the station house, Charlie jumped up from his desk. Ray scowled at him. His eyes felt gritty and dry, and when he stopped to get his coffee from a bakery, his car was ticketed for being in front of a hydrant. Whoever Officer Lucinda Parks was, she was going to have her head kicked in -- did she not see the FOP sticker on his windshield?
"Kowalski!" said Charlie. "The Lieu wants to see you as soon as you step foot into the precinct."
"The Lieu?" repeated Ray. "That's Lieutenant Welsh to you, PPO."
Charlie rolled his eyes. "When you're done, come see me. I found something interesting in those files of yours. Not, unfortunately, naked pictures of your Mountie." Charlie leered. "But almost as good."
Ray growled at him and moved toward the canteen. "Coffee," he muttered.
"Good afternoon, Ray," sang out Elaine as she passed him in the hallway. Make an officer a detective, and they never fucking cut out the happy shit.
"Grrr," said Ray, and pushed his way to the coffee machine and full awakening. He'd left his first cup of coffee on the counter in the bakery to run down the street after Officer Lucinda Parks's little traffic golf cart, and by the time he'd gotten back, they'd thrown it away. See if he ever went there again.
He gulped down the first cup, with no candy, and it tasted like crap and burned his tongue, and hurt his raw throat. He drank the second cup slower -- still no candy, because he couldn't wait for it to dissolve, and therefore the coffee still tasted like crap. By the third cup, he felt slightly human, although his eyes were still red and gritty, and his mouth was still dry.
He took the third cup into Welsh's office, along with his fistful of messages, written out by Charlie -- who had started imitating Fraser's perfect librarian script. Stupid kid. Welsh was on the phone, so Ray settled into one of the chairs, and emptied a handful of M&Ms into his cup, and swirled the coffee around.
"Uh-huh," said Welsh. "And if I was not so incl -- I see. And if you were so -- right. Well, I guess that about sums it up. You're going to screw me and screw one of my best detectives so that -- oh. Of course. Well, I beg your pardon."
By the time Welsh hung up the phone, even Ray was gritting his teeth.
"That," said Welsh, "was the Feebs."
"Sir?" said Ray, and sipped the coffee. Perfect. He was going to be alive again before he knew it.
"They've told us to drop the investigation into Vecchio. Since I wasn't aware that there was an investigation into Vecchio, I wasn't aware that there was anything to drop. Since I don't know who could possibly be investigating Vecchio, I don't know who to lecture. Do we have an understanding, Detective?" Welsh leaned forward and stared hard at Ray.
"Sure, Lieutenant. Whatever." Ray leaned forward himself, and stared hard at Welsh. "So?"
"So? So tell me what you found out. Do I have to spell this out for you?" Welsh stood up and walked back and forth behind his desk, then turned sharply. "Don't keep me in the dark, Detective. If I don't know what's going on, I can't protect you."
"Langoustini is apparently back," said Ray. "Brien from the O.C. called one of her pals and asked around -- maybe that's why they think we're investigating Vecchio."
"Huh." Welsh nodded. "What else?"
"The kid --"
"Yeah, Charlie. He says he found something in Vecchio's files over the weekend; I don't know what yet." Ray took another sip of coffee; it turned into a gulp. "And --"
Here Ray stopped. To suspect was one thing, but to come right out and tell the Lieu that Vecchio had been dirty, that he really had betrayed the 2-7 and the Lieu's trust in him... that was another thing. Totally another thing. And Ray didn't want to have to be the one to do that other thing. Especially since he wasn't even sure it had really happened. It was just gut, just his instinct that something was totally off about Vecchio, just... he had nothing, but he had to tell the Lieu anyway, just in case maybe it was something.
"And what, Kowalski?" said Welsh gruffly. Maybe he already knew.
"I dunno, Lieu. It just... it looks like Vecchio really was dirty. Brien called us because she knew about me and Vecchio and Langoustini and Be -- Fra -- the Mountie. She knew because she ran into Vecchio when she worked Vice." Ray tried to say it all as fast as he could, just get it over with. "She never had any proof, no one would point the finger, but he was around enough that she got suspicious."
"Detective, does this seem odd to you?" Welsh clasped his hands on his desk and rested his chin on his fists. He was looking old and tired too -- Ray figured it was an epidemic.
"Wait, sir, there's more."
"The bullet that shot Cardovo -- the kid from the church yesterday? That came from a mob gun linked to killing a bunch of other guys. And they were all guys who crossed Vecchio while he was here -- including Siracusa. It's also killed some guy who crossed the Vegas families." Ray stopped, looked down at the third message from Theresa. "And there was a crucifix that had one of Vecchio's hairs in it." Ray took another drink of coffee, crunched on a piece of candy.
"Vecchio's hair? No one made a mistake?"
"Positive, sir." Ray dropped his eyes and stared into his paper cup.
"Detective, I am going to say this again," said Welsh slowly. "Does this seem odd to you?"
"Odd like maybe a certain Mountie has returned to Chicago and fucked up the law of averages? Yes, sir, it does seem odd." Ray still didn't look up at the Lieu. This whole situation sucked. Bigtime. And not the kind of sucking that ended up with domestication and shacks in the wilderness and eight dogs.
"I want you on the phone to Canada A-S-A-P, Kowalski. I want what's in that Mountie's head. He doesn't lie." Welsh paused. "Except about you. And that means he'll tell you. Get me the information I need, Detective."
"Sir, I --"
"I don't care what your history with him is. I don't care if you were domestic partners and he cheated on you with the wolf. I want to know what he knows and I want to know it now. I want to know every single thing Vecchio did wrong. I want a list in chronological order and a list in alphabetical order. And then I want a list in order of severity, and after that I want a list of what we can fix without IAD coming in." Welsh stopped for a deep breath and Ray almost interrupted him, but Welsh held up a finger. "I want this done quietly. I want this done right. I want no one else to know what is going on. Use the PPO if you have to -- definitely use Brien. You don't get to be on the Mob Squad unless you can keep a secret. But otherwise this goes no further."
"Sir, you know that if Vecchio was doing anything, Fraser would have reported it. Lieutenant, he wrote himself citations for accidentally jaywalking in pursuit of a suspect!" protested Ray. Because he didn't want to upset Fraser and make him come all the way to Chicago for nothing. Really.
"I know that the Mountie lied for you more times than I can count on one hand, and was surprisingly flexible with the law when it suited him and that wolf of his. So don't give me that bullshit. Give me answers. And if Vecchio is still alive and doing this, I want his head on a plate -- in one of our jail cells. Wearing handcuffs." Welsh pushed back from his desk and stood up. "Go, Detective. Go now."
"I think this is a big mistake." Ray stood up too. He knew the Lieu had left himself open for a joke about Vecchio's head wearing handcuffs, but he couldn't step up to the plate. He was very careful not to crush the paper cup in his hand and get coffee all over the Lieu's nice new grey rug. "Bringing Fraser in is just going to make everyone suspicious. Why would he come back after so long?"
"I didn't say bring him back, Detective." Welsh raised his eyebrows.
"Of course not," said Ray hastily. "But -- but -- don't you think bringing down Vecchio is going to just make the department look bad? Here's this dirty cop that no one realized was dirty who faked his own death and ran off to actually become the guy he was playing when he was undercover with the mob?"
"Do you see what I mean about odd, Kowalski?" Welsh glowered.
"This could be a setup," Ray offered. "It could be the mob planning something, trying to confuse us, get us off the scent."
"Does the mob give one piece of excrement about the 2-7, Detective? The mob does not care about us. They don't care about the 1-9 or the Mob Squad or any of that crap." Welsh stared down at his desk and leaned forward. "What do you think about that?"
"I think you're probably right, Sir," said Ray grudgingly.
"Get Fraser here. That's a good idea. Get him to help you. Pretend you're getting back together, pretend the wolf needs surgery he can only get from Doug Ross at Chicago Hope, pretend he's getting married to Brien. Get this shit solved. Right now."
Ray sighed. He could feel every muscle in his body tensing up. He was going to need another pack of cigarettes, he could feel it.
"Yes, Lieutenant. I see." He closed his eyes and finished his coffee and crunched on candy and sighed. "Yes, sir."
"Good. Get out of here." Welsh followed him out, and went down the hall in the direction of the bathrooms.
Ray kicked a desk and then a chair and then slipped on some coffee that dripped out of his cup and banged into one of the printers. He rubbed his hip as he walked up to Charlie.
"What did he say?" asked Charlie. He was holding a fresh cup of coffee in one hand and a bag of M&Ms in the other. Ray took the coffee, took a couple of M&Ms, and drank. "That was mine."
"Now it's mine," said Ray. "Get yourself another one and get me another one. And find out if there's a smoking room or porch or fire escape or something or if I really have to go outside and across the fucking street every time I want a cigarette."
"Smoking is so bad for you," said Charlie.
"Shut up and do it," said Ray, and sank down at his desk. He had seven new messages -- three of them from Brien, one with her cell number. He picked up his phone and punched it in.
"Brien," she said.
"Bad news, Ray." He could hear her puffing on a cigarette. His fingers twitched.
"My Lieu just got a call from the Feebees. We've gotta back off the Vecchio angle."
"So, what? Joey Cardovo gets no justice because V --" Ray stopped and looked around. No one in the room knew who Vecchio was, except for Elaine. But he still needed to be careful. "- because you know who might have done it?"
Theresa laughed harshly. "Are you kidding?" she said. "I just wanted to give you a chance to back off."
"I never back off," said Ray. "And I'm bringing in someone else. Two other people. And we have more information."
"Who?" she said.
"Meet me at the diner down the street from the church we were at yesterday, right above Melrose. It looked like it had good coffee," said Ray. "Two hours okay?"
"Two hours," she repeated. "This better be good."
"Actually," replied Ray, "it kind of sucks."
She laughed again and hung up. Ray turned his head a little; Charlie was sitting in the chair usually reserved for perps. He handed Ray another cup of coffee.
"Seven M&Ms," he said. "They're dissolving. I've actually found that it's way better when you hold the M&M under your tongue before you drink, and let it dissolve there. Sublingual chocolate application."
"Sub-whateverthefuck," said Ray, and took a mouthful of the coffee. Not bad.
"Do I get to come to the diner?" asked Charlie. His hair fell into his eyes and he tossed it back.
"Why do you want to be a cop?" said Ray. Might as well know the answer before the Feds came in and arrested them all and Charlie had to get a job as a janitor somewhere in Vermont. "What's in it for you?"
"Why did you want to be a cop?" Charlie retorted. "It's complicated."
"Yeah? No fooling?" Ray scowled into his cup. Too much coffee -- he could feel the caffeine pulling his blood through his veins, making him slow and sluggish and yet fast and awake. The contradictions of caffeine -- Fraser had always threatened to write an article on it for the Drum, to expose his bad habits to the world at large.
And Ray always scoffed and said, "Oh, the world at large? Fourteen Mounties and 3,451 people?"
And Fraser always grinned and said, "Don't forget the six in Alaska who have the Drum flown in."
"Ray?" said Charlie, a little timidly. Ray looked up from his cup, suddenly struck with the best idea ever. He didn't have to talk to Fraser. "I've been talking to you and you're -- not listening."
"You are getting a special mission," said Ray. "You are going to Canada to get the Mountie and bring him back here. And even specialer, you are not allowed to have sex with him or drool on him or in any way imply to him that you think he's attractive. Specialer than that, you're not allowed to tell anyone where you are going or why. But first we're going to have supper in Boystown."
On the way to the diner, Ray chainsmoked Camel Lights and cursed at the rush hour traffic. Charlie made annoyed noises and kept his window wide open even though it was February and the wind was freezing. Ray turned up the heat all the way, and glared, but his glares had no effect on Charlie.
Charlie kept up a running commentary the whole way there, talking about who he knew in the area, and where the best diners were, and how much time he'd spent around the neighborhood.
Finally Ray interrupted. "So you're down here a lot?"
"Yeah," said Charlie. "It's -- you know. It's Boystown. And I'm a boy."
"Yeah, yeah," said Ray. "You're gay. Tell me something I don't know."
"You don't have to make a big deal out of it," said Charlie. "It's just who I like to fuck."
"Whatever," said Ray. "If I cared, which I don't, I'd send you a congratulations card for being out and proud so young, or whatever."
"Whatever," said Charlie, and snickered.
"The point is, do you know a Joey Cardovo?" he said.
"Joey? Yeah, I buy my -- I mean. Uh."
"He's your dealer?" Ray looked over and raised his eyebrows. "What happened to 'smoking is bad for you'?"
"That's tobacco," said Charlie defensively.
"You know that you have to take a drug test to become a cop, right?" said Ray.
"You're telling me you've never smoked a little weed?" replied Charlie.
"I am telling you that you are going to have to take a drug test to become a real cop," replied Ray. "How'd you pass the one to get into the Academy?"
"I stopped for three months." Charlie shrugged. "It's just a thing I do."
"And Joey Cardovo is your dealer?" said Ray.
"Yeah. Was, now, I guess."
"Huh?" said Ray. How did Charlie know he was dead? Great, the 2-7's PPO was in the pocket of the Mafia.
"Well, now that I've gotta quit or you'll turn me in." Charlie turned to stare out the window.
"Oh," said Ray, and decided that was slightly better. More than slightly. Very much better, in the betterest of ways. "Actually -- he's the vic I came here to see yesterday." Ray stopped to think about what to say next. "He was shot in the head. The file's in the glove box."
Charlie's breath hissed between his teeth -- or maybe that was the wind. Ray couldn't tell. He was kind of happy that he told his dad to keep the Goat in Arizona, because even though he missed feeling all that power under his fingertips, it meant not having to worry about all the cigarette smoke in the car. He cracked his own window a little, and coughed.
"I'm gonna fill you in when we get to the diner," said Ray finally. "It's real complicated and there are some -- some complicated things. It looks like it was mob. Or a cop."
"A cop!" said Charlie, turning back to Ray.
"Yeah, a cop. And." Ray stopped again. "Everyone we talked to yesterday swore that Joey had stopped dealing."
"He's a delivery boy. It's how he makes spare cash," said Charlie. "He doesn't grow it or anything."
"Yeah, that means they'd've cut his sentence down to what? Five years? Ten?" Ray rolled his eyes and lit another cigarette, then turned onto Aldine and parked in front of a hydrant. He stuck the "On official Police Business" sign in the front window, and got out of the car.
"Why would a cop kill Joey over sixty dollars of weed?" asked Charlie. He followed Ray down Broadway and into the diner. It was fucking crowded.
"Do I look like I know?" said Ray. "If I knew, we would be a lot closer to cracking this case." He scanned the room -- Theresa was there already, in the back, right below a No Smoking sign. Shit. She couldn't have sat in the smoking section? "Charlie, this is Detective Brien. Theresa, this is our PPO -- Charlie-- uh -- "
"Conner. Can I call you Terry? Tess?" he asked, sliding into the booth. Ray slid in next. Theresa laughed.
"Not if you don't want me to kick you in the head," she said. Ray grinned at her and she grinned back.
"We gotta make some plans," said Ray. "But first I need some food. I need a burger or something. Meatloaf."
"Chicken club is good here," said Charlie. He craned his neck, looking around Ray, out at the other patrons. "Joanie!"
A girl with more metal on her face than flesh came up to them. "Hey, kid," she said to Charlie. To Theresa and Ray she said, "Welcome to the Melrose. Can I take your order?"
"Chicken club," said Ray and Theresa at the same time. Ray added, "And lots of coffee."
"Got it," said Joanie, and sashayed away. Her apron was longer than her skirt.
"Didn't you want anything?" Theresa asked Charlie.
"Oh, I come here a lot. Joanie knows what I want."
"This is what the Lieu was telling me about this morning," said Ray. "All these coincidences? This is not something that happens during the normal course of police work. Charlie was just telling me that he knew the vic."
Theresa looked from Ray to Charlie. "You knew Joey?"
"Yeah, he was my delivery guy." Charlie shrugged. Joanie put down three glasses of water and a cup of coffee almost as big as Ray's head. Bless her. He poured half of the rest of his bag of M&Ms into the cup. His leg was involuntarily jiggling. He took off his jacket while Theresa interrogated Charlie as to the nature of Joey's deliveries.
"Listen," Ray finally said. "Charlie's drug habit is not the point. It does not need exploring at this juncture."
"Ray --" said Theresa.
"No. You gotta listen to me," said Ray, and then stopped when Joanie came back. "What do you want?"
"Ashtray?" she asked, and held one up. She slid it in front of Ray, and put a little book of matches on top of it. "You're cops, right? Whatcha gonna do? Give yourselves a fine?" She laughed and walked away. Ray didn't watch her this time -- but he did light a cigarette. Theresa and Charlie both frowned at him.
"What?" said Ray. "She's right."
"Constable Fraser always wrote himself a reprimand for stuff like that," said Charlie.
"Do I look like a Mountie to you?" said Ray, and blew smoke in Charlie's face just to watch him grimace. "He's a Corporal now." He'd gotten a promotion six days before Vecchio bit it. Or didn't bite it. Whatever. Like the promotion even meant anything in the fucking wilderness? Except it had made Ben real pleased, it was all symbolic or whatever that he had been forgiven for chasing his father's killers to Chicago, blah blah blah. He was a real Mountie again, and it made him happy, so it made Ray happy too.
"What does that mean?" asked Theresa.
"He gets more money and more leave and he gets to pick where he's posted." Ray shrugged. He didn't even know why he said that. And by now Fraser might be a Sergeant or whatever came next, if he didn't piss off too many people and get himself posted to Russia. Ray took a long drag off his cigarette. Smoking was addictive.
Very smart, Ray, he told himself. You can now pass the second grade.
He came back into the conversation when Joanie brought the food. Charlie had a giant bowl of some kind of pink soup, and a huge plate of bread. Ray's chicken club looked really good, or maybe he just needed to eat more often.
"Okay, kid," he said. "Tell me what you found in that file."
"Um." Charlie slurped a spoonful of soup. "This is weird, okay? Like, totally weirder than weird. Weirder than --"
"We get the picture. Everything about this is weird," said Theresa. She took a large bite of her sandwich, then said, with her mouth full, "Just tell us."
Ray fell a little bit in love with her. She had mayonnaise at the corner of her mouth that she wiped off with the back of her hand.
"The biggest, weirdest thing that I found was that there was this case back in 1994 or something. Vecchio busted this guy for running drugs -- lots of coke, a little weed, some E before E was really big, you know. That kind of thing."
"Of course," said Ray. "That kind of thing." He kept looking at his sandwich and then up at Theresa. She winked at him. He looked back at his sandwich and took another drag on his smoke. He could eat and smoke at the same time, but that didn't seem appetizing.
"Right. So it's Joey's older brother Johnny who's busted, okay? And he looks just like Joey, which is fucked up. And --" Charlie paused for a slurp of soup. "And Joey is with Johnny when he's busted, and spends a couple of hours at the precinct, hanging out with Corporal Fraser, who makes a special note in the file that Johnny was using Joey to move the drugs around, because who stops and looks at a nine year old?"
"Who indeed," murmured Theresa. She pulled a piece of mayo-covered bacon out of her sandwich and crunched on it. Ray smoked the last bit of the cigarette, hit the bitter end of the filter, and put it out. Sandwich time. First, another sip of coffee.
"Here's the thing," said Charlie. "Six months later, Johnny gets pulled in again. This time the file is sealed. But I got into it. Johnny told the arresting officer -- Dewey? Huey? One of the ducks -- that Vecchio let him go the first time because he hooked Vecchio up with some blow."
"Can the jargon," said Ray. "You're saying that you broke into the sealed files to find out that Vecchio was taking bribes in drugs?"
"Uh, yeah," said Charlie. "Obviously."
"Yeah," said Theresa, smiling. "Obviously."
Ray glared at her; she just winked at him.
"How did you get in there?"
"I know the guy," said Charlie, and he shrugged.
"Okay, nevermind," said Ray. "If this has to do with sex, I do not want to know."
"Don't be such a prude, Kowalski," said Theresa. She grinned at Charlie. "I want to know."
Charlie grinned back at her. Ray rolled his eyes.
"Can we get back to the subject at hand please?" he said. "Vecchio let the kid go and dropped the charges and the kid kept him supplied. Okay, we know why he has a big nose. What else?" Except not, because Vecchio was always too pristine about himself to do drugs. He didn't even like antibiotics. It was in his file. So there was more at play here.
"Corporal Fraser got into the sealed file too," said Charlie. "There was a letter from him, dated in July 1996, saying that he and Ray Vecchio had planned a mob bust with the drugs. But they never did a bust!"
"Don't sound so proud of yourself, kid," said Theresa. "That's good work, but it's complicated, Vecchio's mob thing."
"Huh?" said Charlie. "Why is everything so complicated all of a sudden?"
"It's not," said Ray. "Here's the deal: Vecchio was pulled out to go undercover in Vegas because he looked just like this big-time mob guy, so I was brought in undercover as Vecchio so they had someone to pal around with the Mountie. Then when Fraser and I went to Canada on the trail of the killers of his mother, they pulled Vecchio out and brought him back to Chicago, where he fell in love with my ex-wife and got married to her and took her to Florida where they opened a bowling alley."
He was suddenly more ravenous than before. He took a big bite of his sandwich -- it was perfect, full of tomato and chicken and bacon and mayo.
"That does sound complicated," said Charlie.
"It's actually worse than that," said Theresa. "He's leaving out a lot."
"Make him wait for it," said Ray, and took another bite. "I don't like to give away all my secrets at once." It was his turn -- he winked at Theresa.
Maybe if they weren't working together, he'd have been able to ask her out. Maybe if he found himself the slightest bit turned on by her, he'd have been able to ask her out. Maybe he should ask her out anyway and worry about the rest of it later. Except then she'd want to know why he couldn't fuck her. Nah, he could fuck her. With that long hair and pale skin and wide mouth? He could definitely fuck her.
"The point," said Charlie, "is that I went through the rest of Vecchio's sealed files."
"You know that's a crime, right?" said Ray.
"I'm already going down for smoking weed," said Charlie. He slurped more soup. Theresa looked really amused, and that, in turn, amused Ray. "Okay, so all the sealed files? Were opened and read by one other person who shouldn't have been in there. They're all files about how Ray Vecchio is a dirty cop, and it's all suppressed, and every single file has a rebuttal from one Constable Benton Fraser, RCMP."
"You're saying that Fraser went through and denied all the allegations that Vecchio was a dirty cop?" There were allegations that Vecchio was a dirty cop? Actual written ones? Fuck, that was... weird. "But they only worked together for three years before I became Vecchio -- and Vecchio was on the force for seven or eight years before that," objected Ray. It was funny how the details became muddled in his mind -- he thought he'd remember all the details about being Vecchio forever, and instead he could barely remember Vecchio's middle name.
"He went back," said Charlie. "All the way to Vecchio's third year. Everything had a really rational explanation. There was even this awesome story about a caribou he chased, trying to save it from itself so that it didn't --"
"No caribou stories," said Ray. "None. I put my foot down. I am putting on the brakes. Stop right now."
"Sorry," said Charlie. He picked up a piece of bread and soaked it in the soup before he ate it. Now that the soup was half gone, Ray could see little shrimps bobbing in the pink. Gross.
Theresa had finished her sandwich and started on the side of potato chips. She was dipping them in a big pile of ketchup.
Ray finished the first half of his sandwich and lit another cigarette. He silently held the pack out to Theresa, who shook her head. "I have," she said. "But thank you."
"Smoking will kill you," announced Charlie around a mouthful of shrimp.
"So will talking too much," snapped Ray.
"I have news too," said Theresa. "Although not like Charlie's." Charlie smiled at her. Ray scowled. "When the Feds called, they talked to me too. And they said that they were using Vecchio, that we had to leave him alone. And I said, 'Does Vecchio know you're using him?' and they said, 'We're not at liberty to discuss the investigation.'" She sat back in the booth looking smug, and took a cigarette from behind her ear.
"So what does that mean?" asked Charlie. "That Vecchio didn't actually die when the bowling alley burned down?"
"I think the Feds are full of shit," said Ray.
"I think Vecchio is still alive," said Theresa.
"I don't get it," said Charlie. "Why can't they tell you about the investigation? What they're doing with Vecchio? This is so annoying -- how come no one will just tell us what's going on?"
"Even if they did tell us what was going on, we'd still have to keep investigating," said Theresa. She picked up a potato chip and then put it back down and pulled out her cigarettes, shook one out of the pack.
"Uh, why?" Charlie glared at her, but she lit the cigarette anyway and rolled her eyes at Ray.
"Rule number three about being a cop, Charlie: never trust the Feds." Ray blew smoke at the ceiling and sipped his coffee.
"What's rule number one?" asked Charlie.
"Never become a cop," said Theresa, and she laughed.
Ray dropped Charlie off at his house and told him to pack the heaviest clothes he owned.
"I can't believe you're really sending him to Canada," said Theresa from the passenger seat. She blew a thin column of smoke out of the window. "Isn't that kind of intense for a PPO? We just have ours file paperwork and go out with the beat cops."
"Yeah, but I'm not going. You wanna go?" said Ray. He cupped his hand around the lighter and inhaled. "I need to quit smoking. Again."
"Seems like you went from nothing to a pack a day."
"More," said Ray. "Two packs Saturday." He leaned back against the seat and sighed. "I can't go back to Canada. It's complicated."
"So I hear," said Theresa. "Was there something between you and the Mountie?"
"Gee, how'd you ever guess?"
"You're transparent like glass, Detective Kowalski." Theresa ashed out the window. "Wanna go get a beer?"
"We're on duty," said Ray.
"We need to plan. I plan better with a Coronoa."
"That piss beer?" Ray put the car into gear and pulled out of Charlie's driveway.
"Shut up," said Theresa.
"Fuck you," said Ray.
"I didn't think you swung that way," said Theresa.
Ray didn't answer her, just turned north, toward the bar near his apartment. "Corona it is," he said.
"That's what I thought." Theresa stared out the window. "You think Vecchio really did it and made it look like someone set him up, or you think someone really set him up?"
"I go by my gut, and my gut says Vecchio is behind this," lied Ray. His gut said that he needed Fraser -- he needed to bounce ideas off the only guy who ever trusted Ray's instincts. And when you're seven hundred thousand miles under the ocean, trust is important. When you're walking out in the fucking wilderness, trust is important. In less than 24 hours, Ray went from wanting Fraser to stay far away, wanting the past to stay buried, to wanting Fraser in Chicago as fast as possible. He glanced over at Theresa. She was watching him intently. "I wanna see those sealed files. I need to talk to Fraser. You know when June 1996 was? Right after I became Fraser's partner. He came back from Canada and Vecchio was gone and I was in his place, and like a week later IAD came in gunning for Vecchio and Welsh."
"And?" prompted Theresa.
"I made up this bullshit story about putting a smiley face after a one -- there wasn't ten, IAD Dick, there was a one and a smiley face, 'cause we caught the criminals." Ray snorted. "They didn't buy it, and I wouldn't have either, but the guy couldn't pick me out of a lineup -- of course not, because I wasn't really Vecchio."
"Smart," said Theresa. "But also stupid."
"Yeah, but I was Vecchio. They weren't going to pull him out of a Fed op to stand for that -- I was going to be the one who went down, and they'd throw me down hard because they had a mad on for Welsh."
"Eventually they would have figured it out."
Ray shook his head. "Doesn't matter," he said. "I covered my ass and I covered Vecchio's ass."
Theresa sighed. "This shit just gets more and more complicated."
"I think it's Vecchio," said Ray firmly. It definitely couldn't be Vecchio, but he didn't think Theresa would be willing to entertain his other two theories, especially with the Feds insisting they drop the investigation into Vecchio. "I think it's Vecchio and I think something's happening -- maybe he liked being Langoustini a little too much, maybe he's going for the real big time now. Maybe what, I dunno -- I don't care."
"What are we going to do if we catch him?" asked Theresa. "Listen, Ray, I hate dirty cops as much as you do -- and I liked Joey, I really did. But if the Feds catch us intruding on their investigation into the Vegas mob, we won't have to worry about Vecchio -- they'll make us turn in our badges. And... I hate to say it, but this shit? This isn't worth it. Vecchio's not a cop anymore, and everything he did is in the past. Dirty cops make us all look bad, but he's not a cop anymore."
"I think it's worth it," said Ray. Ray thought it was worth it and Welsh thought it was worth it, and that meant they did it, with or without Theresa. He watched her out of the corner of his eye as he pulled into a spot right in front of the bar. Just like when he and Fraser were partners -- he never had to drive around looking for a parking spot then either. It was like a sign: Fraser was supposed to be back in Chicago, helping on the case. Ray decided that if there was a hockey game on in the bar, it meant he should even try to get along with Fraser, let the past stay in the past, try to move on and interact like adults. "If one cop gets away with being dirty, it sets a bad standard. Like suddenly every cop in the world will take a bribe. And this mob shit... Something about it just is not right. Not at all."
He unbuckled his seat belt and opened his door.
Theresa didn't move. "You've never taken a bribe?" she asked him.
"I have never taken a bribe," he said, and slammed his door.
Ray made sure Charlie got to the airport, made sure that Buck Frobisher knew to expect him, then went to the 2-7. He had a hangover that had him feeling like he'd ran all night next to a dogsled and then didn't drink any water before falling asleep in front of a fire. When Theresa said that she wanted a Corona, what she'd meant was that she'd wanted a Corona to chase down the half-bottle of Jack she drank.
Ray knew Toronto won the hockey game, 4-0, because the bar television was tuned to ESPN Classic. A sign, maybe.
Ray helped Theresa finish the bottle, called her a cab. Then Ray went home and stumbled into bed, where he dreamed about Fraser again.
Ben was talking to Ray, telling him a story about an old Inuit shaman and his spirit journey. Ray was sucking Ben's cock, taking him all the way down into his throat while Ben just talked and talked, that smooth voice making every bit of Ray's body tingle.
Ben's cock was something that Ray loved -- to touch and taste and look at. It was long and thick and uncut, and when Ben was hard, it was a really deep pink and the head was scarlet. Just thinking about Ben's cock made Ray's mouth water like he'd never been laid before and never would be again. His hands held onto Ben's hips and he just used his mouth and tongue. He'd never been able to take all of Ben into his mouth and throat at one time -- that was how he knew this was a dream, because his tongue was licking Ben's balls while he sucked on his cock, and even though he shouldn't have been able to breathe, it was okay, he could.
When he woke up, he dragged himself into the bathroom and bleached his hair.
Welsh was waiting for him when he hit the 2-7.
"Oh, you still work here?" he said when Ray stumbled into his office, coffee cup in hand. "Nice hair, Detective."
"Please, not so funny this early in the morning." Ray dropped into the chair, put his coffee cup on Welsh's desk, and buried his head in his hands.
"Detective, it's three in the afternoon. Have you thought about possibly working on any of your cases? There are seventeen open on your desk right now that you haven't touched in a week."
Ray picked his head up out of his hands. "Lieu?"
Welsh rolled his eyes. "Report, Kowalski."
"I got nothing," said Ray. "Charlie is going to Canada to get Fraser to come back here -- I figured maybe Fraser wouldn't -- " Welsh winced. "Anyway." Ray changed tactics. "Corporal Fraser will come out here -- Buck Frobisher promised. And then we'll figure it all out with Brien from the O.C. unit. There's all these memos from Fraser, all about how Vecchio was secretly working against the mob. All this stuff, Lieutenant, and none of it makes sense."
"Yeah, I'm getting that none of it makes sense, Detective, because nothing you have told me makes sense." Welsh tapped his fingers on his desk. "Work on something else today." Then he bent his head back to his paperwork, not even telling Ray to get out or anything.
"Yes, sir." Ray made himself stand up and leave Welsh's office. When he got back to his own desk, he realized that his coffee was still with Welsh. He crossed his arms on his desk and hid his eyes in the dark cave they made.
"Ray?" Elaine's voice in his ear and her hand on his back made him jerk out of almost-sleep. "Ray, I brought you some coffee." She ruffled his hair and kissed his head, but had walked away by the time he managed to get his head raised up.
"Fuck," he said sourly, and drank the entire cup in one go.
The night before, Theresa had shared her theory that Vecchio just got to like being Mafia too much to give it all up, even for Stella. Ray knew better -- Stella was the kind of lady that men gave up everything for. She was a storybook princess in Donna Karan and Gucci or whatever, and there was no way that Vecchio faked his own death and burned down their bowling alley to go back to Vegas without Stella. Maybe if they had both "died" and were both showing up now, Ray could believe it, but not without Stella. And Stella was still retired. Gone back to Florida, back to where Vecchio was killed. She'd rebuilt their bowling alley, kept his last name, and, as far as Ray knew, was still renting shoes to teenagers.
What Ray needed was to find out who really killed Joey Cardovo. Theresa'd had about eight million stupid theories, none of them plausible. It didn't help that Ray didn't share his own theories with her, but his instincts said he needed to boil a little, let all the bad ideas come to the top. Or sink to the bottom, like with Turkish coffee, so that he could read his fortune or something.
Theresa's best idea was that maybe Vecchio had killed him to cover his tracks -- but why would anyone kill some kid who was nine years old when his older brother was busted? The older brother -- Ray had checked this out for himself -- was killed in a bust gone wrong last year. Right around the time Joey'd gone straight. The gay thing didn't even factor. At least, Ray didn't think it did.
Fraser would know. Ray knew Fraser would know because there was no other reason all this weird shit was happening, all the coincidences -- all the fucked up stupid crap that always happened when Fraser was around. So Ray was going to bring Fraser in on it, make all the weird shit come together, like a black hole, and get sucked back into Fraser.
Then Fraser would take his fucking wolf and go back to the Arctic Circle, and Ray could go back to picking up dark-haired, light-eyed girls and telling himself that he still wasn't over Stella.
Yeah, good plan, Kowalski. Except for how if Fraser smiled at him one time, Ray would jump on him and try to suck his dick out through his giant Mountie pants and probably pull his own pants down and beg for a fuck on the table in the middle of the squad room. Fuck all the stupid shit between them -- fuck Fraser thinking that Ray would, that Ray could cheat on him with Stella. Fuck Fraser just leaving, leaving Ray in Chicago with nothing and no place to go. Fuck Fraser not even talking to him on the phone or answering his letters. Fuck Fraser jumping to conclusions, fuck Fraser's stupid bad instincts.
Fuck Fraser. That was the point. To fuck Fraser. To just bend him over something and listen to him shout Ray's name over and over again. That was the only time they ever really got along anyway, was when they were fucking. That was the only time they could talk without fucking it up.
Ray stared into his coffee cup. Elaine had even put M&Ms in it. He must really look like shit.
That wasn't even true, anyway. They talked a lot. They always had. They talked about the weather and the people of Inuvik and the right way to fix a snowmobile and what to have for supper. They told each other stories about stupid shit, like the stories were supposed to mean something. Ray told Fraser stories about Stella and how when he first met Stella it was like a shot through the gut, and Fraser was supposed to say, "Have you ever felt that way since?" so that Ray could say, "Yeah, buddy, when I met you."
But Fraser never asked the right questions. Or maybe Ray didn't tell the right stories. Or maybe Ray didn't ask Fraser the right questions when Fraser told that stupid story one night about the rising Christian movement among the Inuit and how they opposed same sex marriages in Nunavut. Maybe Ray should have said, "Then let's move to Vermont," or something, and Fraser would have got it, would have understood.
Maybe if Ray had understood, Fraser would have understood. Ben would have understood.
Or maybe Fraser really did think that Ray didn't like him like that, didn't... didn't whatever. Want to sit next to him at lunch or something, would leave him alone in the playground and shit. Yeah, maybe Fraser really did think that Ray was still pining for Stella, that Fraser was just a convenience, that Ray would cheat on him, would take advantage of a grief stricken woman.
Oh, direct hit. Ray felt all his stomach muscles clench up. This was why he never thought about this shit, why he didn't keep chasing Ben until he'd worn him down, until he and Ben were back in their cabin together, with Ben's dick up Ray's ass and Ray's face buried in one of those giant bear furs Ben had put on their bed, smelling blood and salt and sweat and Ben until he couldn't smell anything at all.
Ray took a deep breath and held it in until he couldn't smell bear blood anymore, then pulled a random stack of files across the desk and opened the one on top. He'd closed this case two weeks ago, but never filed the paperwork. Shit, paperwork.
Two white pills were set down on top of his handwritten notes. He looked up to see Jackson.
"Aspirin," said Jackson, then winked and walked away.
Jesus, was everyone going insane? Or did Ray look like death warmed over? He took the aspirin into the bathroom and swallowed them with a handful of metallic tap water, then stared at himself in the mirror. Maybe he looked a little rough, a little more wrinkly, a little blonder. He still looked like himself, like Kowalski. Like a guy who had finally learned no meant no, to stop chasing after people who didn't want him. Like a guy who'd gone on a wild bender the night befo --
Yeah, he looked like a guy who'd gotten drunk as hell. Maybe everyone just felt bad for the lonely, single, alcoholic, pansy-ass gay detective who hadn't solved a case in two weeks.
Ray's cell phone rang as he was finishing up paperwork from an old case. Two little old ladies fighting over a bingo card -- one had stabbed the other in the throat with a pen. The world was a strange place.
"Kowalski," he said.
"It's Charlie." The connection was fuzzy and full of static.
"What's up, kid?" said Ray. He leaned back in his chair and cracked his neck.
"He won't come with me. He says that, uh, regardless of Buck's promise, his place isn't in Chicago anymore."
"Yeah, that sounds like him." Ray sighed. Buck. Jesus. He wondered if Buck had farted on the kid yet -- he'd save that one to ask when Charlie got back.
"Ray," said Charlie in a whisper that Ray barely heard under the static. "He is totally hotter in person than in those pictures."
"What did I tell you? What were the rules? He is twice your age!" said Ray. "Is he there with you?"
"Yes." There was a scuffling noise, and then someone on the other line cleared his throat. Ray would know that throat-clearing anywhere.
"Hello, Corporal," he said.
Ray could have cried. Fraser's voice -- the last time he heard it was Fraser saying, "I'll just -- leave you two," before he backed out of the room and closed the door on Ray and Stella. He wouldn't talk to Ray on the phone, wouldn't even write him a letter. He'd sent Ray's things back to him in care of the Chicago PD.
Ray ground his teeth together. "Corporal Fraser, the Chicago PD is requesting your help on a case."
"I am no longer the lias --"
"It's Vecchio," said Ray. "He's alive and he is killing people and he is back undercover as Langoustini except this time he is not undercover. The Feds are investigating him. Do you understand what I am telling you, Fraser? All of the letters you wrote for those sealed files mean shit when Vecchio is running around killing sixteen-year-old kids for pot."
Lies, mostly -- Ray didn't know any of that for sure, didn't know anything for sure. Except that saying Vecchio was under investigation like that would sure as hell bring Fraser running back from The Great White Fucking Ass End Of Nowhere North to clear Vecchio's name.
Silence. Crackles. Snap-crackle-pop of static. Ray almost hung up. Then Fraser said, "I don't believe you," very resolutely.
Ray could've kicked him in the head if he was standing there.
"You don't gotta believe me," said Ray. His grammar always did disintegrate when Fraser got that prim and proper, my-grandparents-were-librarians tone in his voice. "You don't gotta believe anything. But I never lied to you, Fraser, not once."
"Except for when you did," said Fraser, and Ray felt that like a punch in the fucking stomach.
"Yeah," said Ray. "Except for when I did. So do whatever the fuck you wanna do, Corporal. Come to Chicago or stay in Inuvik, I don't care. Did Charlie fucking tell you what they think Vecchio did to Joey Cardovo? It was a fucking execution, buddy, Mafia style. So you think about that tonight in your little cabin. You think about how today they found Siracusa shot the same way in a garbage dump outside his mother's house -- shot with the same gun. Yeah, you remember Siracusa, right? I remember Siracusa." Ray was shouting now, and everyone in the squad room was looking at him, and Welsh was standing by his open office door. Ray felt like he could rip his cell phone in half with his bare hands and maybe a tooth or two. Fucking Fraser. Fucking Ben. Who the hell did he think he was?
"Det -- K -- Ray." More static. Then: "I'll come."
"Fuck you," said Ray, and snapped his phone shut.
"Very mature, Detective," said Elaine. "Is that how you wooed him into your bed the first time? Lots of sweet talk?"
"Shut up, Elaine," growled Ray.
"Is he coming back here to investigate Siracusa's death?" Elaine perched on the corner of Ray's desk.
"Uh-uh," said Ray. "You think I am going to involve yet another person in this? First you, then Jackson, then the whole 2-7 and nothing is a secret and everyone knows everything, including the mob, and we're all fucked. Forget it, Besbriss -- this is me and the PPO and the Lieu."
"And Fraser," said Elaine. "I haven't seen him in years. Is he still hot?"
"Charlie thinks he is," replied Ray. "Now, do you mind? I have a lot of paperwork to do."
"Right," said Elaine. "You do your paperwork. I'll just keep thinking about that red uniform..."
"Shut up, Elaine," said Ray, and hunched over his desk, trying to pretend he didn't know that Welsh was standing there, waiting for him.
"Kowalski!" yelled Welsh. "Get in here!"
"Lieu, I am trying to get some work done," said Ray as he entered Welsh's office. At Welsh's nod, Ray kicked the door shut.
"I've been thinking, Detective, and I've decided that maybe you were right about Fraser coming down here. Having a Mountie... well, it's always complicated." Yeah, compli-fucking-cated. Whatever.
"It's a little late for second thoughts seeing as how I just got off the phone and he's coming on the next plane." Ray leaned against the door and glared at Welsh. "Couldn't you have said something last week?"
"Watch your tone, Detective. I'm trying to do you a favor here."
"Sorry," said Ray. But he wasn't. Damn it. Just hearing Fraser talk was hard enough -- now he was going to have to sit through days, maybe weeks, of Fraser being in Chicago, of everything being like it used to be, with them a team, a partnership -- except not, because they wouldn't be a duet. They wouldn't be partners.
Ray was absolutely not going to think about the paperwork that he'd gotten right before he left Canada, the domesticated thing -- it was supposed to have been a surprise for Fraser, for their anniversary. Six months of fucking and telling each other stupid fucking stories that neither of them had understood. Ray was going to put his ass on the line, say, hey, this works for me, what the hell, Ben?
Ray was such a sappy fuck. He just hadn't thought Vecchio's funeral was the right time to be telling Fraser he wanted to move to Canada and get citizenship and do some fucking demented domesticated thing.
"I do think having Fraser here will help the investigation," Welsh finally said.
"Yeah, he can lick something and tell us what's really going on in seven thousand words and two Inuit stories or less," said Ray. He didn't feel so nasty, but he did feel so nasty. Fuck Welsh, fuck Fraser, fuck Vecchio -- fuck the Chicago PD and the RCMP and the whole fucking world.
Everyone and everything was conspiring against him.
"Detective," said Welsh warningly.
"I'm not sorry this time," said Ray.
"Fraser is going to help the investigation. We are going to figure this shit out and get it nailed down and you are going to get another commendation and I am going to pin Vecchio's ass to the fucking wall. Do you understand?"
"Of course I understand. You can pin Vecchio's ass to the wall and I can kick his fucking head into Wisconsin," said Ray, and left Welsh's office. He took the Siracusa file and his cell phone and the emergency bag of M&Ms that he kept inside Canadian Impressionism, and went home. He needed a cigarette.
"Kowalski, do you have anything yet?" asked Theresa. She sounded stressed out.
"Nah," said Ray. "You have to be kidding."
"Where are those famous instincts?"
Ray switched the phone from his right ear to his left ear and recrossed his legs on his coffee table. "They're on vacation," he said, then lit his cigarette.
"Right, great, fabulous," said Theresa. "You're a lot of help. I'm glad we called you in."
"Hey, fuck off," said Ray. He exhaled his smoke through his nose. Shit, it had stopped hurting when he did that. He needed to quit. Again.
"Listen, Kowalski. Either we gotta arrest someone or I gotta close the fucking case and move on. We do more over here than just investigate dead kids." Theresa sighed. Ray'd called in some favors to see Cardovo's sheet -- Theresa had busted him four separate times for dealing. For the mob. That must have been why Theresa's team had been called down first, without the 19th being involved at all. He hadn't put it together before, but it made sense after finding that out.
"Logically," said Ray, "not that I am a fan of logic or anything, but logically it was a mob hit and how would I have any idea?"
"Vecchio," said Theresa.
"I have a bottle of Jack," said Ray. "And a full pack of cigarettes. And a bunch of files to go through. So if you want to come over here and we'll do some more work before Fraser..."
Theresa laughed shortly. "Yeah, Fraser, that's going to be fun."
"Fuck you," said Ray.
"This conversation is strangely circular," said Theresa. "Where are you?"
Ben was in him, fucking him, it felt like the first time, it was fucking burning. Ray could feel his balls drawn up tight, Ben's fingers digging into his hips hard, scraping bone, squeezing.
"Ray, Ray, Ray," chanted Ben. "Ray, Ray Ray."
Ray couldn't move underneath Ben, sounds that weren't even words coming out of his throat, noises he didn't know he could make. His eyes were open but he was seeing nothing, just whiteness and brightness and goodness and sharpness and hotness.
"Ray, Raaaaay, Raaaay," chanted Ben, saying Ray's name every time he shoved in, shoved Ray against the headboard of the bed that he and Ben had built themselves, that Ben had fucking carved, that they slept in together every night, with Dief on their feet under the blankets, under the furs. The furs. There were furs on Ray's back. His palms were flat against the carvings of the headboard, his fingernails dug into the hard wood, his thighs ached and his arms burned from holding himself up and his knees sank into the furs and his stomach was spasming, but Ben didn't stop, wasn't ever going to stop.
His sweat dripped onto Ray's skin, the headboard banged against the wall --
Ray looked up, into the mirror. Behind him, Theresa had kicked open the bathroom door and was staring at him, dismayed.
"Ray, what the fuck?" she said, and slumped against the doorframe. "What the fuck?" She reached over him and turned off the water in the sink, then stepped back to the door. Ray didn't look at her.
"I dunno," said Ray. He swallowed hard -- there was no liquid in his mouth, only the taste of cigarettes and Jack in the back of his throat, and sweat on his lips. "I dunno."
He tightened his hands on the ceramic of the sink and dropped his head back down.
"Shit, Ray, I thought you drowned or something. Okay, stay in here, it's cool," said Theresa. She stepped back and pulled the door closed again, but Ray heard her say, "That fucking Mountie," before she did it.
It was Ray's own fault for getting drunk and stupid and actually telling her about Ben when she asked. And she said, "Domesticity! Who would have thought it of you, Kowalski?" and instead of punching her in the head, he went into the bathroom, turned on the water to splash some on his face, and started thinking about Ben. And, obviously, forgot to turn off the water. Shit.
He'd have rather punched her in the head, but then she'd punch him back, and probably she'd beat the shit out of him. He wasn't a wuss, but she was fucking built.
He sank down to his knees and rested his head on the hard ceramic of the toilet, let the cold seep into his too-hot skin, closed his eyes, thought about Ben again, let the whiskey take him. Let thoughts of Ben sweep over him.
Ben's hot ass and long legs and the way he wore a pair of jeans, high up on his waist, was enough to make Ray cry. The way he stalked around the cabin when they were snowed in that first month, right before spring thaw, the snow too powdery for them to climb out the window but too heavy to shovel out of the way of the door, the way he held a knife, the way he'd calmly knocked Ray out when Ray had panicked and tried to crawl through the snow. Ray had woken up naked, in his own bed, the one closer to the fire, but covered in animal skins instead of down comforters. He woke up, smelling Ben, with a hard-on and a fucking bruise on his neck where Ben had squeezed.
"My deepest apologies, Ray," said Ben, appearing next to him with a steaming mug of tea. Ugh, more tea.
"Whatever, Fraser," said Ray, propping himself up and taking the tea. The air, normally comfortable, was cold on his bare skin. He shivered. The tea was hot, sweet, with a lot of milk, just how Ray liked, so he couldn't taste that it was tea and not coffee.
"No," said Ben insistently. "I'm truly sorry. But to go outside when it's like this, Ray --"
"Fraser, if you tell me an Inuit story, I am going to punch you in the head." Ray sipped tea, and felt even colder, if that was possible.
"I'd like to see that," said Ben, and smiled, and Ray smiled back, and it was okay that Ray had almost gotten himself killed, because Ben was smiling and not looking down at Ray's hard dick, or the way Ray was just sitting there, smelling Ben's stupid skins, Ben's sweat on the skins, just looking at the way his eyes crinkled when he smiled and feeling the heat of his hand through all the goddamned skin and fur.
That was it, that was when Ray knew. He had no idea when Ben knew -- probably Ben sniffed him the first day they met and knew immediately that two years or whatever in the future they would spend months fucking their brains out, and they'd end with Ray getting drunk and crying on his bathroom floor, puking on his clothes.
Theresa woke Ray up by rattling a bag of M&Ms and holding a cup of coffee under Ray's nose. She smelled good, like Ray's soap, and her hair was wet. Ray blinked and looked up. It was dark in his bathroom and -- why was he in the bathroom?
"Why am I in the bathroom?" he asked, and moved his head. "Nevermind."
"Sorry," said Theresa. "But you're covered in puke. I was so not gonna be moving you."
"Whatever," said Ray, and sat up. Fraser coming back into his life was fucking up everything. He propped himself against his bathtub and watched through slitted eyes as Theresa dropped a couple of M&Ms into his coffee. She handed it to him and made sure his fingers were wrapped around the cup before she pulled away. He drew in a deep breath and felt his lungs clench. Too many cigarettes. Too much whiskey. Too much thinking about Fraser.
"You're welcome," said Theresa, and stepped back. Ray sipped the coffee and closed his eyes. It was warm but not hot and tasted like she'd poured half a pound of sugar into it before the M&Ms. Too much cream. He had cream? He drank it anyway, and felt half alive by the time he was halfway through.
"Thanks," he said, opening his eyes again.
"No problem," said Theresa. She was sitting against the wall on the other side of the bathroom, facing him, wearing the same beat up jeans and plaid shirt she'd been wearing the night before. He rubbed his face a little -- it felt wet.
"Did you take a shower or something?" he asked.
"Yeah, but don't worry, I don't have girl cooties," she replied, and grinned at him. She had her own cup of coffee. He must have been totally out of it if he hadn't heard the water running, hadn't felt her step over him. Fuck. "Aspirin?"
"Yes. Now. Please," said Ray, and took three white tablets from her gratefully.
"Your hot water comes out when you turn the dial for cold," she said to him, and took a sip of her own coffee. "That sucks."
"Yeah," said Ray, and swallowed the tablets with a gulp of coffee. It burned the back of his throat and left him with a disgusting aftertaste, but it would be worth it if it made the headache go away. At least she'd left the light off.
"So," she said. "You and Fraser. That's kind of intense."
"Whatever," said Ray. "It sucked." He slid down a little and rested his head against the bathtub. "I need a shower."
"You gotta hurry," said Theresa. "I waited as long as I could to wake you up. We gotta leave in like twenty minutes."
"Huh?" said Ray.
"Fraser? Coming to the 2-7? With Charlie? Remember?" said Theresa, and stood up. "Finish your coffee, take a shower, and let's go."
Ray watched her walk out of the bathroom, winced at the lights that flashed through the door.
"I gotta stop drinking," he said, and swallowed the last bit of coffee, the bit with all the unmelted sugar that scratched his throat and the pieces of candy that bit into his gums when he crunched on them.
He didn't think about Ben while he was in the shower, or while he was shaving, or while he was drying off. He didn't think about Fraser when he walked down the hallway to his bedroom, or when Theresa whistled at the towel wrapped around his hips, or when he put on his nicest pair of jeans and a t-shirt. He looked at himself in the mirror over his dresser and debated for a moment before rolling up the sleeves of his t-shirt, just enough so that the bottom of his tattoo showed.
Yeah, Ray was a fucking badass Chicago homicide detective, with a swagger and an underarm holster and spiky hair. Fraser was a buttoned down Mountie in a red uniform. Ray could totally compete.
Theresa rolled her eyes when Ray came out.
"Come on, Princess Ray," she said, and slung her coat over her shoulder. Yeah, she was a badass, too. She tossed him his leather jacket. "Let's go."
"My car," said Ray, and grabbed his keys.
"My car," she said. "I think you're still half drunk." It wasn't worth fighting about; he just shrugged and put his jacket on. She lit a cigarette while he locked the door, followed him down the hallway. She was driving a'67 Chevy Malibu, purple, with a black interior, and that was almost the hottest thing Ray had ever seen. "You wanna see the engine?"
She popped it open for him, and waited until Ray had stopped drooling to say, "I rebuilt it myself. All original pieces." She threw her cigarette on the ground, and added, "Get in. No smoking."
"No kidding," said Ray. Who would smoke in a primo vehicle like that? Only a fucking heathen. Theresa talked about her car all the way to the 2-7, all ten minutes, but it kept Ray's mind off Fraser. Off Ben.
But not. Not really. He'd be wearing the red uniform, decided Ray, because he'd want to make an impression. He'd be wearing the lanyard and everything. He'd do it because he knew Ray liked the brown uniform better, and because he was representing Canada.
Theresa interrupted his thoughts to point out that the radio was the original radio, and it even worked. Ray turned it on -- she had it tuned to a country station. He turned it off just as fast. Yeah, of course she had it tuned to a country station. She was like Ray and Stella all mushed into one body, so why shouldn't she be like Fraser too?
"You okay?" she asked as they got out of the car. Ray slammed the door and lit a cigarette off his old Zippo. He'd found it real easy, in a box marked "BLAME CANADA".
"I'm fine," he snarled, and squinted against the sun. Fucking light. His headache was almost gone, but not quite, and he just wanted another shot of whiskey.
This is how people become alcoholics, he realized, and pushed the thought out of his mind. If he didn't fall to that shit when he moved back to Chicago, he wasn't going to now just because Fraser was back in town.
Theresa pulled out a cigarette, and he lit it for her, and they smoked silently, leaning against her car, until Ray pulled hard on his cigarette and realized he had smoked it down to the filter. He threw it on the ground, hunched his shoulders into his jacket, and shivered for the last few seconds of Theresa's.
She opened her mouth and he glared at her, and she closed it again. Whatever it was, Ray didn't want to hear it.
The first thing Ray heard as they walked through the halls to the squad room was Fraser's voice, that smooth weird accent, his little weird lisp through his teeth:
"Actually, Elaine, the title of Inspector is given only to -- "
And Ray stopped dead in the hallway, and shut his eyes, and thought about that fucking day when Fraser came into the 2-7 and Ray saw him out of the corner of his eye and walked over with his arms open and hugged him and that was the beginning of their partnership, of their duet, and --
"Ray," said Theresa softly. "Let's go."
"Yeah, I'm ready. Ready steady go," said Ray, and opened his eyes and followed her into the squad room.
Fraser stood up when they entered. He was holding the hat, that stupid felt Stetson. He was wearing the red uniform. He looked... Like Fraser. Tired. Bigger. He was surrounded by the entire female population of the 2-7, plus Charlie. Welsh's door was closed.
Ray took off his jacket and dropped it on his desk.
"Yo," said Ray. "This is Detective Brien from the Mob Squad. Theresa, this is Benton Fraser. Corporal. RCMP."
"Yeah," said Theresa. She stuck out her hand, and Fraser shook it.
"It's a pleasure to meet you," said Fraser, and Ray felt like he was maybe going to fall over or something.
"Let's go talk to Welsh," said Ray. Everyone was looking at them, at him and Fraser, like there was supposed to be something there. But there wasn't. Fraser was looking at him all politely, like Ray was a stranger, like they didn't have a history, like they didn't used to be a fucking duet -- set them up, knock them down. Well fuck Fraser, and fuck all the fucking girls, and fuck the whole world. Ray didn't give a shit. They could fuck off -- Ray was going to catch Vecchio and book him and Fraser would leave again, and that would be the end. Of everything. Finally.
"Would you like some tea, Fraser?" said Elaine, and smiled at him.
Ray rolled his eyes and headed to Welsh's office, opened the door without knocking. "Mountie's here," he announced over Fraser's, "That won't be necessary, but thank you kindly, Elaine."
Welsh stared at Ray hard for a moment, then stood up and came around his desk, hand out.
"Constable Fraser," said Welsh. "Welcome back."
"Corporal, actually," said Fraser, and shook Welsh's hand. "It's good to see you, Lieutenant."
"Yeah," said Welsh. "Come in. Close the door. Where's the PPO?"
Charlie was right behind Fraser. "Nice ass," he mouthed at Ray. Ray elbowed him. Like he could even see Fraser's ass under that wool tunic. Whatever. Stupid kid.
They all crowded into Welsh's office. Ray leaned against the door and crossed his arms over his chest. Theresa sat in one of the chairs and Fraser sat in the other. Charlie leaned against the wall, glanced at Ray, and crossed his arms over his chest too. Ray rolled his eyes, but Theresa smiled.
"Corporal," said Welsh. "We have a problem."
"Yes, Lieutenant." Leftenant. Ray asked, once, what was up with that, and got a half hour lecture on the vulgar corruption of speech by the Americans -- from which he gathered that Fraser was real up on the Webster dictionary guy's politics. American linguistic independence, that's what Fraser called it. Ray called it pronouncing shit like it was spelled and not making up weird French words to explain it.
Ray listened silently as Theresa laid it out for Fraser, complete with her theories. Welsh interrupted a few times, and Theresa left Charlie's secret ways of getting into the sealed files out of it. Ray wanted to interrupt a few times himself, get his theories out there, but instead pulled a toothpick from his pocket and chewed on it. He kind of still smelled like puke, even though he took a shower. He bet that even from his chair across the room, Fraser could smell all the shit on Ray -- puke and aftershave and M&Ms and Jack and smokes. Probably Fraser could even tell what kind of smokes, and that he lit it with a Zippo that was almost out of lighter fluid, and that he smoked it to the bitter part of the filter.
Maybe Fraser could even tell that Theresa slept in Ray's bed last night, showered in his shower this morning. Could Fraser tell that they didn't have sex? Could Fraser take one long sniff in and realize that Ray would never have sex with her because she was just -- not enough, not right, not the thing that Ray wanted? Her hair was too blonde, too red, her skin too dark, not quite pale enough, her eyes not the right color blue.
Plus, Ray was never going to have sex with another person in the justice department working for the good of the world ever again. It never worked out right, not once, not ever.
Fraser said nothing, even when Welsh paused to let him talk. He just listened, hands on his hat in his lap, staring at whoever talked. He never looked at Ray. Ray tried not to look at him, but it was Fraser, sitting in the 2-7 like it hadn't been almost ten years.
Not almost ten years. Seven years and what? Two months? Ray counted in his head. Two months, two weeks, four days. Or something. Ray could almost remember, but not quite, because it didn't seem so important at the time.
"That's it," said Theresa finally. "That's what we got. So what do you think, Corporal? You gonna help us?"
"I think..." Fraser hesitated, looked from Theresa to Welsh. "I think it's obvious you've all already tried and convicted Ray Vecchio for these crimes. I think none of you are actually interested in what's really going on."
"Oh yeah?" Theresa leaned forward in her chair. "You know what I am interested in? Stopping the mob, Corporal. That's what I'm interested in. I'm interested in getting these guys, in cleaning up Chicago for good. We've always been a hotbed of Mafia activity here, for no good reason other than we never cracked down on them. Now I'm the one doing the cracking, and we gotta get these shitheads behind bars."
Fraser cleared his throat. Ray took bets with himself on how long it was going to take him to run a thumb -- there he went, thumb to eyebrow, then back down. There was a new scar on the side of his face that ran from the corner of his eyebrow down to his ear. Faint. Silvery. Maybe a walrus scratched him or a porpoise kissed him or something. Maybe he fell on a snowmobile blade.
Ray wondered what other new scars Fraser had. Maybe someone finally shot the other leg.
"Detective Brien, while I share your concerns that organized crime not be allowed to overrun the city streets, I do not believe that Ray Vecchio is the perpetrator of any of these crimes, nor do I believe that he is working with the Mafia. Nor, for that matter, do I think that the FBI is lying to any of you." Fraser cleared his throat again.
"Oh yeah, Fraser?" said Ray. Fraser's head turned slightly, but his eyes didn't focus on Ray, and that made Ray angry. Angrier than he had been. Like Fraser was the wronged party here? No way. "You smell that or something?"
"Detective," said Welsh, and Ray let himself lean back against the door a little harder. "Fraser, care to explain your deductive reasoning?"
"I would be happy to, Lieutenant." Leftenant. Fuck. "Ray Vecchio hates -- hated -- the Mafia with every fiber of his being. The Mafia overran his neighborhood, took away his power, and harassed his family and friends. He spent almost all of his time as a police officer working against the Mafia -- and despite the lure of wealth and power, I highly doubt that he would have set up a complicated scheme to fake his own death and abandon the woman he love -- loved -- to go back to pretending to be Armando Langoustini."
"Vecchio was a dirty cop," said Ray angrily. "Why can't you just admit that?"
"Ray Vecchio was a smart and loyal man, Detective. Perhaps his methods were a bit unorthodox at times, but the same can be said of you, and no one is accusing you of anything untoward." Ray knew it, he knew it, he knew that was what Fraser would say, knew he'd use Ray against himself. And what was with this "Detective" shit?
Fraser turned his hat a little, looked down, then looked directly at Ray. His eyes weren't as bright as they used to be, and it pissed Ray off that he even noticed. "And you have no proof."
"We have all the proof we need!" Ray yelled. Welsh scowled, but Ray ignored him. "We have every bit of proof in the world, and all those sealed files, and all your letters! You must have suspected something, Fraser! Guys do not just write letters like that and put them in every file unless they think something suspicious -- something untoward -- is going on. Maybe Vecchio isn't dirty, but something is going on and I want to know what it is."
"I know," said Charlie abruptly. Ray looked over at him and wanted to hit him right in his stupid kid face. His hair fell into his eyes, and Charlie tossed his head back and looked at each of them in turn. "I get what Corporal Fraser is saying." Charlie even said Fraser's name right, said FRAY-ZZER, not Fray-zhure. Ray was going to kick him in the head until he never looked at Fraser again. "He wrote those letters because he knew that someone would be all, oooh, Vecchio is a dirty cop, so it was all to circumvent something like this from happening."
"You are correct, Charlie," said Fraser, and when did they get to be on a first name basis? Ray's fingers twitched for a cigarette. "While I would never wish to cast aspersions on the Chicago Police Department, while I was stationed at the Consulate, I did notice that sometimes the members of t --"
"We get it, Fraser," said Welsh, and sighed. He pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. Yeah, Ray had a headache too.
"I got a headache," said Ray abruptly. "I need some air."
He left before anyone could say anything else. Theresa didn't follow him; neither did Charlie. Maybe now Charlie would stop drinking coffee with M&Ms in it and start drinking tea, just like his new hero.
Ray didn't even wait until he got outside to light up -- he did it right in the lobby of the building, in front of God and everyone and glared at the uniform who made like he was going to come toward him. The uniform dropped back into the crowd he was standing with. Yeah, Ray still had the old death glare.
His hand shook a little while he lit his cigarette, but by the time he'd smoked half of it, he was steady. Steady and ready. Well, maybe not ready, but ready to fake it, and that was going to have to be enough until Fraser was out of Ray's city -- hell, out of Ray's country. Gone for good, or until the next time someone dead showed up alive, faking everyone out.
Even Theresa had been converted to Fraser's side. Maybe it was the grammar and all those complete sentences. Maybe it was the red uniform. Ray didn't care what it was. It sucked that Fraser's theory made more sense than everyone else's theories all put together. Ray could admit that much to himself, however reluctant he felt about it. He knew it, he'd said it, that Ben would show up and sniff something and figure out what was going on in two seconds flat.
Which Ben had done, and then he'd asked very politely if he could review some of the closed files and explain each one to them. Which, of course, Welsh said he could, and Charlie wasn't gonna pass up any chance to spend time with the Mountie, and god knows Ray was not gonna let Charlie and Fraser and Theresa do it all.
At least Welsh let them order in deli sandwiches on the 2-7's expense account, which was excellent. Ray got corned beef, with lots of sauerkraut and the really good rye bread. Fraser got pastrami, and ate his sandwich neatly, blotting his mouth carefully after every bite, sipping slowly from a bottle of water that Ray was positive had to taste sickeningly of plastic to him. But he didn't complain, of course, because Fraser never complained about anything. Totally separate from Ben, who complained a lot about stuff, although rarely in so many words. No, he told stories instead, but Fraser wasn't even telling stories. He had years of stories that he could be telling that no one had heard before, but instead he just read files quietly, never looking at Ray.
Well, Ray wasn't going to look at him either then. Take that.
"Okay," said Ray as they were nearing five pm. "Okay, fine." He took off his glasses, folded them up, put them in his pocket.
"Yeah?" said Theresa, looking up at him. Her eyes were kind of red, but there were no other indications that sitting in a tiny, stifling room, reading files all day and listening to Fraser rationalize away all Vecchio's escapades was getting to her.
"Yeah," said Ray.
"Huh?" said Charlie. He'd spent most of their time staring at Fraser instead of reading files, but it wasn't like he'd be much help anyway -- he had no idea what to look for. Ray wasn't even sure why they were letting him stick around instead of doing whatever it was that he did all day, except that he was eager and excited and wanted to help really bad, so they... let him.
Welsh had left hours ago, and that was okay too, because having Welsh around was stressful.
"Nothing," said Ray. He glanced at Fraser, trying to be slick about it so that Fraser wouldn't notice Ray was looking at him. Waste of time -- Fraser was staring down at the new Siracusa file like it was the most interesting thing he'd seen in years. And since he'd been stationed in the ass end of the Northwest Territories, maybe it was.
Ray felt his fingers tingle, felt his instincts kick in. Something was off about him, something more than him being Canadian, something more than the weird shit that always happened when he was around, something... something Ray didn't know yet.
"Yeah," said Theresa again. She stretched, arms behind her head, back cracking over the chair. Ray watched her shirt gape open between buttons and wished he could drum up some real hardcore interest for the dark bra he could see glimpses of. But there was nothing, nothing at all, not even an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of his stomach.
There were a lot of weird feelings for Fraser in there, though. Ben. Who hadn't even taken off the stupid red tunic before he sat down to go through the files. God.
"Come have a cigarette?" said Theresa, and Charlie made a sound in the back of his throat that Ray ignored.
"Sure," he said, and kicked away from the table. Theresa grabbed her jacket and followed Ray out the door. He pulled his jacket on and stayed silent as they walked through the precinct, held the door open for her, and wasn't even interested in watching her ass as she walked out. Not that he really had been before, but he laid the blame for this entirely on Fraser's presence.
Ray leaned against the Please do not smoke here sign, and glared at the people who passed by and looked like they might say something. He and Theresa just stared at each other -- real pathetic -- and smoked their cigarettes. There was plenty they could talk about. Maybe Ray could think about putting in for a transfer to the Mob Squad, get partnered up with her. They worked well together.
For a while after Ray'd come back from Canada, the brass -- the real brass, not just Welsh -- kept trying to give him a promotion, make him take the Lieu test, give him a precinct, with a bunch of pet detectives to train up all his own. But no thank you, he did not want to leave Welsh and the 2-7, because mostly the 2-7 was a good place, and there wasn't a better Lieu than Welsh, no siree. But he had a bunch of chips to cash in now, a lot of people thinking he was a good cop, and it seemed like time. And Theresa was cool, mostly. But he'd end up spending half his paycheck on cigarettes and then he'd be in an iron lung or something instead of playing shuffleboard in Florida by the time he was seventy, so maybe that plan was a no go.
Ray was about halfway through his cigarette when Fraser came striding out of the precinct, Charlie hot on his heels.
"Goodnight, Theresa," he said. "Detective Kowalski."
"Goodnight, Fraser," said Charlie.
"Goodnight, Charlie," said Fraser, all prim. When Fraser turned around, back to everyone, Charlie made a face that Ray guessed meant Charlie was definitely in love. Yeah, Ray knew what that was like when you were in your early twenties -- he just didn't want Charlie being in love with Fraser.
"Yo, night, Charlie. Fraser," said Ray, and took a long drag on his cigarette. Charlie walked backward and made faces until he almost knocked over some suit, and then he finally turned around.
Fraser was walking down the block in the other direction, back straight, hat straight.
Yeah, buttoned up, buttoned down Fraser was pissed off about something. Or hurt. Or both. Still. Even though Ray was the one who had the right to be pissed off. Maybe Fraser thought Ray should have gone back to Tulita and sat outside their cabin in the snow, built a fort or an igloo or something, worn mukluks and a fur coat, and refused to move or eat until Fraser listened to his side and let him back into the cabin.
Hardee ha ha. That would have been a laugh riot. Ray would have been dead in a matter of days from a rampaging polar bear or something. And anyway, he'd sworn to himself he wasn't ever going to make those mistakes again, all those mistakes he'd made with Stella, following her around and being obsessed with her.
Maybe he was still obsessed with Ben, but he was doing a pretty fucking good job of keeping all that shit to himself. If Ben wanted him, Ben was going to have to come and fucking get him.
Ray's fingers tingled. Maybe he was just freezing his ass off, or maybe his spidey sense was activated. He watched Fraser walk down the street purposefully, and every instinct screamed at him to follow Fraser.
"Fraser's going to get Vecchio," said Ray.
Theresa looked at him, eyebrows raised. "Whatever, Ray. I think you need to go home and get some sleep or something."
"No way, Theresa. Fraser has got something up his sleeve and I bet that something is Vecchio. He's going to find Vecchio right now." Ray threw his cigarette down, shoved his hands into his pockets, and started walking. "I'm gonna follow him."
"Still need a ride home?" she asked. When he looked back at her, she rolled her eyes at him. Whatever, let her think that it was just a thing about him and Fraser and he was using Vecchio as an excuse. He knew Fraser was going to Vecchio, knew it like he hadn't known it years ago when Fraser had started following a man and it had turned out to be Vecchio. Ray wasn't that stupid anymore -- Ray knew Fraser.
He had expected Theresa to jog up to him, keep the pace, follow Fraser with him, but when he turned the corner, he was still alone.
Ray ducked his head into his collar and walked a little faster. There was no way Fraser didn't realize Ray was following him, so there was no point in pretending he wasn't -- but he wasn't going to walk too fast, because talking to Ben without other people around wasn't something he was exactly prepared for.
He caught up with Fraser, though, when Fraser waited at a stop sign for a car to drive through.
"It only takes an extra second to be courteous," said Ray under his breath.
"Precisely, Detective," said Fraser, but didn't look at him.
Seven more blocks until Ray couldn't take the silence. "So," he said. "You going after Vecchio?"
"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about," said Fraser.
"Yeah, sure you don't," said Ray, and fell silent again.
Turned out Fraser was just walking to the Consulate. Took the long way. Ray left him there, turned the corner back toward the 2-7, and stopped short.
Sure Fraser was going to the Consulate. Sure he didn't know where Vecchio was.
Ray ducked into a diner, used the restroom, ordered a cup of coffee to go, and stood on the corner, watching the Consulate, not drinking the coffee, just using it to keep his hands warm. And fuck, his ears were cold too. Winter was definitely not through with Chicago, and it sucked. Not for the first time, Ray thought about taking early retirement -- he had enough days worked, or whatever, plus all his undercover counted times two, or times three, he could never remember. Florida was calling, all that warm weather, all those convertibles, all that sand.
But could he leave Chicago? Leave policework? What would he do -- teach arguing couples how to do the mambo really poorly? Yeah maybe, but not at this juncture, no siree.
The cup of coffee had almost gotten colder than his fingers when the door of the Consulate opened and Fraser stepped out. Ray would know that profile anywhere.
This time Ray stayed more than half a block behind Fraser, and downwind so Fraser couldn't smell the cigarettes and chocolate and whatever else. All those months in Canada had to be good for something, and Ray was actually kind of surprised that he'd learned something watching Fraser track people and animals and shit: how to avoid being tracked by Fraser. Of course, if Fraser really wanted to know where Ray was going, Ray probably wouldn't be able to avoid him -- but knowing where Fraser was going? It was like reverse engineering, breaking down an engine or something. Ray could do it.
Ray kept feeling like someone was behind him, but when he turned around, no one was there. Maybe Ray wasn't an expert tracker like Fraser, but he definitely could have caught, say Charlie, if Charlie was following them. Which he wasn't, so maybe Ray was just feeling paranoid.
Fraser ended up at the Lenox Suites, which was not where Ray would have guessed Vecchio would stay -- not a known mob hangout, not near any of the mob guys. Maybe none of the locals were supposed to know Vecchio was around.
Fraser stopped and talked to the desk clerk, then headed to the elevators. Ray waited until Fraser had stepped into an elevator before going up to the desk himself.
"Hey," he said, and held out his badge. "Chicago PD. You see a guy in a red suit wearing a hat?"
"Uh, yeah," said the clerk. His name tag labeled him as Derek.
"Where'd he go?" said Ray.
"Penthouse suite," said Derek. "You need a key card to get in."
"Gimme one," said Ray, and Derek's hands shook as he slid the keycard through the little machine. It beeped and buzzed, and Ray was in.
He felt twitchy in the elevator, wanted a cigarette, but there were No Smoking signs everywhere. What was he gonna do? Arrest himself? He flashed back to the waitress in the diner in Boystown and smiled, but left the cigarettes in his pocket. The elevator ride took forever to get to the penthouse, and Ray wasn't sure what he was going to do once he was up there, but he had to see. Had to know. Had to know if Stella was involved, had to know what Vecchio was up to.
The doors opened to three guns, all pointed at Ray's chest.
"Hey," he said, hands up. "I'm just here to see the man."
"Yeah?" asked one of the guns. Big. Ripped. Tough. Fuck. "He wanna see you?"
"Yeah, I think he does," said Ray, and pushed his way past the guns. They weren't going to shoot him then -- if they were under orders to shoot him, they would've done it on sight anyway.
"Hey!" hollered Ray. "Hey!"
Fraser appeared from a doorway.
"Ah, Detective Kowalski," said Fraser. "I was wondering how long it would take you to arrive."
"Yeah?" said Ray. "Let's drop this Detective Kowalski bullshit, okay, Fraser? The name is Ray."
"The name is Stanley," said Vecchio. He came out of the bedroom too, and stood next to Fraser. They looked funny together, not like partners, not like guys who worked together for years. Vecchio was wearing some kind of shiny suit, and he had less hair than the last time Ray had seen him. Of course, the last time Ray had seen him...
"What the fuck is going on?" demanded Ray.
Vecchio pulled up his arm and there was another gun. Guns all over the fucking place. But Vecchio was definitely not going to shoot him, so Ray didn't pull his gun. If Vecchio was going to shoot him, there would have been a plan, like the last time Ray was on the business end of Vecchio's gun, like the last time he'd followed Fraser into a hotel room on a hunch. Vecchio would make a face, Ray and Fraser would just know what they were supposed to do, he'd get fake-shot in the bathroom or in another room in the suite. It wouldn't go down like this. Especially because Ray couldn't get the drop on four guys at once anyway, not when three of them were behind him.
"Hey, boss, this guy is a cop?" said the same tough who'd talked to him before.
"Yeah," said Vecchio. "A dead cop." Pause. "You three go get Stella, she's waiting. I'll take care of the cop." The three guys turned, and the door opened, and Ray relaxed a little.
And then Vecchio shot him. Just pulled the trigger, squeezed it, and BAM, there was a bullet in Ray. He could feel it. He watched it come toward him, like slow motion, like every bad movie ever, like every time he'd been shot, which was only three times, or maybe four, because he had the worst luck known to man.
He felt himself fall, felt himself hit the ground, felt himself hit his head. Shit, he was going to have a big fucking knot. And there was probably a hole in his good leather jacket, the one with the lining and everything. Shit shit shit.
That was all he could think. Shit shit shit. And the lights on the ceiling were way too bright for a hotel room, and he couldn't see Ben's face, but he wanted to, because Vecchio had good aim and there was no way Ray was getting out of this one, no way that the bullet didn't hit something vital to Ray's existence, and if he was going to die, he wanted to die looking at Ben.
He blinked, and there was Ben.
"It hurts," said Ray.
"For the love of God, Ray," said Ben, "why aren't you wearing a vest?"
"Shit, Benny," said Vecchio, and Ray blinked again. There was Vecchio, looking concerned. How much time had gone by? Ray's back was wet with blood, his front was wet with blood, so much blood, so red and brown and weird looking, like a fucked up acid trip, like he was sixteen again. "Shit, Benny, why wasn't the asshole wearing a vest?"
Like they'd planned it or something. And Ray hadn't been involved.
Ray looked at Ben again, at the circles under his eyes and the puffiness starting at his jaw, middle age taking over and making Ben look human, not like a perfect Mountie, not like a hole in Ray's chest, not like dying.
"Ben," he said. "I'm thirsty."
Then Theresa was there. Ray knew someone had been following him. She pushed something against him and it hurt really bad. He looked away from her, back to Ben. So sad. So so sad. He shouldn't have been sad. He should have just said, "Ray, come home," and Ray would have gone home with him, back to Canada and fixing snowmobiles and carving rocking chairs.
"Ben," he said. "It hurts."
Ben's mouth was moving, his teeth shiny, but Ray couldn't hear him. Ray shut his eyes to blink again, but then they wouldn't open, and then his chest wouldn't move, and then he couldn't breathe.
Everything hurt. The lights were bright.
Everything hurt. Ray was thirsty. The lights were bright.
Everything hurt. The lights were bright.
"Thirsty," said Ray.
"Thirsty," he said again.
Ben's face appeared, like magic or something. Then there was wet in his mouth. Cold. Wet.
"Ben," he said.
"Ray," said Ben, and it was really more of a sigh. Ray dragged his fingers out of Ben's mouth, down to his nipples. Tight and small and Ray pinched one and Ben cried out, and Ray pinched him again, and he cried again, and Ray bit one, and Ben moaned, moaned Ray's name, and Ray moved up and kissed him, pressed their bodies together. The fur felt strange on his back, cold air where the fur gaped, the smell of blood and fire and Ben's sweat in his nose. Ray pushed his cock next to Ben's, slid it into the crease of Ben's thigh, pushed harder, kissed harder, listened to the rasp of Ben's breath in his ear, and dropped his head into Ben's neck, sucked and licked and pushed until Ben was moaning again.
Ray woke up slowly, moved a little, tentatively. Everything hurt. The lights were dim. He wanted a cigarette and a cup of coffee and a shower. He moved a little more and pain shot through his chest and arm.
He twisted his head to the side. Ben was slumped in a chair next to Ray's bed, flannel shirt rumpled, jeans wrinkled, mouth slightly open. There were a lot of machines running, making noise, but Ray would bet almost anything Ben was snoring.
Ray opened his mouth and closed it again and ran his tongue over his teeth. Okay, a toothbrush and a cup of coffee. He took a deep breath through his mouth -- there was an oxygen tube under his nose. His chest hurt. No cigarettes. Coffee.
Next to the bed was a blue pitcher. Ray reached for it. His whole body hurt, but his chest and arm hurt most of all. He reached through the pain, grabbed the pitcher with fingers that didn't work quite right, and dropped it. It sounded plastic, at least.
Ben's eyes opened at the noise.
"Ray," said Ben, and he sounded so happy, Ray's chest started to hurt even more. "Ray, you're awake."
"Yeah," croaked Ray. "Thirsty."
Not slick. His throat hurt too. Probably from not talking, and from breathing the oxygen, and also from being shot. By Vecchio, that prick.
Ben squatted down. Ray couldn't see him on the floor. His head hurt. He closed his eyes.
"Open your mouth, Ray," said Ben, and when Ray opened his mouth, Ben put chips of ice on his tongue. His fingertips brushed Ray's tongue; Ray almost forgot to close his mouth. Ray let them dissolve, swallowed, and opened his mouth for more chips. "That's enough."
Ray opened his eyes. Ben was sitting down again, leaning forward, his elbows on his knees.
"Why weren't you wearing a vest, Ray?" asked Ben earnestly. "You almost died."
"You're a sick fuck, Ben," said Ray, and fell asleep again.
"Ray," said Fraser. "Ray. Ray."
"Yeah, what? I am busy here, Fraser. I am doing stuff here, what do you want?" said Ray, not looking up from the thin piece of wood he was sanding. He was going to build a rocking chair if it fucking killed him.
"Perhaps I could be of some assistance?" said Fraser.
"No," said Ray.
Dief barked at him, but Ray glared and Dief shut up.
"Ray, I've made several --"
"Yeah, Fraser, I know, you're perfect, whatever, I am busy." Ray tuned Fraser out and focused on the wood, on getting it perfectly smooth, on making sure there were no splinters to break off and hurt anyone's backside. Fraser said last week that he wished he had a rocking chair, and now Ray was making him a rocking chair, if he would just shut the fuck up and let Ray concentrate.
"Okay, Ray," said Fraser. He got up from his seat at the table and crouched in front of the fire. Ray ignored him.
When Ray woke up again, Welsh was sitting in Ben's chair. He used the spoon, not his fingers, to feed Ray ice.
"How are you feeling, Detective?" he said.
"Like I got shot," said Ray after he swallowed. The oxygen tube was gone. So were most of the machines. He was still on the IV. "How long's it been?"
"Couple of days. But you were in surgery a long time." Welsh rubbed his hands together. "You, ah... You're breathing okay, they didn't need to put you on a tube or anything."
"That would have sucked," said Ray. He moved a little, more cautiously than last time.
Welsh was staring at him, looking real old. Must be an epidemic going around of looking your age, thought Ray. He rolled his neck a little. Not much pain. Either they bumped up the meds, or he was doing okay. Not best ever, but okay.
"What's going on, Sir?" he said, and kind of wished for more ice. His chest hurt if he breathed too deep.
"You're dead, Detective," Welsh finally said. "Really really dead."
"So I'm just dreaming?" asked Ray. "The afterlife is a hospital? I always knew Sister Magdalene was lying to me."
"Armando Langoustini shot you," said Welsh.
"Yeah, I was there for that part," replied Ray. He struggled to sit up a little, but it hurt, so he gave up, and just turned his head to look at Welsh.
"You're dead. You're a cop who was on his trail for killing Siracusa and Cardovo and about four other people in the last month. So he killed you. The Chicago PD can't prove it was him because there were no witnesses." Welsh scrubbed his face with his hand and sighed. "So you're dead, Detective."
"Uh, Lieu?" Ray stopped, feeling like the dumbest kid in the class again, just like third grade. "Lieu, I'm not dead. And B -- Fraser was there."
"Detective," said Welsh. "I will say this slowly, using one syllable words. You. Are. Dead. Do you understand? Comprende? Capisce? Verstehen?"
"Ver-what?" said Ray.
"Do you understand?"
"Yeah, I get it, I'm dead." Ray brought a hand up and touched his chest. "Fraser said I was supposed to be wearing a vest."
"Yeah, Kowalski, I don't know too many cops who'd confront a mobster in his hotel suite without one. Hell, I don't know too many guys who'd partner with that Mountie without one," said Welsh, but he grinned at Ray. Then he said the same thing he said to Ray when he pulled Ray off the beat and gave him a spot at the 1-4 years and years and fucking years ago: "You got balls, kid, I'll give you that."
Ray smiled at him. "You're not bad," replied Ray, repeating himself, too. "For a desk jockey."
Welsh laughed, and Ray tried to laugh but it made his chest hurt.
"For real, Lieu..." Ray stopped. "Am I okay?"
"Yeah, Ray," said Welsh. "You're okay."
Ray figured that it would be at least a million months before he could stay awake for more than five minutes at a time, but it was only a couple of days before he was awake long enough to get taken off the catheter and piss for himself, and then actually talk to a doctor and find out that he died and was resuscitated and had to be careful and should have known better than to walk into a dangerous situation without wearing a vest. He wasn't even in a real hospital, because he was "dead", and he wasn't allowed to go outside at all, not even for one second, because if someone saw him who shouldn't see him, he really would be dead.
At least it had cable, although it was shitty cable. ESPN 2 and ESPN 4, some network about animals, the one that only showed old game shows, and Lifetime. If it was a choice between bowling, movies with a bunch of crying women, and reruns of Concentration, Ray would watch Concentration -- which he did. For hours at a time. He tried the animal network, but the first thing to come on was a special on Arctic wolves, so he clicked it off and watched fly fishing for an hour or two.
Ben never came back after the night Ray woke up, and Ray couldn't ask anyone where Ben was, because the only people he saw were Welsh, who came twice more and watched hockey with Ray, and the doctor, and two bitchy nurses who wouldn't let him have coffee or chocolate or anything except pudding, which he found out was actually made of soy, because he wasn't allowed to have dairy in case it gave him too much mucous in his chest, because coughing was bad for him. Nurse whatshername, Nancy, the Italian one, she was firm on that, and didn't sway even when he gave her the patented Kowalski have-yer-panties-off-in-ten-seconds grin.
He found out when he coughed why he should be on his knees thanking her.
His chest hurt like a motherfucker; Vecchio had missed his heart, but clipped a lung and broken two ribs. The bullet went right through, and they kept telling him it wasn't really a puncture wound, because it had actually scraped off most of the skin and muscle and all the gross gristly bits right under where his arm connected to his shoulder. Still, Ray had this image in his head of a big hole through his chest, one in the front and a matching one in the back that you could put your eye to and look through, like a cartoon character.
Vecchio didn't come see him, that fucking prick, not even to apologize. Stella didn't come see him either, but Welsh told him that was because they'd told Stella he was dead, really dead, not just dead like Vecchio had been dead when the bowling alley blew up. Welsh told him Stella cried, and Ray was kind of satisfied by that -- but also realized that he didn't really care. And that was nice, like maybe being dead meant he was free from some of the dumb shit that he'd been carrying around because he didn't know where to put it.
Fraser leaned into the kiss, into Ray, but kept his mouth closed. His lips were slightly chapped, his stubble scraped at Ray. Ray pushed harder into Fraser, let Fraser push harder back at him. He felt still, but jittery, quiet, but like his scream would burst out from inside his fingertips and toes and nose and dick. Ray opened his mouth, bit at Fraser's mouth. He kept his eyes open, watched Fraser's eyelashes and nose and reddened skin, his eyes move under his eyelids. It was weird.
Fraser finally opened his mouth and Ray felt like he'd hit the jackpot, found the Holy Grail. He climbed up onto the table, stayed on his knees, hands on Fraser's shoulders. Fraser's mouth was wet and his tongue was hot and thick and strong and Ray sucked on it. Man, it was fucking weird, it was bizarre, it was everything Ray had been craving, everything that would make the goddamn Arctic feel warm, everything that would heat the summer up to tolerable levels.
He pushed harder, licked into Fraser's mouth, slid his fingers under the collar of Fraser's shirt, and when he felt Fraser's hands move to rest on his waist, the tips of Fraser's scarred, callused fingers slipping under the waistband of his jeans, he finally closed his eyes.
They made him do some physical therapy, because he'd laid in the bed for so long, and because he wasn't moving his arms too much, but it was okay. It sucked, but it was better than being dead. Maybe. His parents thought he was dead. Welsh told him that Charlie and Theresa had packed up Ray's apartment and sent it all to Arizona. Great. At least his parents got his life insurance. He didn't spend too much time thinking about what they'd do when they saw the old tube of KY that had been in his bedside drawer. Maybe Charlie hadn't sent that. Hopefully.
One finger, two fingers, three.
"Christ," said Ray, writhing on the bed, panting, sweating. "Christ, Fraser, god, do me, come on, please, do me, come on, god --"
Fraser sat back. In the firelight he looked like some kind of god, squatting on the bed, on furs, totally primal, sweaty, Jesus. Ray squinted, blinked sweat out of his eyes. Fraser was getting too far away, fuzzy, and Ray was gonna die if Fraser didn't put his hands back on him, and make him come. Ray grabbed his own dick, and jerked it roughly. Fraser slapped his hands away, leaned over Ray. Fraser's dick bobbed and slid against Ray's, wet, soft, and Fraser's breath on Ray's face brought him sharply into the moment.
"God, Fraser, please, what the fuck are you waiting for?" Ray groaned, let his hips jerk up and slid his dick into that crease by Fraser's thigh.
"My name is Ben," said Fraser, and then he licked Ray's ear, bit his neck. Ray let his head loll to the side, let Fraser -- let Ben -- suck on it. "I would appreciate it if you would call me Ben, Ray."
And god, Ray would do anything Fraser wanted -- anything Ben wanted -- if he would just keep going. Ray's hips jerked wildly against Ben's, but Ben was holding him down, pushing him into the furs with one big hand, sucking on Ray's neck.
"Yes, Ben, Ben, Ben," chanted Ray, and Ben's hand moved to Ray's thigh and pushed it up, and Ray's muscles screamed in protest but he didn't care because Ben was prodding at him, pushing into him, all at once, slick and wet, and god, Jesus, Jesus, Mary, fuck --
"Ben!" howled Ray as Ben began to move. "Ben!"
When they took him off the meds, Ray almost cried because it hurt so bad -- the withdrawal, the wound, all of it -- but he stopped dreaming about the months he spent in Canada with Ben. He almost cried about that too, but he stopped waking up sweating and panting in the middle of the night with his dick sticking up and his ass aching.
When the door to his room opened, Ray was expecting the physical therapy nurse to be coming to bend his arm into unnatural positions and make him groan with pain. She was a bitch, and she had a mustache, and she didn't laugh at any of Ray's jokes, and she made him turn off the television while she was working on him. Not like there was anything interesting on, but, Jesus, hadn't she ever heard of being distracted from the pain? ESPN was better than morphine for that; Ray found he could even get excited about golf as long as it meant he didn't have to concentrate on the hole in his chest.
But it was Theresa, wearing a spiffy girl-suit-thing like Stella used to, except Theresa's had flowy pants instead of a short skirt. It was a good look for her. Maybe she'd just come from Ray's funeral.
"Yo, Theresa!" said Ray, and sat up straighter, pulled off his glasses. "I thought I was dead."
"You are," she said. "But I'm..." She stopped there, and Ray got a real bad feeling in his stomach -- the kind of feeling he got when he made Ben say "I want you" and it looked for a second like he wasn't gonna, the kind of feeling he got when he realized that Stella was really leaving and never coming back, the kind of feeling he got when he was twelve years old and realized that there was no way he could be a faggot dancer, or anything really, and he'd have to figure something else out when he got old enough, because he wasn't fucking going to work in a meat packing plant.
"Yeah?" said Ray. He tried not to look like he didn't know something bad was coming. Fraser was dead. The wolf was dead. The world had ended and everyone was a zombie. Jesus came back and was like, "You all suck like nothing has ever sucked before" and smited everyone.
"I'm Special Agent Theresa Brien with the FBI's Organized Crime Unit," she said, and held out her badge. "I'm undercover with the Chicago PD, working with Ray Vecchio as Armando Langoustini to take down the three big families here."
Ray felt all the shit in his stomach swirl around all at once and come up his throat. He forced it all back down.
"You're a Fed?" he said, and reached out for her badge, ignoring the pull in his shoulder. He put his glasses back on, squinted a little through the thick lenses. Shit. That was why she had been following him to the hotel. He was so stupid sometimes, couldn't see what was fucking happening when it was happening right behind him.
"Yeah," she said, and walked to the corner of the room, turned off the television.
"What the fuck do you want?" he said, and threw her badge at her. She caught it neatly, which made him even angrier. He was in the fucking hospital, Ray Vecchio had fucking shot him, and now Theresa was a Fed? There was no fucking justice in the world.
Ray pushed the thoughts of Ben to the back of his mind, because the shit with Ben was so far away from being justice, Ray couldn't even consider it all anymore.
"Ray..." Theresa sighed and dropped into the visitor's chair by the side of his bed. "Ray, I wanted to tell you, but I just couldn't."
"Yeah, you couldn't? Whatever, Theresa. You know that I am a good cop!" yelled Ray. "You know you could have trusted me!"
"You were a good cop, Ray," said Theresa softly. Ray felt puke in his throat again, and tears burning behind his eyes. Damn straight he was a good fucking cop -- had been a good fucking cop -- would be a good fucking cop still if he was fucking allowed to be. Jesus Christ.
Ray felt something squish in his hand and realized that he was still holding the small container of soy pudding they'd given him. There was pudding all over his hand, but at least they'd stopped giving him banana and started giving him chocolate. He licked his fingers and his palm, didn't look over at Theresa. When his hand was clean, he took off his glasses and folded them, put them on the bedside table. He still didn't look at Theresa. He took a deep breath and did not look at Theresa.
"Ray." Her voice was wobbly. "I'm sorry. I feel like this is my fault, like if I'd told you the truth from the beginning..."
"Like maybe if you told me the truth from the beginning, none of this would have happened and I'd still have my life," said Ray. He tried to snarl it, but figured it probably came out sounding whiny. Fuck that, he could whine if he wanted to. "Why did you even bring me in at the beginning, bring up all this shit about Vecchio, make the Mountie come out -- why bother if you already knew everything? Why didn't you stop me?"
"Kowalski..." She trailed off again. She looked tired. Maybe she was being raked over the coals by her bosses for letting things get so out of control. Happened to Ray a time or two: You've showed bad judgment, Detective... Was there a reason you found it necessary to destroy three hundred thousand dollars worth of public property in pursuit of a mugger? Detective, you blew up three buildings... Yeah, Ray'd been there. And that was without Fraser at his side, making him jump from tall buildings and play baseball and half-drown in ships and drive his car into the river. Lake. Whatever. "Ray, I didn't know everything. Vecchio was undercover, deep cover, wasn't checking in regularly. And if I didn't make it look to the taskforce like I was working on it and doing everything I could, they'd get suspicious. And we had a mole -- how could I put my operative in danger?"
Yeah, her operative. Cause Ray didn't count.
"Fuck you," he said.
"Ray," she said again. "I am sorry. Now that you're dead, there are some details to be worked out, and I was put in charge."
"Desk duty, huh? Sucks," said Ray, smirking.
"There are... procedures," said Theresa, kind of ignoring him. "You have several options."
"Yeah, whatever," said Ray.
"Fraser says you should go someplace warm, where no one would look for you." Ray's head jerked at Fraser's name, but Theresa wasn't looking at him. She was staring at her hands. "I want to do everything we can to make this easier for you. I feel... guilty."
Ah, the Catholic in Theresa rising to the surface. Yeah, Ray felt guilty too -- guilty for shit that wasn't even his fault. Guilty for not wearing a vest before he followed Fraser into the fucking hotel. Guilty for not realizing what was really going on, guilty cause his instincts weren't running on all eight cylinders. Guilty for really dumb shit that he couldn't have changed even if he'd known what was going on, not really.
"We don't usually send people out of the country," she continued, "but maybe you want to go to South America or something? Lotsa dancing there..."
How'd she know about the dancing? Someone must have told her he liked to dance. Maybe it was in his file. Maybe Fraser mentioned it. Shit.
Ray stared at his hands. They were hands that wouldn't ever hold a gun or show his badge again. That was shit he was trying not to think about and had spent the whole time he was in the hospital bed not thinking about it. But now he had to, because now Theresa was making him. Not really, though, because he could just turn over and ignore her.
"I don't care," said Ray. "Just don't send me to Canada."
"I said someplace warm, Ray." Theresa sounded amused, and when Ray looked over at her, he thought maybe she'd say something else too, but she didn't, just stopped there, so Ray kept talking.
"I don't want to go to Costa Rica," said Ray. "I can do this myself. Just give me a new ID with a new name and I'll disappear."
"I'm afraid I can't let you do that, Ray." Theresa sighed again. "We can work this out when you're ready. You're in here for another few days, I think, so they can finish the PT, right? So I'll let you think about it, and we'll just do this at the last minute."
"What --" Ray began, because he wanted to say, "What the fuck do you know about any of this shit, Fed?" in a really mean voice, but before he could, there was a knock on the door, and it opened.
"Ah, Special Agent Brien," said Fraser. He stood straight, with his hands behind his back. His hat was on crooked, Ray noticed gleefully. "May I speak with Ray, please?"
"Sure," said Theresa. Ray glared at her back as she left.
"Fucking Fed," muttered Ray.
"Ray, Special Agent Brien has worked very hard to ensure that you will be able to live comfortably out of the reach of the Mafia," said Fraser reprovingly.
"Yeah? Who cares," said Ray. "She betrayed me, lied to me, and got me shot. I want some more pudding."
Fraser frowned at him, then said, "Perhaps Nurse Lepano will bring you some before she leaves for the evening."
"You can sit, you know," said Ray. "If you can unbend long enough."
Something flashed in Fraser's eyes, but from across the room, Ray couldn't tell if it was irritation or hurt or what. Stupid Mountie. Stupid Vecchio-loving Mountie. Fraser did cross the room and sit in the chair next to Ray's bed, though.
"So," said Ray. "What the fuck is wrong with you?"
"I really did believe you were wearing a vest, Ray. You have shown such forethought in the past." Fraser took off his hat and set it on his lap.
"This is not the past, Fraser. This is the present. Live in the now," said Ray. "I was not expecting to get shot."
"I'm not sure what you were expecting," replied Fraser.
"Yeah, me either, but it wasn't a bullet." Ray stretched, brought his legs up, put them down again. His life for a cup of coffee with eighteen M&Ms and a jelly doughnut.
"Ray..." Fraser trailed off and looked away. Ray glared at him until he looked up again. "Ray, I cannot tell you how sorry I am for this situation. If there's anything I can do..."
Ray kept glaring at him. "You can take me to Canada and let me live in a cold little shack and teach Inuit kids to play hockey," said Ray sarcastically. You can take me home and fuck me senseless and we can pretend like the last four years didn't happen, okay? Don't ever leave me, you stupid fuck. "Get out, Fraser."
"As you wish, Ray," said Fraser, and he stood up, and put the hat back on, crooked again. When the door closed behind him, Ray threw the crushed pudding cup at it. He missed by a couple of feet, but it made him feel better.
Not really, but he told himself it made him feel better. The Fed didn't come back in either, and Ray spent the rest of the day watching the bowling championships on ESPN 4.
Ray thought his last day would be more special. Maybe there'd be a cake. Maybe they'd let him have dairy or bacon or a cup of coffee. But no, he got the same oatmeal he'd had every morning, and the same fruit, and the same soy pudding, the same weak tea. He watched the same television, and he only knew that he was leaving because Welsh had come in the morning before he went to the station, and shook his hand, and squeezed a little too hard. Ray squeezed hard back. Welsh had given him his first break, back when Welsh was the Lieu at the 1-4 and Ray was a dumb beat cop with more hair gel than brains, fucked up from coming off the Botrelle case. There wasn't anything like the bond between a guy and the man who got him his detective shield, and Ray was gonna miss Welsh.
He also knew it was time to leave, because when he woke up, all the magazine and shit that he'd had scattered around were gone, and so were his glasses, and there was a stack of clothing in the closet that wasn't pajamas. His razor was gone from the bathroom too, so he couldn't shave, and there hadn't been any hair gel to begin with, so his hair looked kinda... dejected. Sad. Pathetic. Plus: roots.
Ray never remembered that he hated bleaching his hair until he'd done it and had to do it again because the roots were growing out.
He did his physical therapy and then he ate some more pudding and then he watched some bowling -- fuzzy bowling, since the television was up on the ceiling and his glasses had been taken -- and then it was time to get ready to leave.
Ray put on the clothes in the closet -- jeans too new to fit properly and a black turtleneck sweater. Like Ray had ever worn a turtleneck in his life, but it fit him and it was there. The shoes were new too, heavy work boots that were going to give him blisters until he'd broken them in, but at least they had steel toes. They weren't his old shitkickers, but they didn't suck.
The generic Fed escort came in after Ray ate dinner -- real food for dinner, chicken soup and some kind of dumplings and lots of bread. Ray felt full for the first time in forever. It was like time had stopped while he was lying in the fucking hospital bed with a needle in his arm, and now it was starting back up again.
"Where's Theresa?" he demanded.
"They've sent me. Special Agent Jeremiah Black." The Fed flashed his badge at Ray the same time he flashed his too-white teeth. Ray glared at him. "Are you ready to leave, Mr. Kowalski?"
Yeah, Mr. Kowalski. How fucked up was that? Ray wasn't sure he'd ever get used to it. Spend twenty years busting his ass, and for what? To be a civilian again.
"No, I kinda like it here," replied Ray.
"Excellent," said the Fed. "Here are your plane tickets. We have a car waiting to take you to the airport. The nurses packed your bags -- your old clothes, unfortunately, were sent to your parents, but we've made sure you have enough new ones to get through a few days. Your file is in here, too." He held up a small black bag that looked like it should have had a laptop in it. "You should familiarize yourself with your history."
"I get a new name?" said Ray.
Ray raised his eyebrows. "Hardee ha ha," he said. "Really, funny guy, what's my new name?"
"Stanley Cohen," repeated the Fed. He tossed the black bag onto the bed. "When you're ready, the car is outside."
Stanley Cohen. Fucking A. First he was Italian, and now he was back to being Stanley? And Cohen? That was Jewish. Did Ray look Jewish to anyone? No. Could Ray have looked less Jewish? No, probably not. Maybe his nose could have been a little smaller, but it was a good Polish nose, not a Jew nose. Fuck. This had to be the Feds' idea of a joke, because none of them had a sense of humor resembling a human's.
Ray glared at the black bag, tied the laces on his boots, and stood up. It still hurt to stand straight, to breathe deeply, and to move, but he was gonna do it without the pain pills, damn it.
He walked out of the room, and down an antiseptic hallway filled with unlabelled doors, and through a set of double doors, into a lobby where there weren't any people he could complain to about their fucked up new identity for him -- they hadn't even given him a cell phone, so he couldn't call Welsh or anyone, probably on purpose, those sadistic fucks -- and out into the Chicago winter. No one had given him a hat or coat or gloves or anything, and it was freezing cold, but the car was right there, just like Jeremiah Black had said, a plain Chevy with tinted windows and a bad black paint job.
Ray opened the door and slid in. The driver was Fraser. Sitting shotgun was Vecchio.
"I did die," said Ray. "And this is fucking hell."
"Shut up, Stanley." Vecchio handed him a cup. It was coffee. Ray was still pissed as fuck at Vecchio, but the coffee smelled good, like the real shit, like Kona or something. Probably mobsters didn't have any problems getting the real good coffee from wherever they wanted.
"Hey, fuck you, Vecchio," said Ray, but there was no real meanness there, because he just couldn't work up the energy needed for meanness. He took a sip of the coffee. It had just the barest bit of cream, the faintest hint of chocolate. Perfect -- Fraser must have made it. Ray glared up at the front seat.
"You better chill out, Stanley," said Vecchio.
"Yeah, or what?" said Ray, and took a longer drink of coffee. He could feel the caffeine rushing through his veins, waking him up, bringing him back to life. Yeah, this was what he needed.
"Or I won't tell you what's going on." Vecchio smiled at him, that smug bastard.
"All right, tell me," said Ray. "I'll play nice."
"I'm undercover," said Vecchio. Ray's eyes flicked to Fraser; Fraser was looking at him in the rearview. Fraser looked away first, but Ray figured that was a gimme, since Fraser had to watch the road.
"Yeah, undercover. I got that from talking to your contact, Theresa." Ray stared steadily at Vecchio until Vecchio dropped his head.
"I'm undercover," repeated Vecchio, "as Langoustini, and you're a dumb fuck who doesn't know better than to go chasing after mobsters without a vest, you dick. Did you really think Stella was interested in opening a bowling alley?"
"She kept it open," said Ray stupidly.
"You're a dumb fuck," said Vecchio.
"Yeah, so I've heard." Ray refocused his eyes onto the top of the coffee cup.
CAUTION: CONTENTS HOT
"Ray, I believe that what Ray is trying to tell you is that I was not actually aware that he was undercover officially. I believed, as you did, that he had gone vigilante. However, I did not believe that he had truly turned." Fraser met Ray's eyes again, evenly.
"Okay, whatever. Stella went along with this?" Ray demanded. "Stella let this happen?" Ray wasn't sure if by "this" he meant his getting shot, or Vecchio going back in deep with the mob, or the fucking fight he and Fraser never actually had about Ray's feelings for Stella.
The whole goddamn thing had been a setup and Ray could have been living the high life in the Northwest Territories for four years, and hadn't been because Vecchio'd wanted to go back undercover.
Who was a dumb fuck? Vecchio was a dumb fuck. A stupid motherfucking fucking fuck. Ray was gonna kick his head all over the car and then play stickball with it in Millennium Park.
"Of course Stella knew. She had to know. I get to see her sometimes -- the boys think it's funny, my little pet who used to be married to two cops, letting me fuck her cause I look like her dead husband, letting me launder money through her bowling alley that used to belong to a cop." Vecchio shrugged. Ray clenched the hand that wasn't holding the coffee into a fist to keep from kicking in his teeth.
"Whatever," said Ray.
"I didn't kill those people," said Vecchio. "I didn't kill that kid. I'm being set up."
"Yeah, I figured," said Ray, even though Welsh had something different to say, "since Fraser here is still speaking to you." Ray sipped his coffee and stared out the window.
"I didn't kill those people," Vecchio insisted. "That kid was killed by the same guys who popped you."
"You popped me, asshole," said Ray. He closed his eyes. The glass of the window was cold against his head; he could definitely feel a headache coming on under the painkillers. Between the traffic going to the airport and Vecchio's nasal voice and ugly mug, Ray wasn't sure he was gonna make it to wherever the Feds were sending him.
"Yeah, but they popped you, you know what I'm saying? They popped you, now you're dead. You think I'm dumb enough to leave shit with my DNA at the scene? The bullet into the ground? Hey, look at me," said Veccho, and Ray looked up. Vecchio looked pissed, his mouth twisted, his face flushed. Yeah, Ray'd be pissed too if he was being set up, maybe.
Ray'd spent two years getting into Vecchio's head. He knew the guy had his problems, but maybe killing kids was going too far, even for him. Ray'd bet the GTO, which obviously he would never drive again -- he paused in his thoughts a moment to mourn -- that Vecchio had killed people. If he hadn't, he'd ordered it done, which was as good as pulling the trigger as far as Ray was concerned.
"What about the heroin?" asked Ray. He had to know. "What about the nine kilos?"
"Huh?" said Vecchio.
"Siracusa," said Ray, determined. "What about the missing heroin?" Fraser made a weird sound. Ray snorted. "You got something to say, Fraser?"
"No, Ray," replied Fraser calmly. Ray wanted to shake up his fucking calm, but instead he took a sip of the coffee.
"So? What about it, huh?"
"I can't tell you, smart guy," said Vecchio.
"I'm dead, smart guy. It's like talking to a saint. You owe me."
"I do not owe you."
"You shot me," said Ray. What the fuck was wrong with this guy? Ray'd spent two years proving he could keep a secret. Maybe he didn't do such a good job sometimes, but maybe there were exten -- over-extended -- whatever, there were circumstances.
"Okay, we used it for a sting. It was under, it wasn't something we could talk about." Vecchio rubbed his face. Ray scowled at him. "I'm sorry it sucked for you. Can we move on?"
"We cannot move on. We are standing still," said Ray. He was gonna say something else, maybe something about how now his life was fucking over, and it was Vecchio's fault, but then he noticed where they were driving. "Hey, Fraser, you went the wrong way. This is the Air Canada terminal." Haha, perfect Fraser, perfect Ben, making a mistake like that.
"Ah, no, Ray, this is where we are supposed to be."
Ray looked at the rearview mirror, but Fraser wasn't looking at him.
"What?" said Ray. "I told that fuck I didn't want to go to Canada!"
"Language, Ray," said Fraser, and Ray dug his fingernails into his palm. Suddenly he had a real bad feeling.
He set the coffee between his thighs -- ow, warm, but not too hot, okay, it was actually fine -- and dug into the black bag. There it was, a driver's license for Stanley Cohen, resident of -- Fort Good Hope, Canada? The fuck? He dug through the other shit in the bag, and everything agreed: Stanley Ray Of Light Cohen -- Ray Of Light? -- was born to a hippie who drowned in the Mackenzie River. He was raised by his Jewish aunt and Inuit uncle sixty miles outside of Fort Good Hope, left when he was eleven to go to high school in Yellowknife, went to college in Chicago, worked in Chicago as an auto mechanic after college, and had returned to Fort Good Hope, where he lived with his partner, one Benton Fraser, the fucking RCMP Sergeant for the area.
What the fucking fuck?
Ray packed everything back into the bag.
"Fort Good Hope?" said Ray finally. Fraser was parking the car. Vecchio was smirking.
"Well, Ray, it seems that, despite my continuing relationship with Stanley Cohen, which I have been striving to keep private, upon the death of my former partner, the RCMP saw fit to give me a promotion contingent upon an examination of my knowledge of procedures, and a transfer to a new detachment, where I will be one of two RCMP officers patrolling a rather small section of the Territories. I did try to explain to them that due to reasons that did not need to be explored, it was unnecessary, but they were quite insistent." Fraser turned the car off, still not looking at Ray. Vecchio, however, turned around and glared at Ray.
"You behave yourself, Polack," said Vecchio warningly.
"Yeah? I'm Jewish now, didn't you hear?" said Ray, and got out of the car. Fraser lingered, saying goodbye to Vecchio, switching seats with him, but Ray went into the terminal, got on line. Fuck Vecchio, that stupid prick.
Ray had to take off his boots to get through security, and then he couldn't raise his arms the way they wanted him to, so he ended up needing Fraser anyway. Fraser stepped in, wearing the goddamn hat, flashed his badge, said "Thank you kindly" several times, and they were through. Ray walked through the terminal to their gate with his boots in one hand, because he couldn't tie his boots back up, because he couldn't bend down. When he sat down, Fraser looked at him, real evenly, real... kind of angry. He knelt down and put Ray's boots back on his feet and tied them perfectly, and didn't look up at Ray the whole time. Ray's throat got all thick and fucked up, and his dick got hard, because Fraser at his feet? Fraser on his knees? That was shit that Ray's body remembered, remembered really well, and wanted again.
After that, Ray would have ignored Fraser, except Fraser was staring at him. They were the only people in the Air Canada terminal, which made sense, because it was almost midnight, and their flight left at three. Who scheduled airplane flights anyway, that's what Ray wanted to know, because sitting and waiting until three in the morning wasn't his idea of the fun.
And Fraser was staring at him. Suspiciously. Out of the corners of his eyes, sideways.
"What?" Ray finally said.
"Ray, you did tell me that you wanted me to take you to Canada," said Fraser. Ray would have sworn that Fraser was making fun of him, except now was really not the time for Fraser's sense of humor to resurface.
"Yeah, but I didn't mean that I really wanted you to take me to Canada," said Ray. "It was sarcasm, which I know is a concept with which you are more than familiar, Fraser."
"I apologize, Ray," said Fraser, too sincerely. Ray glared at him.
"I hate flying," said Ray, and turned his head away.
"Understood," said Fraser, which was funny, because there was nothing to understand. Ray was a gay Jewish hippie, living in Canada, living in the ass end of nowhere, and his whole life was taken away from him. It wasn't even like when he was Vecchio. Now his parents thought he was dead, and the only people who knew he wasn't dead weren't allowed to talk to him. Except Fraser.
It was like hell. But not. It was kinda like a really good fantasy, one of the fantasies that never made any sense, but they got him off anyway, because they were just so fucking hot.
Ray looked at Ben from under his eyelashes, and grinned when Ben looked away.
On the other hand, Ray knew that living in Fort Good Hope was going to suck. 27 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle? Ray didn't know much, but he knew that meant cold and dark and depressing. He knew that meant natives who would be nasty to him and Ben for being gay, even if they weren't fucking, and he knew that meant that if he wanted sex, he'd have to get it from a local girl who was known for that sort of thing, because a guy couldn't just go up to any hot girl and slide her a smooth line and then bone her.
And Ray wasn't too sure he wanted a girl anyway. Maybe he'd get desperate enough that he'd take anyone, but... it was gonna be him and his fist until the end of time. Or until Fraser got pissed enough at him and left, and Ray left, and then he'd be right back where he started.
He looked at Ben again, and, sure enough, Ben was looking at him.
"I need a pain pill," announced Ray, and he stood, walked toward the bathroom. Ben jumped up and followed him, slinging his duffle bag and Ray's black case over his shoulder. Once he was through the door, Ray dug the bottle of small pills out of his pocket and popped one into his mouth, stuck his face under the faucet and drank.
Then he turned and leaned against the sink and looked at Ben.
"So where's Dief?" he asked.
"Maggie has kindly offered Diefenbaker board until we can get settled." That was cool -- Maggie would make sure Dief had donuts and shit. "I'm to build a cabin outside of town." Ben hesitated, then continued: "I'm sure you'll find the town to your liking, Ray. There's cable television, telephones, a gymnasium -- even a library and a Catholic church."
"Yeah, that's my first concern right now, Ben. Going to Our Lady of Good Hope every Sunday morning and giving confession on Saturdays." Ray rolled his eyes.
"Our Lady of Good Hope is one of the oldest churches in the Northwest Territories, Ray," said Ben, and Ray could tell, just from his tone, that he was about to start an hour-long lecture on The History Of Fort Good Hope And All The People There, so Ray cut him off.
"It's cool, Ben," he said, and this time Ben noticed that Ray was calling him Ben, and stiffened up. He kinda looked like he was wearing the uniform when he did that, even though he was just wearing a flannel shirt and those yellow boots. "It's funny, huh?"
"I'm afraid I don't follow," said Ben. He was still holding the bags.
"If Vecchio never -- you know, did that thing. We wouldn't be here, right? We'd be somewhere in the Northwesterly Areas, making pemmican and fucking in the bushes." Ray leaned against the sinks and crossed his arms over his chest. Ben looked uncomfortable. Ray might not have anything left of his life, but he could still make Ben look like eighty caribou were running through his shorts.
"Ray." Ben cleared his throat.
"Yeah," said Ray. "But maybe we're better off this way."
"You know." Ray rubbed a hand over the back of his neck, down, scratched his stubble. A few days without shaving and it wasn't stubble anymore, it was a beard. It itched a little, but not too bad. It looked stupid, though, and he'd have to shave it off once they got to Canada.
"No, Ray, I'm afraid I have no idea what you're talking about."
"You're lying, Fraser. Ben. You know exactly what I'm talking about." Ray looked down at his feet, at his shiny new boots, then back up at Ben. "You wanna kiss me right now? Don't you? Do you still think I'm attractive? Mounties can't lie, you know, you gotta tell me the truth, straight up. The beard's gotta go, and I'm a little old now, but you're old too. It can't be that."
"Ray --" Ben stopped. Ray didn't bother to chase after him, just kept pressing on.
"You're still pretty, Ben. I never told you that, huh? I figure this is like our second chance, right? Everything is wiped out, all my past is gone, but I still got you -- must be a reason for that. Maybe it's time to do it right." Ray grinned at him.
Ben didn't grin back. His face was solemn. "Are you going to make an honest man of me, Ray?"
Marriage, huh? That was legal in Canada now, despite all the Inuit protests. Maybe Ray had kept up. Accidentally.
"We'll see about that. Maybe we could try, you know, being together first." Ray took a deep breath, as deep as he could until his chest started to hurt. What the hell, right? If this was just a weird dream, maybe Ray would get some sex out of it. And if it was real... it couldn't hurt to start off not being an asshole.
"Ray... there's --"
"No, I know what you're going to say." Ray had his left arm wrapped around his stomach, because, god, did it fucking hurt, but he held up his right hand. "I have to tell you, Ben, any arguments you have, I can counter. I just spent two weeks doing nothing but watching television and thinking, and, okay, my thoughts maybe weren't all about you, but some were."
"I'm flattered you were thinking about me, Ray, but --" Ben shifted his weight and finally put the bags down. He licked his lip, that kind of half lick that always made Ray want to bite his mouth a little, where his tongue just barely came out of his mouth to touch his lower lip.
"But nothing, Ben." Ray crossed his legs. His butt was getting a little wet from the sinks, but this was more important. "How about I tell you some stuff without a story involved?"
"Ray..." Ben closed his eyes, then opened them.
"I really liked living with you. It was cool." Ray winced. That wasn't exactly what he meant to say. "I mean -- I'm sorry. You know. You got the wrong idea about me and Stella that day."
"Ah... yes. I did eventually come to that conclusion."
"Yeah? Then why did you send all my stuff back to Chicago?"
"I grievously underestimated you, Ray. My misunderstanding..." Ben closed his eyes again. Ray looked at his eyelashes. He could see every single one. Maybe not, but he wasn't going to pull out his glasses, even if he could remember where he packed them. Ben continued: "How could I have believed that of you?"
"Easy -- you thought I wasn't over Stella. Not surprising, buddy." The pain pill was kicking in, making Ray's fingers tingle.
"Yes, well..." Ben opened his eyes, and Ray felt really terrible, because he looked like shit. Inside. Then his eyes went blank again, and he was back to Fraser the Mountie.
"Don't do that," said Ray tiredly. "I'm too exhausted for the bullshit. Just tell me. You want me to come to Canada with you? You want me to live with you? You love me?"
"Yes, Ray, of course." Ben sounded surprised.
"Don't sound surprised. This is fucked up. It's all fucked up." Ray scrubbed his face with his hands. "Okay, I wanna come back to Canada with you and live with you. I love you." And that was easy -- it was easy to say that he loved Ben, easier than he'd thought it would be. So he took it a step further, because maybe that would be easy too: "I love you not like buddies, either, you know what I'm saying?"
"Ah, yes, Ray. I understand." Ben took a step toward him. Then another. Ray uncrossed his arms and reached out, grabbed Ben's belt loops, pulled him off balance. Aw, fuck, that hurt, but now Ben was pressed against him, and that felt good.
"Say it," said Ray into Ben's ear. If Ben didn't say it, it wouldn't matter that Ray had thrown himself out there, it wouldn't matter whatever Ray felt, whatever his life was gonna be like now. Ben had to say it, because feelings and shit were hard enough when two people had them. When it was only one, it was impossible. Ray didn't just know that from Stella either -- Ray knew that from Ben. But this time they were saying the right words, not the safe, easy words. The scary ones. "Say it."
"I love you, too, Ray," said Ben, his voice muffled. His face was pressed into Ray's neck.
"Don't sniff me," said Ray. "Do not sniff me. I smell bad."
"You smell wonderful," said Ben, but he raised his head. Ray smushed their mouths together, not very elegant, but it worked. They were kissing, Ben's mouth hot, and tasting vaguely of sugar and tea, Ben's arms around him, his hands on Ray's waist.
Sign it, dot it, stick it in a box marked done, Ray was going back to Canada.
Ray had expected Ben back on Thursday; when he didn't show up, Ray knew nothing was really wrong, knew Ben was just tracking a suspect or had to stay late at the detachment for one reason or another. They made a deal that if Ben was tracking someone, he'd come get Ray first, but Ray'd had a cold when Ben left, and there was no way he would let Ray out tracking with a cold that could turn into the flu, or pneumonia. Blah blah blah.
Get the flu from falling into the snow once and pull open delicate scar tissue and bleed all over the guy stealing Inuit carvings and no one ever let you forget it.
Ben could be dead. Ben could be dying. Ben could be trapped in a crevasse without his flare gun, with a broken leg and broken fingers, unable to free himself or climb out or call for help. Ben could be dead at the bottom of a cliff, he could have fallen through ice into the MacKenzie River. All day every day, Ray kept one eye on the sky for a flare and one ear open for a gunshot, as though he could hear it if Ben was far away. He had new sympathy for Stella and his mother, and what they must have felt like when Ray became a cop.
Ray hated Canada, hated the Northwest Territories, hated Fort Good Hope and the darkness and the hollow wind. Except he didn't, he really liked it -- most of it, anyway -- but Ben was making him crazy, made him crazy for two months already. Surviving in Canada came back to Ray fast, faster than riding a bicycle would, faster than remembering the taste of fresh vegetables or the burn of cigarette smoke, but surviving Ben was so hard.
The spring thaw hadn't been quiet and kind -- it had been loud like a thunderstorm and vicious like an earthquake, shaking the cabin that Ray and Ben were building outside of Fort Good Hope. It had been scary as fuck and also probably the coolest thing Ray had ever seen. And Ben would know not to go walking on ice floes or whatever once they'd thawed. He could fall through and he wouldn't do that.
He couldn't do that. They hadn't even -- it hadn't been -- Ray couldn't... He couldn't do that.
And he hadn't, because Ray could hear the dogs. Cold carried sound in a really bizarro way, so by the time Ray heard the dogs, Fraser was practically standing in the door, his face red, his clothes covered in powdery snow from the dogsled. It was almost warm enough that a dogsled wasn't really good anymore, Ray figured, but there had to be another kind of sled they could use on the grass.
"Hey," said Ray, and turned to the kettle full of water sitting over the fire. He'd been boiling water since Thursday. If Ben came home cold, he'd want tea. "Want some tea?"
"Tea would be lovely, thank you kindly," said Ben. He sounded like he was grinning, but when Ray turned back around, holding a cup of tea in his hand -- yeah, whatever, Earl Grey in a bag, like Ray was gonna steep tea with leaves and shit? -- Ben was unwinding his muffler and removing his coat. "Dief says he'll come in after he makes sure all the dogs eat without fighting."
"So, uh, you still having problems with Luke? He still giving you a hard time with Mike?" Ray leaned against the table, watched Ben take off his coat, then pull his fleece over his head.
"No, the dogs appear to have worked out their differences themselves," said Ben, his voice muffled by the Henley he wore under his fleece.
Okay, then. Not much else to say about that. Ray held the cup of tea until Ben was stripped down to his cotton long underwear, his outerwear hung up neatly or folded, depending. Ray rolled his eyes.
"Ah," said Ben when he cupped the mug between his big hands and took a deep sniff of the tea. Ray stepped backwards, too close to the fire, stepped forward again. Every single time Ben came home from the detachment, it was the same: Ben would come home, Ray would feel awkward, they'd brush against each other, freeze, then go back to normal. If normal was dancing around each other and not fucking, just staring at each other like teenagers, accidentally-on-purpose touching each other, and sleeping in separate beds, both of them jerking off into the still night air at the same time, like fucking except not, not at all, and kind of shitty. Yeah, then they wake up and the whole house smells like sex and sweat, but it wasn't from the good kind of --
Just thinking about it made Ray hot and angry at the same time.
Ray kind of wanted to know what Ben had done with their bedframe, the one Ben had carved himself, the one Ray had picked out the wood for. But it seemed to have disappeared, along with most of the other shared items that Ben had kept when he sent all Ray's stuff to Chicago.
He'd promised himself that he would try this time, that if he and Ben didn't work out somehow it wouldn't be because Ray hadn't done his very fucking best to make sure that they were both happy. But Ben wasn't fucking trying. Ben wasn't letting Ray fuck him, and he wasn't fucking Ray, and he didn't let Ray suck his cock -- and Ray dreamed about sucking Ben's cock, woke up with his mouth open and his fist halfway down his goddamn throat, choking on his own saliva, he wanted it so bad. He barely touched Ray.
Sometimes when they were on the couch watching satellite television (god, satellite television in the Northwest Territories, civilization -- ESPN! Hockey!) and Ray would slide his hand onto Ben's thigh, suddenly Ben would have to piss, or walk the dogs -- walk the fucking dogs! -- or make a cup of tea. Sometimes when they were hunting, Ray would stare at Ben and lick his lips, and suddenly Ben would decide that it was time to go shoot dinner or jump off a cliff or start tracking some litterbug.
Forget his blue balls -- Ray was starting to get a real bad case of annoyance. Two months of dancing around each other, of being shunned by the natives for shit they weren't even doing, of knowing that in a place where it was most important to know that you could borrow Jimmy Salluit's truck or that Big Lou Macdonald would come when you shot up a flare they had nobody except each other -- well, and Sister Maria Brigit, because it was her Christian duty. Hell, it wasn't even that Ray didn't speak the language -- Fraser didn't speak the language, because the natives weren't speaking Inuktitut; they were speaking something called North Slavey, which sounded the fucking same to Ray, but Ben assured him that they were soooooo very different that he could pick up on what they were saying, but not so fluent.
Who ever thought there would be something besides communicating with Ray that Ben wasn't good at?
Not like Ray had gotten any better at it. When all he wanted to do was kick Ben's head all over the cabin, instead of letting himself yell, he just went outside and stuck his head in the snow. Ben must have been doing the same, because they never argued -- but they never really talked to each other, after Ray had promised himself he wasn't going to try to get his point across using goddamn stories anymore and everything.
Fucking hell. It was hard to talk about his feelings, hard e-fucking-nough without Ben telling him about snow owls. Shit.
Ray interrupted Ben right in the middle of some story about the Boreal Chickadees of Inuvik, because Ray did not want to know.
"I'm sick of this, Ben," he said. He leaned against the table right next to Ben's seat, gripped it hard, dug in his fingernails.
"Ray..." said Ben, and looked down into his tea. "I..."
"You what?" said Ray. "You ready to tell me that the FBI was gonna send me someplace warm, someplace full of dancing and sex, and you told them to send me to Canada?" At Ben's sharp look, Ray rolled his eyes. "Come on, Ben. I'm fucked up but I'm not stupid. I am not stupid. I am not an idiot child."
"An idiot savant, maybe," murmured Ben, and it was so much like the old Ben that Ray didn't even mind, almost, being called an idiot.
"You say 'potato', I say 'mashed'," said Ray, and shrugged, and wondered if Ben knew how hard it was for him to shrug without letting go of the table and punching Ben in the head.
"Well, my father always did say that honesty was the best foundation for any partnership. Why..." Ben took a sip of tea, then continued, really fast. "He always told me that he and Buck --"
"Hey, Ben, maybe it escaped your notice, but we're not exactly partners anymore." Ray leaned toward Ben a little, smelled his tea, smelled his sweat. He looked ridiculous in his stupid long underwear. Ray knew without even looking that Ben had his socks pulled up over the bottoms, and that looked ridiculous too.
"Ray, quite the contrary. A chosen partnership with no... legal or... religious binding... well, that's the strongest sort. To wake up every morning knowing that the person one works beside is there only because he or she wants to be... that's the most... powerful..." Ben finally stopped talking, stared into his tea, looked everywhere but at Ray.
Yeah, that was a story all right.
"That's what you're trying to tell me?" said Ray. He was fucked up, maybe, but he wasn't stupid.
He didn't have a story to match that, because Ray always figured that the way you -- the way one showed one's partner that one wanted to be with one was to get married or to get paperwork from one's Lieu.
"Yes," said Ben quietly. "Do you understand, Ray? A partnership is so much more than -- than -- than who left the empty butter dish in the refrigerator and -- "
"I never leave the empty butter dish in the fridge," said Ray. Then, quietly: "You gotta look at me, Ben. I'm not going to do this with a story. You gotta say it." Because Ray wasn't going to be the one to say it. Ben had to say it. This was all Ben's fault and Ben knew it and Ray knew it and Ben had to be the one to admit that it was his fault, the one to ask Ray back.
Ray figured he wasn't doing it because he was afraid, and that made him feel weird -- that Ben was afraid of something, afraid of him. They couldn't have any kind of relationship if Ben was always going to be worried that Ray would run away or suddenly decide he wanted to sleep with Heather O'Grady or her daughter Melissa. Or both at the same time. So Ben had to get over whatever his problem was, and Ray wasn't gonna -- Ray couldn't wait, it was time already, past time, Ben shouldn't have made Ray move out to the fucking wilderness if he was just gonna bow out like a fucking coward, Jesus.
"I didn't think I needed to say it!" said Ben, and his voice was loud and indignant and now he was looking at Ray, now that Ray didn't want to look at him. Ray peeled his fingers off the table and cracked his knuckles.
"You gotta say it!" he yelled at Ben, and walked to the other side of the room, then walked back, paced the line again, his hands in his hair. He felt a horrible feeling of dj vu, felt almost hysterical.
"How do I need to say it? I said it already!" Ben was yelling now too, standing up, his hands spread on the table. "My entire life has been changed to accommodate you -- what more do you need? How else can I demonstrate to you that I trust you, that I want you in my life, that --"
"How about you fucking tell me, huh?" said Ray. He walked back and stood in front of Ben. "How about you say, 'Ray, I love you, never leave me'?"
"Ray..." Ben hesitated.
"I'll start," said Ray, because he had to meet Ben halfway, had to give the guy that. "Ben, I --" This was it. Once he said it, there wouldn't be any going back. It would be for keeps, for sickness and health, until one of them fell into the Mackenzie River or Jackfish Creek, or was shot by whoever was stealing Maggie T'seleie's furs, or got pneumonia and never got better, which Ray guessed probably fell under sickness, but wasn't exactly sure.
Ben was looking at him, totally crushed, like he just knew Ray was going to say, "Ben, I want to go fuck girls and live someplace warm where I don't have to listen to you jerk off like a pervert every night."
"Ben," said Ray firmly. "I love you. I'm never going to leave you. If I can help it. Unless you're a dick."
The relief on Ben's face made Ray feel shitty, but maybe Ben felt shitty too, because the relief Ben felt when Ray said that couldn't be anything compared to the relief that Ray felt when Ben said, "Ray, I love you. I will never leave you." Ray's knees felt weak and his head kind of hurt, and that was like, like, they'd just said their vows or something, through sickness and health, rabid otters and escaped convicts, till death do us part, amen.
"Aw, shit," said Ray, and felt his throat close up and his eyes get all teary. To hide that he was about to start crying, he dropped to his knees, pushed Ben down into his chair, and unbuttoned three of his buttons.
"Ah, Ray, perhaps --" Ben sounded like maybe he was crying too. Ray had the fix for that. He pulled Ben's cock out -- soft, smallish, pink, but Ray wasn't going to say anything, because this wasn't a sex thing that they'd just done, it was a life thing -- and he took Ben's cock all the way into his mouth and it fit perfect, right into the roof of his mouth. He ran his tongue under the foreskin, listened to Ben gasp and choke. As he sucked on Ben's cock, he could feel it getting harder and wider and longer, pushing its way back out of his mouth, but more importantly, he could feel Ben's fingers, hot from the mug of tea, touch his face.
Ben's fingertips skimmed his skin, ran up his cheeks, into his hair, pulled him closer. That made it a sex thing, but it was also a love thing, and when Ben's fingers twisted in his hair, twisted and pulled hard, Ray moaned.
End Surviving by lalejandra
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