Chicago Is So Two Years Ago

Author: Minervacat
Fandom: due South
Pairing: Kowalski/Vecchio
Rating: NC-17
Spoilers: Through Call of the Wild
Summary: the first time i ever saw your face, i felt the earth move through my hands. 20,000 words.


When the door to the room in the Hotel California opened and Vecchio was standing on the other side of it, wearing that stupid mustache and staring at Fraser like Fraser was the one in the wrong place at the wrong time, the bottom of Ray's stomach dropped out and if things hadn't immediately started to go downhill, he might have fainted.

Fainted in manly way, but fainted all the same.

Instead the rage started boiling in his chest, because this was Vecchio, whether he was playing Vecchio or playing the Bookman or whatever. Ray and Fraser had worked out their issues, but Ray had always known that Vecchio came first, third after Canada and Dief, but before Ray himself.

Stupid Vecchio and his stupid mobster mustache shifted Ray's entire life around, because it had never really been his life at all, it was Vecchio's, and if Vecchio was back - well.

It wasn't Ray life anymore, and he didn't have any kind of life to go back to. Because Ray's life before he was Vecchio was Stella, and Ray didn't have that life anymore, either.

So: no Vecchio's life, because Vecchio's cover was blown and Vecchio let Ray know exactly how much he didn't like Ray having Vecchio's stupid life. And no life of his own, because no Stella. Stella was the only life that Ray had known.

No life at all, because Fraser had to knock on the one damn wrong door in all the hotels in all of the greater Chicago metro area.

Fucking Fraser. Fucking Vecchio. Fuck.

They went to Canada and they resolved at least 10% of Fraser's issues, not that Fraser ever talked about his issues, just that Ray knew they were there and he'd learned to work around them. And damn if Ray didn't know that Fraser had seen something that freaked him right the fuck out down in the mine shaft with Muldoon, but Fraser didn't talk about it and Ray didn't ask, because they didn't work that way.

As long as Fraser's issues didn't get in Ray's way, Fraser could have footlockers full of baggage and Ray was just happy to tag along. He got a lot of glory he didn't think he deserved tagging along with Fraser, and most of the time he didn't even feel like a fuck-up when he was tagging along with Fraser.

If he'd told Fraser that, he would have been treated to a long conversation about how he wasn't a fuck-up - not that Fraser would say that - and how he was a great cop on his own merits - only Fraser would have a better word than great for it - and how Ray needed to stop thinking badly about himself.

It was too damn cold up in Canada for that kind of conversation, in Ray's opinion if anyone was asking and even if they weren't, so instead Ray said, "Sure, okay," when Fraser said something about going off to look for the Hand of Franklin.

He was pretty sure that it would be too fucking cold the whole time they were out looking to have any kind of conversation about the fact that Ray was half in love with Fraser or the fact that Ray didn't have any kind of life to go back to in Chicago, and maybe he was in denial but that was A-OK with Ray all the same.

At least he wasn't miserable like he had been when he'd taken over Vecchio's life, right?

After two years with Fraser, Ray was too tired to do anything but work himself to the bone in the middle of nowhere for six straight months, and that was okay with him.

Start to finish, Ray was in Canada for nine months, two weeks, and one day. He and Fraser fell off a plane into more snow than Ray had ever seen in one place on March 7th and promptly hared off on Muldoon's tail, and Ray stepped off a plane in the B terminal of O'Hare on December 23rd, the way normal people who are not Fraser get off planes. For once the windows in O'Hare weren't smeared with the grime of a million children's fingers, and Ray stopped in the cattle shoot Air Canada used to politely herd obnoxious Americans off their planes and stared out at the wide sprawl of concrete that made up the airport.

It was snowing, a couple of inches on the ground already, and Ray said, "Home sweet home," and then, "Look, turtles," just to see if it made him feel any better, and it didn't.

Plus the stewardess - they prefer to be called flight attendants, Ray, he heard in his head, and goddamn Fraser all to hell - looked up and said, "Excuse me, sir?"

"Nothin'," Ray said.

"Merry Christmas, sir," the flight attendant said.

"Yeah," Ray said. "Whatever."

It took him 20 minutes to get a cab back to the city, because no way was Ray taking the goddamned Blue Line all the way in to Lawrence, which was bad enough as it was, but then another hour on a bus that might not show up at all. Cab it was, but everybody and their grandparents wanted a cab into the city before the snow got bad, and 20 fucking minutes later, Ray was sitting in traffic on the Kennedy two days before Christmas.

Someone on the radio was complaining about the Bears' offense or the Cubs' defense, Ray couldn't tell which.

"Home sweet goddamned home," he said to himself. "Merry fucking Christmas."

They spent seven months out on the ice. Ray knew the Hand of Franklin wasn't really at the end of the quest, and he'd thought that was the whole point - thought that the looking was enough. Fraser had said it enough to him, when Ray was freezing his nuts off trying to start a fire or feed the dogs at the ass crack of dawn or sleep through a raging blizzard with only a tent between him and the elements. Sometimes the seeking is enough, Ray.

And it was, in the end - for Ray, in the end, it was enough.

Seven months out on the ice, and then Fraser went back to his new post in Inuvik and Ray went with him, because Ray had thought thought something wrong, he guessed, in the end, but that didn't mean he hadn't thought it at all.

Seven months, and then two in Inuvik puttering around Fraser's RCMP housing and tinkering with the engines on bush planes for some under the table cash, and Ray had been almost ready to bring up the issues as he saw them, Fraser, there's something going on here, ain't there? and I was thinking about immigrating, emigrating, whatever-the-fuck-grating to Canada, can I crash with you?

But instead Fraser had said, Ray, shouldn't you be thinking about returning home soon? Lt. Welsh can't arrange your leave indefinitely, after all.

It had been butt fucking cold that day. Ice on the windows and Ray's lips practically purple and his hands almost frozen through when he woke up on the couch in the morning, and somehow Fraser managed to cut all the way through that and freeze Ray out even more.

Ray had wanted to yell, but instead he said, "Yeah, Frase, you're probably right. Got to be getting back to Chi-town. I'll get right on that."

Four planes, including one of those bush planes he'd tuned up himself, 17 hours, and a week and a half later, and Ray was back in Chicago and he couldn't find the keys to his apartment and it was fucking snowing.

His hands were still cold.

He was standing on the sidewalk in front of his building, someone's stupid light-up Santa blinking cheerfully in the window over his head, rifling his pack for the keys he knew he'd thrown in there yesterday, the day before, whenever before he got on a plane to come back to a fucking empty life in a city full of people who didn't give a shit about him. A couple of people shoved past him, and then one of them stopped, a pair of combat boots under a pair of ratty jeans, and said, "Hey, Detective Kowalski, right?"

Ray looked up, and it was the pretty girl from across the hall. College kid with purple hair and a black leather and tattoos sort of boyfriend, but she'd been nice enough, friendly - closest thing Ray'd had to a friend when he'd moved into this place when he took the Vecchio gig. "Yeah," Ray said. "I can't remember your name, sorry."

"Maya," she said. "You've been, what, like, up in the Yukon forever, right?"

"Nine months," Ray said, standing up from the sidewalk. The cuffs of his jeans were wet, snow starting to soak through to his skin, and he just wanted to sit in his dark and dusty apartment in the peace and quiet and get drunk, not make small talk, but Fraser had rubbed off on him and college girl was being nice, so Ray was nice back. "Northwest Territories."

"Right, you worked with that Mountie," Maya said. "You back for good?"

"Looks like," Ray said. "Except I can't find my friggin' keys."

Maya laughed, and patted him on the arm. "Come on," she said. "I'll call the super, he can let you in. You kept paying rent on this place, huh?"

"Yeah," Ray said, shouldering his pack and following her into the lobby.

"Seems kind of dumb," Maya said, "if you don't mind my saying. What'd you want to hold on to a dump like this for?"

"There's no place like home," Ray said, and Maya laughed again, and he just sort of felt sick to his stomach all over again, for the hundredth time in the last week.

No one had turned the heat on in his apartment (obviously) so it was just as cold there as it was outside, and no one had cleaned the place since he'd left (even more obviously, since Ray didn't bother cleaning even when he lived there) so there was a layer of dust about two inches thick on every surface except the freezer, which was a solid block of ice around a bottle of gin.

Ray thanked the super, found his keys in the pocket of his jeans underneath three boarding pass stubs, something half-whittled and unidentifiable even to him, and a crushed pack of cigarettes he'd bought in Edmonton, and hacked the gin out of its icy prison in the freezer. He opened all the windows and fished his ashtray out of the drawer in the kitchen where he'd stashed it when he got to be Vecchio, who didn't smoke.

Ray wrapped himself in a blanket, set the gin on the coffee table next to the ashtray, and drank until he was out of cigarettes. He fell asleep on the couch with the windows still open, and when he woke up again, his head hurt and there were little puddles of melting snow on the floor - and it was so cold in his apartment that he almost thought, just for a minute, that he was back in Canada, waiting for Fraser to get home and keep not getting what Ray thought was obvious.

Maybe it had never been obvious. Maybe all that crap about partnership hadn't really meant what Ray thought it'd meant.

Easier to think that, with a pounding gin hangover and a mouth that tasted like something had died in it, than to think that Fraser knew what he meant and just didn't care.

It was Christmas Eve, and Ray slogged out in the snow to Rayans on the corner of Wilson and Clark and bought a bottle of everything that looked good, and a carton of Marlboro Lights, and then he went back to his cold, wet apartment and drank himself straight through to the New Year.

He woke up on January 3rd and wondered if he'd died, because he couldn't possibly be alive and still feel as awful as he did, and then because Ray didn't have a fucking clue what to do anymore, he grabbed his cell phone off the floor where he'd thrown it two nights ago, when it didn't ring and Fraser didn't call, again, and called Lt. Welsh at the 27th.

Welsh snapped, "What," into the phone when he picked up, and it made Ray's head hurt even worse.

"Lieu, it's Kowalski," he said.

"How was Canada, Detective?" Welsh said. "Find that hand?"

"No," Ray said. "I'm back."

"And you thought maybe you could have a job?" Welsh said. He didn't sound annoyed, he just sounded overworked and like his holidays had maybe been a little like Ray's own.

"Yeah," Ray said.

"I don't usually give jobs back to guys who call me up from North Buttfuck, Canada, and ask for six months worth of leave and then take 9," Welsh said, "but I'm down two detectives and somebody just got shot over on East Wacker, so if you can be here in an hour, I'll have a stack of paperwork for you to do."

"Okay, yeah," Ray said, even though his head started throbbing to a tango beat as soon as Welsh said paperwork, and Welsh slammed down the phone on the other end without saying good-bye.

Ray puked in the shower, twice, and once standing on Lawrence waiting for a damn cab, because the Goat was still in storage and Ray'd be damned if he knew where the paperwork to get it out was right that minute. The smell of the station made his head hurt worse when he stepped through the front doors, but it was kind of comforting all the same - cigarette smoke and chalk and burnt coffee and that weird moldy smell every station in Chicago had, no matter how often anybody cleaned.

Nothing smelled like a Chicago police station up in Canada.

Welsh said, "You need a haircut, Kowalski."

Ray reached up for his hair and remembered that he'd let it grow, out on the quest, and he hadn't even noticed that it was hanging down over his collar and falling into his eyes. "Yeah, Lieu, sure," he said, and he felt like his hair, no attitude in it at all, was kind of a meta-fucking-phor for his empty, messed up life. No attitude in him at all; Canada'd frozen it all out of him.

"You can have your old desk," Welsh said. "The Vecchio desk, guy who had it after you up and moved to Oregon. I don't think I'm ever going to keep anybody there longer than a couple of years, but if there's open cases out there, they're yours now. And holler for Keating, he's out there somewhere, new kid just promoted. He needs a partner, work with him."

"Sure, Lieu," Ray said, and signed here and here and there on the paperwork Welsh shoved in front of him, basically saying that Ray got no vacation from here until the end of his life, which was okay with Ray because he didn't have anywhere to fucking go anymore, anyway. Like he was going to go to Florida and visit Stella and Vecchio - yeah, right - and Canada didn't want him.

Chicago was all that he had left, and Ray was going to stay right there and that was that.

He poured himself a cup of burnt-smelling coffee and looked around for Frannie with the stash of M&Ms she'd kept for him, except Frannie was at home with the baby, right, and nobody in the 2-7 except Welsh knew him anymore. He stood at the coffee pot for a long minute, trying not to put his fist straight into the wall, and then he went and sat down at the Vecchio desk and started sifting through the paperwork, because he just didn't have anything better to do.

Keating turned out to be an okay kid; smart, kind of off-color sense of humor, and pretty decent at his job. Plus he was nothing like Fraser - he left fast food wrappers on the floor of the Goat and was rude to Ray in the mornings before he'd got coffee in him and Keating never, ever did anything stupid like almost getting Ray killed or almost getting himself killed or almost getting both of them killed at the same time.

He and Keating spent a lot of time arguing about the Cubs (Keating was from St. Louis) and the right way to eat a Chicago 'dog, and in two months, they had the best solve rate in the department. Not like when you were working with Fraser, Welsh said when he called them in to his office to congratulate them on their latest close, a corporate fraud case that hadn't ended in Ray running across rooftops or Keating falling into a dumpster, just the way Ray liked it. But pretty good all the same.

He mouthed off to Welsh to cover up the fact that he almost kind of missed the controlled chaos that revolved around Fraser and his involvement in anything, and after shift, he made Keating go out to a bar in the South Loop where Ray'd drunk years before, to watch the midnight GN replay of the Cubs/Cards game.

Seven months looking for a hand that didn't exist, two months sitting around and waiting for something that wasn't going to happen, and that made nine months but it only took two back in Chicago before Ray stopped feeling like he was walking around with an open wound on his chest. He still felt bruised, sure, and the Cubs blew the game in the bottom of the 9th, but Ray woke up the next day and the first thing that hurt was his fucking head, from all the beer the night before, and not his heart.

He walked into the station whistling, stepped into the squad room with coffee in his hand and opened his mouth to shout for Keating, and that was when Ray Fucking Vecchio stepped out of Welsh's office and Keating's name died halfway out of Ray's mouth.

"Stanley," Vecchio said, smirking.

"Vecchio," Ray said. He had an urge, first time in a couple of weeks, to wrap his fingers into a fist and punch something, and that something was Ray Vecchio's goddamned smirking face, but Welsh stepped into the doorway behind Vecchio and Ray tapped the rage down to a simmer, and pressed his hand over his heart, where the bruise was aching like it was fresh again.

"I trust that you two, being grown men and not small boys, will get along," Welsh said.

"Of course," Vecchio said, still smirking at Ray.

"Yeah, Lieu," Ray said, and Vecchio opened his mouth like he had anything to say that Ray wanted to hear, so instead of listening, Ray turned on his heel and stomped back out of the station. He sat on the steps out front and smoked until somebody came out and sat down next to him; Ray didn't look over, because he guessed that it was Keating, wondering what the fuck was up. The nice thing about Keating was that if you told him to shut the fuck up and mind his own fucking business, he usually did, unlike a certain Canadian of Ray's acquaintance.

Without looking up, Ray said, "Go the hell away, Keating, I'll be inside in a couple of minutes."

"That the way you talk to all your partners?" Vecchio said. "No wonder Fraser ran back to Canada."

Ray ground his cigarette out and gritted his teeth before he turned. "I swear to God, Vecchio, I will punch you right in the mouth if you say another word about Fraser."

Vecchio put his hands up, surrender. "Geez, sorry, Stanley, didn't realize it was such a bad break-up."

"Vecchio," Ray said, putting as much of a warning as he could in the word.

"Sorry," Vecchio said, and then sort of collapsed in on himself like that was all the nastiness he had in him.

"Where's Stell?" Ray asked, because the wedding invitation - and the sorry you couldn't make it letter - had been waiting for Fraser at Frobisher's outpost when they'd gotten back.

"DC," Vecchio said, standing up and dusting his pants off. "ADA for the District."

"Sorry," Ray said, and when Vecchio offered him a hand up, he took it.

"Yeah," Vecchio said. "Bowling alleys just weren't her thing."

Nobody was stupid enough to partner them up together; Ray and Keating were doing okay together and Welsh wasn't going to break that up just so Ray could break Vecchio's nose the first time Vecchio pissed him off. But Vecchio was around the station, and he and Ray didn't become best buddies or anything like that, they weren't stupid either, but they got to tolerating, which was about as much as Ray could ask for.

February turned into March and spring training, and Ray and Vecchio kept trying to convince Keating that this would be the year that the Cubs finally knocked Houston off the top of the standings. March turned into April and it rained for three straight days, completely wiping out the Cubs' home opener, and Ray stomped around the station in a foul mood for all of it.

It was a Tuesday, the Cubs were supposed to have had the day off, but instead, home opener, finally, and a day/night doubleheader. Ray couldn't find anybody who had a set of tickets anywhere, so even though it had stopped raining - the sky was blue like it had been on the best days up in Canada, and the sun was warm on the back of Ray's neck when he walked from the parking lot to the station house - he was stuck at the station, making phone calls on a case that was colder than Ray didn't know what.

He was sitting at his desk, which he'd had to fight Vecchio to keep but he'd won it fair and square, and his coffee had gone cold, when a hand waved a pair of Cubs' tickets underneath his nose. "Get your coat, Stanley," Vecchio said. "We got the afternoon off."

Ray paid about a million bucks to park the Goat in one of those lots than claimed to be Easy Out but never were, and Vecchio complained about the smell of the concourse, the price of beer, the state of the Cubs' bullpen, all the way up to their seats, which were crappy nosebleed seats way out in left field, but that were still Cubs tickets for a doubleheader on the kind of day in April, Ray knew, that Chicago didn't usually get.

The Cubs won both games, and Vecchio got sloppy drunk on cup after plastic cup of Old Style. Ray actually felt like he was alive for the first time since he'd gotten on the plane to come back to Chicago, and Vecchio leaned against him on their way out of Wrigley, slurring drunkenly against Ray's ear about middle relief and bowling alleys.

Ray got Vecchio wedged into the passenger seat and waited for traffic to clear out so he could take Vecchio back to wherever he was living, maybe his mom's place down in Buena Park. "You're not so bad, Stanley," Vecchio said, and patted Ray's thigh.

"Where are you living, Vecchio?" Ray said.

"Ah," Vecchio said.

"Jesus Christ," Ray said, and when he got out of the lot, he pulled onto Clark heading north, back to his place, because, suddenly, dumping a drunken Vecchio on the front porch of his mother's place didn't seem like such a great idea. "Okay, buddy, you can sleep this off on my couch."

Fifteen minutes from Wrigley to Ray's apartment, tops, but Vecchio fell asleep in the front seat of the Goat and snored softly, and when Ray tried to wrangle him out of the car and onto his feet, Vecchio slumped against his side, one arm around Ray's waist, and pressed his face against Ray's neck. "You are a fucking cheap date," Ray told him, and Vecchio just huffed laughter against Ray's neck, quiet and warm and almost, Ray thought, and hated himself for thinking it, affectionate.

Ray managed to get Vecchio up the stairs and through the front door without causing too much damage to either of them, but when he tried to wrestle Vecchio out of his overcoat, Vecchio leaned in his wrapped his fingers through the belt loops on Ray's jeans and kissed him. It was short, soft and wet and tasting very much like beer, and when Vecchio pulled back he almost toppled over, and Ray had to reach out and grab his arms to keep him from hitting the floor ass first.

"What the fuck," Ray said.

"Fuck," Vecchio said, looking sort of like he wanted to puke, or pull away from Ray's hands on his shoulders, or something. Queasy sort of look, that Ray couldn't read, with something soft and affectionate underneath, and the sight of that look on Vecchio's face made Ray's heart hurt a little.

Ray said, "You are such a pain in the ass," and he let Vecchio sleep in his coat because getting it off him just seemed like too much trouble.

Vecchio was gone when Ray got up in the morning, and there was a pair of Cubs tickets, Saturday afternoon game at the end of May, stuck under a coffee mug on the kitchen counter. Ray ran his fingers over them before he stuck them under a magnet on the fridge, because he had no damn idea what Vecchio was playing at, but Cubs tickets were Cubs tickets, and in May everybody was still hopeful enough that this was next year that tickets were usually hard to come by.

Ray was hopeful enough that this was next year, and he didn't think about Vecchio's warm, beer-tasting mouth when he jerked off in the shower, not at all.

The second week of May Stella came into town for some ADA shindig downtown and she came by the station while she was there. Ray and Vecchio both went straight for her, moths to fucking flames Fraser would have said, only he would have said it politer, and it just got worse from there. Stella left and Ray and Vecchio had a screaming match in the squad room that would have come to blows if Welsh hadn't stormed out of his office and broken it up. Vecchio ignored Ray for two weeks after that, and Ray took Keating to the Cubs game.

The Cubs lost (six straight), and on Monday morning, Vecchio leaned up against Ray's desk, cup of coffee in his hand, and said, "Kowalski, you're a real jerk."

"What," Ray said, "were those tickets supposed to be for us to go on a date?"

"Fuck you, Stanley," Vecchio said. He smacked Ray upside the back of Ray's head and Ray slopped coffee all over his paperwork.

"Hey, fuck you, too, Vecchio," Ray said. "You going to redo that paperwork for me?"

"Not if you paid me," Vecchio said, and then Welsh came out of his office and threatened to actually partner them together if they couldn't get along, and Vecchio shut up and stomped back to his desk.

Ray and Keating had to take Vecchio out with them later that day, because there were six dead bodies and even Fraser couldn't handle six dead bodies by himself, especially when Keating still sometimes puked at all the blood. Keating, driving a crappy squad car because Ray wasn't going to take the Goat over to Pilsen if he could help it, looked over at Ray and then at Vecchio in the rear view mirror and said, "What's the deal with you guys, anyway? I heard stories, I thought you guys were, like, the same person."

"He stole my partner," Vecchio said.

"He stole my wife," Ray said.

Vecchio snorted. "Ex-wife."

"Ex-partner," Ray snapped.

"You guys are worse than my sister and her ex-husband," Keating said.

"And we were the same person," Ray said.

"For two years he was me," Vecchio said, "and I came back and found out he'd screwed my life all to hell and run off to Canada with my partner."

"Yeah?" Keating said, and raised an eyebrow.

Ray smacked him in the back of the head. "Shut up, Keating, and mind your own fucking business."

"Language, Stanley," Vecchio said primly, and then he smacked Keating in the back of the head, too.

They took statements from 14 witnesses, talked to three beat cops (two of whom Ray'd gone to high school with, and one of whom Vecchio'd bowled with about ten years ago), and by the time they got back to the station house, Keating still a little green around the gills, it was dark and Ray was tired and they didn't have a single lead.

He shoved his stack of statements into Keating's hands, standing in the lobby of the station house, and said, "Dump those on your desk when you return the squad car keys, I'll see you tomorrow."

"Hey," Keating said.

"Shut up," Ray said, and stomped back outside. He wanted a shower and a drink and a fuck and a smoke, and not necessarily in that order, and what he didn't want at all was to see Vecchio standing on the sidewalk in front of the station house, suit jacket over one shoulder and his sleeves rolled up and one hand in his pocket.

"Go away," Ray said, and Vecchio smirked. He fell into step with Ray as Ray headed for the parking lot and the Goat, and Ray glared at him. "You need something, Vecchio?"

"Lift home," Vecchio said.

"What do I look like, your taxi service?" Ray said. "Drive yourself." He remembered, suddenly, that he hadn't seen Vecchio drive in to the station once in the last three months. "What are you driving these days, anyway?"

"Not a Riv, I tell you what," Vecchio said, and he sounded weirdly sad about it. "Couldn't find another one within five years of the last one you and Fraser blew up."

"Fraser blew up," Ray said. "I drove it into the lake, because it was on fire."

"Details," Vecchio said, flapping a hand at Ray, and then actually standing by the passenger door to the Goat, like Ray had said, yeah, sure, of course I'll drive your ass back to Buena Park, no problem.

Because Vecchio wasn't a woman and Ray wasn't whipped, he climbed into the front seat, started up the car, rolled down his window, lit a cigarette, fiddled with the radio - and then he leaned over, unlocked the passenger side door and opened it up for Vecchio. Vecchio slid into the seat and rolled his eyes at Ray.

"Where to?" Ray said, as close to a parody of a cab driver as he could get.

Vecchio just rolled his eyes again and said, "Cubs out of town?"

"Yeah," Ray said. "San Diego."

"Barleycorn's," Vecchio said. "You have to smoke that thing in here?"

"Get your own damn car," Ray said, yanking the car out of the parking lot and onto 35th, heading for the Dan Ryan.

The Cubs were out of town but the White Sox weren't, and the Stevenson was backed up almost to a stop, and Lake Shore was the same way in the wrong fuckin' direction for the Cell. Vecchio just sat in the passenger seat and drummed his fingers on his thigh, occasionally glaring at Ray when Ray lit another cigarette. Ray finally edged off Lake Shore onto Belmont, and Clark Street at least was clear; he pulled up in front of the Salt and Pepper, opposite Barleycorn's, and said, "Okay, Vecchio, last stop, shitty Trixie bar with overpriced drinks."

Vecchio said, "What, you're not going to have a drink with me?"

Ray fought down the urge to say, "Vecchio, do I look like a woman to you? I am not going on a damn date with you, no matter how many times you ask," but it had been a long day and if Vecchio kept quiet like he had the whole way up here, Ray could suffer through a beer with the guy. He guessed.

He turned the car onto Addison, heading west, and when he finally found a place to park the car, he had to toss his "Police Vehicle" tag on the dashboard so he wouldn't get towed. Vecchio made a disapproving noise, and he had loosened his tie while Ray was digging around in the backseat looking for the damn tag; it was May, but it was late May, and it was starting to get hot, the city burning through the late afternoons like it had to practice for August.

The hollow of Vecchio's throat, which he almost never showed to Ray - and Ray knew a lot about showing your throat to somebody, he could tell you something about that, and how badly it could go - was shiny with sweat, and Ray had the fleeting, freakish thought that he wanted to lick it off. He almost slammed his hand in the door closing up the car, and Vecchio threw a prudish little glance back at Ray's clear abuse of his police privilege. "Shut up, Vecchio, you're the one who wanted to go on a date at a crappy bar with no parking," Ray said.

Vecchio just laughed.

Barleycorn's on a Monday in May when the Cubs were out of town was deserted except for a couple of bar flies who were wearing White Sox caps and groaning about the bullpen, so Ray and Vecchio cozied right up to the bar. Vecchio ordered something crappy and imported, and Ray snorted at him. "Goose Island right across the street, and you got to drink something made in Europe? You, Vecchio, are a crappy Chicagoan."

"I just have taste buds left, Stanley," Vecchio said. "I haven't burned them all off drinking swill like Old Style for half my life."

Ray snorted, and when the bartender came back with their beers - Goose Island Summertime for Ray, crappy European for Vecchio - Ray bullied him into putting the Sox game on the TV. "What do you want to watch them for," Vecchio complained, but Vecchio was also definitely in one of his shitty moods, because he was halfway through his second beer before Ray'd gotten three sips of his own down.

"Baseball's baseball, Vecchio," Ray said. "If you're really good, I'll leave you here by yourself to watch the Cubs collapse under the weight of their own sucking and you can pay for your own damn overpriced beer all night."

"Aw, Stanley," Vecchio said, and tilted on his barstool to pat Ray's leg. "I told you this was a date."

"You didn't tell me anything, Vecchio, you just didn't deny it," Ray said, and Vecchio huffed happily against Ray's neck, his right hand sliding up underneath Ray's jacket. Vecchio tucked his fingers underneath the edge of Ray's holster, and Ray thought, I have got to be drunker to deal with this, so when the Sox gave up four in the first and Vecchio started to complain noisily, right in Ray's ear, Ray flagged the bartender down and said, "Double Johnnie Walker on the rocks."

Vecchio cursed, rapid-fire Italian that ran in a shiver straight down Ray's chest and lodged in his dick, and Ray said to the bartender, "Just bring me the whole bottle, would you?"

The bartender looked at Vecchio for a long moment - "He's a cheap date," Ray said, and Vecchio said, "Fuck you, Stanley, I'm not cheap" - and then grinned at Ray, one pierced eyebrow raising up in a gesture Ray recognized as solidarity. "Oh, man," Ray said. "Not like that, man."

"Not like what," Vecchio whined, breath warm and beer-smelling against Ray's face.

"Not like you're my boyfriend, Vecchio," Ray said, and was rewarded with Vecchio peeling himself away from Ray's side as fast as a two-beer drunk could manage. It was a little too fast, even, because Vecchio overbalanced and started to slide off the other side of the stool. Ray couldn't help himself, and before he knew what he was doing, he had wrapped a hand around Vecchio's wrist and pulled him back toward Ray. "Stay put, okay, I am trying to drown my sorrows, here."

"What sorrows?" Vecchio said. "You don't have any sorrows, Kowalski, not like I do."

"I got sorrows," Ray said. "Like I'm here drinking with you 'cause nobody else in the city likes me. That's pretty sorry, you ask me."

"Who said I like you?" Vecchio asked.

The bartender - Matt, his nametag said - came back with two glasses and a mostly full bottle of Johnnie Walker Red. "Shut up and drink, Vecchio," Ray said.

"Who said I like you?" Vecchio repeated, listing into Ray's side again.

"Nobody," Ray said, and preceded to get sloshed out of his head. The White Sox made four errors and lost 11-3; the Cubs got one hit all night and lost 1-0. Ray and Vecchio drank the whole bottle of Johnnie Walker and Ray had to go out to an ATM to get cash to pay the tab, because Vecchio only had a ten on him and he was slumped across the bar, singing what sounded like Irish drinking songs translated into bad Italian softly to himself.

"Come on, cheap date," Ray said, after he'd paid the tab and tipped Matt - who'd been amused and attentive all night - a twenty. "You can sleep on my couch again, I guess."

"You're a pretty stand-up guy, Stanley," Vecchio said. He had gotten a hand twisted in Ray's leather jacket, and he was honestly trying to haul himself to standing just by scaling Ray like he was a mountain, or a tree. He wasn't having much luck, though, and he kept collapsing back onto the barstool, eyes focusing blearily on Ray's face while he struggled up and started the attempt at being vertical again.

Ray wasn't sober himself, either, and he was trying to get Vecchio on his feet without Vecchio's completely unhelpful help, and decide if either of them was okay to drive the Goat home or he should just leave it, get it on the way to work in the morning, all at the same time. So when Vecchio said that Ray was a stand-up guy, Ray just nodded and kind of worked an arm under Vecchio's shoulders and heaved him up.

"No, really, Kowalski, I'm serious," Vecchio said. "You're a good guy. If I was Fraser, I'd have fucked you."

On the one hand, Ray had gotten Vecchio out the door of Barleycorn's and onto Clark Street before Vecchio said that, so when Ray let go and Vecchio hit the ground ass-first, it wasn't in front of any of the six other drunks in the bar. On the other hand, Ray's life was compli-fucking-cated enough without Vecchio, and since Vecchio was determined to hang around and screw everything up more, Ray was determined to ignore the fact that Vecchio turned into a definite two-beer queer whenever he had the opportunity to get in Ray's pants.

Mostly because this was not something that Ray had ever thought of Vecchio before. Ray fucked guys, and Ray had even loved a guy or two (okay, one guy, and that guy was a very straight sort of Mountie, which Ray was definitely not talking about). But the idea that Vecchio might not be as straight as he looked, or as straight as he claimed to be when he was sober made Ray's head spin.

"Vecchio," Ray said.

"Ow," Vecchio said. "Stanley, I take it back, you're a grade-a asshole, that fucking hurt."

"You got a mouth on your when you're drunk, Vecchio," Ray said.

"You should hear me in bed," Vecchio said, climbing a nearby no-parking sign and clinging to it with all his weight once he was back on his feet.

"And see, Vecchio, that is the thing," Ray said. "That is the thing we are going to talk about now, because you are fucking up my life, and as it turns out, you are not such a bad guy when you are not acting like a big girl, and apparently you are not as straight as you claim, which is more than I can say for other people of our acquaintance."

"Stella was very straight," Vecchio said sadly.

"Yeah," Ray said. "We are not talking about Stella, though, and we are not talking about Fraser. We are talking about you, and we are talking about me. And we are talking about the fact that this is two straight dates, two of them, and you have made passes at me after both of them, and I am starting to see a pattern here, Vecchio, okay, and I would just like some clarification."

Vecchio said, "Lots of big words for a drunk guy," and then he let go of his no parking sign and lurched toward Ray and grabbed the front of Ray's jacket again.

Then Vecchio kissed Ray, tongue and all, and slid an arm around Ray's waist, inside his jacket, fingers tightened around Ray's holster, just like he had in the bar.

"Okay," Ray said, when Vecchio had stopped kissing him and was just leaning against Ray, breathing on Ray's neck. "That is pretty clear."

Vecchio laughed, and lifted his head to kiss Ray again, and Ray said, "Okay, yes, fine, Vecchio, your intentions are clear, but we are not going to do this on Clark Street in front of God and everybody."

"Okay," Vecchio said. Ray kind of liked Vecchio a little sloppy; he was cheerfully placid, which Vecchio never was when he was sober, and when Vecchio was sober, he didn't give an inch when he butted heads with Ray. When he was sober, Vecchio was really no kind of fun at all. "I'll drive."

"One," Ray said, "you do not have a car, and you do not get to drive the GTO. You might drive it into the lake as repayment for the Riv. Two, you are too drunk to drive even if you had a car. Three, I am too drunk to drive my own car."

Vecchio flung an arm out toward the street, nearly smacking Ray in the nose as he did it, and Ray had to stumble backward - without letting go of Vecchio, who was going to fall over the minute that Ray stopped holding him up - to avoid getting a face full of Vecchio's fist. But a cab screeched over to the side of Clark, and Ray sighed, shoved Vecchio in the direction of the car, and followed him.

Ray told the cab driver, "Lawrence and Clarendon," and slumped back against the seat. The radio reported, depressingly, that the Cubs had lost, and Vecchio's hand was crawling up the inside of Ray's thigh. Ray's dick thought that Vecchio's hand was not necessarily such a bad thing, because Ray was definitely getting hard despite the haze of Johnnie Walker pickling his brain. He waited for his brain to put in its hopefully negative opinion on the subject, but his brain didn't get around to it before Vecchio's hand moved from Ray's leg to Ray's dick. Vecchio pressed his palm down and Ray couldn't help his hips lifting up into the pressure.

"You're not so bad, Stanley," Vecchio slurred into his ear, and Ray laughed.

It was May, and the Cubs were having a god awful season already, and Vecchio was a two-beer queer with more issues than anybody Ray knew other than Fraser. The thing was, though, Ray was drunk. And Vecchio could have put a gun to Ray's head and Ray still wouldn't have admitted it out loud - the fact of the matter was, Ray kind of liked Vecchio, despite the fact that Vecchio was directly responsible for pretty much every single one of Ray's problems, up to and including Stella, if Ray thought about it too hard and sort of squinted his brain up to look at it sideways.

Vecchio took offense at Ray's laughing, though, and the hand that had been toying with the top button Ray's jeans disappeared. Vecchio's mouth pressed up against Ray's ear, and he said, "Quit laughing, Stanley, or I won't blow you when we get back to your apartment." Then he bit Ray on the ear, and Ray's whole body liked that, so Ray stopped laughing.

He turned his head - he didn't have to turn it far, because Vecchio was pressed up right against him - and tried to focus on Vecchio's face in the dark of the cab. Vecchio's eyes were half closed, and he might have been dozing instead of drunk, except that his hand had gone back to Ray's dick, and Ray was in very serious danger of arriving at his apartment with his jeans hanging all the way open, because Vecchio had very good hands.

"Stop that, Vecchio," Ray said, "or I won't blow you when we get back to the apartment."

The cabbie was staring at them in the rear view mirror, and Ray said, "Two beer queer," which made the cabbie nod and put his eyes back on the road. Vecchio huffed indignantly against Ray's neck, but he didn't move his hand, and Ray was so drunk and so hard that he pretty much felt sixteen again, necking with Stella in the backseat of the Goat and so desperate to come that he thought his head was going to blow off.

Except it was Stella's ex-husband, the other ex-husband, working Ray up into some kind of weird animated state of lust, and Ray's life was just so fucking weird that at 2 in the morning, the last week of May, Ray decided that he was just going to go with the weird, and to hell with being normal. Normal hadn't gotten him laid in fucking years, and it looked like weird might actually pay off.

Ray shoved a twenty into the cabbie's hand for an eight-dollar fare, dragged Vecchio out of the car, and dragged Vecchio up all three flights of stairs. "Hey, slow down, Stanley," Vecchio said.

"You want to get blown in the stairwell, Vecchio?" Ray asked, trying to find the damn key to his apartment on his ring.

"We're not in the stairwell, we're in the hallway," Vecchio said.

"Everyone's a fucking philosopher when they're drunk," Ray said, and then he got the door open and shoved Vecchio in first, slamming the door behind himself.

Vecchio was standing in the middle of the living room when Ray got all three locks thrown shut, staring at Ray's apartment like he'd never been there before. "Hey, Stanley," Vecchio said.

"Hey, what," Ray said, dropping his coat on the floor and his keys on the counter.

Vecchio opened his mouth like he was actually going to say something, but then he paused with a frown between his eyebrows and his mouth hanging open, so Ray stomped the three steps over to him and kissed him. Vecchio muttered something against Ray's mouth, and then he shrugged off his coat, letting it fall on the floor, and kissed Ray back.

One of Vecchio's hands came up around the back of Ray's neck, his fingers running across the muscles that Ray hadn't known were tense until Vecchio touched him, and Vecchio's other hand when back to the buttons on Ray's jeans, which had been half undone when Ray had crawled out of the cab. Vecchio could unbutton button-fly jeans with one hand better than Ray had ever managed himself, and his hand was cool and smooth when he wrapped it around Ray's dick. "Shit," Ray said, and Vecchio muttered something else through the kiss, and then he shoved at Ray until Ray backed up two steps and hit the couch with the backs of his knees.

Ray went down onto the couch hands, jeans slipping down to the middle of his thighs, and he managed to open his eyes in time to see Vecchio, shirtsleeves still rolled up, tie loose at his throat, sink down onto his knees a lot more graceful than Ray had ever managed it. Vecchio pulled Ray's jeans down to the floor, pinning them down with knee, and yanked until Ray picked his hips up and let Vecchio pull his boxers down, too.

"You done this before, Vecchio?" Ray said, because he had been staring down at Vecchio, who had a kissable mouth and long eyelashes and was, if you could get past the nose, which Ray could, actually kind of pretty, and starting to feel a little freaked.

"I done a lot of things, Kowalski," Vecchio said, and he wrapped one hand around the base of Ray's dick and swallowed the rest of it down like a fucking porn star.

Ray groaned and tried to jerk his hips up, but Vecchio ran his tongue up the underside of Ray's cock and then pinned Ray's hips down with his free hand.

It was a blowjob, a good one, and so Ray wasn't keeping time or anything, but it had been about a year and a half since he'd had anybody who wasn't him touch his dick, and he lasted about three minutes before he came in Vecchio's mouth. Vecchio swallowed, and swallowed, and licked the head of Ray's dick, before he picked his head up and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

It was the weirdest, hottest thing that Ray had ever seen Vecchio do, and Ray's brain had basically shut down all higher function by then, but that was okay, because Ray didn't feel the hardwood on his knees when he slid off the couch and kissed Vecchio, or when he pushed Vecchio down onto his back on the floor of Ray's living room. Vecchio twisted both hands in Ray's hair and kissed Ray hard, tongue and teeth, while Ray was unzipping Vecchio's pants, sliding a hand inside and wrapping it around Vecchio's cock.

He pinned Vecchio down with a leg slung over Vecchio's thigh, and Vecchio didn't make a sound when he came, just shuddered and bit Ray's bottom lip and came all over Ray's hand. He let go of Ray's hair afterwards, but he kept kissing Ray until he drifted off to sleep, and Ray passed out himself with his hand in Vecchio's pants, sticky and cold. Weird, Ray thought, but not bad, and that was all.

Ray woke up on the floor of his living room with his pants around his ankles, a sticky hand, and a hangover the size of Canada. He was alone, and he was an hour late to work. By the time he got to the station, Vecchio was out somewhere with Keating, Welsh was yelling at a volume that made Ray's head hurt even more, and the girl who had replaced Frannie - because Ray could never remember her name and whenever he called her Frannie, she lost his paperwork - buzzed his desk and said, "Constable Fraser is on the phone for you."

Ray burned his tongue on his coffee and stared at the blinking red light on his phone.

"Line 2," the girl who wasn't Frannie said.

"Yeah, okay," Ray said. He looked down and stared at the red blinking light some more and drank his cup of coffee. He was kind of hoping that by the time he picked up, Fraser would have gotten fed up with waiting and hung up and Ray wouldn't have to talk to him, except that Ray knew Fraser and Ray knew that Fraser was the most patient person in the history of the universe. Ray picked up the phone, punched the button for line 2, and said, "Hey, Frase." He tried to get his mouth around something else, something funny, something that didn't match the rocks in his stomach feeling - how's the great white North, or Catch any litterbugs lately - but he couldn't make his mouth work any further.

"Ray," Fraser said, and he sounded warm, genuinely happy to talk to Ray, which made the rocks in Ray's stomach get heavier.

"What's going on, Fraser?" Ray said. "Or this just a social call?"

"Ah," Fraser said. "It is I will be in Chicago next week, for some work at the Canadian Consulate, and I was hoping that we could have dinner."

Ray had to put the phone down on the desk and his head into his hands and breathe like he was about to pass out for a minute. He didn't pick the phone back up until Fraser had said, "Ray. Ray. Ray! RAY!" four times in a row.

"Sorry, Fraser, spilled my coffee," Ray said. "Dinner, huh?"

"I would like to catch up with you," Fraser said, sounding a little pissy, which made Ray a little pissy, too, because he was the wronged party here, the way he saw it. "It's been nearly six months since you returned to Chicago, and I haven't heard from you once."

Ray thought, You are not the best correspondent in the world either, Fraser. Ray said, "Sure, dinner, fine, that's great. Come by the station when you're finished over in Canada some night, you and me and Vecchio can all go out and talk about the good old days."

"Ray Vecchio?" Fraser said.

Huh, Ray thought. I know something Fraser doesn't know. "Yeah, Vecchio," Ray said. "He got back in February. Bowling alley wasn't exactly Stella's thing."

"Oh," Fraser said, and then there was a long silence. "And the two of you are working together?"

So Ray was kind of a jerk - he knew that, he worked with that, he got over that. But he mostly tried not to be a jerk on purpose, and okay, he knew he'd kicked Fraser when Fraser was down before, but he couldn't stop himself. "No, but we're hanging out," Ray said. "We're friends." Which was not exactly true, but it was not exactly a lie either, even though Fraser thought not exactly a lie was exactly like a lie, because he was Fraser and he was like that.

"Oh," Fraser said, and his voice had gone a little cold. "Well. I look forward to seeing Ray, as well. The other Ray. Both of you."

"Yeah, us, too, Fraser," Ray said.

"Well," Fraser said.

"I got a lot of open cases, Frase," Ray said. "See you next week."

"Yes," Fraser said. "Next week."

Ray hung up first, and before he pulled the phone away from his year, Fraser sucked in a little breath like he was going to say something else, and it was probably something that Ray didn't want to hear even if he maybe needed to hear it, so Ray smacked the phone down into the cradle and dropped his head against his desk.

He was banging it very slowly and steadily against the desk when somebody walked up beside him, pressing a thigh up against Ray's shoulder. "Stanley, I think you have enough problems without giving yourself brain damage," Vecchio said. He sounded like he was smiling, and when Ray looked up, rubbing his forehead, Vecchio was smiling.

"What the hell are you so happy about, Vecchio?"

"Confession in the DiNardio case," Vecchio said. "What are you so pissy about?"

"Fraser's coming to town next week," Ray said.

"Huh," Vecchio said. "I don't rate a call?"

"He thought you were still in Florida," Ray said, fully aware that Keating was standing behind Vecchio, watching the whole bizarre drama like it was a soap opera or a brawl at Comiskey and he wanted some popcorn.

"I might not have mentioned that Stella and I split in my last letter," Vecchio said. Ray raised an eyebrow. "My last six letters," Vecchio said, a little guiltily.

"So we are both guilty of willfully misleading Fraser," Ray said, "and I think we should go have a drink right now." Keating looked hopeful and fascinated behind Vecchio, like he might get to come. "And you are not invited, Keating. Go do your paperwork." Keating opened his mouth and Ray was just too tired to deal with a rookie who was going to mouth off. "And if you tell Welsh that Vecchio and me are going for a drinking lunch, I will make you bag the bodies at the next six scenes we go to."

Keating turned green, Ray got up, and Vecchio followed him out of the station. "Vecchio," Ray said, and stopped.

"Come on," Vecchio said, taking Ray's arm and pulling him out to the squad car that Vecchio was still carrying the keys for in his hand. "Let's go."

They ended up in some bar that served Old Style and crappy Mexican food, and once they were sitting in a back booth, beers on the table and enchiladas ordered, Ray realized that he really didn't have a whole lot he wanted to say. He was drumming his fingers on the side of the beer can and not meeting Vecchio's eyes when Vecchio said, "Okay, Kowalski, what happened in Canada?"

"Fuck you, Vecchio," Ray said.

"Kowalski, I am not trying to be your buddy here," Vecchio said. "But clearly you have some issues that are not worked out, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think you have a lot of people to talk to about them. So talk, because you are moodier than a 14 year old girl and I am tired of it."

"Like you're such a prince yourself," Ray said.

"Hey, I'm buying you cheap enchiladas," Vecchio said. "What else do you want from me?"

"Long story short," Ray said. "I was going to stay in Canada, Fraser did not want me to stay in Canada, I came home, my life is not fantastic here but it could be a lot worse, end of story."

Vecchio raised an eyebrow. The waitress took advantage of the silence to slide two plates in front of them, and Ray pulled his eyes from Vecchio's face and focused them on the lukewarm enchilada in front of him. "Fine," Vecchio said. "I'm glad you're not my partner, Kowalski, because you are carrying around a whole lot of rage about something, and when it explodes, Welsh is going to be cleaning bits of Keating off the station walls."

"Fuck off," Ray said, and Vecchio laughed.

"You're really not so bad," Vecchio said.

Ray said, "Yeah, well, you are," because he was feeling stupid and cranky and his enchilada wasn't just lukewarm, it was almost cold.

"Somebody needs a nap," Vecchio said. "Come on, finish your beer, you don't want to eat that anyway."

Ray didn't, so he chugged down the rest of his beer and followed Vecchio out onto the street. "If you ate better, you'd be happier," Vecchio said.

"Who died and made you my mother?" Ray snapped, trying to remember where he'd parked the car. Except that Vecchio had driven, so Vecchio grabbed Ray's elbow, touched him out on the street in front of God and a couple of homeless guys and everybody like they hadn't been rolling around on Ray's floor the night before. Not that Ray had any problem being queer in public, Ray'd been queer since he was in high school, but he'd kind of not figured Vecchio for being a sober touching-other-guys-public sort of guy. Vecchio had a pretty good grip on Ray's arm, hard but not too hard, and Ray could feel the warmth of Vecchio's hand seeping through the sleeve of his coat.

"Ma's still cooking," Vecchio said, "even though she can't get around very well anymore. Come over for dinner tonight."

Ray was going to make an excuse, because he had had enough of the crazy Vecchio home life when he was Vecchio, but then his brain went blank and all the anger just sort of seeped out of him onto the pavement. Ray was not prone to a lot of self-contemplation or anything, but he was pretty sure that Fraser had fucked him up but good, and Vecchio really wasn't awful. Vecchio was kind of a jerk, and he complained about Ray's cigarettes a lot and kept butting in when Ray and Keating were trying to work a case, but he was a pretty decent detective and he could get Cubs tickets. Ray said, "Okay, fine, Vecchio."

"Put some meat on those bones," Vecchio muttered.

"I didn't hear you complaining about those bones last night," Ray said, and Vecchio blushed, and then glared at Ray, head tilted down, peering out from under those long eyelashes that Ray couldn't stop staring at, even though it made him feel like a girl.

Ray had no idea what was going on with him and Vecchio, but then again Ray had thought he knew exactly what was going on with him and Fraser, and he had been totally wrong about that. "Vecchio," Ray said. "You ever get the feeling that you woke up in the wrong life?"

"I coulda been a contender," Vecchio said, letting go of Ray's elbow and unlocking the car. He had to lean around Ray to get to the passenger door, pressing his chest up against Ray's arm, and Ray leaned back into the weight of Vecchio's body, just a little. So he was lonely, so what? Better to be lonely with Vecchio and get the occasional blowjob than to be lonely and cold in Canada.

"You couldn't have been nothing but a detective," Ray said. "But you get points for optimism."

"Get in the car, Stanley," Vecchio said. Ray got in the car.

He drove out to Vecchio's place after they finished at the station; Ma Vecchio's lasagna was as good as Ray remembered, and somehow he got stuck on the sofa in the middle of all the Vecchio chaos, holding Frannie's baby and being treated like one of the family. It was exhausting but somehow kind of nice, and when Ray left, Vecchio followed him out to the Goat and said, "I got tickets for next Monday. Night game."

"Yeah, okay," Ray said. "If we catch a break on Brennerman before the weekend, yeah."

"Okay," Vecchio said. "Drive safe, Stanley."

"Fuck you, Vecchio," Ray said, and he was halfway home, sitting in traffic on Chicago trying to get over to Halsted, when his brain kicked back in from all the food and said, you've got a date with Vecchio on Monday. "Fuck you," Ray told his brain. Ray's brain didn't know shit.

They caught a break on Brennerman; the fucking butler actually did it, trying to avoid getting blackmailed over something the boss had on him, but it was a really fucking hard couple of days, and Ray worked all weekend non-stop. He didn't see Vecchio at all, he didn't think about dates at all, and he almost forgot that he was going on a date with Vecchio and having dinner with Fraser all in the same fucking week, because that was just too much for him to deal with.

Monday was the first day of June, and it was sunny and clear and, Pat and Ron reported on 720, with a 10 mile an hour wind to the northeast, which meant if Sammy was swinging, maybe they'd see a couple of dingers. Ray drove, and Vecchio paid for the parking and the first round of beers. "Vecchio," Ray said suspiciously, when the second round of beers also got paid for, "I am not a girl."

"Yeah, Stanley, I know," Vecchio said, a little distracted. The Cubs had just botched a double play, and there were runners on first and second with nobody out.

"So I can buy my own beer."

"Say thank you and watch the game," Vecchio said.

Ray punched him in the arm.

The Cubs lost. Ray didn't really expect any better, but it was a particularly bad sort of bullpen collapse, and Ray was kind of depressed and kind of tired and definitely a little drunk when they stumbled down from the upper deck with the rest of the crowd that had stuck it out to the miserable end. Vecchio looked about the same when they emerged out onto Addison, and Ray didn't feel like making conversation on the street or in the car waiting to get out of the Not-So-EZ parking lot or trying to find a safe place to park the Goat on Lawrence at Ray's apartment.

Vecchio stayed quiet the whole way home, and Ray was grateful for the silence, because it was comfortable, which was weird, but also kind of nice.

Ray was standing in front of his apartment, fumbling for his keys, when Vecchio put a hand on Ray's back. "Stanley," Vecchio said, "give me the keys."

"Fuck you, Vecchio," Ray said, and finally found the front door key and jammed it into the lock. He checked his mail - bill, bill, bill, junk, somebody else's Entertainment Weekly, bill - and stomped up the stairs and actually almost forgot that Vecchio was there, for just a minute.

"Shit," Ray said, standing in the kitchen with the carton of orange juice in his hand, when Vecchio appeared in the doorframe, coat off, sleeves rolled up.

"Stanley, anybody ever told you that you're kind of an asshole?" Vecchio said.

"Plenty of people more important than you," Ray said. "Somehow I've survived."

"Come on, time for bed," Vecchio said.

Ray just stood there, orange juice in his hand, and blinked at Vecchio a couple of times. He tried to figure out what he wanted to say, because he wasn't sure if any of the sentences in his head were rude or not, and then he decided that it was Vecchio, he didn't care if Ray was rude. "Vecchio," he said, "are we dating?"

"Not yet," Vecchio said. "But only because you put out without dinner and roses. Come on, let's go, juice in the fridge, time for bed. You're crankier than Frannie's kid when you're tired."

Ray hadn't shared a bed with anybody all night since Stella left - since Stell threw him out. He and Fraser had slept back-to-back out on the quest, but when they'd got back to Inuvik, Ray had slept on the couch. And the couple of people Ray had dated, they'd never spent the night - Ray'd never brought any of them back to his place, first because he was still married to Stella in his head, and it seemed like cheating to sleep with somebody else in his bed, and then because he was Vecchio, and he wasn't dating anybody at all.

Except Fraser, only they weren't dating. Except that Ray and Vecchio weren't dating, either, except that they were, and Ray, tired, thought that his life had been weird, sure, but it had just gotten exponentially weirder since Fraser called. Ray hadn't been dating Vecchio before Fraser called.

Ray was fucked up, that was for sure, and he crawled into the bed and watched Vecchio slide his gun onto the bedside table, his cufflinks onto Ray's dresser, and Ray was more tired than he'd thought, because he was asleep before Vecchio crawled into bed, but before he fell asleep, Ray thought, I guess it's a good thing that Vecchio puts up with me.

He didn't know why he'd thought that, but he was just too damn tired to deal with it that night; maybe tomorrow, he thought, and fell asleep.

Ray woke up alone again, but at least this time, he wasn't late to work. He squinted at the tie hanging over his doorknob, trying to remember how it got there and whose it was (Ray had, in his drunken stupor the week after Christmas, thrown all his ties into the dumpster below his fire escape, and hadn't gotten around to replacing them yet), but then he heard whistling in the kitchen, water running, and smelled coffee, and remembered: right, Vecchio.

He crawled out of bed, thought briefly about putting something on over his boxers before he decided he didn't care, and stumbled into the kitchen, making a beeline for the coffee pot. "Morning, sunshine," Vecchio said.

Ray grunted.

"Benny said you weren't half useful until you'd drunk a pot of coffee." Ray turned and glared at him. Vecchio was standing in front of the stove, frying pan out and scrambled eggs sizzling. "Eggs?"

"Fraser drinks tea made of bark," Ray said, after he'd scalded his tongue pouring half a cup of coffee straight down his throat, because it was too early for him to try and deal with Vecchio, and nobody had mentioned that Vecchio was a goddamned morning person.

"What's that got to do with the price of tea in China?" Vecchio said, dumping half the eggs onto a plate with a couple of strips of bacon and toast waiting. "Eat."

"Fraser drinks tea made of bark," Ray said. He didn't like being told to eat, especially not by Vecchio, but fuck it, he was hungry, and if Vecchio wanted to cook for him, Vecchio could cook for him. Ray was A-OK with that, because he could not cook worth a damn himself. "Fraser should not cast stones about the things that people might have to drink to function at full capacity."

"Whatever you say, Stanley," Vecchio said.

They fought over the sports page, and then Ray drove them both down to the station. If anybody noticed that Vecchio was wearing yesterday's suit with yesterday's shirt and tie, they didn't say a word, for which Ray was profoundly grateful. He was in a good mood. He hadn't even gotten laid the night before and he was in a good mood. The Cubs sucked, but Ray was in a good mood.

He actually whistled his way through the day, and Keating kept glaring at him, which just made Ray grin big enough to show his teeth and whistle harder, and he was shuffling papers around on his desk, thinking about seeing if Vecchio maybe wanted to go get some dinner, when a shadow fell across his desk. Ray looked up, and it was Fraser, larger than life and wearing the serge and holding his damn hat in his hands, looking nervous.

"Ray," Fraser said.

"Fraser," Ray said, and there was an awkward second before Ray shoved back his chair and stood up and gave Fraser a hug, because it was what he should do, what he wanted to do, and so his stomach felt all knotted up again, so his good mood had evaporated - so Ray had some issues with some stuff. So fucking what.

"It's good to see you, Ray," Fraser said when he'd patted Ray's back in an awkward kind of Fraser way and then let go. "You look good."

"City air, Frase," Ray said. "It's good for what ails you."

"I always found the air in Chicago to be a little stifling, actually," Fraser said.

"Joke," Ray said. "I know you got a sense of humor, Fraser. I have seen your sense of humor. Do not forget to use your sense of humor."

"No one in Canada keeps my sense of humor working as hard as you did, Ray," Fraser said, a little quiet and a little sad, and he leaned in toward Ray, who backpedaled away from him as fast as he could manage without being rude. Christ, Fraser, Ray thought, you cannot do this now, okay?

He almost said something out loud, but then Vecchio stomped out of Welsh's office, muttering under his breath about something, and Ray saw a fast out and took it. He was a coward, sure, but he'd been a coward in Canada because he could have said something to Fraser instead of just waiting around, and wouldn't that have been better than finding out - well. Ray had thought a lot of things about him and Fraser, and just like it turned out with Stella, Ray'd been filing all that stuff in the wrong room inside his head.

Ray knew all about misfiling crap, and just like when he couldn't find his case files and everything went balls up at the station, he had all his Fraser stuff still stuck in the wrong place in his head - partner, he thought, he was just a partner - and he kind of wanted to sit down and put his head between his legs for a while. Instead he said, "Hey, Vecchio, get your skinny Italian ass over here and say hi!"

Vecchio's head came up and even though Fraser, big red jacket and all, was standing right next to Ray, Ray didn't miss the fact that Vecchio's eyes focused in on Ray first, and stayed there for longer than they did with anybody else Vecchio looked at. Huh, Ray thought. I wonder where I got to file Vecchio, and then Vecchio was stalking across the squad room and grabbing Fraser and banging him on the back. "Benny," Vecchio said. "You look good, Benny. That a new uniform?"

"No, Ray, it's the same one I've - oh," Fraser said.

"He forgot his sense of humor," Ray said to Vecchio, who laughed, even though Ray's words sounded sour to his own ears. Geez, Kowalski, get a fucking grip, he thought.

Vecchio was standing between him and Fraser, and he reached out, put his hand on the small of Ray's back, and started rubbing little circles there, like Ray was a hysterical woman. And Ray might have been dating Vecchio and he'd never been ashamed of dating men, but he really, really wasn't up to coming out to Fraser and Keating and Welsh and the girl who wasn't Frannie right now. So he glared at Vecchio, who smirked at him, which made Fraser look at them both with that weird Fraser perceptive look on his face and say, "Ray, are you all right?"

Since Ray didn't know which Ray Fraser meant, he jerked away from Vecchio's hand and answered, "Just peachy, Fraser. Let's blow this joint, what do you say?"

They went to a Chinese place, the one that was halfway between the Consulate and the 2-7, and it wasn't until Ray was slurping at his wonton soup that he missed Dief. Ray hadn't said much since they'd left the station, and Vecchio had glared at him a couple of times on the walk over, a shape up or ship out sort of glare, but Ray couldn't shape up, because the whole thing was still such a mess in his head; Fraser's stuff was still all over the room in Ray's head where Stella's stuff had been all those years before Fraser, and it was the wrong room for Fraser's stuff but Ray couldn't seem to get a damn set of movers to come and cart it all out and let Ray get on with his life.

Vecchio and Fraser had been making small talk - and thank fuck for Vecchio, despite his pissy little glares at Ray, because Ray was all small-talked out, and if he tried to make small-talk with Fraser now, he was just going to say something like how come you didn't love me like I loved you, which was about as far from things that Ray actually wanted to be saying to Fraser right now as North Buttfuck, Canada was from Chicago.

Eventually Ray would get over it, and the less said about it, the better. Vecchio and Fraser were talking about somebody that they'd met years back, when Vecchio was Fraser's partner, and they both looked over at Ray when Ray dropped his spoon into his soup with a splash. "Fraser, I knew something was bugging me," Ray said, and saw Fraser's face go a little white, like he was waiting for Ray to ask a really awkward question just like Ray wanted to ask. "Where's the wolf? I been out with you and Vecchio for half an hour now, and my ears and Vecchio's ears are still dry."

Fraser relaxed - as much as Fraser ever relaxed - and said, "Ah, Diefenbaker is staying with some friends of ours in Inuvik. He's courting a Malamute and refused to leave her side, even for five days."

"Good for Dief," Vecchio said.

Ray said, "Yeah, good for the mutt."

"Well, the dog's owners are not particularly pleased by Diefenbaker's attentions," Fraser said, "as she's purebred and he is not, but Dief is, as you both know, persistent, and he believes that in the end he will win her over."

"Malamute," Ray said. "Big white dogs, look kind of like huskies?"

"Yes," Fraser said.

"Well," Ray said, turning back to his soup and feeling suddenly hungry, like all the rocks in his stomach had dissolved, "all the puppies would be good-looking, wouldn't they?"

"Oh, absolutely," Fraser said. Then he and Vecchio went off on a tangent about dog-breeding that Ray did not understand or care about, so Ray ate his soup and hogged the General Tso's chicken when it showed up, and somewhere between Fraser's 32nd cup of tea and the fortune cookies, Vecchio's hand had crawled onto Ray's knee, under the table. Ray had thought about shoving it off, or jamming Vecchio's hand up between the bottom of table and Ray's knee, but when he looked over at Vecchio, Vecchio was deep in conversation with Fraser about bearer bonds and pretty much looked like he had no idea that he was groping Ray's knee in public, so Ray let it go because, if Ray was being honest with himself, it had him thinking about things that weren't sitting in Fraser's kitchen in Inuvik, getting his heart broken.

Ray didn't talk much during dinner, but Fraser didn't seem to care, except when they got out to the street after they settled the bill - Vecchio paid, against Fraser's protesting and despite glaring at Ray in a clear plea for money - Fraser said, "Ray, could I speak with you for a moment, privately?"

"Sure, Frase," Ray said.

"Sure, Benny," Vecchio said.

"Oh," Fraser said. "Ray, Ray Vecchio, I'm sorry - I meant Ray Kowalski."

"No problem, Benny," Vecchio said, giving Fraser a hug and punching him on the arm. "Call him Stanley, it's easier." He looked over at Ray, scanning Ray's face like he was actually looking for something, and then said, "Kowalski, I'll see you at the station house when you're done, okay?"

"Yeah, okay," Ray said, and Vecchio ambled off down the street. Ray and Fraser both watched him go, though Ray was willing to bet his entire vinyl collection that Fraser was most definitely not looking at Vecchio's ass in those suit pants, like Ray was. When Vecchio turned the corner, disappearing out of sight, Ray turned back to Fraser. They were standing in a puddle left by a streetlight, and it had turned out to be the first really hot day of the summer. Ray had stripped down to just his holster and his t-shirt, but Fraser was still in all that red wool, and Ray knew he had to be sweating like a pig. "So what's shakin', Frase?"

"Ray," Fraser said, twisting his hat in his hands. "I thought I thought that I might owe you an apology for the way things worked out."

"Nothing to apologize for," Ray said. Saying that sounded normal, even if Ray didn't mean it. "You were right, I just forgot that it was really just an extended vacation. Gotta come home from vacation some time, right?"

"Right," Fraser said, even though Ray knew that Fraser's idea of vacation was chasing litterbugs across Canada. "I simply thought that - that you might have. Well, that I might have given you an impression that I didn't intend to give you. About our relationship as partners. I always valued you very much, you know. I didn't want you to forget that, that you were very important to me no matter what our relationship."

Ray worked very hard to keep his knees from giving out under him. "Naw, Fraser," he said, trying to keep his voice from cracking. "You didn't do nothing, all right. It gets cold up there, remember? Sometimes a guy just starts thinking things that are all wrong and it's too cold to get the truth straightened out from the delusions."

"If you're sure," Fraser started, but Ray didn't want to hear any more apology, because he knew all this already and he had almost been over it and now, well - actually, Ray felt better than had the whole rest of the time he'd been back from Canada. At least Fraser felt shitty about making Ray feel shitty, and seeing Fraser here, now, Ray remembered how it felt to follow him around while he did his super-hero act, and how it felt to actually have a friend in the whole fucking mess of a city after Stella left him, but Ray couldn't remember a thing about what it felt like to think he was in love with Fraser.

Ray blinked at Fraser a couple of times, and did a mental scan of the room in his head where all Stell's stuff had been, and where Fraser's stuff had been after that, and it was mostly empty, except for a couple of sets of cufflinks that looked like Vecchio's. And Ray was okay with that. "I'm sure, Fraser," Ray said, and cuffed him on the arm. "Wouldn't kill you to write a little more often, though."

"I have been very busy," Fraser said, raising an eyebrow like maybe Ray should write more, too, "but that does not excuse my rudeness in not writing. You are correct, Ray."

"I'm always right," Ray said. "You forget that, too?"

"No," Fraser said, and he smiled, that secret little smile that he almost never showed to anyone, the one that used to make Ray feel a little stupid and stoned, and it did nothing for Ray at all, except make him feel a little fond and a little sad for Fraser.

Guy had two queer cops and a wolf for friends, and that was it. Fraser didn't seem to mind, and it wasn't like Ray was doing so hot in the friends department, either, but at least Vecchio was - well, Vecchio was something, Ray wasn't ready to deal with whatever it was yet. Maybe tomorrow.

Ray hugged Fraser, took the Stetson from Fraser's hands and jammed it on Fraser's head (much to Fraser's disapproving look), and said, "Don't be a stranger, Fraser."

"I never have been," Fraser said. "But I understand your metaphorical meaning." He paused, and then he said, "You and Ray Vecchio, please take care of each other."

Ray had to stand and blink some more at that, because he and Vecchio were not out and out queer, they were not parading around the station house or Chinese restaurants displaying their homosexuality, but then again, for all the times Fraser was dumb as a post, he was a pretty smart guy, too. By the time he got his mouth working to respond, Fraser was gone, disappeared down the street, and so Ray just turned around and trudged back to the station, where Vecchio was waiting for him, and his life would just keep on being weird.

"Keys, Stanley," Vecchio said, and Ray had to strain to follow his voice in the twilight, because he couldn't see much of anything.

When Ray actually found Vecchio, leaning against the driver's side of the Goat, Ray said, "Hell, no, you are not driving this car."

"I'm sober, I'm not going to drive your precious car into a lake," Vecchio said, holding out a hand and snapping at Ray, which Ray recognized as one of his own gestures. He stifled a laugh bubbling up in between all the Fraser-related pains in his gut, because he was willing to bet the title of the GTO that Vecchio had no idea that he'd picked that gesture up from Ray. "And," Vecchio continued, "I'm willing to bet that you're too angry at Fraser right now to think straight, much less drive straight, so I'm going to say it one more time, and then I'm going to come over there and take them away from you. Keys."

"I'm not angry," Ray said, but he stepped closer to Vecchio, close enough he could smell Vecchio's aftershave through a heavy layer of sweat and whatever grease always clung to you when you'd been eating in a Chinese restaurant, and dropped the keys into Vecchio's hand. "Happy now?"

"Oh, yeah, just peachy," Vecchio said, unlocking his door and sliding in smoothly. Vecchio started the car up, rolled the window down, and looked out at Ray, who was still standing in the parking lot because he was having some trouble getting his feet to move. Weird, he kept thinking. My life is so weird. "You getting in the car, Stanley, or do I have to come over there and make you do that, too?"

"You can't make me do anything," Ray snapped, but he crossed behind the car and opened the passenger side door and slumped down in his seat. He hadn't ridden in the passenger seat of the Goat in something like 20 years. 25. Since he'd taught Stella to drive a manual transmission in it, when they were 16.

That was the fucking trouble with Chicago. There were ghosts everywhere, everywhere Ray turned there was one more ghost, one more memory, ready to sucker punch him and remind him of all the times he'd screwed around, screwed up, done just one more thing to land him in this weird life with a weird boyfriend and a whole lot of weird issues.

He didn't realize he'd said anything out loud, but he must have, because Vecchio - tuning the radio away from Ray's station, to some public radio crap, waiting to turn left onto Michigan - looked up at him and said, "Ghosts? You've been hanging out with Fraser too long, if you're starting to see ghosts."

"Not real ghosts," Ray said. "Not like Fraser sees. Ghosts, like memory-ghosts. Like the last time I sat in this seat in the Goat, I was 16 and Stella was blowing out the clutch in the driver's seat while I tried to teach her to drive stick shift."

"I'll bet you did," Vecchio said, and snickered, so Ray slugged him on the arm. Vecchio just pulled his eyes off the road for a long second and stared down at Ray with an expression that was so close to fondness that it made Ray feel stupid and awkward, so he punched Vecchio again. "Cut it out, Stanley, or I'm going to report you for domestic violence."

"Judge would be on my side," Ray said. "Anybody's got to live with you, they deserve to punch you a couple of times."

"Whatever you say," Vecchio said, and then, quieter, "Ghosts, huh?"

"You lived here all your life," Ray said. "Except for Vegas. Doesn't it just get to you, sometimes, walking down the street, looking at all that fucking history?"

Vecchio shrugged. "I don't think about it much."

Ray grunted.

"I got plenty to think about now, Kowalski," Vecchio said. He looked over at Ray again, and then reached out, rubbing his thumb along a spot underneath Ray's ear. "No need to live in the past."

Ray said, "Vecchio, you are one weird guy."

"Yeah, I hang out with you," Vecchio said, turning off Michgan onto Ohio, heading for Lake Shore. Ray tipped his head back in the seat and closed his eyes, feeling almost kind of normal.

June turned into July, and the Cubs lost six in a row going into the All-Star break. They turned around and won two out of the gate right after, though, and Ray and Vecchio hadn't fought once but had fucked four different times since they'd had that dinner with Fraser, and Ray thought that things were looking up. Then the Cubs lost eight straight, and Ray was at the eighth loss in a row, a blowout where the fucking starter only lasted 2 innings before he'd been hammered for four homeruns.

They were Vecchio's tickets, and Ray still didn't know where he kept getting them, but Vecchio had begged off going to the game and so Ray'd hauled Keating out of the station at 5 on the dot, leaving Vecchio sitting at his desk doing paperwork. Vecchio'd only looked up and said, "Take the El, Stanley, quit adding to all the crappy Cubs traffic you hate so much."

"Then the Goat's stuck down here," Ray said.

Vecchio flapped a hand at Ray without looking up. "Give me the keys, I'll drop it off on my way home."

"Don't drive it into the fucking lake," Ray said, and threw the keys at Vecchio's head. Vecchio grabbed them out of midair and dropped them in the ashtray Ray'd left there, because Vecchio kept complaining about Ray putting his cigarettes out in Vecchio's cups full of cold coffee.

"Get out of here," Vecchio said. "The car'll be there when you get home."

The Cubs lost, though, and Ray hated waiting for the damn train after a game, because everybody smelled like beer and sweat and piss, and the platform was so crowded that pickpockets worked it and never got caught, and Keating was complaining about the middle of the Cubs' batting order, only not even in a kind of drunk, endearing way like Vecchio did.

"Keating, you talk too much," Ray said. "Shut the hell up."

Keating shut up, but Ray was in a crappy mood when he got home, and he realized that he didn't even have his damn keys, because he'd given them to Vecchio in his rush to get out of the station, in his hopes that maybe today was the day that the Cubs turned it around. "Fucking hell," Ray said, and dug his cell phone out. He called Vecchio and said, "Vecchio, where the fuck are my keys?" when Vecchio answered.

Vecchio hung up on him, though, and then the door to his apartment building buzzed open, and Ray stomped through the doors without really thinking, because at least he was inside, and he could call the super or see if Maya still had his spare set of keys or something. He stomped all the way up the stairs and when he got to the top of the stairs, his door was open, just a little, and the lights were on. Fuck, he thought, last thing I need is a burglar, and pulled his sidearm out before he crept down the hall and kicked the door open.

Vecchio was sitting on Ray's couch, wearing the stupid reading glasses he'd gotten a couple of weeks ago, stripped down to his undershirt, and he looked up at Ray when Ray kicked the door. "You got no manners," Vecchio said.

"Fuck you," Ray said, holstering his gun and moving into the bedroom to lock the gun up for the night.

Vecchio followed him, leaning on the bedroom door frame, glasses in his hand. "You kiss your mother with that mouth, Stanley?"

"Vecchio, what the fuck are you doing here?" Ray said, ripping off his t-shirt and dumping it in a corner. "I know you got a place to sleep."

Vecchio glared at Ray, an actual real nasty glare like Ray hadn't seen in at least two months because it had been replaced by Vecchio smirking indulgently or rolling his eyes exaggeratedly, and said, "You know, I thought we had something going on, but maybe I misread things."

"You didn't want to come to the game," Ray said. "You said you'd drive the Goat home. You did not say, Ray, I am going to use your keys to break into your apartment and sit on your couch and drink your beer like we are something other than fuckbuddies."

"It's not breaking and entering if you have keys," Vecchio said. "What the hell is your problem tonight?"

"You are assuming things, Vecchio," Ray said, sitting down on the bed to pull his boots off. He threw them, a little harder than maybe he should have but he was pissed off and he didn't know why, toward the corner closest to where Vecchio was standing. "Assume makes an ass out of you."

"And me," Vecchio said.

"Yeah, I said that, you are an ass," Ray snapped, stripping his jeans off. "I am not an ass. Assuming things makes an ass out of you, Vecchio." He started to stomp back out into the kitchen, where he was going to drink straight from the carton of milk and maybe scratch his balls some, the sorts of things that made Vecchio crazy, only when he tried to shove past Vecchio, Vecchio reached out and grabbed Ray's arm, fingers digging in hard enough to hurt.

"You got a problem with me, Stanley, you tell me," Vecchio said.

Ray thought, I got a million problems, Vecchio, and you are only one of them, and You got a problem with me being me, you can get the hell out of here, and a couple of other things that he knew he wouldn't mean when he wasn't so pissed off at the Cubs and Keating and the assholes from Lincoln Park who didn't really care about baseball but had season's tickets to see and be seen anyway, so instead he leaned in and kissed Vecchio, hard.

Vecchio kissed back, fingers digging into Ray's arms hard enough to hurt. He bit down on Ray's lower lip, and Ray hissed, tried to pull back, because this wasn't he had meant when he had started the fight with Vecchio in the first place. He hadn't even meant to pick a fight with Vecchio in the first place, but Vecchio had been there and fighting with Keating just wasn't the same as fighting with Vecchio, fighting with Vecchio was just more satisfying, probably because Ray and Vecchio always ended all their fights in bed.

Which was as good a reason to fight with Vecchio as any, Ray guessed, and he slid down Vecchio's chest, settling on his knees and unbuttoning Vecchio's pants as Vecchio's fingers tightened in Ray's hair. "Stanley," Vecchio said, and Ray slid the zipper down, letting Vecchio's pants fall open to show his dick, tenting his boxers. Ray tugged the boxers and the slacks down, and Vecchio was in the middle of saying, "Kowalski," a real warning tone in his voice, when Ray wrapped a hand around the base of Vecchio's cock and licked across the head, and Vecchio sort of choked Ray's name off in his mouth and groaned, instead.

Ray kept one hand on Vecchio's hips, pinned to the wall and trying to thrust into Ray's mouth, and worked Vecchio's dick with the other, stroking up to meet his mouth where it slid down, and Vecchio's hands were all over Ray's head, rubbing down Ray's neck and twisting in Ray's spiked up hair. Vecchio was groaning and Ray heard Vecchio's head hit the wall a couple of times, and then Vecchio said, "God, Ray, Jesus Christ," and he came in Ray's mouth, shooting hard enough to make Ray's eyes water more than usual. He licked Vecchio clean, while Vecchio rubbed his fingers across the back of Ray's neck kind of blindly, a weird gentle sort of gesture that made Ray's stomach twist up funny, pissy mood warring with some stupid kind of affection.

Ray scrambled up to his feet, dick still hard in his boxers, and pressed Vecchio up against the wall again, full body, kissing him like Vecchio was trying to get and it was the only way to hold Vecchio in place. Ray's cock was so hard it hurt, and it only took a couple of thrusts against Vecchio's hip before Ray was coming in his boxers, still kissing Vecchio and seeing stars behind his eyes. He pulled away from Vecchio's mouth, resting his forehead against the wall behind Vecchio, and bit the edge of Vecchio's ear, real gently. Then Ray said, "Jesus," his pants already sticky and going cold, and Vecchio laughed against his ear.

Vecchio's hands, which had been digging into Ray's hips, slid down and one of them patted Ray's ass. "Go to bed, Kowalski," Vecchio murmured against Ray's ear. "You're no good to anybody when you're cranky."

"Fuck you," Ray said, because the bits of his brain that hadn't gone off-line when he'd come were still kind of pissed, but damned if his stupid body didn't do what Vecchio was suggesting, peeling off Vecchio and his feet walking on their own into the bathroom.

Ray threw the sticky boxers into the corner, on the top of the heap of laundry that was mostly confined to the basket - which Ray never bothered with before Vecchio started spending so much time here - and slid into the covers. He was wiped out, but he was finally more tired than he was pissed off, and he rolled over onto his stomach and listened to the noises of Vecchio turning off lights and flipping the locks and rattling the coffee maker in the kitchen.

Ray was asleep before Vecchio got to bed.

"We okay?" Vecchio said, in just his boxers with a cup of coffee and the sports page in hand, when Ray stumbled into the kitchen the next morning. He was always up before Ray, but that meant that there was always coffee when Ray got up, so having to put up with Vecchio's goddamned cheerful morning person self was worth not having to make the coffee himself, being able to go straight for the pot.

"So far as anything about this is ever okay, Vecchio, yeah, I guess," Ray said. Vecchio looked at him pointedly. "If you are expecting an apology, you will be standing there with no pants on for a very long time."

Vecchio huffed, but when Ray sat down and grabbed the sports page from him, Vecchio squeezed the back of his neck and Ray thought, Yeah, we're okay.

Ray didn't know what okay meant, with him and Vecchio, but it felt pretty good.

In August, Vecchio spent more nights in Ray's apartment than not, and a couple of weeks after the trade deadline (before which the Cubs had failed to do anything remotely useful to their lineup), Ray was standing in front of his closet, looking for his brown bomber jacket, when he noticed that there were a couple of shirts there that weren't his.

Not to mention the fact that there were ties in Ray's closet again, and Ray knew they weren't his. It was one of the mornings that Vecchio wasn't there, gone home to his Ma's place for some family thing the night before, and Ray, jacket in his hand, turned and looked at the room, his bedroom, looked real carefully.

There were a couple of pairs of cufflinks on his dresser, and since Ray had tossed out all his cufflinks with his ties, he knew for sure they weren't his. Vecchio's stupid reading glasses were on the bedside table, balanced between Ray's trashy sci-fi novel and three empty water glasses. There were four pressed shirts and a suit that was definitely more expensive than Ray could afford hanging in his closet, next to Ray's four leather jackets and his one remaining good suit (not that he had a tie to wear with it) and his t-shirt collection, and there were two toothbrushes in the bathroom and there had been for a while.

Ray said, "Huh," out loud to the empty apartment, listening to it echo and actually missing Vecchio's morning grumbling a little, and then he shrugged the jacket on and remembered to turn the coffee pot off on his way out of the apartment and went to work.

Right after Labor Day, the weather cooled off for good, and Ray dragged the air conditioner out of the window (while Vecchio sat on the couch and yelled at him to lift with his knees, not with his back, like Ray didn't already know that) and left it on the floor in front of the window (which Vecchio complained about, and Ray told him to shut the hell up, because as far as Ray knew, Vecchio was not paying rent on this apartment, and until he was, Ray would leave the air conditioner anywhere he damn well wanted) and then left all the windows open.

Vecchio complained about how cold it was, because Vecchio was not happy if he was not complaining about something, anything, which Ray would not admit but was an - instinct that he himself understood, because he did it to. Not that Ray was going to ask Vecchio if this was how he felt, but Ray had always suspected that if he did not have something to complain about, he would be dead, and so he stayed alive by complaining.

It didn't make any sense, but the goddamned Mets were going to win the wild card that year, so not much made sense at all, and Ray was just resigned to that.

Vecchio complained about Ray leaving the windows open for so long that Ray finally went and dug through the very back of the closet where he kept the towels, until he found the plush, swank blue bathrobe that he'd had back when he was still married to Stella. He dragged it out of the closet and stomped back into the living and threw it at Vecchio's head. Vecchio said, "What the hell is this?"

"Put it on and stop whining," Ray said.

Vecchio was looking at the bathrobe like it was some kind of alien technology, like it might bite him if he held on to it too long, and Ray was about to grab it back when Vecchio said, "Stella buy this for you?"

Ray had to think about it, because he honestly couldn't remember, but then he said, "Yeah, for Christmas, first year we were married. How'd you know that?"

"Women and bathrobes," Vecchio said, sounding disgusted, but that's all he said and Ray didn't figure out until way later that Stell had probably bought Vecchio a bathrobe for Christmas, the one Christmas they were married, and when Ray thought about that, it just got too weird for him to deal with. He tried not to think about Stella and Vecchio any more than he absolutely had to.

Ray did not bring up the subject; Vecchio brought it up all by himself, and given how much bullshit Vecchio had dragged out of Ray about Fraser over the last eight months, frankly, Ray was beginning to think that Vecchio really didn't have any issues at all, which freaked him out a little. Everybody had issues. Fraser had truckloads of 'em. Stella had them, Ray had them, Vecchio had to be keeping them somewhere, and if he wasn't talking about them with Ray, well - Ray didn't know why it freaked him out so much to think that Vecchio was talking about his issues with somebody who wasn't Ray, but it did. So when Vecchio started talking about Stella, over a lasagna that Ma Vecchio had sent with Vecchio for Ray a couple of weeks ago, Ray was happy to listen to Vecchio's Stella issues, even though it made him a little freaked out.

"It was never going to work," Vecchio said without any kind of I'm-changing-the-subject notice. They'd been talking about the American League playoffs, and for a minute, Ray thought that Vecchio meant moving BJ Surhoff into the outfield, but then he went on, and BJ was right out the window. "Me and Stella, we both fooled ourselves, but it was never going to work."

Ray bit back his urge to say something like, Yeah, I could have told you that, because a, okay, he didn't really mean it, and b, he didn't really feel like this was something Vecchio wanted to be teased about.

Vecchio slurped back the last of his wine and said, "And it wasn't her fault, either. She knew exactly who she was, exactly what she wanted to be doing, and I was still half fucking Langoustine in my head. You've done undercover, Stanley, you know how it is. You do a good enough job, you get to be that guy. And it's hard to stop being that guy, sometimes."

Ray thought about Muldoon, and Canada, and suddenly not being Vecchio anymore, and he nodded. "Yeah, I know."

"I wasn't me," Vecchio said. He sounded a little surprised to hear himself say it, but Ray knew what he meant. "And when I got back to being me, I kind of liked the bowling alley, I kind of liked Florida, but all of a sudden I wasn't still the guy Stella'd married, because the parts of me that were Langoustine hadn't liked Florida, hadn't liked the bowling alley, and it was just a mess."

"Yeah," Ray said.

"So we split up," Vecchio said, and poured himself another glass of wine. He gulped down half the glass before he looked up at Ray. "Sometimes I got up in the morning and I couldn't remember who I was."

"Yeah," Ray said, because he wasn't sure what else to say.

"I miss her," Vecchio said.

"Get in line," Ray said. He reached out and ran his fingers over Vecchio's wrist, wrapped them around, and squeezed, gently. "I missed her first."

Vecchio laughed, and finished his wine. He got up from the table and tugged Ray to his feet. Kissed Ray when Ray was finally standing up. Pressed his face against Ray's neck and muttered something that sounded like thank you against Ray's skin.

So they were okay, as okay as they ever got.

In October, the Yankees won the World Series, Ray closed four cases, and Stella came to town again. She skipped the station, but on the last Thursday before Halloween, Vecchio shrugged his coat on early, ambled over to Ray's desk, and said, "I'm having dinner with Stella tonight."

Ray hadn't even known she was in town, and he was suddenly really pissed off. He ignored Vecchio.

Vecchio rapped his knuckles on Ray's desk and said, "Kowalski, I'm talking to you."

"Yeah, I heard you," Ray snapped. "I'm working here, or do you got something tell me other than you're having dinner with my ex-wife? Because why do I care about that, if that's all."

"My ex-wife too, Stanley," Vecchio said. "You don't have a corner on the used-to-be-married-to-Stella market, okay?"

"I was married to her first."

"Fraser was my partner first," Vecchio snapped, and Ray felt his face twist up into a scowl, but he didn't say anything. Nothing Ray could say. "Oh, for Christ's sake. Fuck you, Kowalski, I'm going to go have dinner with Stella, I'll see you later."

"Whatever, Vecchio," Ray said, and Vecchio stomped out of the office. Ray didn't watch him go. He kept his eyes glued to his paperwork and even though he was pretty sure Vecchio stopped at the door and paused, looked at him like Ray was going to apologize for being pissed that Vecchio was having dinner with Stella and Ray hadn't even rated a phone call, he didn't look up.

By the time Ray got out of the office, all his paperwork was done - Welsh said, "You a pod person, Kowalski?" when Ray handed it to him - and he was still pissed off. He drove too fast, got pulled over by a rookie on the Stevenson, had to explain his way out of a ticket, and when he got home, the radiators were clanking but there wasn't any heat coming out of them, so the apartment was a fucking freezer.

"God damn it," Ray said. He didn't even really want to have dinner with Stella, but there was something about Vecchio having dinner with Stella without him that pissed him off. Not that Vecchio wasn't allowed to have a life that didn't involve Ray. And Ray had a life that didn't involve Vecchio, too, it was just that the life without Vecchio sucked.

Plus it was Stella, and Ray had almost gotten this thing with Vecchio to feel like normal in his head, and then Vecchio went and had dinner with Stella and fucked everything all up. Ray could almost call Vecchio his boyfriend, and then his boyfriend went and had dinner with their mutual ex-wife, and it was too weird for Ray to deal.

So he was still pissed off when he got home, and the TV sucked, and when Ray ordered a pizza, it took an hour to get there and he'd put down three glasses of Jack Daniels before it showed up, on an empty stomach. After the pizza guy left, Ray threw the dead bolt and then, because he was drunk and pissy and passive fucking aggressive (and he knew it, and he was okay with it, because he was drunk and pissed at Vecchio), he slid the chain into the lock, too.

He ate the pizza and left the box on the table, because it pissed Vecchio off. He watched some shitty melodrama crap on the television and finished off the bottle of Jack. It was a Thursday in October and Ray was drunk on the couch by himself, and he thought he'd gotten past that.

At least he thought he'd gotten somebody to get drunk with, and it was almost 11 when Vecchio's key finally turned in the lock. Ray sat on the couch and listened to the dead bolt flip, the door knob turn, and the door catch open, three inches, when the chain stopped it. "Oh, fuck you, Stanley," Vecchio's voice said from the hallway. "Very mature. Come on, you asshole, get off the couch and let me in."

"No," Ray said. Slurred, really, because even he could tell how drunk he sounded.

"Kowalski, I will break the chain on this door and I'll make you pay to replace it," Vecchio said. "Get your ass over here before I come in there and kick it for you."

Ray staggered to his feet and stomped, as loudly as he could and fuck the people who lived downstairs, to the door. He slammed it shut, narrowly missing Vecchio's fingers, yanked the chain out, and then yanked the door back open. Vecchio's coat flapped wildly around his legs when he shoved past Ray into the apartment, and he paused and sniffed in Ray's direction. "You smell like a distillery," Vecchio said. "I can't leave you alone for one night, huh?"

Ray stomped back to the couch and sank back onto the couch, propping his boots up onto the pizza box with a crunch. Local news on the TV, coverage of a murder that if they were lucky won't end up on their desks tomorrow, and Ray really just got tired of it sometimes. Vecchio was clanking around in the bedroom, Ray heard him kick the radiator and curse, and drop some stuff on the top of the dresser, and Ray thought, I should have stayed in Canada. And then, Fuck Fraser. And then, surprising himself, This is as good as it gets, and I should be happy.

He clicked the TV off and stood up, wobbling and feeling kind of like he was about to puke, and he wandered off to the stand in the bathroom door. Vecchio was standing in the bathroom in his boxers, toothbrush in his mouth and a dribble of paste running down his chin, and Ray said, "Sorry."

Vecchio mumbled something around the toothbrush, took it out of his mouth, spit, and said, "It's not like I had some kind of romantic evening, Stanley."

"Yeah," Ray said.

"We're splitting up the property that's left in Florida," Vecchio said. "Divorce was final last month." He went back to brushing his teeth.

Ray said, "You could have said something."

Vecchio snorted, spit again, and said, "I was trying, you shithead, and then you had a temper tantrum before I could explain."

"Sorry," Ray said again.

"Yeah, well, Stella says hi," Vecchio said, dropping his toothbrush in the cup on the sink, next to Ray's. Ray stared down at the toothbrushes, because he didn't want to look at Vecchio, and thought about their toothbrushes living together. Vecchio's name wasn't on the lease, sure, but it was pretty clear to anybody who gave a shit that they were living together. "And I am no longer the proud owner of one half of a bowling alley in Orlando, because it sold last week."

"Good price?" Ray said. He was still drunk, and leaning in the doorway of the bathroom, and Vecchio had one hips propped against the sink and was just watching Ray. Ray could feel Vecchio's eyes on his face.

"Good enough," Vecchio said. Ray closed his eyes, because the world was starting to spin around a little, and he'd wasted half a day being pissed at Vecchio, who'd had just as shitty a day and Ray knew it, because he'd done the whole split-up-our-lives crap with Stell, too. Ray learned a lot of useless crap from Fraser, it's true, but one thing that Ray learned from Fraser that stuck was that life was too short to waste it being pissed. The medicine cabinet rattled, loud in Ray's ears, and then Vecchio was grabbing his hand, turning it over palm up, and shaking a couple of aspirin into it. Vecchio's fingers were gentle against Ray's wrist. "Here," Vecchio said, stepping in to Ray's personal space, and Ray's body leaned in even if his mind was still a little pissed. "Take these, or you're going to hate life in the morning a lot more."

"Thanks," Ray said.

Vecchio said, "No problem," and pushed past Ray into the bedroom. Ray stayed in the bathroom. He opened his eyes and looked at himself in the mirror. He needed a haircut. He had some new wrinkles. On a day-to-day basis, he was pretty happy. He filled a glass of water and took the aspirin, and then pissed and washed his hands and brushed his teeth. Vecchio said, "You coming to bed, Stanley?"

"Yeah," Ray said. "I'm coming."

Fraser called on Thanksgiving, first time since they'd seen him in June. Ray had put his foot down and refused to go out to Buena Park for dinner with the Vecchios, so Vecchio had gone without him. Ray had stuck his head out the window and shouted down the alley at Vecchio, who was heading for the garage space Ray had finally found for the Goat, to bring some fucking leftovers back. Vecchio had just flapped a hand over his head at Ray, which meant maybe, maybe not, so Ray had ordered a pizza - took him five tries to find a pizza joint open on Thanksgiving, but the Ranalli's over on Montrose was finally open and delivering over to Uptown - and he was just sitting down with his pizza and his beer and the Georgia/Georgia Tech game on the TV when the phone rang.

"Turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes," Ray said, because he'd already talked to his folks out in Arizona and the only other person who'd call him on Thanksgiving was Vecchio, to see what kind of leftovers Ray wanted. Because Vecchio, for all he wore that air of irritation and superiority most of the time, really actually cared about Ray, which was weird and which Ray was finally getting used to. "And some gravy."

"Ray," Fraser said, and Ray could hear the amusement in Fraser's voice. "I'm afraid that the gravy would be moldy by the time it arrived, and we celebrated Thanksgiving in Canada nearly six weeks ago."

"Frase," Ray said. "Sorry, I thought you were not you."

"I hadn't thought to find you home," Fraser said. "I thought you would be ..."

"Surviving the chaos that's Thanksgiving with the Vecchios?" Ray said. "Yeah, no. I did two years of that, I am finished with that mess, stamp it, sign it, stick it in a box marked done."

"So you're "

"At home?" Ray said. "Yeah. I got a pizza, I got Georgia on the TV about to whip the hell out of Georgia Tech, I got beer, and I am giving my own kind of thanks, thank you very much."

"Well," Fraser said, and trailed off.

"What's up, Frase? You're not making social calls lately, so you've got something to say."

"I thought," Fraser said, and then said, "Ray, I was under the impression that even after after our conversation in June, you were still angry with me."

Ray had still been angry, Fraser was not wrong about that, but it hadn't been with Fraser. Ray didn't know why he hadn't managed to say so to Frase, yet, even though it'd almost been a year, but it was just kind of Ray woke up one day in August and Vecchio was snoring and Ray made a good pot of coffee and he just wasn't angry anymore. Sure, Ray and Vecchio had spent most of the summer not talking about any of their issues, and fucking a lot, but Ray had kind of gotten used to the fact that he and Vecchio communicated kind of badley, that's what they did, and Ray had stopped being angry a couple of months ago.

He hadn't noticed until Fraser called him on it, though, which was just typical. "I was mad, Frase, but I wasn't mad at you," Ray said, and his pizza was getting cold and his beer was getting warm, but it was kind of like Vecchio having dinner with Stella: maybe Ray just needed to have this conversation more than he needed a pizza. "I was mad at myself, and I was kind of mad at the whole world, but I wasn't mad at you."

"It seemed that way," Fraser said, and he sounded hurt.

"You know me and Vecchio are, well, you know," Ray said. Fraser was quiet. "And you know what, Frase? That turned out to be the right thing. Me staying in Canada wasn't the right thing, and I was just too dumb to know it, okay?"

"All right, Ray," Fraser said. "I didn't mean to hurt you."

"I didin't mean to be a dumbass, either, but I guess it kind of comes with the territory. The Territories. Ha," Ray said. "Listen, Fraser, were you just going to apologize to my fucking answering machine?" He said fucking just to hear Fraser scold him, and Fraser did.

"Language, Ray," Fraser said. And then, "Ah, perhaps?"

"You were going to apologize to a machine," Ray said. "That's just like you, I tell you what. Look, Fraser, I have got a pizza and a twelve pack of Old Style and for better or for fucking worse, I seem to got Vecchio, which I cannot fathom at all but he keeps sleeping in my bed, so I guess it's a long term thing, and I'm pretty happy. And if you would call more often and make small talk instead of just dropping these big old emotional bombshells on me, I would have you, too, and I think that honestly that's all a 40-something cop from a bad neighborhood in Chicago can ask for, okay?" Ray paused. "Except for the Cubs to make the playoffs next year. I want to ask for that, too."

Fraser laughed. An all-out, full-blown laugh, like Ray hadn't heard since a couple of months into the quest, before things went all weird and pear-shaped. "I don't think that's too much to ask for, Ray," Fraser said. "And I'm thankful for you, as well."

"Stop asking stupid questions, Frase," Ray said.

"There's no such thing as a stupid question, Ray," Fraser said.

"Yeah," Ray said. "I know."

When Vecchio came home loaded down with not just Thanksgiving leftovers, but also two lasagnas and a whole case of red wine, Ray was sitting on the couch, just a little drunk, and kind of happy. "Georgia won," he told Vecchio. "And Fraser called. He's happy for us, so I think we can expect a wedding gift any day now."

Vecchio just laughed, like Fraser had, and he kissed Ray in the kitchen with all the leftovers sitting on the table, and Ray thought that he might just finally be okay.

It snowed every day in December, and Ray lost three hats in four days, and his ears were always cold, but somehow, unlike December the year before, he didn't really care at all.

"You know, when you opened that door," Ray said, and then tried to figure out where that thought had come from, and why he'd said it out loud. Two days before Christmas, and it was snowing, and he was lying around in bed with his boyfriend in the middle of the afternoon on a Sunday, and okay, yeah, his life was weird, but it wasn't bad. The fact that he had a sudden urge to talk about Muldoon and the Hotel California, that was maybe bad.

"Which door?" Vecchio rolled over and propped himself on one elbow.

"The one in the fucking Hotel California," Ray said. "With Fraser. Chasing Muldoon."

"Oh, that door," Vecchio said placidly.

Ray said, "Yeah, that door," and punched Vecchio in the arm. "I was so fucking pissed when you opened that door. You fucked my life up completely when you opened that door."

"You didn't do great things for my life, either," Vecchio said. "Or Fraser's life, for that matter."

"Sorry about that."

Vecchio shrugged, and drummed his fingers on Ray's chest. "Worked out okay, didn't it?"

"I guess so," Ray said.

"You guess nothing," Vecchio said. "But I know enough for both of us, so we're okay."

"Okay," Ray said. "Okay, yeah."

"Exactly," Vecchio said, and he sounded smug and sleepy and affectionate, and Ray thought, that's how it should be.

*

author's notes: title from fall out boy. summary from johnny cash. this was originally started for vi's johnny cash ficathon, and then it took on a life of its own and got way out of my control. brooklinegirl did beta duty, and sid, t. amd pru held my hand while i did all my customary flailing and chest-beating while i was working on it.

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