Summary: Ray Vecchio has been in love five times.
Many thanks to Estrella for beta.
Angie, man: she was it for Ray, she was the one who made him realize was true love was. When he was with Angie, he didn't need to wonder or worry about anything at all. It was just that easy with her, it was meant to be. He didnít know it the first time he saw her, but he knew it the first time she smiled at him. He felt it in his chest, and he knew when it hurt, just a little, that this was for real.
Him and Angie made sense together. Angie was from the neighborhood, same side of the tracks that Ray was. Ray's mom told stories about how he and Angie'd played together when they were babies, but he didn't remember that. He just remembered that first time Angie smiled at him. They were young, kids; he was only twenty, she was nineteen, but Ray figured he knew everything by then. Knew a lot more than he did when he was only seventeen, at least, and this: this was love.
The first night she smiled at him, he told her he was gonna marry her. He kissed her hand and looked into her eyes, and told her so. She was laughing at him, but he didn't care, he did not care, because she didn't pull her hand away. She gave him attitude, she told him, "In your dreams," but she said it with a smile, and when she turned to walk away, she looked back at him.
"You know it," he said quietly to her back, and he did, he dreamed about her that night, and the next, and then he called her and he told her she was going out with him Saturday night. She told him he should hold his breath, but he held the phone in his suddenly sweaty hand and thought he could hear her smiling as she said it.
And when he showed up on Saturday (with flowers, good ones, expensive ones) and she opened the door wearing a dress that shimmered whenever she moved, he knew: he had it made.
He took her out for dinner and afterwards he pulled her onto the dance floor and she laughed at him again, and told him she had his number, that he was too smooth for her, but nah, nah, he was just smooth enough. She let him pull her in close and she moved with him on the dance floor.
He drove her home and they sat in his car (the car he'd worked so hard to restore, the car he'd hunted down parts for in every junk yard he could find, the car he worked a hundred after-school jobs for, to keep her in gas and repairs.) He sat there in the car he loved with the girl he loved, loved with all his goddamn heart already and he wasn't even trying not to, he wanted to love her, he deserved to love her. They sat there for hours and all he did was hold her hand, sat there sideways in the seat so he could see her face in the dim light of the streetlamp, and they talked.
He felt it when she started to trust him, when she talked to him about her brother, who she worried about, because he was hanging with a bad crowd, and about how she wanted to go to school, maybe, was thinking about it, maybe nursing school like her sister had, it seemed like a good idea.
Ray didn't talk too much about himself - he wanted to hear about her, wanted to know about her hopes and dreams, so he could figure out where he fit. He held her hand and she rubbed her thumb lightly over his as she held on, too, and he couldn't breathe right when she looked at him quietly for a second, then slid across the car and kissed him, her hands resting lightly on his chest.
Angie and Ray had dinner with Angie's folks every Friday night, with Ray's mom every Sunday. They talked about buying a house and about having babies and about Ray getting a promotion at work, and Ray didn't ever think about Irene Zuko. He never looked back, because he never let himself look back, not one time. There was no use it in, it had been stupid from the start, and Ray, himself, was not a stupid man. He knew that, and he knew he had everything he could ever want in the world with Angie.
Irene wasn't anything. She never had been, not really, not anything more than a mistake. Wrong place, wrong time, and Ray couldn't even really remember why she ever talked to him in the first place. With Irene, it was never like it was with Angie, where it felt good and right and important. With Irene, he had just been - young. Real young, and real stupid. So stupid he had believed for a while that he loved her, and wasn't that a kick? Thought, for a while, that she even loved him back. And - not that he thinks about it, because he doesn't - but if he thought about it now, that's what would hurt. What a dumb kid he'd been, thinking he knew everything.
He hadn't known anything at all.
All he'd known back then was how to keep secrets, and how to climb up vines on the side of a house real careful, and how soft Irene's hands were when she tugged him in over the windowsill. All he'd known then was that they had to keep quiet; quiet when he kissed her, quiet when she tugged him over to her bed, brushing aside the filmy curtains that she had hung around it, quiet when she pulled him down on top of her. All he'd known was how warm her lips were against his, how easy it was to do this with her, how much he wanted her. And she wanted him too, Christ, she wanted him, she was risking so much, here, she was risking everything. She wanted him bad, and he was shaking that first time in her bed, his hand trembled when he slid it between her legs, tugged aside the damp silk of her panties and felt how wet and hot she was inside.
She moaned, almost silently; he watched her face and he moved his fingers inside of her, watched how she tilted her head back, her eyes closed and her mouth open wide. He'd never wanted anything in his life as bad as he wanted her back then, not anything.
All Ray had known was how to want her. He hadn't known how to stop.
He thought he knew what love was then. He thought he knew.
That was gone, though, water under the bridge, might as well be a million miles between them. Ray never thought about her at all anymore. He had his Angie; he had everything he'd ever wanted in all the world.
Ray never figured out just what wrong turn he'd made in his life that got him here. There had to have been something, you know? Some clue, some sign, something to warn him that, hey, things were about to get wacky here. But things didn't work out that way, that's just the way it was: one day, no bright red Canadian Mountie in your life, the next day, there he was, big as life.
Fraser was a lunatic; Fraser fucked up Ray's life from the second he walked into it. But when Ray met Fraser, well, he didn't have very much in his life, so that didn't so much matter. Ray had nothing to lose, not really, and with Fraser, at least, things were never boring. Not ever. Fraser felt like the first friend Ray had had in a while. Ray did things for Fraser he never, ever thought he'd do.
Thing was, Fraser was a terrible friend to have. Ray got practically blown up the first week they met. Fraser had him jumping off of bridges, had him almost drowning on dry land, had him risking his life all the damn time. Fraser never had any American money, never; Fraser was what Ray would call a mooch. Fraser needed watching over - he never got the idea of life in Chicago, he set himself up to be fucked with, the guy would have gotten hurt if Ray hadn't taken him on as his sidekick.
Fraser caused Ray more grief than anyone ever; man, Fraser blew up Ray's car.
And yet Ray, well, Ray stuck with him. Fraser needed him, and, hell, again, it wasn't like Ray had anything better to do.
And when all that went down - all that stuff with Victoria, that whole fucking thing, and Fraser, Christ, it was like Ray didn't know him at all, hadn't ever met this guy, not once, this guy who he thought was his buddy, his friend. This was a different guy, this was a guy he'd never seen before. And Ray still couldn't walk away. Still couldn't let Fraser walk away. Not once could Ray let that happen. He couldn't let Fraser go after Victoria alone, and he didn't care what bullshit the I.A. guys were trying to sell him, no way, no fucking way. Fraser wasnít capable of being involved in this, being in on this with Victoria. If if Ray didn't know Fraser quite as well as he thought, he still knew that.
He stuck with him, through Victoria and - afterwards. After the train platform. After the hospital, and Canada, and the plane crash, and all of that. After all of that, the whole damn thing, you'd think that would be it, right? You'd think there would be no walking away. That was something real right there, that was something solid.
Turned out, though, that what hanging out with Fraser did to you was give you these weird values. Principles, things that made you do things you never thought you'd do, like walk away and not even get to say goodbye to the guy. Not for real.
Walk away and never know, never once know, if you'd ever come back. Ever see the guy again. And still walk away, still do it anyway, because what else could you do, you know? What else could you do?
What Ray did while he was in Vegas was - well, it wasn't quite giving up; it was more not counting on anything. He had to become the Bookman; that was how you did it, that was how you went undercover. You had to look at your old life like it was a book you read once, and that stuff wasnít real. Only thing that was real was what kept you alive through the end of that day. He didn't think about it, he trained himself not to, for the whole fucking time he was out there in the dry sands of Vegas.
It worked, too, it worked real well. The thing was, it made stepping back in to his old life tough. Real tough. Almost impossible. Maybe actually impossible.
The whole damn thing was mixed up. It wasn't just him; everything was up in the air, every damn thing. There wasn't a place for him anymore, he felt like just by being there, he was shoving everything aside.
Stella, though - Stella was all new. When she came through that door in that suit, that suit than had to have cost even more than the one he was wearing (and he was wearing a damn nice suit), and shoes to match, Ray felt his heart turn over.
He turned on the charm, and it worked, it worked every step of the way. She only had eyes for him, and she wasn't expecting to see the old Ray Vecchio; she wasn't expecting to see the Bookman. It felt like a whole new him; it felt like being a superhero. The first time he kissed her, it felt like heaven.
He loved her because she loved him back, and because she didn't ask too much from him. It was like she was keeping part of herself reserved; she never gave him everything, and that was good with him. He didn't have all the pieces of himself together yet; he wasnít sure he ever would. Vegas had torn parts out of him that he'd never expected. And with Fraser gone and not coming back, well, that was another part of him, lost in the cold.
He didn't want Vegas, never wanted Vegas again, but Chicago felt cold to him, cold as Canada to him. He wanted to be warm, and he wanted to be different, and he wanted to take his Stella and start it all brand new.
It was time for a new life, his own life. He deserved it, and it felt like he was finally where he'd been heading all this time.
When Kowalski came back from Canada alone, Ray wasn't surprised, or at least that's what he said, leaning back in his chair and giving Kowalski a mean grin. Truth was, though, it shocked the hell out of him. Ray thought he was the only one stupid enough to walk away from Fraser of his own free will.
Kowalski looked like crap - he looked too thin, sort of jagged, like he could shatter into pieces. He bared his teeth at Ray, standing over him, the bustle and flow of the squad room all around them. "How'd Stella like that bowling alley deal, Vecchio?" His voice was rough too.
Ray shrugged one shoulder easily. "About as much as you'd expect, Stanley."
Kowalski cracked a smile at that, and Ray couldn't really blame him. Stella in a bowling alley. Sounded like the sort of crack-headed plan the Mountie would have come up with.
So both he and Kowalski were back to square one, looked like. Back at the 2-7, not a whole lot different. Ray was doing okay; losing Stella didn't hurt like he'd thought it would. He'd started to think that it was half Armando who loved her, really, so it maybe only broke half of his own heart when she left him.
Kowalski, though: he was a mess, and again, Ray couldn't really blame him. Going from being with Fraser to being without him - that was enough to break anyone. End of that first week, as Ray was headed out, he ran across Kowalski slouched against the brick wall outside the back door of the precinct, smoking. Ray paused, and Kowalski glared at him, so Ray leaned back neatly against the wall next to him, watching him out of the corner of his eye.
"Move it along, Vecchio, nothing to see here." Kowalski took another drag. His hand was shaking, just a little, but two years out of Vegas, Ray still noticed the details.
"So how was the first week?" Ray tucked his hands into his pants pockets.
Ray nodded slowly. "You find a place to live? You didnít keep your old apartment this whole time, did you?"
"Fuck. Off." Kowalski had his eyes shut, his head tilted back against the wall, the long line of his neck looking pale in the late-afternoon sunlight. He raised his hand and took another drag without opening his eyes.
Ray pushed off the wall, straightened his long gray coat around him. "You're so sweet, Kowalski, no wonder Fraser fell in love with you."
He was ready for it, so Kowalski's punch only knocked him back half a step. Kowalski stood there in front of him, hands clenched into fists, panting with anger and ready to go. Ray rubbed his jaw - not a bad punch for a punk kid - and tilted his head a little. "C'mon," he said, turning around and heading for his car (his beautiful, beautiful car, and you had to know God loved you when he gave you four chances for a Buick Riviera.). "I'll buy you a beer."
It took a minute, but Kowalski followed him - confusion will get you places that charm won't. Ray took him to the bar and bought him a beer. Bought him several beers, actually, and a few shots while he was at it, because it was what Kowalski needed. They didn't talk much, because they didn't have to - Kowalski and him had shared a fucking life, there, for a while, not to mention an ex-wife, and besides all that, Ray knew a little bit about what Fraser did to a guy's heart.
He took Kowalski home with him, because Kowalski needed that, too, and if Kowalski's sloppy, determined kisses hurt his jaw a little where Kowalski had landed that nice punch, well, maybe that's what Ray needed.
Kowalski and him shouldn't have made any sense at all, but they worked when nothing else had for all of Ray's life. Ray didn't have to try with Kowalski; he didn't have to fake anything. Not like he could have - he had no front to put up with Kowalski, because Kowalski knew him backwards and forwards. They both knew too fucking much about each other, but that gave them a little bit of compassion, maybe; allowed for stuff that no one else in the goddamn world would put up with.
Ray had learned over time - over a whole lot of time - not to count on anything. Not much lived up to its potential in this world, and he figured that if he started counting on stuff here, he'd start getting disappointed. Kowalski was the bottom of the barrel, maybe: he was cranky and twitchy and dressed bad. He drank too much and he smoked too much and he had a temper.
He also was fierce in bed, hanging on to Ray so tight he left bruises Ray could feel all the next day. He was good with a gun, when he had his horrible glasses on, and he had a car that was almost (almost) as beautiful as the Riv, and when he danced, it was like he was walking on air. He was the bottom of the barrel, sure, but it was Ray's barrel and Ray was down there too. Kowalski was fucked up in a way that Ray got, that he understood real well, too well, it hit close to home. And that shouldn't have worked for them, shouldn't have, but fuck, it had to - who else would have either of them?
He told himself that a lot, when Kowalski was being an asshole and Ray was thinking about what a big world it was and that there were lots of places he could be other than Chicago, or Canada, or Vegas, or Florida. And he reminded himself of it, too, when Kowalski was sprawled beside him, sleeping, blankets pushed down, the moonlight through the bedroom window tracing the lines of his body, his lean back, his hips, the slight curve of his ass.
Ray told himself that's all this was, this thing with the two of them - that they were just the leftovers. Then he'd take a breath, and run his hand down the length of Kowalski's body, his skin warm under Ray's hand. He'd pull the covers up over both of them and tug Kowalski - he grumbled sleepily - close, and fall asleep with his hand on the curve of Kowalski's hip.
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