Eight Ball, Corner Pocket

by brooklinegirl

brooklinegirl@rcn.com

R

6/2005


Summary: Ray looked at Vecchio, in his nice suit in a trashy bar, and opened his mouth to ask. Only what came out wasn't, 'You're supposed to be in Florida' but instead, "I'm supposed to be in Canada."

Many, many thanks to ms. Estrella for multiple betas on multiple sucky days.


Ray Kowalski leaned forward over the table, resting his hip high on the edge as he angled for the shot. The cue slid cleanly between his fingers, and the six-ball went into the side pocket with a satisfying clunk. Ray let the butt of the cue slide down to the ground, and snagged his bottle of beer from the table behind him. He took a long sip, surveying the table in front of him. Quiet night at the bar; a Tuesday was no time to find a pool partner. That was okay; he didn't feel much like small talk.

Ray set down the beer, and cleared the table with three swift shots. He had to stretch for the last one, using his fingers for a bridge, but he did it. He racked up the balls again, crouching down as he centered the rack on the table. One more game - he grinned humorlessly to himself; like you could call it a game when it was just him playing - and he'd head home. He broke, then picked up his beer, which was empty. Okay. One more beer, one more game, then he'd be done. He went up to Sylvie at the bar, and she had a fresh one open for him on the counter by the time he got there.

"Thanks, Syl," he said.

She nodded at him, giving him a smile as she leaned her hip against the bar and watched the baseball game on the television suspended up above.

Ray took a sip of his beer, momentarily distracted by the game - the Cubs had been winning, but now in the 8th inning they were blowing a four-run lead against the Cardinals - before turning to head back to his table. He'd taken two steps before he stopped, and swung around slowly. There was a guy at the jukebox off in the corner, in a way-too-nice suit for this place. The suit - it was a nice fucking suit, even someone like Ray could see that. Not off the rack, smooth lines, except for where the line of the suit was broken - only a tiny bit, the tailor had been making room for it - by the slight bulge of a hip holster.

That had to have been what caught Ray's attention. Still, when the guy turned around slowly, like he knew Ray's eyes were on him, Ray wasn't surprised. Not really. That wasn't why his heart started pounding weirdly fast.

"Vecchio," Ray said, his voice steady.

Vecchio looked at him. "How you doin', Stanley?"

Ray moved towards him a little. "Same as always." He watched as Vecchio took a seat at the bar. "You?"

Vecchio nodded his head a little and took a sip out of his bottle. Fucker was drinking Canadian beer. "Not bad."

Ray had moved forward enough that he was at the corner of the bar, near Vecchio. The lighting in the bar made Vecchio's eyes look hollow. His suit was clean and smooth, shirt with fucking French cuffs, but it was open at the throat, no tie. It made him look half-put together, like he was missing part of his costume. Jesus, what the fuck was he doing here?

Ray leaned forward against the bar. He looked at Vecchio, in his nice suit in a trashy bar, and opened his mouth to ask. Only what came out wasn't, 'You're supposed to be in Florida' but instead, "I'm supposed to be in Canada."

He felt his face flush immediately as Vecchio smiled, looking down at the bar, and took another sip of beer. "Yeah. How'd that work out for you, Stanley?"

Ray watched without interest as his own knuckles turned white where they held his bottle of beer. He had a sudden, very vivid image of smashing that bottle into Vecchio's face. Not looking up, he said quietly, "What are you doing in Chicago, Vecchio?"

Vecchio leaned back from the bar, smiling and shaking his head. He got up, taking his beer with him. "C'mon, I'll play you in a game of pool. Loser buys the next round."

Ray turned, watching as Vecchio walked over to the pool table. He took his suit jacket off and made the hip holster and gun disappear into the pocket. He folded the jacket neatly in half, and laid it carefully over a stool. Cufflinks came off next, were slipped into his pants pocket, and Vecchio rolled up his sleeves and started re-racking the balls Ray'd just broke.

Ray picked up his beer with numb fingers and walked over. "Vecchio."

Vecchio was centering the rack, and didn't look up at him. "Kowalski," he said, matching Ray's tone, his voice deep with amusement.

Ray waited.

Vecchio straightened up and looked at him. In the shadowed light of the lamp hanging over the table, he looked - better than the last time Ray had seen him.

Well. The last time Ray'd seen him, he'd been bleeding from a gunshot wound to the gut. Wouldn't take much to look better. But - he looked strangely centered, like the exact opposite of how Ray felt inside. Ray felt like his own worst worry come true - without Fraser, he didn't know who he was.

"What do you want, Kowalski. Things didn't work out." Vecchio walked over to the rack on the wall, and surveyed the line of cues for a moment before selecting one and carefully testing its heft and balance. He looked over at Ray. "Are we playing?"

Ray nodded jerkily, and grabbed his own cue. "Yeah. Let's go."

Vecchio won the first game easily, and offered him two out of three. It didnít occur to Ray to say no. They both drank steadily through the games, Vecchio switching from beer to whiskey halfway through. But he never showed any sign of being drunk or unsteady. He played skillfully, but with no pleasure, more like a quiet purpose. He bent to take the shots with ease, never showing any sign of the bullet he was still carrying in his body. It took Ray a second to realize that he'd be fully recovered by now, that it'd been over a year ago that he'd been shot.

Ray won the second game, barely, but Vecchio beat him on the tie-breaker. He didnít even really gloat, just leaned on his cue and gave Ray a small grin. And Ray was standing there, drunk and dizzy, with a thousand questions in his head. He leaned against the edge of the table. "You married my wife," he said

Vecchio shrugged the tiniest bit with one shoulder, looking steadily at Ray. "You stole my partner."

"Yeah, but I was you," Ray said. "And he didn't want me anyway."

"Neither did she," Vecchio said softly.

Ray tried to get angry at that, but it was really nothing but the truth, and anyway, she hadn't wanted Vecchio in the end, either, and now it was just the two of them looking at each other.

"What are you doing here, Vecchio?" Ray asked again, finally.

Vecchio gave him a twisted smile. "I've been asking myself that same question." He took a sip from his latest glass of whiskey and then put it down, the smile dropping off his face, leaving no expression at all. He was just standing there, his sleeves rolled up, his hands loose at his sides. Ray had been watching him move; he bet that Vecchio would be hell to deal with in a fight, and it looked to him like Vecchio was always prepared. For anything.

Vecchio studied Ray for another moment. His voice was quiet, curious. "Stella said you were bent." He paused. "I can see being queer for Fraser, but she said you were bent way before that."

Ray felt the betrayal, the anger, the embarrassment rise up inside him, but then it just - all that righteous indignation faded. It was all true, and anyway, he had fuck-all to lose.

He kept his voice steady. "What's it to you, Vecchio?" Ray was a little bit drunk - a little bit more than a little bit drunk - but he watched Vecchio's eyes, watched his head tilt a little, watched this guy who knew nothing about him except second-hand news look him over and sum him up.

And when Vecchio pushed him up against the wall in the shadows behind the pool tables, pushed him there and held him against the wall with his weight, Ray expected - he didn't know. He expected it to be angry. Rough. Different from how it actually was. Vecchio held him there for a second, and then he did it slow. He was close enough that Ray could feel his breath on his lips, and he just - stopped there, for a few seconds, breathing. Ray's brain was short-circuiting, he wasn't even trying to get away, was just thinking, Was this how it was, the first time you kissed my Stella?

And then Vecchio was kissing him - not rough, not dirty - just kissing him, his lips surprisingly soft, warm, hitting the mark perfectly, and there was something practiced about that kiss. Like - like it wasn't even Vecchio kissing him, like he'd slipped into undercover somewhere along the line. And Ray just - fuck it, Jesus Christ, the one thing here was that this was them, they didn't have to try to be any fucking thing else for anybody else.

Ray brought his hands up, and Vecchio held him against the wall a little less gently, like a warning, but Ray wasn't trying to get away. He fisted Vecchio's shirt and turned this into a real kiss. He slid his tongue into Vecchio's mouth, pushed his hips forward. Vecchio made a sound in his throat, and suddenly he wasn't all steady and sure against Ray. He dragged Ray close, and kissed him a little less smooth, a little more frantic. Ray groaned and kissed Vecchio harder, tasting expensive whiskey against his tongue.

Then he placed one hand on Vecchio's chest, heaved him away, and punched him square in the jaw.

Vecchio staggered back a step, but recovered quickly. Ray watched, hands clenched down by his sides, as Vecchio pressed his hand to his mouth, then looked down at it to see if he was bleeding. He tilted his head, half-smiled at Ray. "What was that for?" he said, sounding more curious than anything else.

"My wife," Ray said, panting a little.

"Uh-huh," Vecchio said, turning to pull his jacket off the chair. He shrugged into it, then picked up his glass of whiskey and finished it off. He carefully placed the empty glass back on the table, then turned quick as anything and punched Ray in the face hard enough that Ray's head hit the wall and he saw stars.

"My partner," Vecchio said. "Now we're even."

Ray slumped back against the wall and watched Vecchio walk away. His face throbbed, and he closed his eyes for a minute before taking a deep breath and pushing himself off the wall. He struggled into his jacket, then headed over to the bar. He was fumbling for his wallet when Sylvia came over. "What do I owe you?" he asked, trying to focus enough to count out the money.

"The other guy took care of it," she said carefully, and Ray looked up at her sharply, wondering how much she had seen, then wondering why he cared.

She looked back at him steadily, expressionless. He took a breath, and shoved his wallet in his jacket pocket.

"You want me to call you a cab, Ray?" she asked gently.

"No, I -" He stopped, and glanced at his watch. Past twelve. They'd been there for a while. And he was drunk. And tired. And just wanted to go home and pass out and start fresh tomorrow. "Yeah. That would be great. Thanks."

"No problem," she said, turning to the phone behind the bar.

Ray sat down tiredly. When she hung up, she said, "Five minutes, out front."

"Thanks," he said again. He stood up. "Hey, did the Cubs lose?"

Sylvie gave him a quick smile. "Nah, they managed to pull it off."

"Nice," Ray said. "That's real nice. Night, Syl."

"Take care of yourself, Ray," she said, turning to wipe down the bar as he headed out.

"I'll give it a shot," he muttered to himself, pushing out the door into the cool night air.

~end~


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