Fine Line

by BrooklineGirl



Written for the Scars Challenge over at ds_flashfiction.

I can't even express how much I adore my extraordinarily patient betas: SnowFlake, Lynnmonster, and Estrella. They looked at draft after draft of this and gave me immeasurably helpful advice and pointers and suggestions and - yeah. I don't know what I would ever do without them. *heart*

"We're close, Vecchio, we're this fucking close, I can feel it." Kowalski's walking backwards, jittery, on a roll. He swings around just in time to neatly sidestep a homeless guy sacked out on the sidewalk."Cassidy knows something, he's just too scared to tell."

I dig around in my pocket for my car keys, pretending to ignore him, but he's right. Cassidy was way too nervous when we came by for a follow-up questioning; he does know something. Which means our trip to this skanky neighborhood wasn't entirely wasted. I'd bet money Cassidy's gonna make some calls, tell his backers the cops are looking a little too close at his shady construction operation. We donít want Cassidy - he's small potatoes. We're after his backers, and leaning on Cassidy tonight may have done some good.

Kowalski gives me a grin and swings around, throws his arm over my shoulder. "I'm telling you, we push just a tiny bit more andÖ"

He spots the guy the same time as I do. The joker is jimmying the lock on a beat-up old Cadillac right on the main street. Like no one would even care. Which, yeah, okay, given this particular neighborhood, isn't too much of a gamble. But this guy isn't even trying to be subtle about it. I look at Ray and Ray looks at me and we both grin. Sometimes, the bad guys make it easy.

Ray lets his arm drop off my shoulder, and quickens his step a little. "See, Vecchio, this is exactly why I didn't want to park my car in this neighborhood. Good thing we brought yours. Even the local hubcap lifters wouldn't want anything to do with it."

"Shut the fuck up, my baby's a classic," I say automatically, lengthening my stride to keep pace with him.

"Yeah, yeah," he says just as the guy looks up and sees us.

"Chicago PD," I yell as the guy takes off running with Kowalski hell-bent for leather after him. And, okay, Ray's way faster on his feet than me (has a lot to do with the fact that he doesn't weigh anything, and a little to do with the fact that I've never gotten back up to speed, really, since being shot). I have my phone out, calling it in as I chase after the both of them. The guy runs into a wide alley, Ray hot on his heels, and I'm coming up to the turn when I hear Ray yell out, "Gun!" I hear the blast at what feels like the exact same moment, and turn the corner just in time to see Ray go down hard.

I don't think I even look at Ray, lying there in a heap in the dirty alley. I know the guy who shot him is still running, and I know I catch up to him in what feels like two steps. I have him on the ground without even thinking about it, and the gun skids out of his hand. I dig my knee into his back, pushing his face to the pavement with one hand while pulling my cuffs out with the other.

He might have been making noise, might have been yelling something, but all I'm hearing is the blood rushing in my ears. I shove one cuff on him, tight, letting it dig into his skin, and drag him across the cement, attach the other cuff to a dumpster. I kick his gun further up the alley and don't let myself think about the different ways I could take care of this.

Ray's sprawled near the head of the alley. There's blood, Jesus, a lot of blood. In his hair, on his face. His cheek is pressed against the cement, and I don't remember going down on my knees, but I guess I did, because I'm holding on to him and I can feel the blood is soaking through my pants, my good dress pants, and I donít know of any drycleaner that's going to be able to get it out.

He'd just gotten his hair re-dyed, a lighter shade, almost platinum this time. Now it's dark with blood, and his eyes are closed, and maybe I shouldn't have moved him. I can't tell where the blood is coming from, there's too much of it. I dig my handkerchief out of my pocket, but it's fine silk and when I try to wipe some of the blood off his face, it soaks through immediately.

My pants are ruined, my handkerchief is ruined, and Ray's arms are limp at his sides. I realize I've never seen him so still; even when he sleeps he's a twitchy, restless mess. Stealing the covers and mumbling in his sleep, pinning me down with sprawling arms and legs. He's never just quiet and now he's on the ground, and I look at his jeans, the ones I keep trying to get him to get rid of because they're old and the cuffs are worn and they're a size too big. But he likes them, says they're worn-in just perfect, and that he'll let me be the one who gets dressed up fancy. I keep trying to tell him that clothes that fit aren't fancy, they're normal, but he just grins stubbornly and shakes his head at me.

I have my hand pressed hard against the soaked handkerchief on his forehead and he's lying real still, and I hear sirens in the distance.


I lean against the wall with my arms crossed over my chest, watching him getting stitched up. The bullet just creased his forehead, barely skidded across it, leaving him with a nasty-looking slice. Head wounds bleed a lot, I know that. I shut my eyes for a second. It's way too bright in here and that plus the impersonal antiseptic smell is giving me a headache.

They're gonna want to keep him overnight, at least, and he's gonna try to argue his way out of it. He's so fucking stubborn. He's sitting there very still with his eyes closed as the young intern finishes up the stitching. He's pale as anything, and his gray t-shirt, the one I watched him pull on this morning, is dark with dried blood. His hair is half-flat, half-crazed spikes, and they washed most of the blood off of his face, but not all of it. I pull my eyes away. There's blood on my shirt, too. More than there is on his, actually.

I look back as I hear him hiss quietly. The intern has moved, blocking my view, and all I can see are Ray's hands, clenched so tightly around the edge of the exam table that that his knuckles are white. I watch his hands as she works. She's quick, professional, and it doesn't take long before she finishes, snips off the thread and steps away, saying, "There, tough part over with."

Ray blinks his eyes open and lets out his breath in a loud exhale. "Thanks," he says, attempting a grin. She smiles at him, taping a bandage into place over the stitches, and turns to leave, telling him she'll be right back.

Ray raises his hand gingerly, letting it hover just above the bandage.

"Don't touch it," I say, stepping closer to push his hand away.

He looks me. "Wow, you're a mess." He pokes at my chest, where my shirt is stiff with his blood.

I stare at him. "I'm a mess?"

He grins. "Yeah, well. Okay. We both are." He levers himself off the table, but his knees won't hold him and he almost falls. I grab hold of his arm and hoist him back against the table.

"Jesus, Kowalski, will you just..."

He's even paler than before, but he shakes my hand off his arm. "I'm fine, just a little shaky."

"Give it a rest, you got shot."

"No, I didn't," he says.

I stare at him again, then look down at my blood-soaked clothes, up at the bandage on his forehead.

"Okay, maybe a little," he relents.

"How do you get 'a little' shot?" There's anger in my tone, where there shouldn't be. Get it together, Vecchio.

"Look, it's just a scrape. I'm good, it's cool." He's playing it like it's not a big deal, like none of this is a big deal.

"You look like hell," I say, and it comes out harsh.

He shrugs one shoulder and gives me a sideways grin. "Yeah, well, maybe it'll leave a scar. Make me look tough."

Irritation turns to anger way too quickly. It takes everything I've got to hold myself very, very still. "Jesus, Kowalski, that's all you care about, isn't it?"

He looks at me for a second. "Iím all right, Ray."

I run my hand over my face. "Yeah, I know that," I say tiredly. "Just sit your ass down, you idiot, till the doctor comes back." I put my hand on his arm again and this time he lets me help him back onto the table.

"Fine, okay, but she better get here soon; there's a game on tonight."

"They're gonna check you in for tonight. You got shot in the head. I know it's not the most important spot for you; not like anything vital got hurt, but - "

He shakes his head stubbornly, but stops real quick, wincing, looking like he's trying not to puke. He breathes shallowly for a minute. "Iím not staying here."

"You are."

"I'm not." He glares at me.

Stubborn. He's so fucking stubborn. "Whatever."

"I'll check myself out, I'm fine," he insists.

"I said whatever, okay, now shut the fuck up." I lean against the table next to him. It's fine. He's fine. He's annoying, so he's fine, and he's a big boy, can make his own decisions.

"Nice way to talk. I'm injured, remember?" His eyes have pain-lines around the edges, but he keeps his voice light.

"You're not injured, you're brain-damaged, but that's nothing new." I match his tone, managing to sound easy, but even someone as thick-headed as Kowalski has to see what a fucking lie that is. An inch, is what I'm thinking. An inch closer and he would've had his head blown off by some loser street punk.

"Funny. No, really, you're a laugh riot." He tilts so that his shoulder is pressed against mine. "I'm really all right."

I nod, not looking at him, and press back a little. "Yeah, Ray. I know."


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